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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(63)

By:Shelly Laurenston

“Oh, man,” Reed muttered. “Malone is stone cold.”
“I know.”
Novikov glared at Cella, then faced his fiancée. “Blayne—”
“You!” the wolfdog exploded, “are a horrible, horrible man! How could you say that to Cella after all she’s been through? I’ll never marry you! Never!”
Blayne ran out and Novikov handed his stick over to Cella. “I hate you,” he told her.
“Just be glad I didn’t punch you in the face. Again.”
Novikov went after his fiancée and Cella tossed the extra hockey stick to one of the regular players since she had her own.
With a smile, she skated over to the ones trying out. “Hi, everybody. I’m Cella Malone. First off—”
“Again with the first off,” Crush said under his breath, unable to hide his smile.
“—how many of you were already told by Novikov that you’re done?”
When all but three people out of the forty raised their hands, Cella shook her head and said, “Yeah. Let’s start over.”
Reed started walking toward the ice. “I think they’re asking for you.”
He motioned over to the players’ bench where MacRyrie and Van Holtz were sitting with a few of the senior players. With a wave, they motioned him over.
Crush went to their side, figuring they needed something, but MacRyrie just made everybody move down on the bench. It took Crush a good sixty seconds of staring before he realized that they expected him to sit. With the team. On the bench.
Holy shit.
Cella skated over to where Crush was sitting with Van Holtz and MacRyrie. Novikov—after begging and receiving Blayne’s forgiveness—was back out on the ice with Reed and several of the other players, but she’d forbidden him from speaking. She wanted to add “ever,” but she thought that might be asking too much. So she’d ordered him to silence until after the tryouts.
“Where is she?” Cella asked Crush.
“Where’s who?”
“Hannah. Blayne said she brought her, but she hasn’t seen her since she changed in the locker room.”
“I haven’t seen her.” When she sighed, he held his hands up. “I’ll go look for her.”“Thank you.”
After Crush walked out, MacRyrie muttered, “Nice guy.”
“Friendly,” Van Holtz added.
Cella’s eyes narrowed. “And?”
“Just an observation. No need to get testy.”
Debating whether to yell at them just for the hell of it, Cella heard Novikov berating some poor kid who just wanted to live his dream. The kid had potential, too, which was why Novikov was bothering. She’d realized that the worst thing for any player was when Novikov completely ignored you. That meant you weren’t a threat. As a player, you weren’t worthy of his attention. But the poor kid he was currently yelling down to wouldn’t know that.
Skating over, Cella slid between them. “Where’s my silence?”
“He asked me a question.”
“So you yell at him?”
“It was kind of a stupid question.”
It probably was, but still ... there were better ways to, oh, why bother?
“Go sit down, Novikov. Over there.” She pushed him toward where MacRyrie and Van Holtz were sitting.
“I’m not done.”
“Yes, you are.”
“You’re going to make me sit with them?”
“Be nice. They’re your teammates and Van Holtz is your boss.” She shoved, sending him gliding across the ice.
She faced the kid. “Okay.” She smiled at him to put him at ease. “Why don’t I have you work with Reed instead?”
Ric watched Cella Malone take the hopefuls through the paces. Unlike Novikov, she wasn’t a ridiculous bastard about it, but she wasn’t so nice that she was ineffectual. That was a great skill to have.
Novikov sat down next to him.
“I don’t know why I have to sit here with you two.”
“Because you’re an asshole?” Lock asked.
Novikov leaned over Ric. “You got something to say to me, humpback?”
“As a matter of fact—”
“Hey!” Cella was in front of them. She raised her hands together, then pushed them apart. “Separate.” She snarled and spit out between clenched teeth, “I said separate.”
Lock and Novikov sat back in their seats.
“I swear,” Cella said, shaking her head. “You’re worse than my baby brothers. You two—like cats in a bag.”
Ric watched her get back to work. “Impressive, huh?”
“What?” Lock asked, using the handle of his hockey stick to scratch his forehead.
“Cella.” Ric pointed at Novikov. “She handles this homicidal idiot quite well, wouldn’t you say?” 
“You do know I can hear you, right?”
“Know, but don’t care.”
Crush walked down another long hallway, letting his nose lead him. He eventually tracked the girl down by the soda machines. She was dressed in her hockey gear, skates included, but she was pressed between a Coke machine and a water cooler.
He knew that look on her face, too. He’d had it when he’d tried out for his school’s hockey team—and failed miserably. In fact, Crush was mocked for a good six months—until the growth spurt. Amazing what an obnoxious fourteen-year-old left wing hanging from the school flagpole could do for a white-haired boy’s rep.
“Cella sent me to look for you.”
“I can’t do it. There’s like thirty guys out there.”
“Some of them are female.”
She blinked. “Really?”
“Don’t judge.”
“No, no. I wasn’t. It’s just ...” Hannah shook her head. “I can’t do it. I can’t go out there and make a fool of myself.”
Crush walked farther into the lunch room, closer to the snack machines. “Have you ever been on skates?”
She nodded. “I used to figure skate. It made sense when I was five. Then I was twelve and—”
“Suddenly five-ten?”
“Try six feet.”
“Yeah. My poor parents.”
“Why were they surprised?”
She shrugged. “I was adopted. They were full-human. I didn’t know what I was until my ninth grade English teacher told me. When she told me I was ‘special,’ I thought she was just hitting on me.”
“Kind of a glass-half-empty girl?”
“It is half empty. Half full makes no sense.”
Crush pressed his back into the wall, ducking his head so she couldn’t see him smile.
“At the very least,” he was finally able to tell her without laughing, “you can skate. You won’t fall on your face. Some of the ones trying out ... not pretty.”
“I haven’t skated in years. And I’m just not sure that I should be put into violent situations that involve sticks and big guys aggressively coming at me.”
“Why not?”
Her eyes lowered and she seemed to suddenly close in on herself. Crush watched her, his head tilting to the side. The cop in him had a litany of questions to ask her, but that wasn’t what she needed right now: a cop asking why she shouldn’t be in violent situations. So Crush said, “Think of it this way ... if you don’t go to the tryout, Blayne will think you’re still available.”
Hannah’s head snapped up, her eyes blinking wide. “Oh, God. I forgot.”
“So you might as well give it a shot, right?”
She snorted, nodded her head. “Yeah. You’re right. I might as well just get this over with.”
She headed off and Crush followed, the pair walking back into the rink. Cella smiled when she saw them, and skated over.
“Am I too late?” Hannah asked.
“Nope. Not at all. In fact, I want you to hit the ice with these two ladies. They’ve been doing really well today.” Cella motioned to two Arctic She-foxes. Sisters. No. Actually twins. They made their way over and stopped, grinning. “This is Nita and Nina Gallo.”
“Hi!” the tiny foxes said in unison. Crush would guess they weren’t older than nineteen. Maybe. They were cute, though, but tiny. Five-six, if that, and maybe a hundred pounds. He had to admit, he was surprised they were here. Foxes this age were usually off doing something that required Crush to arrest them. Or, at the very least, try to arrest them. The sole reason that he, unlike most polars, had no foxes to call his own.“We’ll meet you out on the ice!” these foxes chirped. Then they waved and skated off.
Hannah looked up at him. “Because it’ll be so much fun for me to be the giant ogre standing over the little elf girls.”
“Welcome to my world, kid. Now go out there and do some damage.”
Cella saw the looks on the guys’ faces and skated over to them. “Well?”
Van Holtz and MacRyrie shrugged, but Novikov ... “She’ll need work,” he complained.
“I know.”
“All three of them will.”
“Her skating is beyond rusty. And the other two have the attention spans of fleas.”
“I know. I know.” Cella didn’t argue. She waited.
“She’s fast, though,” he finally admitted. “And the foxes, with some serious training, could be pretty good. Maybe.”
Cella nodded. “I think you’re right. Instead of putting them on right away, why not go your route? Start ’em off in the minors and let them work their way up.” Of course, one of Cella’s uncles was the assistant coach of the minors so Cella kind of worked with the minor team anyway, but no need to mention that.