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Callum (E-Book)

Callum (E-Book)

The Titans' general manager gets a second chance with his first love.

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Callum Derringer was hired by the Pittsburgh Titans to help rebuild the organization after a devastating plane crash left its future unknown. Now that he’s got the team back on track, it’s time to put some effort into his own life.

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When I accepted the job of general manager with the Titans, it was just the opportunity I needed to prove myself to the sports world. Unfortunately, my career isn’t the only area in which I’ve previously made mistakes and the past is about to come back in a big way.

Juniper Ryan is…complicated. Smart, funny and insanely gorgeous, she was my first love and my first heartbreak. But my loss was my stepbrother’s gain and she’s been his wife for five years now. I’ve done a decent job of putting her out of my mind but when I’m brought home for a family emergency and see the bruises on Juniper, I’m gutted to learn that she was pushed into the arms of a monster.

Vowing to put our past aside, I learn dark truths about my brother and his marriage to my first love. And to make matters worse, I’m beginning to realize the feelings I once had for Juniper aren’t tucked quite as far away as I had hoped.

When things take a dangerous turn, I’m willing to put myself in the line of fire to keep my girl safe. I was a fool to walk away from Juniper the first time and I’m a man who knows better than to make the same mistake twice.

Read Chapter One

Callum

Kicking my feet up on the desk, I lean back in my chair and tuck my hands behind my head. The Pittsburgh skyline is displayed before me, still glorious despite the gray skies and misting summer rain.

The Dallas Mustangs won the Cup last night in a hard-fought, seven-game battle against the Florida Spartans. All the Titans got together to watch it at Brienne’s house. It wasn’t exactly a somber affair, but it wasn’t a rousing party either. Just a slightly bittersweet team gathering to say a final goodbye to the season before everyone disperses for much-needed vacations and time off.

That doesn’t apply to me, though. Being the general manager is a full-time job with very little downtime.

“Danny,” I say, angling my head toward the phone on my desk so that the speakerphone picks me up clearly. “I don’t have room under the cap. If I had it, you know I’d be interested.”

I listen patiently as Danny Sorbino goes over the stats for the player he represents. He’s a good agent, savvy and keyed in on the specific talents any given team might be seeking. I could cut him off because I’m truly not interested. If I’m going to dent the padding on the money I have to spend on good players, it’s going to be for someone whose plus-minus isn’t so erratic in the second half of the season.

When he’s finished, I give him validation. “You present a compelling case. As always, you know your men inside out.” Then I let him down. “But I’m going to pass.”

Danny’s a professional and I’ve known him a long time. Not but fifteen years ago, we were working at the same sports agency. I went on to do some scouting, but he never left the world of representation. “I appreciate you taking the time to listen, Callum.”

“You bet. Next time you’re in Pittsburgh, let’s grab drinks.”

“Yeah, sure,” he says, and then catches me completely off guard when he says, “The Vipers are showing interest in Highsmith.”

Danny represents one of our best players, Coen Highsmith, and his contract ended after our playoff run was squashed. We haven’t entered into renewal talks yet, but in the next few weeks, I’ll be gearing up for this. Much of that salary cap I had just harped on is reserved for players like Coen.

“I’m not worried the Vipers can offer more than we can,” I say smoothly.

“Maybe not, but it’s not going to be just about money to him… more’s the pity.” That’s a true sentiment coming from someone who operates on commission.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“His wife’s being courted to be the artist in residence at a gallery in Manhattan.”

That gets my attention and I swing my feet off my desk. It’s the off-season and while business never stops for the Titans, it’s a Saturday and hardly anyone is here. I wore a pair of shorts and a polo shirt today, the casual flip-flops I’d slipped on slapping on the hardwood flooring of my luxurious corner office.

“Highsmith wants a trade to New York?” I ask as I grab my phone from my desk, disconnect the speaker through which I’d been talking and bring it to my ear.

“He’s asked me to put feelers out,” Danny says.

Fuck. I scrub my hand through my hair, which is in desperate need of a trim. Since the playoffs ended, I’ve been in semi-vacation mode, even though I’m still working my ass off for this team.

If Coen is the one pushing a move, the price to keep him just got immensely steeper. Add on that he’s doing this for Tillie and I’m already figuring out that no amount of money will prevent him from giving his wife what she wants. Coen Highsmith was the reigning douchebag of this team a little over a year ago, but he’s a changed man through and through with Tillie by his side. He’d give up hockey for her if she asked, but she won’t.

Hell… maybe she won’t be interested in this artist gig. She’s a Pennsylvania girl. She has deep ties to this area by birth and still has a business back in Coudersport.

A beeping interrupts and I pull the phone back to check who’s calling. I frown to see Joshua’s name. Without a second thought, I send it to voicemail because he’s the last person on this planet I want to talk to.

Besides, I need to do something more important. I need to talk to Coen, but first I think I’ll call our head coach, Cannon West. Coen is a key player on our first line. If we lose him, we’re going to have to change a lot of things and I need to know if we’re truly pigeonholed here. West will be able to answer that.

“Listen… I’ve got some things to take care of,” I say casually, as if this most recent news hasn’t rattled me. “If the Vipers make a play, give me a heads-up, okay?”

“Sure thing,” Danny promises, but it’s not a big ask. If I get into a bidding war with the Vipers, he’s just going to sit back and watch his commission increase.

I disconnect the call, tapping my phone against the armrest of my chair as I think. It rings, startling me, and I glance down to see Joshua’s name again.

Annoyed, I tap the decline button but damn if the fucker doesn’t call back. I’m about to decline it again when a chill slithers up my spine.

My stepbrother and I detest each other. We don’t speak at all and the only reason he’d be calling me is if he had bad news.

My stomach rolls end over end as I think about Juniper, but no… he wouldn’t call me about her. He’d be the type that if something happened to her, he’d never let me know. He’d wait for me to hear it through the grapevine.
But something must be wrong because there’s no other reason he’d reach out.

I connect the call. “What’s wrong?” I ask, assured that bad news is coming.

“It’s your mother,” he says flatly, my hand tightening on the phone. “She’s in the hospital with a brain bleed. They’re doing surgery now.”

“What the hell happened?” I demand.

“No clue.” His voice is without emotion. He never loved my mother. “Dad found her on the patio, unconscious.”
I’m bursting out of my chair and while holding the phone between my shoulder and ear, I start packing up my laptop. “Text me the hospital information as well as the name of the surgeon.”

“You can’t talk to him,” Joshua says, his tone that of a bratty fourteen-year-old despite the fact the man is thirty-eight. “He’s operating on her as we speak.”
“I’ll get one of his partners on the phone,” I snap as I nab my car keys.

“Oh, big important man can command surgeons at a whim,” Joshua drawls.

“Fuck right, I can,” I snarl and disconnect. I whip off a quick text to him. Send me the hospital and surgeon info.
Even though Joshua hates me, and the feeling is mutual, he won’t dare ignore my request. He knows I’ll beat the shit out of him without breaking a sweat and with my immediate boss (who has become a dear friend) being one of the richest women in the world, I could fuck with him in other ways if I so chose.

I’d wouldn’t, preferring to use my fists instead, but he doesn’t know that.

But it is Brienne Norcross I need to call right now. She should be the first to know that I need to head home to Nevada and don’t know how long I’ll be gone. I can do my job remotely but I know she won’t want me to focus on that with my mom in the hospital. Then I’ll call Cannon West and fill him in on Coen. He’ll have to take point to figure out what’s going on there because I’m about to step into a world of complications that will blur my focus.

***

Returning home to Incline Village would cause me angst no matter if my mom was in the hospital or not. It’s not the place but the people who keep my visits infrequent and short.

Despite the maelstrom of emotions, I’m unwittingly awed by the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains that roll down to the deep blue waters of Lake Tahoe. The town sits on the north side of the lake, just over the border from California. The beauty robs me of my breath and I experience a pang of loss that this was taken away from me.

As I drive toward the hospital in the rental car I picked up at the airport, the towering pines shimmer in the late-afternoon sunlight and throw dappled shadows on the roadway. The village itself exudes affluence.

Tucked discreetly away between trees and perched in elevated spots are custom-built homes, many with expansive views of the lake, that range from five to seventy-plus million dollars. These luxury retreats span the styles of modern architectural masterpieces of glass and metal to rustic lodges. I spent the last half of my pre-adult life in a twenty-thousand-square-foot monstrosity made of rough-hewn logs and stone, compliments of my stepfather’s wealth, but that place was never a true home.

The hospital in Incline Village is small but staffed with an excellent surgical team, including a very competent neurosurgeon who performed a craniotomy this morning on my mom. Thanks to Brienne’s private jet, I made it here in good time and Mom is out of recovery and in her own room.. It does indeed pay to be affiliated with the Titans and have the Norcross power behind me. Through her contacts, Brienne also facilitated frequent communication between me and the hospital. I’ve talked to the surgeon once and the floor nurse three times since leaving Pittsburgh.

I’m not familiar with the hospital as it was built after I left for college twenty-two years ago. A nice lady at the front lobby directs me to the third floor and after I exit the elevator, I look at the directional plaques on the wall. Room 3228 is to the right, so I head that way.
I come upon a nurses’ station and stop to check in. A pleasant-faced older woman looks up from her computer. “Can I help you?”

“I’m Lila Willard’s son, Callum Derringer. I was told she was in room 3228.”

The woman’s eyes round with surprise, but I can tell she was expecting me. “Of course. Dr. Figler said you’d be in and wanted me to page him when you arrived. He or one of his partners wants to talk to you.” She points down an intersecting hall. “Your mother’s room is down that way on the left. She’s probably still sleeping off the anesthesia but she’s doing well. Vitals are all strong.”

“Thank you,” I say, giving the nurse a grateful smile as I walk away.

The door of my mom’s room is cracked and I push it open gently so I don’t make any noise. If she’s sleeping, I don’t want to wake her.

It’s dim inside, the slatted blinds closed against the low-hanging sun. I step in, my eyes taking in my mom’s thin body and the large bandage over the right side of her head. Her eyes are closed and—

I jolt as I realize someone’s sitting in a chair on the other side of the bed. She’s leaning forward, her forehead resting on her arms crossed on the edge of the bed rail.
Her head lifts and I freeze in place as I take in Juniper Ryan.

There are no other words to describe the woman other than she’s stunning. Her raven-black hair is wound on top of her head in a loose, messy bun. Those hazel eyes look more olive green in the dim light but I know if she was catching a face full of sun, they’d be the color of forest moss with dark gold flecks around the edges. Juniper has Native American ancestry and you can see it in the high cheekbones and aquiline nose, as well as her light olive complexion.
“Hey,” she says, her voice barely a whisper. She sounds tired and I wonder how long she’s been sitting there.
“Hey,” I reply, taking a few steps toward the edge of the bed. I avoid looking at Juniper because I hate that my heart is racing just from this one glimpse. Instead, I take in the bruise on the side of my mom’s face. “Does anyone know what happened?”

Juniper shakes her head.

Of course, I asked the surgeon the same question and he only repeated what he’d been told… she’d been found unconscious on the patio. He assumed she’d fallen and hit her face.

Plausible, for sure.

Could just as easily be that her husband, Preston, hit her. Granted, he’s getting up there in age, but he’s a big man and even in his late seventies, he’d be able to hurt my mom without much effort.

It’s all just supposition though. I never witnessed him striking her in all the years I lived under his roof.

I noticed lots of bruises. Heard them screaming at each other. Saw the way he brought her flowers and jewelry on the days she wore heavier makeup to cover the blue and purple marks.

But never actually saw him raise the hand.

I spent my fair share of years pleading with her to tell me the truth about what was going on. I begged her to leave his sorry ass so we could start a new life somewhere else. All she ever did was deny that he’d hurt her and reiterated that we’d never have it better than what we did with him.

She was so very wrong about that. Anywhere was better than that house.

“She’s been resting peacefully,” Juniper says as she stands from the chair.

“Where’s Preston?” I ask. I mean… shouldn’t my stepfather be here? I don’t bother asking about Joshua. I didn’t expect him to keep vigil.

Even in the dim light, I see Juniper flush. Plus I recognize the quick dart of her eyes away and then back again, a sure sign the question makes her uncomfortable.

Tough shit.

I stare at her, waiting for an answer.

“He’s at work,” she finally says. “But I was here the entire time she was in surgery and I stayed until you could arrive.”

It boils my blood that Juniper is forced into this role. My mother’s fucking husband should be by her side.

It’s beyond ironic that had circumstances been different, Juniper could have been sitting here in this room watching over my mom in her role as my wife.

But that was a lifetime ago.

I manage a small smile. “Thanks, Juni. I appreciate it.”

There’s a small knock on the door and we both turn that way. A doctor wearing green surgical scrubs enters and I’m guessing that’s Dr. Figler.

“I’m going to head on home,” Juniper says, skirting around the end of the bed.

She doesn’t pass by me but instead moves in for a hug. I’m startled at first because we haven’t touched in years, but I return it without hesitation. I have no hard feelings for Juniper.

I bend down so her arms go around my neck and I tighten my own around her back. She squeezes me hard and whispers, “You need anything, you reach out to me, okay?”

Christ, she smells good. I nod, even though I don’t have her phone number. I hug her back before quickly releasing her. She smiles at the doctor and slips out of the room.

Dr. Figler extends his hand and introduces himself. Ultimately, he doesn’t tell me anything new, but I think the prestige of me being a general manager from a professional hockey team fuels his special treatment. I don’t need it but if he wants to take extra special care of my mother, that’s fine by me. We chat for a few minutes as he goes through the technical points of the surgery and her expected recovery.

“She’s probably going to be sleeping pretty heavily throughout the night,” Dr. Figler says. “I’d suggest you come back in the morning.”

I rub at the back of my neck, strung tight with tension that wasn’t there before I walked into this room. I know deep in my gut it’s not caused by my mom’s precarious medical condition but rather from running into Juniper.

My first and only love.

My biggest heartbreak.

My brother’s wife.

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Product Release Date: March 5, 2024

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