Title: Hard Hitter
Author: Sarina Bowen
Series: A Brooklyn Bruisers Novel #2
Genre: Sports Romance
Release Date: 3rd January, 2017
Publishers: Penguin Random House / Rennie Road Books
Most of the team was either showering or celebrating. Someone blasted the team’s win song—“No Sleep Till Brooklyn” by the Beastie Boys—from a set of portable speakers. The room was in happy chaos.
Castro, who had been jabbed by the rookie, had a bruise on his shoulder. But it couldn’t have hurt much because he was dancing—in his towel—with Trevi. And smiling.
That was the vibe—except for O’Doul. He was seated on a bench in the corner, his hair damp from the shower, wearing a towel and a don’t-talk-to-me face.
“Is he okay?” Ari asked Henry with a nudge to his elbow.
The trainer cast a glance toward O’Doul. “Sure. He just gets like this some nights. Kinda withdrawn. He likes to be left alone.”
Ari didn’t leave him alone, though. She made her way over to the captain and put a hand on his shoulder. “How are you?”
He looked up with deadened eyes. “Fine.”
No, not so much. “What hurts?”
He shrugged, then shook out his right hand.
Ari grabbed it and smoothed his fingers between her hands. The knuckles were bruised. “Are you injured?”
He shook his head. “No. But I broke that kid’s jaw.”
She jerked in surprise. “Really? How do you know?”
“Felt the pop.” His voice was flat.
“Come here,” she said, tugging on his hand. “I want to get a look at your hip.”
“It’s fine,” he said, but he allowed himself to be guided around the corner into the alcove where her table had been set up just in case.
She grabbed a towel off the shelf and flung it onto the table’s surface. O’Doul climbed on without argument, flattening himself onto his stomach, turning his face toward the wall. She went to work on his shoulders first. He was tight. But when she worked her hands up into his hairline, he closed his eyes and sighed.
“Tell me about the fight,” she said, expecting to be ignored.
“It was stupid,” he muttered. “I told the kid he’d been a dick, and that his enforcer had better come out and answer for that bullshit on Castro. But he says, I’ll fight you myself. I told him that sounded like a stupid idea.”
“And … it was?” She worked her hands down his spine, aiming for his lower back.
“I spent hours watching their enforcer’s fight tapes.” He lifted his head. “We all do that.”
“Of course,” she said quickly. But she hadn’t thought about it before. Made sense, though. If you had to fight a guy, you’d want to know his habits.
O’Doul dropped his head back onto the towel. “But this kid wanted to do it himself. And now he’s gonna be having lunch through a straw for a month.” The weary tone of his voice gave Ari a shiver.
She almost said, it’s not your fault. Except it really was. “I’m sorry,” she said instead.
“It’s not my break,” he growled.
Ari wanted to call bullshit on that, but she knew better than to say so here in the testosterone tank. The fight had hurt two people tonight. There weren’t any winners. Maybe one guy had gotten all the visible injuries, but the one on the table was suffering, too.
She worked her hands up and down his back, then moved down to his hamstrings. He lay perfectly still on the table, more cooperative than he’d ever been. He was ill positioned for her to work on his hip, but she decided not to disturb him. She slid one hand beneath his hip and did the best she could. “How is this tonight? The same as after your last game? Or different?”
He shifted to give her better access. “Not as bad,” he grunted eventually.
“Well. There’s a shred of good news.” She kept up her ministrations while he stared at the wall.
“Doulie!” someone yelled from around the corner. “Hockeybrawls.com has you at ninety-nine percent!”
O’Doul said nothing.
She left his hip and went down to his feet, pulling off the flip-flops he wore and dropping them on the floor. This was all she had left to give. If a deep tissue foot massage couldn’t cheer a man up, then it couldn’t be done. She dug into the ball of his foot, and he actually moaned.
Finally. Victory was sweet.
She worked in silence for five or ten minutes, and the set of his shoulders began to look more relaxed, and less haggard. She had already gotten used to the silence when he spoke up suddenly. “Does Castro really propose to you every time you touch his feet?”
The question was so unexpected that she let fly a peal of laughter. “Yes, he does. We could be married a hundred times over by now.”
His back rose and fell with a chuckle. “God. Tell him to get in line behind me.”
“Why, Patrick O’Doul”—she gave his calf a pretend slap—“I’d almost think you liked this.”
“It’s tolerable,” he grumbled.
And that’s how she knew he was feeling better.