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Pipe Dreams

By:Sarina Bowen

Pipe Dreams
Sarina Bowen

       ONE


BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

APRIL 2016


The first time Lauren Williams ever drank a shot of whiskey in front of  her boss was the night the Brooklyn Bruisers clinched a play-offs berth  for the first time since Nate Kattenberger bought the team.

It was ten o'clock, and the game against Pittsburgh had just rolled into  its first overtime period. The dozen or so people in Nate's private box  were tense, leaning forward in their plush seats, waiting to learn what  fate had in store for the franchise. The pundits had said it couldn't  be done-that a young team with a new coach couldn't coalesce to advance  into the postseason.

Freaking pundits. A lifetime of hockey upsets had taught Lauren not to  trust them. Still, when team captain Patrick O'Doul buried a slap shot  in the corner of the net, securing their victory, her breath caught in  her throat. No, gasped her poor, bruised heart.

"YES!" shrieked the fans.

That's when Lauren walked straight over to the bar at the side of the  team owner's private box and poured herself two fingers of Scotch, neat.  Lifting it, Lauren drained her shot.

Not that anyone noticed her sudden affinity for whiskey. The rest of the  VIPs in the room rushed over to congratulate her boss. It was a big  moment for the young billionaire who owned the team. A great moment. And  somewhere deep inside in her creaky soul Lauren was happy for him.

But this was a disaster for her.

Lauren forced herself to walk over and look down at the rink where the  players were celebrating their victory. They'd convened into a knot of  purple jerseys, rubbing helmets and slapping asses in the way of  victorious athletes everywhere.

There had been a time when this team had been Lauren's whole life.

Until the sudden, awful moment when it wasn't anymore.

Somewhere in that clot of players down below was the one who'd turned  her entire world upside down. Not only had he broken her heart, but he'd  made it impossible for her to feel comfortable in the organization to  which she'd devoted more than a decade of her life. For the past two  years, she'd avoided this team, this rink, and everything to do with  hockey.

She'd avoided the entire borough of Brooklyn, except when her boss's  business brought the two of them over the bridge for a meeting. And the  moment she was free to go, Lauren always hightailed it back to Manhattan  where she belonged.

But not this month.

A week ago, Nate had asked her to manage the hockey team's office for  the balance of the season. The young woman who usually did that job had  suffered a concussion, and he needed someone capable to step in. Since  Lauren used to do precisely that job for the team before the franchise  moved to Brooklyn, she was the obvious choice. Unfortunately. And if the  Bruisers hadn't made it to the play-offs, she would have been finished  with them by next week.

However.

The Scotch in Lauren's belly fired her courage, and she glanced down at  the ice again. The play-offs were composed of four seven-game series,  each taking more than two weeks. The Stanley Cup wouldn't be decided for  two months.

There was no telling how far the team would go. So Lauren would have to  spend at least a couple more weeks traveling with the very people she'd  worked so hard to avoid. And there was no way out of it, unless she  wanted to quit her job. And that wasn't happening.

The next sound she heard was the pop of a cork. "Did it!" cried Rebecca  Rowley, the woman who was supposed to be running the Bruisers' Brooklyn  office. She held a magnum of Cristal in two hands, which she now levered  toward the first of a row of champagne flutes.

Lauren's eyes narrowed at this display of joy. Miss Perky was supposedly  recovering from a rather serious head injury she'd sustained by walking  out onto the ice rink in her street shoes. What had seemed like a minor  fall had resulted in terrible symptoms for the poor fool. She'd been  absent from work for a week already, and was therefore the cause of  Lauren's sudden craving for Scotch whiskey.

But now Becca passed around glasses as if nothing in the world were  wrong with her. She poured another glass as her friend Georgia-one of  the team publicists-skated into the room with a grin on her face. "Press  conference in ten minutes guys. Oh! Champagne."

"Have some." Becca handed Georgia a glass, then moved on to their boss,  who gave her a hundred watt smile. "I'm so happy for you," Becca crowed,  stretching her arms around the billionaire and giving him a big  friendly squeeze.

Nate looked a little stunned by the full-frontal embrace. As usual, he  did a poor job of concealing his reaction to Rebecca. His arms did what  they probably always wanted to do, and closed around her back. His eyes  fell shut, too.                       
       
           



       

Lauren had to look away. The yearning just rose off Nate like a mist.  Hell-hugging Rebecca might be as exciting to Nate as the hockey victory  itself.

Rebecca pulled back a moment later, as oblivious to him as she always  was. She grabbed another glass of champagne off the table and held it  out to Lauren. "Champagne? I know you aren't really a drinker but . . ."

Lauren took the glass from Miss Perky and took a gulp immediately. "Thanks."

"You're . . . welcome," Becca said, her eyes full of surprise. Then she  scooped up two more glasses and moved off to serve someone else, her  hips swaying to the victory music that was playing in the stadium-"No  Sleep Till Brooklyn" by the Beastie Boys.

Lauren checked her boss's face, and found his gaze tracking Becca across  the walnut-paneled room. Lauren had been witness to this little  romantic farce for the past two years. It was like living in a sitcom  that she could never shut off.

And yet, if Nate's pining for Becca were the most irritating thing about  Lauren's situation at work, she wouldn't be drinking tonight.

Her problem wasn't with the work she'd be doing these next few weeks.  Before Nate Kattenberger bought and rebranded the Long Island team,  she'd spent ten years working in the Syosset offices. It had been Lauren  that managed the team's office during its last three play-offs runs.  Heck, Lauren was the veteran and Becca was the rookie.

But then, two years ago, the young Internet whiz made a lot of changes  to the organization. Lauren expected to be fired along with the rest of  the casualties. In fact, her father-the team's general manager-was the  first person Nate axed after the purchase went through.

Lauren wasn't fired, though. On the contrary, when Nate moved the team  to Brooklyn, he stunned her by moving her even further-whisking her into  the corporate headquarters of his Internet company in Manhattan.

She'd been ecstatic about this promotion, since working for Nate's  Fortune 500 company was exactly the sort of corporate leap she'd always  hoped to make. Not only that, but the move away from the hockey team  solved a lot of problems for Lauren all in one fell swoop, including the  one huge problem that had suddenly knocked her on her ass.

And that problem was down on the ice right now, draped in sweaty goalie  pads, lining up to skate past the other team for the traditional  handshake. For the millionth time this week, Lauren closed her eyes and  prayed to be spirited back to Nate's office tower where there weren't  any hockey players, and there weren't any reminders of the man who'd  crushed her spirit.

But as long as Becca was unable to work, Lauren was stuck in Brooklyn.  And now that the Bruisers had won their freaking play-offs slot, it  meant a hailstorm of planning and administrative overtime. Four rounds,  potentially. Two months. And travel.

"Lauren." Nate's voice cut through her reverie. "Please call Becca a car. She needs to get home and get some rest."

"Omigod, I'm fine." Rebecca rolled her eyes. "I can just walk, or grab a cab. And all I do is rest."

But Nate gave Lauren a look over Becca's head. And that look said, get her a car.

"No big deal," Lauren sighed, taking a healthy slug of her champagne. "I  have drivers waiting outside already." She'd dealt with transportation  during the third period of the game, while everyone else was screaming  encouragements toward the ice. "You should take"-she pulled her Katt  Phone out of her bag-"number 117. It's parked at the curb outside the  rink door."

Nate gave her a thankful nod. Then he went over to the coat rack in the  corner and fetched Becca's leopard-print jacket. He eased it onto her  shoulders until Becca set down her empty soda glass and shoved her arms  into the jacket, an irritated look on her face. "Pushy," she muttered  under her breath.

Lovesick, Lauren countered in her head. Did it make her a horrible  person that she wanted to knock their heads together right now?

Probably.

"Let's go, Nate!" Georgia said, clapping her hands. "You can't be late  for your own press conference." She grabbed his suit jacket off a chair  and herded him toward the door.

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