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Authors: Kate Willoughby

Out of the Game3

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Out of the Game
By Kate Willoughby

Book three of In the Zone

Alex Sullivan may be the San Diego Barracudas’ resident playboy, but he hasn’t been able to forget the woman who kissed him like her life depended on it ten months ago. When he sees her again at a teammate’s wedding, he can’t think of anything but spending more time with her. Preferably naked.

Claire Marzano lost years catering to an overbearing husband, and she’s not going to answer to anyone ever again. A hot fling is just what she needs to get back in the game, and that’s exactly what sexy Alex offers—one wild long weekend away, with no promises or obligations.

But that one weekend changes everything. Despite knowing full well Alex isn’t the kind to ever commit, Claire is falling for him. And Alex secretly imagines a future with his strong, smart “accidental girlfriend.” Until a surprise announcement and an on-ice accident threaten to derail everything...or cause Alex to finally ditch his old ways and become the man Claire needs him to be.

Don’t miss
On the Surface
Across the Line,
available now

86,000 words

Dear Reader,

This month I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you who read, review and recommend. Word of mouth is so critical to the success of a book, and we so appreciate not just those of you who write reviews on retailers, review sites, and your personal blogs, but also those who have a love of talking books, as I do, and recommend the things you enjoy to friends, family and fellow readers in conversation, on social media, and at parent/teacher conferences (yes, I’ve done this!). Thank you, you help us grow and thrive!

Speaking of books to review and recommend, I hope you find something in this month’s lineup that inspires you. First, we’re pleased to introduce two debut authors. In
Time Served
by Julianna Keyes, eight years in prison have left Dean insatiable, and a decade apart isn’t enough to stop Rachel from surrendering any way he asks. Don’t miss this sexy contemporary romance debut!

For those who have longed for something different in historical romance, Pamela Cayne delivers in
The Fighter and the Fallen Woman
. In Victorian London, Lady and King, a prostitute and a street fighter, are kindred souls, each trapped in their own hells. Both owned by a ruthless businessman, they have no chance at love if they don’t first risk death.

Also new to Carina Press this month is a brand new male/ male space romance series from author duo Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen set aboard a
-esque freighter, following a cast of misfit super-soldiers who have been through intergalactic hell and offering up a delicious and unexpected reunion romance. Don’t miss the first book in the
Chaos Station

For those who love revisiting favorite authors, HelenKay Dimon’s
Chain of Command
is available in March 2015. Special ops Marine Sawyer Cain is ready for civilian life, trading danger for more stability by opening a gun range with his friends, but first he needs the land and that means going through Hailey Thorne...and nothing prepares him for her.

A drunken kiss between an out gay man and his supposedly straight best friend awaken long-repressed feelings that neither man is able to ignore in fan favorite A.M. Arthur’s
Getting It Right

Proving that all good things come to an end, we’re sad to say farewell to urban fantasy series Monster Haven from R.L. Naquin. In
Phoenix in My Fortune
, Zoey must stop the terrifying Shadow Man from breaking the ancient Human/Hidden Covenant and taking away all the Hidden in our world forever—including Zoey’s family.

Hunted by a killer, Layna Blair knows trust isn’t a mistake she can afford, but the six-foot-four Marine makes her an irresistible offer—her freedom, his rules, no questions asked in
Impossible Promise
by Sybil Bartel.

Author Kate Willoughby delivers another sizzling contemporary romance in
Out of the Game
. Alex Sullivan may be the San Diego Barracudas’ resident playboy, but he’s never forgotten his kiss with Claire Marzano. When he sees her again at a teammate’s wedding, he can’t think of anything but spending more time with her. Preferably naked.

Last, we wrap up two science fiction trilogies this month. In
The Epherium Chronicles:
by T.D. Wilson, Captain James Hood and his ship, the
, survived the battle of Cygni, but the victory at the new colony puts humanity in more danger both in space and on Earth.

And from Timothy S. Johnston’s science fiction mystery series the Tanner Sequence, described as Agatha Christie meets Michael Crichton, Homicide Investigator Kyle Tanner is on an emotional journey as he hunts killers in a society plagued by violence and brutality. Stranded on a disabled vessel with a hostile crew that includes at least one serial killer, he must rely on the love of a remarkable woman in order to decipher the clues and solve the mystery in
The Void

Coming in April 2015: a hot erotic romance, two new debut authors and the launch of a new male/male new adult trilogy.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful month of books you love, remember and recommend.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Editorial Director, Carina Press


For Anne Moe, my beloved grandmother,
who remains an inspiration to all who knew her.


Much like a hockey game is won by a team, so is a book written. On my team, I have my understanding family, my long-suffering critique partner, Dee J. Adams, my beta readers, Elle Rush and Melanie Ting, and all the Chatzy gals—they know who they are. I’m also indebted to my technical experts—nurses Tammy Gavilan, Janet Maarschalk and Emily Walls, and Jim Fox, color analyst for the Los Angeles Kings, the glorious 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup Champions.

Andre Scheitzold, thank you for translating those quotes into German for me. Too bad I had to delete that scene. Jenner Keith, aka Hockey Wife, and fellow Kings fan Augie Loya, thank you, as well. I want to give a special nod to rock star Melissa Johnson and Bring Hockey Back, my favorite hockey apparel company. Thanks to BHB, I now have a terrific logo for my Barracudas.

Last but not least, when I heard I would be getting a new editor, I was nervous, but Carina gave me the savvy, insightful Kerri Buckley. When it comes to Carina editors, I keep winning the lottery.

San Diego Barracudas (partial team roster)

#11—Alex Sullivan, “Sully,” left wing

#25—Tim Hollander, “Holly,” right wing

#27—Mike Primavera, “Preemy” or “Pasta,” defenseman

#15—Calder Griffin, “Griff,” left wing

#29—Joe Rutherford, “Ford” or “Fordy,” right wing

#17—Dustin DeVries, “Dev,” defenseman

#10—Hart Griffin, “GQ,” center

#41—Booth MacDonald, “Mac,” starting goaltender

#20—Gil Carpenter, “Carps,” center

#8—Jean-Claude Chastain, “Chassy,” defenseman

#47—Ryan Fischer, “Fishy,” rookie left wing

Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others.
Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval.
Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.

—Lao Tzu

Chapter One

“Sully, my boy.”

“Hey, Phlegmy.”

As Alex Sullivan shook hands with his boss, they both pretended to clear their throats and then spit to the right. It was their private ritual, borne of the disgusting nickname Alex had given him almost two years ago.

Elliot Fleming owned the San Diego Barracudas, the NHL team Alex played hockey for, but had never gotten a nickname like all his hockey players had. Alex was the only one brave enough, or stupid enough, to finally give him a name based on that shit you hocked up out of your throat and spit out. Funny thing was, Fleming had gone apeshit over it, confessing that he’d secretly wanted a nickname for a long time, so now, every time they met, they performed the spitting ritual.

Tonight, they were at Fleming’s estate to rehearse the wedding of Alex’s best friend and teammate, Tim Hollander. Alex had been honored when Tim had asked him to be best man. Over the years, they’d laughed together, teased each other, fought over stupid things and soon after acted as if it hadn’t happened. Tim had even given Alex a black eye once. But no matter what happened, they always showed up when it mattered—even when they lived thousands of miles away from each other. Now they were on the same team again and Tim was getting married.


The bigger they were, the harder they fell, and Tim had fallen like eighty tons of brick dumped out of an airplane. Alex would have found it highly amusing to watch his friend lose his mind over a woman if he hadn’t simultaneously resented the loss of a bachelor buddy.

When a player got married, the team dynamic shifted. Like in a Venn diagram, hockey teams had intersecting circles, one filled with family men and the other filled with the single guys. Sure, they were a team, a tight group of players who worked, played and fought as a unit, but off the ice, the husbands and fathers had responsibilities, people who were counting on them. They were always saying, “Sorry, I can’t, fellas,” and it sucked.

But it was hard to resent Tim’s fiancée Erin. She was a nice person, a pediatric nurse, for shit’s sake. He couldn’t hate on her any more than he could hate on a nun.

“How’s your off-season going?” Fleming asked.

“It’s good,” Alex replied, hoping he didn’t want a more detailed answer.

At his exit meeting a month ago, Alex had been told he had to cut back on his drinking, eat better and be on time for practice or he might find himself part of a trade package. He’d looked at his miserable stats for the season, nodded, promised them he would, then went to the men’s room and vomited.

Being traded as part of a package was sometimes the beginning of the end, and he didn’t know what he’d do if he couldn’t play NHL hockey. There was nothing like the thrill of competition, hearing the cheers of the crowd, playing the game he loved for a goddamned living. Hockey was his life.

He wanted to blame the rookies. They made him look bad, coming in so lean and energetically eager. But he knew it wasn’t them. Ten years older than a lot of those young fuckers, he just couldn’t metabolize the alcohol or the junk food like he used to. He found he needed more sleep and took longer to heal. So he was trying hard to cut back on his drinking and he’d increased the hours he trained at the Power Play facility. The eating healthy thing...he was going to put that off as long as possible. They couldn’t expect him to upend his entire life all at once.

Elliot leaned in close. “You still seeing that model?”

“No.” Alex shook his head. Last year he’d dated a woman who had appeared in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and the
Sports Illustrated
swimsuit issue. Besides being a walking wet dream, Leilani was a nice enough girl, but Alex had found her to be, of all things, a little immature for him.

“What about you, Phlegmy? You banging anyone special?”

Sixty-four-year-old Fleming laughed. Alex always treated him like one of the guys because he thought Fleming appreciated it as a refreshing change of pace. Being so rich, he probably got his ass kissed on a regular basis.

“Sully, you are a breath of fresh air,” he said, confirming Alex’s assumption. “As a matter of fact, I’ve been spending time with a lovely woman I met in Madrid last summer. We’ve seen each other half a dozen times over the past year, but it’s hard with a continent and an ocean separating you.”

“Got a picture?”

Fleming called up an image on his phone. Alex thought the woman looked like Penelope Cruz, only older.

“You know, Phlegmy, she’s pretty hot. You sure she’s not after your money? No offense. Guy like you has to be careful.”

“Don’t worry about me, Alex. If it went as far as marriage, my lawyers would insist on a prenup.” Elliot waved at someone. “Oh, look, Claire’s here. Do you know her? Sister of the bride? She and I both work with the Bayside Museum.”

Alex knew Claire Marzano all right. “We’ve met, yes.”

And by “met” Alex meant made out like horny teenagers once.

As Fleming called out to Claire, Alex turned and couldn’t believe his eyes. She looked so completely different he almost didn’t recognize her.

Ten months ago, he thought she was a puck bunny looking for a quick score. She and Erin had just watched Tim get a hat trick and they’d all gone to celebrate at Moe’s, the team’s unofficial watering hole. Even though she was dressed from head to toe in Barracuda gear, Claire didn’t know shit about hockey and after drinking a few apple martinis, she came on to him like she’d just watched a bunch of porn and needed a man
right now.

But she proved she wasn’t a puck bunny that night.

Because puck bunnies had one goal—to sleep with a hockey player. To these women, hockey players rated above any other type of male. Curious about what was so damned sexy about hockey players, he’d asked a woman once.

She’d said, “Hockey is the best game in the world.”


“And NHL players are the best in the world.”

“Uh-huh.” He’d looked at her, waiting for her to elaborate. She didn’t. “That’s it?” he asked.

“Pretty much.”

And then they’d fucked.

That had been ages ago. He’d been twenty-one, maybe twenty-two. As a New York Ranger rookie, he’d enjoyed this perk of being an NHL player. He liked getting laid. The bunnies did too, as long as it was by a hockey player. Win-win.

When that got old, he found himself moving on to summer flings. It had been a refreshing change not to have to extract himself from a woman’s apartment, or kick her out of his afterward. As long as he made it very clear that once the summer was over they’d be parting ways, it was great. As hockey season drew closer, he would remind them more often, and when training camp finally arrived, they were usually ready to break up, if only so they wouldn’t have to listen to his reminders.

But he hadn’t fucked Claire that night after the game. She’d come on to him, gone with him into the back room at Moe’s, kissed him more passionately than any woman in his recent memory, then busted out crying and fled out the rear entrance. He’d sat there on the desk, stunned. The next day, Tim had chewed his ass out for messing around with a married woman, like it was Alex’s fault. But she hadn’t been wearing a ring. It wasn’t until
she’d broken down that he’d found out she had a husband. That’s what she’d been blubbering about—that the guy’d been having an affair. Shit on a fucking cracker, Alex might be a player, but he drew the line at married women. Wedding vows were sacrosanct. You didn’t step on them any more than you stepped on the team logo in the locker room.

Tonight, he found himself tossing out that old image of Claire. She looked more like her sister Erin now. Erin was a fresh-faced, girl-next-door with brown hair, brown eyes, and a not particularly voluptuous body—not that he’d spent a lot of time checking out his best friend’s fiancée. A
time, but not enough to break the bro-code.

When Alex had met Claire, she’d had long blond hair, glamorous makeup, and a pair of beyond-spectacular tits. Now, she’d exchanged her long blond locks for a short boy’s cut the color of dark mahogany. Her makeup was much more subtle and she looked younger, more real.

Her tits, thank God, were the same.

She held an elegant hand out to Fleming, who kissed it. Only a guy like Phlegmy could get away with kissing a woman’s hand and not looking like a pretentious douchebag.

Claire laughed, but it was a polite laugh. “If I didn’t already know you were taken,” she said to Fleming, “I’d think you were flirting with me.”

“I only flirt with women I think I have a chance with and you’re out of my league.”

She laughed again, this time a little more honestly. “That’s a lie and you know it.” Fleming let go of her hand and she turned to Alex with a plastic smile that didn’t reach her beautiful eyes. “Hello, Alex.”

“Hey, Claire. Long time no see.” He looked her up and down. “You sure look different.”

Her smile wavered and her chin came up slightly. “Different better or different worse?”

No hesitation from him. “Definitely better.” Appearance-wise, she’d made a one-eighty, all the way from puck bunny to drop-dead sexy, sophisticated woman. But that plastered-on smile gave him pause. It was nothing like the smile he remembered from Moe’s. Sure, she’d been drunk that night and her flirt had been turned way up, but
version of He didn’t particularly like her drunk off her ass, coming off the news that her husband was a cheating prick loser, but he didn’t like her stiff and defensive either, even if she did look sexy enough to give Abraham Lincoln a boner.

Her eyes narrowed slightly as she put the plastic smile back on. “I’m sorry, Elliot, but Alex and I need to talk privately, if you don’t mind.”

With a nod of his head, Elliot left.

Alex put his hands in his pockets. “What’s up?”

“I just wanted to make sure you understand the situation.” She was coming off a tiny bit condescending but he let it go.

He scratched the back of his neck with his index finger. “I didn’t know there
a situation.”

She huffed out a breath and he tried not to admire her breasts while she did it. “Okay, here’s the deal,” she said. “Nothing happened that night.
Nothing happened.

“Claire, I know nothing happened. I was there.” It had been the most dramatic, confusing instance of
fuckus interruptus
he’d ever experienced.

She gave him an exasperated look. “So all I want is for you to act like that.”

“Act like what?”

“Like nothing happened. Ideally, I would like you to just forget it, but I’ll settle for pretending.”

“Okay, let me get this straight,” he said, confounded by her female logic. “You want me to forget something that didn’t happen.”


He laughed. “But I can’t, because now that I think about it, something
happen. We kissed.” He gave her his hesitant smile, the smile that said
give me a chance
“And that kiss was incredible.”

“No it wasn’t,” she said in a low voice, looking around as if for eavesdroppers.

“You’re lying.”

Her delicate nostrils flared and he saw desire in her eyes and a telling blush on her cheeks.

“I was drunk! Whether it was incredible or not, we’re not doing it again.”

“But now we’re sober, an excellent reason to do it again. It’d be like a science experiment.” He took one step closer. She didn’t retreat. “We’d find out whether there’s still a spark or if it was just the alcohol...”

She glanced away. “But that’s what I’m talking about,” she said in a low, urgent voice. “That person that night—that wasn’t me.”

“I’m really sorry to hear that, because I liked that person. A lot. Even if she didn’t know shit about hockey.”

That night, giggling, tipping back the apple martinis, touching his face, his arm, his thigh, she’d asked him some pretty funny questions.

Why can’t you put a giant fat guy in front of the goal?

Why don’t hockey players adjust their junk all the time like baseball players do?

Why can’t you just kick it into the net with your skate?
What’s wrong with that?
It would still get in
wouldn’t it?
Isn’t that all that matters?

But it was possible she’d learned a thing or two since then, what with her sister becoming a hockey wife.

Unfortunately, it looked like he wasn’t going to find out because she flipped him off, her mouth screwed up tighter than his asshole prior to a prostate exam.

BOOK: Out of the Game3
2.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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