The Risk (Briar U Book 2)
by Elle Kennedy
A sexy standalone novel from New York Times and international bestselling author Elle Kennedy.
Everyone says I’m a bad girl. They’re only partly right—I don’t let fear rule me, and I certainly don’t care what people think. But I draw the line at sleeping with the enemy. As the daughter of Briar’s head hockey coach, I’d be vilified if I hooked up with a player from a rival team.
And that’s who Jake Connelly is. Harvard’s star forward is arrogant, annoying, and too attractive for his own good. But fate is cruel—I require his help to secure a much-coveted internship, and the sexy jerk isn’t making it easy for me.
I need Connelly to be my fake boyfriend.
For every fake date…he wants a real one.
Which means this bad girl is in big trouble. Nothing good can come from sneaking around with Jake Connelly. My father would kill me, my friends will revolt, and my post-college career is on the line. But while it’s getting harder and harder to resist Jake’s oozing sex appeal and cocky grin, I refuse to fall for him.
That’s the one risk I’m not willing to take.
Excerpt The Risk by Elle Kennedy
My date is late.
Now, I’m not a total bitch. Usually I’ll give guys a five-minute window. I can forgive five minutes of tardiness.
At seven minutes, I might still be somewhat receptive, especially if the lateness is accompanied by a heads-up call or text informing me he’s going to be late. Traffic is an evil mistress. Sometimes she screws you.
At ten minutes, my patience would be running thin. And if the inconsiderate ass is both ten minutes late and didn’t call? Thank you, next. I’m walking right out the door.
At fifteen minutes, shame on me. Why the hell am I still at the restaurant?
Or, in this particular case, the diner.
I’m sitting in a booth at Della’s, the ’50s-themed diner in Hastings. Hastings is the small town I’m calling home for the next couple of years, but luckily, I don’t need to call my father’s house “home.” Dad and I might live in the same town, but before I transferred to Briar University, I made it clear I wouldn’t be moving in with him. I already left that nest. No way am I flying back to it and subjecting myself to his overprotectiveness and terrible cooking again.
“Can I get you another coffee, hon?” The waitress, a curly-haired woman in a white-and-blue polyester uniform, eyes me sympathetically. She looks to be in her late twenties. Her nametag reads “Stacy,” and I’m pretty sure she knows I’ve been ditched.
“No, thanks. Just the bill, please.”
As she walks off, I pick up my phone and shoot a quick text to my friend Summer. This is all her fault. Therefore she must face my wrath.
ME: He stood me up.
Summer answers instantly, as if she’s been sitting by her phone waiting for a report. Actually, forget “as if.” She totally has. My new friend is unapologetically nosy.
SUMMER: OMG! NO!!
SUMMER: What. a. dick. I am so so so so sorry, Bee.
ME: Meh. Part of me’s not surprised. He’s a football player. They’re notorious douchecanoes.
SUMMER: I thought Jules was different.
ME: You thought wrong.
Three dots appear, indicating she’s typing a response, but I already know what it will be. Another long-winded apology, which I’m not in the mood to read at the moment. I’m not in the mood for anything but paying for my coffee, walking back to my tiny apartment, and taking off my bra.
Stupid football player. I actually put makeup on for this jerk. Yes, it was just supposed to be an evening coffee date, but I still made an effort.
I bend my head as I rummage around in my wallet for small bills. When a shadow falls over the tabletop, I assume it’s Stacy returning with my check.
I assume wrong.
“Jensen,” drawls an insolent male voice. “Got stood up, eh?”
Ugh. Of all the people who could’ve shown up right now, this is the last one I want to see.
As Jake Connelly slides into the other side of the booth, I greet him with a suspicious scowl rather than a smile. “What are you doing here?” I ask.
Connelly is the captain of the Harvard hockey team, AKA, THE ENEMY. Harvard and Briar are rivals, and my father happens to be the head coach of the latter. He’s coached at Briar for ten years, winning three championships during that reign. The Age of Jensen—that was the headline of a recent article I read in one of the New England papers. It was a full-page write-up about how Briar is killing it this season. Unfortunately, so is Harvard, all thanks to the superstar across the booth from me.
“I was in the neighborhood.” There’s an amused gleam in his forest-green eyes.
The last time I saw him, he and a teammate were lurking in the stands of Briar’s arena, scoping us out. Not long after, we kicked their asses when our teams played each other. Which was tremendously satisfying and made up for our loss against them earlier in the season.
“Mmm-hmmm, I’m sure you just happened to be in Hastings. Don’t you live in Cambridge?”
“So that’s an hour away.” I give him a smirk. “I didn’t know I had a stalker.”
“You got me. I’m stalking you.”
“I’m flattered, Jakey. It’s been a while since someone was so besotted with me that they drove to a whole other town to track me down.”
His lips slowly curve into a smile. “Look, as hot as you are—”
“Aw, you think I’m a hottie?”
“—I wouldn’t spend the gas money to come here just to get my balls put through the wringer. Sorry to disappoint.” He runs a hand through his dark hair. It’s a bit shorter now, and he’s rocking some scruff that shadows his jaw.
“You say that as if I have any interest in your balls,” I answer sweetly.
“My metaphorical balls. You wouldn’t be able to handle the real ones,” he drawls. “Hottie.”
I roll my eyes so hard I almost pull a muscle. “Seriously, Connelly. Why are you here?”
“I was visiting a friend. This looked like a good place to grab some coffee before I drive back to the city.”
“You have a friend? Well, that’s a relief. I’ve seen you hanging out with your teammates, but I assumed they have to pretend to like you because you’re their captain.”
“They like me because I’m fucking terrific.” He flashes another grin.
Panty-melting. That’s how Summer described his smile once. I swear, the chick has an unhealthy obsession with Connelly’s chiseled good looks. Phrases she’s thrown around to describe him include: hotness overload, ovary explosion, babelicious, and mackable.
Summer and I have known each other only a couple of months. We pretty much went from strangers to best friends in about, oh, thirty seconds. I mean, she transferred from another college after accidentally setting part of her sorority house on fire—how could I not fall hard for that crazy girl? She’s a fashion major, a ton of fun, and is convinced I have a thing for Jake Connelly.
She’s wrong. The guy is gorgeous, and he’s a phenomenal hockey player, but he’s also a notorious player off the ice. This doesn’t make him an anomaly, of course. A lot of athletes maintain an active roster of chicks who are perfectly content with 1) hooking up, 2) not being exclusive, and 3) always coming second to whatever sport the dude plays.
But I’m not one of those chicks. I’m not averse to hookups, but numbers 2 and 3 are non-negotiable.
Not to mention that my father would skin me alive if I ever dated THE ENEMY. Dad and Jake’s coach, Daryl Pedersen, have been feuding for years. According to my father, Coach Pedersen sacrifices babies to Satan and performs blood magic in his spare time.
“I have lots of friends,” Connelly adds. He shrugs. “Including a very close one who goes to Briar.”
“I feel like when somebody brags about all their friends, it usually means they don’t have any. Overcompensating, you know?” I smile innocently.
“At least I didn’t get stood up.”
The smile fades. “I wasn’t stood up,” I lie, except the waitress chooses that moment to approach the booth and blow my cover.
“You made it!” Relief fills her eyes at the sight of Jake. Followed by a gleam of appreciation once she gets a good look at him. “We were starting to get worried.”
We? I hadn’t realized we were partners in this humiliation venture.
“The roads were slick,” Jake tells her, nodding toward the diner’s front windows. Rivulets of moisture streak the fogged-up panes. Beyond the glass a thin stripe of lightning momentarily illuminates the dark sky. “Gotta be extra careful when driving in the rain, you know?”
She nods fervently. “The roads get really wet when it’s raining.”
No shit, Captain Obvious. Rain makes things wet. Somebody call the Nobel Prize judging committee.
Jake’s lips twitch.
“Could I get you anything to drink?” she asks.
I shoot him a warning glare.
He responds with a smirk before turning to wink at her. “I would love a cup of coffee—” He squints at her nametag, “—Stacy. And a refill for my sulking date.”
“I don’t want a refill, and I’m not his date,” I growl.
Stacy blinks in confusion. “Oh? But…”
“He’s a Harvard spy sent here to get the goods on Briar’s hockey team. Don’t humor him, Stacy. He’s the enemy.”
“So dramatic.” Jake chuckles. “Ignore her, Stace. She’s just mad that I was late. Two coffees, and some pie, if you don’t mind. A slice of…” His gaze travels to the glass cases at the main counter. “Oh damn, I can’t decide. Everything looks so tasty.”
“Yes you are,” I hear Stacy mumble under her breath.
“What was that?” he asks, but his slight smile tells me he heard her loud and clear.
She blushes. “Oh, um, I was saying we only have peach and pecan left.”
“Hmmm.” He licks his bottom lip. It’s a ridiculously sexy move. Everything about him is sexy. Which is why I hate him. “You know what? One of each, please. My date and I will share ’em.”
“We most certainly will not,” I say cheerfully, but Stacy is already hurrying off to procure some stupid pie for King Connelly.
“Listen, as much as I enjoy discussing how your team is trash, I’m too tired to insult you tonight.” I try to tamp down my weariness, but it creeps into my voice. “I want to go home.”
“Not yet.” The lighthearted, somewhat mocking vibe he’s been giving off hardens into something more serious. “I didn’t come to Hastings for you, but now that we’re having coffee together—”
“Against my will,” I cut in.
“—there’s something we need to discuss.”
“Oh, is there?” Despite myself, curiosity pricks at my gut. I cover it up with sarcasm. “I can’t wait to hear it.”
Jake clasps his hands on the tabletop. He has great hands. Like, really, really great hands. I’ve got a bit of an obsession with men’s hands. If they’re too small, I’m instantly turned off. Too big and meaty, and I’m a bit apprehensive. But Connelly has been blessed with a winning pair. His fingers are long but not bony. Palms large and powerful but not beefy. His nails are clean, but two of his knuckles are red and cracked, probably from a skirmish on the ice. I can’t see his fingertips, but I’d bet they’re callused.
I love the way calluses feel trailing over my bare skin, grazing a nipple…
Ugh. Nope. I’m not allowed to be thinking racy thoughts in the vicinity of this man.
“I want you to stay the hell away from my guy.” Although he punctuates that by baring his teeth, it can’t be classified as a smile. It’s too feral.
“What guy?” But we both know I know who he means. I can count on one finger of one hand how many Harvard players I’ve fooled around with.
I met Josh McCarthy at a Harvard party that Summer dragged me to a while back. He initially threw a tantrum when he found out I was Chad Jensen’s daughter, but then recognized the error of his ways, apologized via social media, and we got together a few times after that. McCarthy’s cute, goofy, and a solid candidate in terms of FWBs. With him living in Boston, there’s no chance of him smothering me with affection or showing up at my door unannounced.
Obviously, he isn’t a long-term option. And that goes beyond the whole my-father-would-murder-me matter. Truth is, McCarthy doesn’t stimulate me. His sarcasm skills are severely lacking, and he’s a bit boring when his tongue isn’t in my mouth.
“I mean it, Jensen. I don’t want you messing with McCarthy.”
“Jeez, Mama Bear, retract those claws. It’s just a casual thing.”
“Casual,” he echoes. It’s not a question, but a mocking I-don’t-believe-you.
“Yes, casual. Would you like me to ask Siri to define the word for you? Casual means it isn’t serious. At all.”
“It is for him.”
I roll my eyes. “Well, that’s him, not me.”
Yet, inside, I’m troubled by Jake’s frank assessment. It is for him.
Oh boy. I hope that isn’t true. Yes, McCarthy texts me a lot, but I’ve been trying not to engage unless it’s something sexy. I don’t even respond with “LOL” when he sends me a funny video link, because I don’t want to lead him on.
But…maybe I didn’t make our fling status as clear as I thought I did?
“I’m tired of watching him walk around like a lovesick puppy.” Jake shakes his head in aggravation. “He has it bad, and this bullshit is distracting him at practice.”
“Again, how is that my problem?”
“We’re smack in the middle of the conference tournament. I know what you’re doing, Jensen, and you need to stop.”
“Stop fucking around with McCarthy. Tell him you’re not interested and don’t see him again. The end.”
I mock-pout. “Oh, Daddy. You’re so strict.”
“I’m not your daddy.” His lips curve again. “Though I could be if you want.”
“Oh gross. I’m not calling you ‘Daddy’ in bed.”
Proving she’s the master of bad timing, Stacy returns as those words exit my mouth.
Her step stutters. The loaded tray she’s carrying shakes precariously. Silverware clinks together. I brace myself, expecting a waterfall of hot coffee to scald my face as Stacy lunges forward. But she recovers quickly, righting herself before disaster strikes.
“Coffee and pie!” Her tone is high and bright, as if she hadn’t overheard a thing.
“Thanks, Stacy,” Jake says graciously. “I’m sorry for my date’s potty mouth. You can see why I don’t take her out in public much.”
Stacy’s cheeks are flushed with embarrassment as she scurries off.
“You traumatized her for life with your filthy sex fantasies,” he informs me before digging into his pie.
He snickers mid-bite, a few crumbs flying out of his mouth. He picks up his napkin. “You’re not allowed to call me that in public.” Mischief dances in his green eyes. “Save it for later.”
The other slice—pecan, from the looks of it—sits untouched in front of me. I reach for the coffee instead. I need another hit of caffeine to sharpen my senses. I don’t like being here with Connelly. What if someone sees us?
“Or maybe I’ll save it for McCarthy,” I counter.
“Nah. You won’t do that.” He gulps down another bite of his pie. “You’re breaking it off with him, remember?”
Okay, he really needs to stop issuing orders about my sex life as if he actually has a say in it. “You don’t get to make decisions for me. If I want to date McCarthy, I’ll date him. If I don’t want to date McCarthy, I won’t date him.”
“Okay.” He chews slowly, then swallows. “Do you want to date McCarthy?”
“Good, so we’re on the same page.”
I purse my lips before taking a slow sip. “Hmmm. I don’t think I like being on the same page as you. I might be changing my mind about the dating scenario… I should ask him to be my boyfriend. Do you know where I can buy a promise ring?”
Jake breaks off a flaky piece of crust with his fork. “You haven’t changed your mind. You were over him five minutes after you had him. There’re only two reasons why you’re still screwing him—either you’re bored, or you’re trying to sabotage us.”
“Is that so?”
“Yup. Nothing holds your attention for long. And I know McCarthy—he’s a good kid. Funny, sweet, but that’s his downfall right there. ‘Sweet’ won’t cut it with a woman like you.”
“There you go again, thinking you know me so well.”
“I know you’re Chad Jensen’s daughter. I know you would take any opportunity to mess with my players’ heads. I know we’re probably going to be facing off with Briar in the conference finals in a few weeks, and the winner of that game gets an automatic bid to the national tournament—”
“That auto-bid will be ours,” I chirp.
“I want my boys sharp and focused on the game. Everyone says your dad’s a straight shooter. I was hoping the same thing could be said for his daughter.” He tsks in disapproval. “And here you are, playing games with poor, sweet McCarthy.”
“I’m not playing games,” I say irritably. “We hook up sometimes. It’s fun. Contrary to what you believe, the decisions I make have nothing to do with my father or his team.”
“Well, the decisions I make are for my team,” he retorts. “And I’ve decided I want you to stay the hell away from my boys.” He swallows another mouthful of pie. “Fuck, this is excellent. You want some?” He holds his fork out.
“I’d rather die than put my lips on that fork.”
He just laughs. “I want to try the pecan. You mind?”
I stare at him. “You’re the one who ordered the damn thing.”
“Wow, you’re cranky tonight, Hottie. I guess I would be too if I got stood up.”
“I didn’t get stood up.”
“What’s his name and address? Want me to go rough him up a bit?”
I grit my teeth.
He takes a bite of the untouched dessert in front of me. “Ah fuck, this one is even better. Mmmm. Ohhh, that’s good.”
And suddenly the captain of the Harvard hockey team is groaning and grunting in pleasure as if he’s acting out a scene from American Pie. I try to remain unaffected, but that traitorous spot between my legs has other ideas, tingling wildly at Jake Connelly’s sex noises.
“May I go now?” I growl. Except, wait a sec. Why am I asking for permission? Nobody is holding me hostage here. I can’t deny I’m mildly entertained, but this guy also just accused me of sleeping with his guys to ruin Harvard’s chances of beating Briar.
I love my team, but not that much.
“Sure. Go if you want. But first text McCarthy to tell him it’s over.”
“Sorry, Jakey. I don’t take orders from you.”
“You do now. I need McCarthy’s head in the game. End it.”
I jut my chin in a stubborn pose. Yes, I need to define things with Josh. I thought I’d stressed the casual nature of our involvement, but evidently he’s reading a lot more into it if his team captain is referring to him as “lovesick.”
However, I also don’t want to give Connelly the satisfaction of siding with him. I’m petty like that.
“I don’t take orders from you,” I repeat, tucking a five-dollar bill under my half-empty cup. That should cover my coffee, Stacy’s tip, and any emotional distress she may have suffered tonight. “I’ll do whatever I want with McCarthy. Maybe I’ll give him a call right now.”
Jake narrows his eyes. “Are you always this difficult?”
“Yes.” Smiling, I slide out of the booth and slip into my leather jacket. “Safe drive back to Boston, Connelly. I’ve been told that the roads get really wet when it’s raining.”
He chuckles softly.
I zip up my jacket, then lean forward and bring my mouth inches from his ear. “Oh, and Jakey?” I swear I hear his breath hitch. “I’ll be sure to save you a seat behind the Briar bench at the Frozen Four.”