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Playing to Win

By:Taryn Leigh Taylor

Playing to Win
Taryn Leigh Taylor

       1

"QUIT SQUIRMING, HOL. You look totally porn-hot."

Holly Evans glared at her friend and cameraman. "Well, thanks, Jay. I  feel so much better now. After all, ‘porn-hot' is just what we  professional sportscasters aspire to, right, Corey?"

She immediately regretted throwing the question to the reporter setting  up a few feet down the rubber-floored hallway. Corey Baniuk was  Portland's favorite on-the-scene sports authority...at least for now.

Rumor had it that Jim Purcell, the longtime sports anchor at Portland  News Now, was contemplating retirement and that Corey had a lock on the  in-studio position. That meant Holly's dream job might soon be up for  grabs-and Holly intended to do the grabbing. Provided she hadn't screwed  up all her credibility by playing Sports Reporter Barbie for the next  three months, of course.

"Sure." Corey shot her the familiar, good-natured grin that was a  staple of both the six and eleven o'clock news. "Someone will be by to  oil my chest any minute."

His camera guy chuckled and heat prickled up Holly's cheeks, no doubt  rivaling the fire-engine-red color of her outfit. She forced a wan  smile-small thanks for him taking the high road, but it was all she  could muster. God, she envied him his conservative gray pinstripe suit.  And he was even wearing a shirt under his jacket. She would give up her  firstborn for a shirt.

"How did this happen?" she lamented in Jay Buchanan's general  direction. "I am an intelligent, educated woman who is passionate about  all things sports." She glanced down at her brazen skirt suit, but with  her boobs pushed up to her chin, not much of it was visible to her.

Damn Victoria and all her secrets.

"When did I become the Hooters girl of broadcasting?"

Jay rolled his eyes. "Hey, you knew what you were signing up for. Hell,  I'll bet Lougheed had dollar signs circling his head when he saw your  audition tape."

Holly cringed at her friend's choice of words. "It wasn't an audition  tape," she protested weakly. "It was a favor for you. And a fight  against injustice."

When she'd agreed to shoot the joke video with Jay's fledgling  production company, she was aiming for satire, intending it to be biting  commentary on how female sports reporters were perceived. It was an  attempt to show people the stereotypes she fought against every day in  pursuit of her dream. Instead, she was now the star of a bona fide viral  video, sporting a teased-out helmet of blond hair and freezing her butt  off while she pretended to be hockey-impaired.

It had caught the attention of Ron Lougheed, the GM of Portland's  professional hockey team, and the ditzy routine was now, sadly, the best  on-camera experience she'd been offered since she'd graduated  broadcasting school.

"No one cares what it was. What the Women's Hockey Network is, is a  YouTube sensation! People are eating it up and coming back for seconds.  To the suits, you're the living, breathing, high-heel-wearing crowbar  they're gonna use to pry into the coveted female demographic."

"And they somehow figure short skirts are going to help me accomplish  that lofty goal?" she asked snidely, tugging said skirt back down her  thighs.

"Hell, no! That's to keep the guys interested while you're talking about girly stuff like player hairdos."

With a deep breath of arena-rubber and concrete and sweat and ice-Holly  called upon the stupid yoga class she'd suffered through two years ago  at her best friend Paige's behest. Something about a mind/body  connection, and inner peace, and deep breaths, and-ah, screw it.

Time to suck it up, Princess.

Jay was right. She'd accepted the job as the Portland Storm's web  reporter for the duration of their play-off run, and if dressing like  someone's too-slutty-to-acknowledge cousin was the price of breaking  into her dream career, then that's what she'd do. She gave a determined  nod at the thought, slamming a mental door on the last remnants of her  doubt.

The buzzer sounded to hail the end of the game, and Holly's newly minted courage took a nosedive. This was it. Her debut.

She watched with mounting nerves as twenty massive men in skates and full equipment stalked toward her.                       
       
           


       

And speaking of porn-hot...

There he was: Luke Maguire, team captain, number eighteen, a premier  left-winger with a career-best thirty-seven goals in the regular season  this year. Not to mention sexy as hell and in possession of all of his  teeth-no rare feat after six years in professional hockey. The man  looked incredible, all tall and sweaty and pissed off over the loss of  their first play-off game against Colorado.

When she caught his eye, she was torn somewhere between lust and duty.  Then his gaze dropped to the straining top button of her suit jacket,  and she felt extreme mortification enter the mix. He slowed his pace,  lifted his beautiful blue eyes from her cleavage to her face and stepped  out of the single-file line of burly hockey players to take a question.  From her.

This was it. Her big moment. Thirty seconds with one of the elite  players of the game. But instead of being able to ask something  pertinent, like his thoughts on the lackluster performance of the  Storm's players, or his musings on the unprecedented twenty penalty  minutes they'd accrued, she was contractually obligated to say:

"This is Holly Evans of the Women's Hockey Network, and with me tonight  is the captain of the Portland Storm, Luke Maguire! Luke, it's play-off  season, a time when superstitions run rampant and hockey players all  over the league stop shaving, even though a recent study shows that  women prefer the clean-shaven look to a full beard by a margin of almost  four to one. Do you think tonight's loss had anything to do with the  fact that you chose to shave today, and do you plan on reconsidering  your stance on facial hair as the play-offs progress?"

One straight, brown eyebrow crooked up, the only indication he'd even  heard her "question." (She was willing to concede that she was using the  term loosely.) Then he grabbed the logoed towel some Sports Nation  lackey had slung on his shoulder, wiped the sweat from his face and  turned and walked away.

* * *

"BUCK UP, CAP. Why so down?"

Luke took a deep breath and started pulling off the tape wound around  his socks and shin pads. "You mean aside from getting shut out in our  own building, setting a franchise record in penalty minutes and the  looming press conference I have to spend assuring reporters that we know  we sucked out there?"

As far as Luke was concerned, the only upside to their spectacular 5 – 0  loss to Colorado was that Coach Taggert had been so pissed that he'd  refused post-game media access to the dressing room. At least they could  shower, change and lick their wounds in relative peace.

Brett Sillinger, the Storm's eighth-round draft pick, ran a hand  through his sweaty curls. "Well, sure. When you put it that way. But  look at the bright side! We're loaded, and women throw themselves at us!  We've got the best goddamn job in the world, bar none. And we're in the  play-offs, baby!"

Luke's stomach lurched. "Trust me, rookie, I know we're in the play-offs."

Did he ever. It was a pretty big deal to some very rich people in some  very high places, people who were...eager to see the team perform well  in the franchise's first run for the cup since joining the league five  years ago. That fact had been made abundantly-and repeatedly-clear to  him in the month since they'd clinched their play-off spot.

It was also Luke's first time in the play-offs since the worst night of  his life. Three years had passed, but the wound was still as fresh as  ever.

He shoved the nightmarish memory back into the mental penalty box where  it belonged, barely aware he'd reached for his helmet until he caught  himself brushing his thumb across the number ten sticker he'd placed  inside it-a talisman to keep him focused. With a sigh, he reached up and  set his helmet on the shelf above his head.

He was the team captain now, he reminded himself. He had a job to do  and he couldn't afford to wallow in personal issues. You couldn't lead a  team to victory if they didn't trust you to take care of business. And  yet he didn't seem to be leading the team anywhere but to an early  play-off exit. They all needed to get their heads out of their asses.

"We won't be in the play-offs for long if we keep playing like we just  did. I know there are some nerves in the room. This franchise has never  been in the play-offs before, and no one here has ever won a  championship. None of that matters. We need to play our game, stay  hungry and determined.                       
       
           

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