High-Sticked by Lily Harlem

High-Sticked by Lily Harlem

High-Sticked

Hot Ice, Book 5
by Lily Harlem

Ellora’s Cave

eBook ISBN: 9781419941726

Dating Todd “Pretty” Carty was a trailblazing, headline-grabbing ride that shocked and divided a team, a sport and a nation. While controversy ruled, we couldn’t deny the desire that sizzled between us. Nothing, however, was easy outside the bedroom. Not when my world-class, fearless athlete wanted to shout from Everest that he was in love with another man.

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Chapter One

The wind hurtled down the Hudson, chilling my bones and stinging my cheeks. But I hardly noticed. The hot guy staring nonchalantly into the camera lens, clutching a hockey stick above his head and thrusting a bottle of amber liquid forward, had my attention—one hundred and ten percent of my whole fucking attention.
Todd Carty was a hunk, an A-list hunk, and he was being paid a salary with multiple zeros to freeze his considerable balls off. My staff were huddled into hoods and muttering about cappuccinos, but he didn’t seem to notice the arctic chill. It was as though standing on the stern of the Intrepid practically buck naked was something he did every day of his life. And of course he did—freeze his balls off, that was. He was the hot new star of the New York Rangers and hopes were high for him to pull them to the top of the league. They’d paid through the nose for him, and all eyes were watching his every move. Or so Armani hoped, because they’d chosen his perfect face to front their latest multimillion-dollar advertising campaign.
“That’s it, great stuff,” I shouted against the brewing gale. “Just to the right a bit.”
He shifted his upper torso and his abs tensed, etching their way down a flat surface of bronzed flesh. His small brown nipples were hard and jutted from a chest that was perfectly smooth and deliciously defined.
A tumble of lust rolled through my belly as his smile flashed my way. But of course it wasn’t really my way, his smile was for the camera lens. Todd “Pretty” Carty would never look in my direction. He was a notorious womanizer, a man-about-town, the playboy of the NHL. Whenever there were pictures of him in magazines he always had a gaggle of rink bunnies hanging off both arms. Blondes, brunettes, redheads—he had a penchant for them all and rumor had it he conquered them all too.
A sharp blast of rain suddenly blew over us, whistling into my ears and smacking against my knuckles. But again I hardly noticed, because in a second his divine body was shining golden and his low-slung denims became blotchy and dark, clinging to the fine muscles and the bulges filling them out.
He laughed, a deep rumble of a sound that could have been mistaken for thunder, and I clicked away. My faithful Nikon caught the slanting water droplets as they bounced off his shoulders, the devil-may-care attitude that flashed from his eyes and the lift of his tousled hair. The still picture moved, came to life.
Perfect.
I knew the people who mattered at Armani would love this. It was pure masculinity, an elite athlete unconcerned by the elements. Highly trained and as tough as they came—and the aftershave he was promoting was, after all, called Raw.
“That’s it. We’re good to go,” I shouted, quickly turning from the wind and sheltering my exorbitantly expensive lens. “Let’s pack up and get out of this bloody storm.”
I glanced at Todd as he stepped down from his platform, the hockey stick swinging at his side and his eyes narrowed against the driving weather. He walked with a casual swagger while others rushed about. The guy was a machine, he just didn’t seem to feel the cold or be bothered by the battering wind the way everyone else was.
Lara, one of my assistants, dashed up to him with his t-shirt, jacket and a large purple umbrella. He took the t-shirt and jacket with a dazzling smile but didn’t put either on. He waved away the offer of the umbrella.
“You get it, Matthew?” he asked as he stepped up to me.
“Yeah, great. I was happy anyway, but that squall meant I’ve got some real natural shots. I think they’ll be pleased.”
“Thank fuck for that. I couldn’t take another day of standing about doing nothing but grinning.” He laughed again, tugged on his t-shirt and shrugged into his jacket. “I’ve done enough modeling to last a lifetime.”
“You can’t complain at the salary though,” I said, turning toward the doorway of the museum and stepping into the dryness.
He followed. “Yeah, but I’d rather be fighting it out on the ice for my bread and butter than being fussed over by hair and makeup.”
“Not your thing then?”
“No. The guys will give me seven shades of shit when the ad hits the billboards.”
Now out of the elements, I paused and studied him. Far from looking disheveled, he just looked even more gorgeous. Seriously, it was a crime against mankind that he wasn’t in the slightest bit gay. Todd Carty was the type of guy who should be shared about, between both men and women. Just being available to one gender was nothing short of unfair.
“So you done for the day?” he asked, shoving at the brown leather sleeve of his jacket and snapping on a large silver Rolex.
“Yep, these guys can pack up. I’ll head home and download. Get ready for Monday’s presentation to the board.”
“Home to the Village?” He gave the lopsided grin I’d become used to after several weeks of photographing him. It was a beautiful grin, a smile that made recipients feel as though they were the center of his universe. Luckily for me the effect was just as devastating in pixels as it was in real life and had made my job as a photographer incredibly easy.
“Yeah, but I don’t think I’ll walk today,” I said.
“No way. Hey, I got that rental I was telling you about on West 12th. The cool loft place. I figured if I’m going to live in New York City then I want to live where the action is.”
“You could do worse. Since I left England I’ve only lived in Greenwich Village. Must be six years now. I love it.”
“Yeah, you said.” He paused. “I’d just had my place in Florida redecorated, barely slept in it before I moved.”
I pulled a sympathetic face and wondered what lucky girl had shared his bed on those few nights.
“So what do you think?” he asked.
“Mmm, about what?” I’d been so immersed in thoughts of Todd with a twist of white sheets around his long, muscled legs that I hadn’t heard what he’d said.
“Only if you want to.”
“Want to what?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Grab a beer and something to eat. I’m starving and since we’re both heading the same way…”
A lovely warm feeling grew in my belly. Spend more time with Todd. Yes, please! “Sounds great. I know a quiet little place.” As soon as I said it I regretted it. “But you probably don’t want quiet. How about uptown? You want to go somewhere more fancy?”
He shook his head and several drops of water sparkled in his hair. “No, quiet is good. I’m playing tomorrow and the last thing I need is a wild night.”
“Okay. I’ll just tell my staff I’m leaving.”
The last thing Todd Carty wanted was a wild night, but of course he would be perfectly safe with me because hunting for women wasn’t on my to-do list. Never had been and never would be.
A short taxi ride later and we were settled in a dark corner of Timmy’s, my favorite café bar. The seats were plush and comfortable, the booths private and the food was always excellent. Not to mention it was right across from the entrance to my building and, Todd told me, just one block from his.
“Cheers,” Todd said, clinking the rim of his bottle of beer against mine. “Here’s to the end of the Armani thing.”
I laughed and took a swig. “Was it really that painful?”
“Yeah, but you were great and I appreciate that.” He grinned and reached for the menu. “What’s good here?”
“The burger with double cheese with extra bacon. It comes with fries, onion rings and slaw and I think I’ll treat myself tonight.”
“Mm, I’ll go with that too.” He sat back and folded his arms.
I struggled not to stare at the way his red t-shirt strained around his biceps. It was nothing short of beautiful how his muscles swelled and his skin glowed with a lingering Florida tan.
“So what other things do you treat yourself to?” He waggled his eyebrows a little, as though wanting me to reveal something naughty about myself. “We’ve talked about me before but I don’t know much about you.”
“Not much to know.” I ran my hand over my short, blunt hair. I’d had it cut yesterday and I liked how it felt when it was super-cropped. Smooth on the downward stroke, sharp on the upward.
He tipped his head, encouraging me to go on.
I sighed. “Mm, let me see, I adore Central Park in the spring, I love to walk with my camera and snap away at New Yorkers enjoying the first rays of sunshine.” I paused. “And the Guggenheim is my favorite place to hang out on a Sunday afternoon. It keeps my inspiration ticking along, there’s always something new there.”
Helen, one of the regular waitresses, appeared. “Hey, Matthew,” she said with a quick glance my way then a lingering one over Todd. “What can I get you guys to eat?” She flashed a wide smile and I noticed she’d applied strawberry-red lipstick in the interim between seating us and coming to take our order. There was also a hint of fresh, flowery perfume in the air.
“Hi,” Todd said with a smile. “We’ll both go for the double cheeseburger with extra bacon.”
“Fries?”
“Yep, all the extras,” he said and returned his attention to me. “You want another drink?”
“No, I’m good.”
Helen scribbled in her pad then looked once more at Todd.
“Thanks,” I said, when she appeared nailed to the floor. “That’s everything.”
“Oh, err, yes, of course.” She took a step backward and melted into the restaurant.
“Go on,” Todd said, shifting the menus to one side. “What other things do you enjoy?”
I laughed. “Probably not things you want to know about.”
“Try me.”
I tugged at my bottom lip with my teeth. “Well, I’ve followed the Pittsburgh Penguins since I went to see them a few years ago.”
He banged his beer on the table, rattling the cutlery and turning a few heads our way. “What? The Penguins, they’re a team of girls.”
“I don’t think you can call Sid Gatsby a girl.”
“I fucking can, the jerk high-sticked me last season then whined to the ref when I took him out against the Plexi ten minutes later.”
“He was the youngest team captain in history, scored all my favorite goals and that’s before we even mention the Olympics.”
“Fuck. I wouldn’t have asked you to dinner if I’d known you were a Penguins fan.”
There was a teasing sparkle in his eyes and I grinned, enjoying our banter. “Well, he’s not playing at the moment so I’ll have to find myself a new favorite player.”
Like you.
“How about supporting your home team? The Rangers are pretty good.”
“So I’ve heard, but I’ve never seen them play.”
“But you live in New York City.” He shook his head. “I’ll have a ticket at the door for you tomorrow. It kicks off at seven thirty, make sure you’re there.”
I raised my eyebrows and grinned. “Really?”
“Abso-fucking-lutely. I can guarantee you’ll switch your allegiance.”
The thought of watching Todd do his stuff on the ice, in real life and not on the screen, had my heart thumping. Ever since that first game I’d been to I’d had a thing for hockey players. It was true that Sid had been my number one for several years, but over the last few weeks that had changed to Todd Carty. Whatever team he played for would be my team from now on.
And it wasn’t because Todd was the only player I’d ever met in the flesh or that he had by far the most gorgeous face and body in the NHL. It was because he was a really nice, down-to-earth guy. Our conversations had been fun and witty, he was passionate about his hockey but also chatty about a million other topics. Plus he always made me feel as though he was really listening to me, unlike many celebrities I’d worked with who were self-obsessed and blinkered within their own vain worlds. Todd had that rare ability to make people feel special in his presence.
“And dress warm or you’ll freeze your butt off,” he said, leaning back as our meals arrived.
I smiled my thanks to Helen and sprinkled salt on my fries. “And what about you?” I asked. “What do you do apart from hockey and women?”
He gave a snort of laughter and munched on an onion ring. “Don’t believe everything you read.”
“So you don’t have a thing for rink babes then?”
“They have a thing for me, and hey, I’m a guy, I’ve got needs. Who am I to say no?”
I raised my eyebrows.
“I like to party,” he said. “But staying home with a friend and a movie is cool too. Drinking champagne from gorgeous women’s navels gets old after a while.”
“I’ve never had the pleasure.” Or wanted to. “So do you have someone special to curl up on the sofa with?”
He chomped into his burger and nodded his approval at the flavor.
“Did you leave someone behind in Florida?” I asked. I needed an answer, had for a while. Did he have a beautiful woman who worshipped his body whenever she got the chance? Made him come loud and with abandon? Thought of kinky presents for him, naughty surprises and erotic delights?
He sighed and set down his food. “There was someone I thought it might happen with but it wasn’t the case. They loved someone else.” He paused. “Moving up here was the clean break I needed, even though it was sudden.”
I had a desperate urge to reach out and cover his hand with mine, to try to take away some of the sadness in his eyes. But I didn’t, instead I gripped my bottle of beer and took a swig to prevent myself from doing something foolish.
“We’re still in touch,” he said. “As friends.” His gaze trapped mine and he gave a slightly strained smile. “What about you? No wedding ring, no bride to be?”
I laughed. “Nope, no ring and definitely no bride. For me that’s never going to happen.”
He picked up his burger again. “You got a problem with marriage or something?”
I took a deep breath and willed my heart to stop its crazy stuttering. The question was out there so it had to be faced. I only hoped the answer wouldn’t destroy our fledgling friendship or result in my invitation to the game tomorrow night being revoked. “No, not at all. I just have a problem with marrying a woman.”
He paused, mouth open, not quite biting into his burger. His gaze snared mine and I returned it steadily. Telling people I was gay was no big deal. I’d been gay for as long as I could remember and it was just a part of who I was. But this was different somehow. I wasn’t sure if it was because Todd was famous or because I fancied the ass off him. Either way his reaction to a huge part of who I was had suddenly become desperately important.
“You’re gay?” he asked, putting the burger down and looking at me as though seeing me for the first time. Which I guessed, in a way, he was.
I shrugged. “Yep, always have been, always will be.”
He reached for his beer and took a long pull. When he took it away from his lips it made a slight popping sound.
I tried to look blasé, stabbed at several fries and shoved them into my mouth. Munched slowly.
“I didn’t know,” he said, reaching for his burger again and finally taking that bite.
My heart slowed a fraction. Good, he was still sitting in the booth, eating. If he was a real homophobe he would have walked by now. But I hadn’t actually thought he was. He seemed too at ease with his own sexuality, too chilled out to be offended by someone’s preference for satisfying urges.
“Why would you have known?”
He shrugged. “Dunno.”
“’Cause I don’t walk on my toes, curl my hair or add darling to every other sentence?”
He laughed, but only for a split second, almost as if he needed to in order to be polite. I guess he and I both knew there was nothing girly about the way I held myself.
A long silence stretched between us. We both ate. We both drank.
“You always have been?” he repeated eventually. “What, so like you knew from being a kid?”
“Well, not a kid, but once I hit my teens and started getting crushes I only ever thought of guys. My first crush was on Randy Hunter. We were both fourteen. He went out with Martha Turlington, and I used to hang around with him and listen to him mooning over her, talking about what he wanted to do with her, and all the time I wanted to do those things with him.” I stole a glance at Todd, who was leaning forward, elbows on the table and a slight frown creasing his forehead. “I never did get it together with him. In fact I never even had a boyfriend until I was out of college. Shy, I guess.”
“So you’ve never been with a woman?”
I gave a tight laugh. “No, and I don’t think I could, you know, get it up for a woman.” I shifted on my seat, just talking about getting it up when I was sitting opposite a sex god was giving me a semi.
“Really,” he said. “But you must have worked with a whole bunch of supermodels.”
“Believe me, it wouldn’t be one of those divas that did it for me even if I wasn’t gay.”
Again he was silent, and then, “So you don’t feel like you’ve missed out by never experiencing a wet and willing pussy?”
I snorted at his vivid description. “Not at all, but I guess I can see how some people would think I have. But for me I’m one hundred percent gay, not fifty, not seventy-five, not even ninety-nine, but one hundred percent, through and through, right to the core.”
“I’ve often wondered if there are degrees of gayness.”
“Sure, why not? There are degrees of everything else in human nature—humor, fear, intelligence, why not in sexuality too?”
He nodded slowly. “Mm, I think you’re right.”
I knew I was. It was a topic discussed often enough over the years with friends who were gay, straight and in-between.
“So no special guy in your life?” he asked, placing his knife and fork parallel. There were a few salad leaves left on his plate.
“No. Tony and I split a little over a year ago. After four years together and neither of us wanting to make a permanent commitment we made the decision to call it a day. We loved each other but not enough.” Sort of the truth. I’d loved him enough but he hadn’t me. But I didn’t need to wave a newly repaired heart around, the stitches were still fresh. Besides, no one liked a whiner.
“I’m sorry.”
“Me too, but it was the right decision. We did the best thing and I know he’s happier for it.”
“And you?” He moved his hand over the table toward mine, but then stopped and curled his fingers into a fist.
“My career is flying high. Hell, I have that exhibition I was telling you about coming up.”
“Oh yeah, sounds great. Congratulations again on that.”
“Thanks.”
“But you haven’t answered my question,” he said, tilting his head and giving a gentle smile.
“I guess I’m like you, and probably everyone else, I would like a special person to share my life with.” I hesitated, wishing I was the one-night-stand kind of guy many of my friends were so I could ease my aloneness once in a while. But I wasn’t, I just hadn’t been emotionally wired that way. One-night stands left me empty and drained. It had been years since I’d put myself through that for a few hours of physical pleasure. ”But I haven’t dated since Tony.”
But I would date you in a heartbeat.
Todd shifted on the seat and pulled his wallet from his back jeans pocket. He signaled for the check. “I’m sure our special someones are out there, Matthew.”
I wiped my lips with my napkin. “Who knows, maybe I’ll sit next to some ripped hunk at the hockey tomorrow night.”
“Is that your type?” He cocked his eyebrows and one corner of his mouth twitched.
“If you mean muscles and good looks then yeah, that’s my type.”
He dropped some bills on the table and gave a gruff laugh. “In that case I’ll see what I can do.”

Buy Now:
Ellora’s Cave ‖ AReKindle ‖ Nook