Panther's Cage

Kali Gagnon

After her father’s death, Kate returns to New York to take over his NHL team. When she goes out for a night partying, Kate winds up kissing a handsome stranger.

Days later, she learns who the stranger is: someone completely off-limits if she’s to keep everything she’s worked so hard for. But you can’t control fate, and she and the man can’t seem to stay away from each other...

Age Rating: 18+

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Panther's Cage

Kali Gagnon

After her father’s death, Kate returns to New York to take over his NHL team. When she goes out for a night partying, Kate winds up kissing a handsome stranger.

Days later, she learns who the stranger is: someone completely off-limits if she’s to keep everything she’s worked so hard for. But you can’t control fate, and she and the man can’t seem to stay away from each other...

Age Rating: 18+

1: Chapter 1

“What’s wrong?” I asked, finally biting my sister’s bait.

Seven hours on the plane from Paris to New York, and she audibly sighed the entire flight. Now, weaving through the masses of people inside JFK, I awaited her response.

She picked an invisible spec of dirt off her white sweater, then looked at me like I was the devil herself. “I don’t know why we had to be on a public plane since we have Dads jet.”

I glanced around to the nearby people, praying no one heard her ridiculous cries. “You do realize we flew first class, right?”

Nicolette turned away from me, and whispered, “It’s not the same, Kate.”

I shook her complaints off and pushed forward.

The moment my uncle called to tell me our dad had passed suddenly from a heart attack; I did what I needed to do.

Running the foreign sector of my dad’s company in Paris was no easy task, but I took care of business, then booked our flight.

I wasn’t aware Nicolette would be so offended with my decision to not charter Martin Financials jet.

“Why did you give that little girl on the plane your number?” she asked, without turning to look at me.

“Her dad paid her zero attention,” I said. “It reminded me of me and Mom, so I felt bad for her.

“They live right in the city, so I made myself available if she needed anything…” I stopped talking seeing her eyes glaze over with boredom.

On cue, Nicolette sighed again, but this time she glared as a group of young twenty-something guys looked us up and down.

“Ugh. You are so embarrassing.”

I stopped moving abruptly. “How am I embarrassing?”

Nicolette shook her head and continued several paces ahead of me. “Those guys were like my age, not yours. Maybe if you dressed more suitable for your age…”

She hated my existence, but it was a learned behavior from our mother so I tried not to take it to heart.

I glanced down at my outfit, jeans and a white long-sleeved shirt.

“I didn’t realize this was inappropriate for my old age of twenty-seven,” I quipped back, before we grabbed our bags and stepped into the frigid November air.

The wind blew our matching brown hair around like a tornado. Both of our blue eyes held an icy gaze- for different reasons. She was stuck with me, and I was heartbroken with the loss of our dad.

A familiar figure stood against a black SUV. The spitting image of my father- blue eyes, blonde hair, lanky and tall. I ran into him and hugged him tight. “Uncle John!”

“I missed my two girls,” he replied, before grabbing our bags and hauling them into the back of the Suburban.

Nicolette shrugged her arms around him, giving an awkward tap on the shoulder. Her headphones remained in her ears as she climbed into the backseat.

“How’s my little CEO?” he asked, pulling out into traffic.

“Exhausted,” I answered honestly. “I’m hoping you’ll help me sort through everything. I don’t want to do this on my own.”

Uncle John nodded, keeping his eyes steady on the road ahead. “You’ll never be alone as long as you have me.”

I was grateful for him, and there was much truth to his declaration. He’d never let me deal with the mess my life had become on my own. Unlike my mother, who was praying I’d crash and burn.

“I know you just got in, Kate, but we need to meet with Richard’s lawyer to read the will and sign paperwork for what you guys are left with.”

I nodded, though not wanting to hear my dad’s belongings split between his loved ones. “Trust me, I’d rather get it over with now then never think about it again.”

Nicolette and I faced off in the kitchen of my dad’s penthouse. I swear steam floated from her forehead. Her posture stiffened, readying for a fight.

“I can’t believe you took everything!” she shouted at me.

I opened the refrigerator and grabbed the first thing I could find containing alcohol. Budweiser- ewe, but it’d have to do. My dad really was all-American.

“I took nothing, Nic. He left me the business.”

She followed suit, grabbing a beer from the fridge. At only nineteen, I should have stopped her from drinking, but I was picking my battles at the moment.

“But why you?”

Her hand tightened around the bottle. I prepared myself to have it heaved at my head.

“Because I’m the one who’s worked my ass of to be part of this company,” I said, my anger rising with my words. “First, I’m eight years older than you. Second, I graduated with an MBA from Columbia.

“Third, I dropped my life here and moved to Paris to run the foreign sector of his company. I’ve worked for this, Nicolette.”

She finished the first beer, then grabbed another. A steel look still ever present in her pretty eyes.

“This is all your fault,” she complained.

It was my turn to sigh now. Nicolette was exhausting. “You heard the will. As soon as you discover what you want to do for a career, I can give you access to your trust fund.

“Which is a crazy amount of money, so don’t act like you got nothing. Okay?”

She turned away, stalked into her childhood bedroom and slammed the door behind her. A picture fell to the ground, shattering glass across the floor.

I swept it up, then held the old picture in my hand. Dad looked young and carefree, hair blonde as the sun. It was really gray, though, he’d been having it dyed for years.

The beer would not cut it anymore, so I searched for something stronger. A crystal glass, filled with Dad’s expensive scotch sat atop the bar.

I filled the liquor to the brim of the tumbler; sinking to the floor, I was careful not to spill even a drop. I leaned my head against the stainless steel stove behind me and took my first sip.

My dad had a love for scotch, like most of the older generation. I hated it, only drinking it now because I couldn’t find anything better.

I gulped the scotch down, ran my fingers through my hair, and searched for my phone. An incoming text popped up from my best friend, whom I haven’t seen in two years.

PiperI can’t believe I’ll see you in only ten minutes. Also, I’m coming to the game with you tonight. Xoxo

I poured another glass of scotch, gagging as it burned my throat.

The game tonight... I couldn’t wait. I missed the game itself and the time spent there with my dad. In France, even sitting in my corner office, I live-streamed the New York Blades games.

I pretended I was there with him, back when my life was filled with simplicity.

I’d met some of the hockey team’s veteran players when I was younger, but none of the new guys. And now that I took over my father’s ownership of the team, I hoped I’d be respected by the players.

I made my way through the pristinely kept penthouse. Photos of Nicolette and I ran along the walls, and even some of my mother.

I assumed our father enjoyed remembering the way she used to be before she had children.

A framed picture centered the long hallway wall that led to my old bedroom. The frame was tattered and worn; it was a picture taken many years ago.

My dad had his arms wrapped around my shoulder, my grin wide as it’d ever been, holding a hockey stick. We stood center ice at Madison Square Garden.

Julian, the Blades head coach, also Dad’s best friend, stood with us. I pressed my finger to my lips, passing a kiss along to the photo.

I pulled the barn-style door to my bedroom open and instead of looking around, I fell face down on my bed and screamed into the silky red and black comforter.

Rolling on my back, I watched the chandelier hanging above my bed. My dad had it custom made for me when I was thirteen.

Snippets of gold mixed with the crystals had a voice of elegance that even a teenager could appreciate.

I miss you, Dad. I only hope I can make you proud. I whispered, praying he could hear me from above. On cue, the crystals of the chandelier bounced paths of light across my snow-white walls.

“Well if it isn’t my boring corporate best friend.”

I whipped around to see Piper’s beautiful face, standing only a few feet away from me. A flask of God-knows-what was held up to her lips. I ran to her.

“I missed you, my slutty drunken best friend.”

We stayed in a tight embrace for minutes. Piper was the one person who I needed in my life, and I’d never been happier to be home than I was now.

I’d need her help if I was to survive filling my dad’s shoes.

“So you’re coming to the game?” I asked her, eyebrows raised. “I thought you hated sports.”

“I do,” she replied. “But I love you more. Now drink up.” She handed me the flask, and I immediately tasted the bite of tequila.

Piper laughed at my reaction, then chugged some herself. A fog passed over her brown eyes, telling me she’d been drinking for a while now. Piper was a partier, always had been.

She squeezed me one more time. “Sorry about Richard, babe,” she said. “My heart is broken for you.” I offered a small smile of thanks. “How bad was the will reading?”

“It was brutal, Pipe. Like really brutal.”

“Sorry. Let me guess, Nicolette’s being a bitch?”

“You have no idea, but I’ll tell you about it later. We only have twenty minutes until we have to meet my uncle’s,” I said, sorry to cut our alone time so short, but she understood.

Piper dug through my purple suitcase. She found the black pair of skinny jeans that I wore practically every day in college and threw them to me.

Then tossed over a loose white tank-top and a nude jacket to pull over it. My best friend helped me with my makeup, knowing I usually went for a more natural look with soft colors.

She forced me to do vibrant red lips and dark eye makeup to make my ocean blue eyes pop. I rummaged through a small box of jewelry and picked two large diamond studs to place in my ears.

I checked myself out in front of the full-length mirror and saw the old me, the fun me.

“You look hot as shit,” Piper said, bringing me back to the present.

I raised a brow. “Is shit hot?”

“It is if I say it is.”

She stood beside me at the mirror, dropping nude stilettos at my feet. We agreed we looked good enough to leave. I stopped in the kitchen to pen a note to my sister.

Out for the night. Call if you need anything. I love you, Nicolette.

Thirty minutes later, we stepped out of the cab, staring up at the towering Madison Square Garden. The people of New York City never failed to amaze me.

In a two-minute span, four people bumped into my shoulder almost knocking me over. All failed to apologize or even acknowledge their lack of courtesy.

Paris was eerily similar, but at least New York was my home.

My two uncle’s, Fred and John, met us at the front and ushered us inside the building and out of the cold. It was odd standing beside two men that looked identical to my dad.

When they were kids, people always questioned if they were triplets. They weren’t, just three brothers that looked too much alike for their own good.

We were then escorted to the owner’s suite inside the arena. Hockey games never failed to make butterflies flap within my stomach.

There was still time before the game began, but my excitement caused me to have a shaky leg. A bottle of expensive champagne chilled in an ice bucket with glasses hanging around the brim.

“It’s good to have you home, kid,” John said, patting me on the back. “And of course, it’s wonderful to see you, Piper. Let’s celebrate.”

“What exactly are we celebrating?” I asked.

John’s eyes lit up. “The wonderful life your father lived, his love for you, and the fact that you now own the majority of your father’s precious hockey team.”

To that I smiled. Our glasses filled, and we tapped them together in the center of our circle. “Salute.” And we drank. Piper and I more than my uncles.

The notorious song for the team boomed through the speakers and the guys skated onto the ice. The lights dimmed except a spotlight lighting up the NYB at center ice.

The voice through the speakers announced a moment of silence in memory of my father. The entire arena silenced, men taking their hats off, all bowing their heads.

It was quite moving to witness the respect everyone held for Richard Martin.

I spotted the numbers of the veteran players and couldn’t wait to see them. Hans and Jaromir. I hadn’t seen either since before I began at Columbia.

“Are all hockey players smoking hot?” Piper asked, watching the large screen above the ice show the faces of a few players.

“Pretty much.”

“Lucky.” She tucked a long lock of brown hair behind her ear. “I can’t believe you own a fucking hockey team.”

We had one of the few teams left that was owned and run by family. My two uncles and I owned the team, and the Blades’ general manager was my cousin, Kevin.

We never got along, and I could promise that I’d have no problem firing him if he did things that wouldn’t make my father proud.

Two hours later, the game ended with a score of 6-2. I stood to cheer with my co-owners and we all laughed our way out of the suite.

“They’ve done it again.”

“I missed these games. Actually being here for them,” I told them wistfully.

Piper and I both held grins spread ear-to-ear as we were walked down to the locker room to meet the players. Just outside, Fred caught up with head coach Julian.

He pulled him aside to make introductions.

“No,” Julian said. “This can’t be my little Kitty-Kate.”

“It’s me in the flesh.”

His hair was now completely gray and lines marred his cute old face. Julian played hockey with my dad back in college, and they’d worked side-by-side ever since. Julian was also my God-father.

He pulled me in for a hug and I squeezed him back.

A minute later, he excused himself, telling us to wait for the reporters to leave. We talked amongst ourselves in the corridor until others began clearing out.

A few stopped my uncles for a word, luckily they had no idea who I was yet.

Piper and I inched closer to the door, hearing Julian scold one of the players for a dirty hit on the ice.

The sounds of lockers banging open, and bags zipping and unzipping implied the players were heading for the showers. Bummer. I leaned against the wall closest to the door.

“You see those hot chicks in the owner’s box?” A male voice spoke from inside. I gasped, looking at Piper’s eyes turn to a sultry gaze. We edged closer to the door to hear more.

“Yeah,” a different voice said. “I wonder which one they fucked to sit up there.”

I nearly choked. Okay, Kate. This is it. Be a tough businesswoman.

One chance. Was I going to demand respect and make them realize I owned the hockey team they played for, or was I going to sit back and pretend like I didn’t hear anything.

I was aiming for the latter when I made a sudden decision and shoved the door open with my palm.

Piper began laughing loudly. Four men were within sight, and two weren’t dressed. I tried to ignore that. Tried being the key word. They didn’t bother covering up, confident enough not to.

I turned away, glaring at the two men closest to the door- the ones with clothes on, thank God.

“That would actually be incestuous,” I said, holding their attention. “I did not fuck anyone to be sitting in that owner’s box, as you so eloquently pointed out.” I stuck a hand out in front of me.

“I’m Kate Martin. New owner of the New York Blades.”

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