A forty-something single dad, a twenty-something hockey star, and a whole lot of baggage. No, this couldn’t possibly blow up in their faces.
Officer Geoff Logan has his plate full. His cop’s salary and Marine retirement aren’t enough to make ends meet. He’s got war wounds and demons that are in it for the long haul. His teenagers are, well, teenagers, plus they’re pissed that he left the boyfriend they loved. Can’t a guy catch a break?
Seattle Steelheads center Asher Crowe has it all. A seven figure salary. A literal house on a hill. A stable, loving relationship with an amazing boyfriend. At least, that’s what the world sees. Behind closed doors, he’s been living in a private hell, and when he finally works up the courage to end things, his boyfriend refuses to go quietly.
One call to the cops, and suddenly Geoff and Asher’s paths cross. But is the connection between them simple chemistry? Kindred spirits? Or just a pair of lonely hearts looking for a hot distraction?
And even if it’s more than physical, is there really a future for two men from such vastly different worlds? Especially when the past comes knocking?
“They still haven’t forgiven you?” My partner, Officer Laura Wayne, shot me a sympathetic look from the passenger seat of our parked police cruiser. “It’s been, what, two months?”
“Almost three.” I sighed into my travel mug and stared outside at the fading daylight. “What can I say? They loved him.”
“Okay, I get that. I liked him before you told me what a colossal dickhead he is. But you were the one dating him. I mean, they got it when you divorced their mom, right?”
“Eventually.” I put my coffee in the cupholder. “But their mom was still going to be part of their lives. Marcus flat out told me—and them—that if I left him, that was it. He knew damn well how much those kids loved him. Hell, he made sure they loved him. Then he spun it to them that it’s my fault he won’t be in their lives anymore. And they bought it. Of course. Because it’s easier to believe that than to accept Marcus didn’t really care about them the way he’d claimed.”
Laura groaned. “Ugh. Can’t imagine why you didn’t want to stay with him.”
I grunted but said nothing. I’d vented to her for a year leading up to the split with Marcus and in the months since. She was the one who’d finally convinced me that if I was that miserable with my boyfriend, I should leave. The longer I stayed with him, the more attached my kids would be when I finally dropped the hammer.
As it turned out, they’d already been seriously attached. Marcus and I had been together for almost six years. He’d been there for the roller coaster tween and early teen years. He’d picked them up from school and gone to their extracurricular events when I couldn’t get away from work. He’d been a godsend during my daughter’s transition and while my son recovered from a broken foot. I would be the first to say the man had been, at least on the surface, a convincingly amazing stepfather.
An amazing boyfriend? Not so much.
Which was why, three months ago, my kids and I had traded Marcus’s big four-bedroom house in a swanky Bellevue neighborhood for a cramped apartment in Lake City, which was a less-than-great part of northeast Seattle. Marcus had been true to his word—I left, and he cut off contact with the kids. They’d barely spoken to me since.
“I know it’s rough,” Laura said. “But give them time.” She studied me. “How are you doing post-Marcus?”
I exhaled, letting my head fall back against the seat. “It’s a big relief. So of course that makes me feel even guiltier about Claire and David being this miserable.”
“That should just make you more pissed at Marcus. He totally played them against you, and you know it.”
“Yeah, I know that, but they don’t.”
“How much do they know?”
I stared out the windshield, silently begging someone to speed so I could pull them over and get away from this conversation.
“Geoff.” Laura’s tone was soft. She didn’t use her cop voice with me unless I was being seriously stupid. “They’ll probably understand if you tell them the whole story.”
I turned to her. “How do I tell my kids that everything he was doing for them, all the things he bought for them, was a means of manipulating me? He paid for David’s out-of-state band trips, and there’s no way in hell Valerie and I would have been able to pay for Claire’s transition without the money he gave us. And that’s just the financial shit. How do I tell my kids my boyfriend showered us all with love purely as a means of controlling me?” I shook my head. “Sometimes I think I’d honestly rather have them angry at me than feeling guilty over being the main reason Marcus was able to mistreat me for so long.”
Laura frowned. “Okay, I can see that. So maybe don’t tell them the whole story? Tip your hand enough that they know you didn’t just leave for kicks? They’re at an age where they’re going to be dating. They need their dad to be a role model for leaving toxic relationships.”
“I know. I know. And I’ve tried. Claire’s decided I’m too proud to be with someone who makes more than me, and David doesn’t get how it’s, quote, better for all of us to be miserable all the time than it was for me to try to make it work with Marcus, end quote.” I rubbed my stiffening neck. “It’s easier for them to believe that I’m a dick than to accept that Marcus stopped loving them.” Sighing, I pressed my head back against the seat. “Or that he never actually loved any of us.”
“Ugh. Reasoning with heartbroken teenagers. Good luck with that.”
“I know, right? But Valerie took them to a family therapist when she got remarried, and she’s going to get me in touch with her. Maybe a little professional help will get us somewhere.”
“It’s worth a try. Good luck.”
“So what about you?”
I turned to her. “What about me?”
“You thought about putting yourself out there again?” She held up her phone and grinned. “Maybe download Tinder?”
Chuckling, I shook my head. “I don’t know. I mean, I could definitely stand to get laid.”
“We could all stand for you to get laid.”
I shot her a pointed look.
She shrugged without an ounce of contrition. “What? Don’t act like it’s not true.”
I opened my mouth to remind her that I wasn’t the only one in this car who was less than bearable when I wasn’t having sex once in a while, but right then, the radio came to life.
“All units, 242 at 4th Avenue and Wall Street.”
Laura and I exchanged glances. A fight. Lovely.
“That location’s only about two minutes from here,” she said.
“Let’s go.” I put the car in drive, and she got on the radio to advise the dispatcher that we were responding.
Though Seattle traffic was always snarled to hell, I knew some alternate routes and back roads to get us there faster without running lights and sirens. In minutes, I pulled into the parking lot of a bar and grill type restaurant a couple of blocks from the Space Needle. Dispatch confirmed that a second unit was on its way but was still several minutes out.
The apparent disturbance consisted of two Caucasian males in their mid-twenties, with what looked like a couple of restaurant employees trying to run interference. Both men were brick shithouses, too. Not balloon animal bodybuilders, but they had that hard, compact build that meant that if they went to blows, this situation could get ugly real fast.
A small crowd had gathered, and several were filming with their phones. Beside them, a very expensive yellow sports car had a smashed windshield and an impressive dent in the fender. There didn’t appear to be any weapons in play.
“Well, this should be fun,” Laura muttered.
We got out of the car and cautiously approached the scene. Almost everyone at least glanced our way, including one of the two men involved in the altercation. The other kept right on screaming at him while the employees warily tried to stay in between them. He gestured wildly as he spoke but didn’t seem to be armed or intoxicated. Just really pissed off.
“Hey, hey,” Laura said in her cop voice. “Enough.” She stepped into the fray with me right on her heels. “Sir, I need you to step back and be quiet.”
The man was instantly silent, mouth still open. His arm stayed upraised, frozen in mid gesture, and he stared at her, as if stunned by the blond pony-tailed woman a head shorter than him who’d walked up into his space and told him to shut up. Laura had that effect on a lot of people. She was the opposite of intimidating, which made her that much more intimidating when she fearlessly threw her authority around. I loved my partner.
“You,” she said to the other man. “Go over there.” She pointed at a bench beside the restaurant’s tinted glass doors about fifteen feet away. “Sit down. Don’t talk. Don’t move.” The second man blinked, but he didn’t protest. He shuffled away and did as he was told. As he walked past me and I got a good look at his angular, freckled face, I had a flicker of recognition, but I couldn’t place him. A repeat offender, maybe? There was something familiar about him, anyway.
To the first man, Laura said, “And you, go stand over there.” She nodded sharply in the opposite direction. He started to speak, but she put up her hand. “Go stand over there. I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Once the men were where she’d ordered, I turned to the flustered restaurant manager. “I’m going to need statements from you and your employees after we speak to these two.”
The manager nodded, glaring at the man who’d been screaming when we’d arrived. “That one better not leave before he pays for my broken dishes.”
“Broken dishes?” I asked.
“Yeah. Threw a conniption while they were having dinner. That’s why I kicked them out. Then they just took it out here in the parking lot and kept at it.”
Laura scowled. “We’ll need all that information in your statement.”
The manager nodded again, and he eyed the two men warily before he and his employees went back inside. The onlookers gave us more room, but three were still filming because of course they were.
“Which one do you want?” I asked Laura, keeping an eye on the more volatile of the two men.
She had her attention fixed on the other. “That one looks pretty rattled. He might need a light touch.” Her eyes flicked toward me. “Why don’t you talk to him while I take the screamer?”
I snorted. “You just like dealing with hotheads.”
“Um, yeah.” She shrugged unrepentantly. “And you’re good with the emotional ones. That’s why we rock as partners.”
I suppressed a laugh, mostly because no one—least of all the cameras—needed to see a cop snickering at the scene of a very public altercation. “All right. Go get him.” I started toward mine, but hesitated. “Hang on.”
She stopped. “Hmm?”
I glanced back and forth between them. Laura and I weren’t exactly slouches, but neither of us were built like these two. She was all of five-foot-six, and though she was strong as hell, not to mention fast, there was this thing called physics. The two men we needed to question were big. The hothead was a solid six two or three and seriously broad. The other was around my height, so maybe five-foot-ten or eleven, and made of pure muscle. If either of them, or especially both of them, decided to get cute, Laura and I had weapons at our disposal, but again…physics. Put them alongside us in the ring, and I was pretty sure the two walls of muscle would have an advantage over a petite officer and her middle-aged partner with the fucked-up ankle and a couple of shoulder surgeries under his belt.
“What’s wrong?” Laura asked.
“I, um…” I glanced at them again, then looked at her. “I think we should wait for backup.”
She cocked her head. “I don’t know. They’re pretty subdued right now.”
“For the moment, yeah. But you saw them when we showed up. And there’s…” I nodded toward the car.
She grimaced, but shrugged. “Eh. We’ll be all right as long as our backup is here by the time we make any arrests.”
“Yeah, because if we end up needing to arrest both of them, I’d just as soon not put them in the back of the same cruiser.”
“Of course not. Okay, so get a status on our backup.” She gestured at the hothead. “I still think we’re safe to talk to these two. Just make sure they keep their backs to each other.”
I nodded. I radioed to check on our backup, which was apparently still slogging through traffic since this wasn’t a lights-and-sirens emergency. While we waited for the additional patrols to arrive, Laura and I went to our respective parties.
Once mine was standing with his back to the other, and I could see Laura in case anything went south, I pulled out my pen and pad. I scrutinized his posture and appearance. It didn’t seem like the altercation had gotten physical, and he didn’t appear to be injured. Nervous, yes—he shifted his weight and kept his gaze down, and a few times I thought he was on the verge of throwing up.
There really was something familiar about him, too. About his reddish-brown hair and the freckles sprinkled across a nose that had obviously been broken at least once or twice in the past. I was sure I’d seen those crystal blue eyes before. Maybe he was a repeat offender, but I had the distinct feeling of looking at someone I’d ogled in the past, and that wasn’t something I was prone to doing on the job. Maybe we went to the same gym. Well, whatever. That wasn’t what I was here for.
I cleared my throat. “I’m Officer Logan. I just need to get a statement from you, so let’s start with your name.”
He folded his tattooed arms loosely across his broad chest and didn’t look at me. “Asher Crowe.”
“Asher—” I blinked.
He scowled, still avoiding my gaze. “Yeah. That Asher Crowe.”
Uh-huh. That Asher Crowe. The up-and-coming hockey star everyone said would be the next Gretzky or Crosby. No wonder he’d looked familiar. Holy shit. Yeah, this was definitely someone I’d ogled in the past despite him being half my age and miles out of my league. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to ogle him now because this was so not the time or place.
I wrote down his name as if I would forget. Shame my kids weren’t talking to me—they’d lose their minds if they knew I’d met one of the greatest active hockey players in the country. Circumstances notwithstanding. “Can you tell me what happened tonight?”
Asher tightened his arms. “I, um…” He swallowed hard. Then he took a deep breath, unfolded his arms, and slid his hands into his pockets. “Nathan…” He motioned over his shoulder at the other man. “He’s my boyfriend.”
“Is? Or was?”
He pursed his lips, but didn’t answer.
“What happened?” I asked.
He shifted, tension rolling off him in waves. “Everyone said the best way to break up with someone was in public. So they wouldn’t make a scene.” Laughing bitterly, he cut his eyes toward the restaurant doorway. “I should have known he’d make one anyway.” His voice shook a little, and there was a faint glimmer of tears in his blue eyes. “I tried to let him down easy. Not make it a big thing, you know? But he just… He lost his shit. And he…” Asher straightened, looking around with alarm in his expression. “Oh God, I need to talk to the manager. Nathan broke a bunch of stuff, and—”
“One thing at a time.” I kept my tone as smooth and gentle as I could. “Let me get your statement, and I can help you sort out logistics with the manager.”
Asher blew out a breath. “I just feel so bad. We probably ruined everyone else’s dinner, and I…” He turned to me. “Is the manager going to press charges? I’ll pay for everything. And extra if I need to. Just…”
“Hey. Take it easy.” I made a calm down gesture. “No charges are getting pressed until my partner and I have talked to everyone and have the whole story.” I glanced at the damaged car. Pointing at it with my pen, I said, “You want to tell me what happened here?”
Asher looked over his shoulder, and he cringed. “Fuck. Just what I need.”
“What happened to the car?” I prodded.
He faced me again. “Nathan lost his temper. Enough said.” The mix of hurt and bitterness in his shaky voice told more of the story than even he probably realized, and my heart sank. How bad were things between them? And how long had this been going on?
I schooled my expression. “So he’s volatile when he’s angry?”
“Volatile?” Asher laughed humorlessly. He folded his arms again and started pacing in front of the restaurant’s door. “A drunk hockey player who just lost in the Cup finals is volatile. Him?” He jerked his head toward his hopefully ex-boyfriend. “I… Hell, I don’t even know what word you’d use. Like I said, there’s a reason I did this out in public. And I probably would have even if I’d known he’d do all of this.”
A sick feeling curdled in my stomach. “Why’s that?”
Asher looked me right in the eye. “Because it would have been ten times worse at home.”