We’re both quiet for a beat as he levels me with a stare that says he’s studying me, trying to figure me out.
Or maybe trying to figure out what he wants from me.
What he’ll let himself have.
Finally, Dean asks, “And am I that something?”
“You are that something, and you are that someone.”
He gives a casual shrug. “You might not like me if you get to know me.”
He walks toward another booth, and I match his strides.
“Maybe you could let me be the judge of that.”
Dean seems to consider this as he segues to another topic. “What’re you doing in England anyway? Are you and your sister on holiday for the summer?”
There’s something more to the question. I’m not sure what exactly, but I have the sense that maybe he’s making sure I’m leaving. Just a hunch. Funny, that he knows so little about hockey he’d think I might stay. Or even stay for the rest of the summer.
“Don’t worry. I have a J-O-B calling my name in the States. My team isn’t moving to London. I’m returning to New York in”—I stop, making a show of looking at my wrist even though I don’t wear a watch—“five days. Thursday, I’m outta here.”
Dean’s eyes seem to spark when I mention the timing, or really, the expiration date. That is intel I file away because it tells me even more about him. “But I’m here now because Emma got into this incredible art program at the University of London. I thought I’d come over with her to get her set up and just have a good time.”
“That’s kind of you,” he says, his tone genuine. “Looking out for her.”
“Well, Emma’s awesome. She’s my baby sister. The others are a little older.”
“How many sisters do you have?”
“What’s that like? Besides loud, I suspect.”
“Are you an only child?”
“Yes. Is it that obvious?”
“Now it is. Only children are notorious for being extremely stubborn and often resort to playing hard to get . . . especially when they’re pursued by the second youngest in a family of four.”
A laugh bursts from his chest. “Was there a study on that?”
“Yes. By the American Journal of Why the Hell Won’t You Have Dinner with Me. But the study found the more persistent the second youngest is, the greater the chance of a yes.”
“Fascinating study. Do show it to me some time,” Dean says, his grin widening.
“I’ll be sure to look it up and send it to you.”
We wander a little more, and he returns to the topic of family. “So, the second youngest of four. Sounds like you’re close with all of them?”
“I am. I love all my knuckleheaded sisters madly, and I’ve managed to forgive them for the living hell known as trying to get to the shower in the mornings in a house full of double-X chromosomes. It’s been my mom, my sisters, and me since my dad died when I was ten.”
Dean’s face softens. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
I wave it off, since it’s all I’ve ever known. “Couldn’t have asked to be raised by better women. They all took a very personal interest in making sure I didn’t turn into a total dick. I bet Emma’s personally offended that you don’t seem to be falling for my charms.”
He looks away, then back at me, lowering his voice, and it feels personal, like what he’s saying is just for me. “I don’t think that’s completely true.”
A smile spreads on my face, and my chest heats. “So you admit it—”
I’m interrupted by shouting and loud music from the booth up ahead. A small cheering crowd surrounds the booth. Dean and I edge closer, and it doesn’t take long for me to figure out what’s happening.
They’ve set up a small demonstration of softball, with a plastic bat and rubber ball. Different patrons are stepping up to try to hit a “home run”—hit the target in the back—for a free drink.
A brunette sporting a baseball cap that reads “The Foul Ball” bounces up to Dean, holding out the plastic bat.
She grins at him. “Looks like someone would be a natural! Fancy a hit?”
He shakes his head. “I’ll pass, thanks.”
“Not a fan of softball, either?”
“Not really. And definitely not in bar form.”
“Have you played? Softball’s a great fucking game.”
Dean arches an eyebrow. “I thought hockey was the great sport.”
“Believe it or not, lots of sports are great. Sure, hockey’s the best. But softball’s pretty awesome too.”
I pause to examine his guns, making sure he sees where I’m looking. “And that lady might be right. With those fantastic arms, you might be a natural. And if you’re a natural, you might like the sport.”
A smile seems to tug at his lips from the compliment, and then his eyes slide down to my arms, covered in ink. “Maybe I’d be a natural, but I don’t think it’s my cup of tea.”