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Van2 (E-Book)

Van2 (E-Book)

His wife is ready to fight for their marriage in this second chance hockey romance.

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Van Turner found fame as part of the Carolina Cold Fury, helping the team bring home a championship. He also found love and married his teammate’s little sister, eventually retiring from the game to enjoy a quiet life in the verdant hills of Vermont. Now, Van’s dark past threatens to unravel his future.

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I never once regretted my decision to walk away from hockey. I attained what so few in the league are able and retired at the top of my game. Besides, I had the ultimate prize by my side—my gorgeous wife, Simone. We settled into married life in Vermont and were ready to expand our family when I was blindsided by my sociopath of a parent, this time from the grave. Before dying from cancer while in prison, my serial killer father left his private diaries to a journalist. From that one bequest came a tell-all biography detailing his deranged crimes along with a litany of lies meant to ruin my life.

Knowing first-hand the horrors of growing up the product of a monster, I know there is no way I can bring a child into this drama. I refuse to allow my kid to suffer the taunting and harassment I did, so I do the only thing I can think of—I walk away from Simone and our beautiful life together. With the knowledge that she will be safe from the publicity of my shameful past and able to find a love she deserves, I return to hockey, joining the Pittsburgh Titans. The long hours on the ice are the only thing that will even remotely keep my mind off everything I’ve left behind and I know that I’ve given Simone her best chance at happiness.

But I’m clearly a man who doesn’t learn from the past and I should have known better than to underestimate my wife. The woman doesn’t know how to take “no” for an answer. She’s as persistent as I am stubborn and it’s a battle of wills as she uses all her powers of persuasion to save our marriage. Simone wore me down once, but she won’t do it again. I’m keeping my wits about me and my pants on, no matter how much she tempts me with her sexy ways. But those, my friends, are what they often call ‘famous last words’.

Read Chapter One

Van

I hate this shit. The press is a necessary evil but I never forget it’s inherently evil. I’m required by the Titans to attend this press conference held at the arena. The room hums with anticipation as I follow Coach West and our GM, Callum Derringer, through a side door and up onto a raised dais. The polished surface of the long mahogany table reflects the bright lights that illuminate the room. Three chairs are set behind it and before each chair a microphone.

The room is abuzz with chatter as the crowd engages in speculative conversation, their theories about my comeback. When we’re spotted, I hear the whir of camera shutters and voices are amplified as the press poise on the edge of their seats, ready to capture the first words of this new chapter in my career.

Derringer takes the first chair, Coach West the next and I sit down on the end. Luckily, there’s a swath of heavy canvas fabric pinned to the front of the table with the Titans’ logo centered. It prevents anyone from seeing the nervous bounce of my leg.

Arranged in semicircular rows facing the dais are the cream of the sports press corps, armed with notepads, voice recorders and cameras, their gazes fixed on me. Some reporters are seasoned stalwarts, their faces marked by years spent under the harsh lights of arenas, while others are more wide-eyed and eager, their fingers poised above iPads to take copious notes.

On one side of the room, a sideboard holds coffee and bottled water accompanied by an assortment of pastries. On the other side, a large LED screen displays a live feed of the event for those outside the room.

Callum pulls his microphone closer and clasps his hands on the table before him as he looks out over the forty or so people in attendance. “Ladies and gentlemen, members of the press, good afternoon. As you know, I’m Callum Derringer, general manager of the Pittsburgh Titans. We’re here today to welcome an extraordinary athlete back to the sport we all love, Van Turner, a man whose talent and dedication to hockey are well known and respected. We understand this is big news and want to do our best to appease your curiosity. We will only be allotting fifteen minutes, as I’m sure you can all appreciate we have to get Van on to his first practice. Please respect this time frame and make sure your questions are succinct and respectful.” He pauses, surveys the rows of reporters and there’s a hard glint in his eye. “We understand the high level of interest and the numerous questions you all have, but we request that you maintain a level of decorum. This is important sports news and we want to be open, but it is not a tabloid frenzy. Let’s keep our focus on the sport and on the exceptional talent we’re adding to our team.”

A young reporter in the front stands holding a digital recorder. “It’s been three years since Van Turner’s retirement. What prompted the decision to bring him back into the league, especially after such a significant break and was it worth it to send Perry Veleno down to the minors as he’s been putting up some impressive stats?”

Callum doesn’t wait for me or Coach to weigh in, instead leaning toward the microphone. “Van Turner’s legacy with the Carolina Cold Fury speaks for itself. He brings not only a wealth of experience and skill but also a unique resilience and tenacity that is the cornerstone of this new team. He aced all his strength and endurance tests, demonstrating he’s still in peak condition, reinforcing our belief that his addition to the Titans will be invaluable. And I wouldn’t have sent Perry Veleno down to the minors if I didn’t think this was the best move for the Titans in its entirety.”

The reporter lobs a follow-up. “It’s one thing to maintain strength and stamina… it’s another to keep your ice skills sharp.”

Not a question, but an observation that still demands a response. Coach West takes it. “We did significant on-ice testing. We put Van through every skill imaginable and he’s as sharp today as he was three years ago.” This is true… I never left the ice, even when I retired. I played in a rec league and helped coach the Dartmouth team. “However, I think the mere fact that we signed him to a three-year contract should tell you all you need to know. We have confidence he will not only be an immediately impactful player but a long-term cornerstone for our defense.”

Eager to be the next afforded the opportunity to ask a question, several are tossed out at once. Callum points and a female reporter stands. “With Van Turner joining the third line, what specific changes or improvements do you hope to see in the team’s performance?”

Coach West answers. “Van’s defensive abilities are top-notch. His prowess on the ice can solidify our defense, but it’s his strategic understanding of the game that will help enhance our overall performance. Van’s return isn’t just about adding a player to our roster—it’s about bringing in a seasoned professional who knows how to win and can impart that knowledge and mindset to the rest of the team. This is especially helpful since, as you know, we’ve rebuilt with younger players coming up from the minors.”

More questions are hurled and an older reporter I recognize from when I last played stands. He’s old-school, clutching a spiral pad and pen to jot notes. His eyes come straight to me. “Van, can you comment on your father’s recent biography? Has it impacted your decision to return?”

Well, that’s fucking disappointing. Not that I expected the topic would be averted, but I didn’t expect a veteran reporter to care about this shit. The mention of my father causes a twinge in my gut, an old wound that refuses to heal.

What I’d like to do is smash my fist into his face, but instead, I choose my words carefully. “Let’s keep this about hockey. I’m here because I want to play, not to discuss a book I had no hand in writing.”

The next question comes from a middle-aged man in the front row, his glasses reflecting the overhead lights. “How does your wife feel about your comeback, given her own connection to the hockey world?”

Simone.

My heart clenches at the mention of her. I wrestle with my emotions, remembering why I’m here and what I left behind. “Simone is part of the hockey community, and she understands what this life demands.”

That did not answer the question, but I truly have no clue how she feels about it. I never discussed it with her. I’m surprised by how steady my voice sounds despite the fact it feels like my chest is cracking open. I glance around the room, nearly begging with my expression for someone to ask a hockey question. “Van, do you think the shadows from your past will affect your game or the Titans’ dynamic?”

The pain in my chest recedes, replaced with a burning anger in my gut at the fucking idiotic question. It’s a jab, trying to draw out a reaction. I force a thin smile onto my face, holding my ground. “I’m here to play hockey. I believe my skills on the ice will speak louder than any perceived ‘shadows.’ As for the Titans’ dynamic, I’ll do my part to contribute positively and play the best hockey I can.”

The next few questions are focused on the training regimen I’ve maintained over the last three years and not on my personal life. Even though no one asks about Arco or Simone at this moment, I’m still incredibly uneasy in the spotlight. A bead of sweat rolls down my temple, but I let that be the only visible sign I’m uncomfortable. I maintain my facade, bearing the weight of my decision to step back into the public eye. After all, I’m here to play, and that’s all they need to know.

“Okay… we have time for one more question,” Callum says, his gaze roaming the room. A flurry of activity explodes, a disorienting storm of reporters shouting questions faster than I can process. The lights from the cameras flash relentlessly, the barrage of voices growing louder. My past, my father, my marriage… they’re all on display, picked apart by these vultures.

“Van, are you afraid your father’s legacy will haunt you on the ice?”

“Did Simone push you to rejoin the league?”

“What’s the real reason behind your sudden return to the game?”

“Are you worried about your past distracting your teammates?”

“Did you read your father’s biography?”

“Did you see your father before he died?”

The questions are painful, each one a stabbing needle of inquiry. The room spins as the noise crescendos, my heart pounding in my ears. I drop my hands to my lap so the vultures can’t see me clenching my fists in anger. My skin prickles with the need to do violence because these assholes aren’t here for the hockey.

They’re here for the drama, for the man whose life has been a spectacle of tragedies.

I knew this was going to happen and it was still a better choice than staying with Simone. I’d rather be subjected to this every day than have another moment inside the home I built with my wife because that had become too painful to deal with.

A thunderous voice booms through the chaos. “Enough!” Callum snarls as he pounds his fist on the table, his face flushed with anger. “This is a hockey press conference, not a tabloid interrogation. If you can’t keep your questions related to the game, the team or Van’s professional career, you can leave.”

His words hang heavy in the air, casting a noticeable chill over the reporters. The cacophony is replaced by a sudden, deafening quiet. I release a held breath, grateful for the respite.

Suddenly, the spotlight seems less glaring, the weight on my shoulders a touch lighter. But as the echoes of the questions linger, I know my fight has only just begun. I’m back in the game, back in the limelight, and now more than ever, I need to hold my ground.

“Now,” Callum says, his tone calm but brooking no nonsense. “Is there one last appropriate question that someone would like to ask?”

For a moment, no one moves.

No one says a thing.

Then another female reporter stands from the back row. She looks like she just stepped out of a beauty magazine with perfect facial features and expertly coiffed hair. She must be an on-camera personality. “Van… no doubt you’ve followed the Titans this season. They’re poised to roll into the playoffs at the top of their division. What do you think you bring to the team that could help them clinch a championship?”

Finally… a fucking question that makes sense. For the first time, my smile is genuine. “I bring experience. This team is young and while incredibly well meshed, the playoffs are an entirely different creature than the regular season. I know the stressors that come with the territory and I’m hoping more than anything to be a guide and a resource. Of course, I’m still ready to pound anyone who threatens one of my teammates.”

That gets a laugh from nearly everyone and the tension in me melts a little more. Thankfully, Coach West stands up. “Unfortunately, we do have a practice to get to. Thank you everyone for attending.”

I waste no time following Coach out the door, ignoring questions being yelled in the hopes I’ll answer just one more.

The last one I hear before exiting hits me hard. “Van… Van… what do Lucas and Max Fournier think about your return? What will it be like battling against them?”

It’s going to be a pisser because I’m sure they both want to kick my ass for what I did to Simone. Our last argument before I left home was bitter and I said hateful things to push her away. I know my barbs hit the mark because her French Canadien accent, usually so very light and melodic, had become thick from the emotion. Whereas her brothers, who had left Montreal when they were young, had all but lost their accent, Simone wore hers like a badge of armor. It was always the tell when I knew I’d really pissed her off.

But Max and Lucas are not the ones I’m worried about. It’s the youngest of the Fournier brothers, Malik, who I have to be wary of. He just happens to live here in Pittsburgh, is former Special Forces and currently works for a world-renowned security company where he’s operated as a paid mercenary. He’s probably got a dozen different ways to torture and make me suffer and then could easily hide my body.

I’d deserve it too.

***

The locker room is filled with the familiar post-practice symphony, and I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it until just now. The clatter of gear, the murmur of conversation, the occasional echo of laughter.

After my shower, I return to my locker, toweling my hair dry as I maneuver through.

Practice was good. Damn good, actually.

While I kept myself in shape and ran drills all the time with my league and the Dartmouth team, I did harbor a tiny bit of worry that maybe it still wouldn’t have been enough to play at the professional level again. That personal concern has been put to rest and my new teammates have been offering hardy congratulations on my return.

Boone Rivers, our first-line right-winger, has his cubby next to mine. He’s almost fully dressed, tugging down his T-shirt as I step up next to him. On the other side of him is Foster MacInnis, the second-line center already lacing up his shoes, his brows furrowed in concentration.

I drop my towel and reach for my clothes. Nothing strange about being butt-ass naked in front of these strangers. That’s just part of the sport.

“How’d you feel out there?” Boone asks, breaking the silence between us. His voice carries a note of easy camaraderie.

“Good,” I reply, casting him a glance before pulling on my boxers. “I obviously need to get up to speed on the playbook.”

“You’ll get there.”

“It felt great to be back on the ice,” I admit, donning my jeans. About the only thing worth anything I have going for me these days. “But I felt a little rusty to be playing at your level.”

“You didn’t look rusty,” Foster chimes in, glancing up from his laces. “In fact, you looked slick as hell out there. That assist you fed me was off the hook.”

“Thanks,” I respond, a slight smile playing at the corners of my mouth as I treasure the thrill of the game sparking back to life within me. It burns bright against the barren emptiness.

“So, where you staying?” Foster asks as he rises from the bench and slings his duffel over his shoulder.

“Renting a place over in the Historic Mexican War Streets neighborhood. The front office had a list of places for me.”

“Nice area,” Foster says.

“Convenient,” I reply. “It was already furnished.”

“Does that mean you won’t be moving your stuff from Vermont?” Boone asks.

My stomach pitches as that’s getting dangerously close to a subject I don’t want to talk about.

“Not anytime soon,” I say vaguely as I pull my shirt over my head and then sit on the bench to put on my socks.

“Is your wife staying behind because of a job?” Foster asks genially.

The weight of the question hits harder than I expected. I swallow hard, deciding honesty is the best route. “No, she won’t be joining me. We’re… taking some time apart.”

That’s a delicate way of saying I left Simone and have no intention of reconciling with her, but I’m not about to splash my dirty laundry around.

Boone and Foster stare back at me with awkward expressions, but it’s Foster who recovers first. “Ah… shit, man. I’m sorry. I wasn’t being nosy or anything.”

“It’s cool,” I say, waving a hand at him, but if he’s as sensitive to my tone as I am, then he knows it’s anything but.

Foster’s voice drops. “I’ve been through it if you need to talk.”

“Divorced?” I ask because that’s the end goal for me, right?

“Yeah,” he says with a sad shake of his head. “We have a daughter and they both live in California. You have kids?”

All I can do is shake my head, the threat of an emotional explosion nearly buckling my knees. I mean… thank fuck we don’t have kids. Thank fuck Simone never got pregnant. Thank fuck that’s one disaster averted.

“Not that it makes it any easier,” Foster continues as he fishes in his pocket for his keys. “But still… let’s get a beer sometime and commiserate.”

I manage a smile, but the last thing I want to do is talk about Simone with anyone. Foster claps me on the shoulder as he moves past.

My regard cuts to Boone and I hate the sympathy on his face. I brace for him to say something about my wife, but instead, he says, “I’ve been hearing some of the shit in the press about your dad.” My hackles rise, prepared to tell him to shut the fuck up. “Ignore that shit. Not one person on this team cares about that stuff and neither should you. It will be old news by tomorrow.”

I blink in surprise, half expecting the same curiosity about my serial killer father that the reporters have. “Thanks, man.”

“We got your back,” he says simply, turning to his cubby.

And I have no choice but to believe it.

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Product Release Date: December 1, 2023

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