Ryu Mori has had a stellar season as goalie for the Atlanta Venom. So when he’s called into management’s office, he’s expecting to hear he’s the new starting goalie for the team, not that some new guy—an incredibly hot, annoyingly bratty rookie—is here to compete for his spot.
Not everyone gets to play in the best league in the world. Emmitt Armstrong knows that, and he’s not about to waste the opportunity after grinding his way from the bottom to the top. If the Venom are looking for a meek, mild-mannered pushover, they’ve got the wrong guy.
Ryu doesn’t want to admit the other goalie’s smart mouth turns him on. Beating Armstrong at practice feels good, sure, but there are other, more fun ways to shut his rival up.
In this league, it’s winner takes all. But there’s more to life than winning, and if Emmitt and Ryu can get past their egos and competitive natures, they might just discover they work better as partners than they ever imagined possible.
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This book is approximately 68,000 words
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About the Author
Avon Gale was once the mayor on Foursquare of Jazzercise and Lollicup, which should tell you all you need to know about her as a person. She likes road trips, rock concerts, drinking Kentucky bourbon, and yelling at hockey. She's a displaced southerner living in a liberal midwestern college town, and she never gets tired of people and their stories-both the real ones and the ones she makes up in her head.
Piper Vaughn is a queer, nonbinary, Latinx author and longtime romance reader. Since writing their first love story at age eleven, they've known writing in some form was exactly what they wanted to do. A reader to the core, Piper loves nothing more than getting lost in a great book. Piper grew up in a diverse neighborhood in Chicago and loves putting faces and characters of every ethnicity in their stories, making their fictional worlds as colorful as the real one. Above all, Piper believes there's no one way to have an HEA, and every person deserves to see themselves reflected on the page.
Kirt Graves is an audiobook narrator best known for his work in the MM romance genre. His first audiobook (TJ Klune's Wolfsong) was featured as one of Audible's Five-Star Faves in 2016. A tenor by training, Kirt easily moves between characters of any age, genre, gender, or ethnic background. In addition to his work as an audiobook narrator, Kirt is a graphic artist, a podcast host, and an award-winning speech coach.
Read an Excerpt
Emmitt woke up tangled in sheets and a hell of a tequila headache.
He normally would have ignored the sound of his phone ringing, especially in Cabo with international rates being so absurdly high. But the ringtone was the one he'd set for his agent, and that was one call Emmitt wanted to take.
Emmitt grabbed his phone from where it rested on top of his clothes pile and pulled on his boxer-briefs. He walked to the balcony door, slipping quietly outside. The second he left the air-conditioned coolness of the room, the heat hit him in an oppressive, suffocating wave. Jesus, it was hot here. He blinked against the bright sun, moving quickly to the shaded area of the balcony as he pressed the "call accept" button. "Hey, Scott."
"Emmitt. How's Cabo treating you?" Scott's smooth voice came across the line. Emmitt doubted his agent was wincing in the sunlight, fighting off a tequila hangover and sticky from salt-and-lime-encrusted body shots. He was probably in an office somewhere, in the air-conditioning, wearing a tie.
Emmitt grinned and collapsed in the deck lounge chair. Hangover and stickiness aside, he was in a goddamn great mood and, if this call went the way he hoped it would, that mood was only going to get better. "Can't complain. What's up?" He knew his agent hated small talk.
"I have some news."
Emmitt's smile faded a bit, and his stomach churned gently with nerves. He told himself to ignore it, that it was just the remnants of tequila, beer and a long night, but he couldn't help it. His instincts were the one thing he trusted, and they were telling him to beware some incoming bullshit. Scott never said "some news" if it was good.
"Oh, yeah?" Emmitt bent one knee, running a hand over his head. He kept his hair short during the season, but it'd grown out a bit since the Final. He'd shaved the playoff beard the morning after the epic party following their win and didn't miss it for a second.
"This might come as a bit of a shock," Scott said.
Goddamn it. That was the last thing you wanted to hear from your agent. Emmitt wished he'd grabbed a bottle of water from the hotel fridge before coming outside. It was so humid that a light sheen of moisture was beading on his skin. "What is it?"
"You've been traded."
"What the fuck." Emmitt swung his feet over the lounger and braced them on the tile of the balcony. The sharp tang of sea air and the roar of the waves faded into the background as he tried to wrap his brain around what he was hearing. "The Raiders fucking traded me? I won them a goddamn Calder Cup!"
Emmitt wasn't exaggerating either. His team had played well, but he'd led the AHL the previous season in shutouts. His stellar season in net had been the primary factor in the Raiders winning the championship.
"Yes, and you proved yourself a valuable asset. Sometimes teams need to trade their valuable assets."
Scott kept talking, but Emmitt was barely listening. Instead, he braced his elbows on his knees and stared down at the patterned tile. He'd been so sure that after the season he'd had — the shutouts, the Cup win — the Marauders would want him up on their roster full-time. He'd worked his ass off to impress them, and apparently he'd done it. He'd impressed them so much, they'd traded his ass somewhere else.
Here he thought the worst thing that could happen would be spending another season with the Raiders, the Marauders' AHL team. It had never occurred to him the Marauders would think he was more valuable on the trade market than between the pipes.
"... good deal from Atlanta, it really is."
Blinking, Emmitt snapped his head up. Which was a mistake, thanks to his hangover and the heat, but ... what? "What? Atlanta?"
"The Venom," Scott repeated. He sounded amused. "In the National Hockey League. That's your new team."
"Are you fucking with me?" Emmitt didn't even know how to process this, because he'd been dreaming about this moment since he'd first given serious thought to playing hockey professionally. He was dizzy and the sun was too bright, and the headache throbbed and he didn't even care. "If you're fucking with me, dude —"
"I'm totally not," Scott said, chuckling. "And, I'm allowed to tell you that you'll most likely have a spot on the Venom's roster."
"What happened to Norell?" Emmitt asked, referring to the Venom's starting goalie.
"Traded," said Scott. "To the Admirals, for a couple of draft picks. It was an interesting deal."
"So they're going with Mori?" Emmitt stood up, staring off at the bright, turquoise gleam of the sea beyond the glittering pale blue of the infinity pool. The swim-up bar was deserted, a far cry from the raucous party it had been the night before. Everyone was probably sleeping it off like sensible vacationers.
Was it too early for a celebratory cocktail? No, his enthusiasm assured him.
Yes, his dehydrated and tequila-soaked veins protested.
"It seems like it," Scott agreed. "But you're both young enough, you know, if you put up a good showing in camp ..."
Emmitt knew Scott was trying to imply — without promising — he might have a shot at the starting spot on the Venom if he brought his A-game to practice. Which, of course he would. Emmitt didn't have any other game. He grinned. "I did it. I made it to the fucking NHL, man!"
His head throbbed, protesting his sudden shout. But Emmitt didn't care. He was going to be playing the entire season against the best the league had to offer, under the lights and in stadiums full of excited and loud fans. The Venom were a good, solid team and Atlanta was a cool town. Emmitt couldn't wait to call his mom.
Of course, that also meant he had to get dressed, go downstairs, and tell his teammates he'd been traded. A little bittersweet, given he was here to celebrate the team's Calder Cup victory ... but this was a part of hockey, and they all knew it. Besides, they'd be happy for him. They were good guys, and they, too, were hoping for the day they got that phone call.
"I still can't believe it, Army. I mean, it's awesome, but I'm gonna miss you next season."
It was three thirty, and Emmitt and his teammate Seth were back by the pool, drinks in hand. Seth, who played forward, was one of Emmitt's closest friends on the Raiders.
"Yeah, that part is hard. You know I love playing with you guys." Emmitt leaned back in his chair, sunglasses shielding him from the bright midday sun. He turned his head and regarded Seth. Seth was a redhead, and after three days his skin was starting to match his hair. "Your white boy skin isn't looking so good, dude."
"Yeah. I'm made for more Northern European climates." Seth winced, glancing down at himself. Then he grabbed his spray sunscreen and liberally applied it, though Emmitt wondered if it would do any good at this point. What he needed to do was put on a T-shirt, but he was probably hoping his six-pack abs and tats would get him some attention from the ladies.
It'd worked the last few days, but that was before Seth burned the tip of his nose and his skin turned lobster red. Still, there were a couple of ladies at the bar who seemed to be checking Seth out, though it could be they were concerned he was going to burn into a pile of ashes on his chair.
"Still, I can't believe the Marauders didn't call you up. Especially since Brisbois hasn't been playing that great," Seth said, sipping his margarita. He was referring to the Marauders goalie, whose play the last two seasons had drawn some considerable criticism. Seth moved his arms, making elaborate creaking sounds. "He looked like a reincarnated mummy monster at the end of the season."
"Hey, quit it. It's bad luck to make fun of goalies, even if they're not me."
"You don't have to be superstitious anymore," Seth pointed out. "We won."
"We did." Emmitt took a drink of his beer. It was some kind of light beer, and it had already warmed in the sunlight. He shook his head. "Crazy that I'm gonna play for the Marauders' archrivals, though. You think they'll try and jump me when I walk in the locker room, 'cause I was with the Raiders?"
"Nah. If they had that kind of spirit, they might have beat the Marauders in the playoffs." Seth grinned, resting his hands over his stomach. "I'll miss you, though, Army. Especially your save percentage."
Emmitt snorted. They all knew trades were part of hockey, and no one really had expected Emmitt to spend another season in the AHL. But he'd miss Seth, who was one of the few people on his team who knew Emmitt was bisexual. "Hopefully I haven't ruined the celebratory trip by announcing my imminent departure."
"I won't miss your ego," Seth said, dryly.
"More room for yours." Emmitt picked up his phone and angled it to take a selfie, tipping his sunglasses down and peering at the camera. He made sure the picture included his own defined abs, his light brown skin glistening with sweat. No sense in working out to keep the body he needed to be at the top of his game and not show it off. He snapped the picture and hashtagged it with #raiderspride, #cabo and #caldercupchamps then posted it on Instagram.
They were joined a few minutes later by their other teammates, Colton White and Blake Appleby, with some girls they'd apparently met while body surfing. Two of them immediately began cooing in distress over Seth's sunburn, so maybe he had some kind of sneaky plan in place to woo women with sun poisoning or something. Not that he'd be able to do anything later.
"Hey, so, Amber and Jen here want to know if we want to go on a snorkeling trip." Colton tossed his long, dark brown hair out of his eyes. He grinned. "We made some friends, and they say it's a party boat with great views."
Emmitt wasn't sure he wanted to do anything more adventurous than sit in his chair and drink a few beers, soak up the sun, and maybe take a nap. Unlike Seth, Emmitt was smart enough to actually reapply his sunscreen at regular intervals. But the girls were cute and hey, who knew what sort of interesting people he'd meet on a party boat. He'd worked hard and just had the best season of his career. And he was going to the fucking NHL. Hell yeah.
"Party boat sounds right up my alley," Emmitt said, getting to his feet. "Let's go."CHAPTER 2
One of Ryu's favorite things about his friend Tristan was he never felt the need to yammer away to fill the quiet. Silence didn't make Tristan nervous, and he understood Ryu's dislike of pointless small talk better than anyone else. When all Ryu wanted was the simple comfort of sharing the same space with someone he cared about, it was Tristan he called.
Except today, Ryu's brain wouldn't stop buzzing. Not even the Atlanta Braves game — or, more accurately, the sight of fit men in tight baseball uniforms — could distract him from the persistent, nagging drone in his skull. It was always the first symptom of his worsening anxiety. That, and a stomachache. His teammates might consider Ryu impervious to stress, but really, he was just better at hiding his nerves. Most of the time.
Ryu scraped and tore at the label on his tea bottle with his thumbnail, which finally made Tristan lift his head from the international business textbook he'd been bent over for the past hour.
Tristan looked at Ryu with his fair eyebrows arched. "What's up? You're fidgeting."
And fidgeting was something Ryu almost never did.
He sighed. "Thinking about tomorrow."
Tristan shut the textbook and tossed it onto the coffee table in front of the sectional they'd taken up residence on for the bulk of the afternoon. It was comfortable and stylish, much like the rest of the industrial loft Tristan had shared with his boyfriend Sebastian for the past couple of months. "Worried about Armstrong?" Ryu's mouth turned down at the name. "Not worried. He's ... an unknown quantity."
"You haven't googled him?"
Ryu had considered it, but it always made him feel vaguely stalkerish to nose around on people's social media accounts — even if the updates were put out there for public consumption. He shook his head.
Tristan grabbed his MacBook and flipped it open. "Let's look him up."
Within seconds, he was typing "emmitt armstrong hockey" into the search box. Despite himself, Ryu scooted closer to see the screen.
The first link to pop up was a Wikipedia entry detailing a brief history of Armstrong's playing career. The second was a link to a Yahoo Sports article calling him "The Shutout King" for breaking the AHL record for the most shutouts in one season.
"Nice," Tristan said, his blue eyes moving as he scanned the text. "Check out his goals against average last season."
Ryu leaned back. "Hmm." Admittedly, it was an impressive number. Armstrong might've been playing in the league a level below the NHL, but he was clearly at the top of his game. If Ryu was going to have a backup — and by the rules, of course he had to — he couldn't complain about having one with such a great save percentage.
"Looks like he has a temper on him."
The amusement in Tristan's voice drew Ryu's attention back to the screen. He'd moved onto YouTube and was watching footage of Armstrong throwing his water bottle at a player from the opposing team before breaking his stick on the net frame after allowing a sloppy goal. It was the first of an entire playlist of videos showing similar incidents.
Ryu bit back a sigh. Every goalie got angry when they let in goals that should've been easy saves — frustration came with the territory — but the last thing the Venom needed was a hothead whose temper tantrums led to more players landing in the sin bin. Not even an awesome save percentage excused such bratty, entitled behavior.
Tristan moved on to Armstrong's Instagram profile. A quick scroll showed the man in question with one beautiful woman after another, and judging by the abundance of bare-chested selfies, he had an allergy to shirts. There was also an absurd amount of pictures featuring low-slung basketball shorts. Enough to make Ryu wonder if Armstrong had an endorsement deal with the company or if he really just loved showcasing his sizeable bulge from every possible angle. Probably the latter.
No denying, the guy had a delectable body, and from the cocky tilt to his lush mouth in every photo, he lived for showing off all those tight muscles and nearly every inch of his smooth, light brown skin.
Temperamental and arrogant, then. Perfect. Ryu scoffed under his breath. Armstrong had nothing on Tristan, who somehow managed to be gorgeous, humble, and nice all at once. The league needed more players like Tristan, not Armstrong — big dick and enviable pecs aside.
Ryu hated him already.
That didn't mean he stopped looking as Tristan scrutinized the pictures and commented on the players he recognized from his brief stint in the AHL with the Macon Rattlers.
In the middle of their snooping, the front door opened and Sebastian, the professor Tristan had met while taking summer classes at Georgia State last year, entered the loft they now shared.
Tristan raised his head, shooting Sebastian a grin. "Hey."
Sebastian returned the greeting as he set down his messenger bag. He walked over to stand behind the couch and rested his hands on Tristan's broad shoulders. When he noticed the half-naked pictures on the computer screen, Sebastian arched a brow. "So I come home from teaching all day to find you two drooling over some model?" "Ha." Tristan tipped his head back to look up at his boyfriend. "He's Ryu's new backup."
But Sebastian wasn't paying attention to the laptop anymore. His dark eyes were focused on Tristan's, and a fond, intimate smile curved his lips. He leaned down as Tristan turned his face, and their mouths met in a kiss that started chaste and quickly flared into something more passionate.
Sebastian didn't draw back right away, and Tristan made a soft, erotic sound Ryu knew he hadn't intended for anyone but Sebastian to hear. Ryu shifted in place, trying to ignore the rush of heat to his groin. He couldn't help it, though. Tristan might be his best friend, but he was also ridiculously hot and so was his sexy professor boyfriend.
Finally, Sebastian broke the kiss. Tristan blinked dazedly up at him.
Ryu cleared his throat. He was already half-hard in his briefs; Tristan's bee-stung mouth wasn't helping.
Sebastian smiled, as if he knew exactly what watching them had done to Ryu. "Are you guys ready to go out? I'm starving."
Tristan licked his lips like he was chasing Sebastian's taste. "Uh-huh."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Goalie Interference"
Copyright © 2019 Avon Gale & Piper Vaughn.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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