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Hat Trick Chapter 1

Chapter One


Alexandra “Alex” Hawthorne shut down her computer and stepped into the private restroom in her corner office. She brushed her teeth and hair to prepare for the long night ahead. Alex ran her fingertips over the scar leading down from her right temple toward her eye. Sure, she could afford to have plastic surgery to remove the damaged tissue, but it served as an essential reminder to trust no one with her heart, ever again. Alex had worked hard to make junior partner in a prestigious law firm in New York City. She wasn’t about to allow a one-night stand or fake love to ruin her career once more.


She had fled her California home, eight years earlier, to escape the memories and torment of her abusive ex-girlfriend. She and Caitlin Roberts had been college roommates, and Alex knew they were soulmates meant to be together forever. Their fairy-tale relationship began to unravel when Alex passed her bar exam and her career began to skyrocket. The dedication and long hours required to advance up the firm’s career ladder took a devastating toll on the relationship.


Caitlin was supportive at first but soon grew weary of the hours she spent alone while Alex thrived at the firm. The abuse began with Caitlin constantly berating Alex for loving her career more than her lover. Then Caitlin’s jealousy sparked, and she continually accused Alex of sleeping her way to the top. Caitlin’s jealous rages consumed her creative energy, and her artistic career faltered. When the physical abuse began, Alex’s best friend, Lane, begged her to break off the relationship. Alex insisted she still loved Caitlin and that the rages would pass once Caitlin got some help. Counseling worked for a few weeks, until Caitlin became bored with the therapist and refused to continue. Alex had been successful in hiding the bruises, but the emotional toll was overwhelming.


When an episode of Caitlin’s rage sent Alex tumbling down the stairway of their apartment, she was unable to hide the fractured left arm from her coworkers. Lane insisted Alex move out of the apartment. When Lane arrived to help Alex move, Caitlin went berserk and attacked Lane, who had stepped in front of Alex to protect her.


Blinded by her rage, Caitlin rammed Lane into a wall, knocking her breathless, and struck Alex with her fist. Alex hit her head on the stairwell railing.


Hearing the commotion, a neighbor reacted quickly and called the police. They arrived in time to witness the continued assault. Lane received treatment for minor bruises and scrapes, but Alex was hospitalized with a subdural hematoma. The surgeon shared with Alex two options for the brain bleed the wound had caused. A medically induced coma for five days to allow the bleed to stabilize on its own or take a chance on risky neurosurgery to repair the bleed. He recommended the non-surgical intervention due to the injury’s location and the high potential for a loss of function. When Alex heard she might never be able to recover lost abilities, a coma became her only option. She was fortunate. The bleed stabilized and began to dissipate. Alex was brought out of the coma, but her life and career were shattered.


Caitlin had been arrested, charged with assault, and held without bond. Alex knew, if she was going to survive, she must escape the toxic environment, even if it meant leaving California behind and moving cross-country to start a new life and fresh career. Fortunately, her firm had an office in New York City, and her supervisor advocated for a move. Alex knew a move meant starting on the ground floor, once again. She didn’t mind the hard work, and New York was a place she’d always planned to visit.


Naomi, recently widowed for the second time, welcomed a change. Alex’s mother agreed to co-purchase the top floor, giving them adjoining apartments in Greenwich Village.


Lane and Kevin, her boyfriend, packed Alex’s belongings and started her on the road to recovery. After the trial, Alex and Naomi drove cross-country to begin their new lives and rekindle the mother-daughter bond.


Caitlin was found guilty and sentenced to serve a one-year prison term for felonious assault. Alex left little evidence of where she’d relocated, making it hard to track her down. Alex knew that she’d have at least a year’s reprieve. Hopefully, Caitlin would forget she ever existed.

“Wow, I need to get off this journey down memory lane, or I’m going to be late for my engagement.” Alex ran her hand through her shoulder-length hair and smiled when she saw the sparkle return to her green eyes. She spritzed on her favorite perfume, grabbed her shoulder bag, and headed to the elevators. She passed Mathew, one of her promising young lawyers, in the hallway.


“Go, Islanders,” he cheered. “Have a great time, Boss.”


“Will do Matt. Get back to work,” she barked. Alex couldn’t help but smile at the eager young man.


“Yes, Boss,” He gave Alex a mock salute and rushed down the hall to his cubicle.


Alex cherished the elevator ride. The clear glass offered her an outstanding view of the city she had grown to love. The city lights were beginning to twinkle, as she stepped inside and rode down twenty floors to the waiting car.


A sharply dressed young man smiled when she approached, and held the rear door open for her. “There you are, Ms. Hawthorne. For a moment, I thought I would have to come rescue you.”


“Not tonight, Ricco. I managed to escape a boring staff meeting to share some time with you as we travel through our beautiful city,” Alex said with a modicum of truth. She had grown to love the city, and Ricco was, by far, her favorite driver. His sense of style and flamboyance frequently had her laughing by the time they reached her destination. She felt in harmony with Ricco and comfortable letting down her ball-busting façade while she was with him.


“To the coliseum?” he asked.


“Yes, another night of hockey hell.” She chuckled as he closed the door behind her.


The firm purchased front-row glass seats to watch every season of Islander games. She often wondered why they didn’t get Yankees, Mets, or even Knicks season tickets. Alex knew a bit about baseball and basketball, but she hadn’t a clue about hockey. Gabriel, the firm’s managing partner, was quick to inform her that the founder of the firm was a steadfast Islander fan. As a junior partner with designs of earning senior partner status by next year, it was her responsibility to host the top brass from some of their larger accounts. She had a reputation as a tough-as-nails attorney, but she knew squat about hockey. It was an excellent opportunity for her to people watch, and Alex was amazed at how often the female fans were the most vocal and aggressive.


Ricco pulled the car into traffic, and Alex groaned as she looked up the game info. “Oh, not tonight?”


“Let me guess,” he said with his Puerto Rican accent. “A nationally televised game?”


“How did you guess?”


“That groan gave you away, Ms. Hawthorne. You can always plan on at least two hours when the game is on national TV.”


“Don’t remind me. At least it’s a Friday night and the beginning of a long weekend.” She smiled at him in the mirror.


“You have big plans?” Ricco asked.


“To do as absolutely little as possible, but I know my mom will have the entire weekend planned.”


“Will you require my services?”


“No, I think I’ll torture her with a taxi ride. Maybe that will discourage her from planning all these mother-daughter activities.”


“Now, Ms. Hawthorne, you know how Ms. Naomi loves spending time with her little girl,” he teased.


“I know, but I swear, if she has another one of her socialite teas planned, I’m going to lose my mind.”


“You have me on speed dial. Call me to your rescue, and I’ll be there in a jiff. We can call her from the park and tell her you had a work emergency come up, and then you can treat me to Sabrett.”


“That does sound much more fun, Ricco. A couple of dogs, while sitting on a bench watching the world go by on Rollerblades. Yep, much more exciting.”


Ricco broke out laughing, then laid on his horn when a taxi cut him off. “Damn, foreign drivers,” he complained and started laughing again. “First home game of the season, yes?”


“Don’t remind me. This is only the first of many, Ricco.”


“The Battle of New York. Nothing like starting right off with the Rangers,” he said. “Do you know how many people would kill for your seat?”


“They wouldn’t have to kill anybody. I’d gladly offer it up if I could, but I don’t think that would win me any points with the senior partners. It irritates them that our guests regularly choose me over them.”


“You are so much nicer to look at than their ugly old faces.”


“Why, thank you, Ricco. I had begun to wonder if you had another favorite,” she teased.


“Heaven’s no, Ms. Hawthorne. I love driving for you. You talk with me like I’m human and not some robot under your control.”


“Yes, I can imagine. I hate it when the “Old Guard” attend staffings. You can feel the tension in the room, and people clam up who typically are very productive.”


“I don’t know how you handle it, but I’m so glad you do. My life would be boring without you, Ms. Hawthorne.”


Alex chuckled. “Ricco, you say the sweetest things sometimes.”


Ricco grew quiet, as he concentrated on the aggressive, rush-hour traffic. Alex’s mind wandered back to her past. She didn’t understand why she had suddenly flashed back to the horrible years wasted with Caitlin. When she ran her hand over her temple, the jagged scar reminded her. Right, it was the scar that triggered the memories. How did I forget that?

Ricco maneuvered the car into the VIP entrance of the coliseum. He jogged around to open the door for her. “I’ll see you in about three hours,” he said with a grin.


“Don’t make me shoot you. Better make it two and a half.” She looked past him to the limo pulling in. “Great timing. My guests have arrived. Don’t be late.” She shot him a wink.


“I’ll be here with bells on.” He chuckled.


“Not fairy bells, I hope.” Alex laughed at the startled look on Ricco’s face.


“You got me. Try to have a good time.”


Alex nodded and shooed him away. She strolled to the entrance to allow her guests to catch up. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you’re ready for an exciting game.”


“We are,” Sam Cole, chief of operations of the firm’s largest client, responded. Alex struggled to hold back a smirk when she saw the blonde, thirty years younger, latch onto his arm. If only they knew how ridiculous they look. He’s probably got children her age. Suck it up, buttercup, and let’s get this party started.


The players were already out on the ice warming up, as her guests took their seats. Alex positioned herself on the end of a row nearest the Islanders bench. She loved the colorful language from the players, and the aisle seat gave her access to all her guests with ease. The premium glass seats had an assigned waitress, who immediately went to work collecting food and drink orders. Alex gave Mary her charge card instructions and asked for a Coke and a Sabrett with mustard, onions, and sauerkraut.


When the puck dropped at center ice, the arena came alive. Her guests were getting into the action on the floor, screaming at the players and the officials. Alex felt eyes appraising her and turned. The young blonde who had accompanied Sam Cole was smiling at her. Alex nodded and tried her best to ignore the seductive woman licking her lips. Not no, but hell no.


She jumped at the sound of a tremendous crash only feet away from her. One of the Islander players had body checked a Ranger hard against the wall and shoved the Ranger’s head into the glass. The players immediately dropped their sticks and gloves and pounded on each other. Alex took comfort knowing the heavy padding the players wore absorbed most of the impact, but on several occasions, a blow landed on a face, often dislodging a tooth or two. She knew that in hockey, like wrestling, the crowd was inspired by fistfights. This crowd was no different, screaming and yelling their encouragement each time the Ranger’s player suffered a punch to the face. After the players grew tired from punching each other out, the referees intervened and separated them. The Islander’s player waved his arms in the air to the home crowd, who cheered to deafening levels as the player was escorted to the penalty box.


The Islander’s bench erupted with excitement during the fight. When Alex glanced over at them, she noticed a woman looking back at her. Not a leering smile like she had gotten from the blonde, but a warm smile, edging on a grin from her startled reaction to the fight. Alex returned her smile, then quickly looked away. Her heart was pounding in her chest, and she felt an ember of desire ignite when she looked in the woman’s dark, bedroom eyes. Bedroom eyes. Oh, girl, you need to tone that shit down. Alex’s fingertips automatically touched the scar. Once was enough. Never again.

Thank goodness for scoreboards. Alex knew that when the siren sounds and the crowds explode, someone has scored a goal. She kept a close eye on the scoreboard to see who was winning and made idle chitchat with some of the client’s entourage. Alex couldn’t keep her eyes from drifting over to the bench to catch another glimpse of the mysterious woman. She had never seen a woman standing behind the bench and was curious about who she was. During time-outs at the commercial breaks, the woman huddled with the team. A female hockey coach? Naw, not in this world.


When the horn announced the end of the final period, Alex breathed a sigh of relief. The blonde needed a full escort to leave the arena, as she had drunk more than her share of alcohol. Cole looked none too pleased as they exited to the limo. No boom boom for you tonight, big boy. Alex watched in horror, as the blonde broke away from the group to vomit in a garbage can. Cole looked at Alex and shrugged. Thank you for letting her reach the garbage can.


Alex bid them good night, and her eyes began searching for Ricco. One down and Lord only knows how many more to go. Alex was not one to drink around clients, even in a social manner. Now she was in desperate need of a stiff drink.


Ricco pulled the car to the curb and opened the door for her.


“Home?” he asked.


“Not tonight, Ricco. I need a drink. Did you see the bimbo toss her cookies in the garbage can?”


He chuckled. “It was kind of hard to miss. The woman made such a production of blowing chunks.”


“Eww, Ricco, I could have gone the rest of the night without hearing that.”


He grinned at her and closed the door. When he slid in behind the wheel, he turned back to her. “Your wish is my command.”


“Please drop me at The Penalty Box. I can have a good drink and walk the two blocks home.”


Ricco frowned. “I don’t mind waiting. I don’t like the thought of you walking alone this time of night, even if it is two blocks.”


“Thanks for offering. I know you’ve got a honey waiting for you.”


When they arrived at The Penalty Box, Ricco pulled to the curb and opened her door. “Don’t hesitate to call if you change your mind on a ride home.”


Alex pointed to the large building two blocks away. “I promise, If I don’t feel comfortable, I will call you or a taxi.”


“Don’t call no stinkin’ taxi,” he groaned.


“Okay, you win. I’ll call you if I need you. See you at seven on Monday?”


“Yes, you will. If not sooner.”


“Good night, Ricco. Tell Josh I said hello.”


“I will. Josh still wants to know when you’re going to come to the club to watch one of his shows.”


“Tell him soon. I promise.”


“Good night, Ms. Hawthorne. Josh won’t be home for another hour, so I may just hang out in my car for a while. It’s a beautiful evening, don’t you think?” Ricco was always so protective. She knew there was no point in arguing, so she gave him a small wave over her shoulder and went inside.

Alex was surprised to find a seat at the bar. Usually, on a Friday night, the place was packed, especially after an Islander home game. Large television screens lined the walls, and Alex was sure the patrons had watched the game. Even though she didn’t know much about hockey, she liked The Box, as the locals called it. The heavy, teak wood bar and furnishings, lined with high-quality leather accents, made her go-to pub a comfortable place. She looked around and recognized a few familiar faces, as she took a seat at the end of the bar. Alex smiled when she caught the eye of her favorite bartender. She loved Felicia’s Jamaican accent and her ready smile.


“I haven’t seen you here for a while,” Felecia purred. “The usual for you?”


“Better make it a double Disaronno on the rocks.”


Felecia raised a brow. “Rough day?”


“Hockey game tonight.” Alex groaned.


“Ah, that explains it.” Felicia grinned and turned away to pour the drink.

 

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