Raw Talent, Book 1
Ebook ISBN: B01HNK0Y9Q
[ BDSM Sports Romance, MF ]
He’s Master of more than just the tennis court…
This was the most terrifying part of the whole journey. It was the unknown, the would-or-wouldn’t-we-survive question that hung in the air like a sharp, unwanted smell.
I knew the wheels were down, I’d heard a hiss and a great creak below the fuselage some time ago, so that was somewhat reassuring. Also the pilot appeared competent. He’d navigated our way across the Atlantic and then skillfully skirted the San Gabriel Mountains during our descent. But even so, my abdomen felt light and the rest of my body heavy. Despite my clattering heart rate, I hardly dared breathe in case I upset the delicate balance of the enormous plane.
The entire cabin was devoid of chatter now; everyone probably, like me, sending mental encouragement to the front deck. Fellow passengers gripped their armrests. I clutched my magazine to my chest and stared out of the window at the rapidly approaching ground.
I held my breath as the wheels bumped onto the runway once, twice, a slight tilt to the right, or was it a lurch? I gasped, closed my eyes and visualized the plane’s smooth roll to a halt, happy, smiling faces climbing down the steps into the Californian sunshine and families and friends reuniting in Arrivals.
The thrust of the brakes pressed me into the seat, the plane rattled and juddered as deceleration took a firm grip of the final moments of my one-way trip. Needing mental distraction, I flicked open my copy of Global Tennis, now looking a little worse for wear after being crushed against me.
I’d read it cover to cover in the last twelve hours but still one article kept pulling me back. Not because Travis Connolly was one hell of a hot specimen of the male species, but because he was the newbie at Los Carlos Tennis Academy. He and I had something in common because I too was a new recruit. Not that you’d ever catch me on a court holding a racquet, though. Playing tennis wasn’t my thing at all.
There was a photograph of him in the magazine, set in the center and to the right of the journalist’s report. The picture showed him celebrating after claiming the winning point against Rudolph Napak at the French Open the previous year. Two fists hoisted aloft, he was giving a wide-mouthed yell of pure victory. It was such a primitive, limbic pose. A primal response given throughout time to tell the world of a successful hunt, a battle won or in this case, a ball dodging an opponent and landing in a box.
But as a rule Travis Connolly didn’t give much away in his body language. I’d never met him in person, but whenever I’d seen him in action or being interviewed, which was rare, he was well-known for being fiercely private and he’d always been in absolute control of every movement. It wasn’t just the way he answered questions, it was the purposeful position of his long limbs and the distinct lack of any type of fiddling, be it with his neat dark hair or anything he happened to be holding.
No, at thirty-two years old he came across as a man in perfect control of every aspect of his life, including his honed-to-perfection body.
The article was about his move to the States last month and what it would mean for his recovery after a car accident in March. He’d broken two ribs, which had, naturally, had a serious impact on his fitness. Also he’d always trained in the UK, so how would a transatlantic upheaval affect him mentally?
Personally I thought it was a good decision for him to come to America, Los Carlos in particular because it was a world-class facility. I’d followed his rise to global fame over the last few years as my specialty had narrowed. His game was second to none. Other players viewed him as damn dangerous whenever he picked up a racquet.
If the thought of living in the sunshine, sweet, sweet sunshine, appealed to him then why the hell not come to California? I could think of nothing better to accompany a recovery from an accident than sunshine and surf and I, for one, had jumped at the chance to start a new chapter of my life here. The big four zero would be knocking on my door next year and I had things to achieve before then, including proving to the world, not just the UK, that I was a top competitive sports psychologist.
Before long my visual imagery became reality and I stepped into the Californian sunshine towing my suitcase along behind me. The longed-for heat spread warm fingers over my shoulders and I raised my face to its welcome. This I could cope with. When I’d left Heathrow the sky had been like a damp, gray dishcloth wiping away any trace of sunlight. Breaching the cloud toward perfect blue had been the ideal antidote for any lingering sadness I was feeling about leaving my flat in Muswell Hill. The rent was paid for six months—my trial period at Los Carlos—and the amenities turned off. It would cope without me. I was sure I’d cope without it.
Pushing thoughts of London from my mind, I concentrated on the task at hand.
Finding a cab.
Austin, my new boss, had given me the address of my accommodation. I’d been told a safe box outside would hold the key and that the pass number was six, one, six, four. That made me smile. It was easy to remember as it was the final score of the Wimbledon’s women’s final this year.
I’d only just got into the cab when my mobile rang. It was Austin.
“Hey, Marie, how’s the journey?”
“Not too bad. I’m not as exhausted as I was expecting to be.”
“Great, come straight to the Academy. I’ve got final employment documents for you to sign.”
Really? I wasn’t feeling that perky. But still, he was my new boss and my future success would depend largely on his support. “Well, yes, okay. As long as you don’t mind me having bags under my eyes as well as with me.”
He laughed. “Give your cases to the staff at Reception and come straight on up to the department. Are you hungry?”
“No, not really.”
“I’ll sort out food then.”
The line went dead and I held it away from my ear. It would take a while to get used to the fact Americans didn’t say goodbye when they ended a call. It seemed just… rude, but I knew they didn’t mean it to be.
And hadn’t I said I wasn’t hungry? Oh well. I suppose a cup of tea and a sandwich wouldn’t hurt. My body was travel weary but I knew the best thing, despite my jet lag, was to keep going until evening before I succumbed to exhaustion. So I might as well jump in and make my way to my new place of work. An afternoon orienting myself to the Academy might be just the thing.
I leaned forward and spoke to the driver. “Can I change that to the Los Carlos Tennis Academy, please?”
I rested back, delved into my flight bag and set about trying to tame my hair and cover the blue-tinged circles beneath my eyes.
* * * * *
“So, Marie, I’ve fed you and shown you around, but how about checking out your new office?” Austin rubbed his hands together and rolled his lips in on themselves, as though he was stopping himself from saying more—something that was bursting to get out.
“That would be great.” My weary state had been forgotten. I was already more than a little impressed with the state-of-the-art academy. Air-conditioning blew down in every room, providing a respite from the relentless heat outside. Large, glossy potted plants filled Reception and the sport technology and physiotherapy rooms were top rate. There didn’t appear to be one item of equipment not represented. No expense spared was the phrase that kept coming to mind.
“I hope you’ll approve,” Austin said, swinging open a large, dark wooden door at the end of a long corridor.
I stepped into the room and stared at the beautiful space around me. Words caught in my throat. It was more than I’d dared hope for even when I’d been wooed with promises of L.A. views and a calm, nurturing space to consult with my patients.
Floor-to-ceiling windows showcased a skyline dominated by the downward sweep of L.A. Palm trees and tiled roofs led to the lapping ocean. Santa Monica pier was slightly to the right of the view, the large Ferris wheel at the end looming high into the perfect blue sky.
“It’s lovely,” I managed, dragging my attention from the sun-soaked scene to look at the actual office. It was decorated in the same light colors as the rest of the academy but there was walnut-brown paneling halfway up the walls, giving it a more intimate feel than the other offices I’d seen. The long black leather couch, shaped like a prone “S” and designed to mold to a person’s body as they reclined, was set next to a rack of deep-set shelves holding two vases and a set of tennis racquet bookends. A lime-green and sky-blue theme had been applied and matched a picture of a serene summer meadow on the opposite wall.
Austin walked over to the fat-legged desk and rested his hand on the large black leather seat that sat behind it. “I think you’ll find everything you need in here. And naturally this room is designed for its purpose. Being at the very top of the building, you won’t be disturbed by any other comings and goings. Just peace and quiet to do your thing.”
“I love it.” I was probably letting down the stiff-upper-lip team with my beaming smile but I couldn’t help it. This was beyond anything I’d dreamed of. I could almost feel the calmness soaking through my pores, the positive vibes humming in the walls, waiting to be set free by words, my words, and poured into the sportsmen and women I’d signed up to work with. “It’s perfect, I can’t wait to get started.”
He laughed and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Fantastic, that’s just what I hoped you’d say.”
I dragged the tip of my index finger over the desk; the wood was smooth and cool. Stared out of the window again and then walked over to the couch, my heels sinking in the plush carpet. I sat and looked up at Austin. “I’ll be here at nine in the morning, jet lag or no jet lag.”
“You take as long as you need to recover from your journey. We want you at your best, after all, only the best for our players. They’re at the top of their game, which means everyone at the Academy has to be at the top of theirs.”
“Yes, of course, I understand.” The leather was cool but soft. Probably one of the most expensive seats I’d ever sat on. “But I’ll be fine.” I smiled to reassure him and hoped the concealer beneath my eyes had stayed in place.
He pulled open a drawer to the right of the desk. “I took the liberty of scheduling appointments with some of your players over the course of the rest of the week.”
I stood and took the sheet of paper he offered. “That’s perfect, the sooner I become a familiar face to them, the better.”
I scanned the list, trying to ignore the tripping in my heart when I noticed that Travis Connolly was due to visit this very room tomorrow at noon. I pushed my hair behind my ears, licked my lips and glanced down the other names. All of which I recognized, some I’d met before. But apart from Travis, it was just a list of tennis players. Apart from Travis, none made my stomach flip or a flush of heat spread over my chest and around my neck. Why did I have to be like every other female on the planet and be so damn affected by his sultry good looks, raw sex appeal and cool demeanor?
“Come this way. I’ll show you the courts next, and the changing rooms.”
I placed the list of appointments on the table. Tomorrow I would transfer them to the iCalendar on my Mac. “Will there be any staff around?”
“Should be some coaches. I’ll introduce you.”
We headed for the elevator then Austin took us back through Reception toward the courts. There were four indoor and two outdoor, he told me.
When we reached the sun-drenched outdoor courts a coach was just gathering up some balls.
“Hey, Peter, come meet Marie.” Austin waved him over to the comfort of the shade.
Peter looked up, squinted and then expertly threw three balls into a wire bucket. He was tall and lean, his limbs long and coated in a fuzz of blond hair. As he took several long strides toward me he shoved his fringe away from his forehead.
“Hi, Marie, great to finally meet you.” He held out his hand and offered me an all-American grin—white teeth, a smile that reached his blue eyes. “Austin has been singing your praises since he met you in London last month.”
“Well, that is very nice to hear.” I took Peter’s hand. It was large and warm, his grip firm. “Lovely to meet you too, Peter. Are you working with anyone in particular at the moment?”
“Sure am.” He folded his arms and nodded. His gaze slipped from my face a fraction; not a full-on once-over, but a definite absorbing-my-style. Which, to be honest, wasn’t at its best, not after a long flight, but still, I’d done a bit of a repair job in the cab. At least my jeans were new, and I’d teamed them with heels and a soft pink T-shirt. I wasn’t too trampy, just a bit worn around the edges.
“He’s working with Travis,” Austin said. “The world’s number one has only been here a month, and already Peter is jacking up his fitness.”
“Yeah, it’s all about slow and steady after an injury.” Peter nodded seriously. “We’ve just come out of the gym now. A gentle run and some weights, nothing that’s going to cause any twinges, just cardiovascular and a bit of resistance. It won’t take long for him to be in peak condition again.”
“Good.” I thought of the large workout room on the second floor. With its mirrored walls and rows of treadmills, it looked like the ideal place to hone a body back to perfection. And Travis’ body, well, even with a few cracked ribs, it was still perfection.
“You must be exhausted,” Peter was saying, a sympathetic frown creasing his forehead. “Waking up in London must seem a lifetime ago.”
I laughed. “Yes, it does to be honest. But the sunshine helps.”
“Get used to it. You’re in the Golden State now, honey.” His smile was infectious and I couldn’t deny the effect his handsome face had on my giggle.
“Have you been to California before?” he asked.
“Nope, first visit, and I hope it’s a long one.”
“Me too,” Austin said.
“Well, perhaps I could show you around, you know, the tourist sights, and then some only the locals know.” Peter shrugged as he spoke, as though it was no big deal.
“That would be lovely. I’m looking forward to settling in, getting to know everyone and becoming a California girl.”
“I think you’ll fit in just fine.” Peter laughed and strolled in the direction of another abandoned yellow ball. “I’ll catch you around. We’ll have things to go through later in the week no doubt.”
“Absolutely.” I averted my eyes from his butt as he bent to scoop up the ball. Instead I turned to Austin with a smile. “Are we done?”
“My poor girl, you must be exhausted, and here’s me dragging you around meeting people. I was just about to tell you that the gym is at your disposal too, but you probably don’t want to hear that right now.” He frowned. “But yes, just the changing rooms and then you should go find a pillow.”
Oh, the thought of my head sinking into a deep, cool pillow. Heavenly. I stifled a yawn and followed Austin through a set of automatic glass doors. My heels clicked on the tiled floor as we walked past a long row of framed photographs hanging on the wall, each one a famous tennis player in action on the courts I’d just admired.
Austin’s phone trilled from the breast pocket of his shirt—some classical piano piece. “Excuse me,” he said, reaching for it and glancing at the screen. “My wife. I’d better take it. If you go through that door there, on the right is female changing and left the men’s. Go take a look and I’ll be right behind you. I’m sure it will be a place for many pep talks over the coming months.”
“Of course.” More often than not players wanted to see their sports psychologist just before a match to help them get into the zone. The changing rooms were somewhere I’d get to know well if I did my job right.
I turned from Austin and pushed through the first door I came to. It led to a small corridor with a red carpet and pale cream walls. I wandered through the door on my left and the smell of soap and deodorant filtered toward me. I wondered if any of the female players would be around. I had four on my list, it would be nice to say hi.
The changing room had the same wooden paneling as my office, with lockers to match. There were long rows of hooks with benches beneath them. The floor had a short-piled carpet.
The splashing of a shower filtered toward me, the noise irregular as a body moved beneath the streams of water. Moistness hit my skin and nose, steam from someone taking a long, hot soak, probably pounding tired muscles with powerful jets.
Orienting myself to the changing rooms, I stepped around the aisle of lockers, past a row of sinks with a large round mirror above and toward the showers.
Something in me froze. It wasn’t my heart, for that would have been the end. But something did.
I felt as though I was going to fall backward so shot out my hand and touched the lip of the unit holding the sinks. Steadied my weak knees.
In the shower, in the female changing room, was a man. Naked, toned, dark-haired and delicious. He stood with his back to me, his head and neck lowered and his palms pressed to the tiles as his shoulders took a thrashing from the heavy downward spray.
His butt was a fraction paler than the rest of his sun-kissed skin. Pert and small, perhaps clenched too, judging by the dents in the outer edges.
I knew I should go. Get the hell out of there. But what was a guy doing in the female changing room? Indignation and surprise kept my feet stuck, as though they were lead weights anchored to the floor.
Suddenly he straightened, turned and gave me a full frontal view.
His eyes were shut and that was my undoing. Because that exquisite moment of seeing Travis Connolly, unguarded and in all his naked, dark-haired, tight-muscled glory, was not something any red-blooded woman could turn away from.
He shoved both of his hands through his hair, flattening it over his head, and then stared straight at me.