"A fantastically fun, HOT love story." - Kendall Ryan, New York Times bestselling author
All I want is to play hockey on the Ice Knights, instead, I’m in a viral video for all the wrong reasons and my mom—yes, my mom—has taken over my dating apps. Then, when I think it can’t get any worse, the fates deliver Zara Ambrose, a five-feet-nothing redhead with more freckles than inches and who’d rather be anywhere other than on a date with me.
Now a bet with her friends and my PR nightmare have us both stuck in this go-on-five-dates-with-the-same-person hell situation. But if we band together, we can get the whole thing over with and go on with our lives. It’s perfect! No feelings. No future. No fuc— *ahem* fun. No naked fun.
What could go wrong? Nothing—as long as I remember the rules. Don’t notice the way she looks in a dress. Don’t react when she does that little shivery sigh thing whenever we touch. Don’t think about the fact that she’s never had a toe-curling orgasm that wasn’t self-delivered and just how badly I want to change that.
Five dates—that’s it—and then we go our separate ways. At least, that was the plan...
Each book in the Ice Knights series is STANDALONE:
* Parental Guidance
* Loud Mouth
About the Author
When Avery Flynn isn't writing about alpha heroes and the women who tame them, she is desperately hoping someone invents the coffee IV drip. She has three slightly-wild children, loves a hockey-addicted husband and has a slight shoe addiction. Find out more about Avery on her website, follow her on Twitter, like her on her Facebook page or friend her on her Facebook profile. Also, if you figure out how to send Oreos through the Internet, she’ll be your best friend for life.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’d love to hear from you.
Read an Excerpt
Just when Caleb Stuckey thought it couldn't get any worse, his mom walked in.
Now, some people might think getting an ass-chewing by the Ice Knights' coach, Winston Peppers, and the team's oh-my-God-our- players-fucked-up-again public relations guru, Lucy Kavanagh, was about as bad as it could get. They would be wrong. Having his mom join the ass-chewing party in Lucy's office on the fifty-sixth floor of Harbor City's Carlyle Building brought the entire shitstorm to a whole new level of misery.
Britany Stuckey — AKA Brit the Ballbuster, according to some of her players — wasn't just a state champion high school boys' hockey coach and one of the handful of female boys' hockey coaches in the country, she was also the Stuckey family titleholder for taking absolutely, 100 percent no shit from anyone. The anyone, in this case, being him. And the fact that he was a grown man and a professional hockey player with the Harbor City Ice Knights meant nothing. He would, as she often told him, forever be her little Caleb Cutie — a nickname that proved a mother's love blinded her to her offspring's physical flaws — and she would probably treat him as such until the day one of them got hit by the number six crosstown bus.
He turned to Peppers, a man he thought would have his back despite the video-recorded smack talk that had been blown all out of proportion. "You called my mom?"
"Yes," Peppers asserted, not bothering to slow his pace as he marched from one end of the room to the other as if he were still in the locker room giving his team a what-for in between periods. "Because she is a crucial part of this rehabilitation plan to fix your fuckup."
Caleb slouched down in his chair. "It wasn't that bad."
"Really?" Lucy asked from her seat behind her desk, snark dripping from her voice. "Do I need to play the video again? I can, because every media site on the face of the earth has posted it. Bad Lip Reading even did a mockery of it."
Yeah, and he would have laughed his ass off at anyone else who'd been caught running his mouth like an idiot. Objectively, it was funny. It wasn't every day almost the entire first line of a hockey team got caught bitching and moaning about the team, their playing, the coaches, and the quality of puck bunnies they banged. They'd sounded like spoiled assholes, which he totally admitted wasn't 100 percent not the truth.
Fuck, the next words out of his mouth were going to hurt.
"Okay," he said, avoiding eye contact with every person in the room. "It was dumb. I should have shut it down sooner."
"Dumb?" his mom said, how-in-the-hell-did-I-birth-this-idiot thick in her voice. "You were the most senior player in that car, and you let the younger guys trash their own team!"
He flinched. Yeah, that was not a good look. Still ... "I'd had some beers, and they were letting off steam. And it should be noted that I did the right thing by taking an Uber instead of driving."
His mom rolled her eyes. "That's called doing the bare minimum to adult properly."
The room went silent except for the mental buzz saw revving in his ears so realistically that he could smell the diesel fumes. He clenched his teeth hard enough that his jaw ached so he wouldn't snap off a nasty retort at his mom. That wouldn't get him anywhere. She hadn't gotten where she was because she backed down from fights. He'd inherited the trait, but he'd learned that sometimes the best way to win was to appear like he wasn't fighting at all. Guerrilla warfare. Psyops. Subterfuge. When it came to winning a war with his mom, those were the only ways to go.
Never mind that he was an adult with a mortgage, a retirement plan, and a degree in sports management. Sure, he'd had a lot of help from a tutor to earn his degree, but he'd still use it to open his own company when it came time to hang up his skates for good. To his mom, though, he would forever and always be Caleb Cutie who'd fucked up again. And again. And again.
It was fucking exhausting trying to meet Britany Stuckey's expectations.
Lucy, who'd been uncharacteristically watching the goings-on with her mouth shut, broke the tense silence. "Here's what it comes down to, Stuckey. You embarrassed yourself by not stopping the smack talk. You embarrassed the team. You embarrassed Harbor City. This has to be fixed. You are going to have to change the narrative and give everyone something else to talk about besides what dickheads you all are — that is, if you want to keep playing for the Ice Knights." She gave him a second to digest that bit of yes, it's been confirmed you're an asshole, and if you don't fix it, you'll be playing in the reindeer league at the North Pole. "And that's why you're going to give the media a story they won't be able to stop talking about. You're going to let your mom be in charge of your dating profile on Bramble, and you're going to tell her about each date so she can film video segments that the company will use in ads that will begin running immediately."
He couldn't breathe, and a throbbing started in his head right behind his eyes. "That's not gonna happen. I didn't even say anything about the puck bunnies. Why do I have to be part of a date PR nightmare?"
"Because you didn't tell your teammates to shut the fuck up, either," Lucy said. "And because you were the senior player in the car, and you have to set the example or pay the price, whichever the public decides needs to be done for the team as a whole to move past this."
She wasn't wrong. His silence had spoken just as loudly as if he'd made any of the dumb-ass comments.
Still, there was nothing in the world they could say that would make him give in to this bizarre plan. Him? The center of all that attention? No fucking way. Even the idea of it had his stomach doing a triple spin.
"If you don't," Lucy said, "they're going to trade Petrov to reshuffle the first line. This isn't just the possibility of you earning a spot as the Ice Knights' assistant captain on the line."
One of those silences fell that was so heavy, there was no way the news Lucy had just delivered wasn't true. Reshuffle? It had taken two seasons for the team to really gel with their current lineup. Sure, Petrov was coming back from injury, but he would only miss a few of the new season games, and they needed him. He wasn't a player who scored a lot, but he was the glue for the first line. Without him? The team would be fucked. Damn, why was the front office such a bag of dicks?
"They can trade him, and for a guy just off his peak and a couple of early-round draft picks," Peppers said. "I'm not for it, but it's the GM's call."
Guilt squeezing his throat and expanding his lungs, Caleb turned back to Lucy. The look on her face wasn't recrimination so much as an ice- cold warning that actions have consequences — and not just on the person doing the acting.
Okay, so Caleb had heard the rumblings about Petrov — but that had all been before they'd turned the last season around. Then he'd gotten injured. Training camp was a week away, then it was preseason games and the new season. Petrov was at the gym rehabbing every day to get back for it.
The Ice Knights were going to be unstoppable this season. And people would realize that if the Harbor City sports media would focus on the team instead of his viral fuckup. He sank down in his chair as the old familiar you're-failing-again gut punch landed with a solid thud against his solar plexus.
Way to go, fuckhead.
Lucy let out a sigh and shook her head. "Here's what we need to know. Do you want to make the perception problem that you're a team full of privileged rich whiners go away so you can earn the A and the front office will stop eyeballing your boy Petrov?"
Caleb pinched the bridge of his nose, hoping it would stave off the ache making him think his head might explode, and nodded. "Yes."
"Then this publicity stunt is gonna happen," Lucy said. "Lucky for you, Bramble is totally on board with using you to promote their dating app. As the founder told me yesterday, if they can make you datable, then anyone is game."
"So here's how it works," she continued. "Bramble requires a five- date commitment so that everyone really gets a chance to know each other. However, each party must reconfirm their interest on the app after each date. Bramble will set up the first two dates, and after that it's up to you, your date, and your parents."
His headache was only getting worse. "Five dates?"
"Stop whining, Caleb." His mom gave him the look. "What's that in comparison to being able to reach your goal?"
"Got it," he muttered. "Five dates."
"After each date, you'll do a little here's-how-the-date-went chat with your mom. Bramble will interview her and your date's mom. That footage will be used in their latest ad campaign to show that anyone can meet their match using the app."
Oh God. Would this nightmare ever end?
"And I already filled out most of your profile for you," his mom added, handing him an iPad with the Bramble app open on it.
God's answer? No. It's only gonna get worse. Enjoy your time visiting hell, sucker.
He didn't want to, but he looked down at the screen anyway. Just like they had for as long as he could remember, the words bunched together on the screen, overlapping and squashing in on one another as the letters jumped. It wasn't a quick scan — but then again, it never was when it came to reading — but he managed to get through what was on the screen.
The backs of his eyeballs were aching by the time he got done, and the anxious fear that someone would realize how slow he was going twisted his gut as per usual. A quick glance around Lucy's office confirmed that either it hadn't taken him as long to read as his clammy palms testified or the others were working hard to pretend they hadn't noticed. The uncertainty had him chewing the inside of his cheek, but it was better than the mocking looks and full-on taunts of "hey, stupid" he'd gotten in school. He'd take a puck to the face before living through that ever again.
"Do we have to add a picture?" he asked.
"Nope." Lucy shook her head. "They don't have photos in an effort to eliminate unconscious bias in dating, on the theory that users will be more open to the person on the inside that way."
And what was inside him? A fuckup dating a chick as a publicity stunt. Yeah, he was a real catch. The whole thing just kept getting more and more messed up.
"So how do they match people?" he asked.
The grin on his mom's face should have warned him of a fresh, new level of hell. "So glad you asked."
She reached over and clicked on a question mark icon. A new tab opened filled with — he scrolled down and down and down — at least a billion questions. Yeah. This was Brit the Ballbuster, not Mom right now. She knew his weakness and had been convinced since forever that all he needed was to push harder, and by some sort of miracle all the letters would stay in the right order when he looked at them.
Kill me now.
"You fill out those, the app will match you with a few possibilities," his mom said. "Then I'll pick out your new girl."
That buzz saw in his ears? It turned into mortar fire, deafeningly loud and almost certain to fuck up his world. He looked at Lucy and Coach Peppers, desperate for another option that wouldn't include him having to get the letters on the screen to stop moving the fuck around when they shouldn't or putting his mom in charge of his dating life. When Lucy and Coach met his gaze without blinking, he turned back to the woman way too happy to have her control-freak fingers all up in his life.
"Whoever you pick, I'm not going out with her past date five," he said. "This is a publicity stunt only. Nothing more."
"No one is saying you have to or that you should," Lucy said. "The point of those little exercises is to change the narrative and clean up your image. What is more wholesome than a boy's mother helping him pick out a date?"
Had he fallen into a parallel universe where it was the total opposite of reality? His mom in charge of his love life? "That's not wholesome. It's creepy and wrong."
"Well, unless you have a better plan to fix this disaster so you have a chance at a leadership position within the team and Petrov isn't sent packing," Peppers said from his spot across the room, "then you're stuck with it."
Having his balls dipped in battery acid sounded like a better idea to Caleb at the moment, but he had no real alternate plan to offer. This parental-guidance-type date looked like the best option.
His toes itched as badly as that time when he'd skipped using his shower shoes at hockey camp when he was in middle school, and his headache went from rumba-throb to death-metal hammering.
He turned to Lucy. "And you're behind this plan? Really?"
"You dating a woman your mom picked out is a story that will grab the media's attention away from that stupid viral video of you and your teammates being jackasses. This is a plan that will work — for everyone," Lucy said.
Translation: You are so screwed ... so very screwed.
He couldn't agree more.
* * *
Zara Ambrose was neck-deep in one-twelfth-size alligators, and all of them looked like shit. Okay, to someone who didn't spend their life devoted to the care and creation of miniatures, the alligators probably looked normal. Cute, even. To her, though, they were an abomination.
"I'm gonna have to toss them all and start again," she said, accepting the shot of sympathy tequila her bestie, Gemma MacNamara, handed her. "There's something wrong with their eyes. They just don't look right."
"No, there is something wrong with your work-life balance," Gemma said, tapping her paper Dixie cup against Zara's. "And it's time you do something about it."
It was the same line she'd been feeding Zara for the past two years — basically ever since her friend had met and fallen for the accountant next door. Yesterday, he'd proposed. Tonight, Gemma had shown up at Zara's apartment with a bottle of tequila and a smile that sparkled almost as much as the diamond on her left ring finger. They were holed up in Zara's miniatures studio, otherwise known as her loft apartment, supposedly celebrating Gemma's impending wedding. Too bad, with that last comment, this was starting to feel like a well-laid trap.
"What is this, the Gemma MacNamara version of an intervention?" she asked.
"Yes," Gemma said without hesitation.
She took a sniff of the liquid in her little paper cup, and her eyelashes nearly melted off. "Isn't Patrón the wrong thing to be serving at one of those?"
"Not for you." Gemma shot back her tequila like it was Dr Pepper and eyeballed Zara's shot. "Girl, you need to loosen up and stop working like your life depends on it."
Her tequila days were long gone — her dad always said she was the oldest twenty-eight-year-old he'd ever met — but that didn't mean a little revisiting of the old days wasn't warranted. Zara could let loose. She went out gambling. So what if it was bingo night with her grandma? She went out for girls' night dinners with Gemma. That still counted even if she was back home at eight so she could curl up with a book while her Great Dane, Anchovy, snuggled up next to her on the couch. Then there was ... Her mind went blank. She really couldn't think of anything else she did on a regular basis that didn't involve work. Fuck. She didn't want to have to admit that to Gemma — as if her bestie didn't already know. Bringing the cup up to her lips, she threw back the shot, the alcohol burning its way down her throat in the best possible way.
"Well, my life does depend on my ability to work hard if I want a roof over my head and food in the fridge."
"Okay, I'll give you that." Gemma nodded in agreement. "You're one of the best miniatures artisans in Harbor City. It's gonna happen for you. I know you're going to break out."
"I love you for thinking that, but you're the only one who does."
She poured another shot for both of them. "Then the rest are idiots."
They drank to that. Then they drank to true love — well, Gemma did. Zara drank to her good luck to never have that particular curse befall her. Then they drank to Gemma's brand-spanking-new engagement. Within the hour, they were giggling like they always had together.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Parental Guidance"
Copyright © 2019 Avery Flynn.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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