Reckless Kiss: Episode 15

Reckless Kiss: Episode 15

Serial Romance

(Click here to go to Episode 1)

Episode 15

I practically skipped into the Bancroft Sports offices I was so fucking happy. There was a bounce to my steps, a smile on my lips. I was humming for fucks sake. I’d made it my mission to completely satisfy Esme and in the process I was the one who left in a fog of complete bliss.

Yes, bliss.

It wasn’t a manly word but what else adequately described sublime happiness?

In fact I was so happy I forgot why I was at work on a Saturday.

“What the hell are you wearing?” Roman St. James asked from the head of the conference table. He was leaned back far enough to put his feet on the table. He wasn’t, but he could have.

I glanced down at my dark designer jeans and blue cotton t-shirt. “It’s Saturday.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a t-shirt,” Roman said, letting the chair snap upright. He wore practically the same outfit except his shirt bore the Mantas emblem in the top left corner.

“Well now you have.” I dropped into a seat beside Maddie, another agent.

“He’s right. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in jeans.”

I rolled my eyes. “What is with you two? I wear real clothes like real people on the weekends. Come over for football and you’ll see.”

“Yeah, but when you visit clients on the weekends you wear a suit. When you come into the office on the weekends . . . you still wear a suit. You’re not in a suit,” Maddie grinned.

Marie flopped into the chair opposite mine. “That’s because he was with a woman.”

I had several pairs of interested eyes on me now.

“It was a Friday night. Why is it surprising I had a woman in my bed this morning?”

Marie looked down at her laptop but there was a grin plastered to her face.

Roman was the one who took the fall. “There’s a rumor floating around the office that you’re retired.”

Maddie nodded furiously. “Yep. Everyone’s talking about how you haven’t mentioned one lady-of-the-one-nights in months. Months!”

Suddenly my collar felt too tight and a sweat broke out over my skin. It was too soon to talk about Esme, especially with Marie in the room.

“So if you’re aren’t satisfying the women of Tampa Bay, who was in your bed, Leo?” Roman drummed his fingers on the table.

It was like one of those drums of doom they played before they strung up some poor bastard for stealing bread. “I thought we were here to work.”

“You know what I think?” Maddie turned to Roman. “I think he’s dating someone. As in one woman.”

I yanked at my collar. My skin itched. “Okay fine. You’re right. I’ve retired from my hobby and am currently involved with someone I care very much about.” There. Maybe they’d back off now that I’d thrown them a few crumbs.

“Who?” This time it was Marie of all people, looking at me over her laptop with a genuine smile and eyes filled with curiosity.

Unfortunately, as a childhood friend of Esme’s, she was the one person I didn’t want to tell. So I shot her a look. “When I’m ready to tell you nosy Nellie’s, you’ll be the first to know.”

Marie held in a laugh as she looked at Roman and mouthed, “Nosy Nellie’s? Really?”

Yes. Along with my strange hybrid accent I also enjoyed bizarre sayings. Sue me.

Maddie smiled at me shyly. “You don’t have to say anything specific. Just tell us what she’s like.” Then she shrugged. “You know all of our partners. We care, Leo.”

She made a valid point. I was close with Marie’s husband Greg, as well as Roman’s wife, June. Maddie’s partner I was less familiar with but that had more to do with the fact that Rachel traveled all the time and they’d only been together for a year.

Maybe it was the fact it was a Saturday and we were all under a lot of stress that brought out their gossipy sides. These were my coworkers but we were also friends. When you spent that much time with people you had two choices: to keep a professional wall up at all times, or make them family. I’d had jobs where that professional wall was imperative. My bosses were morons and my fellow employees untrustworthy assholes. Work was work and nothing else.

But here it was different. I might never have chosen Marie or Roman out of a lineup, but we shared the same passion for sports, got the same thrill from negotiating contracts. Our friendships developed slowly. Trust was built over time.

“She’s extremely intelligent and very beautiful.” I realized I was smiling at the image of Esme naked and tangled in my sheets. “I like talking to her because there’s always something to talk about and I’ve begun looking forward to seeing her more than anything else.”

I blinked away my memories of this morning and refocused on my coworkers. All three of them were grinning.

“She sounds lovely,” Marie said.

“It’s important to have a partner you can talk to,” Maddie agreed. “I’d die of boredom if Rachel wasn’t so much smarter than me.”

I knew Esme was brilliant from speaking with her. That was confirmed at the fundraiser. But I still barely understood the depths of her intelligence. It was just one of many things I was looking forward to exploring over the next six months.

“How does she feel about this?” Roman asked, waving his hand around the room.

“Conflicted.” And I hoped my job wouldn’t become one of the reasons she pushed me away. I could understand why it might be too much. I hoped it wasn’t.

The glass conference room door swung open. Gwen Hartley and Oscar Gomez came hurrying in.

“Sorry, sorry!” Gwen called, plopping down beside Marie.

Oscar came around and sat on the other side of Maddie.

“Okay, that’s everyone.” Marie glanced around the group. “What we discuss doesn’t leave this room. I trust the five of you completely and expect discretion from each of you while we work our way through this problem.”

Roman was a close family friend to Marie, as well as a damn good agent. Maddie, Gwen, and Oscar were lower down in the company but all solid. People I trusted. Also, I couldn’t help noticing, all agents of the football players Marie and I had identified as connected to an influx of unaccounted for money.

She brought everyone up to speed on which players we’d identified as well as the money or prizes they’d come into.

“What I don’t get,” Roman fiddled with a pen as he looked up at the information on the whiteboard “is the connection. These players are all on different teams. They came out of different college programs.”

“They play completely different positions,” Maddie agreed.

Esme’s advice suddenly came back to me. “Positions.”

Everyone turned towards me as I scrambled to remember exactly what she’d said. “Let’s dig deeper into that. What positions do they play and how have they been playing this season compared to past seasons. Maybe there’s something that jumps out at us.”

I felt like the answer was staring me in the face. It was like forgetting why you walked into a room but knowing there was a reason, you just had to retrace your steps to jog your mind.

“We’re not seeing something because we expected there to be an obvious connection. We have to stop looking for the expected.”

Marie stared at me, nodding. “Let’s pull the information and take a coffee break. Meet back in twenty?”

Maddie and Gwen ran off to the break room while Roman retreated to his office and Oscar made a call in the hallway. That left me alone with Marie.

“What do you think we’re going to find?” she asked, her suspicious gaze locked on me.

“I honestly don’t know.” I kept my eyes trained on my laptop as I pulled up Derek Byers and Russ Watkins’ stats from last season.

“I saw the light bulb go off over your head while Maddie was talking. You’re thinking something. What?”

I shoved back the laptop and sighed. “I don’t know. It’s just . . . if they aren’t connected by anything obvious, then it has to be something else. Roman said the obvious stuff. It’s not one team or owner. It’s not a single agency, there’s no past connections between all of them. So when Maddie mentioned they don’t even play the same positions it just got me wondering. What changed this season? What is the common denominator?”

And why couldn’t Esme simply tell me what she knew? I didn’t get the impression she was playing games with me. If anything she seemed scared. In fact, now that I thought about it, her strange behavior at the Renegades party made a lot more sense if she were being threatened in some way.

Maybe she knew exactly what was happening and that knowledge was dangerous. God, I hoped not. Just entertaining the idea made my pulse race.

“Okay. We’ll dig in deeper,” Marie said, pushing up from the table. “We’ve got to figure this out. If they’re doing something illegal—which they most likely are—this is going to come down on all of us.”

Which begged the question, “And what do we do to stop the consequences when we figure it out?”

She shrugged. “Hope it’s not so bad we can’t recover?”

I slipped off to my office for a snack and some privacy. I wanted to call Esme but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from asking questions. So instead I sent her a text.

Leo: I can’t wait for dinner.

I immediately got a response that made me smile.

Esme: And I’m looking forward to dessert.
Leo: You’re killing me. I’m hiding from my coworkers so they can’t see what you do to me.
Esme: Says the man who left me in his bed. Your sheets smell like you. Not fair.

I gritted my teeth at the image of Esme smelling my pillow while she touched herself. I now had a full-blown erection that was borderline painful.

Leo: I changed my mind. We’re having dessert before dinner tonight.
Esme: As long as I see you.

My breath caught. So many emotions thundered through me at that simple sentence. I knew her well enough to know that sentence meant a lot more than it seemed. There were hidden depths in those six words. Depths I felt too. I wanted to see her. To listen to her talk about her day. To smell her and touch her skin because they made me feel more alive. I wanted to see her smile because of something I did. This thing between us was fragile and volatile for both of us, but especially her. To know she wanted to see me tonight and was brave enough to admit it meant this went both ways.

And thank god for that.

Leo: Seeing you is the only thing that matters.

I wanted to fuck her blind and kiss her senseless, but more than anything else I just needed to be in the same room with her.

Esme: Leo . . . you can’t say things like that when I can’t kiss you.

I was probably smiling like an idiot. I felt my face and yep, sure enough, my grin went from one ear to the other.

Leo: Anticipation is an aphrodisiac.
Esme: I don’t need an aphrodisiac. I just need you.

 My heart pounded so hard I could hear it in my ears. I needed her too.

I needed her to be safe.

We spent the next three hours pouring over stats and looking for connections. Roman paced by the whiteboard as he scribbled down thoughts. “Lasko has been unstoppable this season. He’s caught no less than two touchdown passes every single game. Until last Sunday. Taylor hit him right in the numbers but somehow the ball slipped through his fingers.”

“Yeah, but they ran it in for a touchdown on fourth down anyway,” Gwen pointed out.

“True,” Roman said, turning to us like a college professor, “but remember three weeks ago when Chung tripped over his own two feet with an open field?”

“And Black just ran the wrong route right after sacking Thompson two weeks ago.” Oscar murmured.

“So what you’re saying is,” Marie sat forward, “we have an usual rash of basic mistakes coming from veteran players.”

Why did that feel like the answer even though I still didn’t understand it? Could Lasko, Black, and Chung all have made simple mistakes? Sure. Everyone made mistakes.

“Roman, you said they got the TD after Lasko dropped the ball. What difference did it make?”

Roman got a glint in his eyes. “Well, if Lasko caught that pass it would have been business as usual. Instead they went for it on fourth down. It was the last play of the game and they won by exactly two points.”

“Oh my god,” Marie gasped sitting back with her hand over her mouth. “Check everyone else. Check every mistake and how it effected the game.”

I froze. Actually, I was pretty sure I lost all feeling in my body as the implications of what Roman said sank in. They were fixing games. These players . . . they all made key mistakes that steered results. The kind of results people bet on. Things people made thousands—or millions—from.

And somehow . . . Esme knew.

Thank you for reading episode 15 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!)

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