Pro cyclist Luca Biondi lives for the race. For the star of Team Antano-Clark, victory lies within his grasp—if he can outdistance 200 other hopefuls, avoid suspicion from race officials, and keep his lieutenant more friend than foe. Luca also has secrets, and eyes for amateur cyclist and journalist Christopher Nye.
Christopher understands Luca’s need to keep their relationship under wraps, but chafes at hiding in the shadows of his lover’s career. He’s ready to cheer Luca’s victories, but he knows too well how triumph can turn to tears. While Christopher’s heart sees Luca the man, his inner journalist—and his editor—sees the cycling world’s biggest scoop.
From the jagged curves of the Colorado Rockies to the viciously steep Belgian hills, Luca can ride out any bumps—except rumors about his loyalty.
A few words in the wrong ear could crash everything. With miles between them, hints of scandal, and Luca’s fierce need to guard his reputation, a journalist might have to let go of the biggest story of his career or risk forcing his lover to abandon the race. Christopher and Luca face a path more treacherous than any road to the summit in the Italian Alps.
Journalism wasn’t going to replace the evil day job any time soon, but the email from the bank announced a pleasant addition to Christopher’s coffers. He was getting enough small news items and product reviews off to a couple of cycling magazines that he could allow himself to dream of a day where he didn’t need to discuss the merits of a thirty-eight toothed chainring versus a thirty-nine toothed chainring with a rider who would never get out of the lowest gears on a mild incline.
Working at the bike shop offered some compensation, though. Members of the pro teams came in just often enough to recognize him, trade some bit of information or insight for the personal service, and keep those small payments coming. The Garmin-Sharp boys came by infrequently; they had endorsement deals or sponsorships for almost everything a cyclist could need. UPS drivers probably got hernias delivering boxes of hardware and clothing to their team headquarters, but the new team wasn’t quite so completely supplied. The Antano-Clark riders were in and out of the bike shop on 9th Street and Pearl a few times a week. Twenty-five cyclists who needed one or two things at a time made for a pretty consistent black and turquoise parade.
Three men bypassed the wavy steel rack in front of the shop. Wheeling the bikes inside rather than risking the tools of their trade to the hopeful but inadequate security of a chain lock made perfect sense to Christopher—he wouldn’t tempt passers-by with bikes each worth more than any five things he had for sale. Maybe three—a road bike that weighed less than fifteen pounds even with the saddle was the only thing in stock that even came close to costing as much as the custom-made monsters squeaking across the cement floor.
“Anything I can help you find, gentlemen?” Christopher ambled over to the accessory rack that occupied the attention of two cyclists, who balanced their bikes against their hips while they removed their helmets. The third had gone to the rear where the mechanic worked.
“Do you have Cham-Paste?” The taller of the two ran his hand through sweaty blond locks. His personal rain spattered Christopher.
Wiping his face gave Christopher a moment to restrain his temper. Anyone who dripped on him had better kiss him first. “No, but we have almost every other kind.” Fifteen brands of lubricant to prevent chafing against the liners found in all good bike shorts, and this guy asked for the one the shop didn’t stock.
“You are disgusting again, Rolf.” The Italian lilt in his companion’s voice would have taken the sting out of the comment for Christopher, but Rolf shot him such a look that Christopher wondered what the term for “stink-eye” would be in Flemish or whatever Rolf’s first language was.
The other cyclist kept his sweat to himself, wiping his forehead with his hat, which was a strange chili pepper-patterned contrast to the team colors. It probably didn’t matter, since it was concealed under his helmet most of the time. His medium brown ringlets had been squashed close to his scalp but stood out in exuberant profusion where they hadn’t been restrained. His sunglasses dangled from their cord over his chest, not interfering with the rebuke in the cyclist’s blue eyes. “The rest of us use the chamois butter without complaint.”
“But of course you do.” Perhaps Flemish had a term for “uber-stink-eye,” because Rolf could certainly do it.
Christopher took note, wondering at the attitude he displayed to his team mate. Christopher didn’t have to be introduced to Luca Biondi to know who he was—that face had smiled, grimaced, and exulted from the pages of a dozen issues of CycloWorld, and was currently whipping across the big screen TV that played a canned selection of race clips and ads for bike-related merchandise. Also knowing that, on paper at least, Biondi was the strongest rider Antano-Clark had, this was probably the team captain on the receiving end of the disrespect. Christopher’s estimation of Antano-Clark’s chances in the Tour de France dropped two notches.
“As will you.” Biondi’s face did not change. “You will use what we can get.”
“I’ll have someone ship a case from home.” Rolf slammed the tube of chamois lubricant he’d been examining back on shelf hard enough to knock the others over. “It is the best.”
“May I quote you on that?” Christopher thought he should have a useable tidbit to make up for having to set the display up again. The “best” product often had the biggest advertising budget that month, but still, Rolf Knecht’s opinion might make good print.
“No!” Rolf snatched up a different brand to examine the list of ingredients and squirt a small amount into his hand, rubbing his fingers together. He’d chosen a particularly greasy sort. Christopher had tried it but felt like he was going to slide right off his bike. Rolf grimaced at his now-shiny hand.
“You are most fussy about what you rub on your butt.” Biondi picked up a tube of sunscreen.
“Unlike you!” Rolf spat out a word Christopher didn’t recognize.
Biondi did, and perhaps it was best Christopher couldn’t understand or even identify the language he snarled back. The short, bitter exchange resulted in Rolf’s whirling to the door with his bicycle, leaping on once he reached the sidewalk. The rack of lip balms he knocked over on his way out rang and rattled for a few seconds after the rider disappeared from view.
“Rolf is on edge today; I ask forgiveness for him.” Biondi’s apology added to the shock Christopher was quite certain was making him look stupid. “I’ll fix this.” He set a tube upright, smacking it into place. He stared at the shelf, not glancing at Christopher.
“Uh, you don’t have to…” Catching a tube that rolled to the edge of the shelf when Biondi picked another up, Christopher set it on its wide cap, his hand brushing the cyclist’s. The brief contact went straight to his groin, though perhaps his stupid-face kept it from showing. Not that Biondi was looking. What the hell had Rolf said? Something obscene about a product every serious cyclist used?
“My teammate made the mess.” Biondi knelt to collect creams from the littered floor.
The fallen rack allowed Christopher a strategic retreat. Cursing his reaction under his breath, he righted the stand and collected the handfuls of tubes on display cards. By the time he had the balms hanging neatly again, Biondi was waiting quietly at the register, his bicycle at his side like a well-trained Great Dane. Scurrying over, Christopher focused on the bright teeth showing against the rider’s lightly tanned face—he’d recovered something of his earlier mood, but the strain hadn’t left his eyes. Lycra cycling leggings, or possibly cycling shorts with separate leg warmers—Christopher dared not look closely enough to decipher which Biondi was wearing—didn’t leave a lot to the imagination, although the pliable chamois liners did soften the outlines of the wearer’s package. Something he had no business looking at.
“Thanks,” he said, unfolding the bills Biondi offered. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“I did. I don’t want you to remember Antano-Clark riders for bad things only.” He tucked the sunscreen into one of the elasticized pockets on the back of his jersey. “My name is Luca Biondi, and I hope my team will be welcome here another day.” Extending his hand for the change, he smiled like he meant it, holding Christopher’s eyes with his light blue gaze.
“You will. Uh, they will. I’m Christopher Nye.” Smooth, real smooth. Try not to come across as star-struck or hopelessly horny, will ya? Brushing his fingertips across Luca’s palm while counting out quarters and dimes probably spoiled any hope of appearing suave. Luca didn’t seem to mind. “I could try to get some Cham-Paste for Rolf.”
“That’s kind, Christopher, but it’s not the Cham-Paste Rolf truly wants.” The smile flickered, then returned. “I will be back another day, to be sure of a welcome.” Luca wheeled his bicycle out of the shop, swinging one whipcord leg over and joining the west-bound traffic on Pearl Street. Christopher followed with his eyes, the floor to ceiling windows letting him enjoy every flex and twist.
Luca Biondi was welcome to anything he liked.