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Slap Shot (MF)

The Blake Boys (MF)

Etopia Press

Heat Rating: STEAMY
Word Count: 50,558
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Sometimes the only thing harder than redemption is love...

Derek Popovich has it all. He's a hot hockey player and owns a booming restaurant, the Slap Shot, which caters to professional athletes. Unfortunately, his off-field romances are infamous in the media, and he's growing tired of his playboy image. But when Charisma Reed begins to work with him on his restaurant renovation, he can't help but be attracted to the beautiful, sassy woman who is strangely resistant to his charms. Everyone is warning him that she's trouble, but Derek is curious about what's beneath the hardened shell of the sexy Ms. Reed...

Charisma is having the worst luck ever. Just as she's finally escaping the notoriety of her last tumultuous relationship, she stumbles into the heated breakup between the gorgeous Derek and his ex—and the photograph that shows up in the gossip rags throws her right back into the limelight. Exactly what she wanted to avoid as she struggles to put her past behind her and grow as a person. She swore she was done with professional athletes, but the hunky hockey player with the smoldering blue eyes pushes all her right buttons. Charisma just wants to finish the renovation and get on with her life, but working so closely with Derek makes him so much harder to resist...

Contemporary interracial romance/sports romance/bwwm

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Derek Popovich threw the towel over his shoulder and headed for his locker. It had been a brutal game today, but despite their best efforts, the Philadelphia Pirates wouldn’t be advancing in the playoffs. Injuries and scattered coaching strategies had plagued his team all season. Playing hard had taken a toll on his body. Being the goalie was a very demanding job, as every muscle in his body could attest. And he knew just the trick to ease his aching muscles after a grueling loss. The soft, talented hands of a nubile woman. Too bad he’d just ended things with his latest fling, Phoebe.

According to the gossip rags, he and Phoebe were hot and heavy and ready to make a serious commitment to each other. But the whirlwind romance she’d been alluding to in interviews for months wasn’t even close to the truth. They’d met at a party at a friend’s house in Los Feliz and hooked up in the bathroom that night. He’d had a good time but hadn’t given the encounter a second thought until she began calling him relentlessly looking to get together again. They’d had a few more sporadic dalliances that he’d managed to keep out of the public eye until his luck ran out when the paparazzi snapped pictures of them exiting a club in L.A. He’d been chained to Phoebe in the media ever since, and the whole situation had taken on a life of its own. The world thought he was on the verge of settling down. He suspected Phoebe tying herself to him was a strategic PR stunt to help catapult her career. Daniel, his publicist, advised that he let the relationship fade away naturally. After all, the idea that the bad boy hockey player could occasionally commit was good for his image.

The worst part was explaining to his family that none of these claims were true. There had been a number of salacious stories about him over the years. He was lauded for one-night stands and wild sexcapades. The downside to his sexual infamy was when his exploits did make the media, he had a lot of explaining to do to the women in his life. But none were as embarrassing as the story about his junk.

He’d gotten the talking-to of a lifetime from his mother, who’d scolded him while slipping between English and Russian, when an online tabloid posted an article claiming he was very well-endowed. His babushka, Annika, was upset because she read a translated version of it and thought they meant he had a deformed penis and it was affecting his hockey playing. He’d called his grandmother and fumbled in Russian, trying to set the record straight. His brothers Alex and Theo had a good time ribbing him about that one.

Maybe it was time to curb some of that behavior. He was living a fun life, but every now and again a pang would hit him when he thought of what he was missing by not having someone special. Settling down had worked for his friend Seth when he found his wife, Morgan. His friend’s relationship gave him hope he could one day be that happy too with the right person. A comment from a teammate brought him out of his daydream.

“Derek, you still coming to my party next week?” his friend and teammate Ivan Krakowski yelled from across the room.

Derek grinned. “Not this time. I’m going to Portland to visit my brother and his kids. But let’s play a round of golf and grab lunch when I get back into town.”

“It’s a deal.”

He was no fool. Ivan’s parties were legendary. The team celebrated the end of the season the only way they knew how: with rowdy fun that always led to the cops being called. He’d timed his visit to his brother to have a good excuse not to attend.

He’d known Ivan for a long time and valued their friendship. The life of a professional athlete was wrought with fake friends and big egos, and he’d been blessed to meet a few people who were genuine, like Ivan and Seth. Seth was down-to-earth and partied just as hard as he did—or at least he had until he’d traded those wild days for married life.

He finished dressing and checked out his image in the mirror. During the off-season, he’d planned on visiting his family, who were scattered about the world, but he would be spending the bulk of his time at his bar, the Slap Shot. It was a home away from home for his athlete friends, a place to unwind, leave their egos at the door, and enjoy a good meal. Bravado and grandstanding weren’t allowed and it made for a better atmosphere. But lately business had been sluggish, and he wanted to breathe some new life into the place. He’d done an overhaul on the menu and had considered bringing in a live band.

In reality, a full-scale renovation was what the place really needed after Seth’s epic fight with his teammate Lamont at Seth’s retirement party. Years of pent-up anger and jealousy had resulted in broken furniture, fixtures, and a couple of holes in the walls. Sure, Lamont deserved the comeuppance, but all that damage still cost money and downtime for the restaurant.

Derek waved good-bye to a few more teammates and exited the locker room. He took the escalator by the equipment room in an effort to avoid the reporters lurking around on the main floor. The post-game press conference had already been held, but there were always a few hanging back hoping to get more in-depth sound bites. It was part of his job to engage with reporters, but it wasn’t always possible to give a succinct two-sentence answer to sum up the culmination of several weeks of playing.

Besides, he was tired.

The side door was a safe bet. Players rarely used it, and he’d escaped through it on several occasions in the past. He stuck his head out; there was no one in sight. As soon as the door closed behind him, a mob of reporters turned the corner and started firing off questions. The door didn’t have a handle, so there was no way to get back inside. And to his surprise, they were all asking about his love life.

“Derek!” A brunette-haired woman thrust a microphone into his face. “Is it true you and Phoebe Palentz are over?”

“Did your tough season bring tension in the relationship?”

“Rumor has it she caught you cheating. Who is this new mystery woman?”

“Is it true you’ve already moved on?”

“No comment.” He slid on his sunglasses to shield his eyes from the blinding camera lights.

Still in hockey mode, he seriously considered body checking the reporters to make a path to the parking lot. Thankfully, stadium security came rushing over and put some distance between him and the crowd, allowing him to bolt to his car. He slid behind the wheel of his cobalt blue Aston Martin Rapide S and peeled out, looking forward to some down time. But he wasn’t going to get any peace and quiet until the rumor mill tired of his fake relationship with Phoebe.