Heller Brothers - 2
This story is a Canadian fantasy—a hockey fantasy. It’s been no secret for years that two businessmen wanted to purchase an NHL team and bring it back to Winnipeg. Despite years of rumors, disappointments and false reports of done deals, hockey fans in Winnipeg continued to fantasize about the NHL returning.
My earlier book Breakaway is the story of Jason Heller, a professional hockey player from Winnipeg who has three brothers. As I worked on edits to Breakaway, it seemed these Winnipeg businessmen were very close to purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes (which were the Winnipeg Jets up until 1996). Thinking ahead, I changed the team Tag Heller played for to a (fictional!) team in Phoenix (called the Stars, not the Coyotes) and when I started writing Faceoff, Tag’s story, I wrote the fantasy—the NHL had returned to Winnipeg!
I had not yet submitted this manuscript to my editor when the real-life story changed—it was no longer the Phoenix Coyotes being purchased, it was the Atlanta Thrashers. I couldn’t change my story to match reality because I’d already planted the seed that Tag Heller played for Phoenix in Breakaway. I named the new Winnipeg team the Jets in my book, even though every other hockey team I mention in Breakaway and Faceoff are fictional NHL teams—at that point we didn’t know for sure the deal would even happen and if it did, whether a new Winnipeg team would be called the Jets or something entirely different. The day after I submitted this manuscript to my editor, the story came true—the NHL was returning to Winnipeg! The true story didn’t play out exactly as it does in Faceoff (which is fiction), but the basis of the story is accurate and the hockey fantasy is the backdrop for the romance fantasy between Tag and Kyla.
Friday night. Six o’clock. A briefcase full of documents to review for the coming week that would occupy pretty much her entire weekend. Super fun.
Kyla MacIntosh rode the elevator down from the twenty-ninth floor of the Richardson Building, immune to the ear-popping speed of the elevator after years of working at the law offices of Ingram Howell Grant. Alone in the elevator, she leaned her head against the wall, then straightened and rolled her head, trying to ease the tightness in her neck that was causing a feeling of pressure around her head. The headaches were so constant now she barely noticed them, but at that moment she longed for some ibuprofen. And a massage. Her massage therapist was getting rich off her lately.
She came to a halt in the building lobby at seeing the pouring rain outside. Damn. With slower steps, she wandered into the hotel adjoining the office building to peer out the front doors. She set down her briefcase and purse and was about to slide her arms into the beige trench coat she carried over one arm when a burst of laughter from the lounge off the hotel lobby had her turning her head in recognition. Several of the lawyers from the firm sat on stools at a high round table, drinks in hand, laughing at something one of them had just said. Including her mentor, senior partner Jim English, and her biggest competition for partner, Alex Covell.
She blinked at them. Damn. They’d gone for drinks without her again. She looked down at the gleaming stone floor, then back up. She pressed her lips together and lifted her purse and briefcase, then straightened her shoulders and strode into the bar.
“Hey, guys,” she said, pasting on a smile. “I didn’t know you were going for drinks tonight.”
They all looked up at her, Jim, Alex and a few other partners and associates. “Hey, Kyla.” After a short pause, Jim said, “Why don’t you join us?”
“Thanks!” One of the men pulled another stool up to the table and she smiled at him as she climbed up onto it. “It’s been a long week, I could use a drink.”
The jocular conversation had come to a screeching halt and Kyla sighed inwardly. What had they been talking about? Probably her. She ordered a martini from the waitress with determined cheerfulness. “Pouring rain out there,” she said. “Maybe by the time I’ve had a drink, it’ll stop.”
Reduced to talking about the weather. You could always talk about the weather in a city with four distinct seasons, where the temperatures ranged sixty degrees Celsius or more over the course of year. “It’s supposed to clear up for the weekend,” Jim said.
“Heading out to the lake?” Alex asked him.
“Yeah. Pam’s been up there all week. Jason and Lacy are bringing the kids this weekend,” he said, referring to his son and daughter-in-law.
“How about you, Kyla? What are you up to this weekend?”
“Oh not much.” She smiled. “Work.”
They all made understanding noises. The conversation stuttered again.
She wasn’t the only woman at the firm. There was, in fact, one female partner, but Kyla suspected Morgan had actually once been a man. Seriously. Not that Kyla had any issues with transgendered folks, but since Morgan had never married and, as far as anyone knew, had no family, she certainly didn’t have to struggle with issues of maternity leave or trying to rear a family while billing as many hours as possible.
And inviting one of the female associates for Friday happy hour drinks apparently wasn’t something her mentor felt comfortable with.
Kyla took a burning gulp of her martini.
“How’s your golf game?” Hugh asked Jim. “Been out much so far this year?”
Kyla resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Jim somehow managed to golf in every big tournament in the city, which seemed to be a couple of times a week in the summer. Yeah, sure, it was networking, but geez.
“Yeah, I’ve been out a few times.” Jim also had a membership at the most expensive golf club in the city and occasionally invited some of the other lawyers at the firm to golf with him there. He’d never invited Kyla, even though she’d made a determined effort to learn how to golf, knowing how much networking was done on the links. She despised golf, but saw it as a necessary business skill.
The men started talking about putters and drivers, effectively shutting her out of the conversation. As usual. But she smiled and nodded and asked the odd question when she could, determined she was going to be part of this boys club.
A decision about who was going to be named the next partner at Ingram Howell and Grant was being made this month. She and Alex were both considered the front runners. She’d been working her ass off for eight years for this and her plan to make partner was seemingly on track, but last week Jim had invited Alex to join him at a big golf tournament, making up a foursome with one of their largest corporate clients, and that had resurrected all her self-doubts. She hated that after months, even years, of feeling confident and on track, all of a sudden she was hyper aware of every decision, every exclusion—like the lack of invitation to join them for drinks tonight.
Hell. This wasn’t the first time that had happened. She’d become aware a long time ago that Jim wasn’t comfortable asking her out for drinks. He was old enough to be her father, but their relationship wasn’t father-daughter or even father-son, like his relationship with Alex was, and having drinks or lunch alone with her, or golfing with her, were clearly things he didn’t feel comfortable with.
She stared glumly down into her martini, momentarily diverted from her cheery façade.
“How about those Jets?” Jim said. Everyone laughed. “Never thought I’d get to say that line again,” he continued with a grin. “A toast to the Jets.”
They all lifted their glasses and a chorus of “To the Jets!” filled the air. People at the tables around them regarded them with amusement and then the entire lounge was filled with people shouting “To the Jets!” and lifting their glasses in a spontaneous toast.
Kyla couldn’t help but laugh. The city of Winnipeg had never recovered from losing their National Hockey League team back in 1996 and the recent news that a couple of wealthy businessmen in town had finally succeeded in purchasing a struggling NHL team and were bringing it back to Winnipeg had created a buzz of excitement throughout the city.
She’d grown up with two older brothers who’d played hockey, although neither of them were good enough to turn pro, and her parents’ best friends, the Hellers, had four boys whom she’d practically grown up with as if they were brothers too. Three of those four boys now played in the NHL and the fourth had just been drafted. In fact, one of them played for the team that was moving back to Winnipeg, which had added to the excitement. Return of the hometown hockey hero.
She too had been following the story of the team’s purchase in the news for months, interested largely in the complex legal and business issues that had arisen. She’d done a lot of legal work for the AHL team that had played in the city since the Jets had left and found the business side of professional sports fascinating.
The guys started talking hockey, but this was a subject Kyla was capable of participating in equally. She loved hockey. Then her BlackBerry bleeped in her purse. She pulled it out to glance at the screen. Her mother. She hesitated.
Guilt made her answer the call with a smile of apology at the men before she slipped off her stool and took a couple of steps away from the table.
“Kyla. Are you still coming for dinner tonight?”
Hell. She’d forgotten about that. “God, Mom, I’m sorry. I totally forgot. Why aren’t you going out to the lake tonight?”
“We’re going in the morning. We haven’t seen you in…I don’t even know how long it’s been. You won’t come to the lake, so at least come visit us tonight. We’ll be at the cottage for the next few weeks.”
“I’ve just been so busy. But, yeah, okay, I’ll come tonight.”
“We have some exciting news! So come as soon as you can.”
“Okay. I’m just having a drink with some coworkers. Then I should go home and change.”
Her condo in the Exchange District was walking distance from the office and it would only take twenty minutes to drive from downtown to her parents’ home in Tuxedo, but that still meant she had to cut this opportunity to socialize with the guys short. “Yeah. See you soon.”
She returned to the table. “My mom,” she said to the men. “I forgot I was supposed to go over there for dinner.”
“How are your parents?” Jim asked.
“They’re okay.” Mom had recently undergone treatment for breast cancer, which had been a huge scare and stressful for everyone. “My mom’s doing amazingly well. Dad’s been busy as usual, traveling.” Her father was the president and CEO of a large aerospace company.
She tipped her martini glass and drained the last of the drink. “I’d better head out.” She smiled at the men as she again slid from her stool. “Have a good weekend, everyone.”
“You too, Kyla.”
In the lobby of the building, she surveyed the rain still pouring down outside. Damn. Walking to work was great when the weather was nice, even in the winter when it was cold, as long as you dressed for it, but three blocks in pouring rain was going to leave her wet even with her trench coat and umbrella.
She hurried along Rorie Street toward her condo in a renovated warehouse, head down, briefcase and purse bumping against her with every step, finally arriving at her building a bit out of breath. Man, she needed to get in shape. She’d never been athletic, but she knew the importance of staying fit and at one time had been a regular at the gym. But her gym membership had lapsed and working out had fallen to the bottom of her priority list lately, with work consuming all her time.
In her condo, she dropped her purse and case in the living room, hung up her wet coat and left her open umbrella on the rug in her foyer to dry. Luckily her car was parked underground, so she wouldn’t have to go outside again until she got to her parents’.
In her bedroom she sighed as she changed out of her suit and into a pair of jeans, wishing she didn’t have to go out. She was turning into a hermit lately and she knew it, but dammit, making partner was important. In a family of overachievers, she had to do this. So all she’d been doing lately was working, other than the time she’d spent at her mother’s bedside following her surgery and then helping her at home as much as she could without missing too much time from work.