My 5th Hot Ice novel is out today. High-Sticked is the only m/m story in my series about the fictional Vipers hockey team and I'm incredibly excited to see what readers make of Todd 'Pretty' Carty and Matthew Foster's high-octane romance and their struggle against the opinions of the world. (If you've read Teamwork, you'll have already met Todd, but you don't need to have read any of the other books in the series to enjoy High-Sticked.)
I especially like this cover because there is one incredibly hot scene in Matthew's kitchen when he's just had a shower and wrapped only in a white towel, let's just say Todd makes the most of the easy access!
But laying my heart on the line and having my picture dominating the papers was worth it. Everything about Todd turned me on. His bold hockey skills, his courageous attitude and the way he melted in my arms when I kissed him. I melted too, because he knew how to press my buttons, remind me of the man I used to be and take me to those places where ecstasy ruled.
The world might have trouble accepting us, but we’d committed to each other, mind, body and soul, and nothing could change that.
“Todd,” I said, folding the jersey and putting it over the back of one of the sofas. “You know I don’t just like Gatsby in an admire-his-talent-on-the-ice kind of way.”
He bent over a laptop on the coffee table, flicked it open and whirred it to life. “What are you talking about?"
I pulled a memory stick from my pocket. “I mean, I like him in a quite-fancy-getting-naked-with-him kind of way.”
He looked at me, rubbing his finger over the cute vertical dent in his chin. “Yeah. I get that.”
“Yeah, you’re gay. You like being with a guy rather than a woman.”
I rolled my lips in on themselves. Hesitated, then, “And you like being with a guy and a woman.”
He frowned, a small crease forming between his eyebrows. “Yeah, I did. But that’s over now.”
Something in his tone warned me not to push the conversation. Whether he regretted telling me about the threesome or suspected I guessed it was Raven who’d really held his attention, I couldn’t tell. But one thing was for sure, I wasn’t going to poke a bear then complain at being bitten. I would just let it rest.
“Here we go,” I said, shoving my memory stick into the portal of his laptop. “I’ve got the final selection of your photographs, plus the first wave of proofs for my exhibition. They’re all at the printers now being made into canvases.”
Todd walked over to the kitchen area, grabbed two bottles of beer from a glass-fronted fridge, then wandered back. He flipped off the lids and handed one to me.
“Thanks,” I said, taking a sip and setting it down on the table. I reached for the laptop and sat back on the sofa with it resting on my thighs.
He dropped down next to me. Close. So close his leg touched mine. But it didn’t mean anything, it was just so he could see the screen that was now balanced on my lap.
I pulled up the first of his shots.
“Oh god,” he groaned, knocking back a big chug of beer. “I look like a complete dork at the top of the Empire State Building.”
“You think?” I was surprised, I’d liked this set. The day had been clear and the backdrop of Manhattan stunning. And that was even before looking at the main focus of the picture—Todd, in full hockey gear, spinning a bottle of Raw toward the camera from the tip of his stick. Okay, the bottle had been Photoshopped on afterward, but the effect was great.
“Yeah, why the hell would I be up there in my hockey gear? I felt stupid at the time.”
“Okay,” I said, flicking through to the end of that sequence. “I’ll discourage them from using one of those.”
“Yeah, cool.” He reached over and clicked shift, drawing up the photographs we’d taken of him on the ice at the Rangers’ rink. He stayed leaning slightly over me.
I willed my breathing to remain normal as heat from his body poured onto mine. The soft breeze of his breaths washed over my forearm and made the hairs tickle against my skin.
“Much better. This is home away from home for me,” he said, jabbing his finger toward the screen.
“Yeah, they’re all great,” I managed, loving the way his stunning blue eyes shone for the camera. They could have been chips from an iceberg the way they sparkled. I glanced sideways at him and to my surprise found him looking at me. No, his eyes were warmer than ice, more like the Indian Ocean than something from the Arctic. “What?” I asked, when he carried on staring.
He turned away, shifted and reached for his beer. “Nothing.”
I swallowed a tight lump in my throat and let my leg rest a little heavier against his. I’d been tense, that was all, and now I was relaxing—or so I told myself. “And this lot are from the Intrepid.” I scrolled through them. “The very last one we took, after all that effort, all those days of work, is the one my gut is telling me Armani will go for.” I pulled it up, full screen. “It’s the look they were talking about capturing.”
“Ah, yes,” he said, studying the rain bouncing off his bare shoulders and the wind ruffling his hair. “That was really fucking cold.”
“You didn’t look like it bothered you.”
“Nah, it didn’t. Guess I was just happy it was nearly over. I would’ve put up with anything to hear you say it’s a wrap.”
I laughed. “So you won’t mind if that’s on billboards?”
“Whatever. I’m not vain, I just know the kind of stick I’ll have to take in the locker room and on the ice, that’s all. My teammates’ minds are filthy, opponents’ minds are obscene, so the less ammunition the better.”
“Well, regardless of teammates or opposition, I think you could be forgiven for being vain.”
He huffed and shoved a hand through his hair, which tonight was soft and feathery, absent of product. “Why?”
“Because you are…” I hesitated.
Oh, go for it.
“Gorgeous,” I said. “But I’m sure you know that. Look at the string of women you leave in your wake. And for god’s sake, just being asked to head an Armani campaign is pretty strong evidence.” My words tumbled over themselves and my heart raced. Had I really just told Todd Carty, hot new forward for the Rangers, that I thought he was gorgeous?
It seemed I had.
“More gorgeous than Gatsby?” he asked quietly.
A strange, dense feeling grew in my belly. “Yes.”
His mouth twitched, a tight little smile. “You’re not bad yourself.”
I laughed. A sudden release of tension, like a bubble bursting. “Very kind of you to say so, but I don’t think I’ll ever be asked to switch sides of the camera lens.”
He reached for his beer. The movement made our legs press even harder together and when he sat back our shoulders touched, rubbing against each other as he lifted the bottle to his mouth. “Everyone is different in what they think is attractive, handsome or pretty,” he said with a shrug. “I appreciate a variety of looks, but you should understand that, being a very visual person.”
“Yeah, I guess.” An electric current of hope burned through me but I tamped it down. Todd thought I was handsome even though I was a little rough around the edges. My hair was low maintenance, my jaw more often than not unshaven and sure, I was big and butch, but my gym membership wasn’t quite getting its dollar-per-mile worth—my abs were tight but could be more defined.
“So let’s have a look at your exhibition pictures,” he said, snapping me from a sudden urge to suck in my actually-not-too-bad belly.
“Er, yeah, sure.” I tugged my gaze from his bent knees. Encased in denim, they were square and strong. The jeans were faded and the paler material skimmed up his wide thigh before darkening over the creases at his groin. “Let me just…” I drew up the images, my fingertips fast and efficient across the keyboard. “This is Gareth and his partner Joel. They’ve been friends of mine for years. Gareth is an accomplished photographer but he does look great on the other side of the lens.”
The black-and-white picture was of two men on a beach in Cape Cod. Their backs were to the camera and the waves washed over their ankles in a flurry of froth. Gareth—only I knew it was him—had his palm pressed into the small of Joel’s back. Neither wore any clothes and the sun was setting, casting long shadows over their footprints that led down to the shoreline. It was an intimate, sensual photograph that showed their absolute comfort with homosexuality and with each other and I adored it on so many levels.
“It’s great,” he said, leaning forward again and studying the photograph. “Awesome in black and white.”
“It’s my favorite medium. So honest, so detailed, the many shades of black to white are so adept at capturing contours, movement and symmetry.”
“And this is Gareth?” He pointed to Joel.
“No, that’s Joel. He’s a few years younger than Gareth. They met in Hawaii, hit it off straightaway and have been an item ever since. I’m good mates with the pair of them, they’re always there if I need someone to hang out with.”
“Were they there for you after Tony left?”
I was surprised Todd remembered my ex’s name. “Yeah, they were.” I flicked to the next photograph. “This is Raymond. He’s a complete exhibitionist.” The shot was of a ridiculously made-up Raymond dancing in the streets of New Orleans. It was unusual to see this kind of shot without color but that was what had drawn me to it. That and the fact the group of us had enjoyed a wild time down south last year. It was over my birthday and the gang had taken a few days out of their busy schedules to celebrate with me. They were amazing buddies, the best.
I reached for my beer, took a slug then set it aside as a barrage of fun memories besieged me. Between that and Todd being right next to me, so close we were touching, my heart was now tripping along faster than ever.
We sat for a moment studying the details in the picture. The apartment was so quiet. It was just us, just our breathing and the hum of the laptop. I couldn’t ever remember being so aware of another human intruding into my personal space.
I liked it. A lot.
“He looks fun,” Todd said with a slow nod.
“Yeah, Raymond is great.” I scrolled through the next few pictures, willing my heart rate to settle. There was Paris in the spring, the pink blossoms a dusky gray. Central Park in the fall, the trees a silvery white and a cyclist tossing up a shower of leaves in his wake. Cape Cod on a bright summer morning, Joel’s dog Rufus running along the beach.
Finally I came to the last picture. It was another of Gareth and Joel, and one I’d captured spontaneously although the viewer could be mistaken for thinking it was staged. It replicated a famous WW2 picture of a GI kissing a girl in Times Square, tipping her back and devouring her mouth in the most unchaste of ways. My picture had been taken on New Year’s Eve when we’d been out having fun. At the stroke of midnight, Joel had grabbed Gareth, dropped him over his arm and kissed him. Camera always at the ready, I’d captured the shot—ticker tape fluttering around them, people celebrating, lights and noise bursting from the frame. But the real beauty was how they were totally lost in each other, oblivious to everything else. The kiss transported them to their own perfect time and place—a whole year of fun to look forward to, a whole previous year of wondrous times to look back on.
A flush of envy washed over me. It often did when I looked at that shot. “So that’s it,” I said, clearing my throat. “My exhibition is a collection of portraits and landscapes, places I enjoy and people who have stood by me. I’m thrilled the curators at Theodore Gallery think enough of my work to want to show it to the world.”
“You mean other than on billboards and magazines.” He set his bottle on the table.
I laughed. “Yep, other than billboards and magazines. That’s when I’m being told what to take shots of instead of choosing my own subject.” Suddenly my words caught in my throat. “I mean, not that I wouldn’t, I mean, not that I wouldn’t want to take shots of you, obviously, that was—”
It was his turn to laugh now. “I know what you mean, don’t stress.”
His body nudged mine as his chest rose and fell. I quickly shut down the window and flipped the screen shut, tugged out the memory stick and set it and the laptop on the coffee table.
I sat back and stared at my knees. The exhibition and Armani should be the main things on my mind right now. But how could they be when Todd Carty was sitting next to me with his big hand resting only an inch from mine?
The pale fuzz of his sun-bleached hairs skimming up the back of his wrist and onto his forearm made me want to stroke, kiss, lick them. An image of doing so rushed through my mind. Damn, a wave of heat to my cock warned me of an impending erection. I was such a fool. Why was I even here, torturing myself like this?
“Matthew,” Todd said.
I turned, saw his keen, intelligent eyes gazing straight into mine. He was so close I could make out every whisker on his chin, the delicate shadow within the upper indent of his lip and each individual eyelash. “What?” I managed, tensing my stomach and resisting the urge to reach for him, kiss him. Just grab him and make him mine for a few sweeter than sweet seconds. Hell to the consequences. Hell to the black eye I would no doubt get.
“Matthew, I…” He shook his head and his eyes narrowed. He lifted his hand and cupped my cheek in his palm, his fingertips grazing my earlobe and his arm resting down the column of my neck and onto my collarbone. Jaw set tight he said, “Fuck, I want to kiss you.”
“I want to kiss you, right here, right now,” he said in a strained, dark voice.
“Please, don’t question it.” He leaned closer still. So close his lips were just a hairsbreadth from mine. “It’s just, I’ve been thinking about it so much, and I have to do it, now.”
His mouth connected with mine, big firm lips pressing with both hesitation and determination. It was a close-mouthed peck, not wild, not full of movement, certainly no tongues, but one of the most sensual kisses of my life.
I shut my eyes and rested my hand over his, showing him how much I liked having his palm on my face—the possessive, controlling hold. The heat and hardness in my groin was growing by the second, hot urgency and a gripping fist of longing.
He pulled away.
* * * * *
High-Sticked is available from Ellora's Cave and should be landing on all other good retailer's shelves as you read this...
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If you want to find out more about my critically acclaimed Hot Ice series here are the details, and rest assured, book 6 (m/f) is my current work in progress.