“I guess I don’t get where you’re coming from.” But then she shook her head, tilting it down and sending all that dark hair cascading down the front of her top. “Not that I have to. It’s your decision. You shouldn’t live your life just to fulfill other people’s expectations for it.”
It felt good to hear her say that. As good as ice on a swollen lip. It was exactly the sort of go-for-it support he’d been hoping to get.
It wasn’t enough.
Kurt needed her to understand. He couldn’t, shouldn’t, waste another day driving himself crazy with what-if-ing this to death unless he could find the words to explain to at least one other person the why of it all. Because she was sort of right. You didn’t walk away from financial security—crazy-ass millions of it—and the thing you’d always loved doing, for the hell of it.
“You’re right. The risks haven’t changed.” He thumped himself in the chest, right where the Cajun Rage logo centered on his jersey. “I have.”
Her lips pursed again. She took a beat, hopefully noticing that Kurt was opening his shit wide up here and taking a big fucking risk to do so. “Go on.”
God, he hoped he could explain it. Explain that he wasn’t a pussy or bored or fucking stupid. Explain that this was his life, and it didn’t come with a nice, safe warm-up skate around the rink. Kurt rubbed a hand across the back of his neck.
“Death crystallizes shit. It makes everything more real. Gives life an urgency, you know? My hockey career’s got an expiration date, no matter what. Then I’ve got a whole other life to put together for the next forty years. Shouldn’t I do that while I’m still in one piece? Is it worth risking all that could be ahead of me for one more year, even one more game, when my brains could get tossed around like salad in a bad check?”
Lisette hitched in a breath, almost like she was surprised. Or about to cry. Then she patted his chest, right where he’d thumped it a minute ago. The warmth of her small, soft hand flooded straight to his heart.
“It’s exciting watching the games. My heart’s always in my throat when I do, though, because it is scary how hard everyone plays, how rough and no-holds-barred it is. So I have to say, selfishly, that I’m glad you’re asking. But…that’s a question only you can answer.” She patted once more, then pulled her hand back, where it hovered in midair for a second, like she didn’t want to stop touching him.
Or maybe that was just wishful thinking. Kurt shoved a hand through his hair to shatter the awkwardness suddenly hanging between them like a sheet of jagged ice.
“Gee, really? Here I thought you were going to solve my problem with 100 ccs of wisdom.” He stared at the swimming fish who were oblivious to the fucking emotional striptease he somehow just couldn’t stop. And in curve of the glass bowl in the side of the float, Kurt saw the grim set of his jaw, the unhappy, hooded eyes.
God. Why would Lisette want to keep touching such a wallowing, messed-up son of a bitch? The words, the truth that kept him immobilized on this decision ripped from his throat like gravel spraying from his Harley tires. “Tell me how I can turn my back on my team and my friends and still be able to look myself in the mirror.”
She pressed up against his back, arms circling his waist like a life preserver. “How do you do it now? How do you look past your grief to see what’s truly in your reflection?”
Her fingers curved into his stomach. “You don’t look in mirrors?”
“Not for a while now.” Trying to make light of it, Kurt rasped a hand across his two-day-old stubble. “I’ve got an electric razor. Makes it so easy I can do it with my eyes shut. I was tired of seeing nothing but a scowl.”
“Oh, I get it, believe me. But feeling good, being happy? It takes practice every bit as much as skating.” Going up on her tiptoes, Lisette murmured into his ear, “I declare that smile practice is now in session.”
Then her fingers splayed, arrowing down to just below the waist of his shorts. Just enough to make him wish they’d damn well keep going. She scraped her teeth along the cords of his neck, then licked a path down to where Kurt knew she could feel his pulse jackrabbiting through the skin. Lisette sucked. Sucked and swirled her tongue. That was all it took to bring his dick into a full-out lunge, trying to meet her fingertips.
Kurt reached back and around to pull her closer. He got two handfuls of the sweetest ass he’d ever touched and squeezed. Kneaded. His hands almost completely covered those taut globes. He couldn’t wait to see how they’d look doing exactly that on her naked skin.
He didn’t care if she gave him a hickey. Didn’t care that the guys would give him a mountain of shit if he walked into the locker room with a love bite like a teenager. The only thing Kurt cared about was the way her tongue lapped at him, sending shivers of sensation straight down to his dick.
They weren’t really kissing. They were fully clothed, in a fucking warehouse. They weren’t even face-to-face. But her assault on his neck was so damn hot, Kurt was ready to shove up her skirt and take her on the floor, with the goddamned goldfish watching.
Whispering, breath feathering against his ear, Lisette ordered, “Look at your reflection in the bowl, Kurt. What do you see?”
He turned his head to catch a smug, satisfied grin curling up the edges of his mouth. Huh. Kurt twisted to see her wet lips and flushed cheeks. Guess she’d enjoyed giving as well as getting. Which turned him on even more. “You think I’m good in a practice session? You should catch me in the real deal.”
Stepping back, Lisette said, “We’re here to work. To plan. To honor your brother.”
Aaaand there he was. Jasper’s damned ghost, cockblocking him again. Just like he always would. The kid would hover between them no matter where they went or what they did. He’d been an idiot to forget it. To think that Lisette making a move meant anything more than her big ol’ heart taking pity on him.
She shook her head and picked up the bag and portfolio from the ground. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—”
“Don’t say that. I’m glad you did. Thank you.” Kurt slapped on another smile that felt as forced as the one for his head shot for the team roster. “Now show me where you think we should set up the food.”
Because he was paying Lisette to help with his brother’s party. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be here with him. And he couldn’t let himself forget that again.