Today we are celebrating the release of VICTOR by Brenda Rothert. This is a contemporary romance, standalone, and it is the third title in the Chicago Blaze hockey romance series. Purchase your copy now!
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Victor by Brenda Rothert
Available Now | Chicago Blaze, #3
Grab your copy now:
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He’s a hockey star with a headboard full of notches. She’s a shy NHL concession worker at who’s never been kissed.
They don’t call me Belinda Boring for nothing. It’s my name, after all. And for a 23-year-old with plain brown hair who still lives at home and gets tongue tied over nothing, it’s a fitting one. I’m not even one of those quiet girls with a hidden talent, unless making a mean order of nachos at the NHL arena I work at counts. My life consists of working, reading and harboring a secret crush on a hockey player who doesn’t know I exist. At least, until we accidentally meet and become unlikely friends.
I’m living the dream. A poor kid who worked his way into the NHL, I’ll never forget where I came from, though I try to. My past follows me, a nagging reminder that I’ll never be what everyone thinks I am. As the threat of my secret being exposed looms closer, my game slips, leaving me in danger of being cut from my team–the only family I have. I’m losing my hold on everything when a new friend helps me find hope. She’s nothing like the women I’m used to, but by the time I figure out that’s exactly why she’s right for me, I’ve lost my chance with her. Somehow, I have to convince a woman who thinks she’s invisible that she’s the only one I see.
I groan softly as I peer inside the old washing machine in the basement of the Carson Center. The cleaning rags I planned to put in the dryer are floating in a tub full of water. This place is home to the best pro hockey team in the world, but the brass won’t spring for a decent washing machine.
And today, that’s a big problem, because with the Icee machine on the fritz, we’re going to have lots of messes. Getting a work order in to have equipment fixed around here is a thing, and in the meantime, we concession stand workers are stuck using cheap napkins to clean everything.
My dad’s a plumber, and I’ve learned a few things from him. If the issue is a quick fix, I might be able to handle it.
It takes me a couple minutes to get the case off the washer, and then I get down on the floor to check a few things. The floor is dirty, but I’m off in less than an hour, so it doesn’t really matter.
“Aha,” I say to myself as I find the problem.
The drain hose isn’t connected to the drain pipe all the way. I fix it, my fingers getting a chalky coating from the hose material. After I’m done, I replace the washing machine cover, wash my hands in the ancient mop sink in the corner of the basement storage room, then wring out each cleaning cloth and toss them into the dryer.
Once done, I set the machine to a quick rinse cycle to get the water emptied from the tub and then head back to the service elevator.
The Carson Center is massive, and things have been moved around since it was built thirty years ago. Once I get off the elevator, it’s a hike from the storage room back to the main concession area.
There’s a staff meeting going on in the employee break room, and I plan to sneak in unnoticed. But as soon as I walk in, my boss Bruce gives me a disapproving frown.
“Boring,” he says sternly. “You’re late.”
I hate—really, actually hate—the way Bruce calls all the employees by our last names, like we’re in the military or something. Because in my case, there are inevitably snickers about my last name, which is an unfortunate one for a woman who is, in every way, ordinary.
“Sorry,” I say, my cheeks warming from the stares of my co-workers.
“How long have you worked here, Boring?” Bruce crosses his arms across his chest and they rest on his ample belly.
I glance at the wall clock. I’m not even four minutes late, and he’s going to make it an issue. Sighing inwardly, I say, “Three years.”
“And for three years, what time have I held our weekly staff meeting?”
Arching his brows, he nods, his expression loaded with condescension. And just when I think he’s had enough of showing us all who’s boss, he keeps going.
“Were you on a smoke break?”
“No.” I furrow my brow, confused. “I don’t smoke.”
“Using your cell phone?”
My friend Ariana sighs audibly, drawing a sharp look from Bruce. I clear my throat, eager to defuse the situation before Ariana says something that will get her written up.
“I was fixing the washing machine,” I say quickly. “And wringing out the cleaning rags so we’ll have some tonight since the Icee machine is broken.”
Bruce’s eyes widen and his lips part. His expression is nothing short of amused.
“Fixing the washing machine? Who authorized you to do that?”
I freeze, wishing I was quick and clever like Ari. “Um…”
“What’s a nineteen year old girl know about fixing washing machines?” Bruce continues, scoffing.
I’m twenty-three, but I don’t dare correct him.
“She knows more than the rest of us,” Ari says defensively. “Her dad’s a plumber.”
Bruce ignores her, keeping his glare focused on me. His frown is so pronounced it disappears beneath his bushy brown mustache.
“We call them cleaning towels, not rags, Boring,” he says. “And the Icee machine is fixed.”
“No, it’s not,” Ari says, shaking her head. Several of my co workers murmur their agreement.
Bruce turns to face Ari and I let out a small exhale of relief.
“I closed out that work order, Gonzales,” he says to her. “It’s fixed.”
“No, it still doesn’t stop when it’s supposed to.”
Bruce points at the nametag on his chest. “You see the word ‘manager’ right here, Gonzales? It means the repair and replacement of equipment around here is my job, not yours. You just stick to making the Icees.”
Ari opens her mouth just as I meet her eyes from across the room. She’s got a young son to support; she needs this job. And she’s the best friend I have here. Or anywhere, really. I don’t want her getting fired over Bruce’s fragile ego.
Just as Ari closes her mouth, our coworker Shawna speaks up instead.
“The Icee machine wasn’t working last night, I know that. It was running all over the floor.”
Bruce looks down at his clipboard. “I’ll look at it again. Now let’s move on to more important things.” He reads something and then looks up. “The napkin dispensers have to be filled at the end of every shift. Some of you are slacking on it.”
There’s no need for us to have staff meetings. Every week, we all come in here and sit, bored, as Bruce reminds us of things that should be notes posted to the break room bulletin board. I’m glad he doesn’t have much on his agenda today, because I still have restocking to do before I’m off at five.
“Everyone working the VIP event tonight needs to stay after this meeting,” Bruce says as he checks something off his list. “The rest of you can go.”
I stand up, waiting for Ari so we can walk back to the main concession area together.
“Boring.” Bruce points at me. “I’m gonna need you to work over today. Dave called in and I need you to work the VIP event tonight.”
“What?” He looks up, his brows hiked up judgmentally. “You have plans tonight?”
“No, but…I mean, not really…”
The Sox and Yankees play tonight, and though I usually watch baseball with my dad when it’s on, I guess that’s not technically plans. Still, I’m dirty from the washing machine repair and I’m out of tampons. I want to leave at five, when I’m off.
“Great.” Bruce makes a notation on his list. “Have a seat, I’m about to go over tonight’s event.”
I don’t protest. Bruce was probably counting on that. Even though this job doesn’t seem like much to most people, I love it here. I get to be here for every home game the Chicago Blaze play, and hockey is my favorite sport. I go along to get along.
“You staying?” Ari asks me.
I nod, and ask in a low tone, “Can you put some tampons in my locker if you have some?”
“Gonzales, the dishes aren’t going to wash themselves,” Bruce says sternly.
Ari rolls her eyes and gives me a wave as she turns to go.
As soon as the room clears, Bruce flips to the next paper on his clipboard and starts in.
“Tonight’s event is a VIP meet and greet for players and bigwigs. We’ll be serving horse dwarves—” He pauses to cackle at his mispronunciation of hors d’ oeuvres, which we’ve all heard a thousand times—“and drinks. You need to wear white dress shirts and black pants.”
There’s a collective groan from the half dozen employees in the room. We usually wear red polos and black pants to work, and we all hate wearing white dress shirts. With all the running around we do, they get too hot. I keep one in my locker for occasions like this, complete with a yellow sweat stain around the collar no amount of bleach will remove.
“There better not be any nonsense,” Bruce says sternly. “Keep the food and drinks coming, smile and stay out of the way.”
I’ve been through this drill before. We’re supposed to do our best to remain invisible to the people we’re serving. That works for me, because I prefer to go unnoticed, anyway.
After the meeting, I quickly change my shirt, put on fresh deodorant from my locker, and pack the tampons Ari stashed into my small purse. I pull my medium brown hair into a ponytail at the nape of my neck, close my locker, and head for the front concession area where everyone is meeting for tonight.
Everyone’s gathered around the Icee machine.
“I told you it was fixed,” Bruce says authoritatively. He holds up the Icee he just made for everyone to see.
He looks over his shoulder and sees me. “Hey, Boring!” he calls. “This thing works fine, what’re you talking about?”
I walk over and a few people move aside so I can stand next to Bruce in front of the machine, the motor humming to keep it cold.
“It’s the blue that’s broken.” I glance at the Icee in his hand, which is red.
He shakes his head. “You must be using the machine wrong.”
There’s nothing easier than making an Icee. Pull handle down. Fill cup. Put handle back up. But I humor my boss anyway, pulling a cup out of the holder and placing it under the blue Icee dispenser.
When I press a button and pull the handle down, a foamy stream of bright blue liquid sugar starts filling the cup.
Bruce grunts with disdain. “Seems fine to—”
The blue Icee tap starts making sputtering sounds. The Icee stream runs dry for a second, and then unfrozen blue Icee juice flows out uncontrollably.
Everyone, including Bruce, takes a few steps back as I cry out, arms flailing in front of me as I try to push the handle back up to stop the blue waterfall. The handle falls off and the waterfall becomes a Smurfy version of Old Faithful, squirting me full on in the chest.
It takes a few seconds for the shock to register. By the time I finally step out of the Icee’s path of destruction, everyone is staring, slack jawed. A few glances go back and forth between me and the machine.
The spraying ends all at once, the machine’s humming motor going silent. Ari steps out from behind the machine, the cord in her hand. She’s glaring at Bruce.
“You believe her now?” she asks, a hand on her hip.
The gazes of my co-workers are all locked on me. There’s Icee juice everywhere. I look down. My bra is soaked, its outline likely visible through my wet, white shirt. My hair and face are drenched. When I reach up to wipe my face, my hands are dripping, too.
A snicker soon becomes a wave of laughter. My treacherous co-workers are getting quite a kick out of my situation. My face warms as I wish I could disappear.
“I’ll have it looked at,” Bruce says as he places a ‘wet floor’ sign in the middle of the mess on the floor. “Go get cleaned up, Boring. Don’t be late for the event.”
Ari’s dark brown eyes are big and round as she glares at our boss’s back. She shakes her head and mutters, “dickhead”, then turns to me.
“Come on, you can wear my white shirt,” she offers. “I’ll help you clean up.”
I sigh softly and give her a grateful look. “Thanks.”
“We’re gonna need lots of towels.” She opens the lid to the clean towel bucket and fishes around inside it, her brows lowering with confusion. “It’s just the sanitized water.”
I laugh, remembering then that all the towels are in the basement dryer. When I tell Ari this, she smiles weakly.
“Is that a ‘this is funny’ laugh or an ‘I’m about to lose my shit’ laugh?” she asks me.
I shake my head. “I have to be at the VIP thing in fifteen minutes, and look at me.” I drop my gaze to the reddish brown tile floor, wishing it would swallow me up.
“Let’s get to work, then,” Ari says, opening a napkin dispenser and grabbing a giant stack of cheap, toilet-paper thin napkins.
She’s a gorgeous Latina with big eyes, ample breasts and silky-smooth long hair who’s never intimidated. Ari is everything I wish I could be. But if I can’t be her, at least I can have her for my best friend.
“He should’ve given you the night off, for fuck’s sake,” she mutters as we walk toward the employee break room, where our lockers are.
“Ari, don’t,” I whisper urgently. “It’s not worth getting in trouble over.”
Bruce has an uncanny knack for busting us having conversations about him. I glance in all directions to make sure he’s not listening right now.
“Fine,” Ari says tightly. “Ese Bruce no es mas que in mama huevo.”
She must be really pissed—that’s when she insults people in her native tongue.
We walk into the locker area, which is safe since it’s only for female employees.
“What’d you say?” I ask her in a low tone.
“I called that cocksucker a cocksucker.”
I smile as I step in front of a sink with a mirror in front. My lips part with surprise. It’s worse than I expected.
“Oh my God,” I say, just staring at my reflection.
There’s dried blue juice on my arms, neck and face. My hair is partially wet and my shirt—
“Gah, crap!” I grab it and pull the soaked fabric away from my chest, because it was leaving nothing to the imagination.
“You’ll be fine,” Ari says, wetting napkins and wiping my arms. “Get that shirt off.”
“What about my bra?” I give her a panicked look.
She grins. “I can’t help you there. But I’ll give you the tank top I’m wearing to put under my white shirt. That should help enough.”
I close my eyes. “You’re a lifesaver, Ari.”
“You’ve saved my ass more times that I can count.”
Taking a deep breath, I start unbuttoning my sopping wet shirt. “It’s our job to be invisible. No one’s going to notice me.”
“Right,” Ari says brightly. “You’ll be fine.”
“I won’t even care if people look at me, as long as–” I take off the shirt and cover my bra-covered breasts with my hands, self-conscious about even Ari seeing me unclothed.
“Mama, you ain’t got nothin’ I haven’t seen before,” she says, amused.
“I know, it’s just…how I am.”
“What were you saying?” she asks as she wipes at my neck. “As long as what?”
“Oh. As long as Victor’s not there.”
I practically whisper it, because no one in the world but Ari knows about my longstanding, deep-seated crush on one of the Blaze forwards.
“You’ll be fine, stop stressing.” Ari walks over to her locker and turns the combination lock, opening it and taking out her shirt.
“Maybe I should look at the guest list before we go.”
She gives me a mock stern look. “Don’t.”
“Wait, have you seen the guest list? Is he on there?”
Ari takes off her red polo, then strips her white camisole over her head and tosses it to me. “Put that on.”
“Just tell me,” I say as I catch the shirt. “Did you see the list?”
My friend meets my gaze, seemingly oblivious to wearing nothing but a bra on top. “I glanced at it, yeah.”
“And?” I hold my breath.
She hesitates for a second, and says, “He was on it.”
I groan loudly and consider faking an illness. Victor Lane has no idea I exist. And while chances are good he still won’t know after tonight, the way today is going, I don’t want to take any chances.
“Ari, will you—”
“I can’t.” She gives me a sympathetic look. “I’d cover you if I could, but I have to pick Mateo up from daycare.”
I exhale deeply, looking at my reflection in the mirror as Ari passes me her clean white shirt. It’s rare I get up close glances of Victor. I feel a fluttering in my stomach at the thought.
It might turn out okay. Just as long as he doesn’t glance back.
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