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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(13)

By:Shelly Laurenston

“Well, she thinks you’re wounded and my tormenting you is beneath me.”
“So you two just met then?”
“I like how your sense of humor comes out when it’s to make fun of me.”
“You need to pick up the step, Malone,” Novikov yelled after her. “We’ve got a game to get to.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
After a few minutes of following along, Crush asked, “So where are we going anyway?”
“You’ll see.”
“If you’re just going to find another way to publicly embarrass me, can we do it at another time? Like after the game?”
“I don’t waste my time embarrassing anyone when I’ve got a game about to start.”
“And why is that?”
“Because embarrassing others is a pastime and pastimes are for after the game. Like video games or going out to clubs.”
“Can you be more cat?”
“Not even if I tried.”
She took him down a small set of stairs to a door manned by a couple of very large security guards. “Hey, guys.”
“Hey, Cella,” one said while opening the door for her.
“He’s with me. This is ...” She stopped, looked at him. “What’s your name?”
“You’re just asking me that?”
“MacDermot didn’t tell you?”
“She did but”—she shrugged—“it slipped my mind.”
Knowing that if he tried to make a run for it, she’d just hunt him down, Crush decided to just get this insanity over with. “Name’s Lou Crushek.” 
“I thought Blayne called you Crush.”
“My friends call me Crush, and since you’re not—”
“Crush it is then.” She yanked him inside the big room with the giant windows overlooking the rink and dragged him until they reached the plush leather seats.
“You’ll watch the game from here.”
Crush took a quick look around. When the Sports Center first opened years ago, Crush had taken what Conway still called “a sports geek tour of the place.” So he knew this room, although he and the other tourists had only been allowed a very quick walkthrough. “But ... but this is the—”
“Owner’s box. Right. And you can sit here. Right by my daddy.”
Crush gawked down at the older tiger male sitting in one of the seats, an open Guinness in his hand. Crush gawked, but he couldn’t speak. No words would come out. So, like an idiot, he just stood there. Gawking.
“Daddy,” Malone said. “This is Lou Crushek, aka Crush. He’s my new boyfriend.” The man blinked in surprise and then grinned. “Crush, honey, this is my daddy, Nice Guy Malone.”
Crush shook his head at the hand held out to him. “I think I ... I need to ...”
Surprisingly soft hands brushed hair off his face. “Oh, baby, you’ve gone all white. Which is kind of amazing considering you’re a polar.”
“He better sit down.”
Father and daughter shoved Crush into a seat.
“What’s wrong with him?” Nice Guy asked.
“He’s a fan, Daddy. I think he’s overwhelmed at meeting you.”
“Good kid,” Nice Guy said before glancing at his daughter and asking, “And he’s single, right?”
“Just making sure. Look, you go before you hear about it from Novikov. I’ll take care of the kid.”
“Thanks, Daddy.” She winked at Crush. “And I’ll see you later, handsome.”
And that was about the time that Crush completely freaked out.
Cella was at the door pulling it open when a big hand slammed against it and shoved it back, yanking her forward a bit since she still had her hand on the knob.
“You can’t leave me.”
Startled by the desperation she heard in that voice, she turned around and looked up at the cop. “Of course, I can.”
“No. You can’t leave me.”
“Look at you, already attached. But I play with the Genghis Khan of time management. I have to go.” She pulled at the door again and again it was slammed.
“What are you doing?” she asked, getting exasperated.
“You can’t leave me.”
“You keep saying that.”
“Because it’s true. I’ll just go with you.”
“I can’t take you to the locker room until after the game.”
“No, but I can go to the seat I paid for.”
“The seat in the nosebleed section? That’s where Blayne said you were headed. Why would you want to go there?”
“Because I can’t stay here,” he whispered.
“Why not?” she whispered back.
He leaned in closer, and still in a whisper, “Because that’s Nice Guy Malone.”
“I know,” she again whispered back. “I recognize him from all my birthday parties and when I find him inappropriately fondling my mother. Not seeing the problem. Just talk to him.”
“Talk? Talk to him? To Nice Guy Malone?”
Good God, the man was having a panic attack.
“What am I supposed to say to Nice Guy Malone? I mean he’s ... he’s Nice Guy Malone.”And that’s when she understood. Kind of like if she’d had the chance to sit and chat with John L. Sullivan, one of the last known heavyweight bare-knuckle champions. She’d probably be having a full-on panic attack if she’d met him—partly because the man had died in 1918, but also because he was her hero.
And her father was the hero of this uptight cop that Blayne Thorpe suddenly felt so protective of, which did nothing but make him even cuter than he already was simply because he had excellent taste.
“You have to take me out of here,” the polar begged.
“Why do you hate me?”
“I don’t hate you. I just want to make sure you don’t regret this night for the rest of your life by walking away. Besides, my dad’s a total talker. Mr. Storyteller. All Malone males are. So you won’t have to say a word.” She went up on her toes and kissed his cheek. “Now balls up and go talk to your lifelong hero.”
Cella shoved and her father was there to grab the polar’s arm. “Come on, kid. I’ll introduce you to everybody.”
“Introduce me?” And she heard his voice crack a little.
“Way cute.” Cella chuckled and headed out, ready to have some fun on the ice.
“Would you like a menu, sir?”
Crush shook his head, and wondered how he could get out of this. “No.”
“Go on,” Nice Guy pushed.
“We have a lovely peppered, ringed seal sandwich with spicy hot mustard. It’s a favorite among our polar clientele.”
And wow, but did that sound good. But no. No. He couldn’t. This was getting completely out of hand!
“He’ll take it,” Nice Guy volunteered for him. “And some of those sweet potato fries, too.” The waiter nodded and walked off. “You might as well enjoy this, kid.”
“I have no idea how I got here. This can’t end well.”
Nice Guy studied him for a few moments, then said, “You’re a cop, aren’t you?”
Stunned, Crush stared at his hero. It was usually the last thing anyone ever accused Crush of being. Meth dealer, mass murderer, biker, but no one ever said, “You’re a cop, aren’t you?” It was why Crush was so good at his job. He could infiltrate any lowlife, underworld association he wanted simply because he looked as if for ten bucks and a pack of smokes, he’d cut someone’s throat.
Of course, that used to insult him, but not anymore.
“Uh ... well ...”
Nice Guy patted his arm. “It’s all right, kid. You don’t need to admit anything. I just know cops when I see ’em.” 
“No one else ever guesses it right.”
The tiger shrugged. “I was always ‘Nice Guy’ Malone, but I wasn’t always ‘Nice Guy’ Malone.”
Crush frowned while Nice Guy’s teammates laughed around them.
“What,” Crush asked, “does that mean?”
Cella, now with her skates on and stick and helmet in hand, made her way to the long, covered hallway that would lead out onto the ice. But when she was still a corner-turn away, a small wolfdog sped out in front of her, blocking her path.
Not wanting to fight, Cella immediately held her hands up. “I made it up to him! I made it up to him!”
“Huh?” Blayne shook her head. “Oh, whatever. I’m not talking about that.”
“Oh.” Cella lowered her hands. “Then what’s up?”
“I need your help.”
“After you just busted my balls?”
“Those are two separate issues!” Blayne bellowed.
Cella’s eyes narrowed. “Blayne ... did you have sugar today?”
She lowered her gaze. “Maybe.”
“And on that note ...”
Cella tried to go around her, but Blayne skated in front of her. She had on her quad skates for derby practice and the tiniest shorts known to man or God. Thankfully, the little wolfdog looked good in those shorts.
“I need your help,” she said.
“With what?”
“My wedding. Gwen’s wedding. It’s all gone to shit!”
“You knew Novikov was difficult.”
“He’s not the problem. Gwen’s mother. Lock’s mother. They’re the problem.”
“How are they a problem for you?”
Her lips briefly pressed into a thin line. “Apparently, I’m like a daughter to them,” she said flatly.