NFL football player Isaiah Blackwell lost his husband three years ago and is raising their teen son alone. He lives his life as quietly as his job allows, playing ball to support his family but trying not to draw unwanted attention. His quiet life is shaken up when a mutual friend introduces him to Victor, a visiting principal ballet dancer who is everything Isaiah is not.
Brash and loud, Victor Aleksandrov has applied for political asylum to avoid returning to Russia, where gay men are targeted and persecuted. He’s been outspoken about gay rights in his home country, and if he doesn’t get asylum, going back to Russia is a death sentence.
Their one-night stand turns into a tentative friendship, a relationship they both agree is temporary…until Victor’s denied asylum. Isaiah can’t offer Victor a happily ever after, but he can propose something that’ll keep Victor in the US and safe...marriage. He just doesn’t expect his new husband to dance away with his heart.
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Victor Aleksandrov was a walking wet dream.
Isaiah Blackwell let his eyes linger, confident no one would notice in the press of bodies filling the backstage area. Theater crew, ballerinas, and VIP guests milled around in the cavernous space, hemmed in only by the stage mechanics, sound system, and costumes surrounding them in organized chaos. It reminded him of inside the bowels of the Los Angeles stadium during a football game, the noise and activity seemingly random and surprisingly logical at the same time.
The man in the center of activity was like the eye of the storm, cool and collected as everyone else swarmed around him. His dark, wavy hair was still damp from his post-performance shower, and he was dressed in skinny jeans and an oversize black T-shirt that fell off one bare shoulder, his long feet bare and sexy. His stage makeup was gone, but he still wore black eyeliner and a slight gloss on his lips while a gold stud pierced one ear. He wasn't feminine exactly, but he didn't fit into a purely masculine mold, either.
Stephen would have called Victor "fabulous," and he wouldn't have been wrong.
And it was his gender-bending fabulousness that had Isaiah's son, Evan, vibrating with excitement next to him. The fourteen-year-old had been levitating with excitement since Ian Carmichael had gotten the tickets for them, and he had talked of nothing since. Ballet wasn't Isaiah's thing, but the arts were Evan's, and so they were here with a hundred of Victor's biggest fans. He watched as Evan wedged between the people in front of them, politely trying to get closer to one of his idols.
"I wouldn't think he's your type," Ian murmured next to him, his lips curved in a knowing grin.
"Who?" Isaiah asked, dragging his gaze away from the sexy dancer and concentrating on his best friend and agent. "Victor?"
"Yes, fucking Victor," Ian answered, his British accent accentuating the sarcasm and making even his profanity seem classy. "The guy you've been eye-fucking since we got backstage." He slid a sly glance over to Isaiah and shrugged. "Well, ever since he got onstage, if we're going for total honesty."
Isaiah didn't bother to deny the observation. Ian had been his best friend longer than he'd been his agent, and any argument would just be him denying what they both knew to be true. Victor was ... compelling. Isaiah would have had to be blind to miss the building-sized billboards all over Los Angeles with Victor's lithe, muscular, half-naked body sprawled all over them. The first time he'd seen one he'd almost rear-ended the car in front of him, and it had taken fierce concentration in a preseason workout to tamp down the half-mast boner. No, Victor wasn't his usual type at all, but definitely a man whose sexy charisma and smoking hot body ignited his lust and made him unfit for polite company.
But right now, Victor wasn't fit for polite company, either.
"No. No." Victor's heavily accented voice boomed out from the middle of the crowd. His English was perfect but the weight of the Russian accent sometimes made his words hard to understand. But not at this moment. Every word was crystal clear.
"I don't think my speaking out against the human rights violations in my home country reflects poorly on the ballet company. I am lucky enough to be here as a guest principal dancer for a year and I have a way to make my voice heard, and I will take every opportunity to ensure that everyone knows what my country is doing to gay people. Internment. Torture. People just disappearing as if they'd never existed. If I didn't say anything, that would reflect poorly on the ballet company."
It wasn't a new speech for anyone who'd been paying attention for the last year. Victor wasn't quiet about what was going on in his homeland, and he wasn't hiding who he was.
It was as if Ian read his mind. "Stephen would say that Victor was 'out and loud.'"
Isaiah grinned at the memory of his late husband, a college professor whose desire for a low-key and quiet life meshed perfectly with his own. They'd never hidden who they were, but they'd never been the guys to walk at the front of the Pride parade.
"Is there any word on his petition for asylum?" Isaiah asked, searching his brain for a memory of any recent updates on his request.
Ian shook his head. "No. His immigration attorney says he should hear soon."
"It has to be a yes. He can't go back after calling them out for the past year."
"And living openly as a gay man," Ian added. "That alone is dangerous."
"I admire him for his passion and his courage," Isaiah answered, his eyes straying to his son's face. Evan was laser-focused on Victor, everything in his posture and the light in his eyes displaying how much he admired the man. Evan was such a good kid, artistic and open and compassionate. He was a lot like Stephen.
Victor started moving through the crowd, shaking hands with people and posing for a photo when asked. He made each person the focus of his attention, and it was a skill Isaiah could use when dealing with his fans. He loved to play football, but the meet-n-greets were a challenge for him. Terminally shy and introverted was not helpful when you were the wide receiver on a successful NFL team.
"So, you didn't deny the eye-fucking." Ian broke into his thoughts and clearly not dropping the earlier subject. Why Isaiah thought he would drop any subject in the realm of sex?having sex, thinking about sex, planning for sex?Ian had the sex drive of a twenty-year-old even at the age of thirty-six. No commitments for him, just pleasure wherever and whenever he wanted. "Victor is single."
There would have been a time when Isaiah would have answered with a curt "I'm not," but three years had passed since Stephen had died, and he'd had two very casual relationships in the past year. Stephen was still in his heart, but not in his bed.
"Drop it, Ian. We're here for Evan, not to pick up your next booty call."
"I'm talking about your next booty call, man. Or only booty call," Ian said, nudging him with an elbow. "You don't have to marry the guy. Just meet him for a drink."
"I'm a grown-ass man. I don't need you to fix me up."
"First, I'm telling your mama that you're cursing again ..."
"Point made so eloquently," Ian said, making sure to lay the British on thick. "Second, you haven't been laid in six months, and you need to rid yourself of the deadly semen backup before the season starts or you'll play for shit and my fifteen percent won't be as big on your next contract negotiation."
"You're fired," Isaiah growled, keeping his voice low and his eyes on his son.
"Like I haven't heard that before."
Isaiah ignored his friend, stepping forward as Victor approached his son, his phone at the ready to take the picture Evan had begged for before they'd headed backstage. The dancer was even more beautiful up close, his skin a light gold that looked paler under the stage lights, muscles toned and lean, eyes dark and flashing with life and fun. Their eyes locked, and Isaiah sucked in a breath, noticing that Victor did the same thing, adding a subtle bite of his lower lip to confirm that the attraction was mutual.
Yes, Mr. Aleksandrov was compelling, and Isaiah felt the magnetic pull between them in his gut. Victor was the first to break the moment, turning to Evan with a huge smile.
"Hello, I'm Victor Aleksandrov," he said, holding out his hand for Evan to shake. The boy beamed, stealing a quick glance in Isaiah's direction before fixating on the current object of his artistic obsession.
"I'm Evan Park-Blackwell, and I love your work."
Isaiah bit back a smile at his choice of words and was relieved with the dancer's reaction. "Thank you. Are you an artist too?"
Evan almost melted into a pile of goo at the question and the acknowledgment of his passion.
"I am. I'm into mixed media art right now. Painting, film, and recycled stuff. I'm also thinking about design. I go to a school for the arts," Evan babbled, not letting go of Victor's hand. "I have a show at school soon, and I'm trying to put together this display on the busting of gender roles and what it means to be gay or straight. I'm thinking of mixing up film pieces with clothing and textiles. I don't know. I'm trying everything right now. I don't want to miss what calls out to me. Ya know?"
"I do. Yes. I do," Victor said, leaning down to look right into Evan's eyes. "Dancing calls to me. It's why I never gave up even when it got hard."
"Exactly." Evan turned to look at Isaiah. "I told you. A calling."
"You did." He laughed, ignoring Ian's snicker as he raised his phone and tapped the camera app. "Why don't we grab a photo and let Mr. Aleksandrov speak to his other guests?"
"Yes, Dad!" Victor echoed his son's appalled tone, his expression mischievous and challenging in a way that twisted up Isaiah's insides in the good way. He bit back his own smile; flirting with this man would be a useless endeavor and not a good idea in any book.
Isaiah rolled his eyes and lifted his phone, taking a series of shots of the two of them. Some were the usual poses, and then they morphed into a couple of goofy shots, both of them making funny faces at the camera. Evan was having a blast, and Isaiah silently thanked Ian for making this happen.
"Victor." Ian stepped forward, taking over the meeting. "You've met Evan, the coolest kid in L.A., and I'd like to introduce you to his father, Isaiah Blackwell."
"I've seen you play football, Mr. Blackwell," Victor said, extending his hand in greeting. His skin was warm, long fingers wrapping around his own. He held on longer than necessary, his smile wide and teasing, and Isaiah's belly tightened in reaction. His gaze drifted down to his mouth and the full poutiness of his lower lip. "I was glad when Ian said you'd be here tonight. I've wanted to meet you."
Ah, Ian. Isaiah made a mental note to knock him on his ass later for obviously playing matchmaker when he'd pretended to do this for Evan.
"Well, I'm Evan's godfather, and I'll do whatever I can to make him happy. I live to see the Blackwells happy," Ian replied, his grin not fooling anyone who knew him at all. "What's the point of being your agent and Isaiah's agent if I can't bring you together?"
"Shut up, Ian," Isaiah grumbled, taking back his hand and putting a little more distance between himself and the sexiest man he'd met in a long time. He surprisingly found himself wanting to extend this meeting, but he couldn't help but notice the anxious faces of the other guests around them. "We really should let other people meet Mr. Aleksandrov."
"Isaiah," he said with a smile. "We really should let you go. We can't hog you all night."
"Okay, I'll let you go," Victor answered, his head dipping in acknowledged defeat. He turned to an obviously disappointed Evan. "I'd love to see your work. If I can help with your project, just call Ian. He has my number."
"I'll be happy to arrange a meeting," Ian drawled, his grin wide and eyebrows raised in an "I love it when a plan comes together" kind of waggle. "I'm great at arranging things ... meetings." He paused dramatically, as if he'd just thought of what was coming next. All Isaiah knew was that he probably wasn't going to like it. "Why don't you come to the barbecue pool party this weekend at Isaiah's house? I'll be out of town, but I'm sure the more the merrier."
Isaiah shut his eyes briefly, running through the first ten pages of the playbook in his head. Ian was an asshole, but the thought of Victor in a bathing suit went a long way to ease the sting. In fact, the idea of Victor shirtless made his skin flush hot and his heart pound.
"Yes!" He snapped his eyes open at the sound of Evan's voice, and his vision immediately filled with the ecstatic face of the one person he loved more than anyone on the planet. "Please, Dad!"
"Yeah, please, Dad," Ian echoed, his grin unapologetically shit- eating.
Isaiah ignored his former best friend and focused on his son, contemplating the very limited options he had right now.
Who was he kidding? He had only one.
He turned to Victor, who was looking confused but also hopeful. "You should come to our party. It's casual. Just a few friends."
"Are you sure?" Victor asked, his voice hesitant. "I don't want to intrude."
"I'd love for you to come," Isaiah said, shocked at how much he meant it.
Isaiah Blackwell was living the American dream.
Victor shut the door to his car, taking a moment to steady his nerves and settle the excitement in his belly. The house where Isaiah lived with his son wasn't lavish, not like the huge mansions hidden behind gates that you often saw on television when famous professional athletes were profiled. No, this was a large home, but it was on a neighborhood street with tall trees and kids riding bikes on the sidewalk in the bright sunshine. It wasn't the childhood he'd had, but it was the kind he'd dreamed about.
The rumble of voices and laughter spilled around the side of the house as he walked up the path to the front door and rang the bell. He shuffled the box of cupcakes in his hands, wondering again if he'd chosen the wrong thing to bring to the party. His friend Alan had insisted he needed to bring something and then vetoed alcohol, since this was a family party. As footsteps approached he really hoped he hadn't gotten it wrong.
He'd liked Evan, a bright young man with a passion for the arts. And he couldn't stop thinking about Isaiah. Quite a pair, those Blackwell men.
The door swung open, and he was face-to-face with the man who'd occupied his thoughts for the past three days. Isaiah was dressed in a bathing suit and tank top, his dark skin and mouthwateringly toned muscles exposed to Victor's eyes for easy ogling. Football kept this man in top condition into his early thirties, and Victor allowed himself one all-encompassing look before he restored eye contact.
"I brought cupcakes," he said, thrusting the box forward with a smile and a groan at just how dumb he must sound. "Thanks again for having me."
"You're welcome. Evan is so excited you agreed to come," Isaiah said, motioning him inside. "I can't guarantee he won't talk your ear off the entire time."
Victor laughed, his eyes adjusting to the interior of the house and picking up again on the southern lilt that coated each of his host's words. It was like honey, and Victor had always had a weakness for sweets.
"Well, as long as he keeps me away from the cupcakes it will be a fair trade. I can't eat any of that stuff while I'm performing."
"Yes, I get that. Same for me when I'm training." Isaiah paused as they moved through the foyer and looked him over. Head to toe and back again, slow and easy. Victor couldn't help but recognize the appreciation he'd also registered at the ballet. It had been enough for him to Google the football star and his sexuality. It had been no surprise to learn that Isaiah was gay and out. Quietly out.
He'd also been married to a college professor who'd been killed by a trucker who'd fallen asleep behind the wheel three years earlier. From the pictures he found, Stephen Park had been a serious-looking guy with blond hair and glasses and a warm smile. Now it was just Isaiah and his adopted son, living in this house where they'd been a family.
Everything about that story proved Isaiah was not his type. A widower. A father. A man who kept a tight hold on his sexuality. But that didn't stop his body from reacting to the scent of sunscreen and natural musk that washed over him when he stood this close to Isaiah.
Dangerous. Isaiah Blackwell was temptation. Worse than sweets.
"Bread is my downfall. Biscuits in general," Isaiah continued, bringing Victor back to the present with his confession and shy smile. "My mama's biscuits in particular."
"I can tell you don't indulge often," Victor said, unable to stifle his obvious flirting. It was harmless, stupid to act like there wasn't attraction heavy in the air between them. But he didn't think through the comment that slid past his lips. "There's no way you'd fit in those tight football pants if you did."
The seconds ticked by in silence, and Victor wondered if he'd misread this entire situation and was two seconds away from getting his ass kicked out the door and onto the front walk. Then Isaiah laughed, not just the brief chuckle he'd allowed so far but a snort and then a belly laugh that shook his entire body, his hot gaze continuing to clash with his own.
"Oh hell, let's get out to the pool before you get me into trouble," Isaiah said, his deep voice rumbling in the open space as they made their way to the backyard.
Excerpted from "His Convenient Husband"
Copyright © 2017 Robin Covington.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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