There had been several times in Lucas’s career where he was indebted to his cup for protecting his goods from getting smashed. This was the first time he thanked the cup and his many pads for concealing his highly uncomfortable boner. He’d never gotten hard on the ice before. And he certainly wasn’t going to tell Ryan any of this. He played it off. “Yep. I had this vision you scored a goal. I’m sure it was wishful thinking, though.”
Holding his fists out in front of him, Ryan did a shimmy on his skates, his facial muscles twitching as he held back a grin. “Yeah? You want to go? Insulting my scoring prowess? That’s a no-no, man. Hi-yah!” He made a karate-chop move, going from fists to flat hands in a second. He looked insane.
They both burst out laughing. Lucas shoved Ryan away, bent in half and gasping for air. “Dude, you’re so fucking weird,” he said between gasps of laughter. “You sure you’re a feline? I think you’re more related to a canine.”
“I heard that,” said Cully, cruising on by, doing figure eights with the puck on his stick. “Ry’s not cool enough to be a canine. We’re awesome, not weird.”
Ryan went after Cully, demanding to know what made him unworthy of canine genes. Like he wanted to be one or something.
Stifling his mirth, trying to get a handle on himself, Lucas skated to the net to snag one of the pucks gathered behind their goalie, Leighton Ashby, who was an arctic fox shifter known to the team as Ash. His snow-white curls peeked out from beneath his mask, and his dark amber eyes were intense and focused. He was a fan favorite. Sometimes to tease him, guys from their team would print out Internet memes of Ash spraying his face with water during a game or shaking out his hair and tape it to his locker. If they were feeling assy, they’d tweet them on Twitter.
It was a good time, and Ash always blushed. Every. Single. Time. As if a bunch of hockey players could resist fodder like that.
Ash nodded at Lucas as he took a puck, acknowledging Lucas was in his space and letting him do whatever he planned to. Goalies were weird about their areas, and every seasoned player knew to respect them above all else when on the ice.
He spent the rest of warmups dicking around, stickhandling, and taking shots on goal. Rather than practice, he found warmups to be about finding his feet on the ice. Getting in the right mindset for the game.
* * * *
The game started off slowly, the Hares playing like this wasn’t a competition. Well, most of them. Their captain, Chandler, and Marc seemed to be the only ones trying. Lucas had no problem twisting by the Hares, the puck on his stick as he raced toward goal in an odd-man rush.
He shot without overthinking it.
Marc snatched it midair, the puck smacking into his glove.
Lucas skidded to a halt, accidently snowing the goalie, stopping with barely any space between him and Marc. His brain was about to take a leave of absence, his dick taking over his common sense. He opened his mouth to say God knew what. Before he could, the Hares were on him, pushing him away from Marc, clearing their goalie some room and snarling at Lucas. The message was clear: back off.
He did because it was the smart thing to do. During a game with thousands of fans watching wasn’t the time to be staring deeply into the opposite team’s goalie’s big dark eyes.
Five minutes later he was in the same spot, but this time his shot on goal tipped in. It slipped right by the reach of Marc’s glove, and the Aces were on Lucas, his teammates hugging him and shouting while Marc’s teammates were skating away, shaking their heads and looking frustrated.
Lucas studiously didn’t glance at Marc’s expression.
They headed into the first break leading by one to zero. And the score was only that low because of Marc.
The second period was faster, with the Hares finally fighting back. Lucas was willing to bet their coach gave them a stern talking-to during the intermission.
Chandler scored with three minutes left, tying the game.
Lucas shoved down frustration, burying it underneath determination. They had twenty-three minutes to win this game still, and they were going to do it.
It was the Aces’ turn to get a “You’re better than this” speech from their coach. Lucas tuned out, going over his mistakes in his head, trying to see where he could have done something else, something different.
The final twenty was a train wreck. It began great, with the Aces scoring twice
. They were riding high. They couldn’t lose that, right? But the Hares retaliated with three goals within ten minutes. It was over. Well, there was a fight between a big polar shifter—Henrik, Lucas thought—on the other team and Patrick Richie, a black bear and right winger for the Aces.
The linesmen wouldn’t go near them, not that Lucas blamed them.
The two bears had shifted, giving up on human form, and they were duking it out, roaring and batting at each other. Lucas left without waiting for them to finish fighting. He needed to decompress before talking to the media, and he couldn’t show up acting all bitter over a loss for his…booty call? Was that what this thing with Marc was?
Although angry sex potentially added a certain spice to things.
It would soothe any hurt feelings he had over his loss.
It was a good thing the media arrived before he got a chance to shower. Lucas didn’t think his teammates would enjoy him waving a hard-on around, and there was nothing that killed a good mood like the press after a loss.
“Were you disappointed in your performance tonight? Do you think your team should have tried harder?”
“Uh, duh” was not an appropriate answer unless Lucas wanted to have a meeting with the public relations department. He tugged on the brim of his Aces snapback, pulling it down enough to hide his eyes. “This wasn’t our best game, but we tried. We just need to try harder. Give one hundred and ten percent instead of a hundred. The same goes for me. Obviously I could have done things differently.”
“Where do you feel you went wrong? Giving up three goals so quickly like that and not forcing an overtime?”
Unable to stop himself, Lucas unleashed his sarcasm. “Well, I’d have to say we went wrong there. We shouldn’t have given up those goals.” Sweat trickled down the back of his neck, and he was tempted to growl at the reporters to make them scatter. He didn’t even have his skates off yet, just his jersey. His under armor clung to his damp skin, and his pads were bulky. He’d like to wash off. Instead, he sat through three more questions, repeating to himself during every single one that he couldn’t shift and tear the reporters a new one. If he wasn’t willing to sit through a PR class, he wasn’t willing to endure an anger management course. No thanks.
He headed to the showers, wondering if one day a reporter would ask him an intelligent question.
* * * *
The team’s going out. I’ve gotta stay for like an hour at least or they’ll bitch. Meet you at your hotel after?
Lucas sighed. This was not the message he wanted to see from Marc. Ryan poked his shoulder, leaning into his space trying to read it. Lucas shoved him away with a palm to his face, simultaneously flipping his iPhone screen down with his other hand.
“Aw c’mon,” said Ryan, muffled. Lucas took his hand away from Ryan’s face. Ryan twitched his nose. “I want to see what’s making you huff like that.”
“None of your business.”
Ryan stuck out his bottom lip.
“I feel nothing when you do that,” said Lucas. He paused. “Well, actually that’s a lie. I do feel something. It’s a mixture of disgust and pity at your weak ploy.”
“Fine,” said Ryan. He tapped Valeri Bieri, their Swiss rookie left winger who was sitting the row ahead of them on the bus, on his shoulder. “Hey, Val. Lucas was hiding something on his phone. Could you shift and do that thing you do to make him show me?”
Val turned, blinking big brown eyes at them.
Ryan grinned. “I’ll buy you beer.”
One second Val was sitting there, human, and the next there was nothing. His clothes were in a pile on his seat, his tiny shifter form wiggling under them trying to get out.
A chipmunk poked its head out of Val’s shirt collar.
Ryan scooped him up, and Val sat on his palm, clasping his tiny chipmunk paws together and looking pleadingly at Lucas.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Lucas, steadfastly not looking into Val’s eyes. “This is abuse of your veteran status.” By this point, several of the guys had started watching, turning in their seats and climbing onto their knees to get a better view. “Change back,” he said to Val. “I’ll buy you vodka.”
Val glanced at Ryan.
“I’ll buy you two bottles of vodka and beer,” said Ryan.
Val’s heart-melting gaze swung to Lucas. He made a little chirping noise. Lucas shut his eyes. If he couldn’t see, he couldn’t be swayed.
“Dude,” said Cully, “he’s obviously sexting someone. Who knows when the last time he got action was. Leave him be.”
“Is that what you’re doing?” asked Ryan, unfailingly nosy.
“Yep,” said Lucas, reopening his eyes.
“You could have just said so. Like I want to read that.” He hesitated. Val was still on his palm. “Was that a sexy huff then? Were you like…turned on?” Val’s nose wrinkled, and he glanced down at Lucas’s crotch.
“You’ve got me,” said Lucas drily.
Ryan left him alone after that.
Lucas responded to Marc finally. I share a room. Couldn’t we meet at yours?
He didn’t get a response till he was in his hotel bed, watching some brainless adult cartoon on the TV. I think I could leave soon. My roommates’ll still be out.
Marc followed this with his address.
If this were for anything other than sex, Lucas would tell him never mind. He was tired and sore from the game and more than a little cranky. But he wasn’t going to turn down an orgasm with Marc. He wasn’t crazy. I’ll head out in a few.
Ryan was in the other bed, snoring away with his eye mask on and everything.
Lucas snapped a picture before he left. He’d Instagram it during the cab ride to Marc’s.
* * * *
Marc lived in a good-sized block house surrounded by land and no other homes. It was an earthy taupe and had wide bay windows in the front. There was a three-car garage beside the house, and a basketball pole sat on the side of the driveway. The yard was well kept, probably by a lawn service.
Lucas felt ten years younger than he was, showing up at a guy’s house for a hookup. Sneaking behind their teammates’ backs. Not that he’d done this kind of thing ten years ago, because he hadn’t. It’s a little late to be getting so adventurous.
He scoffed at himself. He was thinking about things too much.
A sleek black Dodge Charger pulled into the drive as Lucas reached the front door. It parked in the garage nearest the house, and a minute later Marc was walking toward him. His auburn hair was tousled, bouncing as he moved. He still wore his game-day suit. It was a stylish blue three-piece affair, and Lucas’s gaze went right to the gray waistcoat.
The only thing hotter than a waistcoat was suspenders.
Lucas licked his lips and propped himself against the side of the entranceway, waiting.
“Hey,” said Marc as he drew close, voice on the breathy side. His cheeks were already flushed. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, pulled them out, ruffled his hair, and cracked his knuckles. Lucas grinned at the show of nerves, and Marc finally huffed, ducking his head to hide his smile. He moved around Lucas and unlocked the door. “C’mon in. You want water or anything?”
“So polite.” Lucas crowded him against the foyer wall once Marc had locked the door behind them, and then slotted a thigh between Marc’s legs. Marc wrapped his arms around Lucas’s neck, lips parting to release a low gasp.