Authors: Lily Harlem
As I was lowered, I let out a sigh of relief. My feet sank until mercifully I was once again vertical. Phoenix’s hands left my ankles and knees and Ramrod passed my shoulders to Brick, who seemed determined to keep hold of my waist in a viselike grip.
“You okay?” Brick asked as our heads came level but my feet still hung several inches from the floor.
“Of course.” The entire length of my body pressed against the front of his. I spent most of my time wearing Lycra, training and competing. But now, for the first time ever, it felt as though I wore nothing at all, as if I were utterly naked. But I had to admit being pressed against him was even better than I’d imagined. So much better. Heat radiated from him and he smelled divine—spicy cinnamon toast dripping in butter and stolen in the middle of the night.
“Only you look like maybe you didn’t like being so high up.”
“I’m fine, really. I knew you wouldn’t drop me.” My hands curled over his giant shoulders and my fingers pressed into the hard pads under his jersey. “Are you going to put me down?”
“I might,” his eyes sparkled cheekily, “Carly.”
“You know my name?” I was genuinely surprised.
“Sure, I cheered for you two years ago when you were in second place. I swear my yelling at the screen got you past that Italian and boosted you the last mile.”
“You watched me?”
“Honey, the whole country watched you. Well, at least the male population did.”
Now I knew he was teasing. Long-distance bike-riding in a velodrome hardly attracted a huge audience. Not when there were so many more exhilarating sports to watch in the mad two weeks of the Olympics.
“It was an impressive display of stamina,” he said. “And a finish time not many people could have beaten.”
“I think I proved no one could beat it,” I said, a little sharper than I’d intended. “Isn’t that the point of the Olympics?”
He huffed in amusement and the corners of his mouth tilted upward. “Yeah, I guess so.”
I squirmed in his arms. “Put me down.”
I looked into his eyes and felt my jaw clench in frustration. This was not how this was supposed to happen. I had a plan for how I was going to handle Brick during this charity promotion. And him being in control was not on that list. I always had plans and lists. It was the way I organized my training schedules and the habit had leaked into other areas of my life. With Brick, I was planning on leading the show. I wanted him on his toes and unsure of my intentions. Not the other way around. Just because he was big and strong didn’t mean he could scoop me up as if he were a Neanderthal and take me off to his cave.
“Put me down,” I said more firmly. “I didn’t asked to be picked up so why should I say please to be put down?”
“Oh a feisty lady. I like that.” He tipped his face nearer to mine and his breath breezed hot on my cheek. “Tell me,” he whispered, “are you cold or does getting picked up by hockey players turn you on?” His gaze dropped to my chest.
“Do you mind?” I wriggled even more. “That’s rather personal.”
“Hey, Brick, stop harassing the lady,” Phoenix said, whacking Brick between the shoulder blades. “Put her down.”
Brick glanced across at his teammate then back to me. “I’m not harassing her,” he said, smiling broadly. “I’m telling her how much I admire her athletic achievements.”
“As well as commenting on my body temperature,” I said.
“Yeah, well.” I was lowered and my feet thankfully came back into contact with the floor. “I was just curious,” he said.
“Well, you’ll just have to stay curious.” I folded my arms over my tiny breasts to hide my pebbled nipples.
“Mmm, I’d much rather find out for sure.” He grinned, showing neat, white teeth.
“Brick, you really are too smooth,” Phoenix said with a groan. “Are you coming with us or not?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Brick took a step away from me. “I’ll catch you around, Carly Flannigan.”
I watched them file out, three giants amongst the other athletes and photography staff.
As they reached the door, Ramrod turned and winked.
* * * * *
I wandered out into the dazzling Florida sunshine and slid on my shades. The air was hot and humid. It clung to my skin and dampened my hair and I was looking forward to getting home. I’d cycled early this morning, only thirty miles as I wasn’t in serious training for another three months. So all I had to do now was chill out in my condo with a movie and perhaps a glass of wine.
I scanned the parking lot. My car was at the mechanic’s but the cab the charity had sent to ferry me to and from the shoot was waiting.
I waved, caught the driver’s attention and shifted to the edge of the sweltering sidewalk. It was odd that I’d met Brick today of all days. Tim and I had split up this exact day three years ago. Well, split it up is not the most accurate description. He’d left me, came out the bedroom of our apartment with his bag packed and said he was leaving. No discussion, no arguments, not even a hint that he was unhappy in the weeks leading up to it. It had devastated me. I’d loved him body and soul, and when, three weeks later, I saw a picture on Facebook of him surfing in Oz with some blonde bimbo, I’d fallen into a very dark place. Only cycling and training had got me out of bed each morning. It turned out he’d left me for someone he’d never even seen in person. They’d been emailing for months after meeting on a chat site.
I sighed, took a sip of water and pushed Tim from my mind; thought about my exchange with Brick instead. The guy was as seriously hot close up as he was on TV and my body was still buzzing from being pressed up against his. It hadn’t gone quite to plan, landing in his arms within seconds of meeting had thrown me considerably off balance. But it was okay because I would see him again next week when the promotion for the song went into overdrive and I could hardly wait to indulge in some serious flirting.
The car drew up and I reached for the door.
Suddenly a big hand engulfed my wrist.
“I’ll take you home.”
“What?” I turned sharply and came face to chest with Brick.
“I’ll take you home.” He grinned. “I’m going that way.”
“But you don’t even know where I live.” I tugged my wrist from his grip even though having him touch me sent waves of delight over my skin.
He shrugged. “Wherever you live, I was going that way.”
I took a step back and surveyed him. Unlike me he’d changed and now wore low-slung, distressed jeans and a white t-shirt with a small logo of a hockey stick on the right side of his broad chest. Now that his helmet was off, I could see he’d cut his blond hair short too, much shorter. Last time I’d seen him being interviewed on TV before a game it had been curling around his ears and neck. Now it was cropped close to his head, no more than half an inch all over. It suited him, made him look even more handsome, if that were possible.
“Hey, miss, you want this ride or not?”
I turned to the red-faced driver whose stomach grazed the base of his steering wheel.
So much for being cool when Brick was around.
“I haven’t got all freakin’ day.” The driver frowned at me. “Hurry up, I got two more fares waiting.”
“I’m sorry, I…please, wait one second.”
The driver let out a string of colorful expletives.
Brick stepped to the curb, rested his hands on the roof of the car and ducked to the window. “She doesn’t need the ride,” he said, “but before you go you can apologize to the lady.”
I strained to see around Brick’s shoulders and could just make out the driver’s wide eyes.
“What for?” the driver asked, a tone of uncertainty lacing his voice.
“She doesn’t want to listen to your foul language. This woman, this athlete you’ve just insulted has won medals for this country. What have you ever done, eh?” Brick stepped sideways but kept his big fists on the roof of the car. “Apologize,” he said in a voice that dared the driver to disobey him. “Like you mean it.”
The driver tipped his head and caught my eye. “Sorry, miss,” he said with a shrug and a tight swallow.
“It’s okay.” I took another sip of my water. Tried to look as though having a burly bit of muscle follow me around and defend my sensitive disposition was normal routine.
Brick banged the top of the car. “Get outta here.”
The car pulled off with a squeal.
“Er, thanks. I think.” I looked up at Brick. “Except actually I really was going to need that ride home.”
“Well, he’s gone now.” Brick stepped up to me and once again his delicious spiced aftershave invaded my nostrils. “Sorry, but I can’t bear bad language around women. The air is thick on the ice, but Phoenix beat me out of the habit of using it in female company.” He shrugged. “I guess it’s like smokers who give up. Once you stop you don’t like other people doing it around you.”
“But you still curse on the ice?”
“Yeah, ’cause they’re all a bunch of dodos who can hardly hear a thing through their cauliflower ears. It’s the language they speak and understand.” He grinned. “I wouldn’t get anywhere if I didn’t join in.”
I tossed my empty water bottle into a nearby bin—perfect shot—put my hands on my bare waist and cocked my hip. “So,” I glanced up and down the street, “since I don’t have my car or my bike, I guess you’ll
to take me home.” I frowned and received a triumphant grin in return.
“Yeah, you can ride on
bike.” He spun and pointed to the parking lot at the side of the studio. Standing in the shade was an enormous, bright-orange Kawasaki with “Ninja” written in swirling black letters down the side.
“You want to take me home on that?” I’d promised my parents years ago never to go on the back of a motorcycle. I could still hear my father’s stern voice in my ear, warning me of the perils of boys with bikes.
Brick smiled. “Sure, honey. You’ll love it.”
I stared at the enormous monster of a machine. Huge wheels, shiny and silver, a long, wide, black leather seat, and handlebars so wide and thick that I couldn’t imagine my hands would reach between them. And the exhaust at the back, it was more like an oil-well pipe it was so wide and black with soot.
“Hey, don’t look so worried.” Brick drew his dark blond brows together. “I’ll look after you.”
“It’s not that, it’s just…”
“It’s just you’re scared.”
“I am not!”
He mimicked my stance and placed his hands on his hips. My gaze was drawn to the faded creases of denim covering his groin. “So come on then, if you’re not scared what are you waiting for?”
“Nothing.” I looked him straight in the eye. “We should go. I have things to do today.”
He grinned and dug out a set of keys from his pocket. My gaze slipped again and I watched as his wristwatch tugged on the bottom of his t-shirt. I caught a tantalizing glimpse of hard, flat abdomen coated in light brown hairs. Was this really happening? Was I really about to get on a motorcycle with the hot guy I’d all but collated a scrapbook on? My mouth dried and my heart rate kicked up to top gear. I had to play it cool. I couldn’t let him know I was desperate for him. Dying to get my hands on him. As long as I stayed a challenge, an unknown entity, I would have a chance at getting to know him.
After unlocking and handing me his black helmet, Brick straddled the bike and revved the engine to life. “Hop on,” he shouted over the roar.
I silenced my father’s cautioning voice, slid the heavy protection over my head and threw my leg over the back of the bike. Instantly my pelvis slipped forward on the leather toward Brick’s delectable butt. A throb of excitement pulsed through my body. It had nothing to do with the powerful engine rumbling between my legs and everything to do with the hot man I’d just settled my legs around.
The bike suddenly jerked forward and I let out a squeak of surprise.
“Hang on to me,” Brick ordered over his shoulder.
Hastily I fastened my arms around his waist and linked my fingers just above the waistband of his jeans. He tipped forward as we zipped across the parking lot and I leaned with him, my breasts pressing against his spine. My body slotted against his wide back. We were like two parts of a jigsaw puzzle coming together.
“You okay?” he asked, thumping down a foot to balance the bike as he paused at the parking lot exit and looked left and right.
“Yeah, great.” Despite my anxiety, I couldn’t ignore the feel of his soft cotton t-shirt on my bare midriff. I couldn’t ignore the taut muscles of his stomach beneath my hands. And there was no way in hell I could ignore the lust screaming through my body.
“Where to?” he asked.
“Head toward Richmond Hill. I’ll show you from there.”
He twisted his wrist, the bike let out a roar, and we sped onto the street considerably faster than was legal. I spent more time on a bike than off, but this was amazing. This was different. This was so powerful. My legs gripped the seat, the wind buffeted my body and heat from the man I gripped poured into me like molten lava.
Shops and houses flew past, streaks of color in my peripheral vision. Brick weaved between cars and buses. He overtook a truck and sped through the lights as they switched. His t-shirt flapped around his hard torso though his hair was too short to move. I glanced up at his profile as he scanned the road. His jaw was set tight in concentration. I’d seen that look before when I’d watched him on the ice. It did strange things to my hormones.
Eventually we came to Richmond Hill and I pointed the way down the next few streets as he rolled along gently. When we reached my condo I called into his ear, “This one, we’re here.”
The bike came to a stop and the monster of an engine silenced. He banged down his feet and straightened his back.
“Carly,” he said, his voice sounding quiet after the roar of the wind and the engine in my ears.
“You can let go of me now, honey.”
“Oh…oh of course.” I released my hands, quickly got off the bike and handed him the helmet. Instantly my body felt cool despite the relentless heat. Not being pressed against his hot torso felt wrong. As if I was missing something I needed.