Behind us, someone nails the rubber ball into the target, sending up a wave of cheers.
I take on the worst English accent I can muster. “Oh, do you just spend all day playing cricket?”
His eyes return to me. “So, you’re going to mock my country for its sports choices?”
“I believe you started the sports mockery last night, or do I need to remind you of both your sports snobbery and your sports mockery?”
“You must. Because you just did.”
“You kind of walked into it.”
“And I stand by my case. There is no need for softball here in London. Why would we need it? We’ve never had it before; it’s not an English thing. It’s not our thing.”
“But it might be your thing, because it’s here,” I say, grabbing a flyer from the table. “Look at that—a rooftop softball cage. Just imagine—if you went every day, you could become the British softball master.”
Dean cracks up, a deep, hearty laugh that I dig. “Yes, that’s just what I aspire to do. I’ll just drop everything and focus on this instead.”
“Everything?” I quirk a brow. “What exactly is everything?”
“Things that involve clothes.” Dean shakes his head. “Things I do. The bar. Cooking classes with my mates. Furniture restoration with my dad.”
I snap my fingers, his last comment triggering a memory. “That’s an unusual hobby. My friends Summer and Logan have a cousin in New York who’s into that. Guy named Leo.”
“Yes. I know him. We’re all mates, all of us who restore furniture around the globe. Maybe you have some friends there who like to cook too?”
“I believe I do. And we all agree softball is better than cooking club,” I say.
He laughs indignantly. “It’s not a fucking cooking club. They’re classes. I go with some friends who own an Indian restaurant. We learn different cuisines, new dishes. Don’t you like food, Fitz?”
“Love it. And I love podcasts about unsolved mysteries, and I like hitting up the local indie and rock shows when I’m not on the ice. I also play paintball with my buddies back in New York. I bet you hate paintball.”
“This may shock you, but I don’t play paintball. And this may shock you too, since you seem to think I have no athletic prowess, but I could kick your ass at pool.”
“Ohhhh,” I say, dragging it out, loving the direction of this conversation. “I’d like to take you up on that.”
“I bet you would.”
My eyes drift back to his arms. Then down his chest, where I can tell, just tell, from the fit of his shirt that he’s rocking a six-pack. “You look like you play sports. And that’s a compliment.”
He takes a beat, going quiet for a moment like he’s weighing his thoughts. Maybe his wants. “You absolutely look like you do, and that is a compliment too,” he says, his eyes drifting back to my ink, his voice hitting that low register it seems to linger in when he looks at me, and both the compliment and the eye-fucking do not go unnoticed. “In any case,” he adds, “I’m a runner. I play rugby occasionally. Football, if I can.”
“And by ‘football,’ you actually mean soccer.”
“I mean the sport played entirely with one’s feet. Meaning, football.”
I see my opening and take it.
“Fine. I won’t even try to convince you about football versus football or football versus rugby. But what I will convince you of right now is that softball is a hell of a fun way to blow off steam.”
Dean laughs. “Sure it is.”
“Wanna bet? I bet that right now, it would be the perfect way to take your stress away.”
“How do you know I’m stressed?” he asks, and he’s still laughing, and I love it. I can get this guy to laugh, and the sound lights me up, makes me want to keep going because, in his laughter, I can feel him bending. I can tell he likes talking to me as much as I like talking to him.
Do I want to get him under me? Abso-fucking-lutely. But do I also dig this? The talking? Hell yes. And it’s one of the reasons I know it’s going to be electric when I have my way with him.
Because we already have a rhythm. It’s like being on the ice, in a way. He lines up the shot, and I shoot it right into the net.
I dig out my wallet and find a few bills. “How about this? Ten pounds says you love it. And if you don’t, I’ll throw in some drinks too.”
“You do realize I own a bar, right? Drinks are literally on me every single night.”
I run a hand over my beard. “Fair. How about dinner, then? That study said it was a good idea.”
“I’m still waiting for you to show me that study.”
“Oh, I’d like to show you a lot of things.”