(Click here to go to Episode 1)
After a lot of swearing and pacing Marie and I came up with a plan to address the unexpected invitation into the den of the wolves.
That was what Marie called it.
The den of the wolves.
I really wish she’d just lay it all out on the table for me. She was trusting me with information but not all the information and that always made me feel insane.
Regardless, we decided it would be poor form and not a good move for our athletes if we turned it down. The invite was for all of Bancroft Sports but we were going to keep it to upper management and the agents with the corner offices, so to speak. In short, the people Marie trusted most.
The party was in eight days.
Between the game and the dramatics that accompanied the invitation, I needed a night out more than ever. So as planned, I’d made my way over to Rusty’s, planted myself at the bar, and was surveying potential options over a glass of Blanton’s.
There were some very nice options to be had.
The leggy blonde wearing a glittering minidress was my favorite at the moment. She glanced my way as soon as I sat. Glanced in that interested, flirtatious way. So even though I was also checking out the brunette laughing with her giggling troupe of friends, and the redhead looking rather bored with her twosome, my gaze kept coming back to lady number one.
And sure enough her glance kept coming back to me.
My blood heated for the first time in ages, flooded with adrenaline and hormones, making me feel alive again. It was as if I’d been asleep since Esme, sleepwalking through life. No woman could compare so why bother?
Except Esme was now, firmly, no longer an option.
I’d not have her hips in my hands again. There would be no licking of her delicate neck as I made my way to nibble her earlobe, all while I pumped my cock inside her. She would not moan my name again.
I shot the rest of the Blanton’s and went to the blonde.
“Your legs are my favorite part of the night so far. I hope you don’t mind that I ogled them.” I always found it was best to be blunt but not crass. If the woman recoiled at a comment like that then she was not the kind of woman to go home with a stranger anyway, so best to figure that out right from the jump.
The blonde smiled. “That’s why I’m wearing a skirt. If I didn’t want them ogled I’d wear black pants.”
I highly doubted that would mask the unmistakable line of muscle.
I stuck out my hand. “Leo. Agent.” It was customary to identify who you were at Rusty’s. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“Hope. Family. And yes.”
I waved the bartender over and ordered us both a refill. “Whose family?” Rusty’s was a safe haven for athletes, agents, and reporters to mingle in a social environment without the pressures. What happened at Rusty’s stayed at Rusty’s. No deals were made here. Everything was strictly off the record. Anyone who broke the code was banned for life—and frequently blackballed outside the restaurant as well.
Family members of all the above also frequented the restaurant because it was safe. They didn’t live the life but they lived amongst it and sometimes the secrets they held made them live bait for reporters. They enjoyed having a space to freely socialize as much as the rest of us.
She nibbled her lower lip. “Brian Thomas is my ex.”
Brian was one of the most famous sports anchors in news today. “Divorced?”
She took the drink from the bartender and sipped. “Separated for the last year. Divorce official as of yesterday.”
Definitely available. Especially since everyone knew that Brian was currently living with his girlfriend of the last year, supermodel Lilith Jane.
I held up my fresh glass of bourbon. “Congratulations on the signed papers.”
She clinked the tip of her drink to mine. “Thank you. And you? Is there anyone at home?”
“No one at all.” But for some reason I could not fathom, my mind conjured up the image of Esme in my bed, tangled up in white sheets, her dark hair spilling over her naked breasts, smiling up at me as I came in for the night.
What the fuck was that?
“You sure about that?” Hope laughed.
“Someone you wish was waiting for you, then?”
Women were freakishly perceptive creatures and I knew from years of experience that to head this off I needed to be brutally honest. “I shagged a gorgeous woman thinking there was no chance I’d ever see her again. Turns out my best friend has been trying to ask her out for ages.”
“So you’re quietly sitting on the sidelines.”
In a manner of speaking. “Sure.”
She laughed again. “And not enjoying it.”
“No sense in waiting around for something you can’t have. And make no mistake about it, this is pure male stupidity. I wanted her again and when I couldn’t have her, I wanted her more. It’s not romantic.”
“I can appreciate that. I like you, Leo. You’re honest and honesty is a rare quality these days.”
And I liked the easy way about Hope. “Why are you in Tampa?”
“I decided to get some distance from Brian and Lilith. I came home.”
So this was her stomping ground. “And how are you liking the city?”
“It’s changed but still fundamentally the same city I grew up in. I think I’ll stick around.”
Hope and I enjoyed a nice night of conversation. I genuinely liked her and she had this wit I really appreciated. She asked politely if I would fuck her brains out and, since this is what I did, and Esme was no longer an option, I took her hard and fast in the bathroom.
It was satisfying in the way a hot chocolate is satisfying on a cool night. It was pleasant and lovely. Nice. She wasn’t Esme and I felt strangely empty afterward. I couldn’t recall an orgasm ever feeling so…incomplete before.
Hope noticed and in the same way I’d satisfied her physical needs, she offered to satisfy my emotional ones by letting me talk aimlessly about Esme. Hope felt like a safe space. And so the words tumbled out. My infatuation. My desire to satisfy her.
Despite the fact we were intimately known to one another I began to feel a kinship to her I could only describe as brotherly.
So I invited her over for football Sunday with Jeffry, Grant, Mary, and John.
“Do you guys do this every Sunday?” Hope sat cross-legged on the loveseat, two full plates of food on the coffee table in front of her. She looked like a kid on Christmas morning.
Grant and Jeffry looked on from my kitchen as they piled their own plates with food. Jeffry decided to explain with his mouth mostly full. “I’m here every weekend because Leo loves me.”
I shook my head at this lack of basic manners. “Football is my favorite weekend activity.” Aside from sex, of course. “It’s on all weekend. College on Saturday and the pros on Sunday. I usually work Saturday so I’m here alone, but on Sunday I have this oaf over and when I’m feeling social I have everyone.”
“And all this food?” She grabbed the plate on the left and dove into the loaded potato skins.
“I have a wonderful shop at the end of the street. I always order food when I have guests, yes.”
“You can put me on the invite list any time.” She moved on to the tiny pork sandwich. “Any time.”
Jeffry plunked his plate down beside hers and sat on the couch as close as he could get to her. “The nachos are solid but they get soggy pretty fast, so eat those first. The wings are the best. All three flavors are worth dying for.”
“I’m saving those for last.” She nodded solemnly, as if food were the single most important thing in the world.
Jeffry seemed to agree with her because they moved on to a heated discussion on beer pairings. I swirled my Scotch and watched my phone as it lit up with a string of messages from Marie.
I want the team to arrive on time and as close together as possible.
She was so worked up over this it boggled my mind. I felt out of the loop. Behind the eight ball. In the dark. So I employed my best weapon: research. I’d spent the better part of the week reading old articles on the Nashville franchise—the rise and the fall. It was a bizarre moment in professional football history and somehow the details remained murky.
It set me off, honestly. Why were there so few details. Why did no one discuss it, even today? Why was no one reporting on the magnitude of the Renegades sale?
Lovely. Now she was speaking with a half-full mouth of food and a nearly drunken slur to her words. The food coma was already setting in and we were just starting the second quarter.
“You still do some producing?” Like her ex, Hope was deep in the sports news industry.
Her eyes sharpened suspiciously. “I do specials and films now, why?”
“This Renegades sale . . . you have any idea why no one’s talking about the twenty year ban on the owner or the old Nashville franchise?”
She set her nearly empty plate down and wiped her fingers clean, straightening up and shaking off the food coma. “It’s a blackballed topic. You report on it, you’re done. It won’t even air so there’s no reason to risk it.”
Won’t even air? “What do you mean?” What she was saying was so far beyond anything I’d ever heard in the industry before.
“I mean the Nashville franchise and it’s owners are taboo. They aren’t even discussed in the newsrooms. If someone brings it up the room goes silent and management redirects immediately.” She cracked her neck as if just discussing this topic were giving her stress. “I mean, if you try to bring a piece like this to the table you’re tossed out on your backside before you even get the words out of your mouth. No two weeks notice. No warning. Just ‘goodbye, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, no one else will hire you.’”
That was stunning. “As in, they tell all the other station managers and that reporter is blackballed?”
“Because the first rule of Nashville is you don’t discuss Nashville.”
I had no response to that. In my years in the industry I’d encountered secrets and lies that everyone knew about. It was out in the open and clear as to why it was avoided at all costs. This was completely different because it was just one giant black hole. No information. No knowledge. Nothing at all.
“We’ve all been invited to dinner at the Brown’s this weekend. My boss is very upset about the sale.”
Hope nodded as if this made perfect sense. “Well good luck. Stay on the good side of that asshole. I hear the bad side is a cold and dark place to be.”
“But from who? If no one talks about it, no one reports on it, how does anyone know anything?”
She smirked a little. Probably finding me dense and ridiculous. “Because the people who do know, like your boss, smart people in powerful positions, they’re scared.”
I did not enjoy absence of information. I did not typically rely on other people’s authority or information. I made my own decisions and while I trusted Marie completely, it wasn’t going to stop me from looking for answers.
I let it go. The game was a good one and my friends much preferred to watch it than listen to me grump about a team owner. I noticed how seamlessly Hope folded into our group. She cracked jokes with Mary, but especially Jeffry, made a concoction of nachos, wings, and potatoes that nearly made John cry, kept up with the stream of stats that Grant always mumbled in the background.
In a way it was like she’d always been part of the group instead of a woman I’d just picked up at a bar only a week ago. She was totally up front about that too.
“I was in a bad way last weekend and Leo here shagged it right out of me,” she said with a shrug and grateful smile.
John chuckled. “That’s our Leo. Glad to have you as part of the crew.”
And that was that.
Well other than some odd comments from Jeffry, but I assumed that was simply because after dinner with Esme last night he’d kissed her. The poor man was flustered and probably bluer than the shade of midnight.
“It was just . . . whoa. She’s made of electricity. I’m sure of it.”
I eyed him. “That’s simply not possible.” Except I knew it to be true.
“Yeah, well, it sure felt that way. It was just a peck, really. We talked all through dinner. We barely stopped to eat. She’s brilliant, man. Simply brilliant to talk to.”
Now that was something I wouldn’t know as well as Jeffry. We bantered over dinner. Flirted with words. Sparred with stubborn personality. But we didn’t really talk.
“So I walked her up to her door. You know, to be gentlemanly, and she turned back to say goodnight and I just knew if I didn’t do something I’d be friend-zoned for life. So I did that thing women like. I brushed some of her hair over her shoulder and kissed her.”
“Was it really a peck?” Hope asked, very invested in our conversation I didn’t even know she’d been listening to. “Or was it more of a long press?”
“Does it matter?” Jeffry asked.
“Well of course. A peck is unsatisfying. It’s brief and kind of, I don’t know,” she looked at the ceiling, searching for a word.
I supplied the correct answer. “Cowardly.”
“Yes!” Her eyes locked with mine and sparkled, remembering our explosive and very un-peck-like bathroom kisses. “Pecks are cowardly. But a nice long, chaste press of the lips is intentional. It’s full of promise and leaves you wanting more.”
I shifted in my seat as I thought of all the long, electric times I’d pressed my lips to Esme’s skin.
“It was definitely a press of the lips then,” Jeffry nodded matter-of-factly.
“So next time—there is a next time right?” Hope leaned closer to Jeffry, taking over my job as counsel.
“Well yeah. I thought I’d ask her to lunch again this week.”
Hope frowned. “It has to be more intimate that grabbing a quick meal if you want to stay out of the friend-zone.”
“Like what?” Jeffry croaked, overwhelmed as always.
“You said you eat outside? Make a picnic, off from everyone else, just the two of you.”
She was good. Really good. “You can be my wingman any time.” I tilted my bottle of beer her way.
She clinked it with hers. “I was actually thinking about that just now. You ever need a partner? I’m here. Or if there’s a guy . . . I mean I know dudes don’t want help in this department, but I don’t see why I can’t offer up a dating option like you do.”
Jeffry seemed almost shocked by her offer. “But why?”
She shrugged. “It’s fun. And simple. And needed, you know? Sometimes it’s nice to just need some contact and not have to worry about the world ending.”
My entire life philosophy.
Hope chatted with Jeffry for the rest of the afternoon, giving him far more advice and encouragement than I ever could. Luckily John, Grant, and Mary were still interested in the game and we managed to spend a relaxing Sunday afternoon in front of my television.
Rest I was very grateful for come Saturday night.
Thank you for reading episode 6 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!)
If you haven’t read EPISODE ONE, EPISODE TWO, EPISODE THREE, Episode Four, or Episode Five, you can click here to go back!