Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 107
“Lacey, come in,” Chuck said when I knocked on his door.
He smiled at me from the other side of his desk and motioned to a chair. I sat down.
Chuck’s office was small and to the point, with nothing that suggested he had a life outside of work. He didn’t have framed photos on his desk or pictures on the wall that his kids might have drawn. The books on his shelf were all business related, and the plant was fake, suggesting he couldn’t take time out of his busy life to care for a real plant. Much like myself.
“I have a new contract for you,” he said. “Bit of a difficult character. Hanson Bell’s the name. One of our own, here with the Florida Sharks.”
He handed me a file, and I opened it.
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
I’d heard of Hanson Bell. He was a football player, and his name was in the news all the time. I could never keep track of what those football players were in trouble for, though.
“He’s been suspended for a DUI that happened earlier this year. He’s coming back onto the field, soon, but his coach is worried that his image will affect the fans.”
I nodded. The problem with being rich and famous was that the whole word was watching. Being human and making mistakes like the rest of us wasn’t an option. It was a cruel life, but if they didn’t have their problems, I wouldn’t have a job.
“What else has he done?” I asked.
Chuck shook his head. “It’s not my job to inform you. You know that. Do your homework on the guy, and let me know if you’re up to the task. I’ll understand if you turn it down.”
That got my back up. I didn’t turn down anything, especially not if people expected me to. I knew what I was doing, and I did my job well. I wasn’t going to say no when someone assumed I would fail.
Chuck leaned back in his chair. He was a man in his early fifties whose age had caught up with him quicker than it should have. He was almost completely gray, and his belly strained against his shirt in a manner that threatened to pop the buttons. Despite his tough and less than desirable exterior, on the inside Chuck was a softie and a good boss. He took care of us, and he made sure we knew what we were doing.
“I’ll get back to you as soon as I can,” I said. “You know I’ll probably take it, though.”
Chuck nodded. “I know you’re not one to run from a fight, but just let me know. For formality’s sake.”
I agreed and got up, tucking the file under my arm.
“Thanks for the opportunity,” I said.
Chuck waved his hand at me in dismissal.
Back in my own office, I sat down and put the file on the desk in front of me. I thought about what Chuck had said. This was a difficult client. I had to let him know if I was going to take it. He knew I wouldn’t back down from a challenge. It was why he’d given the file to me in the first place.
I opened the file again and looked at the included photos of Hanson Bell. There were action shots of him on the field, playing his game. There were team shots, followed by single shots, and finally, the shots that really mattered. The shots of him out on the town.
I had to admit, he was hot as hell. Built like the football player he had become, he had muscle for days, brown hair that always looked like a mess, and hazel eyes that I had a feeling could really mess with a woman’s emotions. He looked like a player of sports and a player of women.
I read through the rest of the file. There was nothing I didn’t know about this type of man already. I’d had more than enough clients whose public image had been tarnished. People who had preferred to live the life they wanted, rather than do what was needed for their positions in the public eye.
In the end, everyone made a mistake in public, shattering their reputations. It was my job to pick up the pieces and put them back together.
This was nothing I couldn’t handle. Hanson Bell was just like any other famous guy out there, who had more money than he knew what to do with and too much time on his hands to look for trouble.
They were all the same.
Before I left my office for the day, I checked in with Chuck again.
“I’ve considered it, like you asked,” I said. “I’ll do it.”
Chuck glanced up at me. “You’re sure?”
I nodded. “Positive. You know I can do this. You wouldn’t have given it to me if you didn’t think I could handle it.”
Chuck nodded. “You’re the best at this game. You know just how to get them to eat out of your hand.”
I smiled. That was exactly what I was planning on doing. Hanson Bell was just another guy out there who needed to put his best foot forward.
Everyone had secrets. Everyone led a double life. They had a side they needed to show the public and a side they needed to keep secret. Hanson Bell had just gotten the two confused. I was going to help him figure it out, though.
Once he realized how he had to look at it, he would be able to show the right side of himself to the press, and everything else would fall into place. This was what I did for a living. I was good at it, and Bell wouldn’t know what hit him until it was too late to fall back into bad habits. I would make sure of it. Because that was my job, after all.
Chapter 4 – Lacey
I stopped at Kina’s place on the way home. We’d met in college where we’d been roommates, and the friendship had lasted. She buzzed me up to her apartment, and I hugged her when she opened her door.
“I was expecting you,” she said.
I dropped my bag and coat on the couch and sat down.
Kina shrugged. Her blond hair was pulled up into a ponytail, and she had already changed out of her work clothes into something more comfortable. I worked later than most people. When you’re married to your job, that tends to happen.
“Because we haven’t seen each other this weekend. You always do it like this. Drop in after a long time of being absent.”
I chuckled. “I need to change it up. I’m becoming predictable.”
Kina put on a pot of coffee in the open plan kitchen and leaned with her elbows on the counter.
“So, what’s new?” she asked.
“I got a new project today,” I said.
“Who is it this time?”
“Football player. Hanson Bell.”
Kina raised her eyebrows. “Impressive.”
“No more than the others,” I said. “I see too many famous people.”
Kina laughed. “Oh, excuse us, your majesty.”
I shook my head. “That’s not what I meant. I mean, I work with a lot of people who think they’re God’s gift to mankind, who only realize almost too late that they’re just as flawed as the rest of us.”
Kina nodded, grinning. “Right.”
I rolled my eyes. The coffee was ready, and she turned to fill two cups. She added sugar to mine but no milk. To hers, no sugar and a splash of half-and-half. She walked around the kitchen counter and handed me my mug.
“I’ve heard of this guy,” Kina said. “Hanson Bell. His name comes up every now and then.”
“Which is why I’ve been called in. Apparently, he’s been suspended, and having him back is going to cost him.”
Kina smiled, sipping her coffee. I blew on the top of mine.
“I don’t care how bored you are with Miami’s elite. It still sounds interesting to me, every time you get a call to help a new PR client. Other people fix things. You fix people . That’s exciting.”
I shook my head. “I don’t fix them. You know how I feel about it. I just show them how to hide it well enough so it doesn’t become a problem for the rest of us. Everyone has secrets.”
It was a statement I lived by. Everyone had secrets. People accepted or rejected you based on what they knew about you, not on what they didn’t. Once you understood that, you had the power to create your image and keep the things that really mattered away from those who didn’t deserve to see it.
“You have your job cut out for you,” Kina said. Then aft
“The men?” I wrapped my fingers around the coffee cup. “What are you talking about?”
Kina smiled. “Oh, come on. I’ve never said it before but don’t act like you don’t know. You’re hot. You work out and you dress well. You have that spunky hairstyle, and those eyes that grab attention. That hourglass figure reminiscent of Christina Hendricks or Marilyn Monroe. They give you the men as your clients because you can wrap any man around your little finger.”
I shrugged. Kina was right; it was true. Men were just that much easier to influence when it came down to the ever-important sphere of public image.
“It’s not my fault they listen to me,” I said innocently.
Kina laughed. “If I had a dollar for every time you told me it wasn’t your fault they fell for you.”
“Hey, this is business. I don’t mix business and pleasure.”
Kina nodded, finishing her coffee. She leaned forward and put the cup on the coffee table.
“You’re right. I know that about you.”
She hesitated again and then asked another question. Kina and I had known each other for so long that it was impossible to keep things— whether they be questions or answers— from each other.
“So, what about Luke? What’s happening there?”
I finished my coffee, too, and put down my cup. “I broke it off with him.”
Kina sighed. “Why?”
“Because he was getting serious. He wanted more, and I didn’t want to give him more.”
Kina shook her head. “You can’t keep pushing everyone away,” she said.
“I’m not. I told him from the start that I didn’t want anything other than sex from him. He’s a guy. He’s supposed to be happy about that. I don’t want a relationship.”
Kina kept shaking her head. “One day, you’re going to meet someone and realize all you’ve been doing was waiting for Mr. Right to sweep you off your feet.”
I chuckled. “I don’t think so. I don’t do relationships because I don’t need them. I’m happy alone. If I can sleep with them, I’ve gotten what I need. What’s so wrong about that? Men do it all the time, and no one questions them.”
“You’re right,” Kina said, picking up one of the throw pillows and hugging it to her chest. “I just think that you should have given Luke a chance. He was a nice guy. He treated you right, and he wanted to commit. Do you know how hard it is to find that combination?”
“When I get around to looking for those qualities, specifically, you can weigh in more and I’ll let you know what I think. Until then, I’m happy with my life and what I’m doing with it. I don’t need a man. You don’t have to worry about me. You know this is how I do it. Besides, when I don’t have someone distracting me, I can give my job my all. My career is important to me.”
“There’s more to life than work, you know.” Kina wasn’t going to let this go. “You’re already twenty-eight. Shouldn’t you start settling down?”
“Shouldn’t you start minding your own business?”
Kina laughed and held up her hands in defense. “Okay, okay,” she said. “I’ll drop it. I won’t talk about men again until you bring it up, okay?”
“I’d like to see that,” I said. “But I don’t think you know how to not talk about it.”
Kina made a face at me. She was still smiling, though.
“I only give you my unsolicited advice because I care about you,” she said.
I knew she was telling the truth. She truly was just worried about me. I understood that.
What she didn’t seem to understand was that I was perfectly happy being alone. I was good at my job, good in bed, and good at keeping both of those areas of my life separate. I was good at not getting involved.
And my way of doing things suited me just fine, no matter what Kina had to say about it. Even though I knew her concerns were coming from a place of love, I didn’t think I should listen because my life was already perfect just the way it was.
Chapter 5 – Hanson
“What are you going to say to him?” Brian asked me.
He was out of breath, his legs eating up the distance on the treadmill. His shirt was soaked with sweat down his back, chest and under his arms.
I had just stopped running on my own treadmill. We were at the Sharks’ Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University. It was the home of the Sharks and the one place I could escape from everything and get lost in the game.
At least, it used to be like that. Lately, it didn’t feel like much of an escape if the game itself had been removed.
“I’ll see what he has to say to me, first,” I said. “Then I’ll take it from there.”
I found a water bottle in my bag and sucked the cold liquid down. I was about to see Coach for our chat, and as much as I hated to admit it even to myself, I was nervous.
Wednesdays weren’t usually gym days for me, but cardio always released tension, and extra fitness never hurt. Besides, I wanted to show Coach that I was serious about my game.
Even though I’d been suspended for six games, a lot more than I deserved for what had happened, I’d kept up with my training and diet regimen. Apart from binge drinking now and then. But when that happened, I’d train harder the next time to work off the empty calories I’d picked up.
“Don’t get cocky with him. You know he’s going to see what you’re like, and your position on the team could be affected by your attitude.”
“Thanks, Brian,” I said sarcastically. “I forgot how perfect you are.”
Brian didn’t respond. His chest rose and fell as he panted, finishing off his run with a full sprint. When he finally stopped the treadmill, he was shaking his head.
“Don’t be a dick about it,” he said, breathing hard. “You know what I mean.”
He put his hands on his hips and tipped his head backward. His sandy hair was drenched with sweat, which made it look darker.
“I need a shower before I talk to Coach,” I said.
We picked up our bags and headed to the locker room together. I did a quick rinse before I wrapped a towel around my hips and walked to my locker. The locker room was one of my favorite places to be, and it had become a home away from home because of how much time we spent in it.
Large lockers reached up higher than we were tall, and gray carpet stretched from wall to wall. The locker room was huge and filled with half-naked men, confident enough in their own skins not to care. Like me, they were world class athletes who were fit and athletic, with no reason to feel anything but pride about their bodies.
I put my bag on the bench in front of my locker and pulled on slacks, a shirt, and a vest. My arms and back were still wet, making darker marks on the material.
“You’re going to speak to him dressed like that ?” Brian asked.
I looked down at myself. “What?”
I thought he had to be kidding, but he looked serious.
Brian shrugged. “Well, if I was having a meeting with Coach about my future, I would have worn a suit.”
I snorted. “It’s a chat with Coach, not a press conference.”
“Nice to see you around here, Bell,” Mark Graham said, walking past. His tone was slightly sarcastic.
I shook my head. I’d been in here every day I had to train. Everyone knew that, including Mark.
“I’m just saying this meeting is important,” Brian said, still on the same topic.
“Right. Well, I’ve got this. Coach can’t afford to lose me.”
“I bet he won’t miss your arrogance,” Dwayne Burton said. He stopped at the bench.
I rolled my eyes. “Thanks for that,” I said to him.
Dwayne shrugged. He looked down at my bag and pushed it off the bench. It was still unzipped. A few of my things fell out.
I was getting angry.
“What the fuck is your problem?” I yelled.<
I was sick of their elementary playground antics and snide remarks.
Dwayne turned his back on me and walked away like that wasn’t the stupidest thing to do to a hothead like me.
“Just let it go,” Brian said.
He picked up my water bottle and put it into his own bag. They all knew I loved that water bottle because when I found it at REI I had let them know how awesome it was. It could keep hot liquids hot and cold liquids cold, and could be attached to a bag with a carabiner.
They had teased me back then for continually talking about it so much, but it had all been in good fun. This was something altogether different.
“They’re fucking with me,” I said.
I was reeling. Anger boiled beneath my skin.
“Yeah, so they’re being dicks. So what? Just imagine how happy Coach will be to see you after you picked a fight in the locker room.”
I groaned. He was right, of course. Usually I would knock Dwayne upside the head for his stupid stunt. But right now I knew it wouldn’t do me any good at all.
I kneeled, and Brian helped me gather my shit up and put it back in the bag. When I stood again, I took a deep breath. The team members glanced at me, unwilling to miss a show. I wasn’t going to give them one.
But I was going to get my favorite water bottle back. On my way past Dwayne, I reached into his bag and grabbed it. He started to protest, stepping forward as if he was going to be the one to throw the first punch.
Just do it , I willed him, wanting him to strike first so that I could get my revenge on him while also claiming self defense to Coach. But he glared at me and stepped back. He knew I would have the upper hand in any fight that might ensue between us.
Fuck , I thought, but then I reasoned with myself that it was for the best. I had my beloved water bottle and he didn’t have a broken nose. Nor did I have one more thing to add to the list of why Coach was mad at me.
It still ate at me that my teammates thought it was okay to treat me this way, though. I vowed to teach them some respect as soon as I was off probation. I headed out of the locker room, forcing myself to rein in my anger.
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