SERGEI DRAKONOV. The newest left wing for the Washington Eagles hockey team is a triple threat: muscle, roughed-up good looks, and a dangerous tabloid reputation. Not the kind of guy who fits into Jael Pereira’s five-year plan. Jael doesn’t have time for a relationship, between her challenging senior-year course load and her stiflingly dull internship at the FBI. But for one steamy night, she gives in to Sergei and his smooth-talking ways.
Sergei wants more than just another one-night stand. But his brother—a high-ranking member of the Russian mob—wants him to help the family business. He can use Sergei as an easy way to launder money, or to smuggle drugs on the Eagles team plane. And if Sergei doesn’t agree, he can kiss his skating career goodbye.
The FBI’s been watching Sergei. When they learn about Jael’s fling, they want her to persuade him to inform on his brother. But the more Jael sees the real Sergei, beyond the role he plays on the ice and in front of the cameras, the more she wants him in her life. How can she win his trust, though, when she’s playing a role of her own? And how can she protect him from his mobster brother when she can’t even protect her own heart?
Body Checked is a standalone HEA sports romance (m/f) in the Center Ice series of interconnected hockey athlete stories. It contains explicit language and sexual content between consenting adults.
Body Checked by Katherine Stark
Genres: New Adult, Romance, Suspense
“It happens all the time on the ice. Guys will say anything to get inside your head. You don’t want to know what they say about me.” Sergei shrugs, though his smile has faded. “That’s why I don’t like to let them see the real me. Because then, no matter what they say, it’s like it’s not even really me they’re attacking. It’s someone else entirely.”
In spite of myself, I’m reaching for his face, brushing my fingers against his still-swollen lower lip. I’d heard what he said in the interview—that he got injured in practice. Yet he hadn’t explained it any further than that. None of his teammates had said a word about it. Sergei’s eyes lid as I touch his lip, and his breath gusts over my fingertips as he exhales, slow.
“What really happened?” I ask. I try to keep the question light, but I can’t shake the feeling that it has something to do with his brother.
Sergei sighs, and closes a hand around mine. He kisses my fingertips, sending a thrill through my arm, then lowers both our hands to my lap. “I can’t lie to you, Jael.”
My shoulders tense. This is it. Part of me hopes desperately he’s speaking loudly enough for my phone to record it, but the rest of me? It wants to keep this moment for myself.
“But there are some things I can’t discuss. With you, or—or with anyone.” His fingers loosen around mine. “Please trust me when I say it’s for the best.”
I can already imagine Frederica and Chief Ha shouting at me to push him harder, to try and coax out whatever secret he’s locked away behind those cold Siberian eyes. It’s not like it’s completely unknown—a few of the news outlets have made vague whispers about his family being mixed up in some bad shit along the Eastern seaboard, though everyone knows better than to name names. To utter that which shall not be uttered. Bratva. The Slavic mafia boogeyman lurking in the night.
But this is more than some titillating crime drama to be gobbled up in the news. This is personal for Sergei—a private pain. He’d told me what it was like to grow up with nothing in Moscow; how his brother took the first chance he could to make something of himself. Sergei could have followed him into the mafia back then, but he chose not to—he chose to pursue his real passion of hockey. To do honest work. He deserves some respect for that.
I lick my lips. My throat feels impossibly dry. “Well,” I force myself to say, “if you ever change your mind, I promise I’ll listen.”
Sergei smiles again, so bright it lights me up inside. “Milaya devushka.” My darling one.
Katherine Stark is the pseudonym for an author of novels in a variety of genres for children and adults. She can nearly always be found buried underneath a pile of story notes. If she isn't writing, she's probably reading, playing video games with her husband, watching hockey, or eating her way across the East Coast.