Cross Check My Heart
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by Kerri Nelson
Description: She's on the run from something ominous in her past. She escapes to a new town and a new job as the physical therapist for the U.S. Hockey Team, which is preparing for the Olympics. He's a veteran hockey player with a secret of his own that threatens his chances at making the final cut for the team. When she discovers his secret, she realizes that she can compel him to help her without having to divulge her own secrets. As his attraction for her grows, he longs for her trust. Will she attempt to stand in the way of his childhood dreams? Or will he unwittingly become the new target when her past ultimately catches up with her? While Jana considers whether or not to divulge the details of her secret life to Danny, danger looms. Jana and Danny must decide if they will risk their secrets--and their survival--for the sake of love.
eBook Publisher: Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC/Eternal Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: June 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [101 KB]
Reading time: 61-85 min.
As head-on collisions go, this one had been minor. The car had come to rest against the base of a large tree, but the rain-soaked floor of the forest had slowed the impact.
The tires spun deeper in the mud as Jana punched her foot down on the gas pedal. Try as she might, the car was not budging an inch. She tried turning the wheel sharply and then applied the gas again.
She could hear the whirring of the engine as it strained to comply with her demands, but it seemed a useless effort.
She knew that she had to hurry. The van that had forced her off the road would be back. As soon as they determined that she'd survived the accident, she'd be on the run once again.
She squinted at the dark forest that surrounded her here, in the woods of rural Kentucky. She'd never escape on foot. Her only hope was to get this car unstuck and back on the road before they found her.
Jana took a deep breath and then put the car in drive, inching it forward as far as she could go without hitting the tree. Then she put it in reverse, cut the wheel to the left and gently pressed down on the accelerator. The car lurched backwards.
She felt tears of relief spring to her eyes but she shook them away. It wasn't time to celebrate just yet.
She slipped the gear back into drive and rotated the wheel in the opposite direction, easing the car forward and then back towards the highway.
As she reached the edge of the clearing, she stopped to look up and down the dark, silent highway, in search of any tell-tale vehicle lights. She saw nothing but darkness.
She looked from right to left and tried to regain her sense of direction. Her first instinct was to turn right to head north, but she just wasn't sure. She'd gotten so turned around and disoriented after her accident that she felt completely lost.
Should she just go and risk backtracking and wasting time? Or should she take a minute to dig around to recover her GPS, which was suddenly missing from the cup holder? Apparently, it had flown somewhere down onto the floor while she'd been hurtling through the woods.
She bit her lip in indecision and finally decided to do a quick check of the passenger-side floorboard before heading out. She tapped the button above her head, and the interior light came on. It was faint, but provided enough light for her to lean over into the floorboard and search for Samantha. Samantha was the name of the voice on her GPS. She's my only friend in the world right now. How pathetic. Jana pushed the thought from her mind as she reached down with shaky fingertips to feel for the little black device.
She couldn't feel anything. Where did you go, Sam?
A feeling of panic began to creep back into the pit of her stomach, and she feared that taking anymore time would be a mistake. She'd just have to pick a direction and try to find a safe place to stop and search for it.
She sat up in the seat and looked out the driver side window as she prepared to enter the highway. A hard, sneering face stared back at her from outside the window.
* * * *
Seven Bridges Ice Arena
Danny Cipriani pushed through the pain as he skated towards the goal.
He was leading the team in assists today, and he wasn't about to let a little pain keep him from completing their vigorous training session. Coach Snyder had told him that he was on the short list for officially making the Olympic team, and he had every intention of going to Vancouver in February and doing his country proud.
He saw the puck slip in between the skates of Ondreas, and he saw the opening that he'd been waiting for. He headed towards the puck.
Just as his stick was about to make contact, he felt a jarring impact that nearly knocked the breath out of him. His body careened over the ice and crashed into the glass.
He grunted from the surprise and the sheer intensity of the pain as his sore shoulder took a rough blow.
Quickly, he cut his eyes over to see the squinted eyes behind the mask of Jean Paul Perrot. That asshole had been out for me since the first day of training.
A whistle blew as Danny shoved Perrot back and began to throw his gloves to the ice.
"Hey! Hey! Not on my ice, boys!" Coach Snyder yelled from the bench.
Danny thought about beating the crap out of the idiot, but then thought better of it. He wasn't about to let this jerk put him on Coach's bad side, not this close to the final team cut at the end of the week.
"You're not worth it," he growled at Perrot. He watched as Perrot grinned evilly back at him with a broken front tooth.
Danny shook his head and tried to shrug off the pain that was now radiating down his arm from the uncalled-for body check into the boards. It wasn't the worst hit he'd ever taken by far, but he was suddenly in a tremendous amount of pain. Memories of a particularly bad shoulder separation from his old days in the CHL flooded his mind as the pain surged further downward. His shoulder had been surgically repaired many years ago, but the possibility of a reinjuring it always loomed in the back of his mind.
The Central Hockey League was not even close to being as tough as the NHL, but he had to start somewhere. He'd been injured early on, as a rookie. That injury could have cost him his career if not for a great surgeon, a supportive coach and lot of therapy. Working through the pain was what he was good at doing, and that is what he would do now. He wasn't going to miss out on this chance--his last chance to make the U.S. Olympic team.
As Danny headed for the locker room, Scott Mangano slid up beside him and punched him on the arm with a gloved fist.
"Way to keep your cool, bro. That jerk Perrot is so not worth it," Mangano said, tapping his stick against the edge of the rink as he stepped out into the tunnel.
Danny tried to shrug, but the pain that seared down his arm was excruciating.
They made their way into the locker room. The sound of locker doors slamming and shower water running greeted them.
Danny had never felt more at home than he did on the ice. Hockey was his life, and he had to see this dream fulfilled even if it permanently damaged his shoulder.
"Hey, fellas!" Coach Synder barked from the doorway.
"Listen up!" he shouted again, and the voices and noise died down.
"Tomorrow, we'll be welcoming our new sports therapist to the team. Now, I want you all to be on your best behavior. The owner has hired a woman for the job, and I hear that she's the best in the business."
Whistles and laughter trickled throughout the room, along with a few vulgar comments.
Danny shook his head at the buffoons. He had major respect for most of these men, but they weren't really his team. They were all from other NHL teams throughout the country. A few of them were his friends, but most of them had only become respected acquaintances over the last couple of months.
The lack of maturity among men his own age never failed to annoy him.
"Alright, alright, get it out of your system now. I don't want you giving the young lady a hard time. I need you all to be gentlemen. Over the next week, she'll be meeting with each one of you and doing a physical evaluation. Her report will play a part in the coaching staff's final team cut determination," the coach explained.
"I've got her physical evaluation right here," Perrot squawked rudely.
Laughter ensued, but Danny didn't join in on the fun. The only words he heard were "team cut."