“When are you gonna stop teasing me, baby?” Adam’s back was against the bar, his elbows perched on the smooth, wooden surface and his face turned to the woman beside him.
She yelled over the thumping country music so he could hear her. “When are you gonna stop calling me ‘baby?’”
“As soon as you give me a reason, baby.”
She swept her long bangs out of her hazel eyes and gave him a sharp look. “Buzz off.”
Adam Harris pouted, sticking his bottom lip out and tilting his head to the side. He kept the mood light and playful, as always. “Aw, come on! I thought we were having fun.”
“We were having fun, until you suggested we go home.”
He wanted to take her home and get her into bed. She had a cute, innocent face, like she was a country girl in the big city. Adam was dying to corrupt her. “It’s last call. I have to go home, you have to go home. Why not go together?”
“No thanks, Harris. Not tonight. Not ever.”
She turned her back to him and walked over to the other end of the bar where their group of mutual friends was. Adam watched as that dark-haired beauty hugged Georgiana, who then glanced over at him and smirked. He cocked an eyebrow, wondering what they were saying about him.
His delicious prey left the bar without looking back, but he swore that she was swiveling her hips as she walked away and showing off that perfect ass on purpose. What a fucking tease.
Allison wasn’t his usual type. Yeah, he loved all women, so the superficial things like hair color or body type didn’t matter much to him. He had preferences, sure; he was definitely an ass man. But just like how he preferred mint chocolate chip ice cream over any other flavor, that didn’t mean he wasn’t sometimes in the mood for rocky road.
When he was cruising at a bar, he looked for a woman who was showing off some cleavage or a whole lotta leg—some kind of indication that she was a confident and sexual woman who was maybe looking for some action. If she looked at him and smiled, then he’d approach. And if she turned him down, then he moved on; there was always some chick who’d be DTF with a well-known local professional athlete.
But Allison was pretty much the exact opposite from those women. She was... demure and understated. She typically wore pants and a shirt that barely dipped below her clavicle and looked very modest. She had bangs that hung into her eyes, which hid those gorgeous eyes like a shield or visor. And she wasn’t enticing; she never looked at someone from across the bar, making eye contact and smiling, like she was interested in talking to anyone besides the people she was with. She didn’t ooze confidence, but that had shone through once they had started talking. Allison had a clear sense of who she was and what she wanted—and was strong enough to stick with it, despite any temptation and much to his chagrin.
After all, she had certainly made it clear that she wasn’t going to just fall into bed with him. They got along well in a friendly way, talking about shared interests and a little bit about themselves. Adam liked talking to Allison because he felt like he got her to come out of her shell. He liked that she, for lack of a better word, blossomed when they were together. She was a wallflower, and he got her to open up, engage in conversation, and have some fun. There was definitely a connection between the two of them.
But as soon as Adam tried to indicate he was interested in a sexy relationship, Allison would just shut down. He was frustrated, to say the least.
Adam drained his beer bottle and joined that group at the opposite end of the bar. “What did she say about me?”
“Absolutely nothing,” Georgiana answered with a smile.
“Really, George? Nothing?”
“Nope.” Georgiana grinned at him. She looked all too happy to give him the bad news. “She ditched you. Again.”
One man in the group nudged another. “Told you. Pay up.”
Bryan Comstock groaned. “I’ll pay you tomorrow, Klinger.”
“Seriously, you guys bet on it?” Adam was irritated by the idea of the guys watching him strike out—and worse, betting against him.
“Easy money,” Mark Klingensmith said with a grin.
“I don’t know why you do it,” Bryan added. “She’s never said ‘yes’ to you—”
“But she will,” Adam interrupted. “They always do, in the end.”
Mark was skeptical. “You’ve asked her a dozen times, and she’s turned you down a dozen times.”
“Ally just needs a little more persuasion than other chicks.”
Georgiana shook her head, her halo of curly hair bouncing around her face. “I’ve been telling you that Ally’s not the kind of girl you’re used to. You’re wasting your time.”
Adam shrugged with one shoulder. Everyone, be it his friends or the hockey commentators, always described him the same way: determined and stubborn. He was a pit bull, biting down and refusing to let go. Hell, it had worked for him in every other aspect of his life. Why not with women, too?
“Poor guy, going home all alone.” Mark slung his arm around his girlfriend’s shoulders. Bryan, not wanting to feel left out, did the same with Georgiana.
“If I go home alone, it’s because I want to.” He held up his iPhone as he defended his pride. “I’ve got hundreds of names in here, any one of ’em willing to come over whenever I call.”
“Yeah? Even at two in the morning on a Wednesday?”
The lights came on in the bar to signal closing time.
“Well,” Georgiana started, “looks like you’d better starting dialing. Because it’s time to go.”
Adam checked the time on his watch. “I gotta settle my tab. I’ll see you guys Thursday.”
Mark clapped his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “Technically that’s tomorrow, dude. Rest up! Gotta pass the fitness testing before you can hit the ice.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll pass and be skating circles ’round you in no time.”
Georgiana hugged Adam. “’Night, Adsy. See you Thursday.”
He watched the four of them wave at the bartenders as they shuffled out the door. Every year, he watched more and more of his teammates pair off and settle down. First it was Bryan, getting traded to the team last season and then immediately getting together with Georgiana. Next was Mark, who showed up a few days before training camp with news that he and his ex had gotten back together—and that she was going to be visiting for the week as he settled back in Dallas.
That was never going to be him. At least, not until he retired.
Adam paid his bill for the night. He and the guys had gone out to celebrate all being together again, before training camp and the madness of the season began. The older, married guys on the team had come out for just a drink before heading home to their wives and, in some cases, kids. The guys with girlfriends stayed a little longer and had a few more beers than the others, but they filtered out of the bar, one by one, as the night went on. Only Bryan, Mark, and himself had stayed ’til closing. Unless he was taking a girl home for the night, Adam was usually the last one to leave.
He decided against calling any of the women in his contact list. Adam loved women—loved everything about them—but he loved hockey more. With training camp just a few days away, he needed to focus more on having a good camp and starting off the season the right way.
There were always guys who came into training camp looking to earn a spot on the roster: AHL players trying to crack into the NHL, new acquisitions proving their worth to their new teams, and draft picks wanting to show off their skills. Adam couldn’t rely on the fact that he’d been playing in the NHL for years to keep him up with the Comets, because the new guys were gunning for his spot on the third line. He wanted to be in top form for his fitness testing; he’d trained hard over the summer, but he needed to make sure he was well rested, too.
So he left the bar and went home, alone, because he wanted to.
* * * * *
“Hey! Gimme my phone back.”
“Who’s texting you?”
Allison reached up to try to grab her phone back from Adam, who was holding it high over his head. She was a good six inches shorter than him, so her effort was futile. “I don’t know, you didn’t even give me a chance to look at it.”
“Is it your boyfriend?”
She knew he was teasing her. That’s what Adam did; he always tried to get a rise out of her. And it worked, every time. But Allison always gave as much as she got. “Maybe it is.”
He pouted and handed the phone back. “Really?”
“Maybe my imaginary boyfriend,” Allison mumbled, scanning the screen to read the message.
“So, you’re still single?” Adam leaned his back against the bar and gave Allison an appreciative look from head to toe.
“Single, not desperate. Don’t get any ideas, Harris.”
“Hmm, but you give me plenty of ideas.”
“You’re such a perv, you know that?”
Adam shrugged. “I prefer to be called ‘creative.’”
Any observer of their behavior at the bar at Saddle Ridge would think that they didn’t like each other—or maybe even hated each other—but that observer would be wrong.
Neither Adam nor Allison would ever admit that they had crushes on each other; Adam would say that he didn’t get crushes on women, and Allison would say that she was too old to crush on anyone. But there was an attraction between them, a magnetic pull, that they couldn’t resist.
“Well, you’re certainly never boring.”
He flashed her his charming grin, the one that ladies couldn’t resist. “Finally, Ally. A compliment.”
Allison couldn’t stop her smile from appearing. When Adam laid on the charm, it was hard for her to resist. After all, she did like him, more than she wanted to. But she also knew about his playboy reputation, which was why she always had to keep him at a distance. He was the kind of person who could make Allison feel like she was the only woman in the room, and that was a nice feeling. Too bad he could make any woman feel that way to entice them into his bed.
“Oh, by the way,” Adam said, changing the subject as he dug his own phone out of his pocket. “I found something I thought you’d like.” He opened up the web browser on his phone to a tab about the latest casting rumors for The Walking Dead. He held out the phone so Allison could see the screen. “Did you see this?”
“No.” She cupped his phone and tilted it so she could get a better look, and their hands touched. They leaned in together, closely, to both read along as the article speculated about which actor would play the next baddie.
Allison was so close to Adam that she could smell his cologne or aftershave or whatever and feel the heat of his body against her side. He was tall and broad, and she felt like his body and his aura completely surrounded her. That sensation made a shiver run up her spine and made her skin tingle. That was the effect of the magnetism between them, although Allison didn’t think Adam was affected quite like she was.
They both watched and loved the show, and it was one of the shows that really brought them together. Once they had discovered their mutual interest of some cult-favorite TV shows, the door opened to reveal their connection.
“I really don’t know how they’re going to top the Governor, but I can’t wait to see them try.”
“Oh, me too. It’s gonna be good. They outdo themselves every season.”
“Just as long as they don’t kill Glenn.”
“You know he dies in the comics, right?”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean he has to die in the show, too. They change things all the time. Daryl’s not even in the comics at all.”
In those simple moments, Allison could see herself falling for a guy like Adam. Someone who had passion and dedication about his interests—even if it were just for a TV show. Enthusiasm was so attractive.
Adam was physically attractive too. Of course. He was a pro athlete, after all, so he had a rockin’ body. He had a perfect bubble butt, evident in his jeans. His tee shirt pulled across the width of his chest, like it could barely contain his muscles. His biceps threatened to tear through the sleeves of his shirt. Oh yeah, he was hot.
And he had a handsome face. His nose was crooked like it had been broken, either in a hockey fight or because of a puck to the face, and it hadn’t been set properly. But it added character to his face rather than take away from his attractiveness. His brown hair was long—not quite to his shoulders, but long enough to be tucked behind his ears.
But the most attractive thing about Adam, Allison thought, wasn’t a physical attribution. She couldn’t place a finger on what exactly it was, but she felt relaxed around him, like she’d known him for a long time. Allison didn’t usually feel so... comfortable around people she just met, but things were easy around Adam. Even when he was acting like an ass.
“Yeah, I know, but they pretty much follow the story arcs. If it’s not Glenn, then it’s gonna be someone else.”
“As long as it isn’t Glenn, then I don’t care.”
Allison glanced at the story again on Adam’s phone, and she saw the time on the top of his screen. 10:38pm. “Shit, is it that late already?”
“You call this late?” Adam had gotten used to staying out way past midnight over the summer.
“Yeah, I do, when I have to work in the morning.”
“I have camp in the morning, but you don’t see me rushing out of here.”
“Maybe you should. Otherwise, you’ll be sorry tomorrow.”
He shrugged again; Adam did that a lot. “I’ll be fine. Work hard, play hard.”
How could he be so nonchalant about something he had to work so hard for? He acted like he cared more about The Walking Dead than he did his own hockey career. Maybe that was all part of his act, to look like he didn’t give a shit. “Whatever, dude. I’ve gotta get home.”
“Need a ride?”
Allison wasn’t sure if he was genuinely offering to be nice, or if he had ulterior motives. “Um....”
“I’d love to take you to bed.” He grinned. “I mean, take you home.”
She rolled her eyes. Adam always took it a step too far. When he came on too strong, it totally turned her off. Too bad he couldn’t be that nice guy, the thoughtful and sweet guy, all the time. “Uh, no.”
He pouted again. “When are you gonna stop teasing me, baby?”
“When are you gonna stop calling me ‘baby?’”
He tried to be charming again, like he wanted to smooth things over. “As soon as you give me a reason, baby.”
Allison wasn’t falling for it. Once Adam pushed her too far, she couldn’t go back to the light banter. “Buzz off.”
“Aw, come on! I thought we were having fun.”
“We were having fun, until you suggested we go home.”
“It’s last call. I have to go home, you have to go home. Why not go together?”
She slung her purse over her head and across her body. “No thanks, Adam. Not tonight. Not ever.”
Before either of them could say another word, Allison left the bar and headed over to where her best friend, Georgiana, was standing, with her boyfriend and some other Dallas Comets players. She waited for the first lull in their conversation to tell Georgiana, “Hey, G, I’m heading out.”
“Oh, are you? We’ll probably be leaving soon. Want a ride?”
“Nah, I’m good. I’ll just catch the train.” They hugged each other. “We’ll hang out sometime soon.”
“Sure thing, Ally. Text me when you get home safe, okay?”
“Okay.” Before Adam could follow her, she slinked out the door and headed for the closest DART station.