Max (Carolina Cold Fury Hockey)(10)

By: Sawyer Bennett

Hell, no wonder she looks like she’s about ready to collapse.

And given how unruly those little hellions appeared to be, I bet she’s in over her head.

I know that this should be causing all kinds of warning bells to go off in my head, but for some reason it merely makes me want to pull her to my side, press her head on my shoulder and assure her that I’ll make everything right.

Which…that’s fucking weird. I’ve never been a guy who feels like he has to rescue a girl just to prove his manliness. And besides, I remember when I tried to help her pull the tape off the little girl the other night, and she gave me a firm “Don’t.” I remember that tilt to her chin even though she looked on the verge of crying. I could tell right then Julianne had a backbone and I’ve always been attracted to independent women. She may be having troubles, but she’s definitely strong.

“Max.” I hear Hawke calling my name and I turn my head toward the lobby doors. Jim is standing with him. “Let’s go, buddy. We’re ready to present the check.”

“Be right there,” I say as I hold up a finger.

Hawke nods and they both turn back inside.

I look back to Jules, who still has no clue who I am, or if she does, she’s not impressed by it.

I like that too.

“So…I know this is totally forward, but any chance I could take you out sometime?” I ask with a full smile, which I know is one of my better features as I’ve been told my dimples are panty-droppers.

She’s shaking her head no before I even get the words all the way out, and that is a definite ego-crusher.

“That’s sweet,” she assures me with apologetic eyes. “But it’s just…Well, I can’t. I don’t have any free time, and even if I did, I can’t afford a babysitter…”

Her words fall off and her eyebrows knit together in confusion again, as if she’s just now realizing that her life is far more complicated than she ever realized.

“Part of the date would be me covering the cost of a babysitter,” I urge with hopeful eyes, and fuck…why do I want to go out with this woman so much? Everything about her circumstances spells trouble to me and yet it’s drawing me closer rather than repelling me.

But then she smiles at me.

And those whiskey eyes go warm.

And she says, “You really are very nice, but my priority is those kids right now, and until I can get a bit more stable, I’m not doing you any favors by going out with you, not with my mixed bag of troubles.”

Yes, it’s clear. She’s simply an incredibly intriguing woman who seems to be focused, driven, dedicated, and caring. Add on the fact she’s stunning, what fucking guy wouldn’t be interested in that?

Despite the fact she has no time and is flat broke and looking quite broken.

“Max,” I hear Hawke call out, and he’s standing outside the lobby doors again, this time pointing to his watch with a look on his face that says “Get your ass in gear.”

I nod at him and stand from the bench, turning to face Jules. She looks up at me, same sweet smile on her face even as she starts to unwrap her sandwich, which had been resting on her lap.

“It was nice meeting you, Jules,” I tell her sincerely. Even more sincerely I say, “I hope we run into each other again someday.”

“Nice meeting you too, Max,” she says softly, and is that a tiny hint of regret in her eyes?

Hmmmm. Can’t really tell but it doesn’t matter.

She’ll be seeing me sooner rather than later.

“That will be seven dollars and thirty-two cents,” I tell the guy across the counter from me. I peg him as single, because no wedding ring first and foremost, but also because he’s purchasing a twelve-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and that just screams of a lonely Friday night to me.

He hands me a ten and I make change, passing it to him with a smile.

Yes, a smile.

“Here you go, and have a great night,” I tell him with a grin that’s actually genuine and fueled by a little bit of peppy energy I seem to be oddly sporting only an hour before midnight.

Here I am, back at Whalen’s convenience store and gas station on the outskirts of Raleigh, going on my twelfth hour of work today, not counting the time spent cleaning and cooking after I got home from Sweetbrier, and I actually feel a little giddy.

Maybe even euphoric.

And that’s simply from the fact that I’m back at this crappy job I’d lost two days ago. I’m so relieved not to have to worry about finding a new job, or how I’m going to manage things financially until I do, that I’m actually fucking over-the-moon happy to be back here.