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Boyfriend Bargain (Hawthorne University #1)
Author/Writer of Book/Novel:
Wall Street Journal bestselling author Ilsa Madden-Mills returns with an all-new swoon-fest of a novel about what happens when you take a chance on love.
Wanted: one hot guy with rock-hard abs and a big stick.
Broke and desperate, Sugar Ryan has no use for arrogant, bad boy athletes . . . until she’s forced to bargain with the cockiest of them all.
If only he knew she was alive.
Her mission? Get on this hockey player’s radar any way possible.
Zack Morgan is the king of the ice and the bedroom—but nothing prepares him for the mystery girl who shows up everywhere he does—frat parties, his favorite bar, and finally his front door with an offer he can’t refuse. The only rule in her boyfriend bargain: no falling in love.
But after one (um, two) smoking-hot hookups, he’s done with pretending and vows to make their fake relationship real. Too bad she can’t trust a player with a reputation for breaking hearts.
Will this hockey star score his forever girl or will their Boyfriend Bargain end in heartbreak?
A standalone hockey romance.
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When I showed up for tonight’s game, I didn’t know it would try to kill me.
I picture the headlines now: D-1 hockey player dies during biggest rivalry event of the year.
Whatever. I push those thoughts down and skate onto the rink, ignoring my out-of-control heartbeat. The thing is, I can’t die. Sure, I scored two goals in the first two periods even after some heavy body checks, but that’s not enough if I want to break the tie.
I need a hat trick.
I need to be the hero.
But the more I think about the fact that my chest is thumping faster than it should, the worse it gets.
Slow down, I tell my heart. Please.
It doesn’t, and I inhale slowly through my nose then out through my mouth. Deep breaths usually chill me out when performance anxiety hits, but the arena spins, and I resist the urge to skate back to the bench and put my head between my legs.
Shake it off, Z.
It’s just nerves in front of the home crowd. Use it as energy.
But this…this feels different. Like a train about to derail.
My jaw tightens as I clench my fists, physically willing myself to push one skate in front of the other.
Dressed in our black and gold, the team and I move to the center of the rink and up to the faceoff. Briefly, my thoughts go to the people in the stands. Watching. Depending on me to be the hockey star.
He has it all, people say. Number one pick in the NHL. Hobey Baker Award winner.
“Z? You good?” It’s Eric, my winger and best friend. Without even looking, I know the redheaded behemoth is assessing me—probably with a scowl on his bearded face.
He’ll think I’ve lost my mind.
He’ll think I can’t keep my shit together when it really counts.
I’m supposed to be strong.
I’m the captain.
I am this team.
“Z?” His voice is more insistent. “You ready for this?”
My chest squeezes and my arms tingle. Am I dying?
Don’t look at him. Dude sees everything.
I give him a nod.
Reece, my younger brother and another version of myself—so much so that it’s eerie—skates up on the other side. He slaps me on the back with his gloved hand and points his stick toward the Minnesota-Duluth players. “Ready to kick some bulldog ass?”
“Yeah.” One of the opposing defensemen catches my eye and makes a lewd gesture with his hands. It’s just a regular season game, but the rivalry between our universities goes back forty years. They also kicked our asses last year during the Frozen Four. Cold determination builds, battling with my racing heart as I grit my teeth. If you want to end up a champion, you have to climb the biggest mountains one step at a time, and right now this team is Mt. Everest.
I have to score.
A clammy feeling washes over me.
Get. Yourself. Together.
Somewhere off in the distance, a lone female fan yells, “Go, Z!” and chills race down my spine. It’s not her, but something about the voice is familiar enough that it sends me back in time to a place when I thought the world was golden.
She’s dead, and I know it, yet…
Panic claws at my body as the cold air around me grows hot and thick. My throat tightens and it’s all I can do to not rip off my helmet. My brain wants to climb out of my head and push the tension away. My stick wobbles as I juggle it, trying to keep it from clattering on the ice.
Wake up, Z. Your heart is going to pop out of your chest.
Coach Swearingen yells something, and I swivel my head to look at him, watching his lips move in slow motion. The lights of the arena blind me, and it feels like a monumental effort, but I somehow manage to put my hand up to shield the glare.
I’m swaying and I think I taste ashes in my mouth. God, this helmet is choking me. My limbs are chunks of lead, and I stop, panting as I hunch over on the ice until I manage to stand again. I’m vaguely aware of the stares of the officials, the calls from my teammates, the wave of silence slowly drifting over the arena.
Reece and Eric call my name.
Someone touches my arm—I think it’s an official—but I brush their hand off.
“Z! Z! Z!”
It’s that girl in the stands again.
I can’t do this in front of everyone.
Zack Morgan is not weak.
I’m a goddamn superstar.
Even though I don’t deserve it.
That’s when I bolt, pulling away.
By the time I make it past the other players on the bench—I can’t look at them for fear of them seeing what a total fucking disaster I am—I already have my helmet and gloves off. Chest heaving and gulping in air that isn’t there, I dash down the carpeted, darkened hallway, my heart a runaway train.