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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(14)

By:Shelly Laurenston

“Oh. Well, have fun with that.”
“Cella, I need your help.”
“With what?”
“Your mom.”
Of course. Every bride wanted Barb Malone as their wedding planner, but that just wasn’t possible. “My mom is booked for the next three years. I think she even turned down one of the Kennedys.” Cella glanced off. “Or maybe it was just a close relative of the Kennedys. Either way—”
“So you’re saying no?”
“I’m saying no.”
“Fine!” Blayne and her sugar high bellowed.
Cella watched her skate off, waiting until she was about ten feet away before she softly said, “Unless ...”
Wild dog ears honed in on that and Blayne stopped. “Unless?”
Cella faced her, shrugged. “Maybe if you could help me with Novikov and the way he treats the team ...”
Blayne clenched her fists. “We made a promise to each other that I would never involve myself in his hockey career and he would never call derby a ‘chick sport.’ ”
“Oh. All right. Well”—Cella turned around, headed toward the team—“good luck to ya!”
With a speed that Cella always marveled at, Blayne shot in front of her. Damn shame the girl couldn’t ice-skate very well, because, wow.
“Fine. I’ll do it. If you get your mother to take on my wedding and Gwen’s.”
“Why not make your lives easier and just have one joint wedding? Novikov won’t care and MacRyrie will learn to put up with him for one day if it makes Gwen happy.”
“My God ... that’s brilliant!”
“I know.” Cella pointed at herself. “Because that’s what I do. I solve problems. Now move your skinny ass.”
As Cella walked away, Blayne yelled from behind her, “I love you, Cella!”“Shut up.”
Cella got in line with the other players, waiting for their team and names to be announced.
“Thanks for joining us,” Novikov muttered.
“Oh, shut up.” She stepped in next to Van Holtz. “Hey.”
Cella noticed how the wolf stared placidly across the room.
“Feel better?” she asked him.
“Dee-Ann stop by?” The wolf grinned and Cella said, “Then I’m glad I stopped by before then.”
“So am I.”
Cella chuckled until she heard someone whistling and whispering, “Hey ... you. Hey,” at her. She looked around at her own teammates, then over at the waiting Alabama Slammers. A young wolf grinned at her, winked.
MacRyrie snorted next to her. “He must be new.”
The opposing team was called out and the wolf made sure to stare at her until he hit the ice.
“Cella,” and she could hear the warning in Van Holtz’s voice. His “captain” voice, she called it. It was different from his “owner” voice and his “goalie” voice.
She shrugged. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Just make sure you don’t.”
“I’m only here to play the game.”
Traditional bagpipe music began playing over the loudspeaker—it was New York, after all—and the announcer called out the Carvnivores, each first-string player announced individually and skating out onto the ice, spotlights directly on them.
Cella patiently waited her turn, glancing back and winking at Jai, who stood with her med team. Her best friend grinned and gave her a thumbs-up.
Then she gave her the finger.
Yep. Best friend ever!
Cella heard it. “Number 29, Marcella ‘Bare Knuckles’ Malone!”
Grinning, she skated out onto the ice, raising her free hand to wave at the crowd. She heard a lot of female cheers, which made sense since she had a lot of female predator fans. But it was when the announcer called out Novikov’s name that the crowd lost its collective mind. Cella didn’t blame them, though. He might be an obsessive-compulsive borderline sociopath, but damn if the man wasn’t the best hockey player she’d ever known ... next to her dad, of course. At least ... that’s what she told her dad.
“Then for about three years,” Nice Guy continued, “I was a leg breaker for a couple of bookies who worked for the O’Malley boys. I was really good at it, too.”
The O’Malley boys? Crush closed his eyes. Good God. “And how old were you when you—”
“Thir ... thirteen?”
“Tigers don’t have growth spurts like you guys. I was always big. Always looked way older than I was. And when I was working for bookies, I thought about robbing banks. But that’s a federal crime and I decided not to bother. Ya know?”
“Um ... uh ... uh-huh.” Crush closed his eyes again. “You just broke legs, right? You’ve never actually ... uh ... um ...”
“Killed someone? Nah. Of course not.” Nice Guy glanced at the ceiling. “Wait, on the ice ... ?”
And Crush gritted his teeth.
“No, no. That guy survived. Soooo ... no. All clear there.”
All Crush could do was shrug. “Okay.”
Cella slammed her body into the wolf who’d winked at her, making sure to ram her elbow under his helmet and into his throat. He fell to his knees and she dropped her gloves, slapped his helmet off, and proceeded to pummel his face raw before her teammates managed to drag her away from him.
With a snarl from the ref, she hit the box for a two-minute penalty.
Pulling out her fang guard, she glanced over at the black bear sitting next to her.
“Hi, Bert.”
“Hey, Cella.”
“How’s the wife?”
“Good. Good. Your daughter?”
“Great. Turning eighteen this weekend.”
Bert winced. “Uh-oh. I wish you luck.”
“Yep.” Cella spit out blood, and wiped blood off her knuckles. “You coming to the Ice Party this year?” she asked.
“Probably not. You know me. Not much of a partier.” Bert nodded. “Okay. I’m back in. See ya, Cella.”
“See ya, Bert.”
Cella spit out more blood, removed her helmet, and shook out her hair. She was seriously considering getting her hair cut. Maybe a mani-pedi, too. Oooh! Maybe she could drag Lady Dour of the Clan Dour, aka Meghan, to go with her. Honestly, was all that studying necessary? And constant thinking? The girl needed to relax! She was a Malone, wasn’t she? And the Malones knew how to relax. It was time her daughter got on the train with the rest of them.
So yeah. Haircuts and mani-pedis, hopefully with a mother-daughter discount. And the kid would just have to suck it up.
Her time in the box up, Cella stood, pulled on her helmet, popped her fang guard back in, and hit the ice.
And the first thing she did was slam her body into that same Alabama wolf, drop her gloves, and pummel his face....
“So,” Crush felt the need to ask, “what made you give up your ... uh ... leg-breaking ways? Hockey?”
Nice Guy chuckled. “Nah. Hockey just made me a better leg breaker. Playing hockey was something that I did naturally. Like breathing. And most of what I did was to get money for equipment. So, no. It’s not why. It was Barb.” When Crush frowned, “My wife. Cella’s mother. We’d known each other since grade school, but unlike the Malones, Barb’s father became rich and moved the family uptown. Then my high school was playing football against Trinity Parochial, and I locked on her as soon as I saw her again. But she wouldn’t have anything to do with me.”
“Because you were breaking people’s legs at thirteen?”
“No, that didn’t bother her. Besides. They weren’t people. They were degenerate gamblers. But I did beat up her kid brother for his lunch money. That kind of pissed her off.”
“Yeah. I can see a girl holding that against you.”
“Didn’t stop me from trying, though. Malones, we don’t back away from a challenge. Gifts for her. Flowers, candy. A cool car for me ... stolen, of course.”
“I didn’t need to know that.”“The latest clothes. Everything I figured a girl would want. Then she finally said it. ‘You’re a lowlife and I wouldn’t date you if you were the last tiger on the planet.’ ” He tapped his chest. “That one hurt. Right here. So I figured if I was gonna get her, I had to stop breaking legs, stealing cars, throwing degenerate gamblers off rooftops—”
“Again ... that I didn’t need to know.”
“That’s when I realized hockey wasn’t just that thing I did, but a way I could get legit. Get on the right team, become the best player—I could get a girl like her.”
“And you can get your equipment legally.”
“Didn’t really care about that.”
“Of course, you didn’t.”
“Before I knew it, I was considered the best in the league and I had the She-tiger of my dreams.”
“Except for the extreme illegal activity during your important developmental years—that was a surprisingly sweet story.”
“Mhmm.” Nice Guy suddenly looked him over, eyes narrowing. “What do you know about my daughter?”
“Apparently nothing,” he muttered, but when Nice Guy tensed, Crush quickly added, “I knew about Bare Knuckles Malone.” Who didn’t? She had one of the worst reputations in the league next to The Marauder and was one of the first female enforcers for a pro-team who wasn’t a She-bear. “But I didn’t know the woman I was talking to was Bare Knuckles. Her face is impossible to see from my usual seats and any time they show her on the big screen, she’s wearing a helmet.”