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Naughty Or Ice

By:Sylvia Pierce

Naughty Or Ice
Author: Sylvia Pierce





Chapter One

The pain was damn near crippling.

Walker Dunn sucked in a breath of cold air and clenched his teeth, his skate trembling against the ice as he waited for the white-hot agony in his knee to subside. He hoped McKellen hadn't noticed.

Fuck.

That one had been bad. Stomach-churning bad. Seeing-stars bad.

But not bad enough for the once unstoppable Buffalo Tempest starting center to call it a day. Not until he'd nailed McKellen's agility drills. Walker had been working with the hockey trainer for over two months now-ever since the team doc had given the all-clear for practice again-and his times still weren't anywhere near where they'd been at the end of last season.

Shaking off the pain, Walker skated back to the goal line, signaled to McKellen to restart the stopwatch.

Three, two, one … and he was off, barreling toward McKellen and the orange cones at the other end of the rink. He'd ditched the stick and puck earlier, but he was otherwise geared up, the weight of his pads and helmet solid and familiar. The pain had finally dulled to a tolerable ache, and Walker pushed himself harder, faster, blades slashing across the ice, cold air whipping his face. He felt like a freight train, picking up speed with every powerful stroke.

Fuck yeah.

He was past center ice and closing in on the cones.

Fifty feet, forty.

The knee would hold up this time.

Twenty-five feet.

Had to.

Ten. Five. Two, and boom.

The cones were an orange blur as Walker cut his blades and swizzled around the first set, his turns tight, muscles limber as he plowed through the course.

"That's it, forty-six," McKellen called out. "Keep it going!"

Whipping around behind the net, Walker tore down the rink to his starting position, then looped back to the cones for another go. Again. Again. Each time feeling stronger, faster, more powerful. The ache in his knee was a distant memory as his muscles and bones and heart and fucking soul all lined up to do what they did best.

After Walker's fifth time through the course, McKellen blew the whistle and waved him over. "Bring it in, forty-six."

Panting, Walker came to a hard stop in front of the trainer, eager for the news. "What are we looking at?"

"Not too bad." McKellen's tone was neutral as he glanced up from his stopwatch, but the look in his eyes said it all.

Walker's gut clenched.

Doug "Mac" McKellen was a decent guy, helped train and rehab hockey players all over the country, NHL and college alike. Head Coach Gallagher had brought him in from Saint Paul to work with some of the injured guys on the team, but mostly for Walker, hoping they could get him back on the ice before the season ended. The dude was smart and straightforward, didn't pull any punches. So Walker knew before the man uttered another word that his damn times-while better than they'd been two months ago-still weren't strong enough to get him back into the starting lineup.

"Tell me what I need to do," Walker said.

"You need to tighten up your turns. Shave another twenty, thirty seconds off these times, minimum." McKellen glanced at the cones and shook his head. "And you need to do it again and again, bang on, every day, every time."

"Thirty seconds?" Swallowing his despair, Walker nodded brusquely. "Alright, Mac. Line 'em up. Let's go again."

Coach Gallagher, who'd been sitting quiet as a statue on the players' bench until now, folded his arms over his chest and shook his head. "Your edges are a mess, Dunn," he called out. "Turns are loose. Leg is dragging. You're hurtin' today, boy."

Yeah? You get your ass crushed in a rollover wreck, see how great your legs work.

Walker pinched the bridge of his nose, forcing himself to shake the foul attitude. The medics who'd dragged him out of that wreck said he was damn lucky to be alive, and most days, he believed them. But damn, the crash happened in June, and it was already the end of November. After six months of suffering nearly unbearable pain-and almost losing the ability to play entirely-he was truly starting to resent his own body.

"He's right, Walker," McKellen said, keeping his voice low, just between them. "I can see the pain in your face clear across the rink."

If there was one thing Walker hated more than being injured, it was people feeling sorry for him for being injured. And right now, McKellen's eyes were full of sympathy, voice thick as cough syrup. He'd take the coach's hard edges over that weepy bullshit any day.

"No pain, no gain, right?" he said, forcing a tight smile.

"Don't give me that bullshit," McKellen said. "Look, you keep pushing it out here, you'll put your entire recovery at risk. One fuck-up, and you're looking at riding the bench the rest of your life-not just on the hockey rink. That what you want?"

Walker jerked the helmet from his head, ran a hand through his sweat-drenched hair. He was losing steam, the adrenaline from his earlier successes draining out of him. "You know it isn't."

"Then you need to listen to me. To the docs. I know you're anxious to get back out there, but you need to let this recovery run its course. Your body will tell you when it's ready."

"Don't bullshit me, Mac. I don't have the luxury of letting this shit heal on its own timeline." Walker jerked his head toward the coach, keeping his voice in check, but just barely. "Term's almost up. If I don't get back on the active roster this season, they won't renew my contract, and then I'm out on my ass. Permanently."

Walker knew it, sure as he knew how to hold a stick and pass a puck. No matter how good he'd been in his prime, no matter how many records he'd broken, no matter how loyal he'd been to the Tempest, no NHL team would sign a washed-up puck jockey with a bum knee and shit times.

Walker tugged his helmet back into place. He had to make this work.

McKellen shook his head, blew out a frustrated breath. Holding up his hands in surrender, he said, "It's your life, son. Make the call."

"One more run, then we'll see where we're at." Without waiting for a response, Walker skated to the goal line at the other end of the rink as fast as he could, pivoting in a sharp turn in front of the net.

Bad idea.

///




He'd twisted too hard, thrown off his balance. His left foot slid ahead while his right knee stayed behind, and then he was on his ass, helmet skittering across the ice.

Another bolt of pain shot through his leg, radiating all the way up to his hip. He pulled himself up again, but it was a fight to stay on his feet, not to just crumple back to the ice like a fucking baby. Not to shut his eyes and let the darkness seep in.

Walker tried to tell himself it was just an off day. Not enough sleep last night, maybe, or hitting the free weights too hard at the gym this morning before the session. But the little nagging bitch who'd set up camp inside his head said otherwise, and as much as he'd tried to ignore that bitch, he couldn't ignore the searing pain.

His knee was on fire, and just like that, he was back in that car.

Swerving to miss the kid on the bike who'd darted out into the intersection, not even looking.

The screech of brakes, the smell of burnt rubber.

Metal on metal.

Broken glass.

Blood in his mouth.

Sirens.

Lucky to be alive …

"Walker." McKellen's hand clamped down over his shoulder, yanking Walker back to the present. "You good?"

Walker clenched his teeth, then opened his mouth and spit on the ice. There wasn't any blood-not really. His legs were straight. He was here, on the rink, in full pads, still fucking alive. He nodded.

"We're going to plan B," McKellen said, signaling to Coach.

Walker had no idea what the hell was going on, but he could already tell he wasn't going to like it. "What's plan B?"

McKellen

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