Minnesota Caribou Book Four
When I show up on the doorstep of a posh and girly boutique ready to take my self-induced off-season penance, the owner wants none of it.
Despite her better judgment, she decides to give me a chance, and I work hard for her. Harder than I’ve ever worked in my life. Even though I have no idea why.
As one of the top players in the NHL, women come easy to me. Most just come.
But not this girl. She’s feisty, sassy, independent. Hot as hell and sexy as sin.
But no matter what she thinks, she needs me. And before I’m done working off the price of my litany of sins, she’ll know it.
GAMED is a full-length steamy sports romance from USA Today Bestselling Author, Colleen Charles. It has a small-town feel and an older woman trying to resist her hot as hell younger man. It’s the fourth book in the gripping MINNESOTA CARIBOU hockey series but can be read as a standalone.
“Sue-Ann, it’s good to see you again. You’re looking gorgeous, as always,” the man says, cringing and covering his head as if I might knock him on the top of it.
The last time I saw him, I wanted to do just that. But time heals all wounds, they say.
I allow a tiny smile to curve my lips instead. “Mark Spencer, as I live and breathe. Word on the street says you got your shit together.”
He has the good graces to look duly chagrined and chastised. “Word on the street? Or word from my brother?”
I give him a quick hug. “A little bit of both. I’m just happy you’re talking to each other again. Family is family and blood is thicker than water. How’s business going for you?”
A warm smile twitches his lips and I remember how hot Mark is. Like all Spencers, charisma and charm roll off him in lazy waves, drawing women to him like flies to honey wherever he goes. I almost wish he hadn’t hurt Adam and therefore, my best friend by association.
“Good. I never thought I’d see the day when I ran my own sporting goods store, but here we are. With all the hockey up here, I’m never lacking business, especially for the blade sharpening and custom sticks.”
I nod. “That’s great. So what brings you in today? Need a gift for someone?”
And it better not be fucking Heather.
Mark glances around the store, his gaze finally landing on the Hermes case and I know where his mind has drifted back to. “Nah, I don’t have any special women in my life to buy gifts for right now. I’m here to issue an invitation. I need a partner for the Chamber’s Amazing Race this year. You game?”
I tug my lower lip between my teeth. With Max and the store and… Max, I totally forgot that the Amazing Race competition was next week and that I’d signed up like I do every year. But I’d signed up to volunteer, not to compete. “I thought I’d just man the sign-up booth like I did last year and hand out welcome packets.”
Mark leans in close. Too close. “That doesn’t sound fun at all. Come on, Sue. The girl I used to know would grab the bull by both horns and give it a yank.”
“She already has a partner.”
At the sound of that deep, panty-melting voice, both our heads turn. Max stands in the doorway to the stockroom with a pair of jeans in one hand and a determined look on his chiseled face. His gaze moves between us, but then ultimately lands on Mark.
Mark stabs his thumb. “What is he doing here?”
I sigh, not keen on Mark’s sudden attitude. “Milo sent him when he found out I was in a jam for help in the store.”
If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn Mark’s lower lip jutted out a sliver. “Seriously, Monroe, don’t you have anything better to do in your time off? Some old ladies that need help crossing the street or some Boy Scouts that need to learn how to rub two brain cells together?”
Max steps into the room, all rippling muscles and cocky smirk. “Nope. All of me is at Sue-Ann’s disposal.”
If it wasn’t so obvious, I’d slap a hand across my forehead and drop my hanky. I feel like the damsel in distress and two knights are about to joust over my honor. Except I lost that honor back in freshman year of college. Now, how to break this up without hurting either one of their tender egos.
Mark’s nostrils flare. “How nice for her. But you can’t be Sue-Ann’s Amazing Race partner. Don’t you have to be at mini-camp that week?”
Max shakes his head almost a little too hard. “Nope. That’s only for the top two lines. I don’t have to report until training camp.”
Mark visibly deflates, then he turns to me. “Are you really going to run with this guy? From what I hear, a woman can’t trust him to make it to the next morning, let alone an entire athletic competition.”
Once Max reaches the counter, he leans against it casually, his fingers tapping on the glass. “Oh, she can trust me. She can trust me to be the winner she needs.”
Mark clears his throat. “Are you saying you think you can beat me?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. The competition is couples of the male/female variety. Seems to me that you’re without a partner. Doesn’t look good for you, Spencer.”
The male dominance whiplash I’m getting between these two just about snaps my neck. What in the hell is going on? I don’t have romantic feelings toward either of them. Well, at least not one of them and the other feelings are being ignored and tossed back down into the dark shadow from where they came before they can get going full steam ahead. But they’re both acting like they have some kind of claim to me and my participation in the race when I don’t want to participate at all.
Mark’s chest puffs out. “I asked her first.”
Max’s hot gaze drills into me like he just bitch slapped Mark Spencer back into 1999 and he wants me to string a gold medal around his neck. “Is that true, Sue-Ann? Seems to me that the team representing your store should be the people working at the store. It’s only fair that way. He’s the competition.”
“Umm…” I’m backed into a corner with my back firmly up against the wall. No matter what I say, a man I like is walking out of here annoyed or worse. I hate disappointing people. My customers. Myself. Dammit, I don’t know what to do. But when Max Monroe’s hypnotic blue eyes meet mine, I can’t look away. And I find I don’t want to. “I think Max is right, Mark. What would it look like to the chamber if competing businesses coupled up to run the race? I don’t think it would look good, you know?”
Since I tossed Mark a way to save face, he grabs it with both hands. “I guess when you put it that way. But don’t expect me to go easy on you. Either of you.”
Max looks like a cross between a Roman gladiator and an MMA fighter. “I’ll look forward to it.”
Mark turns to leave, calling over his shoulder, “Let’s grab a drink sometime, Sue-Ann. Catch up on old times.”
Once Mark leaves, I whirl on Max. “What was that all about?”
His narrowed gaze still watches Mark as he hits the sidewalk. “You are not going out with that douche.”
“Isn’t he the genius that almost imploded Spencer’s career with that doping scandal? Not to mention sleeping with Spencer’s fiancée. That’s some twisted shit. I don’t want you to go out with a man like that. I’d say the same thing to my sister.”
My stomach twists into a knot that grows and stays planted, refusing to ease. So that’s how he sees me? As his older sister and he’s just acting all pissy because he wants to protect me just like he would some other chick in his family? God, what was I thinking during girl’s night with Jules when I spilled my guts about how much I liked him?
God, you’re such an idiot, Sue-Ann.
Seems the sizzling chemistry is only being felt on my side. He probably thinks of me like some hold hag wearing granny panties and slathering herself with Bengay every night for her aching joints.
Except ever since I met him, it’s been more like my Rabbit for my aching lady bits.
His eyes darken as I drink him in with my own, unable to stop myself. “Thanks for looking out for me, but I can handle Mark Spencer or anyone else who comes along.”
Max leans forward, a twinkle in his eyes, a challenging set to his chiseled jaw. “I know you can. It’s one of the many things I like about you. But you independent chicks could learn a thing or two about sitting down and letting a man protect you once in a while. We’re good for more things than just taking out the trash. It makes us feel useful.”
My breath stalls in my lungs as my brain focuses on that single word and a question pops out before I can swallow it. “Many?”
I can’t focus on worrying about receiving more out of left field compliments. Every brain cell floating around in my head floats, struggling to land. My gaze is riveted to Max – his long, tapered fingers gently gripping the counter. I’m at risk of melting down unless I get the hell out of here before I go and do something we both regret.
Like lean in.
Dart my tongue out.
Taste the sexy seam of his full lips.
This is so crazy – this deep, all-encompassing want I have for this man I can’t have. I wonder if the ache is only because he’s off limits or if it’s something more than that. The breath stalls in my lungs as my unanswered question hangs suspended in the electrically charged air.
“You’re smart. Independent. Successful,” he says, the grit in his voice rasping like coarse sandpaper against a board. “Like all the things.”
Before I can say another word, he whips around to my side of the glass countertop, snaking a hand around my waist. Sometime between the bathroom and this moment, he lost Mrs. Garcia’s sombrero. His normally perfect hair explodes around his head and I lift my hand to touch it, amazed at its softness.
Max moans and pulls me even closer. I lean into his embrace, and when my hand flutters back to my side, his lips find mine. Even as my heart flips over, my brain engages. It doesn’t feel wrong at all.
It feels so damn right.
He starts off slow, gentle, in a way I never thought a man his age would be. Kids don’t do anything slow. All the times I imagined this moment, he took possession of my mouth with fierce determination. But this… this is even better. His hand cups my jaw and he tilts my head as his mouth moves tenderly over mine.
His warm tongue teases the seam of my lips, tasting me, just like I’d fantasized about doing to him just a couple of minutes ago. The first wet touch sends tiny jolts of desire shooting through my body like Fourth of July sparklers.
“Sue-Ann, damn baby,” he says, his tone laced with a sexy grit.
Max leans me back, caging me in between the counter and his hard body, wedging a muscular thigh between my legs. I surrender to the sensations, reveling in the steely feel of his chest and inhaling his citrusy scent. A flood of warmth heads to my panties, my clit throbbing and yearning for his touch.
Just as I snake my arms around his neck to pull him in even closer, my pebbled nipples searching for his rock-hard chest, a wail pierces my consciousness. I ignore it. But it comes back even louder than before.
Catrick. His annoyed and hungry meow.
Dammit, I forgot to feed him. It’s past closing time – past dinner time, and Catrick stands just beneath me, weaving back and forth between Max and I, those azure eyes gazing up at us. I’m not sure if he approves or not.
Max lets go of me and I wobble a bit before I right myself.
Despite his trademark grin, his voice is full of need and everything remaining unresolved by our explosive kiss. “You should have named him Buzz Killington.”