“Yeah, sorry.” I lifted the glass to my lips and took a sip so that I didn’t have to talk. The thoughts racing around my brain were moving so fast I couldn’t keep up with them and I started to feel dizzy.

“You nervous about later?” Michelle asked as she sat down in the chair across from me.

“Later?” I frowned at her.

Her face fell into a deadpan expression and she stared at me. “Yes, later. Your knee?”

“Oh! Right!” I was losing my fucking mind. “Yeah, I’m a little nervous. I just want to get today over with.”

“What happened to you?” Kat asked.

“I hurt my knee playing hockey,” I answered, looking down at my glass.

“You play hockey?”

My eyes snapped up to hers. She knew damn well I played hockey. She practically lived with me for a year and knew almost everything there was to know about me. I chewed on my top lip as I debated what to say next.

“Yeah, I play hockey,” I finally said, swallowing my anger for the sake of not upsetting Michelle.

My phone vibrated in my pocket—I’d never been more excited to get a phone call in my whole life. I pulled it out and stared at the screen. “Uh . . . I gotta take this. I’ll be right back.” I stood as quickly as I could and hobbled into the house, away from everyone.

“Dr. J! What’s up?” My phone was at my ear but all I could hear was my heart thumping loudly. Nervous didn’t even begin to cover it.

“Hi, Viper. I have the results of your MRI, and a couple of us have looked it over and talked about it. When can you come back in so we can go over it?”

I clenched my eyes tight and swallowed hard. “Is it really necessary to come back in? Can’t you just tell me now?”

“Viper, this isn’t a quick conversation. We need to talk about some things and make some decisions.”

“Doc, I hardly slept last night and today has been the longest day. Can you please just give me the verdict and I’ll come in tomorrow for the sentence?”

He let out a sigh and was quiet for a couple seconds. “Okay. Fine. You have a pretty significant tear in your anterior cruciate ligament—your ACL—and it’s going to require surgery to repair before you can get back on the ice.”

Fuck!

“Now this isn’t a career-ending injury, it’s not even season-ending, but it will keep you off the ice for about six months, depending on how quickly you heal.”

He started going on and on about physical therapy and exercise, but I checked out. My stomach rolled as I sat down on the kitchen chair, my hands shaking so bad I could hardly hold on to the phone.

“Viper, did you hear me?” Dr. Jennings said loudly.

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“I said don’t let this discourage you. In the grand scheme of things, this is minor. You’re young, you’re healthy, and you’ll be back on the ice before the year is over. Come in tomorrow morning and we’ll discuss your surgery options.”

“You’re sure this can’t wait and be repaired in the off-season?”

“I wouldn’t recommend it, Viper. Not only will you not have full range of motion in that knee, you risk injuring it further and possibly doing permanent damage. Don’t think about the next six months right now. Get a good night’s sleep tonight and come in bright and early tomorrow so we can go over everything. Okay?

“Yep. Thanks, doc.”

I didn’t wait to see if he said anything else before I hung up. Frankly, I didn’t want to hear any more. I put my head in my hands and sat stunned, staring at the wall. I really had convinced myself that it was nothing and the team was just being overly cautious. Dr. Jennings had his opinions on the injury and I had mine. It wasn’t minor and it was a big deal. Not being on the ice for six months was devastating, especially this year when we were starting off the season so strong. Stronger than we ever had.

And now . . . I was no longer part of the team.

 

“Are you okay?” a familiar voice asked from the doorway, but not the familiar voice I wanted to hear.

I spun around in my chair and glared at Kat so hard my eyes were physically strained. “Why the fuck are you here?”

Her head jerked back in surprise. “I was assigned here, Viper. This is my job.”

“It was your job. You’re quitting . . . today,” I hissed.

She shook her head vehemently. “No, I’m not. I love my job, and I really like Gam. I’m not going anywhere.”

I bolted from my chair, ignoring the pain that spread from my knee like a lightning bolt, and took an intimidating step close to her. “Did you pick this job on purpose?”

“No,” she barked incredulously, her jet-black hair falling around her face. “I can’t believe you’d even think that.”

I leaned to my left and stole a quick glance at the front door to make sure no one was coming before I turned back to her. “Well, it’s pretty fucking coincidental that of all the jobs you could be sent to, you wind up at my grandmother’s house, don’t ya think?”

“I’m sorry. Perhaps you’re remembering our past a little different than I am. You never even introduced me to one single family member, so how was I supposed to know she was your grandmother?”

“Gee, I don’t know . . . the last name Finkle didn’t ring a fucking bell?”

She sighed and crossed her arms over her chest, cocking a hip to the side. “When I was assigned, they told me what the case was and where it was. I didn’t learn her name until the morning I was supposed to start. What was I supposed to do?”

“Quit!” I growled. “There was an easy fix. You march into whoever’s office and say, ‘Nope, sorry.’”

“I can’t do that or I’d risk losing my job!” she snarled.

“I don’t give a shit about your job!”

“I’m not surprised. You never really gave a shit about anything,” she said in a cold tone. “I’d be surprised if you even really give a shit about that woman out there.”

My jaw clenched and I curled my hands into fists as I lunged forward and glared down at her. “You know nothing about that woman out there, and if I ever hear you say one single thing about her, your job won’t be the only thing you lose!”