(Click here to go to Episode 1)
I didn’t ask Jeffry to give Esme my number. I really wasn’t sure why I didn’t take him up on that easy transition but something told me to wait. Esme had my number. She’d call it if she wanted to see me.
What I discovered over the course of that conversation with Jeffry was that I wanted more than another wild night. His description of her words and my life . . . something fundamental shifted. I realized my attraction to Esme wasn’t simply about chemistry and I needed time to figure that out.
But I didn’t expect yet another unusual invitation from Edmund Brown or for his beautiful daughter to be summoned to the party at the Renegades stadium as well.
Esme was gorgeous, as always, even in her more demure dress. Edmund brought out the black and conservative in her and while it was nice, it also masked her usual glow, made her seem unnecessarily muted. Like tucking a brilliant star behind a cloud.
We were in the season ticket holder’s suite at the corner of the stadium. Buffet lines boasted a variety of food, while waiters wandered around with trays of appetizers. Every bar was manned and drinks flowed freely once again.
Esme stood quietly off to the side, clearly avoiding her father. Her black dress swirled around her calves and the elegant lines clung to her curves. Her hair was curled and pinned, her eyes were dark and her lips were red.
But before I could move in her direction I was stopped by two of my clients.
“Yo, Mr. Hancock!” Derek Byers clapped me on the back. The man was a foot taller than I me and several inches wider. Beside him stood his best friend and fellow Renegade, Russ Watkins, stood beside him with a wide grin.
“Well if it isn’t the Blockade.” The two men made an impenetrable wall on the field and had picked up the nickname two seasons ago.
“The new owner sure knows how to throw a party,” Russ said, sushi in hand.
“Indeed he does.” I scanned the room for my other client but didn’t see him. That’s when it occurred to me this wasn’t the whole team. It was most of the starting lineup, but not all. It was most of their backups, but not all. It wasn’t even all of the Special Teams. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to who was here and that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. A handpicked selection of players and their agents? No media. No family. “Any idea why we’re partying?”
Derek and Russ exchanged a look I didn’t like one bit, then Russ shrugged. “I think Mr. Brown just wants to get to know his best players.”
Mr. Brown. He said it casually, like he’d spent time with the owner and felt a familiarity toward him. I really, really didn’t like that.
“His generosity is my gain then, isn’t it?” It was best to play along until I figured out which kind of fire I was playing with.
“Sure is,” Russ nodded, his hands so full of food he very nearly dropped it all. “Just nod and give the man what he wants. The rewards are delicious.” And then he devoured nearly all of the food he’d been holding only a moment ago.
Did he even have time to enjoy it? Did it matter? No, probably not. Elite athletes were all energy in, energy out. Like exceptionally good looking machines.
“I find giving people whatever they want usually has consequences. That’s why you’ve both hired me, remember?” I looked at each of them pointedly. “Is there anything I need to know?”
The giant men exchanged a glance that did not instill any confidence in me whatsoever. There was something else going on here and it smelled an awful lot like an Edmund Brown rat.
“Sure Mr. Hancock. Of course we’d tell you if something came up.” That was Russ again, giving a truly unconvincing performance. I made a mental note that he shouldn’t be considered for any endorsements that would require light acting.
“Team is family, right?” Derek said. “And families take care of each other.”
“Family in spirit. At the end of the day it’s your livelihood and future on the line, not Edmund Brown’s.”
Both men blinked at me, then slowly nodded.
“Sure Mr. Hancock. Enjoy the party.”
They slid off as quick as they could, confirming once and for all that the Renegades new owner had gotten to my players with some sort of deal. He’d once again violated the regulations and was making up his own rules. But there wasn’t a thing I could do because all I had to prove it were feelings and instinct.
No, for now I needed to play my part. Observe. Attempt to earn back the trust of the clients who I thought trusted me completely. Get one of them to confide in me or somehow get myself invited into this inner circle of trust. Then and only then would I know what kind of fire I was playing with.
Of course there was the very real chance I’d wind up burned along with everyone else when this went south—and I had no doubt that eventually this would end badly. I certainly didn’t want my players caught up in it any more than I wanted it for myself.
It was at that moment that my attention was drawn back to Esme, still standing in the shadows, but now with a very tall man. Yes, my male instinct to incinerate any man near the woman I wanted kicked in, but before I let it get out of control I noticed that they were arguing and Esme looked absolutely furious this man was here. Her eyes were pure fire, the vein in her neck throbbing between her tensed muscles, her hands clenched into fists at her sides.
And the man fired right back, equally as riled up. Then he leaned down and whispered something that made her eyes go round and her jaw clamp shut.
My blood boiled. Every fiber of my being strained to insert myself into the middle of this argument and end the man, but I had zero right to do so. Esme and I were nothing.
We were less than nothing.
We weren’t even friends. Not really.
And yet . . . my feet moved anyway. My lips and tongue formed words so smooth I shocked even myself. “So we meet again, Miss Brown. It’s good to see you. You look lovely tonight.” I took her hand and forced a gentle handshake.
She stared at me for a moment, then fell into the part I’d just designed. “Lovely to see you again as well, Mr. Hancock. Perhaps you can grab me a drink and we can catch up in a moment?”
Blocked. “Bourbon tonight?” I guessed, rattling the ice in my own empty cup.
“Prosecco, if you will. I don’t particularly enjoy bourbon,” she lied with the most sincere expression on her face I almost bought it even though she’d enthusiastically drunk bourbon with me twice before.
I took her cue and bowed my head slightly. “Prosecco it is for the lovely lady.”
I had excellent hearing so I was able to tell that they attempted to wait until I was a safe distance away before resuming their conversation. Unfortunately for them, I heard a little.
“Do you know him?” hissed the man.
“Hardly,” Esme replied.
“No,” Esme replied firmly. Loudly. Angrily.
Who was this man? A lover? An ex? Another unsavory relative? I reached the bar and leaned against it, casually looking back in time to see Esme poke the man in the chest with an indignant finger, say something, and then stalk off toward me.
I quickly ordered and schooled my features to look as friendly as possible.
“What do you want, Leo?”
Not exactly the warm greeting I’d been hoping for. The bartender placed our drinks in front of us and I clinked her glass with mine. “To say hello.”
She arched a perfect dark eyebrow. “Is that all?”
“Your conversation with tall, dark, and ugly didn’t look too friendly.”
“And you thought what? You’d intervene on my behalf? Or were you hoping for a repeat of our last meeting?”
My dick performed a salute at that idea. “Don’t be ridiculous. Our last meeting was a rare and special thing. Rare and special things don’t happen all the time, Esme.”
She huffed, clearly flabbergasted with me, then took a drink. “I’m not some damsel in distress who needs you to swoop in.”
“I know that as well. You have my number for when you need to be swept off your feet. Are you angry about what happened with Jeffry?”
“It’s just that you’re clearly upset with me and all I did was try to lend a hand.”
She threw back her shoulders and took on a look of indifference that I really didn’t enjoy when it was directed at me. “Jeffry and I are fine. Completely on the same page. I’m grateful for his friendship and I wished him the best of luck with Hope.”
So she knew about that. They were really both very mature about it all. “So I’ll still see you at the cocktail hours?”
She nodded once. “Of course.” Then she finished her drink and turned to me. “Look Leo, we had a great time together but this needs to end now. Forget you knew this part of my life and the next time we’re at one of these parties, we’re nothing more than a man and woman who’ve been introduced a few times.”
There was a low warning quality to her words. It was the way she dropped her voice, the way it was laced with fear.
“All right, Esme. Whatever you want.” I drained my glass. “Enjoy the rest of the party. I suppose I have work to do.”
I didn’t expect her to hold my gaze after that, but she did. It caused a very strange sensation to build inside my chest. An ache that became sharp and stabbing, took my breath away. Everything about her screamed cool and reserved—except her eyes. It wouldn’t be obvious to anyone else but because I’d held Esme at her most vulnerable, felt the way she trembled when she’d been pushed almost too far, seen for myself the way her pupils dilated and her eyes filled with unshed tears when her emotions were running high, because of all that I knew she was a breath away from coming apart.
When she was in my bed I went to her, wrapped her up and held her together so that she felt safe when she crumbled. Today I couldn’t do that. I had no idea what was really going on but she’d asked me to leave her alone, so that was exactly what I did.
If you haven’t read:
Episode Nine, or
Episode Ten, you can click here to go back!
Thank you for reading episode 11 of Reckless Kiss! New episodes will release in my newsletter every Tuesday. If you enjoy this story please check out my free book Tease. It has a very similar style, level of heat, and types of characters and I think you’ll really enjoy it.
Some characters from my previous books will be appearing in this serial. If you haven’t already, check out When Lighting Strikes, to read Marie Bancroft Hamilton’s story, Summer Heat, Night Games, and Last Fall to meet more of the Bancroft Sports gang. (But you absolutely do not need to in order to enjoy Reckless Kiss. This book is 100% it’s own story!)