How exactly has one good deed landed me in the penalty box?
Ice Knights defenseman Zach Blackburn has come down with the flu, and my BFF—his PR manager—begs me to put my nursing degree to use and get him back to health. Of course she would call in a favor for the most hated man in Harbor City.
But when he’s finally on the mend and I’m sneaking out of his place, everything goes sideways. Paparazzi spot me and pictures, plus accusations that I slept with him, fly faster than a hockey puck.
At first, all of Harbor City wants my blood—or to give me a girlie-girl makeover. But then…the team finally wins a game. And now this fickle town wants me with the big jerk twenty-four seven.
Argh. I never slept with him the first time! But no one will listen. Then the grumpy bastard goes and promises to break his no-fan-appearances rule to help raise money for a free health clinic—but only if I’m rink-side at every game. That’s not a deal I can turn down.
But when the team keeps winning, and I realize there’s more to him than his bad reputation, suddenly remembering to keep my real hands off my fake date gets harder and harder to do.
Each book in the Hartigans series is STANDALONE:
* Muffin Top
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
"A million dollars. Under the table. Tax free. Just please, for the love of God, do me this one favor."
Phone pressed against her ear, Fallon Hartigan walked out into the cool, crisp fall night after a shift in the St. Vincent's Hospital Emergency Room that had lasted approximately sixty years. The voice on the other end belonged to one of her best friends, Lucy Kavanagh, who — odds were — would be her sister-in-law sooner rather than later if her brother Frankie had his way. Fallon loved them both, but her feet ached, her back hurt, and her patience — not something she was really known for — was a whisper in the wind.
"We both know you don't have a million dollars," she said, rooting around in the front pocket of her backpack for her car keys.
"But he does," Lucy said.
The "he" in question was Zach Blackburn, Ice Knights defenseman and all-around scourge of the greater Harbor City metropolitan area. As any Ice Knights fan knew — and Fallon was a die-hard — the team had overpaid to bring him here, and thanks to his shitty playing and piss-poor attitude, he was now known as the most-hated man in Harbor City.
Fallon might live in working-class Waterbury, but the feeling on her side of the harbor was the same.
Blackburn was a selfish player. He had a huge chip on his shoulder. He punched out fans. He ignored his coach. He didn't talk to the other players on the team once they left the rink — and sometimes not while they were in it. He also happened to be Lucy's biggest client, which was not a surprise because she was the best PR crisis management bad-boy whisperer in town. That meant when Blackburn fucked up, Lucy magically managed to make it all better.
Except not this time.
Why? Because this time the big man-baby had the flu and no one to wipe the sweat from his overpaid brow. This time he needed a nurse.
"And he is going to pay me a million dollars to take his temperature for the weekend because he has a regular case of the flu?" Fallon asked as she pulled out her keys and hit the unlock button.
"Well ..." Lucy said. "He hasn't agreed to that yet, but give me time."
So, yeah, Fallon wasn't about to become a millionaire overnight. That was a good thing. It wasn't like her student loans or credit cards needed to be paid off or anything.
She yanked open the driver's side door of her gently dented Nissan sedan and tossed her backpack onto the passenger seat before getting behind the wheel. "I just spent an entire shift dealing with a pack of egomaniacal jerks with the letters 'MD' after their names. Why would I want to spend an exceedingly rare, and therefore, amazingly precious, actually-not-scheduled-to-work weekend feeding chicken noodle soup to the most-hated man in Harbor City? A nickname, by the way, that he has more than earned."
"Because you wouldn't be helping him recover from the flu for him," Lucy said. "You'd be doing it for me."
That was so not fair.
Fallon let her head drop to the steering wheel, her forehead hitting the middle with just the right amount of force to make her horn beep. She jolted back, looking around to see who in the hospital's employee lot had seen that bit of idiocy. Her gaze landed on two paramedics standing outside their ambulance. Of course, one of them had to be Hank Moran. The lanky paramedic who kept Axe body spray in business blew her a kiss. Fallon managed to keep her gag reflex in check, but just barely.
"Are you really using the bestie card on this?" she asked.
"I am," Lucy said. "Frankie and I are already halfway to Missouri to visit my dad. Even if we turn around now, I won't be able to be there until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest."
That couldn't happen. The real reason for the trip — unbeknownst to Lucy — was that Frankie was going to propose on some floating dock in a lake Lucy's family owned. Fallon didn't understand the importance of doing it there, but she'd helped her brother pick out the ring anyway. The last thing she wanted was to fuck up that moment for Frankie and Lucy.
Still, there was one more possible out.
"Doesn't this guy have groupies or an agent or someone who can spoon-feed him, since he probably just has the man-flu that most people would suffer through in silence?" she asked.
"If he did, I wouldn't be calling you. Please, you're the only one I can ask. Gina is down in Jamaica visiting her brothers, and Tess's introverted nervousness would make her implode. I wouldn't do this to you if there were any other way."
Fallon closed her eyes and leaned the back of her head against the driver's headrest. Her drool-worthy plans for her weekend off all centered around sleeping, the kind of uninterrupted sleeping that was so good that when you woke up you weren't quite sure what year it was. God knew she needed it. She worked full-time at St. Vincent's, Waterbury's busiest hospital, which saw more trauma cases come through the ER than any almost other hospital in the metro area. In addition, she volunteered at a neighborhood health clinic that was the epitome of a make-do-with-what-you've-got facility. Sure, she managed to sweet-talk — okay, bully — the administrators at St. Vincent's into donating what amounted to 50 percent of the clinic's supplies, but it still wasn't enough for the clinic to serve all of the people who needed help.
Many of them still ended up in St. Vincent's ER because they couldn't afford preventative care or early treatment that would have kept a minor injury from developing into a major problem, which was exactly what the clinic offered — when it had the supplies. She loved both her jobs — paid and unpaid — but, man, she was exhausted from burning her candle at both ends.
So a whole weekend off? That was better than chocolate, a trashy reality TV marathon, and a fresh-batteries-in-the-vibrator orgasm all combined.
And sadly, now it wasn't going to happen.
Why? Because she had awesome friends for whom she'd do just about anything, even if they were giant pains in her tired-as-hell ass.
Letting out a sigh and mentally calling herself every bad word she could think of, Fallon turned the key in the ignition and said, "Give me the address."
* * *
If he was going to die, Zach Blackburn wanted to do it alone.
The angry-looking chick on the other side of the security gate that led to the house the Ice Knights had rented for him had other ideas.
Sweating like he'd just gotten off the ice after a triple overtime game in the finals, he lowered himself into his desk chair and flicked the switch for the speaker at the gate. "Go away."
The woman in blue scrubs with her hair pulled back into a long braid didn't even flinch. She flicked a tired gaze up to the security camera. "No."
He let out a groan that made his tender gut twitch. "Why the fuck not?"
"Lucy sent me," she said.
Lucy was his PR savior and sorta friend — as much of one as someone like him could have. She'd threatened to send a nurse to make sure he didn't die. He said he didn't need one, that he could take care of himself, as always. Then, like an asshole, he'd puked his guts up with her still on the phone.
He knew she'd send help, and that's how he'd ended up watching his security system app for the first sign of any do-gooder who showed up — so he could send them away immediately.
He didn't have to guess about the identity of the woman glaring at him through the CCTV.
Fallon Hartigan. He'd met her once a few months back when he'd gotten bamboozled into being Lucy's shoulder to cry on after she'd had a fight with her boyfriend. Fallon had been part of the trio of women who'd relieved him of that very awkward duty. He couldn't remember the names or much about the other two. But Fallon? Yeah, he'd had a fantasy or three about that long braid of hers and seeing her fuck-you expression turn into something more along the lines of fuck-me-harder.
Not that he'd done a thing about it that night. He'd been too damn glad Fallon and her friends had shown up. He loved Lucy like a sister, but tears weren't his thing. Really, feelings weren't his thing. Of course, up until the ass-crack of dawn this morning, getting so sick he actually called for help was not his thing, either.
Still. Just because he would have maybe sorta been okay with Lucy helping him didn't mean he was good with having someone else in his space. He needed to get rid of Fallon. Quick. And the best way to do that? Hip check to the ego.
"How do I know she sent you? You could be a stalker fan," he said, the words sounding more like a croak than a harsh accusation, since his belly picked that moment to deke and swerve.
"I'm Fallon Hartigan. We've met before." Fallon lifted her arms, the move showing off the shapeless blue scrubs she was wearing. "Anyway, do I look like I'm a puck bunny here to try to bang you into playing like you're worth the payout the Ice Knights gave you?"
No, she didn't. But even if she had looked like the minidress-wearing hottie he'd booted out this morning before he got sick, he was too close to death's door to appreciate the view. "Go away. I'd rather die in here on my own than have to deal with a pain in the ass like you."
"Really? That's what you're going with? Oh, hold on." She started digging through her backpack. "Here it is." She lifted her empty hand out of the bag and held it palm up, looking down at it with a sweet smile as if she was holding something of astronomical cuteness. "That's all the fucks I give about what you want." Her gaze snapped back up to the security camera placed outside of his gate. Her big blue eyes narrowed. "Lucy wants me to take care of you while you get over your slight case of the man-flu, and I told her I would, so that's what I'm doing. Now, let me in."
Something in his gut bubbled and cramped, causing beads of sweat to pop out along his forehead. Want had nothing to do with it, he needed to get her away from here.
Obviously taking his silence as a no, Fallon pulled out her phone and started to dial.
"What are you doing?"
"Calling Lucy so she can cut her vacation short to come babysit your whiny ass, since you won't let me in."
He gripped the armrests of his office chair and sent up a prayer to whoever was listening to just please, please, let him get through the next sixty seconds.
"Or," Fallon said, an evil gleam visible in her eyes even on the shitty security monitor. "Are you gonna let me in?"
An icy wave washed over him, the kind that meant the fates were sending a big fuck-you on the no-more-throwing-up thing. "I don't want to."
Fallon snorted. "Welcome to the real world, where we rarely, if ever, get what we want."
Now that was something he knew all too well.
He'd wanted parents who hadn't embezzled all of his money, a hockey career that wasn't marred by scandal, a town that didn't hate him, teammates that didn't look at him like he was nothing but trash, and an end to the streak of shitty playing that had plagued him since the Ice Knights traded for him. But, most of all, at that moment, he wanted to keep whatever was in his stomach in his stomach.
Cold sweat broke out on the back of his neck. Fallon Hartigan may be a pushy pain in his ass, but that didn't make her wrong. He was most definitely not going to get what he wanted.
Propelled by powerful, stomach-mandated urgency, Zach flipped off the monitor, pressed the button to open the security gate to let Fallon in, entered the security code to unlock the front door, and then sprinted to the closest bathroom to puke up his guts.
This sure as hell wasn't the life he'd dreamed of when he laced up his skates for the first time, back when he'd thought his parents saw him as more than just a paycheck.
* * *
A non-nurse would have bolted. However, when they said nothing scared a nurse, they weren't kidding. It would take more than Zach Blackburn dry heaving to send her screaming for the exits. And yes, that would be exits plural. The house he lived in was massive, if woefully under-furnished. Literally, it looked like the guy had just arrived in town a week ago instead of seven months — right in time to ruin the Ice Knights' run for the playoffs last season. Not that Fallon was still bitter, but she was totally still bitter.
After peeling him away from the porcelain god, she'd moved him into the kitchen for a better-smelling piece of scenery. It was one of those fancy kitchens where there was a cooking area, an island the size of her bathroom, an eating area big enough for a table for ten but which held only a card table and a single folding chair, and a sitting area with a dark brown leather couch and a massive TV. Zach was sitting in the middle of the couch with a green plaid blanket wrapped around him.
It was almost comical. Here was this hulk of a man with a sexy dimple in his chin, steel bar going through his eyebrow, and a hint of a vibrant tattoo on his forearm peeking out from where the blanket had fallen away, all cuddled up like a swaddled baby. However, the fact that his skin had a sweaty, pasty, vomiting-way-too-much sheen to it pretty much killed the humor vibe.
Okay, he was still the jerk whose selfish play resulted in the end of the Ice Knights' playoff dreams last year, but the man was obviously hurting, and she couldn't just turn off the nurse thing. It was who she was, so much so that she'd even forced her siblings to play hospital with her growing up.
She picked up the folding chair and carried it over to the sitting area, along with a cup of warm peppermint tea. She handed him the tea and set up the chair in front of him before sitting down on it.
He looked at the Ice Knights mug in his hand as if it were a live grenade. Of course, if she'd been throwing up as much as it seemed he had, she'd be a little hesitant about drinking or eating anything, too.
"It's peppermint tea," she said. "It'll help soothe your stomach."
He brought the mug up close to his face and sniffed the swirling line of steam coming up from it. "You aren't one of those touchy-feely alternative nurses, are you?"
"People have been using peppermint to ease nausea symptoms for eons," she said as she took out the little spiral notebook and pen she'd stuffed in her scrub pants pocket. "If you want to skip it because it's not a pill that came from a little brown bottle with a childproof cap, you can go right ahead."
He brought the mug up to his nose and sniffed again. Then, he took a sip. He didn't smile so much as grimace a little less. Fine. She could live with that.
"When did you first start experiencing symptoms?" She flipped open her notebook. Just because she didn't have a patient chart didn't mean she wasn't going to keep track of symptoms and vitals.
"Had you been feeling ill before that?"
"Nope." He closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the couch. "Everything was fine and then, pow, I wanted to die."
Sure, it could be the flu, but Fallon was starting to suspect something else. "Anyone around you been sick?"
"Not that I know of," he said, as if he didn't give a shit either way.
Fallon glanced at the kitchen. It wasn't so much clean and tidy as it was barren. No dishes in the sink. No bananas or anything else in the fruit bowl. Only a basket decorated with a golden bow and filled with tissue paper, ribbons, and muffins that was sitting in the middle of the island like it had gotten lost on the way to Martha Stewart's house.
She turned back to Zach, who was drinking the tea as if he hadn't distrusted it in the first place. "Eat anything different than usual, or from a new place?"
"I don't eat out."
"Where'd the muffins come from, or do you cook?" she asked.
"A woman brought them over." He twisted on the couch, looking at the island behind it. "I had three."
Fallon could practically hear the ding-ding-ding in her head, and she scribbled down food poisoning and the pertinent information in her notebook. "And how soon after that did you become nauseous?"
"A few hours." He whipped back around, groaned — no doubt because of the quick movement — and closed his eyes. "Do you think she poisoned them? She did have a Cajun Rage tattoo."
Besides her family, nursing, and the trio of women she called her best friends, there was nothing in the world she cared about more than the Ice Knights. She wasn't just an everyday fan. She was a superfan. She knew every stat and every factoid, right down to the fact that Coach Peppers had a sixth toe. And the Rage? There was no bigger rivalry in sports than the one between the Ice Knights and the Rage. The Rage played dirty, and their fans were obnoxious.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Tomboy"
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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