Pro hockey star Shane Hollander isn’t just crazy talented, he’s got a spotless reputation. Hockey is his life. Now that he’s captain of the Montreal Voyageurs, he won’t let anything jeopardize that, especially the sexy Russian whose hard body keeps him awake at night.
Boston Bears captain Ilya Rozanov is everything Shane’s not. The self-proclaimed king of the ice, he’s as cocky as he is talented. No one can beat him—except Shane. They’ve made a career on their legendary rivalry, but when the skates come off, the heat between them is undeniable. When Ilya realizes he wants more than a few secret hookups, he knows he must walk away. The risk is too great.
As their attraction intensifies, they struggle to keep their relationship out of the public eye. If the truth comes out, it could ruin them both. But when their need for each other rivals their ambition on the ice, secrecy is no longer an option…
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December 2008 — Regina
Ilya Rozanov trudged through the bitter cold of the hotel parking lot to the team bus. Like most of his teammates, it was his first time in North America. He had expected to feel more overwhelmed by that, but Saskatchewan was hardly New York City. Here, there was nothing to focus on but cold and hockey, and those were two things that Russians were very familiar with.
It was two days before Christmas, but for the world's best teenage hockey players, Christmas meant the World Junior Hockey Championships. For Ilya, it meant the chance to finally get a firsthand look at Shane Hollander.
There had been much made of the seventeen-year-old Canadian phenom. Ilya was sick of hearing the name, which had caused such a stir in the hockey world that even Moscow wasn't far enough to escape the hype. Both Ilya and Hollander were eligible for the NHL entry draft that coming June, and they were already expected to be the number one and two overall picks. The expected order of those two picks depended on who you asked.
Ilya knew his answer.
He had never met Shane Hollander. Never played against him. But he was already determined to destroy him.
He would start by leading Russia to a gold medal victory, here in Hollander's own country. Then he would lead his team back in Moscow to their championship. And then, surely, he would be chosen first in the draft. This was the year of Ilya Rozanov. Since he was twelve years old, 2009 had always been the year he was expected to burst onto the world stage. No Canadian pretender would change that.
The Russian team arrived at the rink for their scheduled practice at the tail end of the Canadian team's. Ilya paused with some of his teammates to watch the Canadians run drills. The practice jerseys didn't have names on them, so he couldn't pick out Hollander before he was told by his assistant coach to get his ass into the dressing room. The schedule at the practice rink was very tight.
They took to the ice as soon as it had been cleared by the Zamboni. The rink was small, and kind of dumpy. The actual games would be in the large arena downtown. There were a few people sitting in the stands, watching the Russian team practice. Some scouts, no doubt, and the few family members who had actually made the trip from Russia, as well as several local hardcore hockey fans.
Halfway through the practice, Ilya noticed a young man sitting a few rows above the penalty box, wearing a Team Canada ball cap and jacket. He was flanked by a man and a woman, who were probably his parents. It was hard to tell from the ice, but Ilya thought it might be Hollander. His mother was Japanese or something, right? He was sure he had read that somewhere ...
"Care to join us, Rozanov?" his coach bellowed in Russian across the ice. Ilya turned, embarrassed to find the rest of his teammates huddled around the coach.
He didn't like that Hollander — if that was Hollander — was here watching them. Or maybe he did. Maybe Hollander was nervous about facing him later in the tournament. Maybe he felt threatened.
After the practice, Ilya showered and dressed quickly. He headed back out into the rink to stand behind the glass and look at the stands. Hollander and his parents were gone. The Slovakian team had taken to the ice for their practice.
Ilya shrugged and made his way to a vending machine. He bought himself a bottle of Coke and wondered if he could slip outside for a quick smoke before getting back on the bus.
He zipped his Team Russia parka up to his chin and slipped out a side door. It was cold as fuck outside. He pressed himself against the wall of the brick building, stuffed his Coke into his coat pocket, and pulled out a cigarette and a lighter.
"You're supposed to smoke over there," someone said. It took Ilya a moment to translate all of the words.
He turned to see the person that he now definitely recognized as Shane Hollander. He had a very distinct look. Some of his features were clearly from his mother — jet-black hair and very dark eyes — but his father was of some bland, Anglo-European heritage, so Hollander didn't look exactly Asian. His skin, however, was flawless. Distractingly so. Smooth and tan with — and this was his most striking feature — a smattering of dark freckles across his nose and cheekbones.
"What?" Ilya said. Even the single word sounded stupid with his accent.
"The smoking area is over there." Hollander pointed to a far corner of the parking lot, next to a large snow-bank. It looked very windy there.
Ilya settled back against the wall and lit his cigarette. This fucking country. Bad enough he couldn't smoke indoors anywhere — he needed to go sit in the fucking snow while he did it?
"I'm surprised you smoke," Hollander said.
"Okay," Ilya said, exhaling a long stream of smoke between his lips. There was an uncomfortable silence, and then Hollander made another attempt at conversation.
"I wanted to meet you," he said, extending his hand. "Shane Hollander."
Ilya stared at him, and then felt his lips twitch a bit.
"Yes," he said. He pinched the cigarette between his lips and shook Hollander's hand.
"You're an awesome player to watch," Hollander said.
"I know." If Hollander was expecting Ilya to return the compliment, he was going to be waiting a long damn time.
When Ilya didn't say anything else, Hollander changed the subject. "Are your parents here with you?"
"Oh. That must be rough. With Christmas and everything."
Ilya struggled a bit to translate so many words, then said, "Is fine."
Hollander shoved his hands in his jacket pockets. "It's cold, huh?"
They leaned against the wall together, side-by-side. Ilya rolled his head against the brick to look down at Hollander, who stood a good four inches shorter than him. He was very interesting to look at. His cheeks were rosy from the cold, and his breath was emerging in white clouds from between his pink lips.
"Next year these are gonna be in Ottawa. My hometown," Hollander said.
Ilya finished his cigarette and dropped the butt on the ground. He decided to make an effort, since this guy seemed so determined to talk to him. "Is Ottawa more exciting?"
Hollander laughed. "Than here? I don't know. A little. It's just as cold."
"Your parents are here."
"For this? Yeah. They're here. They always try to come see me play wherever I go."
"Nice for you."
"Yeah. I know. They're great."
Ilya didn't have anything to add to that, so he stayed silent.
"I should probably go. They're waiting for me," Hollander said. He moved away from the wall and turned to face Ilya. Ilya's eyes went right to those damn freckles. Hollander stuck out his hand again.
"Good luck in the tournament," he said.
Ilya accepted the handshake and grinned. "You will not be so friendly when we beat you."
"That's not happening."
Ilya knew that Hollander truly believed that. That he would get the gold medal and be the NHL's number one draft pick because he was the fucking prince of hockey.
Maybe Hollander expected Ilya to wish him luck as well, but Ilya just dropped his hand and turned to go back inside the rink.
In the car, Shane told his parents that he had been talking to Ilya Rozanov.
"What's he like?" his mother asked.
"Kind of a dick," Shane said.
When the final game of the tournament was over, the Canadian team had to suffer one more humiliation. The Russians stopped celebrating long enough to line up so the teams could shake each other's hands — a show of sportsmanship that, at that moment, Shane did not feel in his heart.
For one thing, the Russian team had been dirty. He had hated playing against them.
For another thing, Ilya Rozanov was really fucking good. Infuriatingly good. And over the course of the tournament, the media had put a lot of effort into building up their rivalry. Shane tried to ignore the press, but it was possible that they were stoking the flames of his hatred.
When he reached Rozanov in the handshake lineup, he could see camera flashes all around them. He made sure he looked Rozanov right in the eye when he tersely said, "Congratulations."
Rozanov smirked and said, "See you at the draft."
They hung a silver medal around Shane's neck that may as well have been a dead rat, for all he wanted it. He respectfully endured the playing of the Russian national anthem, blinking back frustrated tears that he refused to let fall, and then he was finally allowed to leave the ice.
It wasn't supposed to have gone like this. He was supposed to have led his country to gold in his country. It was what the nation had expected. Canada's hopes had been heaped onto his seventeen-year-old shoulders and he had let them all down.
Every face-off he had taken against Rozanov, the Russian had looked him dead in the eye and smirked. Shane was not easily shaken by anyone, but that goddamn smirk threw him off balance every time.
Maybe it was just that, after a life of playing at a level above everyone else, Shane had finally met his match.
He was sure that was all it was.CHAPTER 2
June 2009 — Los Angeles
"Shane, could you move a little closer to Ilya, please?"
Shane felt Ilya Rozanov's arm brush against his as he stepped closer to him for the photographer.
"That's perfect. All right, smile, boys."
Shane's eyes were bombarded with camera flashes. He stood pressed against Rozanov, who seemed to have grown another couple of inches since January. To Rozanov's right was a giant American defenseman named Sullivan, who had been drafted third overall by Phoenix.
Rozanov had been drafted first.
Shane had spent the past six months since the World Juniors being a little bit ... obsessed ... with Ilya Rozanov. They had quite a bit in common, career-wise. They were both the captains of their respective teams, and had both led their teams to the championship this season. Both men had been named league and playoff MVPs, and both had been the scoring leaders of their respective leagues. The only difference between them was that Shane had a silver medal at home, and Rozanov had gold.
And now Shane had come in second place again. After a life of always coming first in hockey.
This fucking guy.
It wasn't all bad. Shane had been drafted by the Montreal Voyageurs, who, besides being the most legendary franchise in the league, were also only an hour's drive from his hometown of Ottawa. It was a good fit for Shane, who was fluent in both French and English, and who had always had a lot of respect for the Voyageurs, despite having grown up an Ottawa fan. But still. Being picked second stung.
Adding to the drama of the day was the fact that Rozanov had been drafted by Montreal's archrivals, the Boston Bears. Shane knew his career was now going to be inescapably linked to Rozanov's. If one of them had been drafted by a team in the Western Conference, maybe the rivalry would never have gotten off the ground. But this was going to be intense.
Which didn't mean that Shane couldn't be polite to Rozanov now.
"Congratulations," he said, turning to shake Rozanov's hand when the photographers were done.
There was a definite smugness in Rozanov's smile when he said, "Thank you."
Rozanov didn't congratulate Shane. Instead, he patted Shane's fucking shoulder, like he was consoling a child who had struck out at Little League. Shane jerked away from his touch, and was about to say something that was decidedly less polite than "congratulations," but they were both immediately pulled away in opposite directions for interviews.
Shane didn't see Rozanov again until he was back at the hotel. The lobby was packed with athletic young men in suits, but even in that crowd Rozanov stood out. He was one of the taller men there, and cleaned up — with his dark navy suit hugging his body — he looked like a GQ model.
Shane felt short. He had turned eighteen last month, but he felt like a kid.
Rozanov had turned eighteen too. Just last week. Which Shane knew because he was obsessed with him.
That night, in his private hotel room (his proud parents were across the hall), Shane couldn't sleep.
It had been an exhausting day, and, yes, he had been drafted by the NHL. He had achieved the thing he had worked his whole life toward. And being chosen second overall was nothing to sulk about.
He wasn't sulking. Not really. He was just ... bothered. By something.
He sighed and rolled out of bed. He threw on some sweats and his sneakers and headed down to the hotel gym. Maybe he could shut his mind off with some exercise.
The gym was mercifully empty. Shane stepped onto one of the two treadmills and started running at a gentle pace. He didn't wear headphones; he just lost himself in the noise of the machine.
He didn't notice when someone else entered the gym. He only realized he wasn't alone when the other man stepped onto the treadmill next to him.
Ilya Rozanov gave him a quick nod and turned to face the white wall at the front of the room as he started running alongside Shane.
Shane tried to ignore Rozanov's presence. There was nothing weird about it; he must have been having trouble sleeping too. Or maybe he always hit the gym after midnight. Or maybe the time zone was messing with him. Or maybe ...
Rozanov increased the speed on his machine. He didn't glance at Shane at all. Because Shane was petty and competitive, he increased the speed on his own machine ... just a little faster than Rozanov's.
Within a minute, Rozanov did the same thing, raising the bar and silently waiting for Shane to match him. Shane glanced over and saw a slight smirk on Rozanov's lips. Shane shook his head and fought his own smile. He cranked up the speed.
They kept on this way, caught in a silent battle, until they were both testing the limits of their machines. They were running at a sprint pace for far longer than was comfortable, and Shane's entire body was burning in protest. But he didn't want to stop, or even slow down, until Rozanov did. Rozanov smoked, for fuck's sake. Shane could beat him.
But Rozanov showed no signs of quitting.
They kept up that pace for another minute or two, and Shane finally slammed his hand on the emergency stop button and stumbled off. He leaned against the back wall, gasping for breath, before sliding down to sit on the floor. Rozanov stopped his own machine, and was holding on to the console for support.
"Fuck," Shane wheezed. Rozanov laughed and sat himself on the floor against the wall facing Shane. Rozanov's gray, sleeveless shirt was soaked through with sweat. They both sat with their legs sprawled out in front of them; Rozanov's sneakers were almost touching Shane's ankle.
Rozanov ran a hand through his damp hair in a move that was more interesting to Shane than it should have been. Rozanov was so ... masculine. Shane was baby-faced and short, and couldn't grow proper facial hair, and barely had any chest hair. Rozanov was almost exactly the same age as him, but he looked like he had crossed over a magical line to adulthood.
Shane quickly turned his gaze to the floor, and hoped the flush from the exercise covered his blushing.
"What a fucking day, huh?" Rozanov said.
"Everything you dreamed of?"
Shane looked him dead in the eye. "Almost."
Rozanov grinned back. "Sorry I ruined your big day."
"Montreal is nice, yes?"
"Is Boston nice?"
"Sure. Yeah. I've only been there a couple of times, but it's a good town."
They were silent a moment, and then Rozanov tapped Shane's ankle with the bottom of his sneaker. "Hey. We will see a lot of each other."
It took Shane a minute. "Oh. Yeah. Montreal and Boston play against each other a lot."
"Should be interesting."
Rozanov took a long haul from his water bottle. Shane pretended he was only looking longingly at the way his throat worked because he had forgotten to bring a bottle for himself. It wasn't until Rozanov's Adam's apple stopped bobbing and his lips were dark and glistening that Shane realized he was staring. The lips quirked up a bit, and Rozanov extended his arm, offering Shane his bottle.
"Oh. I'm all right. Thanks."
Rozanov shook the bottle at him, and Shane took it. He needed water. It would be dumb to refuse.
The tips of their fingers touched briefly together. Shane held the bottle away from his lips and quickly squirted water into his mouth. Rozanov watched him.
It was the first time that Shane felt it. It was like the air in the room had thickened. Everything inside him was buzzing and on edge, like he was about to jump out of a plane.
He didn't know if Rozanov felt anything. But in that moment, Shane wanted ... something. He couldn't even name it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Heated Rivalry"
Copyright © 2019 Rachelle Goguen.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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