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Hot as Puck
Author: Lili Valente

Chapter One





This is it, the night I’ll look back on in fifty or sixty years and stab a finger at as the moment my life changed forever. Somewhere out there, in the throng of people wiggling to the club beat pulsing across the Portland skyline from the most exclusive rooftop lounge in the city, is the woman I’m going to marry.

Next summer.

In eight short months.

Because I’m dying to settle down, develop a food-baby where my six-pack used to be, spend Friday nights on the couch in my give-up-on-life sweatpants arguing about what to watch on Netflix and picking out names for the five or six kids my wife and I will bang out as quickly as possible to ensure we’ll have an army of small people to share in the grinding monotony of our wedded bliss.

Ha. Right.

Or rather no. Hell no. Fuck no, with a side of “what kind of reality-altering drugs have you been huffing in the bathroom?”

Sylvia is out of her goddamned mind! I’m twenty-eight years old—tonight, happy fucking birthday to me—and at the top of my game. I have zero interest in a long-term commitment to anything but my team.

The Portland Badgers are riding a ten-game winning streak, thanks largely to the fact that I bust my ass in the gym every other morning so I can bust my ass on the ice every time Nowicki spaces-out eighteen minutes into the period and forgets what his stick is for. That rookie’s untreated ADHD is a pain in my ass, but the rest of the forwards and I are taking up the slack and then some. I’m averaging over a point a game, leading the league in goals, and on my way to an elite season. Maybe even an Art Ross Trophy-winning season, though I don’t like to count my eggs before they’ve been scrambled, smothered in cheese and hot sauce, and wrapped in a burrito.

God, a burrito sounds good. I’m so fucking hungry. I would kill for Mexican right now, or at least something cooked and wrapped in something other than seaweed.

Nearly three thousand dollars in hor d’oeuvres are being passed around this party on shiny silver platters, and there’s not a damned thing I want to eat.

I let Sylvia—who has very firm opinions about many, many things—handle ordering the food, and apparently she thought sushi, sushi, more sushi, and some weird, rock-hard, low-fat cookies that taste like vanilla-flavored air were all anyone would want to shove in their pie-hole tonight. Just like she thought I should get down on one knee and put a ring on her finger in time to plan a blockbuster summer wedding or she would need to “explore her other options.”

Explore her other fucking options. What the fuck? Who says something like that to a guy they swear they’re desperately in love with? If she were really that gone on me, wouldn’t I be the only option? The only person in the entire world that she could even remotely consider spending the rest of her life with?

I kind of want to hate Sylvia—what sort of person tries to blackmail you into proposing to them on your birthday? She should have at least waited until her birthday next month—but I just keep thinking about how lonely my bed is going to be tonight. Sylvia is clearly deeply deluded about how far along we are in the evolution of our relationship, but she’s also very pretty, gives the best head I’ve ever had, bar none, and smells really, really nice.

I have a thing about the way a woman smells. Not her perfume or her soap or her body lotion, but her. The woman herself. Her base note, the scent that rises from her skin when she’s lying in the sun or kissing me after a run or just hasn’t showered in a while.

Yes, with the right woman, I enjoy logging some quality bedroom time while she’s a little bit dirty. Don’t fucking judge me! It’s my birthday!

Anyway… No one smells as good as Sylvia does at the end of a long day on my boat, with sweat, sea salt, and sunscreen dried on her skin. Making love to her on the deck this past summer, with her long legs wrapped around my waist as I did my best to take home the trophy for most orgasms delivered in a single afternoon, I was convinced I’d finally met someone I could stick with for longer than a season.

But it’s not going to happen. It’s only October and I’ve just told Sylvia she’s coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs and that I’ll have her shit packed up and sent to her office tomorrow afternoon.

And then she said that I was an emotionally unavailable jerk who is incapable of sustaining an adult relationship. And then I said that she’s a blackmailing, birthday-ruining, manipulative, sushi-obsessed control freak who should try to choke down a carb once in a while because it might make her more fun to be around on pizza night or donut morning or any other day of the goddamned week involving carbs because a life without carbs is a stupid life. And then she flipped me off and told me to “have a nice long, lonely existence, asshole,” before knocking over a tray of champagne glasses on her way to the elevator at the other end of the roof.

The only good news? Very few of my guests seemed to notice our fight or Sylvia’s dramatic exit.

It’s nine-thirty, we’ve all been drinking since six, and most of my nearest and dearest are feeling no pain. I should be feeling no pain, too. I’m on my third tumbler of GlenDronach, haven’t eaten anything since lunch because the food at my party is unacceptable—if Sylvia and I were really meant to be, she would have realized I hated sushi two months ago—and haven’t drunk anything more serious than a beer since before the preseason.

But somehow, I’m stone-cold sober.

Sober and tired of celebrating, and wishing I could slip out and grab a deep-dish pizza from Dove Vivi. The cornmeal crust thing they’ve done to their pies is addictive, and I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in the world fresh mozzarella, house-made bacon, and a hearty slathering of pesto can’t fix.

Portland is home to some of the best eats in the world. It’s also home to more strip clubs per capita than any other city in the nation. If I weren’t committed to being a good host, I could have pizza in my belly and boobs in my face in under an hour. But I’m not the kind to ghost on my guests. I leave that for weirdos like my team captain, Brendan, who consistently vanishes from bars and clubs without warning, and clearly has issues with saying good-bye.

Not that I can blame him. After six years as a happily married man, going back to hitting the scene solo can’t be easy.

I’m just glad to see him finally out and about again. After Maryanne’s death, he shut down so hard a lot of us on the team were worried there might come a day when we’d show up for practice and learn Brendan wasn’t coming back to the ice, either because he’d lost the will to play, or because he’d lost the will to live.

That’s how much you should love the woman you’re going to marry. You should love her so much that if she were taken away from you it would feel like your rib cage had been cracked open and some sadistic son of a bitch was cutting away tiny pieces of your heart, slathering them in salt, and eating them right in front of you.

I’ve never felt anything close to that. For Sylvia or any other girl I’ve dated.

So maybe Sylvia is right. Maybe I’m going to spend the rest of my life solo, with my loneliness occasionally broken by short-term relationships with various hot pieces of ass.

“Poor me,” I say, lips curving in a hard grin.

Seriously, cry me a river, right? I’ve got a multi-million-dollar contract, a stunning loft with one-hundred and eighty degree views of the city, and my health, which is not something I’m stupid enough to take for granted. I was born with the kind of face that not even a black eye from scrumming with those douchebags from L.A. can wreck, and a body that performs—on the ice and in the bedroom. I should be laughing all the way to the dance floor, where I know of at least six or seven unattached hotties, any one of which would be happy to ease my birthday breakup pain by riding my cock all night long.

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