He's the perfect catch
When it comes to romance, Tracy Hayden is not looking for a rematch. She's had epic passionand problems!with professional hockey player Ike Jelinek. Brilliant on skates and magic in bed, his too-traditional-for-her views were like a bucket of ice water on their affair.
Then an injury takes Ike out of the game, and everything changes. Suddenly he needs her services-providing businesseven though he once claimed it was their biggest problem. Tracy's determined to be professional, despite the sizzling attraction between them that won't go away. Maybe they need a second fling to fix that!
About the Author
A former marketing executive and primary school teacher, Anna lives in Cambridge, England, with her husband and two bossy black cats. Learn more about Anna, her heartwarming contemporary romances and her shoes at www.annasugden.com.
Read an Excerpt
"Why does it take so long to have a baby?"
At her niece's question, Tracy Hayden looked up from the stack of invoices she was logging into her business's accounting system.
She smiled at Emily, who was playing a game on the other home-office computer. "They don't have bar codes on their bums, so you can't just pick them up at a grocery store."
Tracy's sister, Maggie, had gone to the hospital early that morning, when her water had broken. The latest update from Maggie's anxious husband, Jake, at 5:00 p.m., had been that all was progressing well, if a bit slowly.
Now, at seven-thirty, ten-year-old Emily's excitement was stretched thin by the lack of action.
"Very funny, Auntie Tracy." The soon-to-be older sister rolled her eyes. "Do you think Mummy's having a girl or a boy?"
"Hmm." Tracy pretended to consider the question seriously. "I have a feeling the sproglet is a boy."
Her niece leaned forward eagerly. "Why?"
Tracy lowered her voice conspiratorially. "Your mum put sugar in her cup of tea yesterday. They say you need extra sweetness if you're having a boy."
Emily's eyes widened. "She also ate a whole bar of Cadbury's chocolate from her stash."
"Aha." Tracy snapped her fingers. "That settles it."
"A baby brother would be okay," Emily mused. "He wouldn't want any of my things. Plus he'll like sports. I could teach him to skate and play hockey."
Tracy clipped the invoices together, then slipped them into a folder marked November Bills. She'd allocate them to the appropriate accounts tomorrow. "That would be nice."
"Maybe he'll even get to play on the Ice Cats like Daddy Jake."
Jake "Bad Boy" Badoletti was a star defense-man for the local professional hockey team, the New Jersey Ice Cats. He and Maggie had gotten together after his transfer from Chicago a few years ago, when Maggie had helped him find a place to live. Though she'd been wary of falling for another pro athlete after escaping an abusive marriage to Emily's fatheran English Premier League soccer playerJake had eventually won the hearts of both mother and daughter. As well as being an avid fan of her stepfather's team, Emily had also become a good mites' hockey player.
The child pouted. "It's not fair that girls can't play for the Ice Cats."
"You never know. Maybe you'll be the second woman to play in the NHL."
"But Manon Rheaume was a goaltender." Em wrinkled her nose. "I want to be a forward and score lots of goals."
Naturally. Her niece was all about action.
The phone rang, startling them both.
Tracy's heart leaped into her throat as she saw Jake's number. She snatched up the receiver. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah." He sounded a little befuddled. "We have a boy. Eight pounds, six ounces. Mom and son both doing well. Dad's not sure he ever wants to go through that again."
"Isn't that supposed to be Maggie's line?" Tracy said drily.
"She had an epidural. I did the whole thing without anesthetic."
She laughed. "A tough guy like you can't handle childbirth. I'm shocked."
"I can't believe, having survived it once with Emily, she'd be willing to do it again." He paused and Tracy could almost feel his shudder down the phone. "Maggie's one tough cookie."
"She certainly is."
Despite what she'd been through, Maggie had not only managed to make a fresh start in the US, but she'd also embraced marriage again.
Something Tracy couldn't do after her own disastrous experience.
That mess wasn't something she wanted to think about. Not when there was a new life to celebrate. "So, are you up for visitors?"
"Sure. Whenever you can get here. I'll call my parents next and get them to pass the news to everyone else."
After she'd hung up, Tracy turned to Emily. "A boy," she said smugly.
"You rock, Auntie Tracy." Emily reached across the back-to-back desks to fist-bump her. "When can we go to see him?"
"Right now." Tracy saved her files, then switched off her computer and stood. "Get your coat and we'll head over."
Em dashed out of the office. A moment later, she stuck her head back around the door. "Don't forget the teddy bear."
"I won't. He's already in the gift bag by the front door."
The drive to the hospital passed quickly, with Emily chattering like a magpie about her new sibling. As they walked across the parking lot toward the hospital entrance, Emily squealed and darted toward a tall dark-haired man getting out of a black Mercedes SUV.
Tracy's pulse hitched at the familiar figure of Ice Cats goaltender Eisenhower "Ike" Jelinek. She wasn't surprised to see him. The four Jelinek boys had grown up with Jake, and the men were like brothers. Still, she'd hoped she'd get lucky and miss him.
Back when Tracy had been starting Making Your Move, her relocation business, she'd helped Ike find the perfect town house and they'd had a hot and heavy fling shortly after. Even though they'd been great together in bedand a whole bunch of other placesthe fire had burned out quickly when they'd realized they'd wanted different things from a relationship.
The flip side of all that passion meant they rubbed each other the wrong way ever since. Unfortunately they couldn't avoid each other. Even ignoring the family connection, Making Your Move managed all the Ice Cats' relocation, travel and accommodation projects, so Tracy spent a lot of time with the team.
What surprised her was that every time she saw Ike, her body reacted to his broad shoulders, his powerful legs and his crooked grin as if they were still lovers.
No way. She knew better than to go down that road again.
"Hey, princess." Ike caught Emily as she threw herself at him, lifting and twirling her around, much to the girl's delight.
Laughing, they headed toward Tracy.
Ike's smile faded when he spoke to her. "Congratulations."
"Thanks," she replied politely.
Emily skipped between the two adults as they walked toward the hospital entrance. "Auntie Tracy, did you see that Uncle Ike bought exactly the same bear as you?"
Sure enough, the stuffed toy Ike clutched awkwardly by the arm was identical to the one in her gift bag, right down to the yellow ribbon tied jauntily around its neck.
"You can't have too many teddy bears." She kept her voice light, even though she wanted to snap childishly at him to take his back.
Ike arched an eyebrow. "I wouldn't have thought you'd get something as old-fashioned as a bear."
The emphasis was intended to goad her. One of the reasons she and Ike hadn't made it was she'd thought his attitude toward women and life were stuffy and old-fashioned. "Teddy bears are traditional. There's a difference."
The look in Ike's green eyes said he begged to differ. "Uh-huh."
"Auntie Tracy got me the same bear when I was born. Except mine has a pink ribbon."
"A family tradition." Tracy smiled sweetly.
"My tradition for new Ice Cat babies is to get them one of those all-in-one things with feet, with the team logo on it."
"Shouldn't they be called Ice Kittens, Uncle Ike?"
"I guess they should. But you wouldn't want to confuse them with the girls who clean the ice for us."
"Why? They're only cheerleaders on skates." Emily's lip curled.
"Just because we don't like their job doesn't mean we should disrespect the ice girls, Em," Tracy chided gently.
Ike shot a look of surprise at her. "I thought you'd disapprove of them. Women being used as" he paused, glancing at Emily, who was following the discussion intently "entertainment for the predominantly male audience."
"I wouldn't want to be one and, if I owned the team, I wouldn't have them at all, but the job exists. As long as they're not being exploited, good luck to them. Besides, I've seen how hard the Ice Kittens work. They have a lot of promotional and charity duties, on top of what they do at games."
"Be carefulthey'll be taking away your feminist badge."
Tracy shrugged. Ike had always thought she was a bra-burning radical, rather than a woman who didn't like to be pigeon-holed, dictated to or discriminated against because of her sex. "I believe in equality and that if you can do the job, you can do the job."
"That means if I can play well enough, I can be an Ice Cat, not an Ice Kitten." Emily nodded, with a satisfied grin.
Tracy bit back a smile as Ike clamped his jaw shut. Clearly, he didn't agree with women playing in the NHL. Luckily, they arrived at the hospital entrance, so Emily's attention turned to which floor her mother would be on.
A blast of warm air hit them as the automatic doors swished open, and the three of them hurried inside out of the chilly November evening. The lift was crowded with the start of evening visiting hours, but by the time they got to Maternity there were only a few people with new-baby gifts.
Jake met them in the waiting room, looking tired but exhilarated. They exchanged hugs and congratulations before he led them down to Maggie's room. Emily rushed ahead, chattering a mile a minute.
Ike caught the door and held it open for Tracy. She nodded her thanks as she walked past him into the room.
While Tracy appreciated his gentlemanly gestures, manners didn't make up for the control issues that went with them. In the first flush of their romance, she'd believed Ike was different. But after only a few weeks, he'd shown her how naive she'd really been. No matter how much she might have wished otherwise, Ike had turned out to be as bad as her father and her ex-husband.
Besides, the only male she was interested in loving and having in her life permanently was the one in the pastel blue cap that her sister cradled in her arms.
"He's a bit funny-looking." Emily wrinkled her nose, disappointment in her voice.
"Poor lamb's had a rough few hours." Maggie stroked the shock of dark hair on her son's head. "You didn't look much better when you were born. In fact, he looks very much like you did."
"Mu-um," Emily huffed, rolling her eyes.
"She's right, Em." Tracy grinned. "You turned out fine, so he'll be okay, too."
"Kid clearly takes after his mom, not his dad," Ike said.
Jake laughed. "Fine by me."
"Do you want to hold him, sis?" Maggie asked her.
"Of course." Tracy sat on the edge of the bed while her sister passed the precious bundle over. "Come to your auntie."
Her throat tightened with love as his warmth filled her arms. "He's gorgeous. Have you named him yet?"
Maggie smiled mistily at Jake. "Joe. Not Josephjust Joe."
"A good, solid name." Ike leaned over and gently ran his finger over Joe's soft cheek.
Tracy stiffened. It felt weird to be holding a baby with Ike so close beside her. His unique, spicy scent mingled pleasantly with the smell of the infant, making her feel even more unsettled.
Ike brushed Joe's little fist with his finger. Almost immediately, her nephew curled his tiny fingers around Ike's. Somehow, it felt as if the three of them were now connected. A strange prickling feeling danced across Tracy's shoulders. She wanted to order Ike to move away, but knew that would sound crazy. Instead, she gritted her teeth and focused on her nephew.
Joe must have sensed her discomfort because his eyes popped open. Her heart squeezed at his solemn expression as he studied her. He then shifted his unfocused newborn gaze to Ike, giving him the same unblinking stare.
She hated to give the baby up, but she had to break the connection. Get away from the cozy tableau that had formed.
"Would you like a turn, Ike?" she asked politely.
"Sure." He sat beside her on the bed and reached for the baby.
Ignoring the heat of Ike's thigh pressed against hers, Tracy kissed her nephew's forehead and passed him over.
She was surprised by how confidently Ike handled the small bundle.
"Goaltenders have the safest pair of hands," he said smugly, as if he'd read her mind.
"Of course." Her smile felt forced as she jumped up and went to sit in the chair on the opposite side of the bed.
"Ike used to help my mom look after Linc while Aunt Karina was at work," Jake added. "He was a whiz at changing diapers, making bottles of formula and burping the kid."
Tracy knew one of the reasons Ike was so serious was that he'd had to learn responsibility at an early age, after his father had walked out. Even though Jake's parents had helped Karina Jelinek a lotJake and the four Jelinek boys had been raised togetherit had been a struggle as Ike's mum had worked several jobs to keep her sons fed and clothed. Ike and the next oldest, Tru, had done their part to help look after their younger brothers, Kenny and Linc.
It was touching to see the brawny goaltender holding her tiny nephew so tenderly, his green eyes looking fondly at the gurgling baby. Someday, he'd probably hold his own children with the same confidence. Look at them with the same affection.
She ignored the tug in her chest.
Tracy didn't want to be the woman who gave him those children. She was happy with her life and her business; she answered to no one but herself. She enjoyed the freedom of doing what she wanted, when she wanted. Sure, she dated. Some guys had even lasted a few months. But every time things had started to turn serious, she'd felt hemmed in and backed away.
As for children Well, she was a fantastic aunt and that was enough for her.
Really, it was.
Tracy turned to Maggie and asked brightly, "How are you feeling?"
"Pretty good, considering." Her sister lowered her voice. "I don't want to upset the men by telling you about my stitches, so I'll give you the gory details later."
Tracy bit back a laugh as the two hockey players winced. "At least we're in the right place if they pass out."
"I'll go and check if anyone else is in the waiting room," Jake said quickly.
"I'll come with you." Emily hurried after him, already bored with her new brother. "I wonder if Nonna and Poppa brought me a big-sister present."
Maggie shook her head indulgently. "Jake's poor parents have been bombarded with helpful suggestions for gifts."
"Em's thrown a few ideas my way," Tracy said.
"Mine, too." Ike nodded.
"The little monkey. We had a talk about that and I told her not to try it on."
Tracy patted her sister's arm. "Emily's excited about Joe's arrival, which is nice, given she's been an only child for so long."
"I know. She's a good kid, just a little cheeky."
"I don't blame her. It's not like our parents ever spoiled her." When their father was alive, Em had been lucky to get a birthday card, let alone a present. Dominic Hayden had believed gifts were frivolous. Since his death, their mother had continued to abide by his rules. God forbid she should have a thought of her own.
"True." Maggie grimaced. "I suppose I should let Mum know about Joe."
"Don't worry. I'll call her later." Tracy deliberately changed the subject. "Have the doctors said when you can go home?"
"Tomorrow, assuming everything's okay." Her sister sighed. "I'm sorry. This has messed up our plans at work for the next few weeks. I can't believe I went into labor so early. Everyone kept telling me I was bound to be late because it had been so long since I'd had Em."
"Babies come when they want to," Tracy reassured her. "I'd factored in the possibility. Which is why the intern we recruited is starting ahead of scheduleon Monday. Carla's grateful for the extra money and I'm happy to pass over the admin duties, so it's all good."