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'Coming through!' Lena clapped one hand over her eyes and pushed the changing room door open. She always sang out the warning, giving them time to cover up if they wanted. Some did, most no longer bothered. Eighteen months in the job and they were so used to her being around she might as well be wallpaper. But today she was in and out more than usual, and they were in and out of clothes more than usual, too.
She peeked through her fingers and registered that they were out of their clothes at the momentbut that they'd towels round their waists. Short towels. Dropping her hand from her face, she lifted the heavy bag off her shoulder and started pulling out the contents. 'I've got the next lotyou want them now?'
'Not yet, it's the shower shot,' Ty, the team captain, answered for everyone.
'Oh, okay.' She dropped the handful of shorts and looked up to find a place to leave the bag. And froze. Silently she swivelled her eyeballs left to right and back again and refused to let her reaction show.
Because nineteen nearly naked guys now surrounded her. Closely surrounded her.
Lena called on all her internal discipline to keep her focus up on their mischievous faces. The temptation to ogle was always therehow could it not be? They were championship-winning athletes with the megamuscles to prove it and no red-blooded woman could be immune to the urge to admire.
Lena was as red-blooded as any other woman. She just pretended not to be.
She narrowed her gaze because they were all grinning at her and stepping closer still, tightening the circle. Yep, she was in the middle of the men's changing room, in the middle of a rugby scrum. While there might be thousands of women in the world who'd beg to be in that exact positionsans the towelsshe wasn't one of them.
'What are you doing?' she demanded, affecting a long-suffering big-sister tone.
'We need your help,' Ty answered for them all again, too innocently.
She handed him the bag in the hope he'd step back and take the others with him. 'I've got to go and get the shirts. I'm just getting creases out of a couple of them.'
Her job description included that nebulous sentence 'other duties as required', and this one day of the year that meant playing the part of wardrobe mistress while the Silver Knights endured the photo shoot for their annual calendar.
'We need you to do something else first,' Jimmy, the first five-eighth, spoke up.
'The photographer says we have to glisten.'
Lena closed her mouth and took a microsecond to keep cool. Then she asked for clarification. 'Glisten?'
Jimmy nodded and held up a bottle. Baby oil. 'All over the torso.'
'You can rub it on each other.' She bit back an add-on comment about them liking grappling each other out there in the mud. She never let sassy snark out in the stadium; professionally polite was how she played it. once she got to know the newbies she was friendly in a sisterly way, but, until then, pretty frigid.
'We've got ball shots coming up straight after.' They glanced at each other and smirked. 'We'd lose our grip if we get that oil on our hands. Too slippery.'
Slippery, huh? With balls. Oh, they were appalling today.
Lena might not be interested but she was human and being surrounded by nineteen nearly naked, extremely buff sports stars would make any woman break into a sweat. Lena point-blank refused to sweat but, even so, her temperature slid up a notch. 'Just wash your hands,' she slowly stated the obvious solution.
'It doesn't work.' Ty rubbed the tips of his fingers in her face as if to show how slippery they still were.
'You have to help us,' Max, one of the props, pleaded with puppy-style eyes. 'I mean, we could get the photographer to do it but..' He trailed off.
She knew these ultra-competitive jocks liked to tease. She had their respect. They always listened to her work requests and refrained from the worst of their laddishness around her, but she also knew they urged any new recruit to have a crack at asking her out. It seemed being shot down by her was some kind of initiation ritual for the young bloods. So she never failed to disappoint and said no to everyone. Truthfully, gorgeous as they were, she didn't want to date any of them. Driven, elite demigods never prioritised girlfriends, and in her next relationshipwhich would be years from now anywayshe was totally being the top priority. Not to mention, the only woman. Three was so a crowd.
Besides, it wasn't as if they actually wanted to date her. She wasn't some to-die-for babe, it was simply another game for them, not anything to take seriously or be flattered by.
But facing this prank now, she refused to be flustered, wouldn't blush or giggle or do anything girly. She knew what they were waiting forthe usual clipped brush-off. But they'd just gone a step too far and for once she wasn't going to play the way they expected. They wanted her to rub baby oil all over their torsos?
'Sure, no problem.' She held her hand out for the bottle.
Their eyes widened.
'You will?' the guy in front gasped.
Yeah, they'd never have thought she'd say yes. Not when it was her personal policy never to get within two feet of any of them.
'Of course.' She flipped the lid of the bottle and squirted oil into her hand. 'Other duties as required, right?' She stepped up. 'But of course I could sue you guys for sexual harassment ' She paused for effect, then slapped her palm hard on the first broad chest in front of her.
She felt the wince, registered the sudden total silence and suppressed her smile. Yeah, now they were worried.
'It's not like you're the one having to pose almost nude for pictures for people to pin up on their wall,' the puppy-eyed prop managed to wheeze. 'If that's not sexual harassment I don't know what is.'
Lena raised her brows. She squeezed the bottle again. 'That's the price, boys. Fame costs '
'And we're paying.' The next in line winced as she smacked her oil-slicked hand onto him.
With ruthless efficiency she slapped and swiped oil over the broad bare skin in swift strokes. It took mere moments to get through each in total scary-school-nurse fashion.
'Are you guys ready yet?' The photographer appeared from the tunnel entrance, accompanied by Dion, the stadium's new CEO.
'Almost,' the last one croaked.
'Right,' Lena said briskly, glancing around. They stood silent and wide-eyed. She saw one of them pressing a hand to his chest where she might have slapped him a little too hard. She tightly pulled in her mouth to stop from laughing, because despite her efforts to prove the contrary, she was human and she had to react to this. But she had to be alone before she could.
'What are you waiting for?' She blasted through the stunned tableau to get to the door she'd come through. 'I'll be back with the shirts in a mo.'
She walked then, her high heels clipping quickly on the concrete floor, because she was a breath away from losing it.
Six paces along the safe corridor she heard it. The riot as they howled. She stopped to listen. Holding her still oil-slicked hands away from her dress, she leaned back on the cool wall, closed her eyes and succumbed to it herself.
Laughterthe husky, thoroughly entertained, wicked laughter that she'd been holding in too tight for too long.
The rogues. The looks on their faces had been priceless and she wished she'd said what she really thought and given them a sassy smack-down. Still, a literal smack or two had been just as satisfying. Her shoulders and ribs shook and her tummy ached, she laughed so hard. Finally she drew in a deep calming breath and opened her eyes.
'Hey!' She flinched, bumping the back of her head on the wall. A stranger was standing right in front of her, closer than the buff rugby boys had been only a few minutes before. She looked at the cool blue eyes boring right through her. Oh, my word. It took less than a second to take in the symmetry of his face, the darkness of his brows above, the curve of the mouth below the vivid, intensely focused eyes.less than a second to clock his height, breadth, strength less than a second to be overwhelmed by a totally gorgeous stranger and less than a second for her body to react.
She might have felt a slight warmth in the change room, but her temperature rocket-shot now. A wholly womanly reactionshe burned hot, twitchy, pulsing to life. Which was really, really unusual. She was immune to feeling interest in any of these arrogant athletes, right? She had to be to work here. She pressed harder against the cold concrete, but he didn't step back.
'Been having fun?' It was a drawl. Low, confident, ever so slightly needling.
He was sizing her up. And she narrowed in on the vibe.disapproving?
Lena's ability to give her customary ice-cold response left the building. Having this random, dead-sexy stranger look at her as if she were the groupie she sure as hell was never going to be kindled a spark of damn-you defiance. She looked up at him and suggestively curved her mouth.
'Like you wouldn't believe,' she drawled right back at him.
His eyes narrowed the merest fraction. Oh, yeah, she'd just confirmed his worst suspicions. He did think she was a groupie. So wrong. The new boy needed whipping.
'Should you be down here?' he asked, still not moving out of her personal space. 'I thought this was a restricted area.'
'I guess that depends on who you know,' she said softly, totally unsubtly.
'How many do you know?'
'Oh, I know all of them,' she answered slowly. 'Real well.'
She didn't even have to try to sound husky, her voice just happened that way. The laughter from the change room echoed againsexually appreciative, masculine amusement.
The stranger's brows flicked. 'And a good time was had by everyone.'
Lena parted her lips a hopefully imperceptible amountjust so she could breathe. She touched the tip of her tongue to them, too, because they were drier than wood dust. She still couldn't break from the prison of his gaze, but he had to be kidding. Did he really think she'd been in there getting an entire rugby team off? Oh, he'd pay for that. She managed another raspy reply. 'You have no idea how good.'
He stepped closer, putting one hand on the wall beside her head. 'Tell me.'
Stunned, her senses flaring, she absorbed his taunting, low invitation. The sudden wicked glint in his eye unlocked some dam hidden deep within her. It burst free, the sensation that had long been buried, picking up the pace of her pulse until it pounded and sent heat steaming through her entire system. Her mad moment of tease in the change room was nothing on the temptation before her now. Her inner imp crossed right over from smart'n'sassy, to out-and-out wicked. The urge to shock this one man was irresistible.
'You know, everyone says that it's guys who are visually stimulated,' she said faux thoughtfully. 'That for women arousal is all between the ears or something.'
'And that's not true?'
'No.' She shook her head, but still couldn't break the eye contact. 'We're visual. We love to look every bit as much as you do. And a whole room full of beautiful naked men?' she purred. 'I haven't got a brain cell left.'
The corners of his eyes crinkled as his mouth smirked up. 'Did you ever have a brain cell?'
'Well' she bit her lip and positively batted her lashes at him 'only a couple.'
'And now they're fried?'
'To a crisp,' she whispered breathily.
'The whole team, huh?' Something danced in his eyes.
'Oh, yes,' she sighed. And then she smiled, because she suddenly had it, the way in which she was going to teach this guy the lesson he so badly needed. She reached two inches forward and took hold of his beautifully tailored, no doubt horrifically expensive, jacket. She lifted her face nearer to his as she confirmed breathlessly, 'I had my hands on every single one of them.'
'Did you, now?' He didn't pull back; in fact he leaned closer. Which was just perfect, because she could smooth her hands on him without him really seeing.
Her oily, slippery hands.
'You've no idea, the excitement ' She gazed at him, not realising she'd trailed off. His smile had widened, sparkling up his expression, and the effect was frankly mesmerising.
'You know what?' His voice dropped as he leaned to a mere millimetre away and full out mesmerised her even more. 'I don't believe you.'
She was surprised, and her eyes widened, but she twisted her fingers in the soft, luxurious fabric. 'I never lie.' Not now, she'd learned the lesson hard.
He planted his other hand on the wall beside her. Now she was trapped and the length of his body was a shiver away from the length of hers. Lena was having a time suppressing that shiver. Her breathing spiked as she tried to slow her pulse and pull her brain back from beyond.
She figured he was a new recruit, or a player from another club visiting. He was tall enough, had the shoulders, not to mention the arrogance..
'So you've been kissing all those boys in there?' he asked, his gaze intent and unwavering.
She flicked her brows.
They were nearly nose to nose, his blue-eyed focus still intense, but now blatantly sensual and filled with amusement. It magnified her attraction to him. Bones, muscles, braineverything melted. His expression was different from anything she'd seen in anyone on the teamdespite all the invitations. This guy was so focused, so, so intent on her. She could hardly breathe.
'If you'd really been kissing them,' he said, 'I'd see it on your face. But your lipstick is immaculate.'
'Maybe I reapplied.'
'Your lips aren't swollen, your skin isn't flushed, your eyes don't have that gleam.'
His words stoked the insane reactions occurring within her bodyher lower belly had become an inferno and it was almost impossible to remain still. The urge to be exceptionally wicked had to be held in place somehow. Except she didn't know how. All she knew was that she was answering him back again. 'I've got a quick recovery. It's necessary, you know, when you take on so many at once. A girl like me has stamina.'
'Oh, you do?' He sounded pleased. 'Then one more isn't going to make much difference, is it?' She froze. 'One more what?'
Her words may or may not have been audible. Who cared? Because at that moment he moved that shiver closer.
His lips caught hers on the full, claiming complete possession. She didn't even think to stop him. For a moment pure shock immobilised her, sending her strength someplace else. She melted, thankful for the wall behind holding her up.