Chapter 21: Clouded Judgments [Slapshot!]
Sean was sitting at lunch with Murdoch and Q when his phone started ringing. He smiled tersely at his colleagues.
“Really,” Murdoch said, “this is a business meeting, Flanagan—”
“I’m very sorry,” Sean said, then frowned at the screen. He glanced over his shoulder toward the window. “I need to take this.”
He stood up, the tablecloth swishing with the motion. He headed for the door, pressing the phone to his ear. “What the hell do you want?” he snapped.
“I am catching the next fucking flight to Boston,” Mason spat at him, “but I figured you were there, so go find Luke and—”
Sean stopped short, underneath a dimly lit portrait of some dead rich white dude who had maybe once been important in Boston. “You’re actually calling me about Luke?” he sneered.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Mason retorted, “I wouldn’t do it if I had any other option. So don’t get the wrong idea, I’m coming up there myself, so I’m not turning him over to you, I’m not—”
“I’m in the middle of a meeting, asshole,” Sean snarled, stepping closer to the window, hoping it would improve his reception. The rain pinged against the panes, dripped down them. He looked about, cocking his head, hoping to get better reception. “So quit blathering and get to the fucking point.”
“Luke’s in danger, asshole,” Mason replied, and yeah, that was clearer. Sean pulled the phone away from his ear until the crackling died away.
He narrowed his gaze, as though he could glare at Mason through the cell. “In danger?” he sneered. “And how do you fucking figure that, Jarhead?”
“Somebody told Dima Mironov Luke’s omega.”
Sean jangled his keys in his pockets, rocked on his heels. “Annnnnd?”
“Mironov’s a fucking alpha male rights’ guy.”
Sean pursed his lips. “And that’s supposed to worry me why?”
“Because he knows his teammate is a goddamn omega, and he thinks omegas have no place outside the home in an alpha world?”
“And I agree,” Sean replied coolly. “I mean, if Luke was a good boy and just stayed home, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, now would we?”
“Asshole,” Mason snarled. “Mironov—”
“Isn’t a threat, Mason. Sure, he has his opinions, but he’s unlikely to do anything. And second, he shouldn’t touch Luke, not if he doesn’t know if Luke’s bitten or not or—”
An exasperated sigh that translated to static. “Can you just go make sure he isn’t like … beating the shit out of Luke or something? Texting other people he knows that there’s a loose omega around?”
“You’re awfully paranoid.”
“Look,” Mason huffed. “Luke told me something the other day, and he just … he doesn’t need this. Just … go. Please, Sean.”
“Awww, what’s the matter, Mayday? Not man enough to keep your own omega safe? Need to beg for help from a big, powerful alpha?”
“Oh, fuck you! Sean, if you care about him at all—”
“Oh, that’s right, he’s not your omega. So why are you worrying about him? Don’t bother coming up here, Mayday—just stay put. Just stay home like the omega bitch you are.”
He hung up and pocketed the phone in one smooth motion. An incredulously smirk tugged at his lips, blossomed into a smile. He shook his head, then headed back into the dining room, straightening his tie, tugging on his lapels.
“Gentlemen,” he said as he approached the table, nodding to Q and Murdoch, “I apologize for that.”
“Is your phone off now?” Murdoch asked. “I don’t want any more interruptions.”
Sean smiled tightly, taking his seat. “There won’t be any more interruptions,” he said. “Now, where were we?”
Sebby parked the car and sat there for a while, staring at nothing. The rain beaded on the windshield, then threaded its way across the glass. It started to rain harder, even as he sat there.
The suburb was familiar, quiet. The trees were taller now, leafy green, and the pavement seemed more heaved and cracked, but the quiet was the same. The imposing houses, nearly hidden behind the trees; the neatly tended gardens; the ivy creeping up the sides of ancient stone and brickwork, coiling about the chimneys peeking above the treetops.
He turned his head and looked up the walk at the house. It was still massive, imposing with its dark red brick, the ivy framing the doorway in full leaf, rustling in the slight breeze. The windows had their shutters wide open, but the curtains, gauzy and white, were still drawn, preventing anyone from seeing in. A short, black iron fence cordoned off the front yard a dozen feet from the sidewalk—too short to really deter anyone, but with nasty points near the top for anyone bold enough to try and hop it.
Sebby knew how much they hurt; he still had a scar on the inside of his thigh from one. He’d tried to hop the fence to show off to his brother and his friend, ended up getting caught on one of the spears. His shorts had torn, and he’d been stuck there, screaming and crying and bleeding, until the nanny finally came downstairs and loosed him.
He’d looked really cool then.
The house was quieter now, almost gloomy, wrapped in rain and mist, the gray sky overhead. Gone were the boisterous days of boyhood, the raucous laughter of children with Pokemon cards clipped between their bike spokes to make them sound like a gang of roving motorcycles come to terrorize the neighborhood.
Now only silence reigned.
With a sigh, he unclipped his seatbelt and crawled out of the car. The rain pelted down harder, bouncing off the hood of the rental. He pocketed the keys and climbed the steps, stepping over the tiny gate—no object for him now, though he was careful not to let the spikes graze him.
He stepped onto the porch, noting how the paint had worn away where once he and his brother had traversed the wooden planks on a daily basis—to hockey, back from hockey, to school, back from school, out again to play with friends in the evening, or maybe to judo or music lessons or a tutoring session.
Frantic feet, always moving, and now there was no motion.
He rang the doorbell and slicked back his hair, shaking rainwater from his hand.
The door creaked open.
His father was still an imposing man, much as he had been in his youth. Sebby couldn’t imagine the man as old, not even with the steely silver color of his thinning hair, the lines around his eyes, around his mouth. Not even in the stiff way he moved, as though his joints, once so fluid, had seized.
He said nothing, just nodded to the man and stepped inside. His father closed the door; he took off his jacket, careful to hang it up on the rack, where it could drip-dry.
Nothing in the house had changed; not the mat at the front door, not the banister or the darkened stairwell that greeted him when he walked in. Not the long, narrow corridor to the kitchen in the back, the living room to his right, lighting up the space. The light was too much right now, even as dull and gray as it was; he couldn’t see outside. On dull days, he could see straight through to the backyard, out the sliding door in the kitchen.
The only thing missing, really, was Mom. He couldn’t count the number of times he’d come home to find her at the kitchen table, the light haloing her as she worked away on something or another, often frantically typing on her calculator or her adding machine, the annoying whirring and grinding and the click-click-click echoing through the house.
She’d worked a lot in those days.
“S’il vous plait,” his father said, gesturing him in.
They’d always spoken in French; his mother didn’t know it very well, and so when Dad wanted to talk to the boys, he spoke to them in French. He’d sang to them in French when they were babies; he’d given them French books and forced them to watch French cartoons. Sebby had been so confused that no one else knew about the talking pineapple.
Dad had sent them to private school, just so they could learn French. It was important, he’d insisted, that the boys be able to speak to their Quebecois relatives when they went to visit. No sons of Lucian Montclair would speak only English. That would be scandalous—Lucian would have been judged to have broken with his past, forgotten his roots. His children had to speak French.
Sebby had resented his father for making him learn the strange language when he was younger. It was only in high school that it had really been an advantage. The team had traveled more to Quebec and French-speaking communities along the coast. And it had been useful when they went to Europe, and useful when he wanted to call his teachers rude things behind their backs.
It had also been useful for impressing his classmates, and he still used it when he went to the bar to pick up chicks. It was useful too, because he could talk to teammates from French Canada.
He and Sy sometimes spoke in French, if they didn’t want anyone else to know what they were talking about.
When he spoke to his father, however, it was all business, and Sebby’s smart alek French all but deserted him. He didn’t know what to say, and he fumbled for the words, like he was a small child just learning the language all over again.
“Um,” he said, “so. You wanted to talk.”
“Mais oui,” his father said, leading him to the kitchen. “Your play, it has worried me.”
Sebby shifted nervously. His father never watched his games, and he’d never bothered to tell Sebby he’d been … worried before.
“I, uh … sorry?”
Lucian sighed heavily. “Sebastien,” he said, turning about. “Voulez-vous te?”
He didn’t know why Dad was being so formal. “Sure,” he said, wishing he’d just switch to English for him. He’d have a better read on the man if he did.
“Bon. Et lait ou crème, avec sucre?”
“Just sugar, thanks.”
The kettle went on and Sebby glanced around at the kitchen, the ticking clock on the wall. How had it only been five minutes?
“You are not doing well in Washington.”
“I’m doing just fine,” he retorted. “I mean, sure, I’m not scoring a lot of goals, but …”
“You are not happy there,” Dad said and fixed him with his gaze, his eyes boring into Sebby’s. They were almost mirror images of each other; Sebby was tired of hearing how much he looked like his father. Magazines loved running pictures of them side by side.
“I’m fine,” he said. “We’ve got a good crew, good guys …”
Dad didn’t look away. Sebby sighed, shuffled his feet. “But. Y’know. I miss Beantown.”
He couldn’t deny it. He loved this city. He’d been born and raised here; even with the doom and gloom surrounding the house on dull, gray mornings like this, he loved it. He felt at home, perfectly at peace.
DC wasn’t too bad. It had green parks, and it was right on the water too. It got the strange ocean mists, the dull grayness, the wintry skies.
But it wasn’t home.
“I will talk to Brian,” Dad said. The kettle was screaming in the background.
Sebby stared at his father, unable to comprehend. His head started to shake. “Talk to … ? Why would you do that?”
“You are not happy,” his father said. “So, I will ask Brian to bring you home.”
Sebby flushed up to his ears. He could feel the fire in his eyes. “No!” he cried. “No, Dad, don’t you fucking dare! I—I’m fine where I am! I don’t wanna play here, they gave up on me!”
He heaved a breath. “The Bears traded me, Dad, they gave up on me ‘cause I … I wasn’t you. And I’m not. I’m not you, and I don’t want to play for the Bs, on your team, just because you pulled some strings, because you …!”
He curled his hands into fists, gritted his teeth. “I’m not coming back, not unless they want me back. I’ll come back when I’m ready, when I prove to them that I can play like you—better than you! Because I’m not you, and I’m not gonna coast, just let you pull the strings …”
He shook his head. “I can’t believe you’d even suggest that!”
“No! No, we’re done. This conversation is over. I’m perfectly fine, I’m happy in DC. I’m not the best, but we’ve got a good group of guys, Dad, and they—they believe in me. They don’t want me to just be a clone of you.”
He couldn’t look at the older man. His face, so full of pity and concern, was too infuriating. “I’m fine where I am and you should just mind your own business. Aren’t you busy fucking that new whore of yours?”
“Sebastien!” Now it was Dad’s turn to be mad; he went scarlet up to his ears, and his eyes were alight with the blaze of rage. Satisfaction flooded through Sebby.
“Isabella is not a whore, and you should show your step-mother more respect! You must not ever call her that again, do you—”
“I’ll call her what I want!” Sebby spat. “She’s a whore! She came in here, broke you and Mom up, and now she’s here for all your money, bleeding you dry! Yacht trips and vineyards!”
“Mind your own damn business!” Lucian thundered.
“And you mind yours!” Sebby roared back. He stormed through the house, to the foyer. He grabbed up his jacket, sure to shake water free onto the floor as he donned it. “Call me next time you actually have something to talk to me about!”
He slammed the door so hard the house seemed to shudder with the force. He stared out at the rain for a moment, then trotted down the walk, back to the car.
He paused and pulled a sopping sheet of paper off the windshield, frowning at it. He glanced around, knowing full well they’d always, always parked the car there, and …
He spotted the sign, nearly eaten up by the foliage of one of the proud oaks.
His shoulders sagged. He stuffed the crumpled ticket into his jacket pockets.
Things did change, he supposed. And he didn’t live there anymore.
Danny frowned as he stepped into the dining room. He glanced at his phone again, then pocketed it. Brenden’s mysterious text made more sense now.
He headed across the room, making a beeline for Luke’s table. He spotted Dima sipping on a tea, pointedly ignoring everyone else. He was on the opposite side of the room, his feet on the window sill, staring out at the bleak Boston weather.
Danny slid into the seat across from the other omega, hissing, “Are you sure it’s a good idea for you to be down here?”
He glanced about, but no one seemed to be paying attention to them. Not even Dima.
Luke startled and spilled coffee all over the table. “Jesus Christ, Danny,” he murmured, “you could have warned me.”
“Answer the question, Luke—are you okay to be up and about?”
Luke sighed heavily, rolling his eyes. “I told you,” he growled, “I’m fine. It was a bit of inducer, and now—”
Danny quirked a brow. “Seemed like more than a bit.”
“Sir, can I get you something to drink?”
“Water would be great,” he told the waitress, smiling. It fell away when he turned back to Luke. “You were fucked for hours.”
Luke shrugged. “It was still just inducer.”
“Yeah, and someone gave it to you, and I think we both know who.”
Luke looked him dead in the eye, but said nothing. Danny looked down at his phone. “Brenden said Jake was down here earlier, when you walked in.”
“He left,” Luke said.
“And he didn’t say anything to you?”
Luke wouldn’t look him in the eye. Danny pinched the bridge of his nose. “Jesus, Luke,” he spat, “y’know, I’m beginning to think you like it.”
“Like it?” Luke snapped. “Asshole, I don’t—”
“Then why do you keep putting yourself in situations where he can corner you? Where he can get you by yourself and slip you some drugs, or …”
Betrayal was evident in Luke’s eyes; their clarity did nothing to hide what he was feeling, thinking.
“I thought you of all people would understand,” he said at last. “I thought you’d fucking get it, Danny.”
He got to his feet, picking up the soiled napkins he’d used to clean up the spill. “But I guess if you’ve never been assaulted, if you’ve always just felt safe no matter what, then you wouldn’t.”
“Assaulted?” Danny snorted. “Seems more to me like you’ve got Stockholm syndrome—you think he’s abusing you, but you like it, so you keep going back for more.”
Luke’s jaw dropped, and he gawped at Danny for a moment, then shook his head furiously. “Fuck you,” he spat.
“You’d like to, wouldn’t you?”
Luke gawped at him some more, then snarled and wadded up the napkins, pitching them into Danny’s face. “Go fuck yourself,” he snapped.
“Get your shit out of my room!” Danny hollered after him as he stalked off. “Ask Jake if you can room with him!”
Luke flipped him the bird, then disappeared around the corner. Danny huffed and settled back in his chair, shaking his head.
A moment later, Dima slid into the seat opposite of him. “Sorry,” he said, “I overhear. You are very loud.”
“Sorry,” Danny muttered.
Dima glanced about, then said, “You fight with him.”
“Yeah,” Danny replied, “he’s being a dumbass.”
Dima frowned, then said, “Is he omega?” as he cocked his head to the side.
“Fuckin’ stupid omega,” Danny snorted, “seriously. If he doesn’t want Jake to fuck him, why hang out down here, by himself, with no one else around?”
Dima’s gaze flicked up and down, as though he were sizing Danny up. “You want him?” he asked, lifting an inquisitive eyebrow.
Danny blinked a couple of times. “Well, no,” he drawled after a long moment. “Like, we slept together one time, but … he was in heat, so …”
“In heat,” Dima echoed. “Should he be here then?”
“Oh,” Danny said, “he’s not in heat now.”
“But he is making fights,” the Russian pressed. “You fight with him, Jake …”
“Well,” Danny said, shifting uncomfortably. He didn’t like the way Dima was looking at him. There was something edgy in the tone of his voice, like a knife.
“He is distraction,” Dima said. “He should not be here.”
“Some people think that,” Danny said cautiously. “That’s why he doesn’t tell too many people …”
“So he lies,” Dima said.
“Yeah,” Danny agreed easily. “But then, so does every omega in the league, y’know … They kinda have to.”
“So there are more.”
“Oh, of course,” Danny sneered. “What, you think a guy like Luke doesn’t have enough talent to get here? That he should just give up, stay home, because of his stat … us …”
His face fell. Dima totally did believe that.
“Omegas belong at home,” the sniper said, nodding his head a little. “He should not be here.”
He got up to go. Danny grabbed him by the wrist, dragged him back to the table. “Listen,” he snarled, “if you breathe one word of this to anyone else, I swear to God, I’ll castrate you myself, you hear me, you little shit?”
Dima shook him loose. He said nothing else, but eyed Danny warily, looking him up and down. Then he walked off.
Danny gritted his teeth, then glanced at his phone. “Shit,” he muttered, realizing he had three missed calls.
Dima stared at his reflection in the mirror for a long moment, looking deep into his own eyes.
The fact that Luke was omega pissed him off. And he’d have to do something about it later—an uppity omega like that deserved some kind of punishment.
But right now … he had a job to complete. Katya would tell everyone about his filthy little secret if he didn’t come through for her stupid friend.
And that meant he had to seduce Luke.
Dima had never been very good at … seducing people. It wasn’t his thing. He wasn’t really attracted to people. He hung out with a lot of really good-looking people on a regular basis, and he could admit they were attractive.
But he felt nothing for them. He’d slept with a couple of girls, but sex had never really concerned him. When all his friends were bragging about the chicks they’d fucked, the boys they’d hooked up with, he was more interested in making friends, entertaining, having long talks one-on-one. He liked to talk about enlightenment and how to make the world a better place. One of the big problems in this world, in his opinion, was the loss of natural order. Omegas wanted rights, but they were naturally subordinate to alphas and betas. They wanted to get jobs and support themselves, but then complained when they didn’t get promoted—because they didn’t act like alphas, they weren’t aggressive enough. And they wanted to go out on their own, to be safe without a chaperone. But then they’d go into heat in the middle of a crowd, on the subway, or they’d walk through a dark park at night, and they’d scream rape, assault, whatever else. But why were they there? They should have stayed home, safe.
And if alphas would just take care of their omegas, then omegas could stay home and be safe. They wouldn’t need jobs; they wouldn’t need to take the subway to work in the morning rush even if they knew they were going to go into heat soon, because they’d used up too many sick days and heat wasn’t a recognized illness.
If they would just follow the path nature intended them to take, the world would be much more harmonious.
Omegas like Luke were just screwing things up for everyone—including themselves. Luke was too ambitious, wanted too much—and he was bound to get hurt. And his presence complicated things; Danny fighting with him, Jake fucking him—that was just messy. The team didn’t need that.
So maybe he’d get with Luke, seduce him, then let Linnea take him on as her pet. That would get him off the team, out of the league—back where he belonged. So he would help Linnea in her stupid scheme, if only because it benefited him as well.
But he knew that seducing Luke would be difficult. He didn’t think Luke was unattractive—but he had no desire to sleep with him, just as he had little desire to sleep with anyone else, really.
But if he was going to pull this off, he had to act interested, had to get close to Luke first.
Much as he himself wasn’t very good at seducing people—Katya was much better at it, truthfully—he knew at least one person who was.
He stepped outside, into the Boston drizzle, his phone pressed to his ear. He glanced over at the bellhops having a smoke, leaned against the damp walls of the hotel.
Ty uncurled slowly as he listened to his phone ringing. He didn’t know how long he’d been lying prone on the floor of the hotel room, but it was long enough that his legs ached, his joints creaking as he unfurled.
Voicemail picked up. “Hejjjjj,” drawled an overly familiar voice, one that had been whispering into his ear last night. His breath caught in his throat.
How the fuck had Gabe got his number?
“Just wanted to say, thank you for last night,” the Swede continued, his voice rolling like some sort of song. Ty sat up a little straighter. “I think now is not a good time, though, yes? So you left, and I think that was good … but. If it is not too much trouble, maybe, when this is over, we could meet again?”
Ty stared at the phone, its blinking light. Gabe paused, hesitating, unsure. “I … would like that,” he said.
The phone beeped loudly, ending the message, just as the door swung open, smashing into Ty’s feet.
“Oh god, ow!” he cried as he curled up into a ball.
“Jesus!” Jake darted into the room, slamming the door shut. “Ty, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were there—what the hell are you doing on the floor anyway?”
Ty sat up. “Uh,” he said. His pulse was fluttering; his head was too light. He was going to float away.
“Never mind,” Jake muttered. “Look, Luke got pissed at Dan for some reason—think we can switch rooms?”
That same bottoming out feeling returned, Ty’s torn up insides sinking deep into a pit of acid that dissolved him.
“Luke?” he snarled, unable to stop his lip from curling up in disdain.
Jake wasn’t paying attention. “Yeah, so, Dan’s out a room, at least that’s what Dima says, so he wants to know if Dan can room with you—”
“Why don’t you room with Danny?” Ty snapped, then shrank back on himself. “Sorry.”
Jake eyed him. “Yeah, no,” he said, “I think it’s probably better if Dan rooms with you. So, cool?”
Ty wanted to protest, wanted to say no, that wasn’t cool with him. Argue. Yell. Scream. Do something, anything to stop this stupidity.
Instead, he sighed and mumbled, “Yeah, that’s cool, I guess.”
“Awesome,” Jake said. “I’ll get my stuff.”
“Cool,” Ty murmured. He looked at the carpet.
Jake brushed by him, still fiddling with his phone. He started tossing his stuff into his duffle, packing up again. “Looks like you got a message, rookie.”
“Oh, do I?”
“Yeah, your phone’s blinking.” He hoisted the bag. “Thanks, man, I’ll owe you one.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he murmured, watching Jake go. The door slammed shut again, locking Ty into the silence of the room again.
He sat there as the minutes ticked by, then crept over to the nightstand. He plucked up his phone, with its flashing light. He hesitated, then dialed his voicemail and listened to Gabe’s lilting voice, rolling over the words again. “Thank you for last night.”
With a sigh, he pitched the phone aside and flopped back on the bed, wondering why everything had to be so complicated.
Mason was on the plane at half-past two, because that was the earliest flight he could make from Dulles to Boston. The day was clear and bright; the wind was up though. The pilot told them it was cooler in Beantown, rainy and gloomy. Mason played idly with his phone while they were waiting, checking for messages. He had nothing from Sean and nothing from Luke.
The flight was a rough one; they hit turbulence a couple of times as they flew up the Eastern Seaboard. The Appalachians were collecting clouds, and the ocean was collecting mist, creating rough weather throughout the region. Mason tried to concentrate on his latest issue of ESPN, but articles about golf just weren’t holding his attention. The words bounced as the plane rocked, buffeted by the wind and pockets of air.
He tried to listen to a podcast, but the insipid talk about some DJ he’d never heard of pissed him off. He had more important things to think about, like how he was going to keep Luke safe.
He couldn’t believe Sean was such an asshole—couldn’t believe he’d support Dima’s views. More importantly, he didn’t understand why Sean wouldn’t go protect the omega. After all, if Sean cared about Luke he claimed he did, protecting him should have been the only thing on his mind.
Mason knew it was the only thing on his. He didn’t trust that Dima wouldn’t touch Luke—he didn’t want that asshole to lay a finger on Luke, not even to breathe on him.
He wanted to be there for Luke. He needed to be there for Luke. And Luke needed that from him. Much as Luke was an independent, strong-willed omega, he was still an omega. An alpha would win, just about every time.
He chewed at his nails, stared out the window. His seatmate was blissfully unaware, her headphones over her ears, her nose buried in a book. She was tapping her foot to the beat, pounding out a rhythm that was going to drive Mason mad if it went on much longer.
Proof of just how much he was concerned about Luke—she was hot, but he was ready to scream at her. He didn’t even care how her stupid fake lashes fluttered with contentment, didn’t care how her lipstick-coated lips were turned up in a smile as she listened to her jam.
Luke was in danger, and he was stuck on a plane next to this stupid broad who had no idea about how agitated he was, how worried. So he chewed on his nails instead of bawling her out, because that was socially unacceptable.
The landing was rough, even rougher than the flight; they all but dropped out of the sky, then smacked into the tarmac. The plane careened from side to side as it became reacquainted with the ground, then roared to a stop and slowly taxied the rest of the way to its hub. Some idiots started clapping softly. Mason grabbed his luggage and squeezed past the girl, who glanced up at him, then back down to her magazine. He elbowed his way to the front of the line, because, dammit, he needed to see Luke.