Dee, dee, dee-dee dee-dee-dee—
Neither skill nor natural talent were required for turning off a clock radio’s alarm with one’s eyes closed. Whether night or day, Casey knew exactly how to coil into the proper position on his side, work one arm out from beneath the duvet, and batter the monster into submission before it switched over from noise to chatter.
Correction: usually he knew exactly how to manage that feat.
Today was not a day for good aim.
“Never too early in the morning for a game, Frank; that’s what I say.”
“You couldn’t be more right, Bruce, and how about that upset last night between the Red Sox and the Yankees?”
“Oh no. We’re not fighting another turf war in that age-old battle.”
“Janice, you like the Cubs. You’re out of this argument completely. But even you have to admit, that ninth-inning home run was a thing of beauty and a joy—”
Casey groaned. He scrunched his eyes more tightly shut. He’d missed. How had he missed? He patted the top of the radio carefully, searching for the right button.
As he touched the snooze button, the volume rose.
“Frank, Bruce, he was lucky. That’s all there is to it.”
“If you want to call it ‘luck’ instead of ‘talent’ or ‘skill,’ go right ahead, but I’ll disagree.”
“Why can’t he have all three? Mendez has been riding a rising star since he set foot on the field.”
“You might have a point, Bruce.”
“Exactly. Let’s take a look at his stats in the past year alone—”
To Casey’s left, the bed, previously unoccupied, dipped under the weight of a very full-grown man. One who radiated the heat of a small blast furnace, the good cheer of a kennel’s worth of puppies, and the sex appeal of a bottle full of testosterone milked from a hundred well-experienced underwear models.
Casey turned to lie on his back and blinked his eyes open. “Mmm. Morning, Nate.”
Lips brushed Casey’s ear as Nate spoke in a warm whiskey tenor that soothed some ragged nerve ends and tickled others wider awake.
Casey dragged the covers over his head. “Nope. It isn’t. It’s just your imagination.”
“And I have an excellent imagination,” Nate said, tugging the bold Navajo-print duvet down, stripping it completely off Casey and their bed, and onto the floor. “It liiiives. Here. I bet you’ll like me better if I do this.”
Casey cracked his eyes open again for a bleary, blurry view of Nate aiming a remote control at the TV, which shut up with a pop that took the sportscasters’ enthusiastic chatter with it. “Classic Sports Network?”
“Their Best of 2010 showcase,” Nate confirmed. “What a game.”
Nate beamed. “And you say you don’t know anything about athletics.”
“What I remember is you needing to be peeled off the ceiling afterward.” Casey rumpled Nate’s hair. “A little too much excitement for me, thanks.” Casey twisted to squint at the clock radio…which, being unplugged, had apparently never gone on or off at all. “What did you do that for?”
Nate brushed his lips across Casey’s before Casey could get a word out. “All’s fair in love and war,” he said, simply and cheerfully. And then, brighter and more enthusiastic still, nearly glowing from the inside out with the enthusiasm of the true zealot, “And in softball.
Casey took Nate’s pillow and put it over his face. Sometimes he wondered exactly how an introverted homebody from the Pacific Northwest ended up with a sports fiend from the Carolinas.
Nate plucked the pillow out of Casey’s hands and sent it after the blanket. He flopped happily down on the bare mattress and beamed at Casey.
Eyes open yet again, his vision clearer now, Casey got a prime look at the man’s face and had to admit he knew the answer to the particular aforementioned question. From the minute Casey had laid eyes on Nate, he hadn’t stood a chance. Bats and balls notwithstanding.
For as much as he loved Nate—and he did—there was nothing in the world Casey loathed more than softball or baseball. Team sports in general, actually, but games of ball and stick in particular. If anyone asked why a slim, clumsy man named Casey
wasn’t a fan of either, Casey wasn’t about to explain.
Nate, on the other hand, had put himself through college on a baseball scholarship and played three parsimonious years in the minors between undergrad and going for his master’s degree in education. Some men Casey had known in his life loved the game. Love
was not a strong enough word for Nate’s athletic fervor. Nor were passion
but after a few adjectives anyone would get the idea.
Very lucky for Nate that he loved Casey just as much. Which surprised Casey as much as anyone, but that was love for you. It never did make sense. Best thing to do was let go and enjoy the ride.
Speaking of… Casey twist-flipped over with a decided lack of grace to lie facing Nate and Nate’s side of the bed. “What are you still doing here? It’s light outside. Every Saturday there’s a game, you’re bouncing around for hours before they even think of throwing the first pitch.”
Nate tapped the center of Casey’s forehead. “Ah, but this isn’t any ordinary Saturday. Remember?”
Memories sifted through Casey’s mind as if through a sieve, filtering out bits and pieces. Awake early on the weekend… Nate making a point of it… Turned off the TV, so whatever’s going on is more interesting than a classic rerun…
Casey groaned. “It’s today, isn’t it? The community softball tournament.”
“Hmm? You mean the day I collect on the bet I won?” Nate asked far too innocently. “When you come and watch an entire day’s worth of games? That day?”
“If I hadn’t been sure of it before, I am now,” Casey said drily.
“No welching,” Nate coaxed. He knew Casey well. “C’mon. There’ll be no joy in Mudville if Mighty Casey—”
Casey slapped a hand over Nate’s mouth. “Rule number one.”
He had to let go. Hard to even pretend to be stern when your lover, naked except for a ball cap turned backward, was laughing with force enough to jostle himself free anyway.
“Promise me,” Casey begged. “No doggerel poem jokes today.”
Nate very deliberately slipped one arm behind his back to ostentatiously fail to hide his crossed fingers. “I would never.”
Casey rolled his eyes and sighed. At least Nate had a comfortable chest to butt his head against. “I’m doomed, aren’t I?”
“Mmm.” Nate kissed the top of Casey’s head and ruffled the hair growing long over Casey’s nape. “Yes. But in the best possible way. Sorry about the wake-up call too. You slept through me pretending you had an emergency message from the florist, my knocking over a stack of client portfolios—that was an accident, though, honest—and through my, as you put it, bouncing around like a coked-up koala.”
Casey snorted. He rubbed his face, still a little sleepy now Nate mentioned as much. “You pretended to be tangentially involved in planning a wedding? Now I know you’re serious.” He stopped. “That’s not fair. I’m sorry.”
As much as Casey loathed ball games, so too did Nate run shrieking in mortal terror at the mere thought of weddings. Not marriage as such, no, but weddings and their attendant fripperies, frills, and furbelows all brought Nate close to breaking out in hives. Casey, ever the romantic, still daydreamed once in a while about a wedding of his own, but for the most part he’d made his peace with the matter a while ago and honestly didn’t mind. He supposed Nate probably felt the same sort of bemused surprise at having ended up with a wedding planner as a life partner.
“I’m not surprised I was fast asleep,” Casey said, “and neither should you be. I seem to recall now how someone kept me up until almost four in the morning burning off their excitement.”
It bore mentioning that reciting baseball statistics was precisely the opposite way to turn Nate off. Live and learn.
Casey rolled over to lie on his back. Nate followed, as if they were connected by magnets in their hips. “You’re awake,” Casey said, studying Nate’s freshly scrubbed face and his hair, dry but smelling of shampoo. “You’ve been
awake for a while.” A glance at the door showed him a uniform left where it’d been stripped off. “Why are you back in bed?”
“Just in case the TV didn’t take,” Nate said. He shrugged one-shouldered. “Besides, having to come back to bed to drag you out of it? I’m okay with that.”
“Uh-huh.” Casey reached up to ruffle the tips of Nate’s hair. A little long to be regulation, but it dried quickly. “Reverse psychology?”
“Mmm?” Nate had gotten distracted tracing the smooth skin over Casey’s ribs. “I’ll do what I have to. And I know you’ll love softball if you give it a chance.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because I know you.” He winked at Casey. “And I’m not above fighting dirty.”
“I think everyone who’s met you knows that.” Or more accurately, Nate’s uncanny ability to coax the world around to seeing things his way. And his skill at high-stakes strip poker.
Hence waking at six a.m. on an early summer morning.
Hence a day at a softball tournament. Not participating. There was only so far even a game of strip poker could push, pull, or prod a man, even one as quiet-natured as Casey. But watching? Therein lay the rub, and the forfeit due a winner at five-card stud. How would he know he didn’t like it if he wouldn’t try it?
Darn Nate’s hide for having a point, anyway.
Casey covered Nate’s hand with his to jostle him out of the light trance he’d fallen into. Nate wasn’t any more of a morning person than Casey. Nate had only learned to fake it better. “You realize that your coming back to bed isn’t at all likely to coax me out of it. The ploy isn’t going to work out to its planned advantage.”
Nate chuckled. He splayed his hand wide over Casey’s heart. “I figured that out about the time you opened your eyes. But…I figure this way it’ll still work out to an
When he was right, he was right.