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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(62)

By:Shelly Laurenston

Even worse was that as soon as she’d finally gotten a true lead on Whitlan, so had that goddamn boy. Anyone but Crushek. If it had only been one of the Group or those ridiculous cats, she wouldn’t have worried. But Crushek ... he was one of the few who could convince Meirston of her involvement because everyone knew Lou Crushek was “old-school honest.” Whatever the hell that meant.
The door to her office opened and Gray and Chazz walked in, ignoring her assistant’s requests for them to wait. Well, she’d known this would be coming....
“How could you?” Chazz demanded. “How could you do that?”
Considering that neither of these idiots knew what was really going on, she could see why they didn’t understand how Lou could bring her down. And although killing their brother would do nothing but make matters worse for her, she’d had to do something and she’d gone with crippling him. Not hurting his arms and legs because that wouldn’t stop him, either, but his little feline girlfriend? That was his weakness. So she’d done what she’d had to do.
“Look, boys, I’m sorry about your brother—”
Chazz scowled. “Our brother?”
“Forget our brother,” Gray snapped. “What about the goddamn team? How could you do that to the Carnivores?”
Peg sighed. Yeah, she’d been right from the beginning. Of the three, the contrary one got all the brains.
Three days after her career-ending injury, Cella returned to the Sports Center. Crush drove her over and walked in with her, but let her go into the locker room by herself to get the rest of her stuff. And she was grateful he was being so understanding because Cella just wasn’t ready to face her old team yet. Her knee might be healed but her life still felt a little shaky.
But Crush ... well, he was being amazing. So she’d rush through these five stages of grief thing that her family kept talking about and get Crush back to the hotel. There she could use some “sex treatment” to recover from her trauma. An excellent plan as far as she was concerned. 
Yet as she stood there, staring at the old training jersey she held in her hands, she really wondered if she’d ever be “over” all of this. If she couldn’t work for KZS anymore, she wouldn’t shed a tear. Would she miss it? Yeah. She would. She loved hanging around cats. But hockey ...
“Cella! Cella!”
Hearing her name bellowed, repeatedly, outside the locker room, Cella tossed her jersey to the bench and walked to the door, yanking it open.
“What?” she demanded, seeing that Crush had been doing his best to keep Reece Reed from shoving him out of the way. Shame the bear really was a mess on skates because he seemed to have a healthy grasp on the rest of hockey’s basics. “What the hell’s going on?”
“You have to come to tryouts. Please.”
Cella dropped her hand to her hip, lips pursed. “Are you trying to hurt my feelings? Are you trying to make me cry or something? Because if I cry, I’ll make sure you cry with me, Reed.”
“No, no. You don’t understand—”
“Because I know that it must be fuckin’ high-larious to you guys that big-mouth Malone is out of the league and now you can say all that shit to my face that you had to say behind my back, but let me tell you—”
“Novikov is handling the tryouts.”
Cella’s words stopped in her throat and she began blinking too much. Because she must have heard Reed wrong. She must have.
“I’m sorry. Did you say—?”
“He took over the tryouts. Insisted on it. Said you were the only one he trusted to do it and with you gone ...” Reed took off his baseball cap, ran his hands through his hair. “I heard from one of the maintenance guys that you and Crush were in the building. I know you want to pack up your stuff and go, but you need to understand ... he’s destroying people’s will to live. He made a hyena cry. A hyena. They laugh at everything, but this one was sobbing in the girl’s bathroom and one of the lion male football players felt so bad for him ... he went in to comfort him. Lion males don’t do that.”
“Why was he in the girl’s bathroom?”
“Probably because that’s where Novikov said he belonged. Because he was such a girl.”
Cella’s eyes narrowed. “That mixed-breed, misogynistic motherfucker.”
“No one knows what to do and Van Holtz has already swung at him twice.”
“Where the fuck is Reynolds?” The Carnivores’ increasingly useless coach.
“In his office ... drinking.”
“It’s eight in the morning.”
“And I rest my case.”
Cella looked at Crush, but he only shrugged. “It’s up to you. But I should remind you that you invited Hannah to the try—”
“Oh, my God!” Cella pointed at Reed. “Round up a few of the guys and all of you get on your gear. I’ll meet you in the rink.”
Cella ran back to her locker and yanked out her equipment, quickly putting everything on.
Without opening her eyes, Sophie knew someone was in the Atlantic City hotel room with her, and even as she reached for the gun she kept under her pillow, she already knew it wouldn’t be there.
It wasn’t.
“Might as well get up, darlin’. Ain’t got all day.”
Her mind scrambling for a way out of this, Sophie sat up, her eyes straying to the two windows closest to her and the door. Maybe she could—“You’ll never make it out of here before I catch ya. We both know that.”
They did. Sophie studied the tall, big-shouldered female sitting across from her. In the twenty-three years Sophie DiMarco had been on this earth, she’d learned how to read people. It was a skill that had kept her alive and relatively unscathed. When she’d picked up that bleeding guy, she’d known she was safe with him. Not just because he was bleeding out in the car, but because she could tell. She sensed it.
With this woman, however ... she knew if she ran, the bitch would kill her and it wouldn’t even cross her mind again once it was over.
“What do you want?”
Eyes like a dog’s blinked at her. “I need you to show me where you picked up that boy.”
“Can’t I just give you—?”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you ... I just don’t trust anybody. So show me where it was.”
“And then what?”
“Darlin’, if I was gonna kill you, I’d have done it by now. But commitments were made and I hold to those.”
“Yeah, but—”
“You want that boy safe, don’t you?”
“I guess. I mean, I don’t really know him or anything.”
“You always pick up strangers bleeding out on the street?”
Realizing the woman was either going to kill her or not and there was nothing Sophie could do about it, she admitted, “That isn’t what I saw. And we both know it.”
“Help me,” the woman said. “And I’ll make sure no one bothers you.” She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, and added, “As long as you keep your mouth shut.”
Crush followed Cella to the rink, then stood outside. A few seconds later, Reed and the rest of the players he’d managed to find at the Sports Center ran by, with their gear on except for their skates. Crush grabbed the handle and pulled the door open, allowing the team to charge inside. Reed stopped. “You coming in?”
“The sign”—he pointed at the big sign that had several stadium guards standing around it—“says only players and tryout invitees. I’m neither.”
The wolf grinned. “Ain’t you cute.” Then he grabbed Crush by the shoulder of his sweatshirt and hauled him inside.
“Are you sure this is okay? I mean—”
“Quiet, son. And just watch your woman work.”
Cella skated across the ice toward Novikov. Novikov, who was in the middle of a tirade against some kid that didn’t even look eighteen years old.
Cella maneuvered between the two, coming to an immediate stop in front of Novikov. “What is wrong with you?” she asked him. 
“Nothing. Why are you here?”
“I’m here to help.”
“You can’t. You’re not on the team.”
“I can’t help, you idiot, during a game. There’s nothing that says I can’t help with tryouts.”
“You’re supposed to be getting me an enforcer from the losers we already have. I’ll handle the new losers.”
Cella closed her eyes, took a deep breath. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Not if you’re just going to yell at me about how I shouldn’t call any of these idiots ‘losers.’ Especially when you’re not even on the team anymore.”
Cella opened her eyes, looking up at the seven-one hybrid through those black lashes.
“Uh-oh,” Crush muttered.
“Yeah,” Reed agreed. “I was thinking the same thing.”
Cella skated off across the ice, stopped at one of the other exits, and walked out.
Reed looked at him. “That’s it?”
“Doubt it.”
Novikov was already back to destroying the hopes and dreams of complete strangers when Cella came in again. She skated over to him and stopped, gazing up at him.
“What? You’re back? Why?”
“You did ... didn’t you?” a small voice said, and Crush and Reed leaned over to see who was standing in that entrance Cella had just come through.