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Secrets

A hockey romance novella

Copyright © 2018 RJ Scott

Smashwords Edition

Cover design by RJ Scott

Published by Love Lane Books Limited


All Rights Reserved

This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. This book cannot be copied in any format, sold, or otherwise transferred from your computer to another through upload to a file-sharing peer-to-peer program, for free or for a fee. Such action is illegal and in violation of Copyright Law.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.



Dedication

Always for my family.


Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 1

“Hey Benjy-Short-Ass.”

I didn’t know what he was doing at first. I felt his fist tap my head, but the words were a blur. Lost beneath the volume of cheering from the Colts fans here to see us finally move to first place in the Eastern Conference. We’d been edging closer to that top spot, clearing opposition like they were young kids playing street hockey, one after another. A streak of ten wins in a row and we were riding high.

“Hey Benjy-Benjy.”

I felt another tap and pivoted to face whoever the fuck was patting me on the head. I didn’t really have to look; I knew it would be Avery freaking Lester, the defenseman for the Rush that dogged my every skate length, the asshole who was between me and the net. He’d been chirping shit all night, starting as he always did with a classic I’d heard a hundred times from him and others.

You look taller in skates.

I wasn’t the average six one that most professional skaters were; I was Benjamin Harding, aka Benjy-Short-Ass, one of the guys who pulled down that average with my full five eight in height. But that didn’t stop me. I’m fast and determined, and I’ve fought a hundred battles to get this coveted second line left wing place on the Colchester Colts. They don’t call me a scrapper for nothing. Hell, it was only November, and I already had twelve points under my belt: four goals and eight assists. I was flying, and fuck anyone who said a short guy couldn’t play hockey.

I looked up at Lester, easily six-six in his skates, looming over me like the tallest of trees in a tall-tree forest. He winked, grinned and flashed those white straight teeth He was the kind of defenseman who didn’t give a shit about throwing his body in front of a hundred mile an hour puck, or indeed an unwary forward like me, so for him to have all his teeth was a miracle.

I yanked myself away from where he could reach me, my irritation close to the surface, and near-growled at the man.

“Cute like a teddy bear,” he reached to pat my head again.

“Fuck you,” I snapped and pushed to skate away. I could hear the chuckles following me as I took my place in the face-off, to one side of our captain, Jens Rusty Rustad, the Norwegian with the big heart and a frown on his face. He’d seen what had happened; hell, he’d been watching me all night, all concerned and shit, and I shook my head at him. The message was simple: “Back off, captain; I don’t need you fighting my battles.”

For some reason, Lester had been dogging me solidly in every single game we’d played against each other, which to my memory was five, this being the sixth game between the Colchester Colts and the Carlisle Rush since they picked up Lester.

Avery Lester, with his grin that turned feral when he was playing, and the youthful hope in his eyes that hadn’t diminished one iota in his first year with the Rush. He was destined for greater things, maybe even a call-up from his development team to the Railers themselves.

You had a few defenseman stereotypes, and Lester was firmly in that ‘get into a guy’s personal space and wig them out’ category. The winking, the smiling, the pats on the head, and nicknames were all part and parcel of the kind of hockey he played, all enthusiastic puppy. It was driving me fucking mad.

It didn’t help that Lester was gorgeous. If I’d met him in a discreet bar, I would have been all over him in an instant.

Rusty gave me one last narrow-eyed frown and then hunkered down for the face-off, his focus entirely on the six-ounce vulcanized-rubber disk that was being dropped between him and the Rush face-off expert.

“Your little legs must be tired,” Lester said to me and knocked my arm, attempting to get his leg in front of mine to stop me from wheeling away and taking the puck if Rusty won the face-off and got it to me.

“Grow up,” I said and then ignored him, watching for the moment Rusty scooped the puck; it headed right to my tape. I caught it, spun, skated, and left Lester standing, passing it to Luke Candy Candiani, the other wing on this line. Candy one-timed it, hitting metal, but I was there, collecting the rebound, shoveling it untidily toward Rusty, who collected the puck, skated circles around the D that shadowed him, and slapped it straight through the tendies five hole.

Goal!

Rusty, Candy, and I hugged it out, our D-pair closing in for the traditional five guy congratulatory circle; we were four goals to their two, and the Rush were becoming more ragged and uncoordinated in their desire to beat us with every passing second.

I clambered over the boards to sit on the bench with my linemates, adrenaline high, leg muscles burning, and grinning like a loon. Lester stared at me, and I made a tiny salute with my gloved hand that had him scowling.

Fuck him and his shortness jibes. I was used to them; I rose above them, well, not literally, obviously, as I didn’t rise above much.

“Is that asshole, Lester, giving you shit?” Rusty asked, elbowing me in the side.

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

“Nice pass,” Candy reached around and high-fived me.

The Rush’s coach, ruddy-faced and pissed as hell, decided that Lester would be my nemesis tonight. We were out and facing yet another thirty seconds of togetherness before I could even blink.

“Hey big guy, you up for some more?” I asked as I came to a stop and deliberately snowed his skates. I didn’t mean to use my flirty voice; it just happened.

“Hey squirt,” he said with a tap of his stick to my ass after a moment’s hesitation when his eyes widened at my tone.

I leaned into him. He outweighed me, I was only 175lbs to his fuck-ton in weight, but you know what they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Which I proved when he attempted to check me right in the boards. I sidestepped and let momentum carry him over into our bench. I caught the guys on the team roughing his face with their gloves, pretending to help him back on the ice, and all I did was skate away, a picture of pure Canadian boy innocence.

And now it was my turn to chirp, and boy, was that something I was good at.

“Enjoy visiting our bench?” I asked as we skated in tandem past the linesman watching us with an eagle eye.

“Fuck you, squirt.”

“Wow, your vocab is severely limited,” I said.

He looked at me, and I swear he growled. “Fuck you,” he said again, like he didn’t get the irony in that one.

“Not if I fuck you first,” I said, without thinking, because he was up in my space, and I could see his startling eyes, and I couldn’t think of any other way to get to him.

“What?”

I skated past him, did a fancy pirouette courtesy of five years learning to become the next great figure skater, stole the puck, and got it as far as our captain. It didn’t result in a goal, but it was a damn good try.

Lester tried, but he was slow, and as I headed for the bench; he was right on my ass.

He prodded my calf with his stick, skating between me and the bench as the period ended.

“What,” he kept saying, “what the fuck did you say?” He wasn’t shouting. If anything, he looked like he was angling for an opportunity to pummel me into the ground. I’d implied a lot in that single stupid sentence, not if I fuck you first. What the hell did I say that for? I faced his rising aggression, tried to move past him, but he blocked me with his massive body, a wall of muscle that would not move.

I knew better than to poke the bear or even think of using the suggestion of sex with a guy as a weapon. Didn’t stop me though; I enjoyed needling Lester.

I feinted left, and he fell for it, allowing me to get to the bench and down the tunnel to the locker rooms.

Rusty stopped me with a hand on my arm. “What was that?” he asked.

“It’s nothing,” I said. “I just pushed him too far.”

Rusty looked at me like he wanted to ask questions, and then he shook his head. “Don’t fuck with his head,” he advised.

“I won’t.”

Of course, as soon as we were back on the ice, with Lester right there next to me, I couldn’t help myself.

“Ready Smurf?” Lester asked as he caught up with me next shift.

“That makes no sense,” I said and very deliberately looked down at my uniform. “This is scarlet and gold, not blue.”

He blinked at me and frowned like I didn’t understand his chirp. “Smurfs are small,” he blurted.

“Yep,” I agreed, “they are.”

“You’re small.”

I rolled my eyes. “You don’t say. You really are thick as shit, aren’t you.”

By the time we were out again, I knew Lester was steaming. His skating had an edge to it, a temper from his chirping and his checking getting him nowhere, and I even knew where he was coming from. I was undersized and fit every criteria that Lester would have in his head as to how easy he could crush me.

He wasn’t the first skater to be left in my wake when I escaped checks or sped away; he wouldn’t be the last either.

Next face off and he was right there again; this time, I wanted to wipe the aggression off his face and make him squirm. Especially when he looked deliberately at Candy next to me, a solid six six in skates, and asked him where I was, before looking down, and down, and saying, “Oh wait, there you are.”

That was a new one, and I nearly laughed, but hell, fuck him and all who rode the bus in with him.

“So good seeing your tight ass facing the sky up on our bench,” I said, loudly, firmly.

“What?” he snapped his head around to look at me.

I smiled benignly. “Sexy,” I added and indicated my own ass as best I could, while he stood spluttering and off-kilter. I took control of the puck from face-off and twisted my way through what seemed like a sea of dark blue jerseys and neatly, perfectly, hammered a shot that hit twine.

And just like that we were three goals up with only two minutes twenty left on the clock in the third and final period. The other team was done, tired, grumpy, with an edge of desperation, and they knew it. They tried, but we were better, and the group hug and goalie head-bop at the end of the game was the icing on the cake.

I caught Lester’s gaze focused in on me; he followed his teammates off the ice, but he was looking back, enough so that one of his teammate’s feet caught on his and he nearly went ass-over-head onto the rubber matting.

I didn’t laugh.

Well, I did, but it was internal, so that doesn’t count.

I just loved seeing that kind of confusion in tall, dark, and sexy Avery Lester. Of course, not any more than I would in any other D-man who decided they could revert to chirping about my height or my prowess, or try to push me into the boards. I certainly didn’t have any confusing thoughts about the man, or wish that he knew the secret gay handshake that meant we could hook up.

Because I would so love to ream his ass and show him how a short guy could top the fuck out of a mouthy defenseman.

Who was I kidding? I loved winding Lester up; he fell so easy for it. And yeah, if he’d ever showed any interest, I would have been all over him.

The coach was happy in the locker room, Rusty was one content captain, and our otherwise taciturn goalie, Bear, looked almost pleased. The Colts were at the top of the Conference with two points to spare and that was just about where we wanted to be heading into December.

“Team Beer,” Rusty announced. He wasn’t asking; he was making an announcement and one that the team wouldn’t argue with. Of course, if you were married with kids, you could leave, but the rest of us—some in relationships, some not—had no choice but to do the whole bonding thing at a bar.

I wanted to pull the married card, but that would be difficult given I’m not married. Hell, I’m not even in a relationship because that would be dangerous. I could see the headlines now. “Gay hockey player plays gay hockey and does gay stuff in his gay downtime at his gay house” or the alternative, “Can you play and be gay?” I liked that one because it rhymed and made me smile.

I had to smile about something. Ten years I’ve held this secret close to my chest, and in all those years, the secret has become heavier and harder to manage.

“Heads up!” Candy called, and I didn’t react fast enough, getting a ball of tape to the head.

I batted it away and sent it flying toward Bear and then nearly ran to the showers before the goalie could figure out who had hit him upside the head. No one provoked Bear, even after a win. Hans Berghoff was not a guy you messed with. Ever.

While I showered off the stink of the game, it was easy to fall into the pattern of what-ifs. What if I had a partner; a husband and kids? What would my life be like if the hockey gods hadn’t seen fit to give me a role on a professional team?

I tend to stick to hookups, and never with other players, not even gorgeous ones like the irritating Avery Lester. Still, I know I’m not the only gay man in the AHL, or come to think of it, all the levels of hockey leagues. We, meaning me and the other rainbow players, just don’t go around announcing who or what we are, that’s all. My radar is for shit anyway, so there could be a couple of us in this room of twenty or so alone. Although as I scanned the room of my teammates and the various coaches, I remained convinced I was the only gay man on the team.

One other person knew my secret, and that was Rusty, because we shared a room the first two years I played with the Colts. He’s a good guy, a strong captain, and unfortunately, he is also terminally straight. He has the typical blonde model girlfriend who is currently on a photo shoot in New York.

Hence why we were all going to what we fondly called the Colts’ local bar. Shooters was a mix of hockey and music owned by a former team player, who turned coach and invested in the bar as a sideline. We even had our own tables roped off in one corner, right under a wall display of all of our finest moments, like the pictures of a past Colts team with the Calder Cup from fifteen years ago. The Colts hadn’t handled the ultimate prize for an AHL team in a long time now.

This year would be different. I could feel it in the buzz in the room before and after every game. This year, we could win.

“Beer?” Candy asked, and I nodded; beer was pretty much where it was at for a gathering of hockey players in any room after winning a game. One beer anyway; tomorrow might be an off day, but we didn’t mess around with our physical fitness at the start of the season. Copious beer and associated shots were for more desperate times in the spring when we sank to the bottom of the points table and lost out in the playoffs.

Walking in, I blame the fact that I was in the middle of the group for not seeing what was happening before it did. This was our corner and never before had anyone else been allowed into it. Except, tonight, there were five men sitting there already in their post-game suits, a couple of them not exactly looking relaxed. One of those, right in the middle, was Avery ‘make short jokes at my expense’ Lester.

The opposing team’s captain stood up and bro-hugged Bear, who smiled, and then it hit me, they were Germany-is-the-best-country-ever friends. Hence the slightly awkward mix of members from opposing teams in our bar. Not that I minded mixing it up with other teams actually, but Lester was here, and we’d pushed each other too far out there tonight. I didn’t care what he’d said to me, but I probably made him feel uncomfortable and shit. He was at this moment looking at everything and everyone that wasn’t me.

“Boys,” I said as I sat down, realizing I had no choice but to take the chair opposite Lester, which was a hundred kinds of awkward. He still wasn’t looking at me, so that meant I got a good chance to stare at him. Lester was sexy-pretty, all chiseled planes, high cheekbones, and the darkest of brown eyes. I knew he was American, vaguely recollected he was originally from Michigan, that he was twenty-one and that he’d been drafted high two years back. He was just beginning the last year of a rookie contract. Not sure what happened after that, but now he was toiling and fighting and harassing poor forwards like me. I only knew this because he’d been in one of those naked body health videos, and hell, I wasn’t going to miss all that skin and muscle on any guy who looked like him. The accompanying article spoke of his desire for a family and a girlfriend who understood the hockey life, and his hero was Wayne Gretzky. Pretty standard answers for a newbie.

I didn’t spend a long time talking to the guys opposite. The table was wide, the chatting level loud, the music blaring. Only when someone else wanted to get by me did I talk, and then it was always about hockey.

Lester did glance at me; I caught him once or twice, and each time our eyes met, he looked away and down. I felt unaccountably guilty. Chirping is fine, but maybe I’d let too much of my wicked side out there tonight, just enough that he would know I was talking shit, but more than enough to have him squirming.

He was probably thinking, what if that Benjy kid was looking at my ass? Then he’d likely dismissed it as every player does. Gay isn’t allowed in rough, tough, in-your-face hockey.

Hell knows why I felt guilty though; he’d tried to rile me all night, so I tried my best to chalk it up to experience. I focused absolutely on chatting with Candy—who had an interesting take on chicken nuggets and could wax lyrical for hours about what was in them. That didn’t mean I wasn’t acutely aware of Lester, and I noticed immediately when he stood and moved away from the table, all long limbs and sturdy grace. God knows what I was thinking, but he headed to the bathrooms, and I casually excused myself and followed him. I convinced myself I should apologize to him.

I was lying to myself; I just wanted a closer look at his eyes.

“Hey,” I called and watched him come to an absolute stop. For a second, I thought he wouldn’t turn and face me, and then he did. Slowly, his eyes widening at seeing me.

“Hey,” he said, cautiously. If he were a kid, he’d be scuffing his feet on the floor and looking up at me with puppy eyes. As an adult, he just looked awkward and embarrassed.

We’d stopped in the dimly lit hallway that was yet another shrine to the Colts. In fact, if you looked closely, you’d see one photo of Candy and me signing our rookie contracts. Lester shifted on his feet and hooked his thumbs into the belt of his dark pants. He’d removed his suit jacket and tie, and the pale blue shirt was unbuttoned enough that I could see the hair at the top of his broad chest. The material of his shirt was stretched just a little over strong arms and the spread of all his muscles. What I wouldn’t give to have a closer look at what was hidden under that material.

“Good game,” I said lamely, even though it hadn't been for the Rush by any stretch of the imagination. We were at the top of the table, they were three from the bottom.

“Not for us,” he answered. “The Colts are flying this year.”

“So far,” I said and reached out for the closest wood I could find to tap it the requisite three times that would negate any bad luck with me saying anything. He didn’t blink an eye, we all had our superstitions, some more than most. Candy always watched Miracle the night before the first and the last game of the season. Rusty only ate red M&Ms on the bus. Me? I touched wood, was always kind to black cats, taped my stick the same way every time, and didn’t walk under ladders.

He cleared his throat. “I need to…uhmmm…” He indicated the bathroom door behind him, and I nodded, abruptly aware that it was where I had pretended to need to go as well. Well, this was a hundred kinds of uncomfortable.

“Me too,” I said, and in procession, we went in through the door. He headed straight to a urinal at one end; I went to the other.


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