Zack’s story–at last!
Cold Fury Hockey # 3
By: Sawyer Bennett
Releasing June 9, 2015
New York Times bestselling author Sawyer Bennett goes for a hat trick with the latest romance in a sexy series about cool-as-ice hockey players and the women heating up their lives.
Warning: The following contains spoilers from a cliffhanger in Garrett.
Rising star Zack Grantham has been stuck in a downward spiral of grief that has put his career on hold. Back on the road with the Carolina Cold Fury, still crippled by emotional baggage, and now a single dad, he’s in need of some serious help with his son. But while the nerdy new nanny wins his son’s heart, Zack isn’t sure he’s ready for a woman’s touch—even after getting a glimpse of the killer curves she’s hiding under those baggy clothes.
Kate Francis usually keeps men like Zack at a distance. Though his athlete’s body is honed to perfection, he refuses to move on with his life—and besides, he’s her boss. Still, the sparks between them are undeniable, tempting Kate to turn their professional relationship into a personal one. But before she makes a power play for Zack’s wounded heart, Kate will have to open him up again and show him that love is worth the fight.
My heart feels like it’s going to leap out of my chest as I stand at the sink and wash the griddle clean. It’s actually kind of a pleasure to clean up in a kitchen like this. I’ve never been in a home this nice, and it’s hard not to stare around in wonder at all the shiny. His kitchen is übermodern, with sleek blond-oak cabinets and stainless-steel handles. The counters are done in black granite with flecks of gray throughout and the sink is a massive single bin made of some type of stone.
Zack sits at the table on the opposite side of the L-shaped kitchen counter with Ben as they eat their breakfast. His eyes remain pinned on me, a mixture of anger and confusion.
He clearly doesn’t like me and I have no clue why. I expect him at any moment to just fire me. I can see it in his eyes…That’s what he wants.
There was a moment when Ben hurtled his little body at me that I cut a glance at Zack, and I saw fury wash over him. It scared me so bad, I almost ran out of the house right then. But I didn’t because I really, really, really need this job. Without it, I’m just one bus ticket away from being forced to return home to live with Daddy in our dingy tin can of a trailer in the backwoods of eastern North Carolina. And I promised myself when I left home five years ago, as much as I adore my daddy, I would never let that happen.
So I pulled on all of my available confidence that I’ve built up over the years along with my sheer will to survive and promptly ignored Zack and his dirty looks and started to clean his kitchen. He didn’t say a word, just watched me as I worked and sometimes would make conversation with Ben.
I’m just wiping down the counters when Zack picks up the empty plates and walks over to put them in the dishwasher. When he’s finished, he turns to Ben and says, “Why don’t you go upstairs and play in your room a bit? I need to talk to Kate about a few things.”
“Can I watch TV?” Ben asks.
“Sure,” Zack says, and Ben jets from the table and pounds his way upstairs.
I rinse out the dishcloth in my hand, wring it, and then fold it over the faucet. Turning to Zack, I find him leaning a hip against the counter with his arms crossed defensively over his chest. His gaze is frosty when he says, “What exactly did Delaney tell you the job would consist of?”
Man, he intimidates the hell out of me. He towers over me, and even though he has the face of an angel with dark brown hair and whiskey-colored eyes perfectly supported by a strong jaw, so much animosity is radiating off him that I think he may be the devil.
I know all about Zack Grantham. That’s because I love sports. All kinds of sports, but in particular, Cold Fury hockey. When North Carolina got its first professional ice hockey team, I had just started sixth grade. But I remember sitting on the ratty green corduroy-covered couch in our trailer, and Daddy and I rooting for the Cold Fury. Of course, often he’d be drunk and passed out by the third period, but at least for two periods we’d have a good time bonding over our mutual love of the sport.
I’ve followed the team closely ever since. Of course, I’ve never been to a live game, that being an absolute luxury I could have never afforded, but because every game is broadcast locally, I rarely miss one unless I’m studying for an important test or something. And because I follow the team so well, I know exactly who Zack Grantham is.
He’s an amazing player and, truth be told, if I could afford a jersey, I’d probably get one with his name on it. Or maybe Alex Crossman’s. Or even Garrett Samuelson’s. About four months ago, Zack was in a terrible car accident that killed Ben’s mom, Gina, and caused him to be kept out of the first half of the season with a fractured wrist. That has apparently healed enough that he’s ready to return to the team, and thus the need for a nanny for Ben.
I was utterly stunned when I got a call from his sister, Delaney, for an interview. I had posted my résumé and qualifications on a website for nanny services, knowing it would be a long shot because most of my experience came from helping my sister, Kelly, with her three kids, and other various babysitting jobs. But at this point, I needed work, so I was applying to every place I could think of.
“Now you seem to have nothing to say,” Zack growls, and my body jerks over the derision in his voice.
“Sorry,” I mutter. “Um…Delaney said you needed a live-in nanny for Ben. That the position would be full-time until he started school in the fall, and then part-time after that. She said I’d be responsible for his care when you weren’t here and that I’d have to do basic household chores and stuff.”
Zack nods at me, unfurls his arms from across his chest, and rubs his chin thoughtfully. “Delaney thinks you’re right for this job. I’m going to have to trust her on that.”
“I am,” I tell him earnestly. “I’ll take very good care of Ben.”
“You’d better,” he growls at me so menacingly, I take an involuntary step backward. “If you harm one hair on my child’s head, I will make you regret it. Do you understand?”
The scared country girl inside me wants to curl into the fetal position and just shrink away from the threat in his voice. But I’m not that young girl anymore. I’ve pulled myself out of crappy circumstances and made a new life for myself. I’ve worked hard over the years to build up my self-esteem, and I’m not about to let this man tear it down.
Squaring my shoulders at him, I give him a stern look. “I appreciate your protectiveness of Ben, and I’d feel the same way about my own child. I can assure you, you have nothing to worry about. But I have to insist that you treat me with some type of respect for the position I hold. At the very least, you don’t want to teach your son it’s okay to threaten and intimidate women, do you?”
Zack stares at me, his amber-colored eyes turning almost a dark brown. He blinks a few times and shakes his head. “Are you always this blunt?”
“I’m always this honest,” I clarify for him.
I was really looking forward to reading Zack after finishing Garrett (reviewed here), though as always, I am a little leery of how a hero or heroine with a dead partner will be portrayed. Fortunately, Ms. Bennett did a great job here. Even when he completely frustrated me, she gave us reasons for it that (just, at times!) kept him a sympathetic character and his turnaround in the end was believable. Zack was able to find a new love without vilifying the old one, and even though it did end up being a case of his second relationship surpassing the first one, it was done with class and in a way that didn’t diminish what he had with Gina.
And oh, the guilt he carried, combined with his grief–kept me turning the pages, dying for him to get to an HEA even when I wanted to smack him upside the head for being so stubborn and obtuse!
There were a few aspects that gave me pause–the book starts only four months after Gina’s death, for one, which seems awfully soon–though generally speaking men do tend to move on more quickly than women, and Ms. Bennett did an excellent job of showing Zack’s mental and emotional state and how it developed and changed throughout. In the beginning, he just wanted to feel something again, which I totally get–the state of non-emotion you can get stuck in after a catastrophic tragedy is horrible–and she did an excellent job of showing his progression back to the world of the living…and finally loving again.
Kate was a fantastic character–I loved her goofy, dorky quirkiness, and how she told things exactly as she saw them. She was a bit on the young side, but her life hadn’t been an easy one so far and it gave her a maturity beyond her years. She ended up being exactly what Zack and Ben needed–though it took Zack a heck of a lot longer than his son to figure that out.
(Which, again, is totally in keeping with what he was going through. But the whole time he was sleeping with Kate yet putting up walls between them? Frustrating. I appreciate his reasons, but it was still frustrating, because darn it, she deserved better. And more.)
Through it all, Zack’s most redeeming quality was what a great father he was. Even when he was in the initial emotional fog of intense grief, he pulled himself together for Ben, and he always, always put that little boy first.
Overall, I ended up really enjoying this one and even the things that bothered me were done in a way that had me buying into their validity. Book four ( Ryker ) is nicely set up toward the end, and I’ll definitely be picking that one up when it’s released. (He’s a goalie! Squeee!)
Zack should work okay as a standalone, though if you’ve read the others in the series (especially Garrett ) you’ll have a better appreciation for Zack’s background and more sympathy for what he’s going through here. So, heck–just pick up all three series books. They star hockey players. ‘Nuff said. 😉
Rating: 4 stars / A-
I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.
USA Today and New York Times Best-Selling Author, Sawyer Bennett is a snarky southern woman and reformed trial lawyer who decided to finally start putting on paper all of the stories that were floating in her head. Her husband works for a Fortune 100 company which lets him fly all over the world while she stays at home with their daughter and three big, furry dogs who hog the bed. Sawyer would like to report she doesn’t have many weaknesses but can be bribed with a nominal amount of milk chocolate.
Sawyer is the author of several contemporary romances including the popular Off Series, the Legal Affairs Series and the Last Call Series. She will be releasing her third book in the Cold Fury Hockey Series with Random House Loveswept, June 2015.