Hockey player Gabriella “Gabi” Welk spent her life in pursuit of championships, but she has little to show for it besides dusty trophies and second-place medals. Now her career consists of several part-time jobs to make ends meet. When Gabi gets a chance at her dream job, she swallows her pride and asks her nemesis—smart, sexy and savvy Nolan Lund—for help.
Since being named future CEO of Lund Industries, Nolan has tried hard to overcome his reputation as a fun-loving playboy and ladies’ man. For the first time ever, he’s more focused on the company than his personal life. He spends his free time at the ice rink his brother owns, cheering on his niece at her hockey games…and watching Gabriella Welk, the superstar athlete and assistant coach who gets under his skin in a way he can’t ignore. He’s shocked when Gabi agrees to trade a favor for a favor.
They have little in common besides their mutual mistrust, but between family crises and sibling rivalries, Nolan and Gabi realize they want to be more than just friends—much more.
About the Author
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The SpongeBob SquarePants theme blared from my phone.
I silenced it right away, but the damage had been done. "Sorry."
"Please tell me you're not watching cartoons while we're trying to have a meeting," my cousin Brady Lund, CFO of Lund Industries, complained.
Cartoons? WTF? Why would he accuse me of that? Like I fucked around in meetings all the time?
Maybe you oughta tell him you were tempted to watch anything to drown out his boring, meandering drone.
"That's Mimi's ring tone. She's home sick today and apparently she's bored."
"That's why my son isn't getting a cell phone until he's responsible enough to use it," Brady retorted.
"Shouldn't be a problem since he's only a couple of months old," Ash said. "Can we get back to business?"
"By all means. What do you propose?" I looked at Brady, who'd just finished giving his preliminary first quarter revenue report before my phone's untimely interruption.
Brady sighed and ran his hand through his dark, already disheveled hair before his gaze moved between me and our cousin Ash, the COO of Lund Industries. "To be honest, I'm uncomfortable giving my recommendations in present company. No offense, Nolan."
Technically I was the odd man out in this session as I was the CEO . . . in waiting? In training? On deck? In the wings? I wasn't the third power "C" in Lund Industries--yet--I'd step into the role of CEO of Lund Industries when my father, Archer Lund, stepped down.
No one saw that happening anytime soon.
I stood. "Have your admins give mine a shout after you've brought this up in executive session." I headed toward the door, but I paused in the doorframe and faced them. "In the future, I prefer to be excluded when you need a sounding board for your recitation of bad news. No offense."
"No need to get pissy, Nolan."
"That wasn't me being pissy. I just don't want you to present me with a list of problems without allowing me to participate in a discussion of solutions."
I stepped into the elevator and hit the down button. My office wasn't on the same floor as the other executive offices.
Since Lund Industries owned the entire building, each Lund family member was fortunate enough to get his or her own space. As CEO, my father had the nicest office on the highest floor. His brother Monte, who was president of the board of directors, and his brother Ward, who handled corporate accounts, had separate offices but shared their floor with the executive boardroom. As CFO, Brady and the financial department had one entire floor to themselves. Same for Ash and the operations department. My cousin Annika headed the PR department, which shared a floor with marketing. My mother, my aunt Priscilla and my aunt Selka also had their own floor, which was home to the Lund Cares Community Outreach--LCCO--program, a foundation that funded numerous charities and events in the Twin Cities and across Minnesota.
The rest of the building had the usual sales, legal, acquisitions, international and research and development departments, each with a dedicated floor. We also had an entire floor designated as an employee lunchroom, break room and lounge.
For the decade I'd been working at Lund Industries, I'd spent time in every department. Starting out, I hadn't even merited my own office space. My current office was in the cyber security wing on the IT floor. It wasn't an impressive space, but it did have its own entrance that kept a buffer against the noise from the IT department, as well as a private elevator to the executive parking level. My admin's area was considerably smaller than her colleagues'.
Correction: than his colleagues'.
Sometimes my brain reverted and got the gender wrong. My terrific PA, Sam, who'd been with me two years, had started to transition four months ago. My only concern when she told me about the change was that he'd intended to resign. But thankfully that hadn't been the case.
I've had a diverse group of friends of all orientations my adult life, but seeing Samantha transition to Sam was a first for me. I was grateful it wasn't a new situation to our HR department. So they were fully prepared to prepare me on handling an unfamiliar situation respectfully.
He glanced up. "How'd the meeting go?"
I paused at the edge of his desk. "Did you ever have a friend who forced you to listen to a presentation or a speech and you realized they were just practicing on you?"
Sam groaned. "Not again."
"Afraid so. I don't know if Brady expected me to tell him that his delivery was too dry or what, but I was too busy processing the information he was spewing out to realize that's what it was. After he reached the end, they couldn't discuss potential solutions with me, so the whole damn thing was pointless. Next time Brady's admin Jenna calls for a meeting? Grill her on specifics of said meeting so I don't waste my time."
"Thank you." I looked at the stack of messages next to his daily planner. "What'd I miss?"
"Six calls returned from Friday afternoon. Five were departmental. Chris from IT stopped in to remind you it's Rube Goldberg appreciation week so you might see oddities throughout the IT floor. A woman named Janiece called twice. Once to say she had a memorable time with you this weekend, the second time to leave her number and request you call her."
I frowned. "I don't remember a woman named Denice."
Sam shook his head. "J, not D. Ja-niece. Tall. Long red hair. Sparkly aqua-colored top. You mentioned her reminding you of the Little Mermaid. And before you give me that haughty eyebrow raise, the excess of information came from Miss Janiece herself . . . so you didn't get her confused with someone else."
"Hilarious. But the only place I went this weekend besides Jaxson and Lucy's was my buddy Baylor's birthday bash, for like an hour. This Janiece chick . . ." I racked my brain. "Might've been the one I talked to briefly as I stuffed my face with chicken wings. Or maybe the one I chatted with as we waited for our drinks." I sighed. "I don't remember." I shot him a look. "Not because I had women lined up like I used to."
Sam smirked. "Ah, now we're talking about the good old days."
I rolled my eyes.
"I'm just relaying the message, boss."
"Much appreciated. Let's hope she gets the message when I don't call her back." My gaze dropped to his skinny tie, an understated purple with modernist cubes in shades of black and gray. "Great tie."
His fingers moved to fuss with the knot. "Thanks. It's vintage. Givenchy."
"Stop dressing better than me, Sam."
That earned me a full-on grin. "That's the ultimate compliment coming from a guy with a personal stylist."
"A stylist who is currently annoyed with me."
"Why is he annoyed?"
"Because I haven't expressed an interest in anything from the spring lines."
"Poor Nolan . . . facing the wrath of Jacques Andres." His lips twitched. "He'll probably put you in lime-green gingham to teach you a lesson."
"Don't even joke about that." I shuddered. "So is there anything else?"
Sam fiddled with his tie again. "Yes. It's about your Lund Cares Community Outreach project. Have you come up with an idea yet?"
I fought a groan for many reasons, the biggest one being that my mother-one of the three Lund matriarchs-had asked me this exact same question yesterday at brunch. "Who called to get you to nag me about this?"
"Your aunt Priscilla. First thing this morning. Fair warning, boss. She said if you don't have a solid plan delivered to the LCCO office by tomorrow, she's setting up a bachelor auction for next month."
Fair warning, my ass. That was straight-up a threat. I had half a mind to tell her to go ahead and do it. See if she'd really force the last two single Lund men--including her son Ash--into strutting our stuff for charity.
Sam held up his hand to silence my retort. "All joking aside, sir, a bachelor auction might've been all the rage in the 1990s, but now it'd be seen as LCCO being woefully out of touch."
"As I'm aware, Sam."
"Which is why I have a new idea. If you're interested in hearing it."
"Of course I am." I gestured to his fingers, still messing with his tie. "Stop fussing. I'm not that goddamn scary to bounce ideas off of."
He smiled. "True. But my idea for your project is a bit unconventional and maybe controversial."
"Hit me with it."
"An event for LGBTQ youth. It wouldn't necessarily have to be a fund-raiser, but more along the lines of a mixer for LGBTQ kids from various schools in the Twin Cities."
That immediately piqued my interest. "What age group are you thinking?"
"It'd be geared toward high school students."
"Where would we hold the event? Would there be a group activity?"
"Jax's bowling alley was the first place that popped into my head. The activity would be team bowling, with the teams of four drawn randomly to truly make it a mixer. We could kick around the idea of adding a speaker, but then the event becomes less normalized, if that makes sense." He blew out a breath. "While attitudes toward LGBTQ kids have come a long way, this would be another avenue to show support."
"Sam. That is a grand idea." I grinned. "And I'm not just saying that because you're saving me from being bachelor number two."
"You really think so? I mean, I was worried you'd think I was creating a personal platform-"
"Which you are, but not in a bad way. This is how community outreach is supposed to work-funding great ideas, promoting them and getting involved." I rubbed my hands together. "Turn on the answering service and come into my office so we can get this started."
The last place I wanted to go at nine p.m. on a Monday was Lakeside, the ice rink Jax owned. But he'd left the paperwork for renting the bowling alley for my LCCO project on his desk and I needed physical proof to turn in tomorrow morning that I actually had an event lined up.
I timed it so I could briefly pop into Jax's office, grab the envelope and go, since Margene, the rink manager, usually closed up on Mondays.
But Margene's car wasn't parked up front. Instead I saw Gabi's Toyota Tundra.
Gabi-"the" Gabriella Welk, Olympic athlete, superstar women's pro hockey player-who coached at Lakeside. The woman I'd (mistakenly) accused of having a crush on my brother, which turned out to be totally untrue, which made me look like a complete dick.
Unsurprisingly, I wasn't Gabi's favorite person. She called me Mr. Fancy Pants. If there weren't students around, she'd slip up and call me dickhead.
I, in turn, called her by her full name-Gabriella. I knew it annoyed her, but hey, it was her name.
As I sat in my car, debating on whether to just go home and stop back in the morning, another vehicle zipped past me and parked near the front entrance. A guy jumped out and strode into the building.
Although I'd never officially met him, I recognized him as Gabriella's boyfriend. His appearance would distract her, so while they played grab-ass or whatever, I'd sneak in, grab what I needed and get out.
As soon as I walked in, I knew there'd be no quick grab and go. An angry voice echoed down the hallway, from her office, which I'd have to walk past to reach Jax's office.
Her tone immediately put me on alert when she yelled, "Jesus. You scared the piss out of me."
I could see his shadow, just inside the doorway. He said, "I need to talk to you."
"And you think now is a good time? Dammit, Tyson. You can't just show up where I work-"
"You've left me no choice but to track you down since you're not returning my calls."
"Because I'm busy."
"It's an excuse. Avoidance. Whatever. This can't go on any longer."
Not good. I didn't want to listen in on what sounded like a serious conversation, but Gabriella was here alone with her pissed-off boyfriend and I wouldn't let her fend for herself.
"Fine. Spit it out," she retorted.
"I'm in love with your sister," he blurted. "We didn't mean for it to happen, it just did."
"Say something," Tyson demanded.
"If you and Dani are in love, why isn't she here with you right now sharing the happy news?"
"Because she's scared of you, Gabi."
"She should be. How long have the two of you been sneaking around behind my back?"
"It's not like that," Tyson protested.
"Oh, so you two aren't currently fucking?"
"For your information, no, she and I haven't been together like that."
She laughed. "Then how could you possibly know if it's love?"
Ooh. Good one, Gabriella.
"Because it is love. Just because you don't understand it--"
"Omigod, spare me! If you say something lame like your love transcends intimacy"--she snorted--"I swear I will brain you with my goddamned hockey stick."
That one was even better.
"We haven't been intimate because we knew it would hurt you. This is a screwed-up situation, but the last thing either Dani or I want to do is cause you any pain, Gabi." A pause. "You introduced us, for god's sake."
"This is why I don't do nice things. They always come back to kick me in the ass," she retorted.
"Will you knock off the sarcasm for one minute and listen to me?" Tyson asked.
"Fine. Say what you need to."
"Things haven't been great between you and me for a while."
"You aren't seriously thinking about blaming me for the fact you're lusting after my little sister, are you?"
"No, but your response to this conversation is proof of why you and I don't work. After Dani left for Florida to train for the Olympics, you pulled back from her, from me and from your former teammates--teammates who resented the hell out of Dani because she was there instead of you. Dani had no one to talk to but me. So we spent a lot of time together. All of it platonic, all of it that getting-to-know-you stuff that you and I never bothered to learn about each other."
"So because I have no clue what your favorite color is--"
"Will you stop interjecting your personal regrets into this conversation? Because we both know you preferred hookups to a relationship for this very reason, Gabi."
He sighed. "Believe it or not, I didn't come here to fight with you. I came here to break it off in person and to ask you to not be too hard on Dani about this. She worships you. The fact her feelings changed for me has been eating her alive."
“What happens after you leave here, Ty?”
“We both move on.”