Even though it didn't come as a complete shock, Max Tournet still found it hard to take when the GM of his team announced that he was being traded. It wasn't that he was a terrible player or no longer contributing. It had more to do with the dollars and cents and they just couldn't afford to keep Max any longer. At least the team he was headed for was in another division so he wouldn't be facing his old teammates right away.
Before leaving town, Sean and the other guys threw him a huge going away party at Sean's house. Quite a feat considering how fast trades came up and were followed through on. Sean's new wife, Amelia, a good friend to Max in her own right, was in tears by the end of the night.
"I just can't believe you're leaving," she sobbed, throwing her arms around Max.
He laughed to cover his own misty eyes. He knew that Amelia meant it even if she was being a touch overdramatic at the moment; that was because it was her first time drinking since giving birth to her son, Sean Jr.
"I know, Lia." Max patted her back. "But it's a good thing."
She jerked back and glared at him, tears streaking her cheeks. "How can you say that?"
"Well, the team here can get the guys they need and I get the chance to see a new city." He'd said the words to himself so many times before that he was almost starting to believe them.
Amelia tried to maintain her glare, but her lower lip began to tremble. She let out a sob and buried her face against Max's chest. With a sigh, he continued to pat her back until he met Sean's curious gaze over her head.
"Get over here, Kid." Max waved a hand at his former captain.
Sean strode across the room and smiled as he took in the sight of his wife hanging from Max's arms. "Your last night here and you're still hitting on my wife?"
A renewed sob burst forth from Amelia and both the men laughed.
"You've got to do something, man." Max tried to extract himself from Amelia's grip. "I love her but I just can't deal with this."
Sean held his arms out and closed them around Amelia as Max turned her to her husband. She cried into Sean's shoulder as Max met Sean's gaze. Sean nodded and blinked a few times before turning away with his wife in tow.
With a sigh, Max walked out onto the back deck for a few minutes of fresh air. Inside the house, the music pulsed and loud laughter filtered outside. He was having a good time with his teammates and friends but it made it that much more difficult to think of leaving them. His flight for Calgary left the next day and the day after that, he'd be skating in practice with the Flames.
At least I'll be playing for a Canadian team, he thought, knowing it was small consolation for leaving his closest friends and companions from the past four years. They'd been through a lot and succeeded where no one had expected them to less than a year ago in the finals.
"Max!" someone called out from the house. "Get in here!"
Pasting a smile on his face, he turned and walked inside to party one last time with his friends.
Oh man, another boring day at the coffee house, Mary Anderson thought to herself as she leaned against the counter. With a sigh she propped her elbow on the counter and rested her chin in her hand, staring out at the empty tables.
It was a small coffee shop near the downtown core of the city but it was still painfully obvious that their business had dropped in the past couple of weeks. She didn't know if it was because of the economy or not but she wished it would pick up. These slow days were very long days and she could think of a million things she'd rather be doing.
"Couldn't you be cleaning something, Mary?" Pete, her manager, asked as he passed by with some coin rolls for the cash register.
She scowled at his back but retrieved a cloth from the sink. She walked out into the dining area and began to wipe the surfaces of the already pristine tables.
Nothing exciting ever happens here, she thought as she absent-mindedly wiped a table down near the window.
Things had once been busy and exciting in Beans & Steam. The Flames used to come in all the time, before and after practices and before games, since the shop was just a few blocks away from the Saddledome. Mary had enjoyed getting to know some of the players and had even managed to score tickets one day from a player who was now no longer with the team. Now they rarely saw the hockey players. Mary guessed that it was because they were afraid of the ridicule since the team hadn't been doing so well of late. Flames fans were passionate; passionately supportive and passionately hard on them.
Maybe the new guy will help with that. Mary recalled the press conference yesterday to welcome the new player from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He wasn't a heavy shooter or a high goal scorer but he was affectionately referred to as a grinder; he gets the job done when it matters. And he was damn good at it. Everyone knew he'd been the star of the Stanley Cup final last year when it had counted.
A sudden blast of cold air brought her out of her silent contemplation and she shivered as she straightened. She turned her head to smile at the newcomer, grateful that there was some business at last.
"Oh, hey, Rebecca," Mary greeted her friend and co-worker.
"Hi!" Rebecca brushed the snow from her long black hair. "God, I just love this snow, don't you?"
Mary snorted and turned away, focusing her attention on the next table. From behind her, Rebecca laughed before crossing the shop to deposit her belongings in the office.
"Good morning, Pete!" Rebecca called out in a sunny voice and Mary couldn't quite hear the grumpy manager's grumbled response. Rebecca laughed at whatever it was he said.
Mary loved her friend but on occasion, her perpetually mood was grating. It didn't help that she was a classic beauty with long, silky dark hair that fell in perfect waves over her shoulders. Her eyes always sparkled sapphire blue and her full lips were often split in a brilliant grin. She was average height, a good five inches taller than Mary's five-foot- nothing stature, and it seemed like her legs went on for eternity. She was slender and voluptuous all at once, and some days Mary hated her for it. Then Rebecca would smile, or tell a joke, and Mary would forget about her envy. She would again feel somewhat content with her shorter, chubbier figure and her mousy brown hair and she would remember what a great friend Rebecca was.
"You need help out there, Mary?" Rebecca reappeared behind the counter as she tied her red apron around her middle.
"No, I've got it under control." Mary waved the cloth in her hand.
"How was your class last night?"
"It was fine." Mary shrugged as she moved closer to the counter. "We went over character development and Mr. Samuels made us come up with a profile in ten minutes that we had to present to the class."
"Oh, sounds exciting." Rebecca faced Mary with dancing eyes. "Who was yours?"
Mary laughed at her enthusiasm. It was one of the reasons she loved Rebecca. She was always so genuine. It was hard not to like her.
"I came up with Horace, a dock worker in the fifties," Mary replied, wiping her side of the counter with her cloth.
"Horace? What kind of a name is that?"
Mary laughed again and flicked her cloth at Rebecca. "It's a name that fit the era and his background."
Straightening, Rebecca grinned at her. "Let me guess; Horace is from Eastern Canada, has a penchant for playing hockey and is also a tortured soul waiting for the right woman to heal him."
Mary flushed and looked away, disappointed that she was so transparent. Rebecca reached out and clapped her on the shoulder.
"Don't worry, Mary. I've never told anyone else about your dream guy."
"Horace is a figment of my imagination."
"Exactly." Rebecca fixed her with a firm look, her mouth quirking at the corner on a repressed smile. "Maybe it's time you forget about the guy who jilted you three years ago and move on."
"He didn't jilt me," Mary mumbled but moved away from the counter to wipe down more clean tables.
Thankfully Rebecca left her alone and Mary was left to dwell on her past in solitude. She knew that Rebecca was right, that she needed to put it all behind her. Mary just couldn't seem to let go.
Braden had been new in town three years ago and Mary had liked him right away when he'd started working at Beans & Steam. They'd become fast friends and when he'd pressed for more, Mary had been over the moon. No other man had shown so much interest in her. She'd had few boyfriends in her twenty-four years and Braden had been so exotic and exciting that she'd been too flattered to notice anything was wrong.
When he'd left to return to his hometown, and a fiance he'd never told her about, she'd been broken-hearted. It had hurt so much that she'd never even allowed herself to look at another man the same way since. She clung to the hope that Braden was taking care of things before returning to apologize and beg for her forgiveness. She'd even been foolish enough to confess this wild and ridiculous hope to Rebecca. Her friend had made it her mission to make Mary forget about Braden, but in two and a half years, she'd yet to succeed.
Mary stopped near the door and stared out at the falling snow, watching it twist and lift with each passing breeze. She wondered if she'd ever find another guy who was as attractive to her as Braden had been. Someone who made her feel like he had, however false it had turned out to be.
"You've got to find someone local, Mary." she heard Rebecca's voice echo in her mind. "That way you won't have as far to travel to make him pay for hurting you." At the time, her friend's words had made them both laugh.
Now, Mary wondered if she'd ever have the courage to fall again.
Max loved the bracing cold of his new city. He strolled down the street away from his second practice at the Saddledome and grinned when he pulled the collar of his heavy jacket up. He loved the air sweeping down from the mountains and he loved the snow that drifted into piles along fences and roadways.
Sure, it could get cold in Pittsburgh, but not like this. And the one thing other cities he'd played didn't have were the Chinooks: intense winds that blew through this part of the world in the dead of winter, raising the temperature to daily averages that the city normally only sees in the spring. They made the cold snaps that much more bearable.
He paused at a street light, waiting for it to change, and looked around, taking in the nearby sites. There were a few shops in this part of the city, some bars and restaurants that looked quiet at the moment. Then he spotted a coffee shop called Beans & Steam across the street.
Changing direction, he crossed the street and hurried the last few feet to the door. As he stepped inside, the smell of espresso hit him in the face and he paused with his hand on the door, taking a deep breath.
"Holy crap, that's freaking cold!" someone exclaimed and he glanced over to see a short woman standing by the window.
"Oh, sorry." He stepped inside, letting the door fall shut behind him and grinned at the woman. "I didn't mean to let all the warm air out."
"Holy shit." Her bright hazel eyes widened. "You're Max Tournet!"
He laughed at her shell-shocked expression. It was his first recognition since arriving in Calgary.
"Yes." He leaned close, looking at her name tag. "And you're Mary."
"I can't believe you're here."
"Sometimes, neither can I."
"Mary," a feminine voice called from the counter. "Stop harassing the customers and let him get a drink."
Mary blushed crimson and looked away. "Sorry. Go ahead and order a coffee. I didn't mean to keep you."
"No worries," he assured her but moved towards the counter anyway, taking in the dark-haired beauty standing there.
The shorter woman hurried behind the counter and she started to grind the beans for his drink. He watched her work with a smile, enjoying the stardom, however brief it might be.
"Are you a hockey fan, then?" he asked as she steamed the milk.
"Oh, yes." The taller woman leaned her hip against the counter and smiled at him. "Mary here has got to be the biggest fan in Calgary. She hasn't stopped talking about some new player coming to town for days!"
Max chuckled and winked at Mary who only blushed. "Oh? Some new player, eh? Is he good-looking or something?"
Mary laughed and swore as she just about dropped the milk.
"Mary! You're going to make a mess." She sent an apologetic smile in Max's direction and he smiled back.
Mary stood aside with a frown as the taller woman took over for her. Mary was cute, with messy brown hair pulled into a ponytail and a petite, curvy figure. Max leaned against the counter and crooked a finger at her, beckoning her closer.
"I'm guessing she's not into hockey?" he asked in a quiet tone, nodding his head in the other woman's direction.
Mary fought to hold back a smile and lost. Max grinned back at her, glad to have found a fan so soon after his move.
He straightened and placed his palms on the counter. "Are you a Flames fan?"
"Oh yeah," Mary replied. "Born and raised here so I had no choice."
"Do you go to games?"
"Whenever I can. I don't make enough money to afford a lot. Plus, I'm taking a couple night courses at Mount Royal College."
"You're still in school?" Max was surprised. "You look too mature for that."
Mary laughed and shook her head. "Whatever. I'm not young, if that's what you were wondering."
"Neither am I."
"You're only twenty-six!" she blurted and then gaped at him. "Oh God."
His eyebrows went up and he laughed. "You do know your stats, don't you?"
She shook her head, her cheeks coloring.
"I bet you know more about me than I do, right?"
Still, she wouldn't respond. She hid her face behind her hands and shook her head. Her co-worker saved her from further embarrassment by handing him his finished drink.
"There you are, sir," she said with a broad smile.
"Thank you. I wish I could stay and chat more, but I have to go see someone about a house. I'll be back soon."
"We'd be happy to see you back," the taller woman said.
"Oh yeah," Mary added under her breath and flushed when she met Max's gaze.
He turned to go. He paused at the doorway and turned back to see the taller woman looking curiously after him before glancing down to her co-worker. Mary was already walking away from the counter, shaking her head, her cheeks still pink.
Grinning, Max pushed open the door and headed back out to the blustery day.
Max had been telling the truth about going to look at a house. He'd been staying at a hotel since the trade and wanted a more permanent residence. If he was lucky, he'd be staying for a while, so he looked for something to purchase instead of rent.
After deciding on a house in one day, he was on the road with the team for three games. They did well, winning one in regulation, one in overtime and losing the third in overtime. He gelled well with the team and they were a good bunch of guys. He wasn't feeling so sad anymore about the move and was looking forward to heading to his new place in Calgary following the road trip.
After a morning, game-day practice, he recalled the little coffee shop a few blocks from the Saddledome. He hurried down the street, heading for where he thought it was. He wasn't familiar with the city just yet, but he was learning. Then he spotted the Beans & Steam sign across the street and hurried over.
The smell of caffeine washed over him and he smiled as he inhaled. Looking around, he spotted a few people seated at tables talking in low tones or reading newspapers. It was busier this morning than when he'd last been in and he remembered that it was a Saturday.
As he went over to stand in line, he looked for Mary, wondering if she was working. He had a couple tickets for the game in his pocket that he'd been given for friends or family. Even though he'd just met the woman, he knew Mary would appreciate the gift. She was the closest thing he had to a friend right now in this strange new city.
"Hi there." The woman behind the counter was the same one who'd been working with Mary last time. "I was wondering when we were going to see you again."
He grinned at her. "I was out of town for a few days. I promise, this is the first chance I've had to come back."
She laughed, the sound throaty and rich and Max felt himself leaning forward in spite of himself. She was very pretty. He took note of her name on her name tag; Rebecca.
"What can I get for you?" she asked.
Max ordered a drink and as he handed his cash over, he glanced around. "Can I ask you something? Is that other girl, Mary, working today?"
Rebecca nodded as she counted his change. "She starts in a couple hours."
"Oh." He was disappointed that he wouldn't see her. Still, he could ask Rebecca to give the tickets to Mary. "I've got some tickets to tonight's hockey game and I thought she might like to have them."
"You're kidding!" Rebecca laughed. "Mary will love you forever!"
Max laughed with her and was inordinately pleased to hear her say that. "So will you give them to her?"
"Yes, I will. I'll even cover her shift so she can go."
"That's awfully nice of you." He reached into his jacket to pull out the tickets.
"I would never be able to live with myself if Mary had a chance to see a game and couldn't go," Rebecca replied and Max believed her.
"She's lucky to have a friend like you."
Rebecca grinned, pleased with the compliment. "I'm lucky to have her as a friend too, believe me. She's great."
"Well, thanks for doing this and I'll see you next time." Max waved as he walked off with his drink.
"Oh my God! Oh my God! OHMYGOD!" Mary clutched the precious tickets to her chest. "I can't believe this!"
Rebecca laughed and reached out to tug her hands. "Careful, Mary. You'll rip the tickets and not be able to go at all."
Mary loosened her grip and stared at the tickets. She couldn't believe her day was taking this incredible turn. She'd woken up feeling stuffy and watery-eyed. She'd then endured a hellish transit commute to work, ending up soaked by a passing car on her walk from the nearby train station. After grousing to Rebecca and toweling herself off in the staff room, her friend had presented her with two tickets -- two awesome tickets! -- to that night's hockey game.
"Do you have any idea how amazing these seats are?" She read the words over and over. "They're playing Edmonton tonight, which is always a fantastic game." God, how she loved the good old 'Battle of Alberta.'
Rebecca just smiled and shrugged, clueless about how wonderful it was, other than that it made her friend happy. "Well, I told that guy that you'd be super excited."
"What guy?" Mary tore her gaze away from the tickets.
"That one who was in last week during that blizzard." Rebecca led the way out of the staff room.
Mary tucked her precious gift into her pocket and followed her friend as she tied her hair up into a semi-presentable ponytail.
"He was kind of cute, a little scruffy." Rebecca wrinkled her nose at the memory. She didn't like guys who didn't shave smooth every day.
"Max Tournet?" Mary scoffed. "No way." No way had the newest addition to the Calgary Flames stopped in at Beans & Steam just to give her hockey tickets. He was a superstar, for crying out loud. Why would he care if she came to a game?
She recalled his smile and twinkling eyes from that first visit and felt her stomach give an involuntary flip. She'd always thought he was one of the more attractive players, even with the Grizzly Adams playoff beard he'd sported last year.