Athena Gavras has a bone to pick with hottie hockey player Chadwick Raul Mullens. He shrugs off her prescribed dietary plans with that stupid, sexy smile that makes her knees shaky, has marched his way into two of her cooking projects and refuses to call her by her real name.
Seriously. Has the man taken too many pucks to the head?
He doesn’t even know the difference between kale and iceberg lettuce. Someone please tell her karma is real and on its way to make amends, because otherwise she’s not sure how much longer she’s going to last…
Chad Mullens has a few secrets. And a crush.
And, this Christmas, she’s just declared war. She’s removed him from her client list which means he’ll be benched until one of them calls a truce.
But two can play her game: he just convinced her publisher that he should be on the cover of her upcoming cookbook as well as join her online cooking show. Merry Christmas, *Tina*.
Of course, he could end their battle. He could suck it up, find the words to apologize, and woo the bookish, culinary Athena into forgiveness via his home library and secret rooftop garden.
Or he could kiss her in the corporate office’s elevator and see what happens. Because there’s no way he’s going to show her how real he is under his bad-boy public persona. He’d rather be traded.
Enjoy this enemies to lovers romance as part of the Hockey Sweethearts series or binge read it on its own. A swoonalicious read!
* * * *
ebook price $3.99
Paperback $9.99 and up.
Also available in large print paperback
and audio on Google Play and Kobo.
Enjoy a sneak peek from The Huckleberry Bookshop:
Athena Gavras wobbled momentarily in her heels, then strode through the ballroom, which was beautifully decorated for the gala. She hadn’t gone far when the San Antonio Dragons’ publicity agent grabbed her arm.
“Athena!” Nuvella trilled. “I didn’t realize you were coming tonight.”
“Of course I came. It’s a team event.” The Dragons had recently started a local charity for sick kids, and everyone on staff had been invited to the Christmas fundraiser. Everyone from the hockey team’s dietician—Athena—right on up to the owner, Miranda Fairchild. All rubbing elbows for a good cause. You’d need to have a heart of stone to skip out on tonight. Or a fear of black tie. And Athena had neither.
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about the book you’re working on.” Nuvella arched a perfectly penciled-on eyebrow as she paused, eyeing Athena’s vintage couture gown with a curled lip as though considering it severely out of place. And maybe it was—right along with the woman wearing it. But the plum, off-the-shoulder Raffaella Curiel dress with its ruffled, asymmetrical strap looked amazing on her. She felt like she should be lounging on a piano in a smoky club, singing the blues in a husky, sensual voice.
Nuvella couldn’t see it, apparently. Or else felt vintage lounge gowns weren’t suitable attire at Christmas galas while mingling with millionaire NHL stars.
“Eat Like a Player? Is that a working title for your cookbook? Because I don’t feel it sends an appropriate message. Perhaps I could recommend a few alternate titles?” She reached for her black-and-white-spotted purse, an unfortunate choice given her nickname, Cruella de Vil, was borne out of her uncanny ability to shred many a soul. That and her bleached hair.
“Sorry, can’t chat,” Athena said, edging away. She gestured vaguely toward the bar area, assuming she could find at least one player over there breaking her rule about no alcohol during the season. “I’ve got to talk to the guys.”
As the team’s dietician, she was the bad guy. It was a role with power, supposedly, but more often than not was nothing short of unrewarding, thanks in large part to center Chadwick Mullens, who all but flaunted his rule-breaking dietary choices.
She wanted to smack him—when she didn’t want to kiss that infuriating smirk off his handsome face.
“Remember, we need to keep the Dragons focused on the game, not posing for your cookbook,” Nuvella called after her.
Right. The cookbook project that was spiraling out of control due to all the sports egos she’d invited on board. A project she hadn’t cleared with the team’s head of publicity, Nuvella, who thought it should be all about the Dragons.
“It’s an official National Hockey League cookbook now,” Athena replied, sidestepping around a cluster of elegantly dressed mucky-mucks and sending a parting smile over her shoulder. She jumped, finding the woman still hot on her heels. “I only need one or two Dragons.”
Athena continued past the orchestra, then several beautifully decorated, sky-high Christmas trees. She aimed herself at the wall of broad shoulders lined up at the bar.
“We need to build up their images…” The publicist’s voice faded behind her, blending into the ballroom sounds.
“Who cares about image? We need them to stick to their diets,” Athena muttered, marching toward the players.
Just because their somewhat new expansion team was losing, it didn’t mean they should throw out her careful, individualized dietary plans. And she’d bet that wide span of tuxedo at the near end of the bar belonged to Chadwick Mullens. He was the ringleader, tempting players away from good habits with his charm, jokes and popularity.
People wanted either to be him or be with him.
Athena approached the high bar, gripped its edge and pulled herself onto a wobbly, vacant wooden stool. The bartender nodded at her.
She lifted a finger, catching herself with an intake of breath. No alcohol.
She lowered it and nearly laughed, shaking her head. She could drink. She wasn’t one of the athletes. But she was so used to lecturing them about their health that she often absorbed the advice herself.
She even cooked out of her first cookbook, a copy of which she’d given to every player on the team.
The man beside her lifted a short glass of amber liquid to his lips.
She knew those lips. Almost daily they smirked at her and indiscriminately allowed any food or drink past them, with no regard to what color list they were on. Green for allowed. Red for off-season only. Orange for moderation.
Athena slid off her stool, ready to scold him, but her stool tipped, dumping her onto her strappy black heels. Her ankle gave way and she crashed against him. Reflexively, a strong, muscled arm snaked around her waist, pressing her to his side, preventing her from tumbling to the parquet flooring. Something cold and wet splashed into her French twist and down her cheek, followed by ice cubes.
She looked up at the brick wall holding her and shivered as his drink trickled under the edge of her bodice and between her breasts.
Chad Mullens. Sexy wild child. Team bad boy.
And incapable of remembering her real name.
The edge of a tattoo crept up the left side of his neck, peeking above his collar. Just enough was revealed to make her curious. Were those leaves? An angel? A bird? How far did it stretch down his chest? All the way over his hard pecs?
The peek-a-boo tattoo was certainly intentional. He’d probably sketched it out himself, then asked the artist to ink it, anticipating how women would ask about it, giving him an excuse to rip off his shirt and show them. An opportunity to flex those muscles he worked so hard on in the gym. Lifting weights larger than her head like they were fluffy kittens and not hulking weights she could barely budge.
Yes, she’d tried.
Athena cleared her throat, as well as the vision of Chad in a ragged tee, pumping iron, his almost-black locks damp with sweat, the tattoo still frustratingly hidden.
She really needed to stop finding every conceivable excuse to wander past the arena’s gym. Because the man was an egomaniac who thought he was too good for her and the Dragons. The type her mother should have warned her about. The type she’d fallen for before.
He was bad news in an irresistibly attractive package.
So of course she had a crush on him.
What woman didn’t?
And what was it about a brawny, confident man, anyway?
Not her type at all. They were all experienced, Class A heartbreakers.
Man, they were soooo her type.
Which meant she needed a new type if she planned to have a still-working heart by age forty.
She coaxed her body to extract itself from Chad’s way-too-tempting embrace. Although her steadying left hand seemed unwilling to leave his abs. And her traitorous torso kept cozying closer, her lungs inhaling that amazing aftershave he always wore, which she considered to be his signature scent of seduction.
He was half standing, his solid form pressing against her in the small space between her stool and the bar. His face was level with hers, and with one innocent stumble forward she could lay to rest the fantasy of how it might feel to kiss him.
Find the anger. That shield of righteous indignation.
But his body was so warm against hers. So tempting…
“Chadwick,” she said calmly, reminding herself by simply saying his name that he was her enemy.
“Nobody calls me that,” he replied, his voice almost gruff. His arms dropped and she wobbled momentarily.
“And my name’s not Tina. Does the team doctor need to check your head for brain damage?” She snatched a nearby paper cocktail napkin and dabbed at the side of her face.
His lips twitched at her dig and his gaze swept over her, taking in her gown. The asymmetrical neckline, the vintage skirt. Slinky, sensual. She noted he took a second, quick sweep as though confirming what he’d seen the first time: that the dress made her ample curves scream va-va-voom.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I’m part of the team!”
Why did everyone assume that the dietician wouldn’t, or couldn’t, come to the black-tie fundraiser? Did they think she didn’t exist outside her small office in the bowels of the arena? She had a life beyond the Dragons. A big, busy life! She was constantly creating new recipes in her mother’s kitchen for her cookbooks and the players, and would soon open a bookstore with her sister.
She was plenty busy. They were lucky she could even make it tonight.
She snatched a stack of napkins from the bar and swiped them down the beads of moisture on Chad’s retro tuxedo. Damn, he wore it well. Not many people could get away with wearing something so painfully out of style. And yet instead of laughing at his ruffled, baby blue tuxedo shirt she was almost drooling over his wide chest and daydreaming of pirates and wanton escapades.
“Are you—” his eyes narrowed “—petting me?”
Her attention snapped upward. His charming smirk was aimed directly at her, hitting like a solar flare to the gut.
“No,” she said breathlessly. “I’m saving this relic you call an outfit. Who knows what that drink might do to the fabric.” Let alone your body’s ability to perform in tomorrow night’s game.
She glared at him and dabbed at her wet cheek and collarbone. The liquid smelled fruity. Apple-spiced whiskey, perhaps? Bold choice.
“Are you trying to get me to notice you, Tina?” he asked, leaning a bit too close. His deep, rough growl was like dirty sex, ripping the oxygen from her lungs. “Falling on me… petting me.”
How did he always manage to make every room feel so hot? Chadwick Mullens was the true cause of global warming.
“I’m wearing heels, Chad. I never wear high heels. I mean, I do sometimes. But not very often, because they can be really bad for a person’s feet.” She cleared her throat, telling her nerves to take a hike. His flirting was not personal. He used it as a universal get-out-of-jail-free card, and she was impervious.
You hear that, uterus and other lady bits? Impervious.
“I’m wearing heels tonight, and I forgot when I got off this stupidly tall stool which is incredibly unstable.” She gave the seat an angry flick and, as though to prove her words, it tipped over, knocking into Daisy-Mae Ray, the team captain’s girlfriend.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Athena scurried to retrieve the seat, cringing as Daisy-Mae eyed Chad, then mouthed to her,
“Are you okay?”
She nodded quickly as Chad brushed her side, reaching past her to right the stool with one strong hand. He set it at the bar and gripped Athena’s elbow, ready to help her climb onto her perch again. “Join us?”
She took in the row of men. They’d all turned to see what was happening behind them. Noting they’d gained her attention, they swiveled away, their shoulders angled as though hiding something. She leaned over the bar to peer at the whiskey glasses sitting in front of them.
“Are you all drinking tonight?” Unable to help it, she gasped in outrage. “No wonder you boys can’t grab a win. You’re not following my diet plans at all!”
“Don’t tell Athena,” one of the men down the way muttered. Others chuckled under their breath.
She was a joke. The uptight, no-fun, uncool mother hen.
That hurt more than it should.
Her margarita arrived and she sucked back a mouthful of the lime-green slush, then set the glass down when the sudden cold tightened her temples. If her team didn’t want to win, why should she care? Why was she working harder for their goals than they were? They earned their millions whether they won or lost.
Another drop of Chad’s drink dribbled down her cheek, and Athena licked the side of her mouth. Apple-something for sure. Hard to tell, as it was a bit watered down from the melting ice.
Truly, what did it matter? Chad was boozing it up as if her degree in nutrition and dietetics was a farce.
He offered her a fresh napkin, batting his lashes and, if she didn’t know any better, looking surprisingly chagrinned.
She snatched it and dabbed at her face. “If y’all don’t want to win, then what’s the point of me even trying?”
He shot her that devilish get-out-of-jail-free smile.
She balled up the napkin and tossed it at his chest. “Know what, Chadwick Raul Mullens? Joke’s on you because I quit.”
Copyright 2023 © Jean Oram
End of sneak peek! Keep reading The Huckleberry Bookshop and see how Mullens reacts!
Purchase your copy: