A game changer, p.1

A Game Changer, page 1

 

A Game Changer
 


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A Game Changer


  A Game Changer

  Nikky Kaye

  Coming Attractions

  I love writing about alpha heroes who know what they want, and sassy women who are just figuring it out. To me, sexy is funny and vice versa.

  Above everything I believe writing and reading should be fun and leave you with a smile on your face, so I hope you enjoy this book! Please consider leaving a review if you do like it, to help other readers. I know that I check out reviews before I buy books, myself.

  For sneak peeks at new books, contests, reading recommendations, and other cool stuff, join my “Coming Attractions” mailing list at http://subscribepage.com/nikkykaye.

  xoxo, Nikky

  October 2019

  Contents

  1. Zach

  2. Emma

  3. Zach

  4. Emma

  5. Zach

  6. Zach

  7. Emma

  8. Emma

  9. Zach

  10. Emma

  11. Zach

  12. Emma

  Also by Nikky Kaye

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Zach

  Winning was the best feeling in the world—whether it was on the football field or in bed. Right now, I was still basking in the glory of a truly epic win. And it was the off-season.

  Someone stirred beside me and I groaned, reaching a hand to yank her back to bed. I heard the soft giggle as I snuggled closer to her, breathing in the scent of whoever this girl was. When I reached out to snake my arms around her waist, she squirmed under my touch.

  “You’re so sexy, Zach,” she whispered, leaning closer to me.

  It wasn’t exactly poetry, but I hadn’t brought her to my room for her huge… brain. She kissed me with such heated intensity that I couldn’t repress my grin.

  “Was I good?” It was a rhetorical question, but I wasn’t above soliciting a little ego-stroking. Hell, I liked a lot of ego-stroking.

  “The best,” she murmured, shifting herself to straddle me. I moaned when she arched against me, leaning in to kiss me again when my phone rang.

  “Fuck. Ignore it, baby,” I muttered, reaching for her face and guiding it to mine.

  But the stupid thing continued to ring and the more we tried to ignore it, the louder it seemed to get. With a growl of frustration, I grabbed the phone.

  “Hello?”

  “Zach, I’m sorry for, uh, waking you, but this is really important.” My assistant’s voice was polite, as it always was. But there was something in his tone that set the hair on my arms on end.

  “Anderson, this better be good because I’ll fire you if it isn’t,” I growled into the phone. The laughter of the pretty blonde straddling me vibrated through my groin, and I threw her a smirk.

  “Zach, I think you need to go to Denver. I’ve booked your flight. It leaves in an hour, so you’d better hurry.” Anderson said.

  My eyebrows furrowed and I motioned for the girl to get off of me.

  “What the hell is going on, Anderson?”

  A long sigh came over the line. “Something happened to Dean and Margaret.”

  My stomach dropped. My insides churned as I swung my legs around and planted my feet on the floor. I wedged the phone between my shoulder and ear as I grabbed my jeans from the floor and pulled them on.

  I walked to the floor to ceiling window in my high-rise condo. When I looked out at the view of Tampa, I told myself that the weakness in my knees was due to the diligent work ethic of the blonde. I startled when I felt her arms wrapping around my waist.

  “Give me a minute, Anderson,” I mumbled and then placed my hand to cover the phone before turning to the groupie. Her sexy pout was souring. “I had fun last night, but I have a busy day ahead of me.”

  She frowned. “That’s it? You’re not even getting my number?”

  I simply shrugged and returned my attention to the phone call. When she let out a dramatic huff, I glanced back to see her putting on her clothes. Fun time was over. It was going to end anyhow, though—what had she expected?

  “What happened to Dean and Margaret?” I demanded.

  Again, I heard Anderson sigh. “They got into an accident. Payton’s also in the hospital but she’s okay. Dean’s in critical condition and Maggie… Maggie’s gone.”

  I leaned forward, my forehead hitting the cool glass of the window. “Shit.”

  My eyes closing, my mind immediately flashed to an image of my beautiful and wonderful sister-in-law. I’d known her since she and Dean began to date in their junior year of high school. She became the mother figure I needed when our mother died of cancer and had been my shoulder to cry on when our father died a year after.

  That was the worst time of my life. Until now.

  “I’ll see you at the airport, Anderson. You’re coming with me. I’ll be there as fast as I can.”

  I rinsed off, changed and then stuffed all my clothes in my duffel bag. It was only when I was in the cab heading to the airport that I realized I hadn’t stopped to let Coach or the manager know I was leaving.

  “I took care of that,” Anderson assured me as we boarded the plane.

  I gave him a curt nod, too distracted by my own fear to even say “thank you.” Hopefully he understood. I was practically vibrating with anxiety for the entire flight. Usually that was Anderson’s thing. When we finally arrived in Denver, we headed straight to the hospital, our bags slung over our shoulders.

  The triage nurse in the Emergency Room wasn’t impressed by my celebrity, or the fact that I’d bypassed the line of sick and injured people. “Sir, you have to—”

  Fuck waiting. “Dean Pennington, I’m here for Dean Pennington. They were in an accident.” My hand shook as I rubbed my forehead.

  “Are you related to the patient, sir?”

  “I’m his brother!” I almost shouted.

  It took another ten minutes and the threat of a security guard intervention to locate Dean in the ICU. I didn’t even know where the fuck that was, but I ran up the stairs, doubling my speed and ignoring Anderson shouting at me to slow down. Eventually I had to wait for him, because he knew where to go and I didn’t.

  At the fifth floor, I burst into the bubble of Intensive Care, and jogged past glass walls, searching for my brother’s smile. His hair. Anything. I couldn’t see shit, but something made me stop in front of a room with a lot of activity.

  “What’s going on?” I asked someone rushing in.

  But he only shook his head. “Check in at the desk.”

  I tried to stop someone else. “Can you tell me where Dean Pennington is?”

  But she didn’t even stop to answer me, she just plowed past me.

  My assistant appeared at my side, breathless from running up the stairs. “Zach…”

  I shook my head. “It’s not Dean. It can’t be Dean. He won’t leave Payton.”

  Anderson patted my shoulder, and I let him steer me to a chair while he talked to someone at the desk at the heart of the unit. My stomach flipped as I noticed the clerk and Anderson both looking pointedly at the room six feet away, full of medical personnel.

  An eternity later, a doctor and some nurses piled out of the room. I jumped up. “Doctor, Dean Pennington?”

  He paused. “Are you a relative?”

  “I’m his brother.”

  The doctor sighed, his eyes red and tired-looking behind his thick glasses. “Let’s talk.”

  He ushered me over to a tiny room off the hallway near the doors to the ICU. There was nothing hopeful about the look on his face, or the tiny fucking room with some flower paintings on the walls.

  “Dean arrived here five hours ago with multiple injuries from an MVA.”

  I stared at him blankly.

 
Multiple vehicle accident,” he explained. “It was pretty serious. His wife died on impact.”

  I nodded. “I know.” Jesus, I was going to have to call Maggie’s parents, wasn’t I? “Is Dean going to be okay?” I asked, my voice cracking.

  Something in me already knew, but the extra pause the doctor took before answering was like the proverbial nail in the coffin. Shit, bad analogy.

  With sorrowful eyes, he said, “I’m sorry. We did everything we could, but his injuries were just too severe.” He waited, maybe wondering if I had follow-up questions.

  I didn’t.

  “I’m very sorry for your loss. Dean was a good guy.”

  I blinked, not quite processing everything he’d said. “You knew him?”

  “My daughter plays soccer with Payton.”

  “Payton.” My heart stopped.

  “She’s okay. I was just with her in Pediatrics before I got paged back up here.”

  I ran a hand through my hair. “I should…”

  “You should go see her. She needs a familiar face right now.”

  Familiar? How could anything be familiar again? Everything was different, now.

  I couldn’t even feel my fingertip when I punched the button to call the elevator. As I headed to Payton, a million memories flashed through my mind.

  Who was I supposed to spend Thanksgiving now that they were gone, or Christmas and New Year’s? I didn’t have a family anymore because like Mom and Dad, Dean and Maggie were gone too.

  The numbness in my body was suddenly pierced by jagged pain as I opened the door of my niece’s room. Payton was fast asleep in the big, white hospital bed, unaware that she had just become an orphan in a span of a few hours. I closed my eyes as I sat on the molded plastic chair beside her bed and took her hand in mine.

  Tears finally began falling from my eyes, which I quickly swiped away with the back of my free hand as fast as they were falling. As I took a deep breath—okay, I sniffled—Payton’s eyes slowly opened.

  “Uncle Zach?”

  Cue more fucking tears that I didn’t want her to see. I tried to smile. “Hey, sweets.”

  “Where’s Mommy and Daddy?”

  She looked at me with big brown eyes, innocence shining within them. It killed me that the light there was about to be extinguished forever. I bowed my head. How was I supposed to…? She didn’t deserve this kind of heartbreak at such a young age.

  A knock on the door saved me from breaking the news to her. I stood up when a tall woman came in the room wearing a formal suit.

  “Hello, Mr. Pennington, I’m Lisa Simmons. I’m a social worker with the hospital. Can I have a word with you?”

  I glanced down at Payton.

  “Alone,” she added.

  I nodded, then leaned over and kissed Payton’s forehead. “I’ll be back in a bit, okay?”

  As I followed the social worker out of the room, I realized I had no clue where Anderson was. I could’ve sworn he’d followed me into Payton’s room but now he was nowhere in sight.

  Miss Simmons cleared her throat beside me, forcing me to refocus my attention. “I’m very sorry for your loss, Mr. Pennington. But there are some matters that need to be discussed sooner rather than later.”

  “I can pay for everything,” I said. Did she seriously want to settle the hospital bill now?

  She shook her head. “I’ve contacted your brother’s lawyer and asked about Payton. He would settle all of this with you in person but he’s currently out of the city right now. He’ll be here tomorrow to inform you of everything regarding the estate.”

  Of course, Dean and Maggie would have a will. He was the responsible one. The only will I had was the one that stubbornly led me to make poor decisions.

  “Can you just get to the point?” I asked. “I have a niece in there who needs me.”

  She nodded. “I understand that, sir, and again I’m sorry for your loss. But we’re talking about your niece here—about who will have custody of her.”

  “What about Maggie’s family?”

  The social worker shook her head. “According to your brother’s lawyer, if anything happens to either him or Maggie or to the both of them, they didn’t want her to have to leave her home.”

  My mind tried to put the pieces together. “Maggie’s parents live in New Zealand. And so does the rest of Maggie’s family,” I stated, not sure where this conversation was heading.

  “Your brother and his wife listed you as Payton’s legal guardian should anything happen to them,” she said, her voice gentle.

  I could only stare at her. “What?” Had Dean talked to me about this? I sagged against the wall in the hallway.

  “You’ll have to discuss the specifics of the estate with the lawyer, but based on the paperwork he faxed to us, the hospital can discharge Payton into your care tomorrow. She’s to stay for observation tonight.”

  “My entire life is in Florida,” I argued. “And Dean knows I have no clue how to raise a child.” Knew. I had to remind myself that my brother was in past tense, here. I squeezed my eyes shut and took a deep breath.

  “You can always transfer here. I’m sure your management can arrange something,” she said, then her tone turned more officious. “The alternative is that she’s transferred into the care of DCFS. Obviously, if there is a capable, available family member, the preference is for the child to be placed with them.”

  I groaned and slid down the wall into a squatting position as I tried to make sense of what had happened in the span of a few hours since I had woken up.

  My brother was dead. My sister-in-law was dead. And I had to move to Denver to take care of their five-year old daughter.

  “Zach?”

  I looked up and saw Anderson. “Where the hell have you been?”

  He kneeled down beside me and handed me a bag. “We needed to eat so I went to look for the nearest Subway.”

  I shook my head. “I’m not hungry. But I’ll take the bag for throwing up into,” I joked. Sort of.

  “So, what’s going to happen now? When do you want to have the funeral?”

  “What?”

  Anderson sighed, stuffing his sandwich back in the bag as he turned to look at me. “Zach, your brother and his wife are dead. They need to be buried. You need to get the two of them into caskets and make sure that they have a proper funeral. Prepare a eulogy.”

  I closed my eyes, unable to comprehend any more of what Anderson had to say.

  First, I was told that my brother was in critical condition and that Maggie was dead.

  Second, I find out that Dean was dead too.

  Third, I had to raise my niece.

  And now, I have to plan a funeral. What the hell? I looked at my assistant, who also happened to be the only real friend I had.

  “I have to take Payton,” I said dully.

  That made Anderson pause. “What? Take her where?”

  “Dean and Maggie want me to raise their five-year old daughter, apparently.” The proposal still had me reeling.

  He patted my knee. “You’ll figure this out.”

  I stood up, shaking my head. “No. You’ll figure this out.” Something inside me hardened, like a protective shell around my preferred reality.

  “Um, sorry?”

  “Find me a nanny for her, Anderson. Someone who’s qualified to raise a child. Because we both know that I will fail on that aspect.”

  Anderson nodded, his expression grim. “Duly noted. I’ll do that the moment we settle in our hotel rooms. I’ve already gotten each of us a place to stay. I think we’ll be here for two to five days, depending on when you’ll hold that funeral.”

  I didn’t have the heart to tell him right then that I was expected to stay in Denver for more than a few days—like, ten to fifteen years.

  I rubbed my forehead. “I don’t even know how I’m supposed to break the news down to Payton.”

  “You could ask a doctor to do it and then just be by her side when she cries.”

&
nbsp; I shook my head and sighed. “I’ll think of something.” I was about to ask him to call Maggie’s family, but realized that I needed to do that. There was only so much I could delegate without being a complete asshole.

  “Can you tell Coach that I need to switch teams?”

  Anderson gaped at me. “Dude!”

  Right, that was another thing I should probably do myself. I groaned at the prospect of getting my ass chewed out and probably involving the Player’s Association, as well. Fuck my life.

  “I don’t really have much of a choice. It’s either I move here or she’s in foster care. I can’t do that to Payton.” Not to mention that Dean and Maggie would haunt me for the rest of my days.

  My footsteps heavy, I headed back to Payton’s room to find her watching TV. I sat beside her and smiled at her softly, reaching out to tuck her silky brown hair behind her ear.

  Her eyes were wide and hopeful when she looked at me. “Did the lady tell you where Mommy and Daddy are?”

  “Payton, sweets, do you remember what your Daddy told you about Grandma and Grandpa?”

  She nodded her head slowly. “He told me that they’re in heaven, happy and watching over us. They’re our angels.”

  “I think we gained more angels, sweets,” I whispered, taking her hand. “I’m so sorry, Payton, but they’re gone. They’re with Grandma and Grandpa now.”

  If I thought I’d been hurting before, I was wrong. Nothing shattered me more than seeing my niece’s heart break in front of my eyes.

  She thrashed in her bed and screamed, telling me that this wasn’t a good joke. When she asked me why, I had no answer to offer.

  Payton wailed in agony as I restrained her, hugging her as tightly as I could. Her face was wet against my shirt, and tears dripped from my jaw as we cried together.

  We’d both just lost our family. We only had each other, now.

  It was only then it occurred to me why Dean had chosen me to be her guardian—because he trusted that I would know exactly what to do.

 
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