Five hockey players, a cabin in the woods . . . and little old me, Winnie Berlin.
Sounds like the start of a fantasy, right? But it's not. It's my reality.
It all started when I got lost in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. A wicked thunderstorm sent my car mud sliding into a ditch and for a girl whose survival skills involve finding the nearest Starbucks, I was in deep trouble.
Forced to abandon my car in search of help, I stumbled upon a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Soaking wet, irritated, and in desperate need of a hot shower, I knocked on the door for help only to be greeted by five boisterous, burly, and insanely attractive men.
Not just men.
Professional hockey players.
I hit the motherload of fantasies, right? Wrong.
Because as it turns out, one of them is my ex-boyfriend's half-brother. And when I end up crashing in their spare bedroom for the night, things take a very unexpected turn.
I'm not sure any amount of survival skills can protect my heart from Vancouver Agitators star goalie, Pacey Lawes. But as long as we kiss and don't tell, maybe everything will be okay . . .
Release date: September 21, 2021
Publisher: Hot Lanta Publishing LLC
Print pages: 450
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Kiss and Don't Tell
Man, I’m a fucking idiot.
Bet you haven’t heard that from a man before . . .
Yeah, every man on the face of this earth has uttered those sacred words at least a dozen times.
I’ve been a fucking idiot so many times, I’ve lost count.
But this . . .
This is by far the biggest screwup I’ve ever made.
Oh, you’re intrigued? You want to know what qualifies this particular situation as my biggest screwup?
One word . . . love.
Okay, okay, I know I’m not the only guy who’s fucked up when it comes to love. Frankly, I believe it’s human nature to fuck up with matters of the heart. But it’s my first time. That’s what makes this so special.
A virgin . . . well, not a sexual virgin, a love virgin. I’ve had plenty of sex. Not that we need to get into that, but I’m not a virgin.
See, this is the problem. This right here. The rambling, the not using my brain. I would like to blame my almost season-ending injury, but that would be a scapegoat. I’m just a dumbass.
Getting sick of me beating around the bush? If you were in my bed you wouldn’t.
I know, I’m annoyed with me too.
Okay, so I fucked up. How? Well, I’ll keep it short and simple . . .
Random girl shows up at cabin.
Random girl stays with us don’t worry, we will get into that.
Random girl turns out to be my half-brother’s ex-girlfriend.
She doesn’t know.
But I know.
Do you think I tell her?
Nah, why would I do that? That’s the intelligent thing to do and as we established, I am a dumbass.
Does she find out? Yup.
Does she get mad? Ohhh yeah.
Does she leave me . . . sad, alone, and love deprived?
One hundred percent.
Do I deserve it?
More than you know.
But more importantly, do you think I should have a chance at winning her heart back?
Before you decide, just listen to the story. I’m pretty sure you will have a change of heart.
“Dude, you’re killing the vibe,” Hornsby says from the pool. “Don’t make me be the dad and make me turn off the Wi-Fi.”
Ignoring him, I watch the highlight clip on my phone one more time. Body fake to the left, deke right, crossover, shoots to upper left pocket . . . and he fucking scores.
It was simple.
Any teenager could pull off that move. Hell, I wouldn’t even call it a move, I would call it basic hockey skills.
And yet, I didn’t stop it.
“Watch it all you want. It’s not going to change anything,” Taters, our right wing, says.
“But how, how did we miss this block?” I toss my phone on my large pool lounger and lean back, pushing my hand through my hair. “It was fucking rudimentary, and I let it go right between my legs.”
“That one shot didn’t cost us the playoffs,” Taters answers. “Everyone had a part in that massive failure of a game.”
Yeah, but that one shot was the winning goal, which means the blame still falls on me.
“Nothing you can do about it now, though,” says Eli Hornsby, the prettiest fucking defenseman in the game. He places his hands behind his head and lounges back, accepting the loss and allowing himself to relax. Not sure how he can. I’m still reeling from our loss and drop out of the playoffs. “And what’s rule number one when we get to the cabin?” he continues.
“No fucking hockey,” Posey says before he runs, jumps, and cannonballs into the pool.
Every summer, after the season, me and my boys head up to Banff, Canada, to Silas Taters’s cabin—well, mansion, but he calls it a cabin—and we de-stress. We forget about the season, soak up the sun and picturesque mountains, and just . . . fuck around.
The cabin is the perfect place to do that, with views of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the small-town feel of Banff, being away from Vancouver city life, and far from any sort of training facility—besides the million-dollar gym in the “basement” of the “cabin.”
But this year, I’m not quite in the mood to relax. Not when we were so close. So fucking close for our third championship win. I wanted that win. I’m not sure how much time I have left in front of the net, and after we were so close to making it to the finals, for a chance to hold the Stanley Cup over my head again and skate around the ice, knowing that my team, the Vancouver Agitators, are number one—fuck, it burns my soul.
I thought we had it this year. We were the sure win.
A stacked team.
And we fucking blew it.
How can they be so accepting with how the season ended?
“You’re scowling,” Taters says, splashing water in my direction.
Silas Taters, the fast-as-fuck right wing, currently has a chip on his shoulder for other reasons we won’t get into, and he’s known for using snarky quips to provoke the people around him, and doing it well. He signed the same year as I did, and I know he wanted this win just as much as I did. So, he’s either in denial, or he has a hell of a way of compartmentalizing.
I stand from the lounger and say, “I’m going to grab a drink.”
“If you’re going to do that, be a gentleman and grab everyone a goddamn drink,” Hornsby says.
Eli Hornsby, our team pretty boy. Hell, our league pretty boy. Perfect teeth, perfect nose, perfect face. He’s strong as shit, thighs for days, and the horniest motherfucker I’ve ever met. I think he’s slept with every single woman in Vancouver, plus or minus a few. He trains like a badass, parties as though it’s his job, eats as if food won’t be here tomorrow, and then does it all over again the next day. His lifestyle gives me anxiety, and he’s the one always trying to get me to “loosen up.”
“You want a chocolate milk?” I ask him.
He rubs his hand over his thick chest. “Milk does do the body good, as you can tell, but bring me a brewski.”
Rolling my eyes, I head into the house proper from the indoor pool. Taters says the space is called a natatorium, but that’s just a fancy word for a patio enclosed with sliding glass doors. It is nice, though, because you feel like you’re outside when the doors are open, but when it’s cold, you can turn up the pool heater, close the doors, and still swim.
I enter the kitchen just as Posey closes the fridge. Caught red-handed, he has a piece of bologna hanging out of his mouth and a beer in each hand.
Levi Posey, the dedicated bruiser of our group, and an absolute beast. Known as a teddy bear on the inside but a brutal devil on the ice, you don’t want to be smashed into the boards by this guy because it’ll feel as though a freight train just took you out.
“Why do you eat that shit?” I ask him.
He takes the bologna out of his mouth and says, “Honestly, I think I have a problem, and I don’t even think I want help with it.”
Posey is the king of bologna. Before every game he scarfs down a bologna sandwich with mustard. It’s vile, and how he can skate the way he does with that churning in his stomach makes me queasy just thinking about it.
“Is one of those beers for sharing?”
He glances down at the drinks and then back at me. “Uh, no. They were both for me.”
“Do me a favor and bring Horny and Taters one as well.” I move past him and open the fridge. Every shelf is stacked with beer, even the deli drawer where Posey keeps his bologna. We always have a chef come stay with us while we’re here. He’s really chill and ends up hanging out with us in the evenings. But he’s supposed to show up tonight, therefore, the fridge is currently stocked only with beer.
Loads and loads of beer.
So much beer that someone might walk in and think there’s a problem in this household. But taking down one can at a time is how we decompress from a long-ass season.
How we relax.
And how we forget.
I grab myself a can and then shut the door. I glance around the living room of the open-concept floor plan and ask, “Where’s Holmes?”
“I think on the balcony, that’s where I saw him last,” Posey answers.
“He have a drink?”
“Nah, not yet.”
I reach back into the fridge, grab a beer for Holmes as well, and head upstairs to the balcony, because if I know anything to be true, misery loves company.
“I think he wants to be left alone,” Posey calls out to me.
“When does he not want to be left alone?”
I take the steps to the second floor two at a time.
As the only single guys on the team, we, the guys here in the cabin, made a pact to come here during the off-season while our other teammates are off with their families and girlfriends. It works for us.
Especially for Holmes, who prefers to be alone.
I spot him on the balcony, just like Posey said, leaning back in a rocking chair, shoulders slumped, his eyes trained on his lap rather than the majestic view of the mountains in front of him.
Halsey Holmes, center, the best hands on the ice, can snap a puck off the stick so fast you don’t even realize he attempted to score until the buzzer is sounding off. He holds the record for most goals and assists. He’s the glue that holds the team together on the ice, even though he’s falling apart off the ice. Two years ago, he lost his twin brother, Holden, in a car accident. Being one of three Holmes boys playing hockey professionally, Halsey has completely separated himself from his family, ignored life, and has focused on hockey and nothing else. He comes to Banff because we force him. When we leave, we all trade off on helping him through the off-season.
I open the screen door to the balcony. He doesn’t even bother to look to see who joined him. I hand him a beer, and he takes it.
“Care if I join?”
“Nope,” he says while cracking his beer open.
“I can’t be down there right now, with them acting as though we didn’t just blow the fucking playoffs.” When Holmes doesn’t say anything, I continue, “It’s been a week and I’m still rethinking that last goal, over and over again.”
“You froze,” he says, lifting the beer to his lips.
“What?” I ask.
“I saw it happen. The minute Frederic planted his foot to shoot, your body stiffened and you froze.”
“You still have fear,” Holmes continues, not making eye contact with me. “As the goalie, you need to be fearless. Your body isn’t yours in the game, your body belongs to the team. You act as if it’s still yours, and that’s why you missed that block.” When I don’t say anything, he says, “Prove me wrong.”
And that’s the shit part, I can’t.
It was one fucking hit. One shot . . . and I blacked out.
As a goalie, that’s not supposed to bother me. But when I realized there were specific problems, that’s when shit got real.
I bring my beer to my mouth and say, “I can’t prove you wrong.”
And it’s true, I can’t.
He’s fucking right.
If I think about it, I did freeze.
In that moment, when I saw Frederic plant his foot, fear crept up the back of my neck, just like every other time I anticipated a slap shot. But this time, I wasn’t quick enough. I let the fear consume me.
Off in the distance, a crack of thunder echoes through the mountains. The once blue sky quickly shifts to gray, the clouds moving a mile a minute.
A storm is coming.
Feels about right.
Because a storm is brewing inside me as well.
“I don’t think Stephan is making it up here tonight,” Posey says as he sits at the bar of the kitchen, another piece of bologna in his hand.
“He has to,” Hornsby says, looking in the fridge. “We don’t have anything to eat besides Chips Ahoy cookies and Cheez-Its.”
“Don’t forget my bologna,” Posey chimes in. “I can make bologna sandwiches for everyone.”
“No one wants your goddamn bologna,” I say as my stomach rumbles just as loud as the thunder.
The storm picked up quickly. The cell service is spotty at best, the Internet is out, and the windows are being pelted by rain while lightning lights up the dark night sky. It’s a rough storm; with every crash of thunder, you can feel the house shake beneath your feet.
Stephan is our chef—the best there is—and unfortunately, I think Posey is right. There’s no way he’s making it up here. The house is at the top of a steep dirt hill. When it rains like this, that hill turns into a muddy slip and slide. Even Stephan’s truck doesn’t stand a chance.
“I can live off cookies until morning,” Hornsby says while picking up the package. His eyes narrow, he pulls out the plastic sleeve, which he discovers is empty, and turns a furious glare at Posey, who steadfastly refuses to meet his eye.
“What the actual fuck, Posey? You ate all the cookies?”
“How do you know it was me?” He tosses his hand to the side. “It very well could’ve been Holmes for all we know.”
“Wasn’t me,” Holmes says from the couch where he’s reading a book.
Posey could’ve picked on someone more believable. Holmes is a hermit; he’s not going to spend his time in the kitchen scarfing down cookies.
“You’re the only one who’s been hanging out in the kitchen all day,” Taters says, snagging the package from Hornsby. “And who the hell puts the package back like this? That’s just a dick move.”
“How was I supposed to know there was going to be a storm? If anyone is to blame, it’s YOU, Taters. You’re the host, you were supposed to provide us with food.” Posey has a very valid point.
“I did. I provided you Stephan.”
Posey folds his arms over his chest. “I think we know how well that went, you fuck.”
Thunder crashes around us, causing us all to sink into our shoulders from the forceful booming sound.
“Think it’s too bad to drive into town?” I ask.
Taters laughs. “Unless you’re excited about sliding down a dirt road, I’m pretty sure you’re going to want to stay put.”
It was worth a shot.
“My bologna sandwich is looking more and more delicious, isn’t it?” Posey asks with a grin.
Just then, there’s a knock at the door.
We all look at each other in surprise.
“Holy shit, Stephan made it?” Taters jogs to the entryway. When he opens the door, he reveals a short, drenched figure. Raincoat on, hood over their head, they stand there shivering as lightning shoots off in the distance. The scene could be picked straight from a horror film, and yet, we all look closer.
“I don’t think that’s Stephan,” Hornsby whispers.
At that moment, lightning strikes what sounds like the roof. There’s a brilliant flash of blinding light and a deafening crash, and the stranger’s head jerks up, the lightning illuminating the lower half of their rain-soaked face while leaving the rest in hollowed shadows. The velocity of the storm, along with that sudden movement, startles us all backwards. And I can probably vouch for every man in this house when I say our balls just curdled from the horror.
“Jesus, fuck,” Posey says, falling out of his chair. “Satan.” He points toward the door.
Satan is right. What the actual fuck is this? Why is Taters still holding the door open? Does he not watch horror films at all? This is how people receive an axe to the skull, because they don’t slam the door.
The person flips their hood down and collectively we hold our breath while a timid voice says, “No, I swear I’m not a murderer.”
That’s a girl’s voice.
“Turn on the outside light, for fuck’s sake,” I say.
Taters flips on the light, and the girl’s face comes into view, but this is no girl.
Nope, our visitor is a woman with drenched blonde hair, scared eyes, and a perfectly heart-shaped face.
Shivering, she says, “I’m s-sorry to bother you, but my car got stuck in the mud. I saw the lights from the pool and followed them. Do you have any cell service?” The storm booms behind her, causing her to shrink even smaller.
“We don’t. Sorry.” Taters goes to shut the door, but Hornsby quickly stops him.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Confused, Taters says, “Our phones aren’t working, and that’s what she’s looking for. Clearly, we don’t make a match.”
“Ask her if she wants to come inside, you idiot.”
Taters looks from the girl to Hornsby, and back again. “She could be a murderer.” He doesn’t bother keeping his voice down.
“She said she wasn’t,” Posey says while picking at the crumbs in the Chips Ahoy sleeve.
“So we’re just going to take her word for it?” Taters asks.
We all turn to the girl for confirmation. When she realizes we’re waiting, she stumbles out, “I’m not. I don’t do the murdering things. Hell, I don’t even know how to murder.”
Taters rolls his eyes. “Everyone knows how to murder.”
“I don’t know how to murder and get away with it,” she corrects herself.
Once again, Taters scoffs. “Please, everyone knows a woodchipper is a solid bet.”
“Jesus Christ,” I say. “Just let her in.”
“What if she’s a psycho?” Taters asks. “You want a psycho in here?”
Chiming in, the girl says, “I promise I’m not a psycho. I was just hoping I could use your phone.”
“And like I said”—Taters does a dramatic pause as he turns to her again—“they aren’t working. So, sorry for the inconvenience, but you should be on your way.”
“Holy shit, dude, where the hell is your chivalry?” Hornsby asks, pushing Taters out of the way and holding the door open wider. “Excuse our friend. He’s an enneagram six. A stranger in his house is his worst nightmare.”
With understanding in her voice, she says, “My best friend is a six. I totally get it. I got her a Ring camera for her birthday and she told me it was the best gift she ever received.”
“Was it the Ring Doorbell Pro?” Taters asks, perking up. “Did you get her a spotlight as well? You know you can link them together.”
“Ignore him. Come in,” Hornsby says.
The girl doesn’t move. Instead, she scans the space. “I don’t want to bother you. Your phones aren’t working, so there really is no reason for me to be here.”
“Where are you going to go?” Hornsby asks.
“I don’t know, back to my car, I guess, to wait out the storm.”
“You’ll be waiting for a while.” Hornsby nods inside. “Seriously, we don’t mind.”
She glances around again, and when her eyes land on me, taking me in, I have a moment of déjà vu. She looks . . . familiar. “Not to sound rude or anything, but it seems as if you’re a bunch of big guys. I have nothing with me but my backpack, which despite my best friend begging me to fill it with self-defense items, is instead stuffed with snacks. I’m not sure I could trust you not to murder me.”
“You have snacks?” Taters asks, sounding more welcoming.
“I do,” she says skeptically, backing up.
“He’s not going to take them.” Hornsby pushes Taters completely away. “Ignore him. His blood sugar is low. And yes, we might be big and intimidating, but we aren’t murderers. We’re Agitators.”
She backs away again. “That doesn’t sound reassuring.”
“Vancouver,” Hornsby clarifies.
But not an ounce of comprehension crosses her face, just nerves and uncertainty.
“We play professional hockey,” I say, clarifying, because who really understands someone just saying the word Vancouver? Her eyes land on me, dark lashes highlighting concerned pupils, and I swear they feel like heat rays, zooming in on me.
I know her. I swear I fucking do. But from where?
Turning away from me, she says, “I don’t watch hockey.”
All the guys groan together as Taters quickly goes on the defensive. Every time someone says they don’t watch hockey—which isn’t too often, given we all live in Canada—Taters makes it his mission to find out why.
“You don’t watch hockey? Is there a reason for that?” His body language reads that he’s ready to fight.
“Uh, better things to do?” she asks as the wind picks up, shooting some of the rain into the house.
“Better things to do?” Taters asks in disbelief. He shakes his head and thumbs toward her. “I was right about this one, she needs to move on.”
“Cut the shit,” Hornsby says. “Not everyone watches hockey. Are they making poor decisions in their life? Yes, but we’re not here to judge. We’re here to help.” He turns back to the girl. “Seriously, we’re not going to hurt you. It would be stupid on our end. Bad publicity. We’re good guys. I promise.”
“How do I know you’re telling the truth? That you’re hockey players?”
Hornsby pulls out his phone. “You can look us up.”
“Internet is out,” I say.
“Fuck.” He sticks his phone back in his pocket and then thinks for a second.
“I know.” He pulls out the umbrellas from the umbrella stand and tosses one to Posey and one to Taters. He doesn’t bother with Holmes, because we all know he hasn’t even lifted his head since our visitor knocked on the door. Then he snags a coaster off the coffee table and says, “Let’s show her. Lawes, set up a goal.”
“Seriously?” I ask.
His eyes land on me. “Yes, I’m fucking serious.”
Sighing, I push two bar stools to the side in front of the island, using the counter as the top of the goal and the chairs as the side. I stand in front of the goal and get in position.
“Now, watch carefully as we display our extreme athleticism.” Hornsby, our defenseman, drops the coaster on the floor and moves it back and forth with the tip of the umbrella. It’s comical that he’s attempting to have some semblance of coordination like Holmes. “This isn’t ideal, especially being guarded by two players. Holmes, I could use your help.”
“Nope,” he says.
With a sigh, Hornsby says, “Taters, you’re out. Make this two on one.”
“Fine by me.” Taters takes a seat and uses the umbrella as a mic. “I’ll announce.”
Hating every second of this, I watch as Hornsby gets in position, Posey defending him. Together, they tap the ground and then each other’s umbrellas. They do this three times, and then Hornsby snags the coaster and spins toward me. Look at Horny, making the moves—most likely trying to impress the girl since he’s not playing his actual position right now. Posey is right on his ass, though, using his shoulder like he does best as he reaches for the coaster.
“Welcome to an impromptu exhibition of umbrella coaster athleticism,” Taters says. “Guarding the goal tonight, we have Pacey Lawes. Quick on his feet, he’s a menace in front of the net. They’re going to have to work hard to squeak something by him. Socking across the hardwood floor, we have Eli Hornsby with the green umbrella, struggling to keep the coaster close to him, or to even slide across the floor. I believe he’s regretting his choice of puck at the moment.”
“Accurate,” Hornsby says, his voice tight.
“And with the yellow umbrella, we have one of the best defensemen in the league. Unafraid to throw a punch and then end the night with a bologna sandwich, Levi Posey sticks to Horny like glue.”
“Don’t call me that in front of company,” Hornsby says as he spins toward me. I keep my eye on the coaster, ready to make a grab for whatever shot he attempts.
“Horny is zeroing in on his target, but will he be able to get by the Chips Ahoy annihilator? Or will an entire pack of cookies affect Posey’s ability to move quickly enough to steal the coaster away?”
“Really feeling those cookies?” I ask.
“Light as a feather over here,” Posey says, grappling for the coaster.
“Knock it off with your goddamn elbows,” Hornsby says as he takes the coaster the other way, then switches back.
“He’s closing in. This goal will be his. I can feel it,” Taters says. “Signature move. Deke to the left, spins and . . .”
Hornsby flicks the umbrella, shooting the coaster to the upper left side of the “goal.” Without even a second thought, I reach up and block the coaster. Hornsby had no chance.
“And the coaster is stopped by Lawes, a block he could’ve easily done in his sleep. That must sting for our dear friend Horny.”
“Uh, what about my superior defense?” Posey asks.
“I think it was the take down of the Chips Ahoy package that helped you. You were unmovable.”
Done with this, I toss the coaster on the counter and take a seat at the island again while Hornsby shoves his umbrella in the stand. He pushes his hair back and asks, “So, does that help?”
The girl stands there, holding the straps of the backpack resting on her shoulders, taking in the scene. I don’t blame the absolute confused look on her face right now. Hell, I’d pay good money to know exactly what she must be thinking at this moment.
“Uh, no, just made you more insane. And the nickname ‘Horny’ doesn’t help either.”
“They’re idiots,” Hornsby says.
“Here,” Holmes says from the couch, handing over his phone.
Taters walks over to him and takes his phone in his hand. “You have the team photo on your phone?”
Holmes doesn’t say anything. Instead, he goes back to his book.
Hornsby snags the phone and shows it to the girl, who examines the photo intently. Smirking, she asks, “Why aren’t you all smiling? It’s a team photo, after all.”
“Athletes aren’t supposed to smile in photos,” Taters says. “We’re supposed to be intimidating.”
“Oh, was that the look you were going for? You look more constipated than anything.”
We all bust out in laughter as Taters snatches the phone from her. “You realize this is my house you’re trying to gain access to, right? Referring to me as constipated isn’t going to grant you access, but rather punch your ticket out of here.”
“Settle the fuck down,” Hornsby says. “Come on, at least dry off for a bit. We have Cheez-Its and bologna sandwiches and plenty of beer. Maybe we can find some cell service while waiting it out.”
She still seems suspicious but instead of backing away this time, she steps into the entryway.
“Let me take that for you,” Hornsby says as he reaches for her backpack.
She sheds her backpack and then takes off her raincoat as well, revealing an hourglass figure in a pair of black leggings and a tight red top that shows off her cleavage.
I think I know what’s going through every guy’s mind in this house—besides Holmes, who hasn’t lifted his head from his book—this girl is hot.
But the question is, are they having déjà vu thoughts like I am? Because I swear I’ve seen her face before.
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