Foster (Pittsburgh Titans, Book #13)

Chapter 1


Glancing in the rearview mirror, I adjust in my seat so I can see Bowie Jane in the back. She’s slumped sideways, head against the window and her mouth slightly parted as she slumbers. Her long dark hair is in two braids with loose pieces pressed against what had been, not too long ago, a hot and sweaty face.

My daughter.

My reason for existing.

Having just turned ten years old, she looks so much younger when she’s sleeping like this.

She’s out cold, so I turn up the music a little and bop my head along to Taylor Swift, knowing it won’t wake her. A full day at Idlewild—an amusement park here in Pittsburgh—has her down for the count. Hell, my grown ass is exhausted from the heat of the day, the spinning rides and roller coasters, and keeping pace with my kid.

I glance back again at her, a smile coming to my face, but I can’t ignore the heaviness in my heart. We’re leaving in four days to take her back to her mom in California. My summer with my little angel is rapidly coming to an end as she’ll be starting school next week.

And what a summer it’s been.

I flew out to California to get her the day after our team—the Pittsburgh Titans—lost our bid for the championship in the second round. Yeah, I was bitter and broken up about the loss but when the wheels touched down in San Francisco, I put it out of my mind. The season was over and my summer with Bowie Jane was starting. I spent a few weeks in the Bay Area until she finished school, then we were on a plane and back in Pittsburgh for a full three months of daddy-daughter goodness.

Divorced from her mother, Sandra, for the last two years, it’s been an adjustment, to say the least. At first, it was managing shared custody and my hectic career as a second-line center for the San Francisco Bay Brawlers. Those first six months were all about eking out every bit of spare time I could to spend with Bowie Jane on my days in San Francisco to help ease the pain and heartbreak of her parents divorcing. Then I came to Pittsburgh to join the newly reformed Titans after their original team died in a plane crash and my world turned upside down.

Getting traded is always on the table in professional sports but I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be moving across the country from my daughter. At least in San Francisco, I had proximity to Bowie Jane and she was with me as much as possible. Sandra and I had agreed on fifty-fifty split custody, but it didn’t always work out that way. Even when I wasn’t on the road, the nights I had home games meant she was with my ex instead of me.

Still… I got to see her every week for at least a few days and while I never thought it was enough back then, in hindsight, I realize it was such a luxury.

Now that I’m in Pittsburgh, my time with Bowie Jane is precious and rare. Yes, I get her during the summer months, but it’s a long fucking nine months without her. If I’m lucky, I can sneak in a few visits when I’m on the West Coast playing or, in saner times, Sandra would bring Bowie Jane east to Buffalo when we’d play the Wolves. My ex-in-laws live there and while we’re not on the greatest terms, they fully support the efforts Sandra makes to give me just a few extra days a year with my daughter.

There was a time I was so grateful to Sandra for making that effort to travel with our kid so I could see her. But something is off with her lately and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

It started back in April when she bailed on our prearranged agreement to bring Bowie Jane to Buffalo. We’d worked out a deal where our daughter was going to stay with her grandparents until I could get her for the summer, but Sandra was a no-show.

As in, she didn’t show up at all.

Fuck, was I pissed, terrified something had happened to Bowie Jane. Sandra didn’t answer my calls, but her dad eventually caught up with her. Her excuse was that she’d gotten tied up with work and couldn’t make the trip.

I called bullshit on it but there wasn’t anything I could do. I missed out on a quick visit with my kid but nothing else changed as far as my time with her. So I had to wait patiently for my summer break to begin after the playoffs, although once Sandra finally answered my phone call, I lit into her good. She was apologetic but it didn’t sound genuine.

If anything, she sounded… distracted, and that has persisted. The entire summer, Sandra has been flighty. She was going to come visit Bowie Jane on two separate occasions but bailed on each, claiming she wanted to give us as much time together as possible. That was fine with me because I’m greedy when it comes to spending time with my kid, but it wasn’t fine with Bowie Jane. She loves her mother and misses her, and she was severely disappointed.

Sandra didn’t seem to give two fucks though, blowing off Bowie Jane’s tear-filled pleas over the phone to come visit. On top of that, she’s just not communicating with our daughter frequently enough to be of any value.

When I came to Pittsburgh, I made it my mission to have some form of communication with Bowie Jane on a daily basis. I always aimed for a FaceTime call no matter where I was—here or traveling. If that didn’t work, at least a quick phone call. And on those rare occasions where my travel schedule was so hectic and I couldn’t manage one of those, I’d record a video and text it to Sandra to play for our kid.

Every single fucking day.

And yet Sandra only takes the initiative to reach out to Bowie Jane a few times a week. At first, she would call Sandra to fill in the gaps, but as I’d listen to her side of the conversation, I could tell her mom wasn’t fully engaged and she often ended the calls before they’d barely started.

I had my suspicions but Bowie Jane confirmed it.

Mommy had a new boyfriend, and he was apparently taking up a lot of Sandra’s energy, time and focus.

We were eating dinner one night when Sandra called. Their chat lasted no more than five minutes and when Bowie Jane hung up, she huffed out a sigh of frustration.

“What’s up, pup?” I asked.

“Mom’s going to some fancy dinner party and had to go so she could get dressed. She has a stylist coming over.”

That caught my attention because why in the hell would she need a stylist? I asked Bowie Jane that exact question.

She shrugged. “Her new boyfriend makes movies, so he always sends a stylist over with lots of dresses to choose from. And then they do her hair and makeup.”

Admittedly, I was curious. Sandra has dated since the divorce and that doesn’t bother me at all. But the fact she’s dating someone in the film industry grabbed my attention because Sandra has always wanted to be an actress. It’s actually how we met. She had a small role in a TV series being filmed in Vancouver and I’d just been drafted there at the age of eighteen, straight out of the western league of the major juniors.

It was lust at first sight and Sandra got pregnant the second month we were dating. I did what I thought was right and asked her to marry me, hoping that love would grow from it.

And it did. Things were good for a while.

But Sandra never got any other roles and she settled into life as a hockey wife and new mom. I eventually got traded to San Francisco and we built a life there. Sandra was a stay-at-home mom and she did a hell of a job, but our relationship never solidified. Over time, we drifted apart until it seemed we had nothing in common except our daughter. When the divorce was finalized, I was at peace with it and I think she was too.

But now she was dating someone new. I dug a little deeper. “What’s Mommy’s boyfriend’s name?”

“Chet,” Bowie Jane replied, wrinkling her nose as she twisted her fork into the spaghetti I’d made for dinner.

“You don’t like him?”

“He doesn’t like me. He’s older and his kids are older and I think he thinks a little girl is annoying.”

Anger flared hot. “Did he say that to you?”

Bowie Jane rolled her eyes. “He didn’t have to. I can just tell.”

“And what do you mean by he makes movies?”

“I’m not really sure. He lives in Los Angeles but travels up to see Mom a lot. And we sometimes go down there to visit him.”

My mind started spinning and something became clear to me. “When you were supposed to come to Buffalo in April, was that because Mommy was visiting Chet?”

“Yeah. He was attending some movie premiere and she was all excited about it.”

I ignore the irritation that singes, understanding now that I missed out on my visit with my daughter because my ex-wife had a date to a movie premiere.

“What’s Chet’s last name?”

“Firestone,” she said. I made a note to google the guy later. I then made another mental note to schedule a time to talk to Sandra when Bowie Jane was out of earshot. I wanted to know more about this guy, not because I was jealous or cared that she was dating someone, but because it was affecting our daughter and I didn’t like it.

I pull into the driveway of the home I bought when I moved here a year and a half ago. It’s in an exclusive neighborhood and a few of the other players live nearby. Big houses, big lots, all the finest appointments. Most of the rooms go unused but I wanted a nice house for Bowie Jane. I want it to be her true home when she’s here.

After pulling into the garage and shutting it behind me, I reach a hand back and touch Bowie Jane’s knee. “Hey, kiddo… we’re home.”

She lets out a tiny snore.

Grinning, I get out of the car and walk around to the back passenger door. I open it up, unlatch her seat belt and hoist her into my arms. Her head lolls and then settles on my shoulder, but she’s dead weight.

Good thing I’m a big strapping guy and it’s nothing to tote her little seventy-five-pound body into the house.

I don’t even consider putting her on the couch but climb the stairs to her bedroom. My master is on the first floor and upstairs is another smaller master. I’ve got Bowie Jane in a bedroom that has an additional bonus room attached to it for all her toys, art supplies, and dress-up outfits, as well as a desk where she does her homework.

Lying her on the bed, I kiss her forehead before quietly backing out. We still have a while until dinner, and the nap will do her good after such an exhausting day. As I creep back downstairs, I consider what we’ll have. I’m not the best cook but she’s not a picky eater, so usually I make something easy, like spaghetti, hamburgers, chicken or fish.

Maybe I’ll get fancy and make her some beef stroganoff, one of her favorites. We’ll have to make a quick grocery run though.

I think of my sleeping daughter upstairs and my heart gets heavy again that she’s going to be leaving soon.

Yes, I’m a professional hockey player and I love what I do, but it takes a far back seat to my role as Dad. My contract with the Titans is up at the end of this season and I’m going to see if I can get traded back to a West Coast team so I can be closer to my girl. I’d even take a bad deal in a heartbeat, just to be able to see her more.

Or maybe you should just leave.

I’ve been the league ten years and I’m playing fucking phenomenal hockey. I have more money than I know what to do with and I still love the game, but I don’t need it. What I need is my daughter.

I hate California, but I would accept a deal with a team there. Ideally, I’d love to end up back home in Calgary with Bowie Jane, but I can never take her away from Sandra. We agreed on split custody and our daughter needs both of us in her life, even if Sandra has been a little cuckoo lately.

Christ, it was a mistake to marry her. But I will never regret our beautiful daughter.

Chapter 2


“Feel good to be back home?” I ask Bowie Jane as I navigate the rental car through the streets of Atherton. Sandra is still living in the house we shared during our marriage, since I transferred ownership to her as part of our divorce settlement.

“Yes, but I’ll miss you.”

I glance over my shoulder to see her mouth drawn downward and doe eyes staring at me balefully.

“It’s okay, baby. I’ll visit every West Coast trip I make, plus we’ll have time at Christmas and before you know it, another fun summer.”

She doesn’t reply and I glance back again to see her staring out the window. My daughter isn’t the taciturn type but she’s been quiet most of our trip out here to California.

I’m not conceited enough to think that she had such an amazing time with me this summer that she doesn’t want to go home. In fact, I know she misses her mom terribly, but I think she’s confused about her homecoming. Sandra’s lack of diligent contact and failure to visit have weighed on Bowie Jane. I know this because I talk to my daughter and she’s open with me when something’s on her mind.

I’ve fielded questions from her all summer, like, “I wonder what Mom’s doing?”

Translation: Why hasn’t Mom called in three days?

“And,” I continue on, trying to stoke some excitement, “you’ve got your big school shopping trip with your mom tomorrow. Lots of new clothes but I know it’s all about school supplies for you.”

My kid is a school nerd and I love that she loves it so much. She’s excited about starting back next week.

That brightens her up a bit and she starts chattering about her best friend Alicia. They’ve been in the same class since pre-kindergarten and even had weekly FaceTime chats this summer.

I pull into Sandra’s driveway and don’t feel anything for the home I once lived in. It holds great memories of Bowie Jane but that’s about all it does for me.

There’s a Mercedes C class in the driveway, probably a few years old and with a small dent in the right rear corner.

“Friend of your mom’s?” I ask as I shut off the car.

“That’s Chet’s,” Bowie Jane says glumly.

I’m irritated he’s here. Sandra should want to have alone time with her daughter since she hasn’t seen her all summer.

We exit the vehicle and I pull her two suitcases out of the trunk. I don’t even bother to wheel them along the sidewalk but carry one in each hand. Bowie Jane precedes me up the porch steps and I expect Sandra to meet us there, bursting with excitement that her daughter is home, but… nothing.

Bowie Jane attempts to open the door but it’s locked. Without hesitation, she pushes the doorbell.

We both hear footsteps quickly moving toward us and then the door is open and Sandra is pulling Bowie Jane into a hard hug.

“Oh, sweet girl… I missed you so much.” There’s the enthusiasm I was looking for but Bowie Jane’s arms hang limply at her side. She doesn’t return the embrace and that’s when I see a tall blond man standing just inside the foyer.

Sandra releases our child and steps back to put an arm around who I assume is Chet. He looks like your typical LA actor with fake suntan, brilliant white teeth he flashes at Sandra, and shellacked hair. I’d place him in his early forties.

“Look who came to surprise you,” Sandra chirps as she squeezes Chet and beams at our daughter. “He’s going to take us out to a nice dinner tonight and then he’s going to take us both clothes shopping tomorrow.”

Bowie Jane doesn’t return her mom’s smile but glances back at me, and the expression on her face tears me up. She wants no part of this surprise so I decide to remove her temporarily from the mix.

“Hey, kiddo… let’s get your suitcases upstairs into your room and you can start unpacking. Okay?”

She nods almost gratefully and shoots up the stairs. Sandra and Chet step back to let me through the door and I do nothing more than nod at the man. Sandra doesn’t bother with an introduction but only because I quickly give them my back and follow Bowie Jane to her room.

I place the suitcases on her bed and unzip them. I helped her pack, so everything is clean and neatly folded. “You get started on this and I’ll come back and help. I want to talk to your mom for a minute.”

“Okay,” she says and starts pulling clothes out of the luggage.

Downstairs, I find Sandra and Chet in the kitchen, side by side at the island. They have glasses of white wine in front of them and she’s giggling at something he’s said as I enter.

He looks at me first and then Sandra turns, a sheepish grin on her face. “Oh, Foster… let me introduce you to my boyfriend, Chet Firestone.”

I put on a genial expression and step forward to shake his hand. He has no clue that I know that’s not his real name. A quick Google search revealed he’s a two-bit actor, born Robert Petersby in Des Moines. He’s had several TV roles over the years but nothing recurring. I’m assuming he thought Chet Firestone was a more marketable name, which… I get it.

“Nice to meet you,” I say.

He flashes those teeth and my eyes hurt. Turning to Sandra, I nod toward the back deck. “Mind if we talk privately?”

“No, not at all,” she says and pats Chet on the stomach. “I’ll be right back, pooky.”

I almost snort-laugh over the ridiculous endearment but hey… whatever makes them happy. I follow Sandra onto the back deck and when the door is closed behind us, I choose my words very carefully so as not to start a fight.

“Look,” I say, scrubbing my hand through my hair that I’ve let grow longer over the summer. “Bowie Jane was really looking forward to spending some time with you before she starts school next week.”

“And I’m looking forward to spending time with her,” she assures me, a plastic smile on her face.

Time for a more direct approach. “She’s not looking forward to spending time with your boyfriend.”

Sandra’s expression crumbles. “That’s ridiculous. Bowie Jane loves Chet. He buys her stuff all the time.”

“Christ, Sandra… try talking to your daughter for once and stop assuming. She doesn’t like him. And for that matter, she’s totally confused why you’ve been so silent all summer and didn’t come to see her. She’s already putting two and two together and it’s because you want to spend time with Chet, that you’re abandoning her.”

Sandra’s face flushes red and her lips peel back in a snarl. “I am in no way abandoning my daughter and how dare you suggest such a thing. You’re just jealous I have someone—”

“Stop,” I say, holding up a hand. “This isn’t about us. This is about you and Bowie Jane. I can’t make you do anything, but if you want to start making things right with your kid—because she’s very hurt by your absence this summer—then I suggest you send Chet along and you spend the weekend with just her. You two need to reconnect.”

Her mouth opens and closes as if she has something else to say but nothing forms. “I’m going to go help her unpack. I’ve got a little time before I have to head back to the airport.”

“You’re not visiting anyone while you’re here?” she asks.

“Nah. The few who I would have wanted to see are off traveling.” I keep in close contact with a few former teammates, but those bonds loosen when you move to another team. Then I stare at her pointedly. “Think about what I said, okay?”

Sandra nods and I walk back into the house, up the stairs and into Bowie Jane’s bedroom.

Her suitcases remain untouched as she clearly got sidetracked with a bracelet-making kit. She’s sitting at her little vanity, hooking together colorful rubber bands.

“Nice job on the unpacking,” I say, my slightly sarcastic tone earning a dimpled grin. My kid has a sense of humor that matches my own—dry and witty—and far beyond her ten years. If I had to pick one favorite character trait of my daughter’s—and there are so many to choose from because she’s one hundred percent awesome—it would be that she’s funny as hell.

She gives a coy shrug. “I was waiting for you to help me so we could have quality time together.”

“Mmm-hmm.” I use my dad voice. “Put the bracelet down and come help.”

Bowie Jane can be stubborn at times, but for the most part, she’s jovially amenable to tasks requested of her. She pops up from her little chair covered in pink velour and moves to the nearest suitcase.

We work silently for a few minutes, each of us emptying a piece of luggage, but then she asks the inevitable. “What did you talk to Mom about?”

I believe in full transparency with my kid when I can, but there are many times I cannot tell her the truth of conversations with her mom. Some of our fights had nothing to do with Bowie Jane, and others exposed opposition in parenting skills that I didn’t want to use as inadvertent means to pit her against either of us.

But in this instance, I can give her the full truth. “I told her that I didn’t think it was a good idea for Chet to hang with you guys this weekend. That you should just do mommy-daughter time since you’ve been apart for so long.”

Her voice is small and hesitant. “And what did she say?”

“Well,” I hedge, not wanting to throw Sandra under the bus. “I think your mom just wasn’t aware of how much you missed her and want some alone time.”

She turns her back to me, moves to her dresser and slides a stack of T-shirts into the drawer. “So, does that mean Chet is coming with us shopping?”

I wince internally that I can’t give her the reassurances she wants. “I don’t know, baby. But if he does, just try to concentrate on having a great time and how much you love clothes shopping, okay?”

Bowie Jane nods, the flat press of her mouth telling me this isn’t the answer she wanted. I drop the stack of clothes and squat before her, both hands going to her shoulders. “Your mom loves you very, very much and is so excited to have you home. I’m sure it’s hard for her to have a boyfriend, trying to figure out a balance. I’m also sure you’re afraid her attention will be taken away from you, but one thing I know for sure is that you will always be her first priority, just the way you’re my first priority.”

“But I don’t have to like Chet, do I?” she asks with a fierce knitting of her eyebrows.

Laughing, I pull her into a hug. “No, baby. You like who you want to like. You like who deserves to be liked. But maybe just realize that for whatever reason, your mom likes him, and I know you want her to be happy, right?”

She nods against my shoulder, little arms wrapping around me tight. I give her a squeeze before releasing. “Okay… let’s get this unpacking done and we can play a game or something before I leave.”

“Can I paint your nails?” she asks slyly as she pulls back to look me square in the face with hopeful eyes.

“Sure, why not?” I reply with good nature. Not the first time I’ve sported pink on them and I’m sure not the last. Bowie Jane gets a kick out of her big, burly hockey dad getting made fun of.

Doesn’t embarrass me though. Every sloppy stroke she puts on my fingernails is a memory I’ll always treasure.

Chapter 3


We’re running two-on-one breakaway drills and I’m paired with Seth Caraway, a minor league player. He was invited to the Titans’ training camp to join the nearly sixty prospects vying for a spot on our twenty-three-person roster.

Training camp started two days ago and has mostly involved physicals and individual skills evaluations. Today we’re drilling with other players, and just because I have a contract that extends through the end of this season doesn’t mean I’m a sure bet to keep my second-line center status.

Every off-season, I train just as hard as I do during the regular season because I’m well aware that going into my eleventh year in the league, there will always be younger, faster, stronger players coming up through the ranks, gunning for my spot.

The previous pairing slipped one by our backup goalie from last year, Kace Elliott, who looks pissed as Seth and I prepare to meet our defender, Jack Kingston, at center ice.

He’s an interesting dude, traded to our team over the summer to replace Kirill Zucker on the first-line defense. King, as everyone calls him, came from the Houston Jam and is one of the top five defensemen in the league. It was a huge score when Callum Derringer snagged him, but then again, our GM picked up a lot of great talent over the summer.

Seth and I head down the ice, passing the puck back and forth. I don’t know his style, nor he mine, but our passes are sharp. King skates backward between us, moving his stick side to side, looking for an opportunity to poke the puck out of our possession. As we close in on Kace in goal, he leans left and right, attempting to see around King’s hulking figure. The dude is massive and yet light on his skates. Totally impressive.

I juke left, then right, forcing King to commit. I’m able to slide the puck easily through his legs. Seth picks it up for a blistering wrist shot but is denied by Kace, who scoops it from the air as if magic lined his glove.

“Good save,” I say to Kace as I skate behind the net and head back to the end of the drill lines formed on the opposite side of the rink.

After practice, I shower and change into street clothes. I’d made plans to meet up with Boone and Van for a beer over at Mario’s but I don’t see them around. Probably already headed over.

As I walk out to the player parking garage so I can stow my bag in my Ford F-150, I scroll through my messages.

There’s a text from Van. Already got a table and ordered you a beer.

I whip back a response. On my way.

A voicemail notification catches my attention and I flip over to see that Sandra left me a message. I press play and put the phone to my ear.

“Foster… call me. There’s something important I need to discuss with you.”

The words alone wouldn’t cause any emotional uprising within me but her tone sounds defensive, as if she’s gearing up for a battle.

Without hesitation, I dial her back and continue the trek to my truck.

“Hey,” she answers. She sounds rushed and frazzled.

“What’s up?” I say casually.

“Um… listen… I wanted to let you know that I’ve got a job opportunity and I’m going to be taking Bowie Jane with me.”

My words are terse as I stop in my tracks. “What kind of opportunity?”

“I’m relocating to Singapore,” she says brusquely.

“The fuck you are,” I snarl into the phone. “There’s no way I’m letting you take her out of the country.”

She sighs heavily. “It’s a good career move for me.”

“What career? I freaking pay you spousal support. You haven’t had to work since we got married and you haven’t held a job since we divorced.”

“Well, Chet is taking a job there and he wants us to join him. He’s an actor and he’s got a big opportunity in front of him.”

“You said you had a job opportunity,” I remind her.

“I do. There’s a chance Chet can get me a walk-on role. He has some clout.”

I don’t bother telling Sandra that I know all about Chet and his lack of an esteemed career. Instead, I maintain my stance. “I won’t agree to it.”

I listen for the next several minutes as Sandra whines, moans and rages about the unfairness of it. “This is my big shot. You never supported me in my acting career.”

“You didn’t have an acting career. You were in three episodes of a small Vancouver TV production and your role wasn’t even credited.”

“You’re an asshole.”

I want to tell her she’s a bitch but that’s not my style. I’ve never been a name-caller and I’m not about to start.

Blowing out a breath, I calm my voice. “Our custody agreement is very clear. First and foremost, you cannot even move out of the San Francisco area without my permission and agreement if it affects the custody schedule. But it is very clear that she is not to be taken out of the country at all.”

Thank fuck for my really great divorce attorney.

“I’m taking her,” she maintains.

“Good luck with that because that’s technically kidnapping. You try something stupid, Sandra, I’ll sue for full custody.”

“I have a right to a life,” she cries.

“You are a mother first and foremost,” I sneer. “Your life comes after Bowie Jane’s happiness and how can you think taking her away from me will make her happy?”

“You’ll still have summers,” she tosses at me.

“I want every fucking day I deserve, not just summers, so I’m not agreeing to her going. Get an attorney if you have to and we’ll fight this out. You’re not taking from me the scant opportunities I get to see her during the year and taking her out of the country basically ensures that. Why don’t you go to Singapore and she can stay with me?”

Sandra laughs caustically. “You can’t take care of her with your job. Particularly with your travel schedule. You’re not a fit parent to keep her full time.”

“The hell I can’t. I’ll leave the fucking league and be a full-time dad if I have to.”

Sandra gasps. “You wouldn’t.”

“I would and you know it. Nothing is more important to me than Bowie Jane. Can you say the same? Is this new boyfriend of yours more important than your daughter? Because I am not letting you take her out of the country.”

“I’m not just following Chet. I’m trying to make a career. It’s job-related and a judge would understand that.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m willing to fight it out. So, what’s it going to be?”

She tries to sound tough, but her voice is shaky. “I’m taking my daughter to Singapore.”

“Our daughter,” I correct. “First thing I’m doing when I hang up this phone is booking a flight to San Francisco and I’m taking Bowie Jane, which leaves you free to follow your boyfriend. Then I’m going to call my attorney to immediately seek full custody. Buckle up, Sandra, because no fucking way I’m letting you do this.”

Her response is dead air as she hangs up on me.

“Fuck!” I yell into the empty players’ garage and the sound reverberates all around me.

But I don’t call the airline to book a flight and I don’t call my attorney. Instead, I dial the Titans’ general manager, Callum Derringer.


The executive offices for the Pittsburgh Titans are on the top floor of the arena. The two corner offices belong to the team owner, Brienne Norcross, and the general manager, Callum Derringer. They both have breathtaking views over the Allegheny River with the city skyline on the opposite side.

I didn’t go into details with Callum about the nature of my problem, only that I needed to talk to him immediately about a family issue. I expected him to fit me into his schedule within the next day or so, but he told me to come up now and I hightailed it to his office, shooting a quick text to Van that I wouldn’t be joining him and Boone. I suddenly have far too much to do.

It took no more than five minutes to drop my gear bag in my truck and make my way from the bowels of the arena to the top floor, past the executive receptionist who had to buzz me in and right to Callum’s office door.

I’m shocked to see Brienne sitting there and when I enter, Callum explains, “By the tone of your voice, I asked Brienne to join us.”

I’m immediately grateful for her presence because, of the million things racing through my head as I made my way up to the pinnacle of the building, I need a better lawyer.

No, I need the absolute best fucking lawyer and there’s no one more capable of helping me find just that person than Brienne Norcross.

She’s the billionaire CEO of a conglomerate of businesses that make her one of the richest people in the world. The Norcross family is very old money, their fortune originally built in coal mines, steel mills, oil refineries and real estate, but they eventually founded Norcross Bank. Now the company is mostly made up of banks, hedge funds and investment groups, as well as one very fortunate professional hockey team.

A year and a half ago, the Pittsburgh Titans’ plane crashed upon landing on a return game trip from Columbus, killing everyone on board, including Brienne’s brother, Adam. While Brienne had been groomed by her father to manage most of Norcross Holdings, it was Adam who ran the hockey team. When he died, Brienne had to step into his shoes and she’s done a fucking phenomenal job so far, including hiring Callum Derringer as the general manager.

“Come on in, Foster,” Callum says, and motions with his hand. “Shut the door behind you.”

“Thanks so much for getting me in quick,” I say, moving to the guest chair beside Brienne.

She smiles and says, “I hear your first few days of camp have been great.”

I’d personally thought I’ve been strong on all levels, but it’s nice to know that information has filtered up from coaches to the GM and the owner herself.

Nodding, I manage a polite response, but I’m too upset over Sandra’s harebrained idea to say much more than, “It’s going well.” I then turn to Callum. “I have to go to California immediately.”

Dark brows knitting in concern, he probes, “Right in the middle of training camp?”

I keep my tone measured and calm, even though I feel like I’m about to burst out of my skin. “With all due respect, I don’t care if it costs me my position on the team. It’s an emergency.”

“Lay it out for us,” Brienne says in that cool, efficient tone of hers that says she’s in full CEO mode.

I take a deep breath and then relay the call I just had with Sandra. Shaking my head in befuddlement, I add, “She was acting weird all summer when I had Bowie Jane.”

“In what way?” Callum asks.

I swivel my head to look at him, lifting a shoulder. “It’s hard to describe but it’s like she wasn’t into her daughter, if that makes sense. Sandra only called once or twice a week and she was supposed to come visit twice—at my expense—but didn’t. I’m thinking this new boyfriend has her distracted. The last few weeks since I took Bowie Jane home, I’ve sensed a sullenness in her too. She doesn’t think this guy likes her and I can tell by the tone of her voice and her expressions when we FaceTime every day.”

“And why do you want to go to California?” Brienne asks. “What do you hope to accomplish?”

“I’m going to get my daughter and bring her back here,” I clip out, irritated she doesn’t understand that’s the obvious solution. She’d do the same for her fiancé Drake’s kids, who she’s helping to raise.

“I get you want to do that,” she says softly, but then reminds me, “but that would be a violation of your custody agreement. Just as it would be for her to take Bowie Jane to Singapore.”

It hits me like a ton of bricks falling from the stratosphere… I can’t just go get her. At this very moment, I’m powerless.

“Let me ask you this,” Brienne continues. “Do you think Bowie Jane is happy in her current living situation? Are you concerned about her welfare? Do you think Sandra is making wise and stable decisions for your daughter? And mostly, do you think she’s brave enough to whisk Bowie Jane to Singapore despite your agreement, because if she takes her out of the country, it’s going to be infinitely harder to get her back.”

“Jesus,” I mutter, scrubbing my hands through my hair. “I think she’s crazy enough to take her. She insisted she was going to do it right up to the time she hung up on me.”

Brienne stands from her chair, gazing down at me. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to get on the phone now and get you the absolute best attorney to handle this for you. He’s going to file an emergency order of protection to prevent Sandra from taking Bowie Jane out of the country. If you want to make the move, he’ll also petition for you to have temporary full custody. Are you in a position to take Bowie Jane on full time?”

“If I left the league, then yes… I’m totally in for that,” I reply without hesitation. Full-time dad status sounds perfect for me and will keep my daughter safe.

“Well, that’s not an option for us,” Brienne retorts coolly. “We’d like you to continue playing for us. You’re going to need a support system and while the hockey wives will step in, you’re going to need a very good, full-time nanny to cover her on your away trips. If you can get that set up quickly, your attorney can show to the judge that you’re ready to take over.”

“I wouldn’t even know where to begin to look for a nanny,” I mumble.

“I’ve got you covered,” Brienne says. “One of my execs who’s relocating to our London office had a wonderful nanny the last few years. Let me see if she’s still available and you can interview her. But I’ll also get team services on finding other options and helping you prescreen eligible candidates.”

If I thought my head was spinning before, I’m so dizzy now I’m not sure I can stand from my chair. The prospect of becoming a full-time dad while managing a hockey career is terrifying, and yet… it’s also thrilling. Coming off one of the best summers of my life having Bowie Jane all to myself has me solidly set in my belief that I’d choose her over the league any day of the week and twice on Sunday. However, if I could have both my career and her… well, I’d…

Okay, not going to let myself get too excited. I’ve got shit to do.

Rising from my chair, I thank both Callum and Brienne before saying, “I’m ready to do whatever you tell me to do.”

“I’ll have an attorney you can talk to within the hour. I’ll see if I can set up a meeting with you and this potential nanny as quickly as possible. I’m sure we can have an order entered prohibiting Sandra from leaving the country by tomorrow, but it might take a little longer to handle the full-time custody issues.”

“Whatever it takes,” I assure her. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Foster (Pittsburgh Titans, Book #13) is a standalone contemporary hockey romance within The Pittsburgh Titans series. See the full details and get your copy HERE.