Everyone says hotshot goalie Luke Jackson is God’s gift to girls, but the only girl he wants is his best friend, Malina Hall. He’s always known how brilliant she is, but now that he’s “accidentally” kissed her, he can’t stop thinking about her...or wanting to kiss her again.
Problem is, things have been a little...awkward since the kiss. Because she likes him, too? Hopefully, but even if she did, their futures—and the ridiculous schedules that come with them—are in the way. And now one of his teammates is showing interest, and the guy has more in common with Malina than Jackson ever will.
As her best friend, Jackson should get out of the way. But if there’s one thing he’s learned from hockey, it’s that you have to go for what you want, even if it means falling flat on your face. And he’s definitely falling for Malina.
Disclaimer: This book contains a hot hockey player who goes after what he wants, a super-hot, super-distracting shirtless workout, and the kind of best friends to lovers romance every girl in the friend zone has dreamed of.
|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
|File size:||1 MB|
|Age Range:||12 Years|
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The doorbell rang.
I sighed and pushed aside my AP chem book. It better not be someone selling something, unless that "something" is Thin Mint cookies. But when I opened the door, there were no girls or boxes of chocolaty mint magic in sight.
Nope. Just a hot guy.
I leaned against the doorframe, trying to look bored when all I wanted to do was throw myself into his arms. "Hi."
"Hi," he echoed.
I tipped my head to one side and studied him — totally not a hardship, but I'd never tell him that. "Hmm. Do I know you?"
He grinned and held out a hand. "I'm Jackson. Luke Jackson, actually, but most people call me Jackson. Have you seen a girl named Malina Hall around? I hear she lives here."
Fighting back a smile, I shook his hand. "I'm Malina Hall. You know, it's funny. You look a lot like this guy I used to know."
"Oh, really? Good guy?" He stuck his thumbs in the front pockets of his jeans, his grin widening.
"Decent. He was my best friend, actually." I folded my arms over my chest. "But then he started playing for this really elite hockey team, and I never saw him anymore. Barely even heard from him."
His smile fell, and he looked at his feet, letting his long brown hair fall in front of his eyes. "He sounds kind of like a tool."
"Yeah, he kind of does," I said.
Jackson peered down at me. "For the record, he missed you. I mean, probably. He sounds like the kind of guy who would miss someone like you."
I couldn't hold back my smile anymore. "For the record, I missed him, too."
"Oh, thank God." He broke character and pulled me in for a hug so tight I could barely breathe. But when it came to Jackson, breathing was overrated. He wasn't the kind of guy any girl could breathe around, really. Even I wasn't immune.
We'd met back in fifth grade, when desks were assigned in alphabetical order and there were no last names in between "Hall" and "Jackson." I was the girl who had a case full of sharpened pencils for the endless times when he lost his. He was the guy who pitched to me gently during recess kickball games so I could get a kick, even though he was on the other team. Regardless of the fact that we were pretty much opposites, we stayed friends after that, bonding over school and scary movies and being there for each other during times like when his parents divorced or my grandma Tutu had a stroke.
Though everyone was off at some Monday night trivia game, I could practically hear my dad saying I was heating the cold fall air outside. I squirmed out of Jackson's grasp. "C'mon. Dad would throw us out if he found out we were letting all the cold air in."
I stood to the side to let him pass, loving the warm scent of Jackson that was as familiar as Tutu's cooking. "Hey," I said, frowning. "Did you get taller? You've been gone, like, a month. How is it possible you got taller?"
He slipped off his shoes and headed over to his usual spot on our couch. "I don't know, but I think I'm six-one now. My pants are all too short again."
I marked my place in my chem book and set it on the coffee table so I could sit next to him. I'd finish my homework when he left. "Must be something in the water in ... where were you this time? Alaska? Iceland? Antarctica?"
"Close," he said, chuckling. "Montreal. And Chicago before that, and Wisconsin before that."
"It's strange. Those all sound like places that get cell phone reception. Maybe even free wifi." I tried to keep my tone teasing. Jackson and I had started to grow apart the past year as he focused more on hockey and I focused more on school. It sucked, and I would have liked to hear from him a whole lot more than I did, but I also knew it was inevitable. Plus, I couldn't deny the fact that I got a lot more schoolwork and college stuff done when he wasn't around.
He dropped his head back against the well-worn couch. "You're right. I suck. I'm so busy with practices and games, and I'm doing a lot of cross-training, and by the time I'm done with all of that —"
"I know, I know." I nudged his shoulder with mine. "Just giving you a hard time."
Before he could respond, his stomach growled, loud and insistent. He grimaced. "I swear I ate like two hours ago."
Despite our growing apart, some things never changed, like the size of Jackson's appetite. I got up and headed toward the kitchen. "Come on. There are leftovers for you in the fridge."
In a split second, he was on his feet and behind me. "For me?" he asked hopefully. "Did you tell your family I was going to be back in town?"
I didn't look at him so he couldn't see my smile. "Maybe."
"That means yes, right? Did your mom and Tutu cook for me? Don't toy with me, Hall."
I opened the fridge and removed two containers of leftovers. One was covered in translucent plastic wrap so he could easily see the contents.
"Laulau?" he asked. "Oh my gosh. That looks amazing. Do you know how terrible food on the road is? Do you know how long I've been craving laulau? Days. Weeks. Months." He motioned to the Cool Whip container in my hand. It had been used, washed, and refilled so many times that one of the o's and the W had disappeared completely. "And is that ...?"
I opened the "Col hip" tub, revealing its creamy purple contents. It was fresh enough to still be sweet — just the way Jackson liked it.
His face lit up. Everyone should be loved by someone as much as Luke Jackson loved food. "Poi!"
"Of course. I swear, Tutu reached for the taro the second she heard your name." My mom's side of the family was from Hawaii, and that was where she'd met my dad. Though she'd moved back to Dad's home of Michigan after he finished college, she'd still cooked us Hawaiian and Polynesian foods pretty often. All that Hawaiian goodness had only increased a few years ago when Tutu moved in with us.
Feeding my bottomless pit of a best friend was one of their favorite things to do.
"Grab whatever you want to drink," I said. I uncovered the laulau and stuck the container in the microwave. Though there were enough of the steamed pouches of pork in there to make two or three meals for me, Jackson would eat them all, plus probably sniff out the sweet coconut haupia on the bottom shelf of the fridge for dessert.
"How's Tutu?" he asked. He grabbed a glass from the cupboard above the sink and started filling it from the tap.
"She's good." I scooped some of the poi onto a plate for him, leaving plenty of room for the laulau. "Saw her neurologist last week, and I guess he said everything's good. My dad caught her trying to get the Christmas stuff out of the attic by herself the other day."
He laughed. "Of course she was. She still thinks she's, what, thirty?"
"If that. I thought my dad was going to explode."
"But wait, it's not even Thanksgiving and already she wants Christmas?"
"I think she and my mom would leave our Christmas tree up year round if my dad and I would let them." Christmas in Hawaii was a big deal. Even though there wasn't snow, there were surfing Santas, Christmas palm trees, beautiful poinsettias, festivals of lights, and the song "Mele Kalikimaka" played on repeat from Thanksgiving through the new year. Tutu and my mom did their best to bring that joy to the frigid, gray Michigan winters. The presence of Christmas decorations in November was normal at my house, and I wouldn't be surprised if Mom started asking trick-or-treaters to help hang a string of lights before they took their Halloween candy.
The microwave beeped, and I removed the container so I could flip the stuffed taro leaves. Jackson groaned and leaned over my shoulder. "Oh my gosh, that smells amazing."
I elbowed him in the stomach. "Quit drooling on me." I stuck the dish back into the microwave and turned it on again. "Speaking of drooling, how's Kristy-with-a-y?" I had to specify, because he'd also dated Kristie-with-an-ie not that long ago.
He downed his glass of water in a couple of quick swallows and went to the sink to refill it. "Gross. She didn't drool on me. She was a little ... overenthusiastic."
"If that's what you call the girl who painted your number on her face for your hockey practice, then okay. But wait, 'was?'"
"Yeah. Was. We broke up while I was in Wisconsin."
I put on my best sympathetic face. "Sorry."
He shrugged. "It's fine."
It wasn't a front. He was telling the truth. When most of my friends broke up with someone, it was the end of the world. The last time Izzy broke up with her girlfriend, the girl cried for weeks. When Jackson broke up with someone or started seeing someone new, it was about as newsworthy as Izzy getting busted for texting in class. Again.
"So who's the new girl?" The microwave beeped, and I took the laulau out, replacing it with his plate of poi to zap for a few seconds.
"There is no new girl."
The words almost made me drop the container I was holding. "I'm sorry, what?"
He laughed and removed a mismatched fork and knife from the silverware drawer. "I don't always have to be dating someone."
The microwave beeped again. "Of course I know that. I wasn't sure you did."
"I'm too busy with hockey to date anyone right now anyway."
I finished arranging the food and turned to present it to him. "True, but that's never stopped —" I cut myself off when he snatched the plate out of my hands, dunked a stuffed taro leaf in poi, and took a big bite.
"Hot, hot," he said, fanning his mouth with his silverware-holding hand in a way that made me nervous he'd fork his own eyeball.
"Serves you right," I said. "What, did you leave your manners in Canada?"
He chewed and swallowed, then smiled at me with a tiny piece of taro leaf in between his front teeth. "Sorry."
How any girl put up with him was beyond me. How I put up with him was beyond me, but seeing that leaf in his teeth reminded me of when we were in sixth grade and I had to get braces. Not only had Jackson threatened to punch anyone who made fun of me, but he'd also turned down all offers of gum, popcorn, and chewy candy for a year because he didn't want me to be the only one who couldn't have them. Manners or no manners, he was still my best friend. I rolled my eyes and nudged him toward the table, where he sat in his usual spot and I sat in mine.
"Better?" he asked when he was seated with a fork in one hand and a knife in the other.
"Much. I swear, being around a team of guys all the time makes you so uncivilized."
He ignored my comment and tore into his food. One of the laulau and most of the poi were gone within seconds.
"So good," he said. "I can't wait to thank Tutu and your mom."
"Hey, I helped," I said.
"Thank you, Malina." He took another bite so big I was grateful I'd taken a first aid class for babysitting that included the Heimlich maneuver.
I laughed. "Where do you put all of that food?"
"Behind my left kneecap," he said in between bites.
After the next bite, he grinned at me again. The fake tooth he'd gotten to replace the one he knocked out during a game a few years back was whiter than the rest. I'd forgotten that little detail.
"You know you missed me," he said.
"Yeah," I said. Because despite everything — the insatiable appetite and lack of manners and slacking on keeping in touch, and the fact that we were growing apart as we grew up and our priorities changed and clashed — I did miss my best friend. "Very much."
"I ate too much," I groaned as I sat down on the couch next to Malina. I put my feet up on the coffee table, where the edge was worn smooth by years of people sitting in this exact position.
"I warned you to stop after the first square of haupia," she said, poking me in the stomach.
It didn't hurt, but I moaned dramatically for effect anyway. "But it was so good."
"Glad you liked it." She ran a hand through her dark hair. It had gotten longer since the last time I saw her. It was well below her shoulders. I liked it.
I nudged my toe against the giant textbook that sat on the coffee table. "How's school?"
"Boring without you," she said. "But I aced my last calculus exam."
"Of course you did," I said. "Good work."
"Will you be back in class tomorrow?"
My body gave an involuntary shudder at the thought of being back at school in a few short hours. The biggest benefit to joining USA Hockey's National Team Development Program — besides the hockey, of course — was that I got to replace school with a tutor during travel times. It wasn't that I was terrible at school; it just wasn't my thing. One day in sixth grade, when Malina and I had the world's longest math homework assignment, she resorted to motivating me with candy. For each problem I solved, she'd slide an M&M across the table to me. I ended up with a sugar high, a rainbow-colored tongue, and a stomachache, but I finished the assignment. I wondered if I was too old for that kind of thing now. "I guess. I'm in town for the next three weeks or some ridiculously long time period like that. Not many games, and none on the road."
"No hockey travel, no girlfriend ... What are you going to do with all of your free time?"
I smiled. "Eat all of your food, work out, and sleep."
She laughed. "And school."
"If I must." Something in the corner of the living room caught my eye. "How goes the project?" I got up to inspect it, trying to remember what it looked like the last time I'd been over.
The project was a model of the solar system she'd been working on for over a year. Even though it was a science project, it looked like art, with the sun and each planet made out of swirled glass with a light inside. The sun was the anchor, and each of the planets rotated around it on arms that showed the distance from the sun. She'd started working on it as a STEM thing last year and was planning on entering it in our school's competition this year. When she won there like I knew she would, she'd go on to regional competitions, where she'd win it all.
Malina sighed and walked over to stand next to me. "Progress is stalled." The words were heavy with disappointment.
I toyed with one of the planets, making it spin around its axis. Venus, maybe? The fact that I could barely name the planets while she could make something like this said a lot about the two of us. "What happened?"
"Problems with the app that controls it," she said. "Or that's supposed to control it, anyway."
"You'll figure it out."
She sighed and walked back to the couch. "I'm not sure I will. And even if I do, it won't be fast enough."
Leaving Venus alone, I returned to my seat. "When is the deadline for the school competition?"
"In a couple of weeks, which probably isn't enough time to figure it out. Especially not when I have midterms coming up and about a million scholarship applications due between now and then."
"But if you make it to the bigger competitions, you can earn scholarship money that way, right?"
The pause before she said it was just long enough to let me know she doubted herself. I kicked myself that I hadn't done a better job of keeping in touch while I was on the road. If there was anyone who could sniff out Malina's self-doubt and tear it to shreds, it was me. It was just that sometimes it was easier to avoid thinking about home when I was several states or countries away. It made the distance sting less.
"You'll figure it out. You're the smartest person I know. Someday, when you're a famous astrophysicist who has her own galaxy named after her, I'll say, 'I remember when she thought she couldn't finish her STEM project. Now look at her. She's changing the universe.'"
Normally, Malina would find something to correct me about. That galaxies aren't named after people or the universe can't actually be changed or something else that she geeked out about and I'd never understand. But she just frowned.
Okay, so she didn't want to talk about it. That could be a conversation for another day. Today was for catching up and talking about things that wouldn't make Malina sad. "Hey, did you watch the last episode of The Haunting?"
Her face lit up at the mention of our favorite series. I'd missed that — her enthusiasm over every little thing, including TV.
Excerpted from "Tied Up In You"
Copyright © 2017 Erin Fletcher.
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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