I have one more move, one way to tell. Make it crystal clear that this would have a beginning and an end. I have a feeling that’s what he wants—an escape clause with zero loopholes.
“This was fun. And I know better than anyone how important work is. If you want to perform at the highest level, you have to eliminate distractions.”
At that, he tilts his head, curious. “What do you mean exactly?”
I shrug like it’s nothing, even though this is kind of a big deal—the pact I have with my teammates. “We came so damn close to making the playoffs last season and missed by this much.” I hold up my thumb and forefinger. “All because we came out of training camp weak. We lost a bunch of games early on, and even though we had a killer second half of the season, it wasn’t quite enough. So, we made a pact, some of the other guys and me. No distractions. No hooking up during training camp and into the start of the season. It’ll let us focus on the game.”
“Focus is important. A man needs to be able to do his job.”
“Exactly. My job is everything to me because it means I can take care of my family. Make my mom’s life easy. Give her all the things she never had when we were growing up.”
“You do all that for her?”
“Hell yeah. I have since I started in the NHL after college. Six years later, she’s living the life she deserves in the house of her dreams, and is married again to a good guy who respects her and adores her. As he should. So, yeah, making sure I can perform at the highest level on the ice is the most important thing in the world to me.”
“That’s great that you can do that. She must be proud of you.”
There’s no joking or teasing now, just earnestness, and I like it, so I continue laying it on the line for him. “For me, I’m over here with Emma being a supportive big brother. But I wouldn’t mind one last red-hot, smoking night or two before I shut it all down before camp.” I look at the sky, stroking my chin. “If only I could find the right guy. Maybe someone who doesn’t want strings either.”
My eyes sweep over Dean.
He draws a deep breath. “No strings?”
I slash a hand through empty air. “Nada.”
“And you said you’re only here for one week?”
“Not even. Only five more days and then I leave.” I flap my arms like I’m flying away.
A flicker of a smile crosses Dean’s handsome face as he asks, “Back to America?”
“Me and all of my charm. Gone, baby, gone.”
“You’re persistent. I’ll give you that. Must be quite an asset for your job.”
I stretch my arms above my head, my shirt riding up, revealing another one of my work assets. Or rather, a preview to six more of them. Let him watch and see what I’ve got going on in the abs department. I know what these cost me in crunches and gym time. All worth it for the fire in his eyes.
I lower my arms, because that’s enough eye candy to whet his appetite.
“Speaking of jobs, you have to get back to work. And while you’re mixing martinis, you should give some thought to my proposition.”
“Is that what you think I’ll be doing?”
“You’re a thinker. Yes, that’s what you’ll be doing.”
“And you’re a full-speed-ahead kind of guy.”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
Dean hums, and I can see him mulling over my offer, so I leave one last lure for him.
“Besides, I have a busy day tomorrow. I shouldn’t be out too late anyway. Emma and I are going for afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason. Aren’t you proud? So English of us.”
He laughs, sliding instantly back into that easy zone he lives in most of the time. His whole body moves with his laugh.
I just want him to do it again and again.
“I am quite impressed,” Dean says, then his lips curve into the start of a grin, and I swear I can feel him bending. “But tea’s not something we take lightly. You’ll have to mind yourself.”
There it is.
“You’re exactly right,” I say, latching onto this potent possibility. “I’m going to be completely lost. Who knows what I’ll mess up?”
“So true. I wouldn’t want you to be overwhelmed by all the choices.”
His smirk tells me this is the path to what I want—another chance with him, without him fully admitting that he’s taking it. Maybe because of his rules, maybe for some other reason. I don’t know why he’s still reluctant, given our crazy chemistry, but I do know he’s finding it harder to deny me.
“Do you know how hard it is for an American to have tea without an Englishman there to help? English breakfast, Earl Grey, blah, blah, blah. Who can tell it all apart without the help of a Brit?”