Home > Charming as Puck(6)

Charming as Puck(6)
Author: Pippa Grant

We lock eyes.

She has a damn good poker face, but I know my sister.

And that expression says she suspects something.

Which might mean I’m a dead man.

Ares is last in line. He rubs my helmet and slides a gaze back toward Felicity, whose face transforms and lights up as she blows him a kiss, then waves with the puppet.

They’re both weird.

And awesome.

My brother-in-law looks down on me. “Later,” he says.

That’s all he needs to say, and I get it. Whatever’s up with my family and friends, we’re saving it for later.

“My head’s in the game, big guy,” I answer.

He grunts and shoots a look at my crotch.

“Not that head.”

He smirks and pushes past me.

I roll onto the ice last, pulling my face shield into place, stick in hand.

And with one last glance around the arena—Kami’s here somewhere, I’m sure, because she almost always is—I put everything else from today behind me.

It’s time to play hockey.

Six

Kami

The nice thing about working for my mom in the veterinary clinic that’s been in the family for over fifty years is that when I tell her that I need Thursday morning off to move a cow out of a hockey player’s apartment, she doesn’t bat an eyelash.

Nope, she just says she’ll call a retired friend to cover my shift for me, so long as I get him an autographed stick, which I can easily do, because Nick Murphy owes me, even if I’ll probably try one of the other guys on the team first, since they basically all owe me.

The next phone call isn’t as easy.

“Kami! I was just about to call you,” Felicity says.

“Do you have keys to Nick’s Jeep?” I ask.

She makes a strangled noise that might be a laugh. “Yes.”

“Great. Can you meet me at his place and help me move a cow?”

“We have the best conversations.”

An hour later, Sugarbear’s on a leash and we’re pulling her into the elevator. I’m trying to pretend like everything’s normal, except it’s not.

“So how long have you and Nick been sleeping together?” she asks as soon as the door closes.

I gasp. “We’re—I—you—”

Her lips twitch up into an amused smile. Her greatest talent is talking. Talking as herself, talking as one of her dozen different ventriloquist voices, talking like she’s Ares or their pet monkey or, more recently, the baby, who’s no bigger than an orange but still gets a voice. But since she fell in love with Ares—the king of one-word sentences and master of text by gif—she’s gotten freaky good with silence too.

And she’s using it very effectively right now, arms folded on the other side of the cow, not blinking while she smiles that innocent smile that makes her look like some kind of Irish goddess of love, because she’s so damn pretty.

No wonder men don’t notice me.

I’m the frumpy brown-haired, brown-eyed, plain, boring one next to all of my friends.

My phone dings, which is an awesome distraction.

Until I read it.

It’s my zookeeper friend. Visits to the penguin enclosure are up so much today, we had to enforce fire code rules limiting the number of people in the building at once. Donations are WAY up too. Thanks! Let us know if you get the scoop on any more opportunities with the Thrusters.

I sigh.

Once again, Nick Murphy is going to come out of this looking like a hero, since everyone’s already speculating it was him who got the penguins on the ice.

And now I’m mad all over again, and I want my friend to be just as mad as I am.

Also, it feels so good to finally get this off my chest. “It’s my birthday week so you have to forgive me. And don’t forget who gives you free consultations with your pet monkey and who gets the donkeys and camels and fish tanks out of your apartment when your brother’s an ass. And he is. He’s an ass. A total and complete ass. The ass to end all asses. He’s the Assinator.”

She tries to hide her grin behind her hand, but her eyes are grinning, and she can’t hide that.

And she’s still doing that silent thing.

“I broke up with him yesterday because he forgot my birthday,” I tell her. “I cut him off from the Kami milk. I’m having a hypnosis session tomorrow to cut him out of my brain, and Muffy has me scheduled for a date tomorrow night, and I blocked his phone number so he can’t call me anymore.”

Okay, that last one’s a lie. Actually, almost all of it is a lie, except the part where I’m done with Nick. What is wrong with me? I never lie. Not like this. And I don’t get mad, and I’m getting mad all over again twenty-four hours after I got mad the first time.

“I’m sorry he forgot your birthday,” she says softly. “He seemed like he was getting better this last year.”

I don’t tell her that he remembered all of his family’s birthdays because I reminded him, because then I’ll start to reconsider breaking off our arrangement since clearly, he’s horrible at remembering everyone’s birthdays.

Except he should remember.

How much effort does it take to put a reminder into a smartphone? None. None at all. Even if he’d ask someone else to do it for him, even if he only put in Felicity’s birthday, it would show that he sometimes thought about someone other than himself.

And he gets himself a new phone every time a new model comes out, so he never has dead battery issues, and all of his information is in the cloud, so switching phones wouldn’t even affect notifications from his calendar.

I tug on Sugarbear’s leash and lead her into the parking garage when the doors open, and apparently, now that Felicity knows, I can’t stop talking.

“He needed remedial training when the whole team had charm school early this year and we ran into each other after that game he was benched for telling off that reporter who asked if he’d learned his lesson about punching people off the ice, and I told him if I could train a dog, I could train him too, and we had dinner one night at his place and we were joking about putting a shock collar on him so whenever he felt like punching someone for looking at you wrong, he’d get a jolt and that somehow led to talking about shocking his junk, and then somehow we ended up sleeping together, and it was—never mind, you don’t want to know that—but we agreed we didn’t want anything serious and that we could be friends with benefits except I thought he’d eventually want more, but he didn’t even remember my birthday. So I’m done. And I’m sorry. And you have to forgive me. Please. Please? I promise I won’t call him an ass in front of you anymore if you don’t want me to, because he is still your brother, but I deserve better than a long-term friends-with-benefits arrangement. I want a man who looks at me the way Ares looks at you. I want forever. I want a family. And I’m not going to get that with Nick.”

“Wait, this spring? You’ve been boinking my brother since—oh my god. My wedding. We thought you were hooking up with that cute caretaker on the island, but you were—and Nick—and—oh, Kami.”

My face goes bright pink and glows so bright I can see the color shimmering in front of me. “The important part is, I am officially moving on. No more ridiculous, unrequited crushes.”

She lifts his key fob, and the lights flash on his red Cherokee. “It wasn’t totally ridiculous. Liking someone shouldn’t be wrong.”

“So…I should still care?”

“About Nick? No. He’s an idiot. A lovable idiot who does have some good qualities too, but still not good enough for someone with a heart as big as yours.”

“I’m sorry,” I whisper again while I nudge Sugarbear into the back of Nick’s car.

“It’s his fault. He’s such an egomaniac. And sometimes an ass. And sometimes he surprises you and does something really thoughtful and sweet, but overall, I really don’t think he deserves you.”

“I just thought…” I trail off, because I don’t know how to tell Felicity that I thought her brother just needed someone to understand him, because that would imply that she and their parents didn’t understand him.

But she’s so smart, she graduated college almost before he was out of high school, and she’s three years younger than he is. I always thought he worked so hard at hockey when he was younger to prove he was good at something too, because how do you compete with Felicity, especially when you add in how charming and funny and talented she is, and that he was always overlooked.

Like me.

My brother’s an astrophysicist who regularly gets interviewed on the national news and who writes books that hit bestseller lists, and my sister’s a biomedical engineer at a research lab with an entire staff.

I get it. I know what it’s like to be the not as successful one.

Except unlike me, Nick has no ego problems whatsoever.

He’s a professional hockey player. He’s won the national Chester Green Award for goaltenders two years straight. He makes a crap-ton of money on endorsement deals on top of his healthy hockey salary. He’s funny and talented in his own way, and I don’t know why the Thrusters thought he needed charm school, because he shoots charm out his nostrils just by breathing.

He’s not just the vet in his family.

He’s equally as successful in his own right as Felicity is brilliant in hers, and he’s every bit as successful as his dad was before him.

“So where’s Sugarbear’s new home?” Felicity asks as she climbs into the driver’s seat.

I suck in a deep breath through my nose before I answer.

Because the hard questions are still rolling, and I’m pretty sure she’s not going to like my idea.

Seven

Nick

This time last year, I was heading home on a high after a blow-out win. Tonight—or more like this morning, as it’s officially Sunday now—I’m straggling through the door to my building with the weight of disappointment making me sick to my stomach.

   
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