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At some point I’d look away and stop stealing second glances at Pearce talking to the dark-haired guy. If Pearce wanted to hook up, it was his prerogative. Hell, it was the reason why whenever I headed into Minneapolis to take in one of his home games, I generally stayed in a hotel.
The last thing I wanted was to stop my friend’s ability to get laid. It didn’t matter that even the thought made my stomach curdle, a reaction I was used to but doggedly ignored and denied.
A text alert caught my attention. Probably a good thing, as the hot guy cozying up with Pearce had placed a hand on his forearm. While it was simple, seemingly innocent contact, they were just a few beats away from making out.
Shaking my head at my ridiculousness, I checked my phone, in case it was from my daughter. Not that she should be anywhere near her phone at this time of night, but still. I sighed when I saw Wayne’s name. Not the best reaction to receiving a message from the guy I was supposedly dating, but he acted ridiculously assholishly whenever I left town to watch one of Pearce’s games.
It didn’t matter that nothing ever had happened between me and Pearce. Not only was he my best friend, but he was too young for my old ass.
I rolled my eyes when I read the question asking if I was still out.
“Who’s that from?”
I jerked as heat pressed against my side with the appearance of Pearce. Flicking my gaze in the direction of where he’d been flirting with the hot guy, I frowned when the brown-haired man was no longer in sight. “Huh?” I angled to look at him. With Pearce sitting so close, it was hard to get a full read of his expression, but apparently he found my confusion amusing.
“Why are you sitting here texting rather than dancing?”
With a tilt of my chin, I shot my right brow high. Pearce knew full well I didn’t dance. “I’m not texting. Was just checking my phone and making sure it wasn’t Lottie.” At the mention of my girl’s name, Pearce’s gaze softened.
“She okay?” The lilt of concern tickled my chest, just like it always did when he got all soft and sweet about my daughter.
“It wasn’t her, and she better be tucked up fast asleep in bed.” She was staying at one of her friends’ house tonight. Thank Christ for that collection of moms who always put their hands up for sleepovers. I wouldn’t be here without that special breed of parent.
He bobbed his head and shifted on the booth seat to see me more fully. “So who had you frowning? Has Wayne got lice again? Good of him to give you a heads-up.”
I worked hard not to laugh, but I couldn’t stop the slight twitching of my lips. Wayne and Pearce had a love-hate relationship. In as much as they loved to hate each other. From the day they’d met, Wayne was suspicious about my friendship with Pearce. He couldn’t understand why I was best friends with someone so much younger than me, for a start. There was no doubt jealousy there too. Not only was Pearce underwear-model-material smoking hot—his deal with CK gave him that status—but he was at the top of his basketball career. Tonight’s incredible game being no exception.
And Pearce. Well, his dislike for Wayne stemmed from his argument that he didn’t think Wayne was good enough for me, and by association Lottie. His feelings for me may have something to do with his animosity too, but for my own sanity, it was best not to think about that.
“He’s just checking in, making sure I’m having a good time,” I lied. It wasn’t like I was protecting Wayne; rather, I didn’t want to be talking about him on my night away from reality.
Pearce’s snort made it clear he wasn’t buying it. “Tonight’s screw must have been a disappointment if he’s up in your business.”
I winced, hating that he was probably right.
“Shit,” he was quick to say. “You know I’m being an asshat. I’m sorry, yeah?” He reached out and squeezed my knee, gaze raking over my face.
I forced a smile, not wanting to get into this with him. Wayne wasn’t cheating. His announcement that he wanted an open relationship a while back prevented that. And at the end of the day, for all my ill-thought-out reactions, I’d agreed. In this scenario, I was the chump who didn’t want the drama of ending a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere. “It’s fine. Or it will be when another beer appears in my hand.”
For a moment, it didn’t seem like Pearce was going to let it go, which he usually didn’t, but whatever he read on my face had him pulling his lips between his teeth. With a huff of breath, his shoulders relaxed. “I can do that, but get your ass up and join me at the bar.”
An easy smile formed on my mouth. “Shift your butt, then.”
He scooted out of the booth, and I followed, hot on his heels. It had been a while since we’d had drinks with his teammates after a game—the two of us usually slipped away for a quiet dinner and a few beers. That sounded way more couple-y than it was, but I liked spending time with him, a lot. Did that mean I monopolized his time when I had the chance? Damn straight. I was the first person to call myself out for being a selfish asshole.
When we reached the bar, we stopped next to a few of his teammates. They were laughing and talking about something or other Cassius had said or done.
“—lit up like the fourth of July.” Cassius grinned and bounced his brows. “Fucking spectacular.”
A couple of the guys snorted while Ollie, the Eagles’ captain, rolled his eyes. “One of these times you’re going to land your ass in jail and get benched.”
“Ollie,” Cassius answered with a shake of his head, “I’ve talked myself out of so much shit I should have been locked away for. Fireworks in my high school coach’s office was nothing.”
“Dear God,” Ollie groaned, “for the love of all that is holy, do not do that to Coach Jenkins.”
“Me?” Cassius even pressed his hand to his chest and widened his eyes for good measure. “I like my balls attached to my body, fuck you very much. Coach would cut them off if I pulled any of that shit.”
“I’d pass him the tweezers and the itty-bitty blade to help,” Pearce said from my side. The group laughed, and Cassius flipped him off.
“Fuck you, Malcolm. Whatever size blade veterinarians use for an elephant or whatever would be the only blade that could cut it.”
Pearce’s barb was instant. “Damn, is that why you’re still not able to do a slam dunk after all this time? Your oversized balls? Shit, Cass, maybe it’s time we intervene and organize a medical consult for you.”
“Whatever, man. My balls are perfect specimens. I’m thinking about getting them insured.”
“Fucking hell.” Ollie wiped a hand over his face, then met my gaze. “Bet you’re wishing you’d hermitted our boy away tonight rather than dealing with these dicks.” He followed up with an amused smile.
Ignoring how it most definitely hadn’t gone unnoticed by Pearce’s team that I did tend to steal their teammate away after a game, I returned his smile. “It’s a healthy reminder of what I’m missing out on.”
“Missing out on?” Ollie raised his brows, smirking. “More like a ‘thank fuck this part of your life is over.’”
I snorted. “Well, I don’t miss having a coach ride my ass or—”
“Who’s riding your ass?” Pearce’s bicep pressed against mine. Whether he was aware or not, when we were together, he was tactile… seriously so. Not that it was a hardship. At some point over the past five years, he’d used his voodoo skills and trained me to not only crave his touches, but damn if he hadn’t gone and trained me to do the same thing with him, and only him.
“Not you,” Cassius spat, laughing loudly, while I snorted good-naturedly, trying not to think about what it would be like for Pearce to ride my ass.
Pearce flipped his friend off.
“Talking of riding asses, what happened to that guy who was rubbing up all over you?” Cassius pushed. I’d been thinking the same thing, despite the curdling in my stomach.
“He wasn’t rubbing up all over me. Not sure what skanks you’re getting with, but that’s not for me,” Pearce fired back, voice light and breezy.
I frowned and risked a glance at him, noticing pink in his cheeks that belied just how carefree he’d attempted to sound.
“Since when?” Cassius challenged. “And dude, no skank shaming.”
A laugh rumbled out of Pearce, and he raised his hands. “My bad. There’s nothing wrong with skanks.” He cleared his throat before saying, “I was just talking to the guy is all. He’s a fan.”
Innuendo dripped off Cassius’s words when he said, “I just bet he is.” He then made a show of looking around before settling his attention back on Pearce. “Actually, where’s your usual hookup?”
I swallowed hard, knowing exactly who Pearce’s “usual hookup” was. He actually seemed like a decent guy. Not that I wanted to hang out with the reporter, especially if he was getting it on with Pearce.
Fuck, I hated being such a double-standard dick, but Pearce and I didn’t get together half as much as I liked—living states apart made that hard—which meant when we did, I wanted him all to myself. Seriously, referring to myself as a selfish prick was just the tip of the iceberg.
“How should I know?” Pearce said, arm still pressed against mine. “I haven’t seen him for a while. Well, not seen himseen him.”
This was news to me. Not that we discussed his hookup or Wayne all that much. We had a mutual unspoken rule about not talking about other men. It didn’t mean I wasn’t morbidly curious, though.
“Huh” came from Cassius, and I didn’t miss the flash of something—a warning maybe—Pearce shot his way.
The bartender appeared before us and took our order. While we waited, I nudged Pearce. “You good?” I couldn’t help but feel like I’d missed something in all that.
He angled toward me, resting a forearm on the bar. “A win and a beer with my best bud? Hell yes. Of course I’m okay.” With nothing but sincerity in his gaze or his tone, I relaxed. He didn’t look put out over not hooking up with that guy. “You okay staying for this, then heading out?”
“We can stay if you want to hang with your team.” I could be magnanimous when I wanted to be.
“I’d prefer to catch up with you instead. You not getting in till this afternoon meant we missed out on last night’s slumber party.”
I snorted. “You’re such a dickhead. But yeah, having to meet today with the foundation was important, but I would have appreciated it a whole lot more if it had been another day.”
He bobbed his head and took a pull of his drink. “How is everything with the foundation?”
“Going great. Pride Youth is going strong. We’ve got more sponsorships and have finalized a visit to the summer academy again.” I’d been involved in the LGBTQ+ youth foundation going on seven years, having first met one of the foundation’s directors when doing a stint at Montview during the elite basketball training camp.
“Excellent. Just let me know if you need anything, yeah?”
Warmth flooded me at his offer. “You already do plenty.” It was true. Since his first season at Montview as a guest trainer five years ago, not only had he been offered a regular seasonal spot, but he’d also involved himself in Pride Youth when he’d discovered my connection.
“I do a bit, but you know if I can, I’ll always do more.”
I leaned against him at the bar, nudging him gently, giving him my silent thanks. What continued to amaze me was that while he could easily write a check for them, he preferred being actively involved.
Pearce sure did tend to go all in when invested.