Max (Carolina Cold Fury Hockey)(9)

By: Sawyer Bennett


I feed her a little more information to jog her memory. “Two redneck assholes giving you trouble. Then two feisty rug rats taping their sister up?”

I punctuate that last statement with a grin, and she finally recognizes me as her mouth forms into an O.

“I remember,” she says softly with just a wisp of a smile, which slides off just as quickly as it formed. “That wasn’t my best night.”

“Well, I think you handled it with grace,” I assure her.

Another slight smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes, then her gaze drops to her lap. It’s a shy maneuver, as if she doesn’t know how to respond, or perhaps she just wants to be left alone. Since I don’t know the answer, I press on.

I take a seat next to her on the bench, and she gives a little jump then turns to me with wide, curious eyes.

“I went back there to see you,” I tell her conversationally.

Her mouth drops. “Why would you do that?”

I shrug and give her the simple but overly forward truth. “Pretty girl, I didn’t see a wedding ring, and I wanted to talk to you more.”

Julianne’s eyebrows knit inward and she appears thoroughly confused.

So I try to enlighten her, and lean in and give her a conspiratorial wink. “It’s what happens when a guy is interested in a girl. He tries to make conversation.”

Well, that’s not exactly true. Many guys just try to get in the girl’s pants, but that was not my original intention. Don’t get me wrong…this woman is smoking hot and I’m not going to pretend that the attraction isn’t a big part, but I’m also equally intrigued by her.

She still doesn’t say anything and I can’t figure out if she’s just a horrible conversationalist or unusually shy, both of which will really suck because I like my women to have some sort of personality.

So I try one more time to get the ball rolling. Reaching my right hand across, I hold it out and say, “My name’s Max Fournier.”

She finally moves, as if introductions are something she can handle, and shakes my hand. “Julianne Bradley, but my friends call me Jules.”

Her hand is soft and the bones feel delicate yet her shake is surprisingly strong. I like that. I also like that she has put me in a friend category and not a weird-creeper category.

Our hands break apart. I don’t like that.

“Well, Jules…when are you working again next? I’ll drop in and keep you company. Might chase off a few more rednecks for you.”

Finally, I get a true smile from her and it reaches her eyes. “Well, that’s sweet of you but unfortunately I got fired from that job, so you won’t be able to stalk me there.”

“Why did you get fired?” I ask, a little dismayed I can’t see her there, since it’s the perfect excuse for me to…well…stalk her, but also a little happy because I felt that job was beneath her.

“My boss found out I had the kids that night and that’s against company policy,” she says sadly. “And I had to miss work one day because my babysitter fell through, again.”

I tilt my head. “I assume this is your full-time job here. Are you a nurse?”

“Yeah, this is my full-time job. I only worked at the convenience store Monday through Friday from seven to twelve in the evenings. And I’m a certified nurse’s assistant.”

“So you were working two jobs and raising three kids?” I ask, astounded.

“Pretty much.”

Just…wow.

“Husband or boyfriend to help you out?” I can’t help but ask.

She shakes her head, accompanied by another pretty smile, but this time she drops her eyes in a definite shy gesture. She takes her hand and tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear that has escaped her ponytail. “Just me.”

Jesus. No wonder she looks like a strong wind would blow her over. And I’m guessing whatever prick got her pregnant and left her with three children should have his ass kicked.

While I’m pleased to hear there’s no man in the picture, I’m still left with an unsettled feeling over her plight. “No other family to help a young mother out with her kids?”

Her face gets a little guarded and I think she might tell me to mind my own business, but I’m stunned when she says, “I’m their legal guardian and it’s just me. The kids came to live with me four months ago when my sister died.”

Fuck.

Just…fuck.

And everything is suddenly clear and fitting into place. Young woman working as a nurse’s assistant and probably getting by okay on her own. Sister dies and she takes on raising her niece and nephews on what is probably a terrible salary for what she does. No wonder she was working a second job.