THERE WAS no way in hell it was actually happening.
There were a lot of times in Isaac Drake’s life when he’d had that thought—the night his parents threw him out and he had nowhere to sleep, the first time he charged a guy for a blowjob, when he first saw his name on the roster for the Spartanburg Spitfires, his first game, the first time he was in net for a shootout, and when he went to the playoffs last year.
And being spit on by the man who was sitting in Coach Samarin’s office, looking about as happy to see Isaac as Isaac was to see him.
The last time Isaac had seen Laurent St. Savoy was in Asheville, North Carolina. Isaac and his teammates made an impromptu road trip so they could cheer their heads off when the Jacksonville Sea Storm swept the Ashville Ravens right out of the playoffs and went on to repeat as Kelly Cup champions.
The Spartanburg Spitfires had started the previous season as the worst team in the ECHL and ended it with a playoff run, where they fell to the Asheville Ravens. The Ravens closed out their season as the most despised team in the entire league. And one of the reasons was the sullen young man staring daggers at Isaac from across the room.
“Drake, have a seat.” Coach Samarin, standing tall and somber and in a suit, only ever called Isaac by his first name when they were at their weekly pick-up hockey game or at home.
Isaac had been living with Coach Samarin since a former trick showed up at the apartment Isaac shared with his teammate Matt Huxley and tried to convince Isaac to abandon his ice-hockey career in favor of shooting amateur gay porn. At first it had just been annoying, but when Jeff provided video evidence—filmed without Isaac’s approval, thank you very much—and threatened to post it on the Internet and contact the media, shit got real. Isaac made an admittedly stupid attempt to sacrifice himself for the greater good of his teammates, and then he moved in with his coach and mentor, Misha Samarin.
Coach Samarin gave him a place to stay, which allowed him to save his housing allowance from the ECHL so he didn’t have to go back to offering blowjobs for cash during the summer. He reminded Isaac that the world was not full of people who wanted to fuck you over at every opportunity, and he was basically the most important person who’d ever come into Isaac’s life. He was also a six-foot-something, imposing-as-fuck gay dude who lived with their hottie of an assistant coach. Isaac played for the gayest team on the ECHL, or so he liked to think, and he’d never been in the closet about his sexuality.
Clearly why the dickhead sitting in Coach Samarin’s office thought it was cool to call him a fag and spit on him—and all of that after the motherfucker refused to fight Isaac while their teams were involved in a line brawl during the Spitfires’ final game of the season.
“Why is he here?” Isaac asked and hastily sat down when Coach Samarin gave him that dark, demon-eyed stare that meant “Do what I told you.” He gave it to Coach Ashford all the time about loading the dishwasher. Misha had opinions about proper plate arrangement.
“He’s our new goalie,” the general manager of the Spitfires, Jack Belsey, piped up.
Isaac was never sure what to think about Belsey. When he bought the team and named himself the GM, he also hired a new coaching staff who turned the team around for the better. But on the other hand, Belsey hired Coach Ashford because of an injury he’d sustained at the hands of Misha Samarin when they both played hockey in the majors, and he was hoping for publicity-revving fireworks.
But Belsey had also paid for an epic celebration after their playoff appearance, and though he’d told Isaac not to tell Misha—Isaac told him anyway—he also paid for the accommodations and transportation to send his team to watch the Ravens humiliated on their home ice at the hands of the Jacksonville Sea Storm. He also didn’t care that his coaches were living together or that they had their gay goalie as a guest in the upstairs bedroom. Belsey probably thought they were all fucking, and he wouldn’t be the only one. But that didn’t seem to bother him either.
“He’s one of our goalies,” Coach Samarin bit out, his jaw so tight Isaac was surprised words could escape. He glared at Belsey, who was apparently the only person immune to the power of Coach’s laser stare.
“Yes, yes,” Belsey said with a scowl and waved a hand at Coach Samarin as though he were a particularly irritating insect. “But I thought you might like the incentive, Drake.”
Incentive? Incentive? “For what?” Isaac demanded. “Aggravated assault?”
“Now, Drake.” Belsey smiled his oil-slick smile, and Isaac began to rethink his position on Belsey. It was slowly sliding from “mildly annoying but sometimes okay” into “dislike” with each passing second. “Competition is good for the soul, and being a better team means proving you’re the right man for the starting job.”
“Excuse me, Jack,” Misha interrupted coldly. “You hired me to coach this team, and I have more than proven that I am capable of winning games. It’s my decision who starts this season, and it will be Drake.”
Belsey rolled his eyes. “This is hockey, as you’re always telling me. It’s not personal.”
“I thought we decided to stop a hiring policy based on dramatics,” Misha snapped.
Did Belsey even have a smile that wasn’t unctuous? “Did we? It seemed to work out well for you and Coach Ashford.”
While Misha struggled with his temper, Isaac turned toward Laurent and was once again struck by how goddamn gorgeous the guy was. It wasn’t fair, because Laurent’s father looked like a buzzard, and Laurent was so hot that his being an absolute asshole should have been a federal crime. “How’d you end up traded here, anyway? You get demoted from daddy’s team after y’all got your asses kicked by the Storm? He send you here to learn how to be a better goalie?”
St. Savoy met his eyes and didn’t say a word. His eyes resembled dark, delicious chocolate, and his lashes were full and thick. The universe was seriously a bitch.
Belsey laughed. “That’s exactly what I wanted to see out of you, Drake. You’re the captain of this team, so you’ve gotta have more fire than anybody. We done here, Coach Samarin? Where’s that boyfriend of yours, anyway? Thought he might want to show up for meetings, seeing as how he’s the assistant coach and all.”
Before Misha could say anything, Laurent spoke for the first time.
“How many fucking fags are on this team?”
Unlike their little incident in the playoffs, Isaac didn’t have to wait for St. Savoy to take his mask off before he punched him in the face. He knew he’d get in trouble, but goddamn, did it feel good.
LAURENT HATED Isaac Drake. Hated him.
He hated his stupid blue hair, his cocky grin, and the way he swaggered even though he was way too short and slender to be a goalie. Hated his stupid lip piercing and his easy camaraderie with his teammates. When Laurent saw Misha Samarin stalking across the ice during the playoffs the year before, he expected the coach to take a swing at him. His father wanted that. Laurent knew he did. They’d been told to win, and that meant doing whatever they could to knock the Spitfires off their game—like talking trash to piss them off until they lost their tempers. Denis St. Savoy also wanted Misha Samarin disgraced, for some reason. Laurent had learned not to ask questions.
And pissing off Samarin by attacking Drake had worked like a charm. Isaac Drake’s sexuality wasn’t a secret, although no one cared all that much. But it was a weapon to be wielded, and that’s what Laurent did. No matter that it made him sick to his stomach.
That was one of the few times Laurent’s father had been proud of him, even if it hadn’t lasted longer than a nod and a pat on the shoulder. And his father’s approval was proof that what he’d done was wrong. But some part of Laurent—the part that longed for childhood memories of days on the ice with a man who could hug instead of hit—wanted that pride and the validation he could never seem to earn. That pat on the shoulder was the gentlest touch he’d had from his father in years.
His teammates were disgusted with him, but they never liked Laurent anyway. His father had seen to that. But at least for a brief, elusive moment Laurent had been good enough for Denis St. Savoy. And the moment was over by the time the buzzer sounded.
Laurent left the Bon Secours arena and headed back on foot to the hotel where he was staying while he looked for a place to live. He didn’t have a car. His father was extremely wealthy but would never allow Laurent that kind of independence. So, despite the heat of the day and the throbbing headache brought on by that punch to the face, Laurent was at least pleased that he wouldn’t have to see his father when he got to the hotel.
That might have made it all worthwhile.
Laurent ducked his head and avoided looking at anyone as he caught the elevator up to his room. As he examined himself in the bathroom mirror, he gently skirted the bruising around his eye and thought about Drake.
He didn’t care that Drake was gay any more than he cared that other people were straight. He didn’t care that the coaches for his new team were in a relationship. But he couldn’t help himself. The instant dislike aimed at him from both Drake and Coach Samarin made Laurent resort to his usual horrible behavior when he felt threatened.
What the fuck did you expect? They weren’t going to like you. No one does.
Laurent closed his eyes, breathed, and told himself there was nothing left in his stomach to expel and he didn’t need to make himself sick. He was just tired, and he should do something about the black eye from Drake’s right hook and take a nap. And he didn’t need to eat anything. That thought made him relax slightly, even as his stomach growled with hunger.
He drank a few glasses of water and took two Excedrin. He told himself they were for the pain and not because he wanted the caffeine to stop him from feeling hungry. He hated being at the mercy of his body. Half the time Laurent just wanted to pretend he didn’t exist.
Then he lay in his bed, hands behind his head, closed his eyes, and tried counting his breaths. He tried everything he could think of, but the caffeine kept him up. So he ran through the meeting over and over and remembered the looks of hatred aimed at him from Isaac Drake and Misha Samarin and the utter disinterest on behalf of the Spitfires’ general manager. He thought he might finally escape that kind of scorn by getting traded from his father’s team, but all he’d managed to do was find yet another place where no one wanted him.
Laurent got out of bed and went to the bathroom, where he knelt at the toilet like some penitent and made himself throw up anything in his stomach. It was mostly water, and when he was finished, he sat on the bathroom floor and pressed his face into the cold tile.
And then he got up off the floor and went to bed.