Jennifer Snow Romance Author   

Super Sweet & A Whole Lot Sexy...       

Starting over means a second chance . . .

Abigail Jansen is done with hockey . . . and hockey players. After leaving her two-timing NHL-star husband, Abby decides to start over in her hometown of Glenwood Falls, Colorado. There she doesn't have to deal with people gossiping behind her back or hear the word "hockey"---until her daughter tries out for the junior hockey team. Now Abby has to face her fears . . . and coach Jackson Westmore. He's tall, dark, handsome---and happens to hate her.

All through high school, talented hockey player Jackson Westmore had a crush on Abby, but he would never make a move on his best friend's girl. He gave her the cold shoulder out of self-preservation and worked out his frustrations on the ice. So when Abby returns, newly divorced and still sexy as hell, Jackson knows he's in trouble. Now even the best defensive skills might not keep him from losing his heart . . .

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Of all the mistakes she’d made in her twenty-nine years, Abigail hoped her decision to move back to Glenwood Falls wouldn’t be the biggest one.

The silent treatment she’d received from her daughter on the exhausting fifteen hour drive from California to Colorado made her think that maybe it was.

She waved to Dani from the sidewalk as the school bus pulled away from the curb, but her nine-year-old ignored her.

Great.

As the bus rounded the corner, Abigail pulled her cardigan tighter around her and turned to walk back toward her family home. The mid-September mountain breeze felt even cooler to her, having spent so many fall seasons living in sunny Los Angeles, where the palm trees and green grass never gave way to the gold and red leaves crunching beneath her feet as she walked.

The wind blew her long blonde hair across her eyes, and she tucked it behind her ears. The sunshine reflected off of her solitaire diamond ring, nestled safely behind the platinum wedding band that used to hold a promise of forever.

She’d have to take them off soon. She probably should have already.

Dean’s wedding band had been sitting on the nightstand on his side of the bed for almost ten months.

Some people had an easier time letting go and moving on.

She took a deep breath as she opened the front door. The smell of coffee and blueberry pancakes greeted her, and she forced a smile, hoping it would dull the constant aching in her chest.

Time to face another day.

Another day in Glenwood Falls—her former hometown. Another day with her parents trying to make her feel better about her divorce. And another day she had to get through with a heaviness weighing on her whenever she thought about her future.

Hers and Dani’s.

Following the smell of coffee, she went straight to the kitchen.

“Good morning,” her father said, pouring her a cup.

“Hi Dad,” she said, glancing around the kitchen that hadn’t changed in years. The same Harvest Gold fridge and stove that had been popular in the seventies her father miraculously managed to keep running, the round, glass-topped table near the window that seated four, and the same butterfly patterned curtains she’d sewn one year in home economics class—the only thing she’d ever successfully made. In ten years, nothing had changed, and she’d expected that sense of familiarity to make her feel better.

Instead it made her feel as though her attempt to move on with her life had taken her two steps backward.

“Dani got off to school okay?”

“Yes, although she still refuses to speak to me,” she said, sitting in her old familiar place at the table. She took a sip of the tar-like coffee and winced, but immediately took another one. She used to hate how strong her father made it, but the last three mornings, she’d needed the strength it provided to deal with Dani’s anger at her for moving them away from her father in L.A.

“She’ll come around,” he said.

Abigail knew it was true, she just hoped it was before her little girl started college.

On the table was that day’s Glenwood Times—the local newspaper. Picking it up, she opened it to the classified section as she had the day before.

Nothing new added. Still just three open positions in the town of five thousand residents—the deli counter at the supermarket, an early morning flower delivery, and sawmill operator.

“Dad, how hard it is to operate a saw?” she asked with a sigh.

He chuckled. “Just the fact that you need to ask means you probably shouldn’t apply for that one sweetheart.”

Her mother came into the kitchen and her expression said it all.

“Yes Mom, I’m looking for a job,” Abigail said.

“I didn’t say anything.”

She didn’t have to. Isabelle Jansen’s face was the most expressive her daughter had ever seen. Every emotion, every thought could be conveyed by the small furrow of her brow or the twitch of an eye…

“I know you think I need time to get settled, but the sooner I can find work to keep myself busy, the easier that will be.”

“You know yourself better than anyone, sweetheart. I’m just saying there’s no hurry.”

“I appreciate that.” And Abigail did. After leaving Glenwood Falls, she’d only gone back to visit a few times, instead sending plane tickets to her parents to come visit her and Dani in L.A. Her decision to move home as her divorce was being finalized had surprised her parents, but they’d opened their door and arms to her and Dani. They were making this transition as easy on them as possible. And she knew how valuable their support was. She also knew she couldn’t use them as a crutch. She needed to get back on her feet and prove to herself this was the right decision, that she could move forward without Dean, as soon as possible. And Dani needed to see that too.

Abigail hesitated, wondering if she should tell them about the one job in town she was interested in. She cleared her throat. “I was actually thinking about applying for a teaching position at the elementary school.”

Both of her parents stared at her.

“What? I do have a teaching degree.” Did they not remember the four years she’d spent in college? She hadn’t always lacked ambition.

“Yes, but…you’ve never actually used it,” her mother said.

“Don’t they expire after ten years?” her father joked.

“Very funny, Dad,” she said. “When I registered Dani on Monday, I heard one of the other teachers say they were looking for a substitute teacher that could turn into a full time fourth grade position when Kelli Fitzgerald goes on maternity leave next month.”

“Oh, that’s right! I saw Kelli at last month’s town meeting—she looked ready to deliver then. She’s such a sweet girl, and her husband is one of the nicest men—he helped your dad with the deck last spring…” Her mom’s voice trailed on, but Abigail wasn’t listening.

Her mother raving about Kelli and other of her former high school friends was something she heard often. Apparently they were all living wonderful, successful lives in Glenwood Falls. None of them had fallen in love with a star athlete or left town six months pregnant…or had to crawl back home nine years later after a bitter divorce.

Nope, no one else. Just her.

Abigail’s cell phone ringing was her escape, and she was relieved to see her lawyer’s office number lighting up the screen. “I have to take this,” she said, heading upstairs to her old bedroom. “Hello?” she said, closing the door behind her.

“Hi Abigail. How are you?” her lawyer, Olivia Davis asked, sounding far too busy to really care.

“I’m fine. Everything okay?” The divorce was almost finalized after six months of back and forth with Dean’s lawyer. There were just a few things left to sign off on—her proposed custody arrangement and the financial settlement terms. She knew Olivia was fantastic at her job and she’d come highly recommended by several other divorcees she’d known as a hockey-wife, but she still worried about whether she’d made the right decision hiring her. Deciding who to put her trust in these days was like deciding between the devil you knew and the devil you didn’t.

“Well, I have good news and bad news.”

Her marriage of nine years was almost officially over—she wasn’t sure there was any real good news to be had, but she asked for that first.

“I just received an uncontested document to the custody file,” Olivia said.

That actually was good news. She’d been worried Dean would try to fight for custody of Dani, even though she knew with his travel schedule with the L.A. Kings and her history of being their daughter’s primary caregiver, his chances of getting it in court would have been slim.

Maybe he knew that too.

“That’s great…”

“Actually, he’s even stated that the visitation time is too much, and he is relinquishing all of the time to you.”

Abigail frowned. “What does that mean—he doesn’t want to see Dani at all?” she asked, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Hopefully that’s not the case. It just means he is leaving the power to decide when and how he sees Dani in your hands. The two of you can arrange something that works…without involving a legal, binding visitation schedule.”

Great. So, it would all rest on her shoulders. She would have preferred it didn’t. Her own feelings toward Dean were sure to cloud her judgment, and she knew she was going to have to put them aside and do what was best for Dani. “Okay,” she said. So much for good news. Now she really didn’t want the bad.

“So, the bad news is—he’s contesting the settlement. He is claiming that because you decided to move back to Glenwood Falls, where real estate and the cost of living are cheaper, he shouldn’t have to pay what we’re asking.”

No doubt in most situations, this would be the bad news, but the truth was, Abigail didn’t care about the money. Yes, she expected Dean to pay child support to help raise Dani, but she’d never been the materialistic type who enjoyed the flamboyant perks of being a hockey wife. She’d bought the expensive clothes and spent the small fortunes on her hair and make-up because it was what Dean expected, what was needed to fit in with the other hockey wives.

At first, she hadn’t felt the need to be part of the group, but she’d quickly learned how lonely life as a professional athlete’s spouse could be. Other hockey families understood the sacrifices and the often-stressful lifestyle, and she’d found comfort and security within the close-knit group.

At least she had until a few weeks ago, when she hadn’t been able to bring herself to login to the Hockeywives.com site. She was no longer one of them, and she needed to stand on her own two feet now. Reaching out for their support didn’t seem right. And she also didn’t want any information about her new life travelling back to Dean through their hockey playing husbands.

“Look, don’t worry,” Olivia said when Abigail was quiet. “I’m sure it’s just a delay tactic. He can’t possibly believe the courts will rule in his favor on this. The longer he can delay things, the longer he doesn’t have to pay the divorce settlement or alimony and child support.”

“So, what’s next?”

“Well, I’ll file the counter and see what happens. But in the meantime, try to feel good about the uncontested custody—you wouldn’t believe how often that causes the biggest delay. You’re lucky.”

Lucky, she thought sadly as she disconnected the call. Strange, she didn’t feel lucky. How was she supposed to explain all of this to Dani, who’d had a say in outlining when she wanted to spend time in L.A. with her dad? How could she tell the little girl that her father hadn’t wanted to commit to a schedule, to time with her? The last thing their strained relationship needed was Dani thinking this was somehow her fault. Neither did she want to paint Dean as the villain, as much as she resented him for what he’d done, for tearing their family apart and putting her in this situation.

No, lucky definitely was not a word she’d use.

She stared at the rings on her left hand. Her mother had said there was no rush, she’d know when she was ready to remove them. She struggled to recall the memories attached to each one—the joy, the love, the excitement she’d felt the day he’d proposed and then six months later at their wedding—but too many other memories—of nights alone, of fights that had left her crying herself to sleep, of his betrayal—had caused the good ones to fade.

She stood and walked toward the dresser where an old, wooden jewelry box with her initials and a flower carved into it sat—a gift from Dean he’d made in woodworking class senior year. She opened the lid and removing the rings, she placed them inside.

Her mother was right. She did know when it was the right time.

****

Sitting on the tiny bench outside the principal’s office at Glenwood Falls Elementary two hours later, Abigail felt like a kid who’d been caught skipping class. Everything around her was so familiar, yet once again, she didn’t take comfort in it. Years before, she couldn’t wait to leave Glenwood Falls, and she’d been filled with illusions of a fantastic, exciting life in L.A.

Things hadn’t quite worked out the way she’d planned, and the media attention given to her divorce and the circumstances around it left her no hope of saving face among her former friends and neighbors in the small town. Hell, she suspected half of them had known Dean was cheating on her based on the tabloid photos long before she’d even realized something was wrong.

God, she’d been so blind.

Loving him as much as she did—had—had clouded her judgment about everything. She’d just felt so lucky that Dean Underwood had chosen her to ask to the school prom, had picked her to be his girlfriend, and then had proposed when she’d told him she was pregnant. The star athlete could have had any girl in town, but he’d chosen her.

And the offer of an exciting life as a pro-athlete’s wife had been a dream come true for her. She could be the stay-at-home mom with their daughter and they could travel with him around the world…it had all seemed too good to be true.

And it was.

For the first five years, things had been wonderful, but then Dani started school and Abigail had become more active in the hockey wives’ charity for the local hospital, Dreams for Life, and soon they were barely together as a family. Dean traveled with the team. She raised their daughter and helped fundraise for various causes.

And somewhere along the line, he’d started having affairs, and she’d been too busy to notice.

“Abby?” Liz, the principle’s receptionist, said as she came out into the hall. The woman had been the school’s receptionist when she’d been a student. Secretly, Abigail had been hoping for a turnover in staff, especially since she’d originally turned down a teaching position there to follow Dean to L.A. when he’d been drafted by the Kings.

She stood. “It’s Abigail now.” She hadn’t been Abby in a long time…and she doubted she’d ever see that girl in the mirror again.

“Okay…well, Principal Breen is ready for you,” Liz said, holding the office door open. “Just head on in.”

“Thank you.” Running a hand along her charcoal pencil skirt, Abigail went inside, feeling exactly as she had years before when she’d been sent to the office for talking too much in class. Her palms damp with sweat, she forced a deep breath.

“Wow. I wasn’t sure I was reading it right when I saw you on my schedule this morning—but here you are. Abby Jansen back in Glenwood Falls—no one will believe it,” Principal Breen said from her seat behind the big mahogany desk.

Nope. No one. Not even her.

Abigail forced her best smile. “Nice to see you, Principle Breen.”

“Have a seat, please,” she gestured to the chair across from her.

She sat, looking around the office. The same bookshelf along the wall, the same file cabinet near the window, and the same bamboo tree growing in the corner. Nothing had changed in the office. Everything was exactly the same.

“So…you’re interested in the substitute teaching position?”

“Yes.” Abigail folded and unfolded her legs, shifting in the seat. This was her first real job interview in over nine years. Her heart echoed in her ears and her mind raced. What was she doing here? She wasn’t even remotely qualified for this position.

“Do you have a recent resume? I’m afraid we don’t keep records that long, and I assume yours has changed quite a bit in the years since we last interviewed you.”

Not really. She swallowed hard. “Actually, I don’t have one with me…” She did, but not one she was comfortable producing, despite hours trying to make it sound better. Her mother’s ‘maybe they won’t need to see a resume’ comment when she’d shown it to her said it all.

Principle Breen’s eyebrows joined behind her seafoam green rimmed glasses. “Okay, well, why don’t you start by telling me about any previous teaching experience you have.” She reached for her notepad and pen and waited.

How about none? How could she somehow turn her treasury role on the Dreams for Life charity and her stay-at-home mom position into something this woman would consider an asset? “Well, I haven’t taught in any schools…but I did home-school my daughter Dani for a while.” Three months while they tried to make traveling with Dean work.

“Okay…”

“And I was involved with the Dreams for Life charity, which helped a lot of children…” God, she sounded like a moron. She wasn’t qualified for this job. Nowhere near it. She might as well mention her after-school newspaper delivery job as well.

“Right.” She set the pen down and clasped her hands in front of her on the desk. “Well, we were really hoping to hire someone with actual teaching experience.”

Shit. She needed this job. She needed something to make her feel like she could actually start building a life for herself and Dani there in Glenwood Falls. She needed her confidence to return. And she needed to know they would be okay without Dean. She would be okay without him.

“Principal Breen, please,” she said, clutching her hands tightly in her lap. “I know my lack of experience isn’t ideal, but I can do this job. Please let me prove that to you.” And herself. She hated the sound of begging in her voice, but she wanted—needed—this job. It was hard enough moving back home, having everyone in town know the sordid details about her failed marriage, and trying to gain her daughter’s confidence in her; she really didn’t want to be forced to take the flower delivery position in town. Her already low-self-esteem couldn’t handle it.

The woman hesitated. “I’d like to help you Abby…”

Please don’t say ‘but’…

She paused and studied her for a moment. “How long are you planning to stay in Glenwood Falls? Is this a permanent move? Or just until you get back on your feet?”

She swallowed hard. “It’s a permanent move.” She refused to uproot Dani again. Leaving L.A. and her friends had been tough enough. They were here to stay and to start over.

“Okay. The substitute position will only be a few days a week…as needed.”

Her breath caught and she tried to hold her excitement. The woman hadn’t quite said yes yet.

“When are you available to…”

“Any time,” she said quickly.

Principal Breen nodded, looking as though she already regretted the decision. “Alright. We’ll try this…but there’s no guarantee you’ll get the full time position at the end of next month.”

“I understand,” she said, but there was no way she wasn’t getting it. She’d do whatever it took to prove to Principal Breen she was the right person for the job.

She released a breath, tension seeping from her shoulders. This was a good start to getting her life back on track. Maybe not the one she’d planned, but hopefully one she could someday be proud of.


Chapter 2

Another school year. Another season.

Jackson Westmore stapled the new hockey try-out schedule on the peg board outside of the gym at Glenwood Falls Elementary.

“Hey Coach, ready for another championship?” his buddy and the school’s gym teacher, Darryl Sutton, said as he passed with a group of ten-year-olds returning from a warm-up run around the school track.

“You bet,” Jackson said, stopping one of the bigger boys. “As long as James is still planning to try out.”

The taller than average, skinny kid nodded.

“As long as he keeps his grades up,” Darryl—also the boy’s father—said.

“Yes, Sir,” the boy said, disappearing inside the gym with the rest of the class.

Jackson sympathized. He knew what it was like to have a parent as a teacher. His mother had taught at the Glenwood High School for over twenty years. It sucked. He and his brothers couldn’t get away with anything. And then they’d catch shit at school and at home. His sister had had it easy, being the only non-troublemaker of the group.

“I hear the team is going co-ed this year,” Darryl said, glancing at the sign-up form where the announcement was made.

“Yeah…We’ll see how it turns out. I’m not sure there are many eight- to ten-year-old girls who will be interested, but you never know,” he said with a shrug.

He was actually thrilled by the Junior Hockey League Association’s decision to make the Atom/Novice teams a co-ed division. So far in Glenwood Falls, they hadn’t had the funding for a girl’s league, and he knew one in particular who was dying to play. His niece, Taylor, had been on skates since before she could walk; with two uncles in the NHL and him coaching the local junior team, it seemed only natural for her to be interested in the sport. She was ten, and this would be her last year to play on his team, and he couldn’t wait to get her out there; she could skate and puck handle better than any boy he’d ever coached.

“I assume Taylor is guaranteed a spot?” Darryl asked.

Jackson grinned. “She’ll have to try out like everyone else, but I have a feeling the Glenwood Falls Lightning will have a new female defenseman this season.”

“Well, I’ve seen her play, so I’m all for it, but not everyone feels that way.”

Jackson frowned. “Who’s having an issue with it?”

Darryl lowered his voice. “James mentioned that some of the boys…and I suspect it’s the boys’ fathers’ words they’re repeating…are not as open-minded about this.”

He nodded slowly. Not everyone liked changed. He knew that. He just hoped once the team was finalized based on who could play the game, and not their gender, everyone with reservations would start to feel better. They were kids after all, and the Atom league was the place to have fun while learning the sport. They would start to be more competitive once the talented, promising players moved up to Peewee and then Bantam. “Thanks for the heads-up.”

Darryl looked past him down the hall, his expression changing. “Speaking of a heads-up…”

Oh no. He knew in his gut before he even turned around who would be standing there. He’d already heard the rumors she was back. Yet, nothing prepared him for the sight of Abby Jansen, dressed in a slim-fitting suit, her long blonde hair loose around her shoulders, her three inch heels clicking on the tiled floor, walking toward them.

In ten years, she hadn’t changed a bit.

And obviously neither had his feelings for her.

Damn.

****

Keep walking. Don’t stop. Just keep walking.

One expensive Gucci pump in front of the other…Shit. They were both staring at her. “Hi guys,” Abigail said tightly, keeping her gaze on Darryl and ignoring the other man she’d gone to school with.

Wow—what an understated way to describe their relationship, she thought.

“Hi Abby, how are you?” Darryl asked, looking uncomfortable as he glanced at his friend.

Jackson’s gaze was burning a hole through her forehead, but she plastered on the fake smile she’d perfected since news of her divorce had spread all over the country and continued to pretend he didn’t exist. “I’m great.” Okay, that might be stretching things a little, but she’d just gotten a job, so that counted for something. “How are things?”

“Good…still teaching Phys Ed.”

She nodded politely. He’d inherited the job from his own father when the older man had retired.

“Well…Better get back in there.” The awkward tension seemed to be making him squirm, and he opened the gym door and ducked inside. “Great to see you,” he said quickly, as the door shut.

Jackson’s panicky gaze left her just long enough to glance at his disappearing friend.

Leaving them alone together in the hallway.

She cleared her throat and waited for him to speak first. She had nothing to say to her soon to be ex-husband’s best friend who’d never disguised the fact that he disliked her. All through high school, he’d treated her like the third wheel whenever the three of them went anywhere together. She’d even tried setting him up with countless friends, but he’d scared them all off with his jerkish I’m-better-than-everyone attitude. Obviously, he was still chasing them away. She’d heard he was single, and it couldn’t be his tall, dark, and handsome looks keeping the women at bay.

She hadn’t seen him in years, other than to peek over Dean’s shoulder sometimes when the two Skyped. He was taller than she remembered, towering over her, even in her heels, and his broad shoulders and chest revealed he was a lot more muscular than he looked on the computer screen. His mid-day five o’clock shadow seemed photo shopped to perfection, and his square, strong jawline erased any trace of the boy she used to go to school with. All he and Dean ever talked about was hockey, and she often wondered if there were any other layers to the friendship besides a shared passion for the sport.

Obviously without hockey as the subject, the guy had little to talk about, she thought as she continued to wait for him to say something.

He stared at the floor, his hands shoved deep in his pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels.

Silence.

Okay then.

Moving around him, she continued down the hall.

His voice stopped her. “I don’t believe everything they’re saying about Dean in the papers.”

Neither had she, but actually seeing her husband in bed with two women was proof enough.

Of course she didn’t expect Jackson to see her side. Slowly, she turned back. “Believe what you want, Jackson. I really don’t care.”

He moved toward her and her spine stiffened. His light blue eyes were dark and judging. “Adultery? Abuse? Come on. We both know Dean is not that guy.”

She hadn’t believed him capable of the emotional and verbal abuse either. That had changed the day she’d confronted him about pictures of him and a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader she’d seen on the front of a supermarket tabloid. He’d gone on the defensive, saying nasty things to make her believe she was the one at fault for even accusing him of anything. Paranoid, stupid, delusional…just some of the angry insults that played on repeat in her mind.

“I’m not having this conversation with you. Or any conversation.” They’d barely spoken before, why start now? “Glenwood Falls is big enough. I think we should be able to make these run-ins few and far between if we try hard enough.” Though, that might be harder now that she would be spending time at the school, which was right next door to the arena.

“Oh believe me, I’ll try hard enough,” he said, his ice-cold stare making her shiver.

The sound of the lunch bell prevented her from saying anything more as instantly they were swarmed by groups of children heading toward the school cafeteria.

Her eyes skimmed the crowd for Dani. Spotting her coming toward them, Abigail smiled—for real for the first time that day. She waved a hand, relieved to have the perfect excuse to end the intense, uncomfortable conversation.

“Mom? What are you doing here?” Dani asked with a frown when she reached her.

Not exactly the warm greeting she’d been hoping for, but at least her daughter was speaking to her. That small victory was short-lived as she noticed Jackson still standing there watching them. Dani had never actually met Jackson, only saw him occasionally on the computer and in Facebook pics. And Abigail wasn’t about to make the introduction. If in nine years, the two men hadn’t felt it necessary, neither did she.

“I came to talk to Principal Breen about a substitute teaching position,” she said, wrapping an arm around her daughter’s shoulders.

Dani shrugged away.

Her arm fell to her side. She knew none of this was easy on her daughter. Dani was close with her father, despite his frequent, long absences, and she was more like him, which made common ground for bonding with her a challenge. Her daughter was too young to understand everything going on, but Abigail had done her best to explain the situation to her. She didn’t want her to rely on the tabloids for information. However, she sensed Dani blamed her, at least for the move, and she was determined to make things right with her. “She said I can start next week…whenever they need a substitute.” She glanced toward Jackson. Why was he still standing there—listening? “Isn’t that wonderful?”

Dani shrugged.

Heat rushed to her cheeks, and she forced herself not to look at Jackson. Moving her daughter further away, she knelt in front of her. “I’m sorry you’re upset and I know this move is hard on you,” she said. “But, I promise things are going to get better now.” How often had she said those words to Dani in the last three days? She wondered if it was only her daughter she was trying to convince. “Soon we’ll move into our own place, and before long this will start to feel like home.” She brushed her daughter’s whip-straight dark hair—her father’s hair—away from her face and searched her expression for any sign of understanding.

Dani didn’t look convinced, but finally, she nodded. “Fine. Whatever,” she said simply.

She’d take any agreement she could get at that moment. “Come on. We’ll go to the diner on Main Street for lunch.” The cafeteria food sucked. Soon enough they would both have to get used to it. But not today.

And she suspected soon enough she would have to get used to seeing Jackson Westmore. But that too was something she was more than willing to postpone for as long as possible.

****

“Keep your hands away from your body…that’s it. You don’t want to be looking down at the puck or you won’t have it for long,” Jackson said as he skated backward, watching Taylor move across the ice toward the net with the puck.

Tryouts were the following week, and he wanted to make sure his niece would be ready. Darryl’s warning about the other dads still troubled him, but what had him off his game was his brief—yet far too long—glimpse of Abby Jansen earlier that day.

She was going to be teaching at the school. Fan-freaking-tastic.

He shook his head, banishing the image of her in her expensive suit, looking more beautiful than ever. He didn’t need any new memories of her competing with the old ones.

He moved closer to his niece to steal the puck, but she moved her body between him and the biscuit the way he’d taught her. He smiled. The kid was a natural. “That’s good. Where did you learn that?”

“From Uncle Ben,” she teased.

“Ha! I taught both of your uncles everything they know.” Ironically, that was true. He’d been the first of the three of them to develop an interest in the sport at age four. His older brother Ben and his younger brother, Asher hadn’t started playing until several years later.

But as it turned out, they were both better than he was. That’s why they were playing on major league hockey teams and he was still coaching in Glenwood Falls.

Taylor skated faster and shot the puck. It hit the right post.

“You released it too soon,” he said, skating up to her and patting her helmet. “Just hold onto it a little longer. You’re overeager to score without an assist—maybe you have been learning a thing or two from your Uncle Ben.” Ben played for the Colorado Avalanche He was the top scorer for the team for the last three years, but he didn’t know how to share the puck.

Jackson skated by it and scooped it up. Checking his watch, he saw it was after five. They’d been practicing for almost two hours. “Come on, let’s go get something to eat.”

“Can we go to Slope and Hatch?”

“Craving a Big Valley Mac?” he asked as they sat on the bench to remove their skates.

She took off her helmet and shook her short dark hair. “Is there any other hot dog worth eating?”

He laughed. “You make a good point, kid. Go grab your stuff.” As she rushed off toward the locker rooms, he stood, staring out at the ice. Above the blue line hung the local team’s championship flags and across from him on the wall was the banner that read ‘Welcome to the Home of the Westmore Brothers!’

Ben and Asher—the source of community pride.

They were the stars of Glenwood Falls-he was just everyone’s favorite coach.