Before long I pulled up at a large, gated villa with palm trees lining the front of a towering cream wall. I reached out the window and pressed the intercom. After I stated who I was, the wrought iron gates swung open and I crunched up the gravel path and parked between a red Ferrari and a white Lexus. Wow, these hockey players earned some serious money.
I climbed out and, struggling in my new heels, stepped past three more cars, the combined worth of which would probably pay off an entire third world country’s debt.
Smoothing down my blouse and skirt, I tossed my dark curls over my shoulder. Just as I was reaching for the knocker, which was shaped like a hockey stick, the door burst in on itself. A very slim, pretty girl with long, sleek black hair stood before me. I recognized her as Carly Flannigan, Olympic gold medalist and fiancé of Vipers right-winger, The Brick.
“Hi,” she said, beaming. “You must be Dana from Best Laid Plans. Thanks so much for coming at such short notice.”
“My pleasure and before I say anything else, congratulations on your recent engagement.”
“Thanks, yes, it is rather exciting isn’t it?” She grinned broadly. “Please come in.”
I stepped over the threshold and shut the door behind myself.
“This way,” she said. “I’ve just made coffee if you’d like some.”
“Lovely, thank you.” I followed her across the enormous foyer hung with large pieces of abstract art and through a wide archway, all the time aware of my heels clacking noisily on the marble tiles.
“Do you mind sitting in the kitchen?” she asked, stopping at a huge breakfast bar lined with silver and black leather stools. “I’m sort of half watching the game.”
“No, not at all.” I placed my bag, laptop and file on the sparkling granite surface and turned to the sound of the TV.
Oh, good lord!
It wasn’t the size of the plasma screen that had my heart frantically ramming up against my ribs like a puck hitting the back of a net. And it wasn’t the sheer opulence of the room either. It was the sight of five hulking Viper players lounging on a low L-shaped couch in front of the TV that had taken every nerve in my body, twisted it and set it alight.
My hand reached out to the granite to steady myself, my knees ridiculously weak. I didn’t need to see his face to know the captain was there. Just his tousled jet-black hair and the sheer width of his shoulders identified him to me.
“Milk or cream?” Carly asked as though everything in the world was perfectly normal.
“Er, milk please,” I said, my voice a whimpering squeak even to my own ears.
“Ah, that ref is blind,” shouted Phoenix, banging a beer onto the wooden table in front of him. He was one of the Vipers’ longest standing players and when I’d seen him and his wife at Mae and Wolf’s wedding, she had been pregnant.
“Yeah, he’s crap,” said another player I didn’t recognize, who had long, sleek raven-colored hair pulled into a low ponytail.
“Yeah, at this rate the Islanders are gonna win.” The sound of Rick’s deep, rasping voice shot up the hairs on the back of my neck. It was as if they traitorously craved the feel of his breath breezing across them.
“Then I’ll have to whoop that big, hairy loser’s ass again,” Rick went on. I watched his head tip back as he chugged on a beer.
“Ah, we’ll soon take him out,” Brick said. “It would be well worth a trip to the sin bin to see him messed up.”
Carly pushed a mug of coffee in front of me. “Sorry,” she said, making a face. “The Diggers are playing the Islanders today and Brick invited the guys around to watch the game.”
“No, no, that’s fine,” I said, my mouth dry and my stomach somersaulting. Shit, I was in the same damn room as him. How the hell had that happened? I’d been so busy planning on how to avoid him at the party and now here he was, at the first damn meeting. Still at least he hadn’t seen me. He was too involved in the game. Perhaps if I quickly outlined the main aspects of the party I could slip out unnoticed and catch up with Carly over the phone. Better still, let Maddie run the whole damn thing.
“So,” Carly was saying, “we’re holding the event here, that way there’s no problem with venues being unavailable.”
I nodded and slid my butt onto a stool, angling my shoulders away from the noisy gaggle of hockey players.
“And I was thinking of a theme, maybe Roman. I imagine everyone in costume, maybe togas, and with lots of fruit and champagne.”
I nodded. That sounded simple enough to organize.
“And maybe we could bring in a fountain. We don’t have one here, not even at the back by the pool.”