Authors: Lily Harlem
I glanced over at Benita fussing over guests. I could just imagine her collecting waifs and strays to do jobs and then taking them under her wing. “Must have been hard work fitting all that in.”
“Yeah, it was, but Benita has always been my biggest fan, along with her husband Marco—after Mom of course.”
“Your dad isn’t a fan?” I was surprised.
“We lost Dad a few years back.” He took a gulp of his wine and glanced out the netted window again. “He never saw me reach the NHL. Mom lives down in the Keys now with one of her sisters.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
Brick looked back at me and took a deep breath. “We all lose things we don’t want to.”
I nodded, I could relate to that. I’d lost Tim when I hadn’t wanted to. But somehow, sitting here with Brick, all that upset seemed years away and the pain only a memory instead of an actual physical ache.
“When I signed for the Orlando Vipers,” Brick went on, “you should have seen the party Benita and Marco threw me here. All the guys came, it was awesome. More pasta and tiramisu than you could ever imagine.” He chuckled and I was relieved to see the sadness lift from his face. “I honestly don’t think I would be where I am today without their generosity of spirit and their belief in me even when things weren’t going so well.”
I held up my wine. “To Benita and Marco,” I said, feeling grateful to the two people who had brought light into his life.
He clinked the rim of his glass with mine. “To Benita and Marco.”
“You toasting me?” Benita appeared at our side balancing two enormous white plates on her palms.
“Yeah, I was just telling Carly how we met,” Brick said.
She sighed. “Oh you should have seen him, bella. He worked so hard to buy those skates and those sticks. And he was so thin too. I fattened him up good though, didn’t I?” She placed down our meals and ruffled her fingertips through Brick’s newly short hair. “What you done to those angel curls, boy? You look all grown up now.”
“I’m twenty-five, Benita. That does kind of make me all grown up.” Brick grinned and turned to me. “Besides, it’s a hit with the ladies. Look at the gorgeous girl I got to go out with me today with this new hairstyle.”
“Well, I liked your curls,” Benita muttered as she walked away. “They’ll take ages to grow back.”
Brick leaned across the table. “My curls were the butt of endless jokes in the locker room. They had to go. Phoenix’s wife, Brooke, made a comment that I looked like a beefed-up cherub and the cherub part stuck.” He shook his head. “Brick’s not the best name to be given but there’s no way in hell I can live with Cherub.”
I let out a giggle. Cherub was the last word I’d use to describe Brick. There was nothing remotely angelic about him.
“You think it’s funny?” He grinned and dug into his steaming lasagna.
“Unfortunately so did the guys. I love them, especially Phoenix, who’s been an older brother to me. But they show their affection in strange ways. Lots of cursing and plenty of whacks and wrestling.”
I took a bite of my salmon. Delicious. Light and fluffy with the perfect amount of nutty pesto. “Are you going up to New York next week for the Ray Lenon show?” I asked, even though I knew he was. My agent had told me Brick was doing the interview so I’d put myself up for it too, hardly believing the opportunity to spend more time with him was being handed to me on a platter. Who knew charity work could be so wonderfully convenient?
“Yeah, I’m going, are you?” he asked.
“I think so. I just need to confirm it.” My train tickets were booked and so was my hotel room. My bag was half packed and there was a big red circle marking the day on my calendar.
He set down his knife and fork and reached for his napkin. He wiped the corners of his mouth then leaned toward me. “I hope you do,” he said quietly, his gaze capturing mine. “Because if all goes as planned, we’ll be well past our first date by then.”
The lust in his eyes hit me like a cannonball. I thought I was in control but suddenly I had doubts as to whether I’d be able to keep him harnessed. Whether I’d be able to keep my own carnal desires harnessed. I took another mouthful of wine. I was feeling hot. Hot and flustered.
“How did you get on in the recording studio?” I asked to change the subject. We’d all gone in individually, all eighteen of us Florida athletes, to record our parts of the
Promises and Dreams
song. No one had actually met until the morning for the promotional photo, unless of course they were already teammates or friends.
Brick groaned. “I’m no singer,” he said. “That much is obvious by the fact they’ve only given me one solo line in the whole song.”
“I only have two,” I said with a smile.
“Yeah, but you sound sweet. I sound like a troll who’s been kicked in the nuts.”
I laughed. I’d heard his solo and a troll kicked in the nuts wasn’t a bad description. I guess he couldn’t be completely perfect, so if I had to take something I’d happily settle for a bad singing voice.
He laughed too. “So I’d better not give up the day job for a career on Broadway then, eh?”
“I think the day job is suiting you very well.”
“Yeah, it is a dream career,” he said with a smile.
“And pretty lucrative.”
He placed down his cutlery and his face fell serious. “I’ve been poor and now I’m rich. But it’s doing a job I love and having good people around me that makes me happy. Not cash. Not stuff. Sure, money takes away worries, but I’d rather be poor and have something I feel passionate about and have people to love than be rich and alone with nothing to make me feel alive.”
I set down my own knife and fork. The need to touch him was overpowering as a sudden feeling of tenderness washed over me. Sure, he was big, tough, gorgeous and the stuff of all my erotic fantasies, but I now realized he was also a gentle soul who needed and wanted the same things everyone did. Love, passion, companionship, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I reached forward and placed my hand over his. My fingers were so small in comparison to his big knuckles and wide bones. “I’ve never been poor and I’ve never been rich,” I said quietly. “But I agree. I’ve always valued people—my parents and my coach above all others.”
“You must have sacrificed a lot to get to the Olympics.” He turned his hand over and trapped mine within it. “All that training and traveling.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ve very few friends other than the cyclists I see on the competition circuit and let’s face it they’re…well, they’re competition. I guess friends are what I sacrificed to reach my goal.” I felt a fizz of sensation snake up my arm as his thumb caressed the underside of my wrist. With my free hand, I reached for my wine. “But I’m very close to my parents.”
“Did you always know cycling was what you wanted to do?”
“I was good at it. Like, really good at it. So I wanted to prove I was the best.”
He smiled. “You always so determined?”
“Once I decide I want something I go for it,” I said, taking a slug of wine.
He tipped his head and narrowed his eyes. “Do you want me?”
Oh hell. Now I need a cool answer
. “What do you think?”
His lips curled into a dirty smile. “I think you do but you just don’t know it yet, honey.”
I pulled my hand away and reached once more for my knife and fork. “Well, I’ll be sure to let you know if and when I do.” I popped in a cherry tomato. Let it roll around my mouth, filling my cheeks before I bit it in half.
He gave a huff of amusement and his head bobbed. “Yeah, you do that. I wouldn’t want to miss it.” His eyes dropped to my chest again and my treacherous nipples hardened like two grapes. I reached for my wine. Went to drink but the glass was dry.
“You want another one?” He gestured to the drained glass with his fork.
“No, no, really I’m good.” I reached for my water. No wonder I was feeling lightheaded and rolling tomatoes around my cheeks. I’d downed a huge glass of wine in minutes. “And this salmon is amazing,” I added in an attempt to dampen down the conversation and the heat in my cheeks.
“Good,” he said, “I’m glad you’re enjoying it.”
As we finished lunch, I made a point of keeping the conversation light. I tried my best to ignore his cheeky flirting but it was possibly the hardest thing I’d ever done. I so wanted to flirt back like crazy. Offer every innuendo and suggestive remark I could think of. Leave him in no doubt where he could end up and in exactly what position if he wanted to.
But I stayed calm and relaxed. Drank my water and thanked Benita for a wonderful meal on the way out.
We drove back to my condo and once again I relished being so close to him. It was a nice habit to have slipped into so quickly and I pressed against the angle of his shoulder blade and hung on for the ride.
When we pulled up outside my building I dismounted and fluffed my hair. He climbed off, lifted his shades to his forehead and balanced our helmets on the seat.
“Thanks for lunch,” I said.
“My pleasure. Come on, I’ll walk you to your door.” He glanced up and down the quiet street.
“But it’s just there.”
“So, I’ll walk you. Make sure you get home okay.” He shrugged.
“Its broad daylight and this really is a very nice area.” I smiled and frowned at the same time.
“So, it’s a date. I have rules. I want to make sure you get home safely.”
I wasn’t sure how safe I was with him around. My body didn’t feel as if it was under control. Sin and a craving for dirty deeds were only a whisper away. The date had been exciting and charged with sexual tension and the fact he’d talked so freely about his emotional needs had only added a new, deeper layer to my admiration of him.
He pressed a hand into the small of my back and urged me to the entrance of my building. I keyed in the code and stepped into the shaded cool of the small communal lobby.
I turned to Brick. The door clicked shut.
He reached out and pressed the palm of his right hand to my cheek. “Thanks for coming to lunch,” he said quietly. “I had a real nice time.”
“Me too.” I leaned my cheek into his hand even though I knew I should say something tempting and suggestive then walk away. That was my plan. Not leaning into his calloused palm and staring up into his eyes. Definitely not swaying toward him as blood pounded to every erogenous zone I possessed. That was not what I was supposed to be doing. No way.
He stepped closer and his big body loomed over mine. His shoulders were impossibly wide in my peripheral vision. “Carly,” he murmured.
“Yes.” I studied the shadows slicing across his profile and a haze of fair stubble dusting his jaw and chin.
“Am I allowed to kiss you on a first date?” He lowered his head and heat from his sweet breath washed over my cheek.
I looked deeper into his eyes, sparkling from beneath hooded lids. They were the color of the forest floor gilded with late-afternoon sunlight. I’d dreamed of this moment. Looked at his eyes in magazines and on TV and wondered what it would be like to have them really there, hovering over me and brimming with desire.
Now I knew.
Now I knew it was wonderful. It felt like the moment I’d pushed my front pedal through the finish line in first position and heard the crowd lift the roof of the velodrome.
“You’re taking a long time to decide,” he whispered as his other hand came up and circled the back of my neck. He tucked his fingers into my long hair and cradled the base of my skull.
I caught my breath. The possessiveness of the touch knotted my stomach. The way he was holding my head was so dominant, so utterly masculine. “Yes,” I said quietly as darts of sensitivity snaked across my scalp. “Kissing is allowed.”
He gave the tiniest of smiles, then his lips were on mine. Soft and gentle but also confident and determined. His tongue probed, I opened up and the tip slid into my mouth and met mine. I let out a small moan of pleasure.
He continued to hold my head firm but the hand on my cheek dropped to my shoulder. His fingertips pressed into my flesh—stopped me falling into him and molding my body with his.
“You taste so good,” he said into my mouth before dipping back in for another sample. This time it was hotter, more urgent. Soon it was a full, open-mouthed kiss that made my head spin and my heart ricochet off my chest wall. He was devouring me and I was taking what I could from him.
I pressed my hands to the front of his chest and curled my fingers over his collarbone. The raw power beneath my palms was intoxicating, edgy. I wanted more. I wanted that power driving into me. I wanted him naked and at my mercy. I wanted to own him, pleasure him. I wanted to drag him upstairs and forget my crazy plan. I had basic needs demanding to be met. Now.
He broke the kiss. “I have to go,” he said breathlessly.
He released me, took a step back and reached for the door. “I’m sorry, Carly, but I have to go.”
My arms fell to my sides and I faltered to regain my balance. I wasn’t sure how my watery legs were managing to support me. And my spine, my spine had turned to dust.
“I’ll call you.” His lips were moist. His jaw set like stone.
“Sure,” I said in a hoarse voice.
He pulled open the door and heat from outside blasted in. “I’ll call you tomorrow, from Seattle.”
And then he was gone.
The door slammed shut on its heavy spring.
I pressed my fingertips to my lips, tingling from the pressure of his kiss. I could taste his tongue on mine and still feel his hand in my hair. What the hell had happened? I was just about to throw all my plans in the air and get naked and primitive and he walked away.
I turned and stabbed at the elevator button. Broke a nail. The doors opened immediately and I stomped in and hit two.
He’d wanted me. I had no doubts about that. I’d seen it in his eyes. Felt it in his kiss. I could even smell desire in the air, his and mine. It was thick and vital, another presence.
I stomped out of the elevator and let myself into my condo. Dashed straight to the balcony doors and peered out. He was climbing onto his bike. I watched as he , adjusted his position on the seat and roared the engine awake.