2017 Reading Challenge

2017 Reading Challenge
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Wicked Favor
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Delayed Call by Toni Aleo
















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Coming March 20th


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Vaughn Johansson is the Nashville Assassins' star player. He's brash, cocky, and talented. And he isn't afraid to let anyone know it. He lives his life on his own terms, never forming romantic attachments, and only allowing his very closest to see his true, caring self.

Brie Soledad has the weight of the world on her shoulders. As the staff reporter for the Assassins, she balances her high-profile job and its heavy travel schedule with being the sole provider for her adult brother with Down syndrome. Sure, she'd like to find love. But who has time for that when there are bills to pay?

Brie has been the match to Vaughn's gasoline since the day she first held out her microphone to him. They strike sparks off each other, keeping their friends, the team, and the Assassins fans in stitches. Brie’s refusal to fawn over Vaughn sets his teeth on edge and his blood boiling. Especially in that body part...

Brie's been let down by love before, but she knows she deserves nothing less than real, forever love. Vaughn's past has left deep, hidden scars, and there are some secrets he cannot bear to reveal. As much as Brie wants him, Vaughn may be too big a risk for her wary heart to take. But he is at his best under pressure. When the delayed call is in effect and he has no choice but to score, Vaughn always delivers.







   “He’s cute.”
   “She’s a sweetie, too.”
   “Oh, she’s a she?”
   “Yes.”
   “Girls don’t usually like me,” Vaughn Johansson said with his brows pulled together as he looked into the dark brown eyes gazing back at him.
They were full of such hope, wanting… And instantaneously, he fell in love.
   “Well, I think she loves you.”
   Looking up briefly at the adoption counselor, Vaughn gazed back at the little black French Bulldog and smiled. She was a cutie; her little nub tail was wiggling, and her eyes were so wide that Vaughn felt like he could fall into them. But just as quick as he fell in love, he noticed something was missing. “She only has three legs.”   
   The adoption rep smiled grimly. “Yes, she was brought in having been hit by a car, and we fixed her up. That’s what throws people off, her not being whole and all.”
   Making a face, Vaughn crouched down and took ahold of the fence as the little girl wiggled in excitement. She wanted to come through the fence. He could feel her eagerness, especially when she started to lick his hands, her eyes telling, or better yet, begging him to take her home. The thing was, she didn’t have to beg. The little three-legged dog was his from the moment he saw her. As he leaned into the fence, his nose went through the links before he whispered, “Don’t worry, girl, I’m not whole either.”
   She licked his nose before letting out the sweetest little bark, and Vaughn was hooked. Standing up, he clapped his hands together. “I scored three goals last night, a hat trick, so it only makes sense that my first dog be a three-legged one.”
   “Oh, cool.”
   She had no clue what he was talking about. “I play for the Nashville Assassins.”
   The lady, who obviously had never seen a game of hockey a day in her life, nodded happily.
   “Cool. That’s fun.”
   “You know what team that is, right?”  
   “Yeah, football. Right?”
   Vaughn blinked in dismay, but then, what did he expect? She was barely an adult and probably hadn’t been exposed to the great sport of hockey. “Hockey.”
   “Oh, I don’t like hockey,” she said, wrinkling her face up. “But the players are hot.”
   He couldn’t disagree, but then she looked him up and down with very sinful eye, and he froze. There was no way in hell he was going to prison for this jailbait, so that was his cue to get his dog and bounce. Yet, he asked, “Have you been to a game?”
   “Oh, no, I don’t have time.”
   Rolling his eyes once more, he looked back at his new girl and smiled. “Well, that’s too bad because I’m naming this girl Tricksie, and that won’t make sense to you.”
   “Oh, you want her?”
   “Yes, I do. You know what a hat trick is, right?”
   The fact that she had no clue what he was speaking of was all over her face as she only nodded. “Like tricks with hats?”
   Vaughn wanted to cry. The poor youth of the world. “It’s where you score three goals.”
   He might as well have told her the answer to the greatest unsolved math problem in the world, because she was more lost than the three blind mice. “Cool. That’s hard, huh?”
   Smiling, he shot her a wink. “For some. But for me, it’s easy peasy, lemon squeezy.”
   Her face scrunched up more. She thought he was an idiot. “That’s corny.”
   “Well, that’s because you’re ten.”
   She pressed her lips together in annoyance. “I’m twenty.”  
 “Same thing. Can I get my dog, please?”
    Rolling her eyes before popping her gum, she turned for the front. “Yeah, let’s go to the office, and Linda will get the paperwork done.”
   She started to walk away, but Vaughn didn’t move. “Can I have her?”
   Letting out a long breath, she nodded before reaching for her keys, which made Tricksie jump to the best of her ability and howl louder. A huge grin spread across Vaughn’s face as he bent down and the little girl came running for him, jumping into him and scrambling to climb up his body. Holding on to her overactive little body, Vaughn laughed as he stood, kissing her head. “I think she’s happy.”
   “That’s an understatement,” the girl said dryly as she started for the front of the adoption center, but Vaughn was in complete paradise.
   It had been a long month of looking for a companion, but holding Tricksie, Vaughn was pretty sure it had been totally worth the wait. His need for company came when he discovered he was the only single guy on the team. Everyone had girlfriends or wives and/or kids. Meanwhile, Vaughn was chilling with just an Xbox when he wasn’t working. Hockey kept him busy, but when he wasn’t at the rink, there was no one to hang with, no one to talk to, and he found himself a bit lonely. He wasn’t ashamed to say that; it was a natural occurrence when one didn’t want to put himself out there and find someone to love him. The thing about love was it was just so uncertain, and Vaughn didn’t have the time for it. But a dog, a dog loved you no matter what. Plus, he had always wanted a dog. Ever since he was a little kid, he had yearned for one, but since hockey was so expensive, his dad never got him and his brother one. Along with all the therapy and treatments his brother needed, a dog wasn’t doable. But now, now, a dog was doable.
   And Vaughn was convinced Tricksie was going to be the best dog ever.
   As Tricksie licked and barked happily, Vaughn couldn’t believe he had waited so long to do this. But then, if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have this beautiful gem of a girl. And boy, what a beauty she was. He couldn’t believe people would turn up their noses at her, all because she didn’t have four legs. She had killer dark-as-night fur, her big, brown eyes were two huge views into her heart, and she smiled. The damn dog was smiling, tongue hanging out as she wiggled in his arms. She smelled a little musky, but that was fixable. No, this girl was the jackpot, and Vaughn was glad he had pulled the lever.
   As he walked through the doors leading to the office area—or at least, he hoped this was the right way since the lady who was helping him had disappeared—his phone sounded with a notification from his Nashville Assassins’ team app. It was probably weird that he had the app to the team he played hockey for on his phone, but he liked to know what his team was posting. Plus, he sometimes heard information from the app before he did from Coach. When he pulled out his phone, sliding the tab over, he realized this instance was one of those times.
   Jensen Monroe signed to Nashville Assassins for a three-year, three-million-dollar deal.
   “Holy shit! Tricksie, look! Uncle Jenny is coming to our team,” he said to his girlie before he laughed out loud. “You don’t know Uncle Jensen, hell, you don’t know me, but you will. Don’t worry.”
   Tricksie licked him happily, and he was pretty sure she didn’t care what he said as long as he loved her and fed her, which was his plan. His phone started to ring, and he laughed when he saw it was the man of the hour. “Jensen Monroe, signed to the Nashville Assassins for some bookoo bucks! What’s up, brother?”
   Jensen laughed softly, his voice deep. It had been deep since they were, like, thirteen. “Who the hell says bookoo still?”
   “Fuck you, dude. Congratulations!”
   “Thanks, it’s a great deal, I’m excited. It will be like old times too,” he said with a low laugh, and Vaughn smiled.
   There wasn’t a teenage moment that didn’t have Jensen and their buddy Wells in it. The three had been inseparable. When Jensen came to live with Wells’s family to play for their high school team, the three guys just clicked. They played all through high school, went to the same college, and were all drafted the same year too. Even being apart, Wells on the Avalanche, Vaughn on the Assassins, and when Jensen was with the Wild, they all stayed in contact. They were brothers. Always would be too. The guys were there for Vaughn when no one else was, and he would be forever in debt to the two men who became his brothers.
   “Wait, what happened to Dylan?”
   “He got sent down. Mrs. Adler said she wants someone she knows will win games. He hasn’t won a game since last season. I can win the games.” He wasn’t lying. Jensen was a great goalie, and it surprised Vaughn that he had come to the Assassins as a backup when he had a starting position with the Wild.
   “Why did you leave?”
    “I wasn’t happy. Yeah, I was winning games, but my contract was up and I needed a change. So I took the deal from Mrs. Adler, and I think it’s a good one. Except now I’ll be fighting the best goalie in the league for playing time.”
   Vaughn sucked his teeth. “Yeah, Tate Odder is the best.”
   “Thank you.” Vaughn laughed. “Besides, you, duh,” he said, his voice high and playful. “I hate you, but are you still single?”
   Vaughn paused. “Shit, are you telling me you’re gay too? I always knew Wells was, but I never suspected it from you. And, dude, you know I don’t bat for that team. I’m a pussy-only kind of guy.”
   “No, you douche canoe. Fuck.” He could practically hear Jensen roll his eyes, which, of course, made Vaughn laugh. “I seriously hate you, and I can’t believe I’m about to beg for this, but can I please live with you?”
   Vaughn stopped laughing as he looked down to his new ladylove. “I don’t know, man, I just got a new roommate.”
   “What?”
   “Yeah, she’s sweet, cold nose, licks a lot, and has three legs, but she’s cute as all hell,” he said as Tricksie kissed him with excitement before barking out in agreement. “And she barks. I’m not sure if it’s a lot, though.”
   “You got a three-legged dog?”
   “Yes, I did.”
    “Of course you did. Who is going to watch said three-legged dog when we are on trips?”
   “Wren,” he said simply, and Jensen groaned loudly at the mention of Wells’s baby sister. Jensen had always had a thing for her, but Wren never took notice. She was too busy with her nose in a book. Which he guessed paid off because now she was a hotshot therapist for the Nashville Assassins. Plus, Vaughn was pretty sure she batted for the other team. He had never seen her with a dude, and he had tried to sleep with her plenty. He couldn’t imagine why she’d turn him down if she were straight. Obviously.
   “Does she know this?”
   “Yeah,” he lied, and Jensen let out a long breath of frustration.
   “You never think things through, I swear. But whatever, can you get me from the airport at 9:10?”
   Vaughn smiled since he had never said yes to Jensen living with him, for the simple fact that Jensen didn’t have to ask and he knew that. Jensen knew he had a home wherever Vaughn was. “Yup, me and Tricksie will be there.”
   “Tricksie?”
   “She’s a three-legged dog, and I scored a hat trick last night.”
    Jensen paused and then laughed. “You’re insane. See you in a bit, and make sure you call Wren.”
   “Will do.”
   They hung up, and Vaughn rolled his eyes. Jensen was always the do-right kind of guy. While Wells and Vaughn wanted to go out, get drunk, and break something, Jensen would talk them down and convince them that getting drunk and playing on the back pond was a better idea. He was the last one to lose his virginity because he wanted it to be with someone “special.” He never cheated on a girl, and when he broke up with one, he felt bad. When his young marriage broke up, he took all the blame on himself. Never said an unkind word about his ex. He called his mom every day, multiple times, and he hung out with the dorky kids growing up. He was voted Homecoming King of their class because he was so sugary sweet. Not to mention, he looked like a runway model, while Wells and Vaughn looked a little rough around the edges. Still, they were best friends, and nothing could ever change that.
   When his phone rang right as he reached the doors to go sign the papers for Tricksie, he looked down to see it was Wren.
   Shit.
   “Hey, Wren,” he said, answering the phone with a big smile. “How’s my favorite therapist who won’t sleep with me?”
   “Oh, I’m just fine. But funny thing, you didn’t show up for therapy, and then I got a text from Jensen saying you got a dog and I’m watching it. Oh, and it has three legs.”
  “Um… Her name is Tricksie and she is amazing, and I don’t need therapy.”
  “You do. Tricksie. Cute, but I never agreed to watch her.”
  “Yes, you did.”
   “When?”
   “When I got you drunk the other night and stole your virtue.”
   “Vaughn Johansson, I haven’t had my virtue in a long damn time.”
   “But did a guy take it?”
   “I will kill you dead, and that’s off the record, mister,” she growled into the phone, at which he laughed. “So you have no leg to stand on, and I don’t think Tricksie can lend you one.”
   Vaughn scoffed. “You said I needed a companion. I got one, and in return, you have to watch her when I leave.”
   “I meant a woman, but fine, a dog is fine. It’s a step in the right direction, I guess. But I never agreed to this, and I travel too, Vaughn.”
   “Not all the time, though. Maybe once a month, and I can board her then.”
   “So you have a plan?” she asked, and she didn’t sound convinced because, really, Vaughn never had a plan.
   “Yup, sure do.”
   “Okay, well, add me in at nine tomorrow before morning skate, and if you don’t show up, I’ll tell your coach.”
   Vaughn’s face scrunched up. “You’re mean.”
   “I love you too. Bye.”
   She hung up, and Vaughn tucked his phone into his pocket before looking down at Tricksie. “That was your aunt Wren and she’s mean to me, but she’ll be nice to you. Are you ready to go home?”
   Tricksie began to lick his skin off, and he took that as a yes. As a huge smile covered his face, Vaughn nodded his head. He had his baby girl, his best friend was coming to his team, Wren would watch Tricksie, and he was playing for the team of his dreams. Things were good. Really good.
   And loneliness would be a thing of the past; he just knew it.   


***   


   “Who talked me into this?”
   “No one. You did that to yourself.”
   “Why?”
   “I don’t know. You’re lonely?”
   “Oh. I am, aren’t I? Shit.”
   “Yup, so may the force be with you, my friend.”
   “But I don’t want to do this.”
   “Then leave?”
   “Can’t you come with me? There’s still time. It doesn’t start for another fifteen.”
   “I’m just sure my fiancé would love that.”
   Brie Soledad rolled her eyes as she leaned on the pillar of the ballroom, her eyes burning a hole in the sign that read: Speed Dating for Nashville Locals. It was embarrassing that this was what her life had resulted in, but as her best friend had said, she was lonely. Mekena Preston, though, was not lonely. Nope, she was all happy and in love with her fiancé, while having a great job and a wonderful life, blah, blah, blah. And if Brie was honest, she was jealous as hell and so desperately wanted to get laid, maybe even fall in love. Get the blah, blah, blah.
   God, she wanted the blah, blah, blah. So damn bad.
   Being a hockey reporter for one of the hottest teams in the NHL, the Nashville Assassins, one would think she would be rolling in the men, but she wasn’t. Everyone treated her like a little sister or they ignored her or they treated her like shit. Well, only one did that, but that was beside the point. The point was, Brie needed more. She was happy in her career. It was awesome, she was amazing, and people loved her. She had even won an Emmy the year before; she was kicking ass. The only problem was she didn’t have anyone to share her success with.
   Yeah, she had her little brother, Rodney, but he really didn’t understand. Also, he needed to focus on his health and not on her. She was supposed to worry for him, not the other way around. Or at least, that was what she had promised her mom before she passed away from cancer a few years back. Sometimes, it was hard to remember, but she blamed that on the fact that she had no one to lean on. It was just her, with the weight of her job and her brother’s issues on her shoulders.
   And plus, she really wanted to get laid.
   It really didn’t make sense. She wasn’t an ugly girl. She was short, and maybe she could have skipped a few desserts, but then, what was life without ice cream and donuts? She had a pretty face, big blue eyes, and lips that screamed to be kissed, yet no one was kissing them. It was annoying, and pray God, this damn speed dating worked.
   “I’m gonna stay,” she said, coming off the pillar and fixing the skirt of her little blue dress that stopped right at the middle of her thighs. “I need to get laid.”
   Mekena stuttered. “Not tonight, though, right?”
   “Jesus, Mekena, I’m not a whore.”
   “Oh, you’re not?”
   And this was the problem with being best friends with a girl she met only a month ago. “I’m not. Asshole.”
   She giggled. “Fine, but please text me and let me know you weren’t killed.”
   “I’ve got my pepper spray.”
   “And your Taser?”
   “And my Taser,” she said, rolling her eyes. She wasn’t sure why Mekena was even asking; she was the one who had stuffed it in her purse the day before. If nothing else, Mekena Preston was practical and smart, very smart.
   “Good, text me when you leave.”
   “Will do.”
   “Have fun. Find your forever!”
    Brie’s face scrunched up. “That is dumb, don’t ever say that again.”
   “Hey, everyone says that when they fall in love.”
   “God, I hope I don’t.”
    “You will.”
    “I won’t.”
    “Stop stalling. Go find your forever.”
    “That’s disgusting. Bye,” Brie complained before hanging up and then tucking her phone into her pocket and taking in a deep breath. Looking around the room, she noticed there was a decent men-to-women ratio, which was good. She didn’t want to be the only chick in the middle of a sausage fest. While she wanted some sausage, she only needed one. A large one, thick, some girth, mmm… Great, now she was hungry. Pressing her hand to her belly, she rolled her eyes. She needed help.
   Or, again, to get laid.
   Maybe she should just go home with the first able-bodied man.
    When a large, round man stopped in front of her, her eyes widened. He was easily twenty years older than her thirty-two years and he was losing his hair, but he was trying to cover it with a toupee. People still wore those? Pointing at her, he smiled with bright yellow teeth. “Hey, sugar, make sure to stop at my table.”
   “Ugh, sure,” she blurted out before hightailing it to the left.
   She would not be going home with that guy. No matter how desperate she was.
   Standing in the back, she looked over the sea of people as the announcer explained what they were to do. The sad thing was, this wasn’t her first time, so she knew what to do. Last time, she hated it and met no one, but maybe this time would be different. Letting out a long groan, she shook her head. If she could be normal and meet someone in a coffee shop or at her job, that would be awesome. But she hadn’t had luck with guys her whole life.
   She wasn’t one of those serial daters or even a casual one. She dated for a reason, and because of that, she had only been in two serious relationships. Both were ended by the guy, which did nothing for her confidence. Both times she didn’t see it coming, and that alone was depressing as hell. Especially Matthew. She loved Matthew—a lot. But when her mom died, he said it was too much and left her high and dry. Not only did she have to pick up the pieces of her heart and Rod’s from her mother’s death, but then she had to pick up the extra pieces of her heart from Matthew’s departure. It was horrible, and because of that experience, she was a little scarred by relationships.
   Okay, a whole lot scarred. But she was coming up on a new year, and it was time to turn over a new leaf. She wanted the happiness that being with a guy could provide. It had taken her a long time to love herself again. After the grief was no longer overwhelming, after the pain of Matt was gone, she was ready to love once more. It was time, time for her to venture out and find that guy. The… There was no way she was saying the forever guy, but something along those lines.
   “So let’s get started!” the announcer said, and then she rang a really annoying cowbell. Taking the cue, Brie went to the first table and sat down as a guy with hair longer than hers did. He was decent-looking, but no spark whatsoever. Maybe it would come?
   “Hey, I’m Brian.” Brie smiled.
   “Hi, I’m Brie.”
   “Ha, like the cheese.”
    She blinked. “Excuse me?”
    “The cheese. I love Brie, it’s my favorite. I wonder if you taste like Brie? Wanna get out of here?”
    She blinked once more and then let out a hard laugh. “So let me get this straight,” she said, leaning on the table. “First, you compare me to cheese, and not even the most exclusive cheese, kind of midrange. And then you want me to go home with you?”
   He shrugged like that was a normal exchange.
   “Yeah.” “Yeah, no. And fuck-you-very-much,” she said, standing up just as the bell rang. Thankfully. Moving down the chair, she skipped the guy from earlier, the balding dude, and sat down as a very attractive, clean-cut guy sat down. And wowza, was he gorgeous. Big blue eyes, wonderful angles to his face, and thick, yummy shoulders. He reminded her of someone…but… Whoa, not now, Soledad.
   With a bright smile, she said, “Hey, I’m Brie.”
   “Tim, nice to meet you,” he said, matching her grin as he looked her up and down. “Let me guess, a doctor?” She laughed. “Reporter for the Nashville Assassins.” His eyes lit up. “Go Assassins!”
   She smiled as she nodded. “Greatest team in the league.”
   “Agreed, but I’m sad. I could have sworn you were a doctor. That would have worked for me since I’m a lawyer, and I need someone to deal with my crazy hours.”
   “Well, I need that too because I leave a lot.”
   “Oh, well then, hi,” he said, leaning on the table, and she did the same.
   “Hi.”
   “Family?” She nodded. “A little brother.”
   “What’s his name?”
   “Rodney.”
   “Is he in town?”
   “Yup, over at Riverdale.”
   His brows pulled together. “Riverdale? Isn’t that the old folks’ home?”
   “They also have a facility for people with Down syndrome.”
   “I didn’t know they kept retards too. That place stinks, I had an aunt die there.”
   Oh, look, there went all the attraction she even thought she had for this piece of junk. Swallowing hard, she stood slowly and then tucked her chair in. “Actually, not all people with Down syndrome have mental challenges. My brother is highly intelligent. You wouldn’t even know he had Down syndrome if he didn’t have the physical characteristics.”
   He shrugged, waving her off. “Same thing.”
   She could only blink. “You know what isn’t the same? A dick-fuck and a cuntasaurus.”
   “Um—”
   “But you know what? You’re both of those,” she yelled. “And we are done.”
   “Your loss, sweetheart.”
   “No, you piece of dog shit, it’s your loss because I am fucking amazing,” she announced before turning on her heel and walking straight out of the speed-dating event.
   Fuck guys.
   They sucked.












My name is Toni Aleo and I’m a total dork.
I am a wife, mother of two and a bulldog, and also a hopeless romantic.
I am the biggest Shea Weber fan ever, and can be found during hockey season with my nose pressed against the Bridgestone Arena’s glass, watching my Nashville Predators play!
When my nose isn’t pressed against the glass, I enjoy going to my husband and son’s hockey games, my daughter’s dance competition, hanging with my best friends, taking pictures, scrapbooking, and reading the latest romance novel.
I have a slight Disney and Harry Potter obsession, I love things that sparkle, I love the color pink, I might have been a Disney Princess in a past life… probably Belle.
… and did I mention I love hockey?



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