Sansa heard her phone chime, again, for what she guessed was the tenth time. She'd been on the road, driving back home, driving back to Winterfell. And for three days, she'd had to deal with her boyfriend Harry and his relentless complaining about her choice.
She reached over and flicked the alerts to silent, not needing any more Harry drama. She had enough real-life problems that deal with. Harry was not another one she wanted to add to her already growing pile.
Sansa had always known that Harry was shallow and vain. He was a male model, for god sakes. Sansa had known precisely what he was. Still, his selfishness had hit a new low.
They'd met when they'd been in University, her working on her double master's degrees in marketing and communication. While a year older than her, Harry was still toiling away at an undergraduate degree in recreation management. Sansa didn't even know what that meant. Or what type of job he hoped to get from that.
Harry was pretty and comfortable on the eyes and hadn't taken much effort when so much of Sansa's life had been consumed with her career, her schooling and building her brand.
From early on, Sansa had always known she wanted to have some type of career in fashion or beauty. For the longest time, she'd thought she might become a fashion designer, but she realized that while she loved making her own clothes, the pressure of doing it for others did not appeal to her. What she loved was fashion and make-up and helping her friends feel good about themselves.
Of course, she'd grown up in the North, with a Dad that was a pro hockey player and all her siblings played the game. Culture, fashion and make up hadn’t exactly been big in the Stark household, except when it came to Sansa’s mom. She’d put her foot down when Ned wanted Sansa to play hockey as well, instead buying Sansa a pair of white figure skates.
“God Ned, at least let me have one child,” her mother had exclaimed.
After that, Sansa had figure skated for years, loving the pomp and glitter and discipline that came with it. She and her Mom spent hours making her costumes, tirelessly sewing on sequins to the bodices of her outfits, giggling over how pretty they were.
Often it was her Mom that took her to her competitions and sat and watched her at the rink while she practiced. Everyone else was busy playing hockey. Sansa didn't mind. She and her Mom were super close, and it was her Mother that had exposed Sansa to ballet and opera and classical music. She and her Mom had spent hours watching classic films, her Mother waxing on about the beauty of a bygone era. Sansa loved to cuddle up with her Mom on a snowy Sunday afternoon at Winterfell and lose herself in a world of beautiful people from the past.
It was her Mother that had encouraged Sansa to go to University in the Riverlands. There Sansa had stayed with her grandparents, Minisa and Hoster Tully. And had indeed found her passion.
If Sansa's Mother loved fashion and beauty, she didn't even hold a candle to Minisa Tully. The woman was a queen. Every single day Sansa's grandmother did her hair and make-up and dressed to impress. Sansa was in awe of her, and they spent countless hours in front of Minisa's impressive lighted mirrors in a room she had dedicated solely to her wardrobe, hair and make-up.
When Sansa introduced her grandmother to the many young women who had started doing their own make-up and hair tutorials on YouTube, an idea was born.
"You should do that," Minisa had said after they'd whiled away an entire afternoon watching video after video.
Sansa waved a hand. "No, I'm not good. Not like them."
Minisa snorted elegantly. "You're better. And prettier."
"You think so?" Sansa asked.
She had never even considered having her own channel. She'd pondered it all weekend, in between homework and dates with Harry.
When she asked him, he only seemed interested in what it might do for him. He'd confessed that he was only at University at his Uncle Petyr's insistence and that what he really wanted to do was become a male model.
In between classes, assignments and more homework, Sansa scoured the internet on how to start her own YouTube channel. It was incredibly straight forward and easy, especially with someone with Sansa's intellect.
She discovered that it was essential to cultivate her image, be authentic and focus on quantity.
Sansa experimented first, making Harry take numerous videos of her. When he complained, Sansa had her grandmother step in and help out. Minisa took to the technology like a duck to water, helping Sansa with endless trials and errors until they perfected her technique.
When Sansa posted her first video, an update on the classic smoky eye, it was a hit, and she quickly followed that up with a tutorial for an everyday make-up look that worked well for school or work.
Sansa gained momentum quickly and opened herself up to her audience, linking her YouTube channel to her Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr account so that she was available everywhere to those that followed.
Sansa loved what she did, in between intensive study sessions as she worked at her double masters’ degrees.
To her surprise, her success helped launch Harry's career, so when she graduated, and he suggested they move to King's Landing as the modelling opportunities were greater there, Sansa readily agreed.
By that time, she had almost a million followers, and she had started to attract sponsors and make some serious money. Using her degrees in marketing and communication, she built a support team for herself, employing her friend Podrick Payne to help her manage all her social media accounts.
Leaving her grandmother was the hardest thing Sansa had ever done, short of leaving her Mom in Winterfell. Before she left, Minisa and her went for lunch, and her grandmother slid an envelope across the table, tapping an elegantly manicured nail against it.
"What's this?" Sansa asked, a bit bewildered. She was making more than enough money to support herself. And Harry.
"This is an investment in your future, my dear," Minisa said.
"An investment in what?"
"It's time to up your game, as they say," Minisa responded, her perfectly plucked eyebrows rising in a silent challenge to Sansa.
"Up to my game?"
Minisa nodded. "Yes. I believe it is time you develop your own brand of make-up, dear. It will set you apart and skyrocket your following. And, you will control your products and be able to market yourself and sell them. It's a win-win."
Sansa's mind was racing.
Could she really do it? Create her own make-up brand?
The possibilities made her excited and she threw her arms around her grandmother.
"I'm going to miss you so much," Sansa said, weeping softly.
"And I will miss you, my dear child," Minisa said.
That had been just over a year ago, and now, at twenty-four, Sansa had over four million followers and her own line of make-up. Next spring, she was planning on launching her first perfume, and her Chief Operating Officer, Yohn Royce, was projecting sales in the neighbourhood of two million dollars from her make-up alone.
With the sponsorship that Sansa now had from her YouTube channel, she was a very wealthy woman all in her own right, having earned just under four million dollars last year, with that expected to double this year.
Thankfully, even though she and Harry lived together, her father had made them both sign papers that ensured all of Sansa’s earnings were hers alone.
All of this had happened so fast, and Sansa loved her life. She had a fulfilling career, fanatical success and a great family.
The only blight was her boyfriend.
Things with Harry weren't exactly perfect. He was as vain and shallow as ever, and even though they lived together in King's Landing, the moment Sansa had decided to come home to Winterfell, he'd been acting like a petulant child. He complained that with her moving back to Winterfell, and him refusing to go along, their shared Instagram feed would suffer. Sansa knew she was the draw; Harry barely had twenty-five thousand followers and her account had well over a million.
Sansa knew Harry was lazy, both as a boyfriend and as a model. He hardly booked any work, and instead seemed to sponge off her. Whenever her brother and father came south with their hockey team, Harry made sure he was 'out of town.'
Robb had taken one look at him and asked Sansa what in the hell she was doing with a loser like him.
It was a question that Sansa couldn't answer. She knew she should break up with Harry; she just honestly didn't have the time or energy to deal with the fallout, which would include finding a new place to live — or somehow kicking him out. It just seemed easier to ignore how bad their relationship was, focusing on her skyrocketing career and new make-up line MiSa.
Recently Sansa had added a full thirty-thousand viewers after she'd dyed her signature red locks blonde. Harry had just about had a conniption fit, but her followers had loved it and Sansa was slowly getting used to it. She knew she had to stay fresh and relevant, and this was one of her biggest uptakes since she'd first started.
Her world was just about perfect, except for the crappy boyfriend part.
And then her father had called six weeks ago and her entire world had fallen apart.
Her Mother had discovered a lump in her breast.
Such an innocuous-sounding word, which had such a huge impact on the entire Stark family.
Sansa still remembered her father saying it was small, and they had found it early and that her Mother would start treatment immediately. That had been at the end of July when her father and brothers had been around to help.
"It's just when hockey season starts; I'm not sure how much time I'll have. I tried to resign from my position as coach of the team, but you know your Mother," Ned said, his voice tight with emotion and love.
Gods, Sansa thought, her father loved her mother so much.
Sansa couldn’t imagine what might happen to her family should the worst thing happen with her mother and the lump.
"Dad, you don't have to say anything. I'll come home."
There was silence, and all Sansa could hear was her Dad's sniffling. "Sansa, lovebug, I can't ask that of you."
"You're not. I'm offering it. Dad, this is Mom. It's not even a question. I can do my job from anywhere, and even my make-up brand can be run by Yohn down in King's Landing for the most part."
"And your boyfriend? He would be ok with this?"
Sansa shook her head. She had a feeling what Harry's feelings would be on her coming home and she couldn’t care less. This was her mother. Nothing mattered more than her.
"It doesn't matter, Dad. I'm coming, when does the season start?" Sansa asked.
"Beginning of September, bug," Ned told her.
"I'll be there, Dad."
"Thanks, baby. I know your Mother will be so relieved."
That was that. There was no question of staying away.
Sansa worked her butt off over the next four weeks to get things ready to go home.
Harry, as predicted, had whined the entire time, becoming more and more of an ass. By the end of the month, Sansa had happily driven away from him, wondering what on earth she was doing with him. She couldn't believe she was with a man that would question why she would go home to be with her Mother who had breast cancer. She knew she needed to break up with him, she just needed to find the time.
And now, she was just moments away from her parents sprawling Winterfell estate. Her heart warmed at the sight, the mansion built on the shores of a massive lake. Her father had said she could have one of the secondary buildings, a home that was bigger than most houses in a typical suburban neighbourhood.
While Sansa might have been slightly worried about her relationship, it was her Mother's heath that had her crying herself to sleep most nights. She loved her Mother and Catelyn had been her biggest supporter for her entire life. Sansa just hoped and prayed that they could get it all and that her Mother would live a long, healthy life.
Her Dad had texted her the Wolves schedule. The combine had started last week, with full contact practices this week. That meant they were only three weeks away from their first pre-season games, and then her father, two brothers and sister would all be so busy, in and out of town and consumed with the Wolves that her mother would have been alone more often than not.
Sansa had gotten here just in time, and she looked forward to spending time with her Mom and taking care of her, as today was the first real practice.
Sansa shook herself from her melancholy thoughts. The last thing that Sansa needed her Mother to put up with was her fears. Parking her car, Sansa took a moment to compose herself and then grabbed her purse and phone and walked into Winterfell Manor, determined to do whatever necessary to make sure Catelyn Stark kicked cancer's ass.
Sandor Clegane groaned as the trainer for the Wintertown Wolves handed him an icepack.
It was the first full-contact practice with his new team in the North, and he was feeling every hit and check that had come his way.
"Contact practices are fucking hell, huh old boy," his best friend Bronn said, groaning as he took the seat next to him.
He and Bronn had been traded in the offseason, from the Lannisport Lions, the championship team last season to this one in the North.
Sandor knew that the owner of the Lions had balked at the impressive ten million dollars per year salary that Sandor commanded as the best defenseman in the league. He had been set to become the highest-paid player in the league.
Instead of paying him, Sandor had been traded for prospects.
Tywin Lannister was betting that at thirty-one, Sandor's best days were behind him, which Sandor knew, were decidedly not.
Since he'd just been named the most valuable player in the playoff championships, Sandor had thought that he'd been safe with the Lions.
The call from his agent had been a rude awakening for a man that had been drafted and played his entire career for the Lions. He hadn't ever lived anywhere but the Westerlands, and though he'd never admit it to anyone, he had been nervous about coming North.
So much for fucking loyalty, Sandor had thought bitterly.
Still, that was the life of a pro athlete, and apparently Ned Stark had wanted him. Stark had wanted him enough to pay his insane salary and set him up with an incredible penthouse apartment in downtown Wintertown where the Wolves played.
The only saving grace about being traded, as far as Sandor could tell, was that his best friend had been traded along with him. And that the Wolves, who played in a different division than the Lions, had a real shot at being champions this year.
Sandor had been assessing the team since they'd been put through the combine and physical tests last week.
Of course, Sandor had passed them all with flying colours. His entire life was hockey, and he didn't mean to lose a single step, despite being one of the oldest members of the team.
Taking the ice pack gratefully from the small, angry-looking woman, Sandor moaned again as he leaned back and surveyed the dressing room.
The coach wasn't a total cunt, so that was something, Sandor thought, looking at Ned Stark.
The man had been an all-star defenseman back in the day when he'd played, and he'd made the transition to coaching when he'd retired seven years ago; the last five as the head coach here in Wintertown. Last year he’d been named the team’s General Manager as well.
As far as Sandor could tell, the man was fair. To a fault.
Sandor knew his position was safe. He was the best in the entire league at defence.
That wasn't him bragging, just the truth. At 6'6 and a solid 250lbs, no one in the league matched him physically, and he could skate circles around most of the rookies out there. His hits were punishing, and he was almost like a second goalie. Any forward flying into their end lost a step or two when faced with Sandor Clegane on the blue line. He was a force on the power play with his booming shot, and he logged more minutes than anyone on the team.
Speaking of rookies, they had a good one. Sandor let his smoke grey eyes settle on their top prospect.
Rickon Stark had just turned 18 and was Ned's youngest son. And man, the kid, could fly out there.
"Fucking magic with the puck," Bronn muttered, following Sandor's gaze to Ric.
A thirty Bronn, like him, was considered a veteran.
Bronn was a grinder; he'd get into the corners and dig the puck out, passing it to the more skilled players and then bashing and banging his way down the ice to free up space for his teammates. He was a total asshole and one of Sandor's only friends.
"Kid's good," Sandor grunted, sucking back on the electrolyte drink in his hand.
Sandor treated his body like a temple, and this summer, he'd gain even more muscle if that were possible. He knew he’d never been in as good of shape as he was right now. He'd been pissed he'd been traded and had vowed to show that fucker Tywin Lannister that he'd made a mistake.
He sneered as those that were coming into the dressing room and everyone there gave him a wide birth.
It could have been the sleeves of tattoos covering his arms, chest and back. He had enough ink to write a novel, and each one had meaning to him. It was a way of taking back some control over what he looked like. He marked his body with his choices now.
It could have been his massive frame and the snarl on his face that had people staying away from him — even other asshole hockey players.
It could have been his incredibly fearsome reputation. Even in practice, he was someone that no one wanted to go up against, and he knew that more than a few of them were limping and sore because of him. He loved it.
But it was most likely due to the enormous scar that marred half his handsome face. He kept his black hair short, knowing that nothing could cover that horrible molted scarring. He'd had reconstructive surgery years ago to fix part of his ear, and through a series of skin grafts the scarring was less horrible than it had been when he was a teenager. But no amount of cosmetic surgery could fix the fact that half his face was fucked up. Even with the surgery, there was an unnatural smoothness to the skin that had him growing a beard to try to camouflage it as much as possible.
The worst part was, the surgeon had done wonders but all Sandor could see was what it had looked like before. It fucked with his head. A lot.
He was sure that it'd take half the season for half these fuckers to even talk with him, and he didn't give a shit. He was here to win another championship, not be best friends with them.
"What the fuck do you think their deal is?" Bronn said, pointing to a group of players that had Sandor wanting to roll his eyes.
Three of them, Robb Stark, Jon Snow and Theon Greyjoy made up the top line on the team. They were thick as thieves as far Sandor could tell and had spent half the practice today laughing and joking around.
"Pretty boys," Sandor growled and stripped off his undershirt, dropping it in a pile for laundry to take care of.
Sandor knew that Robb was the coach' s other son. Robb was decent enough, but Sandor already knew that Rickon would be better than his older brother. He wondered how that would sit with the eldest Stark. In Sandor’s world, older brothers were to be avoided at all possible costs.
"But can they fucking score?" Bronn said, scratching his scruffy beard. Sandor just looked at him, wondering if his friend meant on or off the ice.
For some reason, and Sandor still couldn't figure it out, his friend had to practically beat the women off him. Everywhere they went, Bronn attracted the ladies, and Sandor was sure that up here, in the North, it would be no different.
Lost in his thoughts, Sandor missed when the goalie came in until suddenly a large hand clamped down on his shoulder.
"I like you, dog," Tormund Giantsbane said, all-star tender for the Wolves said. Sandor’s nickname in the league was The Hound, but apparently this idiot didn’t even know that.
Then, without even asking, the man sat down on the other side of Sandor in full gear.
"What the fuck do you think you’re doing?" Sandor asked the man.
"Being your friend, dog. You're going to make us better," Tormund said, waving a finger in Sandor's face.
Sandor batted it away. "Course I'll make you fucking better. I'm the best fucking d-man in the league."
"Does that mean douchebag?" someone said, and Sandor shot to his feet, eyes scanning the room. He moved fast, quicker than anyone thought possible.
Bronn just shook his head and muttered, "Stupid fucker," while Tormund started clapping and whistling, egging Sandor on. Tormund leaned closer to Bronn and pointed to the man that Sandor had by the neck. “He’s a fucker.” Bronn snorted. He liked their goalie already.
Sandor grabbed the man who'd commented, holding him by the neck and pinning him to the wall. "What the fuck did you say to me?" he snarled.
The dark-haired man sneered back. "Douchebag."
Sandor's meaty fist reared back, and he was just about to unleash his fury on him when Ned's voice cut through his rage.
"Clegane. Ramsay. Outside. NOW!" Coach Stark bellowed.
Sandor dropped Ramsay, but not before leaning in. "Don't ever call me that again, or I'll fucking hurt you so bad you'll be pissing out of a fucking bag the rest of your pathetic life."
Ramsay's eyes flared wide for a moment in fear, before both men followed the coach outside, resigned to getting their asses reamed out on the first day of real practice.
It was going to be a long season, was all Sandor could think if this was the type of teammate they expected him to put up with.
"Ramsay, what the fuck was that?" Ned Stark barked at the young man with the sneer on his face.
"He's a douchebag coach."
Ned shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Bolton. I told you at the start of the season, you have three strikes. That's number one."
"And him? He practically choked me to death."
Ned shook his head. "Hit the showers, Bolton."
When it was just Ned and Sandor, the big man had the wherewithal to look slightly chagrined.
"Clegane, you're the best D man in the league. There's no question. On the ice, you're money, every night. I know I can count on you. Hell, you know what we paid for you, how badly we wanted you."
"But, the game isn't just on the ice. We have a chance this year, Clegane. A real chance and you know it as much as I do. I need you to be a leader for this team. It’s what we’ve been missing.”
Sandor's eyes widened, and Ned grinned, seeing the man was off balance. Ned let his hand come down on Sandor's shoulder.
"Come by the house this weekend and have dinner with us."
"Ummm, why, Coach?"
Ned's grin got wider. "Because when I name you captain, I want to make sure you're not going to rip someone's fucking head off."
"Coach, I appreciate the offer," Clegane started to say, trying to get out of this.
"Not an offer Clegane. This Saturday night. My house. Be there." Ned started to walk away. "Oh, and bring Bronn."
Sandor just shook his head before he went back into the dressing room to shower and change.
When he emerged, he was dressed in jeans, boots and a leather jacket. He palmed the keys to his bike and grinned when he saw his Harley Softtail waiting for him in the parking lot. After hockey, his bike was his greatest love.
Sandor swung his massive leg on the bike, and gunned the engine, pulling out of the parking lot in a roar.
He wondered, briefly, how his Monday had gone so fucking wrong and then he pushed that thought from his mind, opening up the throttle and roaring out of Wintertown and onto the open road. He'd figure out how to get out of dinner with the coach another time.
For now, he had his bike, a new team and perhaps even a captaincy. He had everything he ever wanted.
It didn't even occur to Sandor to even contemplate a woman. Or love.
Like most hockey players, he had his fair share of puck bunnies, women who would sleep with a hockey player just because of their profession and to brag that they had spent a night with a pro, but those were meaningless, and he rarely indulged these days.
He was thirty-one and had two serious relationships, and those had ended years ago. He'd long ago resigned himself to the fact that he was a man who was meant to be single.
Then the open road called to him, and Sandor thought of nothing else at all, as he ate up the miles on his bike, his world orderly and neat and just how Sandor Clegane, the best defender in the hockey league liked it.
He had no idea that he was about to meet his match, both on and off the ice in the Stark family that all but ruled the North. No, this year would prove to be the most interesting one yet in the life of Sandor Clegane.