A vacation to the sunny, seaside, resort city of Durres, Albania puts some space between Henrick Kohler and his closeted ex, Klaus, giving him time to get his life back together. While there a chance run-in with superstar footballer, Valentino ‘Tino’ Alessi, sends Henrick running in the other direction. With no intention of being either another notch in someone’s bedpost or their secret lover, he offers friendship but nothing more. He doesn’t want to risk his heart with what he sees as just another Klaus, but with the added ability to ruin his life on a much more spectacular level.
Tino can’t catch a break, even doing a nice thing for a fan lands him in hot water. When he’s suspended until his latest mess is straightened out, Tino does the only thing he can think of—he goes holiday home hunting in his favorite resort town. Tino falls hard and fast for the blond Austrian who wants nothing to do with him romantically, but he accepts the offer of friendship when his efforts to woo Henrick get him nowhere.
Friendship is what they agree to, but both men realize there’s just something there neither of them can deny. What will it take for them to overcome everything and realize there’s no time like the present to grab on to what they want?
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|Publisher:||NineStar Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)|
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STRONG HANDS GRIPPED Henrick's slim hips and lifted him, effectively breaking the connection between him and the man beneath. Henrick slumped forward to land on the broad chest of his current lover, Klaus, who easily rolled them to the side before completely disengaging and getting out of bed. Henrick sighed and rolled onto his stomach.
"Going to shower." The way Klaus said it made clear there wasn't an invitation for Henrick to join him hidden in the words — not that he'd expected Klaus to ask him to share the shower, but a change in routine wouldn't hurt.
Henrick grunted in acknowledgment and folded his arms under his head as the shower started in the adjoining room. He was beginning to drift off just a little by the time Klaus emerged from the bathroom, vigorously rubbing his short brown hair with a towel. Klaus threw the used linen onto the bedroom floor before bending to retrieve his boxers. Henrick watched as the muscular man pulled them up over long, well-toned legs, but then to Henrick's surprise, Klaus sat on the bed, stretched out, and leaned against the headboard near Henrick's feet. He reached for the remote and turned on the television.
"Are you going to shower?" he asked, as he settled on a sports channel.
"Mmmm, probably, but don't want to move yet." Henrick almost purred when Klaus started stroking his thigh absentmindedly as he watched the sports news.
"Wore you out, did I?" Klaus couldn't hide the hint of pride in his voice. Henrick snorted but nodded — never hurt to stroke a man's ego a little. "Rest a bit then."
Henrick was once again half-asleep when Klaus's softly muttered "What's the jackass done this time?" startled him awake.
"Who?" Henrick knew Klaus was passionate about his football and followed several of the players on his favorite teams.
"Alessi. That ass is in trouble again."
Henrick studied his bed partner's profile as the sports news anchor's voice announced in the tone – of what Henrick thought was barely disguised glee — they reserved for bad news.
"Valentino Alessi, the bad boy of the Bundesliga, is at it again. This morning, headlines across Europe were accompanied by pictures of the league's number-one striker entering a hotel room in Rome with two girls who, upon further investigation, turned out to be underaged. Articles in both the Sun Times of London and the Morning Press of Rome detailed the entire event from when Alessi met the girls in the hotel restaurant until he exited their hotel room over two hours later. The girls' names haven't been released, since they are minors, but so far the children's parents have not responded to repeated requests from the media as to their awareness of the incident. Roman police chief, Antonio Scalari, said in a statement to press that the situation is being looked into, and if it is deemed necessary, the appropriate charges will be filed. This isn't the first time Alessi's come under fire for his indiscretions in the bedroom. It's only been a year and a half since Paulo Gianotti stepped ..."
"I hope that bastard gets what's coming to him," Klaus growled, drowning out the news anchor.
"I'm sure they need to wait until all the facts are in before they can hang the man." Henrick pushed himself up and got out of bed. He was no fan of Valentino Alessi, but he wasn't ready to pronounce guilt on the say-so of the media. "I'm going to shower now." Klaus waved him away and turned his attention back to the TV after only one quick glance at Henrick's ass.
After showering, Henrick was prepared to dress and leave since that was how his hookups with Klaus usually went, but he was surprised to find Klaus still lying on the bed in his underwear when he'd finished in the bathroom. Henrick stepped up to the side of the bed next to Klaus and looked down at him. "Aren't we leaving?"
Klaus put a finger inside the towel cinched around Henrick's waist and pulled him closer. "I thought maybe we could order some dinner from room service. We need to talk." One hand wandered across Henrick's hip and then back to squeeze one of his ass cheeks.
Henrick didn't like the sound of that. Neither the getting a meal together after sex nor the "we need to talk" was anything Henrick wanted to hear out of Klaus's mouth. They never spent any time out of the bed together after sex unless it was on the rare business trip they took together where they ended up sharing a room. The last time they'd needed to talk, Klaus told Henrick he was dating Lydia in accounting. So needing to talk never meant anything good. The two things combined caused a deep sense of foreboding to creep into Henrick's body.
"You don't have to buy me dinner to tell me it's over." Henrick tried not to sound upset at the prospect.
Klaus released Henrick's ass and grabbed his hand instead as he tried to turn away. "Who said it was over?"
"Did you rent the room for the whole night?" Henrick asked as his breath quickened.
Klaus frowned. "I did because I thought it being Friday and all that we could make a night of it." He made it sound as if it was something they did all the time.
Henrick shook his head. "No, the last time we spent an entire night together was when you convinced me that you dating Lydia was just for your public image so it wasn't really cheating when we were together." The sour taste in his mouth proved just how dirty it still made him feel to be fucking a man who was in a relationship — fake or not. If Henrick had been in Lydia's place, he wouldn't see it as any less than cheating on Klaus's part.
Releasing Henrick's hand, Klaus turned to sit on the side of the bed. "It's not cheating. I'm not in love with her, and you know that. But I can't get anywhere with the company if I'm not on track socially. Do you think I want to be stuck in this position forever? If I want to move up, I need to do something that will make it easier for me to do so."
Henrick turned away from Klaus because he knew what they needed to talk about now, and he didn't want Klaus to see the tears he knew would come after Klaus said the words. "Okay, so tell me what it is exactly you need to do to get that promotion you want so badly."
Klaus cleared his throat, a nervous habit that meant bad news was on its way. It was one Henrick knew all too well. "I've asked Lydia to marry me."
Henrick deflated, and his shoulders sagged under the weight of rejection. It was what he'd expected but had hoped wouldn't happen. "So that's it then. This was supposed to be some kind of last hurrah before you went off to find wedded bliss in the arms of a woman you claim to have no feelings for." He couldn't pretend that he didn't care because he did — a lot.
Suddenly Klaus was behind him. Henrick tried to step away, but he was no match for the powerful arms holding him against a sturdy body almost twice his size. "Henrick, there's no need to be so dramatic. Nothing has to change between us. I still want you, and I can always get away to meet up with you." As if that was the answer to all the problems Henrick had with him marrying Lydia. Henrick realized Klaus just didn't get it.
He struggled, but Klaus wouldn't let him go free. "Klaus, let me go. If you marry Lydia, this is the last time you'll be with me. I won't fuck a married man. You know I had issues even when you were just dating her, but once you take vows I can't in good conscience help you cheat on her." Klaus finally released him with a little shove that made him stumble before he caught his balance.
"You can't blackmail me into not marrying her. If it's you or her, then I'll choose her," Klaus spat bitterly.
"I'm not trying to blackmail you. I knew this thing we had was just sex. You were never in it for anything other than getting off as often and as quickly as possible. You made that abundantly clear, but I'm still not going to be your something on the side when you're a married man." Each word that came out of his mouth stabbed him a little deeper because he'd hoped one day Klaus would change his mind and actually want a real relationship.
"You're being unreasonable, Henrick. What difference do a few words and a couple of rings make?" Klaus rubbed at his stubbled jaw in obvious frustration.
Turning to look Klaus in the eyes, Henrick wanted to make sure his words were heard clearly and understood fully. "They make a world of difference to me." They meant his dream of one day being the one Klaus chose to have a life with was over. He'd have to stop kidding himself about there being anything behind those occasional soft looks Klaus gave him. He needed to move on because now that Klaus had actually said he'd choose Lydia when push came to shove, he knew he would never come in first in Klaus's life, and surely he deserved to be number one in someone's life.
"You're making this all about you. What about what I need? Do you ever think about how difficult this is for me?" Klaus sounded like a petulant child.
The anger rose hard and fast in Henrick's chest. "Are you kidding me? All I ever do is think about what you want. You wanted to keep this on the down low, so I haven't told a single soul about who I'm always sneaking out to see. For over two years now, I've kept your secret. You wanted to keep this thing between us just physical, no emotions, just meaningless sex, and I went along with that too. But you've crossed the line now by asking me to do something against my morals, so what — so that you can have the best of both worlds?" Henrick wanted to throw the question back in Klaus's face and ask, What about me? What about what he wanted? But he didn't because he knew Klaus didn't care about anyone except himself.
He'd kept his voice low to avoid sounding shrill and hysterical, but he could feel himself balancing on the edge of a cliff. Bending to pick up his discarded clothes, he knew he needed to get out of the room before he said something that would reveal his feelings to Klaus. It didn't matter how hard he'd tried to keep his emotions out of the bedroom, somewhere along the way he'd fallen in love with the big clueless oaf. If Henrick were being honest, Klaus's obliviousness to his feelings hurt more than his finally choosing Lydia.
Klaus grabbed ahold of Henrick's shirt as he tried to pull it over his head, making him scowl at the other man, but Klaus didn't let go as he started talking. "Just stay for a bit. We can talk this through, and you'll see that I'm not asking you to do anything more than what you have been doing. I like you, Henrick. I enjoy the time we've spent together. I realize I should have given you more to keep you happy with our arrangement. I've been selfish. I see that now, and I'm prepared to give you more of what you need. We can spend more time together, not just fucking; maybe we can catch a movie or a game, sort of like a date."
Klaus's voice had taken on a wheedling quality, which Henrick hated because he almost always gave in to it. Not this time, he told himself, as he ripped his shirt out of Klaus's grasp. He wanted to scream that it was too little too late in Klaus's face, but he held back. "I don't think that's such a good idea. What if someone starts questioning you hanging out with the gay guy from the office? What will your wife think of that?" Henrick sneered instead as he pulled the shirt on. After jamming his legs into his jeans, he buttoned them with trembling hands as he waited for Klaus to say something more.
"Maybe you should just think about my offer and get back to me." Klaus crossed his beefy arms over his chest and leaned against the wall as if it was no big deal that he was breaking Henrick's heart.
"Oh, I'll think about it all right." Henrick's anger boiled over into rage, and he needed to get out of there, away from Klaus to somewhere he could let his emotions out. "I'll think about it while I'm out cruising for a new cock." He stuffed his socks into his jeans pockets and his bare feet into his shoes before turning on his heel and opening the door.
"You'll regret leaving like this, Henrick. I know you have feelings for me —"
Stepping into the hallway, Henrick slammed the door on whatever else Klaus had been about to say. He was done hiding in the closet with someone who didn't even love him enough to make it worth the hassle of keeping it a secret. After exiting the hotel, he flagged down a taxi, gave his address to the driver, and sat back in the seat to avoid conversation with the cabbie so he could think. He needed to fix his life. He had plenty of friends and friends-with-benefits all over Europe, but that wasn't enough anymore. Henrick wanted someone who would put him first for once — someone who loved him more than everything else in their life. Was that asking too much, just to be the most important thing to one person? Henrick didn't think it was and made a vow right there in the back of that cab. Henrick Kohler wasn't going to settle for second best any longer.
VALENTINO ALESSI SLUMPED into the soft leather of the big chair. He knew why he'd been summoned to his agent's office and also why the team manager was there, looking constipated while he waited for Tino to get comfortable. His agent leaned forward, elbows on the desk and hands clasped beneath his chin. Tino braced himself.
"Okay, Tino, let's hear it. Why are there pictures of you going into and then, after a time long enough that it suggests you were not just signing a couple of autographs, coming out of a hotel room with two underaged girls on the cover of every tabloid from here to Sweden?" Bernardo Calivari asked the question even though he'd already heard the story from Tino earlier.
Bernardo was naturally Tino's first call after being awakened at seven the previous morning by the ringing of his phone to find it was a reporter wanting an exclusive on the next chapter in Tino's scandal-prone career. Bernardo was only having Tino repeat the story for the benefit of the team's manager, Martin Trumm, who'd flown into Rome just to meet with them so he could hear Tino's excuses in person. It was a show and Tino knew he had to play along.
"They came up to me in the hotel's restaurant and asked me if I'd go back to their room to meet their little brother who's terminally ill. I went. The parents were in the room with the kid. All you have to do is call them and ask." Tino was concise and to the point as he watched Martin's face for a reaction, but the guy was unreadable as always.
"You know who that family was, right?" Martin asked.
"I do now." And Tino knew why there was such an uproar because Herr Friedberg was the owner of one of the most successful snack food companies in Germany, but he was also a very private man. When he met the man, Tino had no idea he was in the presence of such power and wealth. The family had been polite, and the young boy was just as starstruck by a famous footballer as any other eleven-year-old boy Tino had met.
"Then you know that if this turns sour you'll be in a very bad position," Martin said.
"Like I said, all you have to do is call Herr Friedberg, and he should be able to tell you he was there along with his family when I went into that room." Tino had no idea why making a phone call to clear his name seemed to be such a hardship for the two men.
Bernardo cleared his throat to get everyone's attention. "I've already tried contacting Herr Friedberg's office in Berlin but was informed that he's handed operations over to his partner for the time being. I asked if there was a way to get in touch with him, but I was informed that Herr Friedberg and his family have taken a vacation to their private island. The only way to contact them there is to send a message along on the ferry that goes out to the island carrying supplies every other day, but the man himself left instructions that they are not to be disturbed for any reason." Bernardo pulled a couple of papers out of a stack and looked at them before he shook his head and lay them back down. "Apparently his sickly son has taken a turn for the worse, and the family has gone there to grant his final wish to visit his favorite place one last time. I'm not sure how reliable my source is on this last bit, but I've been told that the boy is not expected to live much longer, and I don't think it would be wise to try to contact —"
"But just a quick call couldn't hurt," Tino interrupted. He knew it was selfish, but he was only thinking of all the crap about to come his way over the press's allegations if something wasn't done quickly.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Calling the Ball"
Copyright © 2018 CL Mustafic.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
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