This short story was written for the winner of the Countdown to Christmas 2016 Grand Prize winner. Enjoy!
Who’s the chic in the stands,” Rush asked, leaning toward Spencer as they waited for the groups to pile in.
“Which one?” Spencer questioned, glancing up to see a couple dozen people filing in as they geared up for the charity event they’d all been invited to.
“The shorter one. Brown hair, red and caramel highlights.”
Spencer glanced over at his friend. “Did you just say caramel?”
Rush shrugged. “Yeah. So?”
“Since when do you know those are caramel highlights?”
“Dude, I’m married. I have to know this shit. If I didn’t, my wife would glare at me when she asked how her hair looked.”
Spencer couldn’t help rolling his eyes. “Whatever. I see her. And?”
“She looks familiar.”
Spencer squinted as he stared up into the second row, trying to get a better look. “That’s…” He snapped his fingers, trying to remember her name. “Brandi.”
“Right. Brandi Howell. She’s been hanging at the Penalty Box. Ellie was talking about her.”
“Noelle, too,” Spencer confirmed. His wife had talked about meeting the woman at the bar a few times. She’d mentioned Brandi was a fan, but she was too shy to greet the players when she saw them.
“Folks! Let’s all move down closer to the ice. We’re going to get set up to take shots on Rush,” Paul shouted over the drone of conversation.
The crowd cheered and Spencer glanced over at his friend. This was a charity event they’d set up to raise money for the children’s hospital. Each person would get three chances to shoot on Rush and anyone who could get one past him would win season tickets to the Austin Arrows.
“You gonna go easy on them?” Spencer asked.
“Hell, no. If I did that, what fun would this be?”
“You think anyone’s gonna get past you?”
Rush smirked. “Doubtful. I am one of the best in the league, you know?”
Spencer hoped like hell his best friend had to eat those words before the day was out.
By the time the third guy was up, Rush was getting bored.
They’d set up carpet across the ice on the blue line so the people wouldn’t risk falling when they came out to take their shot. The first guy thought it’d be easy and ended up on his ass when he decided he’d step out onto the ice in his loafers.
The second guy, apparently friends with the first, tried to take his time and all three shots ended up going wide.
So far, Rush hadn’t even had to work to keep the puck out of the net.
Next up was his wife’s new friend, Brandi.
Even from his spot in front of the net, Rush could see determination in her brown eyes. She didn’t appear cocky, which was a good thing.
Getting into position, Rush rested his elbows on his pads and moved out of the net, but remained in the crease.
“I’ll try to go easy on you,” Brandi called out, a huge grin on her pretty face.
“I’ll do the same,” he said, his words muffled by his mask.
The woman couldn’t have been much more than a couple inches over five feet. Hell, the stick was about as tall as she was. He didn’t see this being an easy thing for her.
A few seconds later, he was proven wrong when the puck flew right for him. He successfully blocked it, then took his stance as quickly as he could. The second puck was already flying his way. He missed, but it pinged off the post.
All right. It was time to get serious.
She reared back and let the third puck fly but Rush couldn’t get into position fast enough before the damn thing shot past him, right into the net.
The horn blared, signaling a goal and he stood tall, pushing his mask up onto his head before making his way up the ice to where she stood, a brilliant smile on her face.
Pulling off his glove, he held out a hand.
“Nice work,” Rush said, shaking her small hand in his.
“Thanks. I figured timing was everything.”
He could hear several of the others whispering, likely jealous of the tiny woman who’d managed to best him. Not that he blamed them. There weren’t many people who could say they’d scored on him without even donning a pair of skates.
“Congratulations, Brandi,” Paul Rivers, the guy leading the promotions team today, said with a huge grin. “Why don’t you come back with me and we’ll get you set up. Once everyone else is finished, we’ll have pictures with the team.”
“Catch you in a bit,” Rush told her with a wave before heading back to his goal.
Apparently, he was going to have to up his game. Now that the others knew Brandi’s secret, he damn sure didn’t intend to be bested again.
Two hours later, Rush had changed out of his pads and he was meeting up with the group who’d been out on the ice earlier. He was happy to say that there had only been one person who’d been able to score on him today. In fact, he’d been so impressed, he’d shot Ellie a text to let her know the new girl might want to consider a position in the NHL.
The rest of the team arrived for pictures and they spent a solid hour moving people in and out of the room while they captured it all as a digital memory. He noticed Brandi didn’t come in until the very last, which made sense because the promotional team made a big deal out of her “besting” him.
Rush took the harassment from his teammates and the promotions team because the smile on Brandi’s face was enough to make it all worth it.
Before Brandi left the room, Phoenix Pierce—the owner of the Austin Arrows—appeared in the doorway. He made his way over and congratulated the winner. Brandi took it all in stride, smiling and laughing, even making a few jokes of her own.
Before she slipped out of the room, Rush managed to stop her.
“Hey, Ellie asked me to invite you over to the bar tonight. She said she’d cook up your favorite—coleslaw and ribs—to celebrate.”
“I’d like that,” Brandi said with another beaming smile. “You sure you can handle that though?”
Rush frowned. “Handle what?”
“Sharing a meal with the woman who got one past you?”
Chuckling, he tossed his arm over her shoulder. “I’m sure I’ll survive it.”
Yeah. He was really starting to like this woman.
Kaufman appeared at his side. “And drinks are on me tonight. It was worth it just to see the stunned look on Rush’s face.”
“I wasn’t stunned,” he argued.
“Oh, buddy, you were.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
Brandi chuckled. “You definitely were.”
Okay, now they were evidently ganging up on him.
“But don’t worry,” Kaufman assured him. “We got a shot of your face.”
“Definitely worth it,” Brandi agreed with a giggle.
Great. Just what he needed. “Two against one, huh?” he questioned them as they led the way out of the training room.
“Oh, don’t worry. Once Noelle hears about this, there won’t be a person in Austin who doesn’t bring it up.”
Yeah. He was a little worried about that.