Lawyer Will Garrett took a job with the Outer Spiral Trading Company for one reason only—to keep his ex out of jail. Now his ex is free, but with someone else. This leaves Will seeing out the final months of his contract on assignment as the legal counsel for a sports team of Modern Gladiators on a Company sponsored tour.
Jimmy Campbell, mighty Highland warrior, is the champion and captain of Team Spartacus. But really he’s James De Villiers, half-Scottish, half-South-African, ex-soldier. He’s only in this for the money. One more season then he’s gone. He’s already older than most of the team, with a nagging shoulder injury.
Will and James get together thinking only of killing time in bed during the trips between tour stops. But as they grow closer and Will makes friends with the team, trouble starts with team manager Lenny Sheridan. Lenny doesn’t want anyone to know James is gay. A hostage crisis focuses all the media in the sector on the team and forces James to decide if keeping his secret and his career is more important to him than acknowledging his relationship with Will, whatever that costs him.
Excerpt: (found at Loose-Id’s website)
The passenger section was quiet when James arrived back aboard the ship. The team had embarked earlier that day and then decided that, since the ship wouldn’t leave until 0400 the next morning, there was still time for a last-minute party and headed out en masse. James hoped they’d all get back in time.
It was only around 2200—and anyone who’d spotted him ducking out early had decried him for a stiff and a spoilsport, but screw that. He couldn’t drink anyway, not if he wanted to stay in shape. He had to be in the gym at 0600 tomorrow. Besides, those parties were only work. He had to be “on” the whole time, and it grew wearisome.
He almost headed straight for his cabin but decided he could use a snack and diverted into the lounge. Refreshments were laid out on a sideboard beside a couple of big coffee urns.
The lawyer Lenny had brought backstage last night was sitting in one of the armchairs. What was the guy’s name again?
“Evening,” James said.
“Yes.” Dammit, the accent. “Aye.”
The lawyer—Garrett, that was the name—smiled knowingly. Probably trained to observe the way people spoke.
Garrett had a portable terminal in his hand—his rather nice hands, James recalled from the night before—and a cup on the table. James honestly envied him the chance to spend a quiet evening reading. He chose a couple of pieces of fruit from the sideboard, then made himself a cup of whichever random tea he picked up first. While it brewed, he took another look at Garrett.
No suit tonight. Casual in a white, ribbed shirt and black pants. The simple clothes set off his good looks. Garrett had gone back to reading his terminal while James messed about with his tea, but he looked up again under the weight of James’s gaze. He had dark blue eyes of an unusual shade James wouldn’t mind getting a closer look at.
“I’m thinking I should apologize for last night,” James said. “I could have been less hostile when we met.”
“Forget it,” Garrett said. “If a bunch of people barged into my room when I was having a massage, I’d be hostile too. I’m sorry we disturbed you. Mr. Sheridan doesn’t seem like an overly sensitive man.”
“Aye, he’s the original bull in a china shop is Lenny.” He stepped forward, hand out for a shake, and Garrett stood up quickly. “Can we try it from scratch?”
“Glad to. Glad to meet you.”
“You too, Mr. Garrett.”
Garrett—Will—raised his eyebrows. “You prefer that to Jimmy then?”
“Definitely. I’ve never been Jimmy. My ma used to call me Jamie, but I outgrew that.”
Will laughed. “Yes, I see that.”
Their hands were still locked. James disengaged regretfully.
“Please, join me if you like.” Will waved a hand at a seat. James grabbed his drink and snack and set them on the table. “So if you’ve never been Jimmy, why are you billed that way?” Will asked as they sat.
“Image,” James said. He picked up an orange and started to peel it. “Sounds more Scottish. Same reason I’m Campbell on the bill.”
Garrett frowned, looking puzzled. “You’re not called Campbell then?”
He was dying to ask, James could see, but he was too polite. James almost put him out of his misery, but rather liked the idea of teasing him. Teasing Will Garrett could be a lot of fun. Seeing he wasn’t getting anything, Will went on.
“It must be an advantage to your team to have Philida Arden as your trainer. She used to instruct Special Forces in hand-to-hand combat, right?”
James nodded. “That’s where I met her. She was one of my instructors. Later she recruited me to the team after we both left the military.”
“Did you take the voluntary payoffs?” Will asked.
James nodded, mouth full with a sweet segment of orange. He swallowed. “Aye. Are you ex-service?”
“I was a JAG officer.”
“You’ve got the look.” Even lawyer officers had the look. “Plus, the way you reacted to Philly was a giveaway.”
“She’s a legend.”
“Right.” James leaned forward. “Take a word of advice. Don’t ask her about that night.”
“You mean when—”
“You know what I mean.” The night fifteen years ago her unit hit the compound where the defeated and fleeing Marshall Kylus and his troop of bodyguards were holed up. The compound Philly Arden emerged from dragging the genocidal dictator by the scruff of his neck. They were the only two people to emerge alive. “Everyone else in her unit died that night. She almost did.” She’d never been able to return to active service due to the injuries from that raid. She’d collected her medal for it while still using crutches a year later. “Don’t expect her to chat about it over coffee.”
Will, being ex-service, probably didn’t need to be told something so obvious. But he nodded and spoke quietly. “I won’t.”
A burst of noise outside the room broke the quiet. Voices. Shouting, singing. The team had returned. Seconds later the room was full of people. “Sir Darien,” one arm around his supposed worst enemy, Salim, draped his other arm around James.
“There he is! Where’d you go, you boring bastard?” His Liverpool accent came through strongly, and James saw Will look both surprised and amused.
“I’m right here. You’re drunk, Darren. Go to bed.”
“Och aye, Captain. Hoots.” He grinned. His teeth were blue.
“Sal, get him to bed,” James said.
“Easy for you to say, pal.” Sal’s accent spoke more of New York than Jerusalem.
“Too early for bed,” Darren said and dragged Sal off to grab more drinks. James looked around in time to see Will slipping out of the door. He had to restrain an urge to follow.
* * * *
The night after was a party too—though not so rowdy an affair. On OSTC ships it was traditional for the passengers to dine with the captain and officers the first night out of port. On this trip that apparently only meant the team and their top entourage, since Will didn’t see the many roadies and support staff at the dinner. He got to tag along, though, and it was worth it. The gladiators were without exception striking and in many cases beautiful, even in more conventional evening wear rather than their arena costumes.
Campbell—or, not Campbell apparently—James then, still looked stunning in a suit, his shoulders broad enough you could lay a table for two on them. Still plenty of neck, though. A broad-shouldered man could be kind of deficient in the neck department, which Will didn’t like so much.
But what caught Will’s eye was not so much how good James looked, but rather the fact he had sneakily switched a couple of the place cards on the tables. Will had been due to sit at the table hosted by the first officer. James had switched out a card from the captain’s table and put Will’s name next to his.
Interesting. And encouraging.
So when the cocktails and mingling part ended and everyone took their seats, Will found himself at James’s right. On his other side sat Reylene, still the women’s champion, despite losing the fight Will had watched. It was all a matter of how many bouts you won, according to their rules, which Will had amused himself by perusing earlier. Reylene had won several more fights than any of her rivals. She wore a dress of fiery orange silk and sequins. With high heels the already tall woman towered over most people at the table barring James. She was smart and witty, and Will found himself talking to her more than to the rather taciturn James. When he did talk to James, he noticed James’s accent was all over the place. He’d been trying hard the night before when chatting to Will, but it had started to slip even then. The same was happening tonight. It veered from strong Glaswegian to a soft burr more suitable for reading poetry aloud than threatening doom and destruction on opponents. It amused Will. He wondered which accent came out in bed.
When the meal ended, the party adjourned to the officers’ wardroom to mingle and drink coffee and spirits. Will deliberately wandered over to the viewport alone, sipping a brandy, and watched the stars for a while. In a few minutes, as he expected, James appeared at his shoulder. He held a glass, but it looked as if he only had ice water in it.
“Hi,” Will said quietly. There was something here for sure. He’d sensed it last night in the lounge. He’d felt it tonight at the dinner. James’s leg had brushed his a little too often for mere chance, even from a guy who took up so much space. But he’d read up about the team during the day, and according to all the gossip columns James Campbell might be dating Reylene Queen. They appeared at plenty of public events together.
But he’d seen no evidence of them being a couple at dinner tonight. They had the easy banter of friends. Nothing more.
“So what is your real name if it’s not Campbell?” Will asked. He could probably have found out easily enough, but he didn’t want to pry. Or rather, he did want to, but he hadn’t.
“I’m a lawyer. That’s almost the same as a priest.”
James snorted. “Right. My name’s De Villiers. James De Villiers.”
“So Jimmy Campbell…”
“Is for the arena and the press.”
“What’s wrong with De Villiers? What is that, Dutch?”
“South African. That’s where my dad is from. But Lenny said James De Villiers sounds like a diamond merchant, not a warrior.”
Will chuckled. “He has a point.”
“I don’t mind. Once I’m done with all this I’ll be happy to leave it all behind me. A fake name helps with that.”
This intrigued Will. “Done with all this” made it sound as if he didn’t enjoy it. He wanted to talk with James a lot more. He wasn’t the meathead Will had expected. But they had a long trip ahead, and there’d be plenty of time for talking. Will wanted something else tonight. Wanted to follow up on that vibe he felt talking to James. He glanced around to make sure nobody was in earshot, spoke barely loud enough for James to hear.
“Do you want to come back to my cabin for a while?”
James didn’t react. He went on looking out of the viewport at the stars. For a second Will worried he’d misjudged and was about to get a rejection and a possible punch in the face. But then James spoke so quietly Will had to strain to hear.
“You go ahead. I’ll meet you there in five minutes.”
* * * *
It was closer to ten minutes, and Will had begun to think James wasn’t coming, but at last the door chime went. He tapped the panel to open the door, and James came inside so fast Will had to step back to avoid being trampled.
“Sorry,” James said, slapping the door closing panel. “Got caught up, talking to people.” He slipped his jacket off.
“Here.” Will held out his hand and took the jacket. He slipped it onto a hanger from the wardrobe.
“If I didn’t already know you were military, I’d guess from this place,” James said.
Will supposed he did still have the habit of keeping his quarters neat as a pin, ready for a spot inspection at any time. “You never know who’s going to drop in.” He strolled back over to James, closer than he’d been so far, stepping into the man’s personal space, close enough to feel the heat of him, smell his breath—which smelled of breath mints. Will appreciated the effort. He’d taken some of the waiting time to quickly clean his teeth and use mouthwash. He liked to leave a good impression.
He had to tilt his head up as he moved in for a kiss, James having a good four inches on him. James drew in a sharp breath as Will closed in, and Will hoped he wasn’t one of those guys who didn’t kiss. But he wouldn’t have bothered with breath mints if he didn’t kiss.
Will shut his eyes as their lips touched. Softly from his side, exploring. Harder from James’s side. He thrust his tongue into Will’s mouth, Will opening to him more from surprise than welcome. Then James grabbed Will’s arms and pushed him, made him stumble back until his legs struck the bed and he went down. James followed, pinning him, grabbing his wrists. A flicker of fear pulsed through Will. James was stronger and heavier. Will couldn’t get out from under him if James didn’t want him to.
“Hey!” Will snapped, pulling his hands away from James’s grip. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
James stared down at him. “I…sorry, don’t you…”
“Get the fuck off me,” Will ordered, his voice stronger than he felt in that moment, heart pounding, mouth dry. James rolled off him at once, sat up on the side of the bed. Will stood and took a few steps back out of grabbing range.
“You don’t want me to…you know, be rough with you?” James asked, looking confused.
“What? No. Why do you think I want that?”
“It’s what guys like you usually want.” James said. “Suits. Stiffs, I mean. It’s what you usually want from a gladiator.”
Will’s anger drained away at the mortified expression on James’s face.
“It’s not what I want,” Will said. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate your, ah, physique. But I’m not interested in being dominated. If that’s what you like, that’s going to be a problem.”
“It’s not,” James said quickly. “Absolutely not.” He stood. “Do you want me to leave?”
“No. I’d like you to take your shirt off.”
“That I can do.”
He did, slowly, teasingly, popping buttons about one every five minutes, or so it felt to Will. His arousal had vanished in an instant when James threw him on the bed. But it returned quickly, hotter than before. His pants grew highly uncomfortable, and he squirmed to adjust himself. When he reached to undo them, James frowned.
“My job,” he said. He slipped his unbuttoned shirt off and tossed it onto a chair. Will had appreciated James’s body in the arena, but that was a different thing from having his warm, dark skin, tattoos and all, close enough to reach out and touch. He appreciated that on a whole other level.
James sat on the bed and Will joined him. This time the kiss was slow and teasing and delicious. James took Will in his arms, and his strength was arousing, not frightening. Will slid his hands up James’s arms and over his shoulders, around his neck to pull him closer, pull him down, half on top of Will, not pinning him.
“For God’s sake, get me out of these pants,” Will pleaded. “I’m going to suffer a permanent injury.”