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EYE ON THE BALL
Table of Contents
Excerpt – Curse Across Time
Other Books by Shelley
The best games are the ones played for keeps.
For two years, Melbourne assistant rugby coach Leon Fleming has mourned the passing of his long-term partner, convinced he could’ve done something to prevent his lover’s unexpected death.
Professional rugby player Hunter Blair is having a terrible season with his Auckland team, struggling with his form and a spate of injuries. A closet gay, Hunter visits the Maxwell’s BDSM club intending to satisfy his curiosity and maybe score an anonymous one-night stand. What he finds is something quite different—a taciturn man who intrigues him. A man who fires both his imagination and his libido.
Hunter’s blatant proposal shoves Leon into turmoil. It’s only sex, yet it feels as if he’s stepping into the unknown. This is a game with no rules or referee. Not a final whistle in sight, so why is his heart telling him he should play hard and win?
A man didn’t need a friggin’ honeymoon. Leon Fleming scowled at the wall of security camera feeds showing the club action. The lounge and bar area. The small dance floor. The playrooms and dungeons, both public and private. The hookups and posturing.
People having fun.
His pissed growl earned him a curious stare from the security guard monitoring the cameras. Leon glared back until the man caved and averted his gaze. Fuck. He backed up to lean against the wall, fighting to tamp down the ragged emotions slapping him around.
Damn Kane for his guilt trip anyway. After a month of manipulation and words of advice to move on, Leon had buckled, and now he was stuck minding Maxwell’s, the private club catering to the elite Melbourne BDSM crowd. All so Kane and his honey could fuck like rabbits in the seclusion of a swanky resort.
Kane is your best friend.
Huh! Easy for his conscience to have an opinion. He was the one stuck in the middle. The reality was much harder, the trip down memory lane ripping scabs off wounds barely healed. Everywhere he looked. Pow! Bam! Mental photographs of a happier time when he didn’t know shit about pain, didn’t believe grief like this existed.
He stirred, pushing away from the wall. Maybe Kane was right, and he needed the comfort of hard, gritty sex, even if the pleasure was fleeting. Physical gratification to take the edge of his temper. Mellow him out.
A one-night stand.
“Everything looks good.” Leon shoved the words past the lump in his throat. “I’ll go and mingle. Call if you need me.” Even though he wanted to, he couldn’t hide up here the entire night.
He forced his legs to carry him to the door, watched his hand grip the door knob. Somehow, he found himself walking down the set of stairs leading to the lounge. A drink would help to keep the memories at bay. Two or three shots of whisky. It wasn’t as if he intended to play tonight, despite the dull craving for the touch of another human being, skin on skin and the momentary burst of orgasm to blunt the edge of grief.
Nah, wasn’t gonna happen.
Jana, Kane’s long-time assistant, grabbed his forearm, dragging him to a halt before he’d taken two steps in the direction of the bar.
“There’s a guest VIP coming tonight. A male.”
Jana huffed out a put-upon sigh and placed her right hand on her leather-clad hip. No-nonsense attitude dripped off her. “Kane always shows them around the club.” Craftiness glinted in her eyes. Determination. Kane had probably warned her, told her to keep on his case and force him out of his funk.
“Fine.” He’d have his drink later. “Where is he?”
Jana hesitated. “He’s late.”
“How late?” A spoiled VIP. Excellent.
“Only half—” She broke off, relief filling her chubby face. “There he is now.”
Leon turned to survey the guest, and an instant flash of rage jolted him. “Last I heard, Little is a member.” What was that bastard Bryan Little doing here?
“Bryan introduced the guest.” Her voice softened as she studied the dark-haired man posing at the entrance to the lounge, waiting for everyone to notice his arrival. “A member always vouches for a guest. Kane’s rules, remember?”
Distaste curled through Leon. Every time he saw Little, he wanted to smack the smugness out of him. Jana had no inkling of the man’s character, hidden under the charming flirtation and good looks. Little might hold long-term membership status, but Leon didn’t like the way he pushed the boundaries with his submissives. Hell, Jason—
He cut off the thought midway. “Why isn’t Bryan giving the tour?”
“Because he’s a member, not part of the club management,” Jana retorted. “You’re standing in for Kane. You need to do the tour.”
Bryan sauntered up to a group men and women, exchanging greetings and kisses. Touchy-feely shit. Irritated, Leon ripped his attention away and got his first glimpse of the VIP.
“Hunter Blair?” Incredulity struck hard, wiping away his anger.
“Yes,” Jana said in a crisp voice. “At least you have rugby in common.”
“Not necessarily a good thing.” He stared at the tall, powerful man who played rugby for the Auckland Cavaliers. He took half a step forward, something fragile cracking inside him when he realized his first urge was to run his hands over the other man’s broad shoulders. Leon cursed under his breath. What the fuck was wrong with him tonight?
“I’ve placed the usual confidentiality agreement in the induction room.”
Leon froze, not taking his gaze off Blair, aware of the anticipation thrumming through him. Immediately his mind flashed to Jason and familiar pain replaced the alien sensation of lust.
“Boss man, are you listening?”
“Thank you, Jana.” Leon sucked in a deep breath, did the right things to center and calm himself, yet his heart still threatened to bounce right out of his chest. Hunter Blair was a bad boy with a reputation. He liked to party hard, although in fairness, Leon hadn’t read anything in the tabloids this season. What Leon read these days covered Blair’s rugby career, his playing and his current spate of injuries. His poor form.
Leon wove through the crowd loitering near the dance floor, dodging a plump man who flapped his arms in time to the thump of rock music. He skirted the men and women peering down into a scene in one of the dungeons. The faint scent of sweat layered with cologne, whisky and champagne. The beep of a cell phone grabbed Little’s attention as Leon passed, and the man screened the call before replacing his phone in his pocket. All part of the normal club scene.
Leon ignored everyone, his gaze fastening to Blair and clinging until he stood in front of him. “I’m Leon Fleming, the temporary manager. I’ll take you on a tour of the facilities.” He thrust out his hand, his nostrils flaring at the sweet scent of rum. Disgust immediately replaced his intrigue. “You’re drunk.”
“No, I’ve had two beers.” Blair gestured at his black cotton shirt. “Bryan and I stopped at a party before coming here. Some idiot dumped his drink on me. That’s why I stink like a rum distillery.”
Hunter’s gaze met his without dissembling, his Kiwi accent resonating with truth. Some of the tension in Leon’s shoulders eased. Up close the man was even prettier, even more disturbing to Leon’s equilibrium. Short, scrubby facial hair framed his mouth and jaw while brown hair, in need of a cut, fell into messy waves around his head. His blue eyes shone with confidence, and his black shirt and trousers clung, highlighting the fit, muscular body of an athlete.
Leon caught the quirk of Hunter’s lips and realized he was staring. A surge of heat filled his face, and he glanced away, perturbed at his uncharacteristic behavior. “I’ve got a spare T-shirt in my office.”
“Thanks. That would be great.” A lopsided grin lit Hunter’s face, taking it from pretty to striking.
“This way.” Leon stalked away before he made the mistake of touching, the prickling of the hair at the back of his neck telling him Hunter followed on his heels.
Hunter Blair wasn’t what he’d expected, which made him a dangerous man, certainly hazardous to his equilibrium. But, no matter what Kane said, Leon wasn’t gonna have a one-night stand. Wouldn’t happen because he still loved Jason.
God, Hunter couldn’t believe he was doing this. He’d thought about visiting a BDSM club for some time, but with his public persona, it paid to take care. While he understood there was nothing bad about kink between consenting adults, Joe Public didn’t always agree. Besides, his rugby career was in enough trouble without giving the sports reporters more fodder to kick him to the gutter.
Aware Leon wasn’t waiting, he lengthened his stride to catch up.
Fleming was an intriguing man, his face harsh rather than handsome. The slight bump on his nose indicated someone or something had broken it. The man didn’t smile and, frankly, his piercing brown gaze edged into scary, peeling away way too many layers to make a person comfortable. A multitude of creases ran from the corners of his eyes, indicating a humorous bone hiding somewhere in that sexy body. Hard to imagine. One thing was evident—the temporary club manager walked around with a stick wedged up his arse. Hunter’s attention drifted to said backside and craving struck him. Hot. Edgy. Immediate. Not bad. If Leon dropped the frosty attitude…
Hell! Down boy.
He shook the mental images of him and Leon away. What was he thinking?
Eye on the ball. Hunter couldn’t let his cock lead him into trouble—not when the coach was threatening to put him on the bench or, worse, cut him from the team if he didn’t have a turnaround in form. Prick.
No, tonight he’d observe, and if he were lucky, score a rare one-night stand. He didn’t have time for seduction.
Leon paused to grab papers from a room before cutting his way through the crowd in the lounge.
“Where are we going?” Hunter wanted to hear the man’s husky voice again, the faint Aussie twang.
“To Kane’s office upstairs.”
“Is Kane the owner?”
“Yeah.” Leon unlocked a door at the end of a corridor. He flicked on a light, standing aside to usher Hunter inside an office dominated by a sturdy desk. “Take a seat.” Leon disappeared behind a set of shelving.
Hunter dropped his butt onto one of the two wooden chairs sitting in front of the desk and waited, aware of eagerness, an adventure waiting if he had the guts to seize the moment. His cock pressed against his fly, and he shifted a fraction to ease the pressure. While his mind stayed with the celibacy program, his body wanted to break the drought and get laid.
The man returned and chucked a T-shirt at him. Hunter caught the ball of fabric automatically.
“Are you fucking Bryan Little?”
Hunter blinked. “Hell, no. We went to school together.” Hunter didn’t trust Bryan. The man’s mouth rattled from overuse. No, he’d gone along with Bryan’s supposition about Hunter wanting an interesting night scoring pussy. His school friend would freak if he discovered Hunter’s true motivation.
“Stay away from him. The man’s a dick with no brain.”
Hunter found himself nodding. An accurate assessment.
“Aren’t you going to change your shirt?”
“Sure.” Hunter stood and yanked out his shirt tails. A harsh intake of air grabbed his attention. Well, well. Mr. Temporary Manager wasn’t as indifferent as he pretended. Smiling inwardly, Hunter unfastened his buttons one at a time, giving Leon something to watch. Silence pulsed in the office. The only other sounds were his own breathing and the rasp of cotton releasing from buttons. Without haste, he parted the shirt and slipped it off his shoulders. The weight of Leon’s stare pushed at Hunter’s frustrated libido, made him preen a little. Oh yeah. Despite his frostiness, the other man couldn’t hide his interest.
“Kiss me.” Hell, Hunter. Real smooth.
“Put on the T-shirt and sit. We have forms to complete.”
Their gazes clashed, and Hunter stilled. He couldn’t figure out Leon, but he knew what he wanted from the other man. Hunter grabbed the black T-shirt, breaking the visual duel. After yanking it over his head, he dropped back onto the seat. “You want me to sign a confidentiality agreement.”
“And I’ll explain the club facilities.”
After a lengthy scrutiny—maybe Leon expected Hunter to pounce, and in truth, the temptation whispered in his ear—Leon took a seat behind the desk. He handed a single sheet of paper to Hunter. “This describes the basic rules of conduct. By signing this form you’re agreeing to keep details of the club and its members confidential. If you break this promise, we’ll blacklist you from this club and every other club in the city. The rest of the country too, if Kane gets pissed enough. He takes the privacy of the members seriously.”
“Fair enough.” Hunter had more to lose than most and wouldn’t give away any secrets. His first girlfriend, after he’d signed for the Cavaliers, had gone to the press with details of their private life and his crazy partying. Yeah, he’d learned his lesson and wouldn’t slip again. “Pen?”