Playing to Win (Harlequin Blaze)

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9780373798827: Playing to Win (Harlequin Blaze)
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Playing to win means playing dirty... 

Holly Evans is intelligent, educated and crazy about sports—so how did she end up prancing about in a miniskirt and teasing her hair like some broadcasting bimbo? Of course, since she's already iced her journalistic integrity, Holly might as well indulge in a little fangirl lust for the ripped captain of Portland's hockey team. 

Luke Maguire sees right through Holly's bunny disguise, and he's ready to pull her into the locker room and strip it all off. Then Holly discovers someone on the team is profiting from a little over/under betting. Suddenly her lusting for Luke is going head-to-head with her reporting instincts. And if she's caught offside, there's no telling what the penalty will be...

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Taryn Leigh Taylor likes dinosaurs, bridges and space, both personal and of the final-frontier variety. She shamelessly indulges in cliches, most notably her Starbucks addiction, her shoe hoard and her penchant for falling in lust with fictional men with great abs. She also really loves books, which is what sent her down the crazy path of writing one in the first place. For more on Taryn, check out tarynleightaylor.com, facebook.com/tarynltaylor1 and twitter.com/tarynltaylor.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

"Quit squirming, Hol. You look totally porn-hot."

Holly Evans glared at her friend and cameraman. "Well, thanks, Jay. I feel so much better now. After all, 'porn-hot' is just what we professional sportscasters aspire to, right, Corey?"

She immediately regretted throwing the question to the reporter setting up a few feet down the rubber-floored hallway. Corey Baniuk was Portland's favorite on-the-scene sports authority...at least for now.

Rumor had it that Jim Purcell, the longtime sports anchor at Portland News Now, was contemplating retirement and that Corey had a lock on the in-studio position. That meant Holly's dream job might soon be up for grabs—and Holly intended to do the grabbing. Provided she hadn't screwed up all her credibility by playing Sports Reporter Barbie for the next three months, of course.

"Sure." Corey shot her the familiar, good-natured grin that was a staple of both the six and eleven o'clock news. "Someone will be by to oil my chest any minute."

His camera guy chuckled and heat prickled up Holly's cheeks, no doubt rivaling the fireengine-red color of her outfit. She forced a wan smile—small thanks for him taking the high road, but it was all she could muster. God, she envied him his conservative gray pinstripe suit. And he was even wearing a shirt under his jacket. She would give up her firstborn for a shirt.

"How did this happen?" she lamented in Jay Buchanan's general direction. "I am an intelligent, educated woman who is passionate about all things sports." She glanced down at her brazen skirt suit, but with her boobs pushed up to her chin, not much of it was visible to her.

Damn Victoria and all her secrets.

"When did I become the Hooters girl of broadcasting?"

Jay rolled his eyes. "Hey, you knew what you were signing up for. Hell, I'll bet Lougheed had dollar signs circling his head when he saw your audition tape."

Holly cringed at her friend's choice of words. "It wasn't an audition tape," she protested weakly. "It was a favor for you. And a fight against injustice."

When she'd agreed to shoot the joke video with Jay's fledgling production company, she was aiming for satire, intending it to be biting commentary on how female sports reporters were perceived. It was an attempt to show people the stereotypes she fought against every day in pursuit of her dream. Instead, she was now the star of a bona fide viral video, sporting a teased-out helmet of blond hair and freezing her butt off while she pretended to be hockey-impaired.

It had caught the attention of Ron Lougheed, the GM of Portland's professional hockey team, and the ditzy routine was now, sadly, the best on-camera experience she'd been offered since she'd graduated broadcasting school.

"No one cares what it was. What the Women's Hockey Network is, is a YouTube sensation! People are eating it up and coming back for seconds. To the suits, you're the living, breathing, high-heel-wearing crowbar they're gonna use to pry into the coveted female demographic."

"And they somehow figure short skirts are going to help me accomplish that lofty goal?" she asked snidely, tugging said skirt back down her thighs.

"Hell, no! That's to keep the guys interested while you're talking about girly stuff like player hairdos."

With a deep breath of arena—rubber and concrete and sweat and ice—Holly called upon the stupid yoga class she'd suffered through two years ago at her best friend Paige's behest. Something about a mind/body connection, and inner peace, and deep breaths, and—ah, screw it.

Time to suck it up, Princess.

Jay was right. She'd accepted the job as the Portland Storm's web reporter for the duration of their play-off run, and if dressing like someone's too-slutty-to-acknowledge cousin was the price of breaking into her dream career, then that's what she'd do. She gave a determined nod at the thought, slamming a mental door on the last remnants of her doubt.

The buzzer sounded to hail the end of the game, and Holly's newly minted courage took a nosedive. This was it. Her debut.

She watched with mounting nerves as twenty massive men in skates and full equipment stalked toward her.

And speaking of porn-hot...

There he was: Luke Maguire, team captain, number eighteen, a premier left-winger with a career-best thirty-seven goals in the regular season this year. Not to mention sexy as hell and in possession of all of his teeth—no rare feat after six years in professional hockey. The man looked incredible, all tall and sweaty and pissed off over the loss of their first play-off game against Colorado.

When she caught his eye, she was torn somewhere between lust and duty. Then his gaze dropped to the straining top button of her suit jacket, and she felt extreme mortification enter the mix. He slowed his pace, lifted his beautiful blue eyes from her cleavage to her face and stepped out of the single-file line of burly hockey players to take a question. From her.

This was it. Her big moment. Thirty seconds with one of the elite players of the game. But instead of being able to ask something pertinent, like his thoughts on the lackluster performance of the Storm's players, or his musings on the unprecedented twenty penalty minutes they'd accrued, she was contractually obligated to say:

"This is Holly Evans of the Women's Hockey Network, and with me tonight is the captain of the Portland Storm, Luke Maguire! Luke, it's play-off season, a time when superstitions run rampant and hockey players all over the league stop shaving, even though a recent study shows that women prefer the clean-shaven look to a full beard by a margin of almost four to one. Do you think tonight's loss had anything to do with the fact that you chose to shave today, and do you plan on reconsidering your stance on facial hair as the play-offs progress?"

One straight, brown eyebrow crooked up, the only indication he'd even heard her "question." (She was willing to concede that she was using the term loosely.)

Then he grabbed the logoed towel some Sports Nation lackey had slung on his shoulder, wiped the sweat from his face and turned and walked away.

"Buck up, Cap. Why so down?"

Luke took a deep breath and started pulling off the tape wound around his socks and shin pads. "You mean aside from getting shut out in our own building, setting a franchise record in penalty minutes and the looming press conference I have to spend assuring reporters that we know we sucked out there?"

As far as Luke was concerned, the only upside to their spectacular 5-0 loss to Colorado was that Coach Taggert had been so pissed that he'd refused post-game media access to the dressing room. At least they could shower, change and lick their wounds in relative peace.

Brett Sillinger, the Storm's eighth-round draft pick, ran a hand through his sweaty curls. "Well, sure. When you put it that way. But look at the bright side! We're loaded, and women throw themselves at us! We've got the best goddamn job in the world, bar none. And we're in the play-offs, baby!"

Luke's stomach lurched. "Trust me, rookie, I know we're in the play-offs."

Did he ever. It was a pretty big deal to some very rich people in some very high places, people who were... eager to see the team perform well in the franchise's first run for the cup since joining the league five years ago. That fact had been made abundantly—and repeatedly—clear to him in the month since they'd clinched their play-off spot.

It was also Luke's first time in the play-offs since the worst night of his life. Three years had passed, but the wound was still as fresh as ever.

He shoved the nightmarish memory back into the mental penalty box where it belonged, barely aware he'd reached for his helmet until he caught himself brushing his thumb across the number ten sticker he'd placed inside it—a talisman to keep him focused. With a sigh, he reached up and set his helmet on the shelf above his head.

He was the team captain now, he reminded himself. He had a job to do and he couldn't afford to wallow in personal issues. You couldn't lead a team to victory if they didn't trust you to take care of business. And yet he didn't seem to be leading the team anywhere but to an early play-off exit. They all needed to get their heads out of their asses.

"We won't be in the play-offs for long if we keep playing like we just did. I know there are some nerves in the room. This franchise has never been in the play-offs before, and no one here has ever won a championship. None of that matters. We need to play our game, stay hungry and determined.

"And we can't get sidetracked by the increased media scrutiny. Especially now that even the nonsports media are hunting for stories and interviews. The blonde out there actually asked me if I thought we lost because I'm not growing a play-off beard."

The entire dressing room went silent as Luke untied his skate. He glanced around at his eerily quiet teammates. "What?"

"Well, we did lose..."

Luke's face twisted with disgust. "Are you kidding me? It's the first game! None of you even have beards yet. You guys really buy into this 'no shaving' bull?"

The rookie stroked his pitiful day's worth of stubble.

"All I know is that I'm in this to win this, and if sportin' a Grizzly Adams gets me closer to a championship, then I'm on it like STDs on a hooker."

"You realize that three out of four women hate beards, right?" Luke pulled his skate off, hating that he'd actually reduced himself to quoting stats from that reporter.

Sillinger got a philosophical look on his face. "Shave and you get laid for a night. Do what it takes to score a championship ring, and you'll be up to your balls in puck bunnies for the rest of your life. I mean, seriously, Mags. A woman with a body like that reporter's names me her 'hockey hottie of the month,' and I'll answer any stupid question she asks."

Luke paused in the act of loosening his other skate. "What are you talking about?"

"Are you serious?" Sillinger's surprise was obvious. "Holly Evans? The Women's Hockey Network?"

Luke gave a bewildered shrug.

"Dude, she's all over YouTube! She does this girly hockey-analysis show that's gone viral. And in it, she named you the hottest hockey player in the league. The top brass practically begged her to be our web reporter during the play-offs! Do you guys believe this? Hot Stuff here doesn't even know who Holly Evans is!"

The announcement set off a round of catcalls and ribbing. Luke turned to his linemate, Eric Jacobs. The stoic centerman gave a shrug of his big shoulders and shook his head. Luke was relieved he wasn't the only one out of the loop on this.

"Okay, okay." Luke waited for the dressing room to quiet. "Let's stay focused, guys. The game might be over, but we've still got work to do."

Work that involved hours of ripping apart the carcass of the worst game they'd played all year. The assembled jackals—uh, reporters—were going to eat him alive, Luke thought soberly. He shed the rest of his equipment and headed for the showers.

But that was the price of the C on his jersey. The price of earning a living doing what he loved. Which was an honor and a privilege, considering some people never got that chance. And others had it stolen from them. Luke sighed.

At least the evisceration wouldn't have anything to do with beard statistics and superstitious nonsense. And yet somehow Luke sensed that Holly Evans was a bigger threat than all the other sports reporters combined.

2

"The Storm essentially played an entire period short-handed, which, given the dismal play of your PK unit, definitely contributed to tonight's loss. Can you give us any insight as to what led to this unprecedented number of penalties for the Storm?"

Holly hit the pause button on last night's broadcast and whirled on the couch to face her best friend, Paige Hallett. "Did you hear that? That was my question. Corey Baniuk just asked Luke Maguire my question. And did the dumb jock walk away without a word? No. He stood there and answered it, the jerk!"

"You asked him that question and he ignored you?" Paige looked offended on her behalf.

"Well, no. I asked him if he thought he might grow a play-off beard—then he ignored me. But that's the question I wanted to ask him. That was a great question!"

Paige turned back to the magazine she was perusing. "I'll take your word for it. He lost me when he started talking about China. Besides, why would the Storm play a whole period shorthanded? Seems kind of counterproductive to me."

Holly sighed and set the remote on her coffee table. "They didn't play an actual period shorthanded, they got twenty penalty minutes, so over the course of the game, they essentially played a man short for the length of a period. And he didn't say Peking, he said PK unit. When a team gets a penalty, they put out their best penalty killers, their penalty kill unit."

"Oh. Well, why didn't he just say that?"

"He did! He did say that, and Luke Maguire answered him, because it was a relevant question asked by a serious sports reporter."

Paige shot her a sympathetic look. "You're a serious sports reporter."

"No, I'm a traitor to my gender. Last night I wore a tiny suit and high shoes and made a mockery of everything I love."

"Would you cut yourself some slack? Those were some seriously great shoes I picked out for you to wear. Besides, the only way you're truly a traitor to your gender is the complete lack of readable magazines in your house." Paige held up the Sports Illustrated she was flipping through as proof. "Seriously. If these guys weren't shirtless, I'd throw this across the room in protest. Oh, wow." A dreamy smile spread across Paige's pretty face. "Who is that? Come to momma."

Holly glanced over at the glossy, two-page spread featuring a certain hot, shirtless hockey player. His brown hair was the perfect length between shorn and shaggy, his blue eyes intense as ever. He was sitting in the dressing room, kitted out in hockey gear from the waist down—pants, socks and skates—and all muscle and beautiful bronzed skin from the waist up. Behind him, his last name and a big number 18 gleamed white against the navy of his Storm jersey.

"That's Luke Maguire. The topic of my diatribe for the last twenty minutes? The man currently paused on my television?" Holly gestured at his stupid handsome face in HD.

"Well, why didn't you tell me he was so yummy? I would have paid better attention." She glanced at the television, presumably for the first time since her arrival. "Mmm. Maybe you were right. I should watch more hockey."

Holly couldn't help but smile. She had been trying to open Paige up to the wonders of sports for the better part of a decade now. How had Holly not realized the best way to turn Paige on to sports was to turn Paige on? "You're incorrigible, you know that?"

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Taryn Leigh Taylor
Published by Harlequin Blaze (2015)
ISBN 10: 0373798822 ISBN 13: 9780373798827
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