“Why not? I would do it for you.” Harper’s shock at Piper’s statement was obvious, as was the hurt in her voice.
“And I would do it for you if I could, but I can’t,” Piper said quickly, her heart pounding in her chest.
“Well, why the hell not?”
Piper’s tears began to fall and without much more thought, she said what she should have said five months ago: “Because I’m already pregnant.”
Erik Titov didn’t feel good about this.
Something was off. He should have known something was up when his boss’s assistant called him that morning to schedule an appointment for a meeting. He had a feeling that meant it wouldn’t be just the two of them discussing his career aspirations and the option for him to become the alternate captain. Alex Welch was on the injured list with a concussion and the probability of him returning for the rest of the season was slim. Erik had been very vocal the past few days about wanting Alex’s job for the interim. But as he walked into the meeting room and saw not only Elli, but also his agent, his coach, and Elli’s uncle, who also owned the team, he developed a nasty feeling in the bottom of his stomach.
Shit, what have I done?
As Erik moved his thumb along the palm of his hand, he searched his brain for a reason for this impromptu meeting as he confidently walked into the conference room, closing the door behind him. His contract wasn’t up yet, so that couldn’t be it. Plus, he knew that Elli wouldn’t trade him, at least not with the way he was playing right now; he was doing a damn fine job, if he did say so himself. Besides all that, the Assassins were known as a team that thought of family first. And Erik was family … at least he thought he was.
No, he had to be. There was no questioning that. When Jakob and Shea Adler, the team’s co-captain, became friends, Erik had always thought of Shea as an older brother, too. Shea would do anything for Jakob and Erik; he was that kind of guy. When Shea married Elli and Jakob married her best friend, Harper, Erik became part of this huge loving family and he needed that. Elli knew how important that was to him, too …
Pushing aside his nervous thoughts, he said, “Afternoon, everyone.”
No one smiled, not even Elli, as she pointed to the seat at the end of the table. “Have a seat, Mr. Titov.”
Oh f**k, this is not good, Erik thought as he inhaled deeply. He sat down like he was asked and noticed that his agent, Koey Lefeber, wouldn’t even look at him.
Yup, not good at all.
“You’re probably wondering why you’re here,” Elli said in her thick southern accent, causing Erik’s nervousness to subside some. Since the day he met Elli, he always loved how country she was, and the thicker the accent, he learned over a short time, the better her mood. Erik liked her as a boss and a friend and always felt comfortable around her.
“Well, Mrs. Adler, I am,” he said, receiving a pointed look from her. Hmm, that’s not good. Maybe he shouldn’t have greeted her so formally.
He hadn’t called her Mrs. Adler a day in his life; it had always been Elli—all of this formality was putting him on edge.
What was going on?
“It’s simple, really,” she said before coming around the table with her arms full of what looked like books. It wasn’t until she threw down each magazine in front of him and as each landed with a loud thud that he realized what this was all about. Looking up at him were tabloid pictures of himself with the various girls he’d been with over the last few months, hanging all over him as he drank it up with his wingman and best friend, Phillip Anderson.
“Nine magazines, Erik. Nine.”
Erik looked from the covers to his boss and smiled. “What can I say? I’m a popular guy, Mrs. Adler.”
Elli glared before smacking her hand onto the table, causing him to jump in surprise. “You are giving off the wrong image! I shouldn’t have to come in here and do this. You should be an adult and professional enough to understand this type of behavior is frowned upon. I should be at home with my children right now, not here chastising you for being a man-whore!”
“Hey, that’s a little harsh,” Koey said from behind her.
Elli quickly turned and pinned him with a look, which prompted Koey to shut his mouth. Then the look traveled back over to Erik.
It didn’t bother him, though. She couldn’t be too serious about this. He wasn’t the only guy that had a little fun—girls were available and what else was a guy to do while on the road and in a strange city, trying to waste away time after a game? Shrugging his shoulders, he said, “I’m having fun, Elli.”
“You are my starter, my lead scorer, one of the best on the ice. You are playing on a line with the greatest defensive duo in the league, alongside two other great players! I understand that you are having fun and I know as a young star hockey player you are flattered by all this attention, but Erik, you have the hockey world watching you and you are out of control!”
“So?” Erik said with another shrug of his shoulders. “People expect this from me. I’m just doing what I’m supposed to.”
Elli glared and said, “You are hurting the team.”
“How? By having fun?”
“You are giving off the impression that this is a party team and not a serious, hardworking one!”
Erik scoffed. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
Elli glared back. “Erik, you don’t get it. It is a big deal because I say it is, understand? I say your behavior is just wrong. Three girls have said the baby they had was yours and two others have made claims that you also are the father of their child.”