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Girlfriend…without benefits?

Hometown hockey hero, Blake has life completely figured out. He’s footloose and fancy free with the world’s coolest job and an endless parade of puck bunnies ready to help him celebrate his victories. The status quo is working for him, so why does he agree to co-parent a stray puppy with his too-serious, workaholic neighbor, Erika? And why is he so annoyed when she suddenly starts dating some tool named Doug? And why can’t he stop finding excuses to see her and touch her and kiss her and… She’s not his girlfriend, right?

Erika has enough on her plate as an ER doctor without adding any more stress to her life. So adopting a dog with Blake, the fun-loving, never-take-anything-serious, commitment-phobe across the hall is a stupid idea, right? Of course, she also probably shouldn’t be his plus-one for charity galas either. Or seeking comfort from him during a thunderstorm. Or kissing his five-for-fighting boo-boos better. Or letting him teach her how to “reduce stress” with her personal toy collection. After all, he’s not her boyfriend. Is he?

So what happens when two people reluctant to commit find love where they least expect it… Right across the hall.


EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Restraint

Mari Carr

Expected Release Date: 18 June 2024

Book Series: 

What happens when two people reluctant to commit find love where they least expect it… right across the hall? Mari Carr is kicking off a brand new series next week, and I have an awesome excerpt for you from the first book in the series—a steamy, opposites-attract romance between a hockey player and an ER doctor.

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Excerpt

“I had a date.”

Blake’s surprise morphed to a scowl, and she decided she preferred his first response. “With who?”

“You don’t know him.”

“Is he another doctor at the hospital?”

She shook her head. “No. I met him on eHarmony.”

“eHarmony?” Blake shouted. “What the hell are you doing on dating apps?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied sarcastically. “Maybe looking for a date?”

Blake ran a hand through his hair, taking a step back.

Until he moved away, Erika didn’t realize how closely they’d been standing to each other. He didn’t reply immediately, and she got the sense he was taking a moment or two to calm down. Though she didn’t understand his anger.

Or…maybe she did. Blake hadn’t just assigned himself the caregiver role by reminding her to buy food and feeding her when she forgot to eat. He’d also assumed the job of her protector, always looking out for her whenever they were together. For instance, one night at the pub, a drunk guy had been hitting on her pretty hard. Blake had stepped in and sent the man packing. And that was just one example.

She hastened to reassure him that she wasn’t doing anything stupid. “You don’t have to worry. I met him at a busy coffee shop a couple of times, and the first time he invited me to dinner, I met him at the restaurant.” Tonight was actually the first time she’d given Doug her address and allowed him to pick her up.

“What’s his name?” he asked, still somewhat belligerently, if quieter.

“Doug.” She withheld his last name on purpose.

He scoffed. “That’s a pussy name.”

She rolled her eyes. “No, it’s not.”

“What’s he do for a living?”

Erika sighed heavily, letting him know she wasn’t impressed by his fifth degree. “He’s a financial analyst.”

“Booooring,” he singsonged.

She laughed. It was either that or slap her best friend. “He’s very nice and interesting.” Turning away from him in an attempt to stop the interrogation, she walked over to his freezer and pulled out an ice pack. Wrapping it in a towel, she returned, handing it to him. “You should put that on your lip. It’s still swollen.”

He started to do as she said, but froze, his gaze sliding to her lips. “Your lips are swollen too.” Before she realized what he was doing, he reached out to caress the side of her mouth with his thumb. “Is that beard burn?”

She hated it, but she blushed, brushing his hand away. “Doug has a beard.”

“So things are getting pretty hot and heavy between you two?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Hmph,” he grumbled, grabbing his duffel and carrying it to his bedroom.

She followed. “You want Corky tonight?” She leaned on the doorframe as he upended the clothing in his duffel directly into the laundry hamper. “I took her out for her walk, so she’s good for the night.”

Blake didn’t answer her question. Instead, he grabbed his toiletry bag and carried it to the bathroom.

She frowned. “You’re being a grumpy ass.”

“I’m sore and tired,” he explained when he returned to the room.

“Okay. Then I guess I’ll leave you alone.” He hadn’t answered her question about Corky, but she’d already decided to leave him the puppy. He’d been away three nights, and he missed their dog when he was away. Besides, maybe Corky could do a better job of cheering him up, since she was failing so spectacularly.

“You’re going to leave? I’m hurt.”

She crossed her arms. “I thought hockey players were supposed to be tough guys.”

“I’m just saying, that’s not much of a bedside manner, Doc. You’d leave a man to suffer?”

She wasn’t sure how to respond because while his words felt like a joke, his tone was gruff and even a little bit hostile.

She raised one eyebrow. “Aren’t you a ray of fucking sunshine tonight?”

For the first time, her words seemed to penetrate, cutting through his dark mood, provoking what she suspected would be a real smile if his lip wasn’t hurt.

“I’m sorry. I’m a sore loser. You know that.”

She did, and while she appreciated his apology, there was a tiny part inside of her that was disappointed to hear that was the reason for his grumpiness. She’d kind of hoped his moodiness had been driven by jealousy over Doug.

She needed to stop thinking that way.

He wasn’t interested in her. He’d said so the morning after he’d blown her head off her shoulders with those two orgasms.

What had he called it?

A one-time deal.

Something he’d clearly meant because they’d gone back to the exact same friendship they’d enjoyed for three years. He hadn’t flirted, hadn’t touched her, hadn’t given her any indication that he wanted anything more from her than they already shared.

She was the one who was letting her thoughts run rampant.

“Apology accepted,” she said, walking over to him. “I’ll leave you Corky. Cuddling her always makes you feel better.”

He hmphed again, proving he still wasn’t over his snit. Dropping down on the side of the bed, he glanced at her. “You’re really going to leave me alone when I’m in pain?”

She laughed. “You have a cut lip and a black eye. I gave you ice. What else do you expect me to do?”

He pointed to his cheek, just below the ever-darkening bruise. “Kiss it and make it feel better.”

Erika snorted. “I attended medical school for four years, and I’m in the fourth year of my residency. Trust me when I say nowhere in any of my medical books was a kiss the recommended treatment.”

He didn’t respond, just continued to point to his bruise.

“Fine. You big baby,” she muttered, bending down to kiss his sore cheek.

Smirking, he tugged off his T-shirt, twisting so she could see the substantial bruise on his shoulder. He really had gone to war.

Rather than call him to task for fighting, she offered his shoulder the same “healing” kiss.

Blake, the shameless man, was now smiling, despite the pain it was probably causing him. She understood why when he pointed to his lip.

She tilted her head. “Seriously?”

“I seem to recall helping you out a few weeks ago when you were having a bad night.”

It was the first time Blake had mentioned the masturbation lesson since the morning after.

“You did,” she said quietly, the devil on her shoulder telling her to give him the kiss he was asking for, while the angel warned her she was flirting with disaster.

Her angel usually won the arguments, so she couldn’t explain why she was bending forward once again.

She gave him a quick kiss, using all the willpower in her body to keep it as platonic and innocent as she could.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t the problem. Blake was.

Because the second she started to pull away, he reached for her, gripping the nape of her neck, holding her in place while he stripped all the platonic out, replacing it with a kiss so passionate, Erika felt instantly light-headed.

She jerked when his tongue touched hers, but the shock didn’t linger. How could it? Blake was kissing her senseless. Every reasonable thought fled as she slid her tongue out to meet his, her fingers gripping his thick hair, while Blake twisted her head so he could deepen the kiss.

Erika wasn’t sure how long it lasted, but by the time she managed to regain her wits and pull away, she knew without a doubt they’d let it go on way too long.

She straightened, her gaze locked with Blake’s. They were both breathing heavily after depriving themselves of air while they’d kissed like the plane was going down.

“We took that too far,” she whispered, when the silence lingered.

She expected Blake to agree, but instead, he frowned.

“Blake,” she said, desperate for him to say something. Anything.

“I’m a sore loser,” he repeated.

She wasn’t sure what to make of that…because it suddenly didn’t feel like he was talking about the game anymore.

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