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The Opponent
Author: Brenda Rothert







“Horseshit,” my teammate Dom muttered, setting his PS5 controller on my coffee table. “Three out of five?”

He’d lost another round of Call of Duty, and I knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t quit until he won at least one.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said, standing up. “Want to go for a run?”

“Let’s order pizza first.”

I shook my head. “I’m not eating half a pizza before a run, man.”

“I’m not running on an empty stomach,” he countered. “We already worked out today anyway; stop being such an overachiever.”

Dominic Locke was one of those hockey players who was born with natural talent. He didn’t have to work as hard as the rest of us. He was also twenty-three years old to my twenty-eight. I’d learned over the years that the hardest workers were the ones who had the longest pro careers.

“Our home opener is tomorrow night,” I reminded Dom.

“Better rest up for it then, right.” His phone dinged with a notification then, and he picked it up, looking down at the screen and grinning. “Sadie’s angling for a nooner. You can go for your run, I’ll go meet up with her, and then we can get back to the game.”

I wanted to argue with him, but I forced myself not to. As team captain, I had to walk a fine line between being the team leader and staying friends with my teammates. The pressure was on, though. I was one of five players who had been acquired by the Colorado Coyotes after a devastating explosion leveled their arena last year and killed not just five players, but seventeen other people, too.

How would I lead the team back onto the ice for the first game after such a massive tragedy? We were playing on a Denver college hockey team’s home ice, which was also our home ice for now.

“I’m done with video games for today,” I said. “I have to stop by the arena and I’m going over to Coach’s house early.”

Our head coach, Steve Maddox, was hosting a cookout for the whole team and their families tonight. Since I was flying solo, I’d told him I’d show up early to help him and his wife get things ready.

“I want a rematch soon,” he said.

“I’ll whoop your ass as many times as you want, son.”

He flipped me off and stood up. “I’ll catch you later.”

I was already wearing tennis shoes and shorts, so I pulled off my T-shirt since I was going for a run and grabbed my phone, keys, and headphones from the kitchen counter. I followed Dom out the front door, locking it behind me.

“Ang, no! It’s too big. It won’t fit!”

“That’s what she said,” Dom murmured to me as he checked out the two women trying to get a recliner through the front door of the townhouse next door to mine.

One of them was a tiny woman with a dark bun on top of her head, and the other was tall with shoulder-length blond hair pulled back into a ponytail. She wore shorts and a tank top, showing off her long, shapely legs and—I angled my head slightly for a closer look—nice round tits. I forced my gaze to her face, which was pretty. Damn, I hoped she was the one moving in.

“Hey, can we help with that?” I asked, also hoping these two were platonic roommates and not a couple.

“We’re perfectly capable, thank you,” the blond said, her voice strained.

The other one rolled her eyes. “Please help. We are not capable of moving this beast.”

I set down my stuff and approached the blond, saying, “Let me get it.”

After a couple seconds of hesitation, she nodded and said, “Thanks.”

Dom took the other side, both women breathing sighs of relief.

“Hey, I think if we turn it and put the back in first, it’ll fit,” I said to Dom.


We flipped the chair and got it through the doorway, the blond following us inside the apartment.

“Where do you want it?” I asked her.

Dom snickered and I gave him a warning look.

“Oh, anywhere is fine,” she said with a wave of her hand.

Her townhouse was similar to mine. It even had the same hardwood flooring in the living room. As Dom moved to set the chair down, I shook my head.

“This could scratch the floor,” I said. “You don’t want to scoot it once you decide where to move it. Tell us where you want it.”

“Oh.” She frowned, a little wrinkle appearing between her brows. “That’s a good point. How about in that corner?”

We carried it to the corner she’d pointed to and gently set it down. The dark-haired woman walked in carrying a box, breezing past us. I didn’t see anyone else in the apartment.

I turned to the blond. “Do you have anyone else helping you move?”

Her note of laughter was unamused. “My moving company cancelled on me yesterday, and my old landlord has someone moving into my former apartment tomorrow, so it’s just me and Sam.”

I had shit to do, but I wasn’t about to let two women move heavy furniture alone. I exchanged a quick look with Dom, his disappointment over missing out on a nooner written all over his face.

“We’ll help,” I said.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that.”

I could tell from her tone that she didn’t mean it. Her gray tank top was already soaked with sweat. The fall weather in Denver was beautiful, but moving all your belongings from one place to another was hard work. I hadn’t moved myself when I came to Denver eight months ago; the Coyotes had paid for all my relocation costs. But helping out would take the place of my run, and it would allow me to burn off some of my nervous energy about tomorrow’s game. And hopefully, it would get me into my hot new neighbor’s good graces.

“I’m Ford,” I said, offering her my hand. “I live next door.”

She smiled, subtly checking me out as she shook my hand. “Hi Ford, I’m Elle.”

Our eyes locked, and awareness stirred in my chest. She had a fantastic smile, blue eyes and—

Don’t look at her tits again, dude. You’re not a caveman.

“Is it just you?” I asked, our hands still locked together. “Or is that your roommate?”

Her friend, Sam, snorted out a laugh as she walked past us to leave the apartment. “Are you serious? I couldn’t live with Elle. She’s a massive control freak.”

A flicker of annoyance passed over Elle’s expression. “Just me.”

“Welcome to The Pines,” I said, releasing her hand before things got awkward.

The Pines was a luxury townhome community. It had indoor and outdoor pools, and the surrounding grounds encompassed a lake, killer mountain views, and trails for walking and running. There was also security and underground parking. It was perfect for me. There was no lawn or snow maintenance, I could fish in the lake when I was in town and I could run or workout without having to leave home.

It was expensive, though, and I was curious what Elle did that allowed her to afford a place like this on her own. Probably a doctor or an attorney. She looked smart, and she was definitely closer to thirty than twenty. Her tank top wasn’t low-cut and her ass wasn’t hanging out of the back of her shorts, which made her classier than the puck bunnies I was used to.

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