“Buck up, soldier,” my friend Owen, star goalie for the Seattle Ice Hawks, says as he thumps one hand on my shoulder.
Easy for him to say. He’s engaged to the woman he loves, and is loved by adoring fans across the country. Basically, he’s got the world by the balls.
In comparison, my life feels like it’s on the brink of falling apart. But no one wants to hear me complain about that right now, because we all just flew in by private jet to celebrate Owen and Becca’s joint bachelor/bachelorette party in Sin City.
Cue the sarcasm.
“I’m fine,” I say, tipping my chin toward the packed dance floor. “Go dance with your soon-to-be wife and quit bugging me.”
Owen’s gaze strays over to where his fiancée, Becca, is on the dance floor, moving her hips beside a couple of our female friends, one of them being Aubree Derrick. Aubree, the petite brunette with the killer curves and fiery attitude who captured my attention the second I met her. She’s a total smoke show. But I try not to let myself notice things like that about her, because the minute I do, I need to go on boner patrol.
My drink arrives as Aubree dances, or rather shimmies her ass in one direction and flails her arms in another. As I watch, I laugh for the first time all night, because dancing is clearly not her strong suit. But she’s still hot as fuck, and I can’t take my eyes off her.
The club is loud, almost deafening. Deep, sultry bass thumps around me, and the room is dim except for the flashing blue and purple lights. It’s been easy to go unnoticed, tucked inside the curved booth while the rest of our group makes good use of the dance floor.
I take a sip of the stiff drink in front of me, hoping it will calm some of the pent-up energy stewing inside me. From the outside, my life seems great . . . I’m a twenty-three-year-old rookie on one of the best hockey teams in the country, earning close to seven figures. But I didn’t get much ice time this season, and now I’m not sure where I stand with the team.
My future feels like it’s the brink of collapsing, and all I can picture is having to move back home to live with my dad, and get a minimum-wage job at the shoe store I worked at in high school, while some other asshole is living my dream. I signed an entry-level contract, which means there are no guarantees. Next year could be it for me. If I don’t get more playing time, why the hell would Coach keep me? I’m an overpriced bench warmer. A bearded cheerleader.
I rub one hand across my stubbled jaw, remembering that I shaved a few days ago. Scratch that—I’m a sulky cheerleader minus the beard.
A few seconds later, the gorgeous Aubree slides into the booth next to me, and I scoot over to give her more space. “Why aren’t you dancing?” she asks, bringing the straw in her vodka soda to her lips to take a long drink.
Her pulse thrums steadily in her neck. She’s flushed and slightly breathless. My gaze strays to her lips before I can look away.
I shrug. “Don’t really feel like it.”
“You don’t have to babysit tonight, Covington. You can get drunk and make bad decisions along with the rest of us.” She smirks, watching me closely as she leans in and sucks on her straw again.
She’s referring to the fact that I usually abstain from drinking, happy to play the role of designated driver when the team goes out.
“This isn’t water,” I say, swirling the clear tequila in my glass, lifting a brow in her direction.
“Good.” She pulls a tube of lip gloss from her purse and runs it over her lips. Seriously, is she trying to taunt me? “For the record, I never thought that was fair that they made you play DD as the rookie on the team.”
I turn and glance at her. God, she’s like a cookie I want to bite into. “They didn’t make me. I choose not to drink during the season.”
“Oh.” Her mouth parts in surprise, and her eyes twinkle. “So you mean to say that you guarded our drinks while we danced, drove people home, and even humored drunken requests for burritos at all hours because of the kindness in your heart?”
I chuckle. “Something like that.”
“You’re one of the good guys, aren’t you, Covey?” She pats me on the thigh with one slender hand, and my groin tightens.
Aubree and I met for the first time earlier this year at a charity event. As the director of the team’s charity organization, she’s friendly with most of the players and their girlfriends, and has been a frequent member of this new crew I’ve found myself pulled into. But she’s never once expressed any interest in me. Never looked at me like I’m anything more than just the rookie on the team.
I’ve told myself it’s a good thing—that I don’t have time for distractions this season. But now she’s giving me a hungry, desire-filled look, and I’m weak as fuck.
Aubree slowly pulls her hand away and adjusts the spaghetti strap of her little black dress, calling attention to her cleavage.
I shift in my seat, trying to alleviate the sudden pressure I’m experiencing below my belt. “I mean, I pay my taxes on time and I haven’t murdered anyone, but let’s not get carried away.”
She laughs, amusement dancing in her honey-colored eyes. “You are. I can tell.”
I don’t disagree with her. Sure, I’d like to think I’m a decent human being, but let’s be real. Being a good guy doesn’t get you very far.
Exhibit A is the current state of my life. Single as fuck and horny—which isn’t exactly a winning combination, even though I’ve brought it on myself. Being celibate is a choice, but that doesn’t make it any easier. And when you throw in my fears about getting canned from the team, let’s just say I’m not exactly a barrel of laughs tonight.
Aubree makes a pensive sound and watches me over the rim of her glass like I’m a puzzle she wants to solve.
My self-imposed abstinence isn’t usually a problem, and while I’m not picky, I am selective. And the gorgeous girl beside me makes me feel a little unsteady. Like she’s capable of pushing past all my inner defenses without even trying.
Am I out of my element? Yes. Does that only make me want to push harder, strive for more, and take more chances? Bingo.
When Aubree lets out a lengthy sigh, I glance at her. “Everything okay over there?”
I expect her to say something mundane is bothering her—like maybe those insanely high heels she’s wearing—but it seems Aubree is full of surprises.
“Ugh . . . where to start.” She fiddles with her straw again. “Let’s see. I’m thirty and single, which is basically like the kiss of death.” She meets my eyes quickly before deciding that’s too intimate and scans the dance floor again. “All the good guys my age are already spoken for.”
She’s never opened up to me like this before, but something inside me appreciates her vulnerability. I turn to face her and meet her eyes. “You’re a ten, so you could have any guy you want. Your dancing skills are questionable, but still.”
“You’re an ass.” She rolls her eyes, but the tint on her cheeks at hearing me call her a ten is evident.
“Not denying that.”
She smirks and stirs the ice cubes in her drink with the straw.
“Cheers to being single.” I raise my glass to hers, and Aubree clinks her near-empty cocktail to mine. “Should we order another round?”
“God, yes. Immediately.”
Her timing is perfect, because our cocktail waitress has seemingly appeared out of nowhere, and we quickly place an order for another round of drinks.
It’s over our third cocktail that Aubree blurts, “So, who here is your type?” She sweeps her arm around the bar. “I’ll help you pick someone out.”
My sip of tequila goes down the wrong pipe, and I cough to clear my throat.
Is that what Aubree plans on doing tonight? Picking out someone tall, dark, and temporary to provide some stress relief? More importantly, why does the idea of that bother the hell out of me?
“I don’t have a type,” I finally manage to say, my throat tight.
Aubree scoffs. “Everyone has a type.”
“Are we seriously doing this?” My tone hints at annoyance, but in truth, I’m anything but. Sitting here talking and laughing with her is the most fun I’ve had tonight. To be honest, it’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
“What about her?” Ignoring my question, she nods toward a blonde swaying her hips on the edge of the dance floor. She’s dressed in a barely there halter top and a tiny black leather skirt.
Frowning, I shake my head. “No.”
Aubree turns and glares at me. “What’s wrong with her?”
It’s strange how expressive she is. I study her for longer than I should, unable to tear my gaze away. But rather than answer her question, I plead the fifth with a shrug and take another long gulp to drain the rest of my glass.
“So, are you going to tell me your type, or what?” Her eyes fix on mine and stay there for what feels like too long.
I don’t hate it.
“Fine. I prefer brunettes.”
She smiles triumphantly. “There. Was that so hard?”
Trust me, I’m halfway there, sweetheart.
Quizzing me while she sips her beverage, Aubree gets me to admit that I like petite brunettes who can hold a conversation and are feisty.
She quirks one eyebrow in my direction, and I’m suddenly certain that she’s just realized I’m describing her. Thankfully, she doesn’t call me on it. She just continues tapping her finger against her chin, scanning the bar for prospects like an athletic scout does at a training camp.
“There’s got to be more than that,” she says, challenging me. “Breast man? A nice heinie? What’s your thing?”
“My thing?” I can’t hide the humor in my voice. “First off, don’t use the word heinie ever again.”
“But—” she says.
God, I love that she’s about to vehemently defend even this.
I hold up one hand, stopping her. “Promise me. Never again.”
Aubree makes a low sound of agreement, and I feel a sudden ache in my balls. “Just answer the question, lover boy.”
“Tits are nice,” I say.
Aubree laughs, the sound deep and throaty, and any regrets I had about muttering that inarticulate phrase vanish. I’d do it all again just for a shot at hearing that laugh.
“But a nice curvy ass is pretty great too. I’m a guy, so I wouldn’t deny either.”
“Truer words,” she says with a chuckle.
I’m about to turn the question around on her, ask about her type, but the words stick in my throat. I don’t want to hear her describe any man here who isn’t me. My ego isn’t secure enough for that tonight. Sad but true.
Aubree’s got perfect tits and a nice curvy heinie—God, that word really is atrocious—and I can’t not make a play for her. At this point, what do I have to lose?
“You want to get out of here?” I ask, adjusting my watch, feigning a casual posture.
Her lips twitch with a smile. “And go where?”
I shrug, trying to play it cool, but my heart is hammering. “Anywhere. Someplace we can talk.”
She considers this, weighing my offer as those expressive amber eyes flash on mine again. “Talking is good.”
So is kissing.
“Sure,” she says at last.
I settle our tab and rise to my feet, grateful that the night is taking an unexpected turn.
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