A Better Man

By: Candis Terry

Chapter 1

The pungent scent of sweat-­soaked bodies and the ice beneath Jordan Kincade’s skates filled his nostrils. He devoured the energy, the thrill of the game, and the barely controlled chaos like a perfectly grilled steak. Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and anticipation vibrated through the jam-­packed arena as he skated to face-­off with his opponent on a power play. The Carolina Vipers might be down by a goal, but he knew the high-­decibel, foot-­stomping boost from the home crowd would pull them through.

It always did.

After an earlier vicious cross-­check delivered by Dimitri Pavel, Jordan—­much to the crowd’s delight—­racked up five for fighting. Now it was time to cut the shit and focus. He couldn’t allow Pavel’s toothless sneer to tempt him into chalking up any more penalty points. There was just too damn much at stake.

“Gonna vipe smile off dat pretty face, kinky man.”

Pavel spat when he spoke, a habit that tempted his opponents to dodge the spray and miss the drop. Jordan, who had mercifully retained all his own teeth, imagined it was hard to speak properly when you had the gums of an infant. Still, Pavel could have strings of snot hanging from his nose and Jordan wouldn’t care. He didn’t dodge anything if it meant he’d lose the face-­off.

“Your saggy jock calls bullshit,” Jordan shot back. Yeah, okay, the bait had been too strong to resist the smack talk. So sue him.

Like a wolf focused on its prey, Jordan’s attention sharpened as the ref lifted his hand and dropped the puck in front of Jordan’s skates. Jordan wasted no time in pushing the biscuit across the ice into Tyler Seabrook’s stick. The center took control. Dodging sticks, skates, and elbows, he managed to set up a shot in the sweet zone. Jordan snagged the pass and slapped it through the five-­hole before the goalie could get his glove on it.

Red lights flashed behind the net and the horn blew, signaling the goal. The crowd leaped to their feet in an ear-­splitting roar as the players came together for congratulatory slaps on the back. Nothing felt better than a team celebration after an important goal. The one he’d just scored had been vital and hopefully took the burn off the penalties he’d drawn earlier. With the score now tied, the Vipers would have to quickly score once more or win it in overtime. The chances of either were iffy.

The shift change gave Jordan a chance to catch his breath and rest his legs. During a regular season game he didn’t usually tense up. But the closer they got to making the playoffs, the more he tended to tighten every muscle to the extreme. By the time he made it home tonight he’d feel like he’d been hit by a bullet train. Once his team claimed victory and made it into the locker room, he’d need to have his favorite masseuse make a house call. Lucky for him his favorite masseuse came with a pretty smile, long blond hair, a taste for fine whiskey, and preferred to work in the nude.

A smile curled his mouth as he watched Beau Boucher press his opponent into the corner boards with a glass-­quaking thud. The hulking defenseman used his weight and muscle to steal the puck and slide it across the ice to power forward Scott O’Reilly. O’Reilly sank it into the net so fast the goalie barely saw it flash by.

With only two seconds remaining on the play clock, the Vipers bench emptied and the entire team roared onto the ice to celebrate the win. Unless a miracle materialized for the other team in the next blink of an eye, the Vipers were one step closer to the Stanley Cup.


After a loss a locker room could be as silent as a crypt. Tonight, the noise level and celebration escalated to ear-­splitting.

Jordan did his best not to grin like a raging fool during his post-­game recap with the reporter from the Observer. Exhilaration tingled through his chest. He loved this damn game, his team, and right now he even loved Coach Bill Reiner, who openly admitted that he was an unlovable SOB. Didn’t matter. Hope remained alive. Every man on skates in this room could imagine the coveted silver Holy Grail of hockey pressed to their lips.

Interview complete, Jordan had time to celebrate with the guys before everyone dropped their jocks and headed for the showers. Plans were already being made to take the party to the team’s favorite sports bar. Turk’s Ice House provided cold beer, perfectly cooked finger steaks, sharp darts, and plenty of pretty ladies who didn’t mind if the newest rookie sported a purple Mohawk or wore his jock strap on the outside of his jeans. Hazing could be hell, and Turk’s was always more than happy to add a little extra torture to the newbies.

Tonight it didn’t matter if you were the captain, a veteran, or the newest kid on the ice. Tonight they were a team and tonight they’d celebrate as one. Come tomorrow they’d all be back to kicking ass in practice and preparing for the biggest games of the season.

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