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Always Only You
Author: Chloe Liese





Playlist: “Better By Myself,” Hey Violet



Ren Bergman is too damn happy.

In the three years I’ve known him, I’ve seen him not smiling twice. Once, when he was unconscious on the ice, so I hardly think that counts, and the other time, when an extreme fan shoved her way through a crowd, yelling that she’d had his face tattooed on her lady bits because, and I quote: “A girl can dream.”

But for those two uncharacteristically grim moments, Ren has been nothing but a ray of sunshine since the moment I met him. And whereas I myself am a little storm cloud, I recognize that Ren’s Santa-on-uppers capacity for kindness makes my job easy.

As In-Game Social Media Coordinator for the Los Angeles Kings, I have my work cut out for me. Hockey players, you may have heard, are not always the most well-behaved humans. It inflates the ego, getting paid millions of dollars to play a game they love while tapping into their inner toddler. Hit. Smash. Shove.

With fortune comes fame and fawning females at their fingertips—those don’t help matters, either. Yes, I’m aware that’s a lot of “f” words. So, sue me, I like alliteration.

While the PR department has the delightful privilege of putting out public-image fires, I do the day-to-day groundwork of cultivating our team’s social media presence. Glued to the team, iPhone in hand, I make the guys accessible to fans by implementing PR-sanctioned hype—informal interviews, jokes, tame pranks, photo ops, gifs, even the occasional viral meme.

I also document informal charitable outings geared toward our most underrepresented fans. It’s not in my exact job description, but I’m a big believer in breaking down stigma around differences we tend to ostracize, so I wormed my way into the process. I don’t just want to make our hockey team more accessible to its fans, I want us to be a team that leads its fans in advancing accessibility itself.

That makes me sound sweet, doesn’t it? But the truth is nobody on the team would call me that. In fact, my reputation is quite the opposite: Frank the Crank. And while this bad rap is formed on partial truths and ample misunderstandings, I’ve taken the moniker and run with it. In the end, it makes everyone’s lives easier.

I do my job with resting bitch face. I’m blunt, all business. I like my routines, I focus on my work, and I sure as shit don’t get close with the players. Yes, we get along for the most part. But you have to have boundaries when you’re a woman in the near-constant company of two-dozen testosterone-soaked male athletes—athletes who know I’m in their corner, but who also know Frankie is a thundercloud you don’t get too close to, unless you want to get zapped.

Just like rainclouds and sunshine share the sky, Ren and I work well together. Whenever PR has a killer concept and I come up with a social media home run—pardon my mixing sports metaphors—Ren is my man.

Campy skit in the locker room to raise money for the inner-city sports programs? There’s Ren and his megawatt smile, delivering lines with effortless charm. Photoshoot for the local animal shelter’s fundraiser? Ren’s laughing as kitties claw up his massive shoulders and puppies whine for his attention, lapping his chin while he lavishes them with that wide, sunny grin.

Sometimes, it’s practically stomach-turning. I still get queasy when I remember the time Ren sat with a young cancer patient. Turning white as a sheet, given his fear of needles, he told her the world’s lamest knock-knock jokes while he donated blood and she had her bloodwork done. So they could be brave together.

Cue the collective female swoon.

I shouldn’t complain. I shouldn’t. Because, truly, the guy’s a nonstop-scoring, smiling, six-foot-three hunk of happy, who makes my job much easier than it otherwise would be. But there’s only so much sunshine that a grump like me can take. And for three years, Ren has been pushing my limit.

In the locker room, I scowl down at my phone, handling an asshole troll on the team’s Twitter page, while I weave through the maze of half-naked men. I’ve seen it all a thousand times, and I could care less—

“Oof,” I grunt as my face connects with a bare, solid chest.

“Sorry, Frankie.” Strong hands steady me by my shoulders. It’s the happy man himself, Ren Bergman. But this time, he’s shirtless, which Ren never is. He’s the most modest of the bunch.

I’m tallish, which places my gaze squarely in line with Ren’s chiseled-from-stone pectoral muscles. And flat, dusky nipples, which tighten as the air chills his damp skin. I try to avert my eyes, but they have a mind of their own, drifting lower and lower to his six-, no eight-, no—dammit, his a-lot-of—pack.

My swallow is so loud it practically echoes in the room. “I-it’s okay.”

Well, hello there, husky, sexed-up escort voice.

I clear my throat and tear my eyes away from his body. “No worries,” I tell him. “My fault.” Lifting my phone, I wiggle it side to side. “Serves me right for traipsing around, nose-deep in Twitter.”

Ren smiles which just spirals my mood even further south. The amount of dopamine that this guy’s brain makes daily is probably my annual sum total.

Smoothing a hand over his playoff beard, he then brings it to the back of his neck and scratches, which I’ve learned over the past few years is his nervous tic. His bicep bunches, one rounded shoulder flexes, and I try not to stare at his massive lats, which give his upper body a powerful “V” shape, knitting themselves to his ribs, and a long, trim waist.

The visual feast results in a temporary short circuit, wiping my thoughts clean but for a two-word refrain.

Wowy. Muscles.

It must be because whereas the rest of the team are practically nudists, Ren always disappears for a shower and comes back rocking a fresh suit, crisp shirt, and tie. I’ve never seen this much Ren Bergman nakedness. Ever.

And I’m riveted.

“You’re rather unclothed,” I blurt.

He blushes and drops his hand to his side. “True.” Leaning in, he lifts one eyebrow and says conspiratorially, “This is the locker room, you know.”

I resist the fierce urge to tweak his nipple. “Don’t sass me, Bergman. I wasn’t finished.” I take a step back because, holy hell, does that man smell good. Fresh soap and a warm spiciness chasing it. Something enticingly male. “You don’t normally waltz around naked like—”

Kris streaks by bare-assed on a high-pitched shriek, whipping his towel playfully at Ren as he passes. I lift a hand in the doofus’s direction. “Schar makes my point for me.”

Ren’s blush deepens as he glances away. “You’re right. I don’t normally traipse around like this. I just forgot something I needed.”

“What did you forget? Your suit’s right back there.” I can see it from here, hanging near the showers. Smart man. Steamy air takes out the wrinkles.

Dammit, now I’m thinking about Ren taking steamy showers.

“Well, uh…” he says. “I forgot what goes underneath the suit.”


My cheeks heat. Good grief. Of course. The guy forgot his boxers—Ooh, or maybe briefs? I need to stop thinking about this—and here I am holding him up like it’s the Spanish Inquisition.

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