Break Down
(Dublin Rugby #4)

** Sneak Peek **

PROLOGUELIAM

I looked down at the paper in my hands. My new contract with Dublin Rugby. To say I was disappointed at the number staring back would be an understatement. Sure, I hadn’t had the best season—a rotator cuff tear that had me spending more time at the physio than I had on the pitch hadn’t helped—but I’d thought for sure the nearly 10 years I’d played for Dublin would have garnered some good will for my future. Apparently, I’d thought wrong.

“So that’s it then?” I asked, meeting my agent’s shrewd eyes. 

Maybe because I’d expected to see pity, I was surprised to see Sean’s eyes glittering with a hopeful gleam instead.

“Maybe not,” he answered, reaching into his desk and pulling out an unmarked folio. “I know you said you wanted to finish out your career in Dublin, but I put out some feelers to see if another team might be interested.”

“What?” I barked, furious he’d gone against my explicit orders.

“Calm down, would you? You may not have anticipated something like this, but I had a sneaking suspicion you weren’t going to like what they came back with. I hate to break it to you Liam, but Dublin is building a team of youngsters and Ireland wants to focus its team on those who can play in the next World Cup. Everyone knows you’re too old to be a legitimate prospect.”

I wanted to tell him he was crazy, but the fact of the matter was, at 32 it’d be a goddamn miracle if my body held out long enough for 2019. As it was, I’d already spent most of this past season sidelined with injury, and once that happened to a rugby player, it seemed to keep on happening. That’s just the way this game worked. Once you were hurt, getting back to peak condition was the exception, not the rule.

“You know I’m right. I can see it in your eyes. And you know as well as I do that McConnell kid is the future. He had some tremendous games while you were out, which was all they needed to justify that.” He notched his head toward the contract I held clenched in my hands. Leaning forward, he rested his elbows on his desk, his fingers forming a steeple against his lips. He paused, tapping them twice. “Good money to be found in Edinburgh.”

“I can’t go to Scotland, Sean.”

“No?” he asked meaningfully. “I don’t want to sound insensitive, Liam, but what’s keeping you here?”

He may not have wanted to sound insensitive, but his question sure as hell hurt like a motherfucker. And I wasn’t being sensitive. 

“Fuck,” I muttered, dropping my head into my hands. “Can this year get any worse?”

“You really want me to answer that?”

“No,” I said with a sigh. We both knew my year could have been infinitely worse. In fact, Sean was one of only a handful of people who knew about the crisis I’d barely averted and what the toll could have truly been—both on my personal and my professional life. 

“Hey,” he said, his tone gentling. “Do you want to hear what I think?”

I swallowed and took a moment to steel my nerves. The truth was, I did want his advice, even if I probably wasn’t going to like what he had to say. Sean wasn’t just my agent—he was also my sister’s husband and one of my closest friends. 

“Going to Edinburgh might be good for you. Ever since The Incident—” he used his fingers to make air quotes “—you’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. You’ve been stressed as fuck, man. It might do you good to go somewhere you don’t feel like you constantly need to be looking over your shoulder.”

“Of course I’ve been stressed,” I laughed cynically. “Blackmail will do that to a man.”

Sean leaned back, holding his hands up in a show of surrender. “Look, I’m not saying you don’t have every reason to be concerned. I don’t trust that asshole to not come waltzing back in a couple of years demanding more money. Especially if he sees you out and about, living your life. What’s the saying? ‘Out of sight, out of mind’? Maybe if you weren’t around, there’d be less temptation.”

“He signed a goddamn NDA,” I groaned. “Doesn’t that buy me some protection?”

He shrugged. “It should. But here’s the thing: nothing actually happens to him if he breaks it. You can threaten to sue, but if you do, everyone finds out anyhow. He’s probably not smart enough to have figured that out yet, but when he does, it’s only a matter of time until he either asks for more money or releases the pictures.”

“Fuck,” I muttered again. 

I’d run out of eloquent words to express how I felt about what had happened with Conor Henry three months ago. Not for the first time, I wished I’d never met the asshole. But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, as my gran liked to say.

“Go to Edinburgh, Liam,” Sean urged. “You’ll make good money, and when you’re there you can figure out the other thing.”

I raised my eyes to his. “There’s nothing to figure out. It was a one-time thing.”

He studied me for a few moments before responding. “Okay,” he nodded. “But even if it wasn’t, you know you always have our support.”

As much as I could say it had only been a one-time thing, I knew that was actually true—and I hated making a liar of myself. From the time my tiny little prick had started getting hard and I’d discovered how good it felt to come, I’d had those urges—you know the ones—I’d always wondered what it would be like. For years, I’d avoided those desires—focused my attentions elsewhere—but now that I’d acted on that curiosity, I didn’t know if I could deny that part of myself any longer. Because while I craved pussy like an alcoholic craved his next drink, apparently I also liked cock. Or rather, I liked another man sucking mine … not something that was generally accepted in my world. With the threat of Conor exposing me hanging over my head, I didn’t know how much longer I’d be able to keep my secret hidden. 

With the legalization of gay marriage in Ireland in 2015, people were a whole lot more accepting of the whole “gay thing,” but I couldn’t name one single out rugby player … and I certainly didn’t want to be the first. Especially since I wasn’t technically gay. Which was the other problem: if there was one thing people hated more than a gay guy, it was a bi one. 

When word of my proclivities got out, I could only imagine what the reaction would be. People like my teammates Declan O’Shaughnessy and Aidan Quark wouldn’t give two shits about where I liked to stick my dick, but the other lads? Let’s just say you still heard “faggot” jokes in the locker room sometimes. Hell, I’d laughed at a few of them over the years myself. But now? Well, things had changed. 

I’d changed

I didn’t hate what I was—what I liked—but I wasn’t looking forward to others hating me for it, either. I didn’t want to look guys I’d stood naked next to in the showers and see their worry or disgust. Coming to terms with my sexuality had been hard enough; being the first professional rugby player to admit he liked dick and pussy wasn’t the sort of pressure I wanted to deal with as well. Not at this point in my career—maybe if I had just been starting out I might feel differently, but I had a reputation and a legacy at stake. 

I knew that made me a coward, but I had no interest in becoming the poster boy for professional gay athletes. Especially since I wasn’t even sure how this would all play out in the long term. Just because I’d loved shoving my cock down Conor’s throat—had come harder than I had in a very long time with my hands wrapped around the back of his head as I held him flush against me as his eyes watered from the force of my orgasm—didn’t mean I was about to go out and fuck some random guy … or get fucked by one either. Blow jobs were one thing, that was a whole other can of worms. One I didn’t know if I was ready to open. One I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready to explore.

You’re fooling yourself, my subconscious sneered. Now that you’ve had a taste of the forbidden, you want more. You loved it and can’t wait to experience it again.

Yeah, I had. Which meant I needed to get the fuck away from Conor Henry and the turmoil he could cause. Because even though I wanted to murder him, I also really wanted to fuck him, too. 

Properly. 

And that meant I needed to leave. 

I dropped my head back and stared at Sean’s ceiling for a few beats. With a weary sigh, I made my decision. It looked like I was going to Edinburgh after all. 

“Make the deal,” I said, my head falling forward. Sean nodded once with a satisfied quirk of his lips. “And wipe that fucking grin off your face,” I added, rising from my seat and walking out of his office without a backward glance. 

I trusted Sean with my life, and that meant I would leave him to take care of everything to do with the negotiations with Edinburgh. He’d keep me updated on the outcome of his negotiations and what I’d need to do next. All I’d have to do was sign on the dotted line.

Back in my car, I took a few moments to recalibrate. Life had been so much easier before that night had changed everything, but the move to Edinburgh would give me an opportunity to make a fresh start—both professionally and personally. Now, I just had to decide what that fresh start looked like. Was I the same Liam I’d been all these years, or did I accept this new reality and allow myself the pleasure I’d only recently discovered? I’d waited almost 20 years to act on my attraction to men; surely I could keep my dick in line for a few more, at least until I hung up my boots and retired. 

On the pitch, I was known for trusting my instincts and going with the flow of the match instead of always relying on a set of plays. With the exception of that one tackle I hadn’t rolled into adequately—the one that’d kept me on the bench for most of last season—my instincts had never steered me wrong. Unless, of course, you also counted the instincts that had led me to Conor’s apartment at three o’clock in the morning. Because that had proved a major miscalculation on my part. 

Not that I regretted what we’d done; I only wished I’d chosen someone more trustworthy for my first time—someone who wouldn’t blackmail me afterward. But even though I now had to deal with the consequences of my lax judgement, I probably would have done the same thing all over again. I’d been drawn to Conor Henry like a moth to a flame from the moment I’d seen him, and nothing would have kept me away from him that night. He was the physical embodiment of every dark fantasy I’d ever had … and he’d known it from the second our eyes had locked across the dark club.

My god, what a fucking cliche, I thought with a cynical roll of my eyes as I remembered it all over again.

After several hours of eye fucking one another, he’d cornered me in a dark hall leading to the VIP section and whispered in my ear that he wanted to get down on his knees and taste me. I’d nearly come in my pants at his dirty promises. And then he’d palmed my cock through my jeans and kissed me hungrily, licked his way inside my mouth and sucked my tongue into his mouth. From that point on, there’d been no going back. Through hungry pants and whispered moans, I explained to him that I’d never been with another man and begged him to go easy on me. He just laughed, grabbed my hand, and led me out through the back door. When we reached my car, he promised he’d be gentle, that he wouldn’t push me further than I was ready. He also promised when he was done, I’d never forget the feel of his mouth on my cook. 

At least in that, he hadn’t steered me wrong.

But when I’d told him I couldn’t stay the night—that I wouldn’t fuck him either—he’d turned sullen and mean. Now, with the threat of exposure hanging over my head, I’d always remember him for reasons other than what he’d promised. He’d forever be the man who’d used my vulnerability against me, for abusing the trust I’d placed in him. For tainting a moment I’d been longing for the entirety of my adult life and turning it into one I’d always recall with guilt and remorse. 

So no, maybe my instincts weren’t all that sharp after all. Because if they were, I would never have kissed Conor back while in the background Michael Jackson sang about the way someone made him feel, how they really turned him on. I never would have returned his hungry stares or encouraged his advances. But I had, and all that had led me here.

Now, I just needed to decide where I was going next. Because at the moment, the only thing I was certain of was that I wasn’t certain of anything.

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