Hockey Romance, Bodyguards. Stalker, Forced Proximity, Bachelor Auction, Action Adventure, RJ Scott MM Romance Author
Going into the room was stepping into tension-city, the atmosphere was cold, and I could see Abbey Lomax, the matriarch of the billionaire Lomax family who owned the team, at the window. She stared out over downtown Burlington, her arms crossed over her chest, and if I’d been drawing her as a cartoon, she would have had a thundercloud over her head. Just along from her, a man leaned on the wall, and I took a very deliberate second glance because even with my career on the line, I couldn’t help staring when there was sexy in the room.
“Mrs. Lomax, we have Mr. Howell and his agent, Mr. Lassiter.”
She turned to face us, slowly, and I was right that she was in angry mode about something, but it wasn’t me as her frown vanished in an instant.
She smiled and extended her hand. “Mr. Howell, a pleasure.” She shook hands with Shaun as well, although she didn’t say it was a pleasure to see him, but he was an agent. “I want you to meet someone,” she gestured at tall, dark, and sexy, “this is Jason, and from today he’s your personal security detail.”
“My what, now?” I asked, and added a belated ma’am when she frowned at me.
“The Dragons management team and owners feel it would be beneficial for you to have around-the-clock security.”
I took a step back, “No.”
I exchanged glances with Shaun, who appeared equally horrified, and I knew exactly what my agent was thinking. He no more wanted me to have a bodyguard in tow than I did. If word got out that the big, strong skater needed a nanny, then endorsements would be hit a hundred ways to Sunday.
Coach stepped up to stand next to me, “Now, Garrett, listen to reason.”
“They hacked the screen,” Abbey pointed out.
I took another step back until my thigh met the table. “I don’t need someone trailing me around!” I shot another look at Shaun and hoped to hell he could shut this down.
Shaun cleared his throat. “As my client clearly stated, to have a bodyguard could potentially affect his endorsement income—”
“Shaun, you’re a goddamn asshole,” Coach interrupted. This time he was angry, not consoling, and I’d seen this switch in his game plan before. He was done playing nice cop, and now he’d segued into bad cop without blinking. “It’s not all about money. What about his play?”
“Well, that as well,” Shaun offered smoothly.
He poked Shaun in the chest. “I’m guessing you want your client alive, right?”
“That is neither here nor there.” As Shaun continued to dig a huge hole, I sunk into the nearest chair. The bird incident, as I liked to call it, had been shit. The fact that I’d had to spend two hours in the ER under a concussion protocol had been cause for concern to the Dragons, and they’d let me know that in no uncertain terms the last thing they needed was their second most significant cap hit getting himself injured in the middle of the season. I’d managed to talk them down with Shaun at my side, told them it was probably just a punk-ass kid trying his luck, hip checking me into the wall. Shaun wanted to release photos, get the press involved—checking for an angle—and the team argued that there was no point in suggesting new ways for mega fans on other teams to harass the Dragons.
“I won’t intrude into your life,” Jason-the-bodyguard murmured.
I glanced at him, but when I caught his eyes, I couldn’t drag my gaze away. There was compassion in his expression and an understanding that this was an altogether shit situation.
“You will,” I muttered. I wanted everyone to stop talking about this attack because talking about it made everything feel real.
A kid didn’t slam a hand over your mouth, or press his fingers to your throat, or tell you that maggots will eat you in the dirt.
There’d been grainy CCTV footage which was no help at all, and the other person, the one who’d shouted, described what he thought was a man, maybe six-feet, with a hoodie and jeans, although it was dark, and he couldn’t be sure. I’d rationalized that this kid who’d hurt me was just proving a point, although what I hadn’t told the cops, was that he’d connected himself to the dead bird in the box. I couldn’t forget him telling me about the maggots. Everything had blown over with me ignoring it all, and two weeks had passed before I even thought of the incident again.
“My job is to keep you safe—”
“I don’t need a bodyguard.” As fast as you could say Wayne Gretzky, my assessment of him as sexy was slowly being downgraded to life-destroying. What did he know about me that meant he thought I needed help? I’d never told anyone about the delivery of pungent orchids that stank my apartment out. Nor about the small card, with sympathy embossed at the top, which had my jersey number, twenty-three, drawn by hand and colored in as if a child had gotten hold of it. Not to mention the chilling words, sorry about your death.
The woman delivering them could only tell me that the order had been paid for in cash, and no, it wasn’t her who’d taken the order, and no, she had no idea who’d written the card. I’d received some weird stuff in my time, but this topped the list.
Just when I thought it was a good thing I hadn’t mentioned the flowers, after a practice that had left me feeling like a wet noodle, I’d come back to my beautiful car, the one I nurtured and loved, to find it scratched. Deeply, as if someone had taken the time to source a tool that would do the most damage. Only it wasn’t the scrapes that concerned the team. No, that would be the words that had been carved into the shining scarlet of my Mustang—Time to die. Tick tock.
I may have played at being an alpha male, hell, I may have been utterly focused on playing the game and being the hardest, fastest skater I could be, but even I’d had chills when I read the words.
It’s okay to be scared, and no one has to know I’m afraid.
Anger at the damage had turned to self-pity about how the only nice thing I had, the symbol of my success, had become a target. I’d no sooner got past that when the shit hit the fan as far as management was concerned. Late last night, after a loss to Boston at home, with people leaving the arena, that message had appeared on the Jumbotron. The vast screen hanging over the ice had been messed with and no-one knew how.
“They hacked the screen,” Abbey repeated. She had every right to be concerned because the words Garrett Howell pays money to fuck men was the worst kind of statement to appear in an arena full of families. Not to mention it had been pasted over one of the photos from the naked body shoot.
The Jason-bodyguard guy stood in silence and watched the heated debate. In his navy suit, he had a look about him that screamed danger and arrogance, suggested that he could handle himself. Almost as if he could break the law at the drop of a hat.
“It’s for the best, Garrett,” Coach murmured. I couldn’t remember him ever calling me Garrett. It was usually Hooly or my jersey number, and the name sounded wrong coming from him.
Shaun and I were isolated against the others who appeared ready to want to lock me in a box and only bring me out for games.
“I don’t need a bodyguard,” I repeated and stared at Jason who didn’t move a muscle.
“I can’t imagine the consequences if something worse had appeared up there,” one of the marketing team on the edge of the meeting stated miserably, ending the prophetic statement with a shake of his head. That was enough to have everyone in the room grumbling their agreement, but everyone stopped the moment Abbey cleared her throat.
“Mr. Howell, why are you saying you don’t need a bodyguard?”
“I thought I was quite clear, young man.”
Shaun nudged me. “She wants to know why you think—”
I shot my agent a glare that had him subsiding into silence as he mimed zipping his lips. I’d heard her, but I wasn’t sure why she was asking me.
“With respect, ma’am, just because the team is worried that someone could hack the screen at a big game…” I stopped talking when she tutted.
“What about protecting the team, should this stalker of yours take things further?”
“We don’t know it’s a stalker.”
Abbey stalked to the table and picked up a piece of paper, sliding on her glasses and reading it, before looking at me.
“The transcript of what appeared on the screen says you pay money to fuck men.” The curse word sounded wrong coming out of her mouth.
I cringed. “I don’t think—”
“Do you pay to have sex with men?”
Everyone stared at me, and I was mortified at having to answer any question regarding my non-existent sex life in front of team management. “No, ma’am,” I bit out.
She considered me for a moment and then chuckled, “I should imagine men would pay you to sleep with them.”
Silence, and a couple of people joined in with her soft laugh, only to stop when she sent them a glare.
“No, ma’am,” I defended, my head spinning as I tried to imagine where this was going.
“I was joking, Mr. Howell.” She tapped the paper in front of her. “Is there a reason you feel you don’t need protection?”
What did I say to that? I decided to be honest. “I can look after myself.”
“Hmmm. Is that because you’re a big strong male hockey player?” she asked.
Why did I feel as if this was a trick question? “No.” I caught Jason moving from his spot and taking a chair, looking to the world as if he wasn’t interested in the outcome either way.
“So, you’re not a big strong male hockey player?”
“Yes, no. I mean, I’m a man…” I stopped talking because abruptly, I knew I was fighting a losing battle.
“Are you implying that a female hockey player would jump at the need for protection from a stalker?”
“No, but yes, I’m sure that…” What was the point?
She nodded as if I’d just tacitly agreed with her plans, and was I really going to sit here and disagree with the woman who paid my salary?
“Because of your concerns, we will concede that the protection will be discreet. We’ve hired Deamax Security, and they are providing the very best they have to offer to shadow you while tasking a team to investigate the other issues such as hacking.” She placed the paper back onto the desk, then brushed at her skirt. “Gentlemen, ladies, we should leave Mr. Howell to discuss his situation, and there is an understanding that none of this leaves this room.” Everyone murmured their agreement, and then she slipped a hand through Shaun’s arm. “Please explain to me the…” I didn’t hear the rest as she gently guided my agent out of the room with the others.
I nearly fell out of my chair when Jason stalked toward me but stopped myself before I came off as an idiot. I was aiming for casual, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t tense and ready to be slammed into a wall.
“Jason Dearing.” He extended his hand. “Deamax Security.”
I stood up and we shook, although what I actually wanted to do was turn my back to him and leave the goddamn room. “Garrett Howell.” I had the immediate impression that he scared a lot of people. Taller than me by a head, he was built solid like a defenseman but walked with the purpose of a power forward. He had brown eyes, and I swear his cheekbones had to have been sculpted with a chisel.
“Garrett Howell, jersey number twenty-three, first-round draft pick, second-line center, this season twelve goals, seventeen assists, in thirty games played, eighteen minutes in the box, plus five on the plus/minus, restricted trade contract extended until 22/23 at approximately six million a year.”
I blinked at him. “Uhmmm. Yes. You like Dragons hockey then?”
“No,” he was blunt, “but I’ve done my research. The first thing you found was the bird, and the second was the flowers, then the words on the car, finally the hacking.”
“You know about the flowers?”
“We have our methods.”
Fuck. Could this get any more men-in-black?
“What else has there been that we’ve missed?” he asked, then crossed his arms over his chest, even more intimidating than he’d been before. What would it take for him to crack a smile, and why did it suddenly seem vital that I know?
“Nothing,” I lied, because I wasn’t entirely sure about the other things that had seemed odd, and saying them out loud would make me sound like an idiot.
I looked up at him, and for a brief second, I was going to confront this, but the way he was staring back at me, with a softness in his eyes that was at odds with his hard-man posturing, made me blurt it all out.
“I got a box with a bath bomb on my birthday, and it made my fingers itch.”
“Uh, huh,” he murmured, and I felt stupid. “And?”
“My music app keeps changing playlists, and someone has signed me up for three magazine subscriptions.”
I waited for him to laugh at me.
“What magazines?” he asked.
“Gun stuff, politics, nothing I would read. I mean, what the hell?”
“And the music part?”
He raised an eyebrow, and it drew my attention to his eyes. Not just his eyes specifically, but eyes in general were my kryptonite. I could stare for hours into another man’s eyes, and attempt to get a read on the person behind them. Of course, that could cause trouble, and maybe this was what I’d done to upset someone. I tended to get lost in daydreams when I stared into the distance.
“Nothing is stupid,” he finally said after a pause.
“Okay, this is going to sound as if I’m hysterical, but I have this playlist, it gets me into the right headspace before games—”
“What’s on it?”
Shit. “Classical stuff mostly.” I was the odd one out in the dressing room, most of the guys liked heavier stuff, but there was something soothing about classical music.
“What has it been changed to?”
“Just noise, metal, I guess, bands I don’t know, why? Is it important?”
He shrugged a little. “At this stage, I treat every tiny detail as important.”
“I’m probably selecting the wrong playlist or something.”
“Do you actually have playlists of bands you don’t know on your phone?” He sounded skeptical, and I wondered how his brain worked. Was he like one of those PIs off the television, all flash and lucky coincidences, and diving in front of a bullet? Or was he the sort of bodyguard I’d find in a psychological thriller, all calm and brilliantly analytical.
“No, I don’t, which is why I thought it was odd. Does the music thing seem weird to you?” I asked after a moment’s pause.
“It might be a concern.”
Finally, I couldn’t take the short answers and weird silence. “What exactly is your job here, with me?”
He loosened his stance and reached into his pocket, pulling out a blank envelope and handing it to me.
Great. So he’s the strong silent type.
“You want me to read it?”
“No, I thought you could eat it,” he deadpanned.
I narrowed my eyes at him. The power dynamic in this weird relationship was screwing with my head, and I needed to pull my shit together if I had to have him around me for very long.
“Ha freaking ha.” I opened the envelope and pulled out a photo, tilting it so I could see it.
It was a capture from another of my naked photoshoot pictures, only this time there was a photoshopped knife in my chest, and blood dripping from it, along with a chilling message. I cleared my throat of the sudden tightness, then read out loud.
“Time to die number twenty-three.” I swallowed, then carefully put the photo back in and returned the envelope to Jason. “Well, shit,” I murmured as a sudden chill skittered down my spine.
“My job, Mr. Howell, is straightforward.” He paused a moment until I glanced up at him, and our gazes connected. “I’m the one who will keep you alive.”
BUY Guarding Garrett here:
A hardworking, competitive, and skilled hockey player, Garrett is the cornerstone of the Burlington Dragons hockey team and one of the league’s most popular playmakers. Blessed with a face that delivers millions in endorsements, he has a legion of fans, and a future so bright that he is the envy of many.
When his internet fame puts him in danger, and a stalker threatens his life, the team hires Jason, a quiet but deadly former marine, to protect him. Danger is always close, but forced proximity means sparks fly, attraction burns, and somehow, resentment turns to love.
When Garrett’s stalker ups their game at a charity bachelor auction, there is a real chance it could mean the end for Garrett, but Jason refuses to leave his side whatever the risk.
These two stubborn men will have to fight to walk away from this alive, but their newfound love is worth every sacrifice.More info →