Home > A Heart So Wild (Atlanta Siege Hockey Romance #1)

A Heart So Wild (Atlanta Siege Hockey Romance #1)
Author: Raine Thomas

 

Chapter One

 


“Happy birthday, Callan.”

Callan smiled at his mother’s phone greeting despite her typical unemotional tone. “Thanks, mother of mine. Can you believe your favorite child is thirty years old today?”

“You’re my only child,” she replied. “I hardly need reminding of your age.”

His mother had no sense of humor. With a roll of his eyes, he pulled his phone from his ear, tapped the speaker icon, and tossed the phone onto his bed to allow him to talk and finish getting dressed at the same time.

“I’m sure you’re surprised I made it this far,” he said as he slid into the pressed gray pants he had set on his bed before his recent shower.

“There have been days,” she agreed dryly. “I assume you have plans this evening?”

“I do.” Because he knew she didn’t really care about the details, he didn’t bother sharing any. But his devilish side had him adding, “I’ll do my best to keep it out of the tabloids.”

Her put-upon sigh told him a lecture was forthcoming, probably something about how she hadn’t been able to show her face in the local country club for months the last time he ended up in entertainment news.

But how was he supposed to anticipate his date hopping up on the restaurant table and starting to strip while everyone around them caught it on their phone cameras?

“I’m kidding,” he said before she could respond. “This isn’t that kind of birthday celebration. It’s just me and Christian going out for a few drinks.”

He didn’t bother adding that he fully intended to get his friend laid. Christian had been holed up in his house working on one of his coding projects since the end of their team’s season almost three months ago. Callan had dragged his teammate out a couple of times since then, but Christian hadn’t wanted to make any efforts to hook up, claiming he needed to focus in order to finish his project before the preseason started in September.

Mystified how Christian could go so long without the pleasure of a woman’s company, Callan had insisted on playing his wingman tonight to rectify the situation. He didn’t need his goalie going into the new season with the worst case of blue balls on record. Christian hadn’t been able to protest since it was Callan’s birthday, which worked just fine for Callan.

“I realize it’s Thursday, but I’m surprised you aren’t doing something...flashier,” his mother said. “I assumed you would use your thirtieth birthday as an excuse to do all the things that give me migraines.”

He finished buttoning his crisp white dress shirt, leaving the top button undone. A vivid memory of the party he’d held the previous weekend flashed through his mind, followed swiftly by memories of the night spent with a pair of blondes who had been invited to the party by some of his teammates. His lips curved into a satisfied grin.

“Maybe I’m maturing,” he said as he sat on the edge of his bed to tug on his socks.

His mother grunted, an inelegant sound that was quite unlike her. His eyebrow lifted as he glanced at the phone.

“That will be the day,” she intoned. “In any case, I’m pleased to hear you’re celebrating responsibly. You need to keep a low profile and get ready for the upcoming season. We can’t have any more humiliating talks with management, can we?”

Callan’s humor vanished. Like they did when he played hockey, his movements became more precise as his mood shifted. He rose and started feeding his belt through the belt loops around his waist, every movement clipped and exact.

The conversation his mother referenced had taken place in April, shortly after the conclusion of the Atlanta Siege’s first official season as the NHL’s newest expansion team. Because the city had already lost two previous NHL teams to Canadian cities with stronger fan bases, Siege ownership was running a tight ship intent on building a fan base that would support them in the city long-term. Their goal was to win the Stanley Cup within the first three years of the team’s existence. They wanted to prove their dedication to building another successful Atlanta sports franchise, and had invested hundreds of millions to that end. They built a brand-new arena and recruited many of the league’s top eligible players and coaches. But in the end, the team hadn’t gelled enough to even make it to the playoffs.

Team management held individual meetings with every player after the disappointing season ended. Callan’s jaw tightened as he remembered sitting in the stadium meeting room with the team’s general manager, Doug Wilson, Head Coach Marty Belanger, Assistant Coaches Knox Donaghy and Tony Powell, and the Director of Public Relations, a hard-nosed woman named Vivian Price.

They started the meeting by reviewing his stats, a moment that had put a dent in Callan’s usual confidence. He was aware his performance had been, at best, mediocre. But, hell, he wasn’t one of the team’s highest paid All Stars. He was a third line left winger with a respectable plus-minus rating and decent shooting percentage.

“We’re looking for top performers moving into the coming season,” Doug had said, the GM’s words matter of fact. “And I mean top performers at every level of the team, from first line to fourth line. Hell, even players who rarely see any time on the ice.”

How the hell could those players be considered top performers? Callan had wondered even as Knox said, “That means you have to think about someone besides yourself for a change, Murph.”

It had taken a mighty act of will not to lean over and knock the smirk from Knox’s fugly face. Knox had played at Callan’s alma mater, Boston College, and had been three years ahead of Callan. As teammates, they consistently butted heads. Knox had been one of the team’s Alternate Captains and he’d ridden the younger players so hard that they couldn’t stand him.

Callan, on the other hand, was sociable, good-humored, and always ready to have a good time. His teammates revered him, nominating him for captain after only one year on the team. His natural charisma and the team’s incredible talent had led them to winning the championship trophy three of the four years he played there.

Knox was bitter, both because of that and because Callan made it into the NHL while he hadn’t. His role as one of The Siege’s assistant coaches was Knox’s first NHL coaching job after bouncing around in the minors, and he was being just as big a dick trying to prove himself as he’d been back in college.

“What Coach Donaghy means,” Marty said with a warning look at Knox, “is we expect to see more of a commitment to this team and your role on it moving into the coming season, Murph. We’ll be considering every level of a player’s performance, both on and off the ice. If we don’t like what we see at training camp and in the preseason, we won’t hesitate to exercise waivers.”

Which, since Callan didn’t have a no movement clause in his contract, meant the possibility of another team claiming him or, more likely, a bump down to the minors.

After the meeting, Callan spoke with his agent, who hadn’t done much to ease his concerns. The Siege’s management was perfectly within their rights to set whatever standards they wanted to produce the best team possible. If Callan didn’t meet those standards, he might easily end up playing in the minors.

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