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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(64)

By:Shelly Laurenston

Novikov looked off. “Well ... that might work.”
She glanced at Van Holtz and MacRyrie. They were staring at her, eyes wide, until Van Holtz mouthed at her, How do you do that?
They sat in Dee-Ann’s car, staring across the street.
“That’s a ...”
“Yeah. A country club. For very rich people.”
“Huh. Learn something new every day.”
They hadn’t driven all the way from Atlantic City to the Hamptons; they had taken Van Holtz’s helicopter from AC to the Hamptons, a rental car taking them here. To a country club.
The girl pointed. “He came out of there.”
“Past that hedge?”
“Yeah. But I think there’s a door there.”
Sophie briefly chewed her bottom lip.
“I just don’t know if you should ...”
“If I should what?”
“Challenge these people.”
“Because they’re rich?”
“Look, I don’t steal some poor guy’s Prius or the Ford he inherited from his dad, you know? That’s not my thing.”
“You steal from rich people.”
“And I know my targets. I know them really well. I make it my business to know. Although the town, in theory, owns the country club, there’s a man who runs it. And he’s not dangerous just because he’s rich. He’s dangerous because he knows how to play both sides of any situation. He practically makes me seem like Mother Teresa. Just ... be careful.” 
And that was why Dee hadn’t simply found out from the girl where she’d picked up the Callahan kid and let her go. That sort of information took time to pull from a person. “Thanks for the warning.” Dee handed the girl a business card.
Sophie turned it over in her hand. “It’s just a number.”
“It’s my number. You need me, you call. Understand?”
“Yeah. Sure.”
“Good.” Dee started the car. “Now, let’s see if we can track down a White Castle before I let you go.”
“You want to track down a White Castle in the Hamptons?”
Dee grinned. “I believe in livin’ large.”
“Yeah. I can see that.”
Cella stood outside the locker room staring up at a bear-canine hybrid who could barely look her in the eye.
“You don’t have to make any decisions now, Hannah. But you should at least think about it.”
“Yeah, it’s just ...”
“Just what?”
“If I say yes, will they continue to follow me everywhere?”
Cella glanced over at the twin She-foxes. They waved, identical bright grins on their pretty faces.
“As it is, I can’t get rid of this one.”
She pointed at Abby, who’d been hanging out at the Sports Center all day, begging food off people.
“I don’t know. No one follows me anywhere.” Cella shrugged. “I’m a cat. This sounds like a bear issue. Ask Crush, I think he’s getting coffee.”
“Yeah, okay.”
“But you’ll think about it, right? Maybe go to a few practices just to see?”
“I’ll think about it.”
Cella nodded and watched the girl walk off, stop, glare at the foxes now following her, along with Abby, walk, stop, glare. Assuming it would go on all the way down the hall, Cella walked into the locker room to change her clothes and clean out her stuff.
This had been a good way to end it all. A good way for her to move on. What did they call that? Closure or something? Whatever. It worked out well.
But as Cella came around the corner, she found Ric Van Holtz standing there, waiting for her.
“What’s up?” she asked, hoping he wasn’t here to give her some pathetic hug good-bye. Cella hated the hug good-bye unless it was from her kid or her father. Otherwise, it just annoyed.
“I’ve got your final player payout.”
“Oh. Okay.”
She took the manila envelope, opening the flap enough to look inside. She didn’t let her eyes bug out at the size of the check, but honestly, she wanted to.
“No problem. You earned it.”
“I’ll miss you guys,” she admitted, opening her locker for the last time.
“Yeah, about that ... I have a job offer.”
“I don’t need your pity job, Van Holtz. Thanks, but no—”
“For head coach.”
Cella froze, eyes wide. “What?”
“Eventually,” Van Holtz quickly added. “I mean ...” He took a breath. “Coach Reynolds is retiring in a year. We haven’t announced it to the team, but I’d already put out the word to a few agents I know and had gotten in some ré-sumés from a few interested parties, including the coach for the Alaskan Bears. And he was my first choice, really. I mean, he handles a team full of bears and two foxes. There’s gotta be skill there. But I’d forget him in a heartbeat if I could get you.”Cella ran her hands through her still sweat-drenched hair and slowly faced the wolf. “You want me to be coach?”
“Assistant to start and when Reynolds retires ... head coach.”
Cella just had to ask, “Why?”
“There’s lots of reasons. I can sit here and rhapsodize about your skill on the ice, your ability to train and get the best out of the rookies, your amazing eye for talent ... I mean, I love Hannah, but I would have never thought of her for the team. But really, it comes down to one thing ...”
Cella couldn’t help but smile a little. “Novikov?”
“You handle Novikov and he lets you. That alone is worth its weight in gold. Because if you can handle that man, you can handle anyone.”
“That’s true. I can handle anyone.”
“And Novikov isn’t going anywhere. Blayne wants to stay in New York and whether he disgusts me or not, he loves her. So he’s not going anywhere. And even if I wanted to fire him, I can’t because he flippin’ wins.”
“Yeah, but we’re probably not going to quite hit the play-offs this year.”
“I know, which means he’s going to be hell to deal with next year. Which is the reason I’m sure Reynolds is getting out while the gettin’ is good. You can’t desert me, Cella. You can’t. We’re friends. You’re friends with my mate. I’m a nice guy. And unless Bert’s around, I have trouble separating that idiot and Lock. So you can’t go. You might not be able to play on the team with your knee, but you can coach and you are probably the only thing that will keep us from ganging up on Novikov and beating him like they did to Vincent D’Onofrio’s character in Full Metal Jacket.”
Cella laughed, her body relaxing against her locker, her hand covering her mouth.
“Yeah. Sure. Funny to you. You’re the only one I know, besides Blayne, who gets along with Novikov. And no matter what other offer you get, I’ll beat it.”
Cella held up her hand. “Other offers?”
Van Holtz rolled his eyes. “From the Philly team, the Boston team, the San Francisco team. I think there’s a couple more. As soon as they heard you were out as a player, they began salivating.” He placed his hand against his upper chest. “But you’re my friend. You wouldn’t betray me, would you?”
“You about to threaten me with your mate?”
“If I have to.”
“Just think about it before you turn me down.”
“I was just going to—”
“Think about your situation. Your daughter’s staying in New York to go to school. So you’ll be near her. And Crushek’s here. He, for some unknown reason considering how much the rest of us like him, also gets along with Novikov. Maybe all his experience working with sociopathic drug dealers or something.” 
“Novikov is not that bad! He’s just ... myopic.”
“Like a fighting dog?” When Cella rolled her eyes, “Hey, he was the one who threw bleachers at Reed and the other guys.”
“I know, I know. I already talked to him about that. Told him it wasn’t good for the team or morale.”
Van Holtz smirked at her, one eyebrow up.
“All right, all right. How about I give you a tentative yes?”
“Will you sign something?”
“No. I gotta talk to my own agent and my kid and my dad.”
“And Crushek?”
“Because he’s part of your life now?”
“What are you, Van Holtz? A girl?”
“According to Dee-Ann’s father? Yes, I am.”
Crush watched Cella skating around the rink. She was alone. Just her, the ice, her stick, and the puck. While she moved, he could hear her singing the traditional Irish song, “I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Every Day,” her voice sweeter than he ever thought it could be.
“She’s in a good mood.”
Crush shook his head and asked, “Didn’t anyone ever teach you not to sneak up on bears?”
Dee-Ann Smith rested her arms on the low part of the training rink’s wall and watched Cella skate.
“Y’all call it sneakin’. I don’t call it sneakin’.”
“What do you call it?”
Crush chuckled. “Good to know.”
“New coach of the Carnivores, huh?”
“That’s what your mate tells me.”
“What do you think?”
“I told him it was about time.”
He could see Smith look at him a few times before she said, “What about KZS?”