Home > Gage (Pittsburgh Titans #3)

Gage (Pittsburgh Titans #3)
Author: Sawyer Bennett

 

CHAPTER 1

 


Gage


I’m getting to know Pittsburgh well, particularly the North Side where the arena is located. The city is comprised of several contiguous neighborhoods in which many of the Titan players live. I promised our goalie coach, Baden, that I’d help him move his friend Jenna into an apartment this afternoon, and my navigation system tells me it’s less than a mile from the arena. I finished up a workout with Stone, then spent a bit of time reviewing game film on my own before heading out.

Coming out of retirement, and as the oldest Titan on the team at age thirty-five, I always have to go above and beyond to maintain my position on the first line. That means not only stellar play on the ice and keeping my body in optimal physical condition, but also getting to know my opponents. I’d been out of the league for almost a year, having retired from the Seattle Storm where I spent the last seven years of my career.

I thought I was done with hockey, but apparently, hockey wasn’t done with me.

When Callum Derringer called with an offer to join the Titans after a devastating plane crash wiped out their roster, I reached deep inside to determine whether I still had what it takes to be competitive.

I knew it wouldn’t be a problem physically. I’m still in great shape—some would say the best of my life—but it remained to be seen whether I had the heart for it. I decided to retire last year because, frankly, I wasn’t getting the same thrill from competition that once drove me. I didn’t feel like I was leaving anything on the ice when I walked away.

The prospect of skating with a team that was being built from nothing appealed to me, not only the challenge but the opportunity to be a part of history within this league. To help shape and form what would hopefully be a new dynasty spoke to my conscience more than anything. The ability to mentor young players moving up from the minors who would be out of their element. Helping a city still reeling from the loss of its beloved hockey team.

Simply put… I wanted to do some good with my life, and this seemed like the way to make that happen. I had nothing tying me down to prevent me from accepting. The money offered—while very nice—wasn’t important. Between my previous salary and endorsement deals, which I wisely invested, I wouldn’t have to worry about finances for the rest of my life.

In the end, it was an easy yes, and I don’t regret a thing.

I hang a right onto North Avenue from Allegheny and see a large moving truck parked before the loft apartments where I’m supposed to meet Baden and Sophie.

When I approach, I see Sophie standing near the rear of the truck, the roll-up door lifted and the back filled with furniture and boxes. This section of North Avenue is a two-way street with parallel parking on both sides, and all the spots are taken. I stop and lower my window. Sophie grins as she sees me.

“You standing guard?” I ask her as I nod toward the truck.

“Protecting us from a parking ticket,” she replies with a grin as she moves my way and bends to see me. “There’s a fire hydrant on the other side, so I’m prepared to roll out if a cop comes. Baden just took the bed rails up—there’s parking in the back alley.”

“Got it,” I reply with a thumbs-up.

After I park and lock my car, I round the block and Sophie points me toward the door. “Second floor. Unit two.”

Trotting up the stairs, I grimace at the compact U-shape of the stairwell. It’s going to be a bitch bringing up that couch I saw in the truck. I find unit two’s door ajar and push it open, noting a small living room with good lighting and a balcony where I can just make out the very tips of the downtown buildings. The flooring is new—light gray stain—and the kitchen is white on white, making the small area appear bright and open. There’s no hallway to speak of, just another room with a closed door, and from inside, I hear the whir of a power drill.

In the kitchen, a woman with long blond hair hanging down to her mid-back stands on a step stool. Balancing a bit precariously, she stacks plates in a cabinet from an open box on the counter. She’s wearing a pair of black workout leggings, a long-sleeve shirt, and running shoes.

Still standing at the threshold, I rap my knuckles on the door to get the woman’s attention. “Hello.”

She glances at me over her left shoulder, and I smile. “I sure hope you’re Jenna, or this is a very awkward situation where I walked into the wrong apartment.”

She smiles back, a short stack of salad plates in her hand. “I am indeed Jenna. You must be Gage. Come on in.”

“Guilty as charged,” I reply as I step inside and return the door to the same position I found it.

Jenna turns back to the cabinet as I move toward the kitchen for a handshake. She places the plates on the shelf and backs off the step stool.

With the sun behind me and facing her, I’m startled by her eyes. A brown so light that in the brightness, they’re almost honey gold. In the span of seconds, I also can’t help but notice that she has scarring on the right side of her face near her jaw. It doesn’t take up much real estate, but it’s pink and mottled and hard not to notice. It disappears down into the front of what I see now is a turtleneck shirt fitted to her body.

My eyes drift back up to hers to take in more of that amazing color, but she’s not looking directly at me anymore, her gaze averted to the side. I also notice that she’s moved one hand across her belly, the other hovering near the collar of the turtleneck as she fidgets with it, attempting to pull it up higher over her scarring.

Fuck.

Did I make her self-conscious when I noticed the welted skin? It’s not something I did intentionally, but I’m sure it doesn’t make it less bothersome to her. Despite the fact that her shirt hugs her gorgeous, curvy body, I’m guessing it was chosen to cover her scars.

The positioning of her arms and hands is defensive, and the fact she won’t look at me is indicative that I’ve caused her to retreat.

I’m not one to hide from an awkward situation, though, and I force conversation so she’ll have to look at me. “How was your trip here from Arizona? You came with your sister, right?”

She drags her eyes back to mine and pastes on a lackluster smile. Nodding toward the door I’d seen off the living area, she says, “Yes. Emory is in the bedroom with Baden trying to put the bed frame together if you want to go in.”

I opt to stay and converse. “And the trip?” I ask, a reminder she didn’t answer my first question. “That’s a hell of a drive.”

“We broke it up into three days,” she replies quietly, letting her hands drop and angling for the step stool. She climbs back on, reaches into the box, and pulls out another stack of plates without elaborating further.

It’s dismissive, and I don’t want to make her uncomfortable. “I’ll just go see what Baden wants me to do. We’ll get you set up in no time.”

“Thank you,” she murmurs, placing more plates in the cabinet with her back to me. “I really appreciate it.”

My tone is easy. “Not a problem at all.”

And it’s not. I’m glad to help out because she’s Baden’s friend, and any friend of Baden is a friend of mine.

In the bedroom, I find said buddy using the drill to drive a screw between the metal frame and the headboard. He lifts his head and grins. “You made it.”

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