Title: Home Ice Advantage
Series: Sophie Fournier, Book Four
Author: K.R. Collins
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 12/21/2020
Heat Level: 1 - No Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, sports, romance, lesbian, gay, bisexual, demisexual, ice hockey, coach, teammates, slow burn
Winning the Maple Cup has always been Sophie Fournier’s dream, ever since she was a little girl watching hockey in her grandparents’ basement. She isn’t satisfied after a season where she won hockey’s biggest prize. She wants to hoist the Cup again, in back-to-back seasons. She’s done it once before and, like any good hockey player, she knows to repeat a successful formula in order to find success again.
Only, this season is determined to be nothing like the last. Coach Butler breaks up not only the top line which drove their success, but he splits Sophie and Elsa. She’s cut off from her favorite winger on the ice and off it, Elsa begins to date, leaving Sophie on her own. And with this being a Winter Games year, their NAHL season is halted for international play. For the first time since becoming teammates, Sophie will compete against Elsa for a gold medal.
It’s a year of change and Sophie hates it. She knows what worked to win the Cup the previous season. Now, with multiple factors working against her, including her own coach, she has to figure out a new way to win the Cup. If she can’t, it will be her shoulders the blame falls on.
Home Ice Advantage
K.R. Collins © 2020
All Rights Reserved
“Let’s talk expectations. What do you want out of your contract?”
“Eight years, nine point three million a year,” Sophie answers. She did her research. It might be her first real contract, but she’s Sophie Fournier. She’s the first woman drafted into the North American Hockey League, she’s the captain of the Concord Condors, she led the League in points for two of her three seasons, and a month ago she led her team to their first-ever Maple Cup.
There’s a long silence on the other line, and she checks to make sure her agent is still there.
“Let’s talk realistic expectations,” he finally says. “Cut both those numbers in half.”
It’s Sophie’s turn to be stunned into silence. Hers doesn’t last as long. “Half? At least women outside of hockey make seventy-five cents to a man’s dollar.”
“Half?” she demands. “I ran the numbers. It wouldn’t be out of line to ask for ten million. Dima’s being offered at least ten, and he’s a winger, and he doesn’t have a Maple Cup to his name.”
“You can’t compare yourself to Dmitri Ivanov. You can’t compare yourself to anyone. Whatever numbers you ran, toss them out. They’re based on your male counterparts. We’re starting from scratch.”
“I did not fight as hard as I did to make it to and succeed in this league to be told I’m worth half of a man. You’re supposed to be on my side.”
“Of course, I’m on your side but you have to be realistic.”
She hangs up. It isn’t her best moment, and her guilt is almost enough to call back. But then she shoves her phone in her pocket and stomps into the kitchen where she pauses, scowl frozen on her face. Her mom and five other women are gathered around the island counter. There are piles of fruits and vegetables, multiple cutting boards, and three blenders. Sophie recognizes two of the women as neighbors. She played street hockey with their kids growing up.
“Oh, Sophie,” Mrs. Milchard greets. “We’re making smoothies. I bet you have all sorts of tips.”
Sophie smiles, automatic, but it’s strained. “I’ve made a few in my day. I’m actually about to go for a run, but if you still have questions when I’m back, I’ll answer them.”
“And test them.”
Sophie nods and flees upstairs to change. She hadn’t planned on going for a run but now she has to. She switches her T-shirt for a racerback and tugs her sweatpants off. She pauses as she pulls her shorts up. She has new ink. One hip has a pair of crossed hockey sticks. There’s a small 93 to the left of the sticks, because it’s the number she wears on the ice. This tattoo was a present to herself years ago. Her new one is on the other hip. It now says 2013-2014 in honor of their Maple Cup win.
Her win? Concord’s win? She is the captain and cornerstone of Concord’s franchise. She wants to be a Condor forever. But, if she believes her agent, Concord won’t offer the kind of deal given to players of her caliber.
She buries her contract thoughts as she pulls her hair up into a ponytail. She takes the stairs by two but doesn’t make it through the kitchen unnoticed.
“Are you going around the block?” her mom asks.
“The park, probably.” She wants to run trails, disappear into the woods until the only people she sees are ones training for marathons or running with their dogs, people who won’t want to stop and chat.
“Then you should take this with you.” Her mom hands Sophie a Gatorade and a bag of pretzels. “You’ll have your phone, right?”
Sophie holds up her phone in answer. She takes the snack and gives her mom a kiss. “Have fun juicing.”
She escapes to the woods, turns her music up, and runs until there’s no space in her head for thoughts. By the time she’s back at her car, her skin is slick with sweat, and she’s grateful for the pretzels. She sits on the curb as the sun beats down on her back. Sweat drips down her spine and dries on her arms, sticky, proof she worked hard. She musters up enough energy to stretch and then drives home.
There are still cars along the curb. She pulls up behind an SUV and takes the keys out of her ignition. Her gym card dangles from the key ring. She turns the car back on and drives down the street. She did her weight training this morning before her call with her agent, so she just uses the gym’s showers, changes into one of the many spare sets of clothes she keeps in her car, and drives to the store.
She goes through the salad bar, loading up a plastic container for herself and one for Colby. It’s on the early side for lunch so she picks up a few things for dinner. On the way to the checkout, she pauses at the Maple Cup display. She’s used to seeing Winnipeg Porcupine gear at home with the sparse collection of shirseys for other Canadian teams. Even Quebec carries Team Canada Ducasse shirseys, though they refuse to stock his Montreal merch.
But in the heart of Thunder Bay, Ontario, there’s a rack of Concord Condors Maple Cup gear. There are shirts with the Cup on the front and the whole roster on the back. There’s one with New Hampshire reshaped to look like the Cup. There are even a few shirseys. Sophie finds a number 13 and traces the NYBERG on the back.
She takes a picture and sends it to Elsa, knowing she’ll get a kick out of it. She’s tempted to buy the shirt and mail it to Lenny Dernier. He’ll have an on-air meltdown when he realizes the good Canadian province of Ontario is stocking fan-wear with a foreigner’s name on it.
Like most Canadian kids, Sophie was glued to the TV when Lenny Dernier came on to host his program after games. Only, as the years have passed and the game has changed, Dernier hasn’t. He clings to an era of hockey where a majority of the players were Canadians and where there were often as many, or more, fights than goals in a game. Back when hockey was a man’s sport.
She’s learned to tune him out, or mute him, these days. He sometimes tolerates Sophie because she had the good sense to be born Canadian even if she is a woman. But he hates Elsa, because he thinks Swedes are lazy, and he really hates Lexie. The last one Sophie finds hilarious, because he hates her for being crass and too aggressive, traits he would praise her for if she were a man. She dropped an f-bomb on live television once, caught up in the adrenaline of a big win, and he declared her a bad role model for all Canadian children.
She would probably find his shtick funnier if he didn’t believe it. And if he didn’t have a loyal following. Sophie’s rookie season saw the Clayton Trophy, the award given to the top rookie, as a competition between Dmitri Ivanov, herself, and Victor Serov. Two Russians and a woman. Dernier was apoplectic. He’s back on his “end of hockey as we know it” rant because this year the three Clayton nominees were two Americans and a Swede. He’s apparently looking to help fund Canada’s youth hockey program in order to restore their country to greatness.
Elsa calls as Sophie goes through the self-checkout. “Did you buy it?”
“Why would I need to buy it? Do you know how many of your shirts I have? I swear you left half your wardrobe.”
“Are you wearing one right now?”
“No.” Though it’s an idea. Maybe if she wears a Nyberg shirsey everywhere, people won’t recognize her. She weighs her salad, weighs Colby’s, and places them in her reusable bag.
“See, you don’t have enough.”
Sophie checks to see what she actually is wearing. There’s a porcupine on the front which means it’s left over from her bantam days. “I’m in a knockoff Winnipeg shirt.”
“Your face is gross.” She finishes scanning her items and pays.
“You miss my face.”
She does but she won’t admit it. She first met Elsa Nyberg when they were opponents at a U-Tourney. Sophie was there representing Canada; Elsa was there for Sweden. She left the tournament with the gold medal and without knowing the impact she had on Sweden’s rising star. Now, they’re teammates in the NAHL. Last year, they won the Cup together. “What’re you up to?”
“Family picnic.” Elsa sighs as if it’s a burden, but Sophie knows she hoards all the time she can spend with her family in the offseason. “Patric and Henrik want to play basketball.”
Sophie laughs as Elsa complains about how her cousins like all the wrong sports. By the time Elsa’s dragged away to participate, Sophie feels better. Of course, once she hangs up, her car is too quiet, not even the radio playing softly in the background.
I have family to see too. And before I know it, Elsa and I will be back in Concord together.
When she arrives at Colby’s office, she’s surprised to be greeted by the receptionist. Too late, it occurs to her dropping by to visit Colby isn’t the same as dropping by a hockey rink. Her steps falter.
The receptionist, whose nameplate says Dianne, offers her a smile. “Do you have an appointment?”
“Uh, no. I’m here to see my brother, but I can call him.”
“Then I’d be out of a job. Have a seat, dear. I’ll call Colby and let him know you’re here.”
“How’d you know I’m Colby’s sister?”
“Everyone here knows who you are. We had office viewing parties. Congratulations, by the way.”
Sophie sits in one of the wingback chairs and picks up an out-of-date hunting magazine. She opens it but doesn’t read a single word. Colby comes down the side hallway after she’s flipped a few pages. He’s in slacks and a nice dress shirt. If his hair was gelled within an inch of its life, he’d look ready to board the bus for an away game. Instead, he has a legal pad tucked under his arm and his phone in hand.
“Hi Dianne. I’m on my way to the sales meeting. What’s up?”
She points and Sophie sets the magazine down. She feels conspicuously out of place in her running clothes. She fishes Colby’s salad out of her bag. “I was in the area.”
“I have a meeting.”
“It’s okay.” She holds the salad out to him. “Mom had friends over. They’re juicing so I needed to escape before I became a test subject. Uh, good luck in your meeting.”
“We’re trying to figure out how to boost our numbers. Cross-selling might be the key. You don’t care about this. Sorry.”
“I care.” Well, she cares because he does. But this is a completely unknown world to her. She wants to spend the next fifteen years of her life in the NAHL and then become a coach or advisor to a team, find a way to stay involved in the sport.
Colby’s hockey career ended after college. He plays in a men’s league now, but his days are spent here. It’s a world she doesn’t understand. And, after years of having hockey connecting them, she doesn’t know how to talk to him. Does he resent her for still playing when he can’t? She’s living their childhood dream, and he’s stuck here—cubicles and meetings.
She clears her throat. “I don’t want to make you late. I’ll see you for dinner sometime this week?”
Another change. Colby’s moved out of their parents’ house. He has an apartment and a new girlfriend, Charlotte, and her name is everything Sophie knows about her. A job, his own apartment, a girlfriend, her brother’s growing up, and Sophie feels left behind.
“Absolutely.” He lifts his salad in a thank-you and hurries back the way he came.
It leaves Sophie with an environmentally friendly bag with only her lunch in it now.
“Nice shirt.” Dianne nods at the porcupine logo. “Your contract is up. Any chance you’re signing with Winnipeg?”
“Probably not.” And she should go through her spare clothes to make sure any hockey clothes she wears bear Concord’s logo. She doesn’t want to start any rumors.
Dianne nods as if she was expecting the answer. “Concord would be stupid to let you go. Maybe next contract. It’ll be a big homecoming.”
Sophie offers a parting smile and slips out.