Cal pulled his jacket tighter and looked up at the blinking neon sign. Blue Flamingo. Blue Flamingo. Maybe this was the first night of the rest of his life. The night he'd decide to quit hiding and be who he really was. Of course, first he had to be sure he knew who he was.
He glanced again at the sign. It had been a while, but the place still felt pretty homey. He'd had some important moments in this bar. His first dance with a guy. And that amazing night when he'd gotten so drunk and both the gorgeous supermodel, Roan, and Cal's brother Jake had come to rescue him--right before he came out to his parents. He smiled. Tomorrow he'd see the guys when he went to house-sit for them. Man, that was one house where sitting was a pleasure. But tonight was Blue Flamingo time. If he was gonna make some life decisions, he might as well start in a place where he felt connected. A place where people knew him and valued him as he was. God, he was tired of pretending all the time. Sure, people at the Flamingo knew he was an athlete, but he wasn't really worried about somebody calling the press. He'd been coming here since before he was old enough to drink. The Flamingo was like family.
He jogged the rest of the way across the parking lot and pushed open the door. Heat. Noise. That familiar smell of candle wax and booze, and the pleasant underlying scent of warm men. He pulled off his jacket. What a crush. Fridays at the Flamingo and the gang's all here. The men lined up two-deep at the bar, most of the tables were full, and a few guys had already made it to the postage-stamp dance floor.
"Hey, Cal. Long time, no see."
Cal looked up as the cute waiter Hal, who always flirted with him, pushed through the crowd carrying a tray of bottles. "Hey, Hal. How the hell are you?"
"I'm good, handsome. Man, I saw you pull off that save today. You were the hero. Great move."
Cal shrugged. "Thanks. Anybody here I know?"
"Yeah, well most of them probably know you, Mr. Celebrity. But I saw Joe Jack back at your favorite booth, and Peter and a couple of the other guys."
"Thanks. I'll go find them."
"What do you want to drink? I'll bring it when I come back."
"That good Mexican beer." He grinned. "And I'm actually old enough to drink it this time."
"No worries, cutie. I'll see you in a minute."
Hal moved off toward the crowded bar, and Cal surveyed the scene. He towered over most men, so he could make out Joe Jack's shaved skull in the back of the big room. Pressing between the bar crowd and the tables, he headed for the familiar face. As he passed by, a couple of guys reached out with a pat or a fist bump, but in the dim light, he wasn't sure whether he knew them or they just recognized him from the team.
Going toward the booth, he noticed a particularly large group crowded together at the far end of the bar, but they were pressed too close, and he couldn't see what the attraction was. Probably a game of liar's poker. He squeezed between the tables to the booth. "Hey, Joe Jack."
The handsome, rugged face lit up. "Hey, kid. How the hell are you? Man, it's been too long." Joe Jack stood up to give Cal a hug. Though the guy was four or five inches shorter than Cal, the bulk of his biceps and powerful thighs made him someone no guy wanted to mess with. But Cal knew Joe Jack had a seriously gooey center--if you were brave enough to try to find it.
Cal threw his jacket over the back of the booth as Joe Jack sat down and made space for him. Peter, a good-looking yuppie still in his suit and tie from work, occupied the chair on the outside of the booth. Peter had been his other babysitter on the famous drunken-stupor night. A good guy. "Hey, Peter."
"Good to see you, kid. You've been getting some serious playing time."
"Yeah. The first-string goalie still hasn't been released to play, so Cinderella here gets to go to the ball."
"Not bad exposure for a rookie. That was one hell of a save."
Hal arrived with his beer in time to say, "Yeah, man, you were the MVP. That's gotta mean something serious for next season. I'll bet they start you."
"Thanks, but not likely. I'm still pretty green." Cal could feel some heat in his cheeks. Blushing. The family curse. He wasn't ready to talk about next season. Hell, he wasn't ready to think about it. He'd put that decision off until he was safely alone in the Connecticut house. He pointed toward the bar. "What's the big attraction over at the bar?"
Joe Jack shook his head. "It's a guy. Would you believe it? He's a stranger, and man, is he pretty. I mean girl fucking pretty. He says he's waiting for somebody, but the guys are still buzzing around like some drones at the queen."
"Pretty? You mean like Roan?" Nobody was prettier than his beautiful brother-in-law. Well, more like brother-in-love, since even liberal Connecticut didn't allow three people to marry.
"Kind of, but actually prettier. You know how Roan has that carved kind of face? This guy is softer. Girlier. And he's got blond fucking ringlets, for crap's sake."
Cal laughed. "Why aren't you over there contending for the prize, big guy? You love blonds." Joe Jack had been really taken with Cal's brother, Jake.
Joe Jack leaned back. "I haven't entirely ruled it out."
Cal laughed. "Well, I gotta pee anyway, so maybe I'll try to get a look at this paragon."
He slid out of the booth and headed for the men's room. As he passed the bar, he could see four or five guys gathered around someone who was seated. They were leaning in. He craned his neck, but he couldn't see the object of their worship without looking like some groupie. He went into the head, did his business, and returned, hoping to get a better look. Apparently one of the adorers had given up, so Cal slipped into a spot at the back of the group. Being six feet five helped. He peeked over a big brunet's head.
Joe Jack hadn't been exaggerating a bit. If anything, he'd understated. The guy was looking down at his beer, but Cal still got a good look at the profile. Wheat-colored ringlets stood out from his head, framing a sharp, slightly upturned nose and bright pink cheeks. Not made-up, probably flushed from the heat and attention. Shirley fucking Temple. No, that made him sound cutesy and this guy was not. He was sexy as hell. The man picked up his beer bottle and took a swig. One of the guys near Cal actually sighed. Yeah, who wouldn't want those pretty, pouty lips wrapped around their dick?
And then there was the body. Small, slim, but pure male. The hands around the beer bottle looked rough and calloused, like they'd scrape your butt real nice if he grabbed you. His forearms under the pushed-up sleeves of his blue T-shirt were lean, but ripped and muscled. Shit, what did Jake call Roan? Sex on a stick. No wonder these guys were drooling.
One of the admirers Cal didn't recognize was saying, "C'mon, beautiful. Your boyfriend must've stood you up. Which means he's fucking crazy and doesn't deserve you, so let me buy you a drink, okay?"
Another guy chimed in. "Or me. Am I your type?"
Wow. So with all this adoration, the pretty boy was still buying his own beer.
Ringlets said something, and Cal moved a little closer to try and hear. The man standing in front of him looked up. "Hey, Caleb." He frowned a little, clearly not wanting any more competition. "What are you doing here?"
Yeah, what was he doing there? Eavesdropping? Satisfying his curiosity? Or nurturing the raging hard-on pushing against the zipper of his jeans? The fact was, he hadn't had sex in weeks and hadn't had satisfying sex in--shit, forever. He wasn't really the bar-pickup type, but the blond was something special.
He started to answer, but suddenly the guy at the bar turned on his bar stool, and Cal got the front-on view for the first time. Holy fucking gorgeous. Cal was staring directly into the tawniest pair of golden eyes, like some kind of cat. Yeah, the cat that ate his voice. He couldn't speak. Just stood there like someone had struck him dumb. The man smiled. Deep dimples appeared in the pink cheeks. That put the finishing touch on the hard-on.
"Caleb." How did he know his name? He must have heard the other guy say it. The blond's voice was soft, a little high, somehow appropriate to his prettiness. He said Cal's name somewhere between a question and a sigh. He looked around at the other men. "You see, I told you I was waiting for someone."
What the f--
Loud protests followed.
"Well, why the hell didn't you say you were waiting for Martin?"
"Some guys have all the luck."
"Hey, Cal, why'd you keep your date waiting, you asshole?"
At a loss was too mild a description. But the guy had things under control. He stepped off the bar stool--long legs made him a little taller than Cal had guessed, probably about five feet ten--and extended his hand to Cal. "So now that you've kept me waiting and made me lead on all these handsome guys, I figure it's time you dance with me." The golden eyes stared at Cal as if daring him to deny that they were a couple. Hell, Mrs. Martin didn't raise any dumb sons.
Cal took the man's hand, just as rough as it looked, and after a pause to stare down at the disappointed faces, he pulled the guy toward him, wrapped an arm around his lean shoulders, and turned toward the tiny dance floor. The other men grumbled but backed off. When he and the pretty boy had moved in among the other dancers, Cal turned toward him. Golden eyes gazed up at him. The man held up his arms, ready to let Cal lead. Good. He slipped his arms around the slender body and moved them into a gentle rock. Cal was no great dancer, but fortunately this dance floor didn't allow for much in the way of ballroom style.
They both spoke at the same time. "You want to explain what--"
"Thanks for going along--"
The guy smiled up at Cal. "Thank you for going along with me. I was telling the truth; I was supposed to meet a friend here, but he didn't show."
"Yeah, just a friend."
"Really? Not a lover?"
Cal got an appraising stare. "No. I don't do lovers. It rhymes with commitment."
All righty then. "So your friend...?"
"Yeah. I was planning on killing him the next time I see him for leaving me here alone, but..." He looked at Cal with a soft smile. "I think I changed my mind about that. I'm Elijah, by the way. Eli."
"Caleb. Cal. I guess we'd better not shake hands, or we'll give ourselves away."
"No shaking of hands required." Eli molded his body to Cal's. Cal could feel the man's hard cock pressing against his thigh, and wished for the first time in his very tall life that he was shorter. Man, he would like that hard rod pushing against his cock. Shit, he should run. He could sense this pretty boy was way out of his league in terms of experience, since Cal had only had one committed relationship and a couple of short-term affections. The guy might even be a player, though his reluctance to let his admirers buy him drinks didn't suggest that. But Cal knew he was thoroughly and righteously hooked. He might not have known his type until tonight, but the fact was, Ringlets was his idea of perfect. No, he wasn't going anywhere.
They didn't talk, just moved. Eli's body was hard, but not in a working-out way. More like he used it regularly. Shit, Cal loved the lean, hungry feel of him. He wanted to lift him up so he could wrap his legs around Cal's waist and grind. Oh yeah, that was what he wanted. But even though the Flamingo was a gay bar, it wasn't that liberal, and there was no back room. Cal heard a moan. His? Eli's? He had an uncomfortable feeling--
"Did I just hear you moan, big guy?" The golden eyes were heavy-lidded.
Time to go for it. He hoped his palms weren't sweating since he wasn't really a "big moves" man. Cal leaned down so his lips rested on Eli's ear. The curls tickled his nose. "Just imagining what I'd do to you if there was a back room in this place."
"Hellfire, there's a back room somewhere." Eli's breath was hot. "Take me there. Now."
Oh, Jesus. Had his cock ever been this hard? He had to do this. "There's a motel down the street I've stayed in a couple of times when I had too much to drink. We could go there."
"Sounds positively civilized compared to the parking lot scenario I was picturing. Let's go, baby."
Cal looked up. A dozen pairs of eyes, including Joe Jack's, were glued to him and his pretty partner. He'd take serious ribbing for this. Or maybe they'd cheer, since Joe Jack always told him he needed to get laid more. Did he care? Hell, no. He took Eli by the hand and, both erections on full display in tight jeans, led the man off the dance floor. "You leave anything at the bar? Have a tab?"
"No. Paid as I went."
"Got a coat?"
"On my bike."
Bike? Really? "Let me grab mine from the table."
Still holding Eli's hand, Cal approached the booth where Joe Jack sat. He looked part amused and part envious. Cal was glad he wasn't mad. "Good to see you, Joe Jack."
"So you capture the prize and then carry it away."
"Something like that." Cal grabbed his coat from the back of the booth. "See ya."
"See if I tell you about my fantasies in the future."
Damn. Cal liked the big alpha male. "Sorry."
The man waved a tattooed arm. "Hey, kid, I'm joking. If that pretty boy liked me, I'd've been out of here a half hour ago."
Eli laughed and squeezed Cal's hand.
Cal grinned. "Thanks, buddy. See you soon."
He led Eli toward the door. Ringlets leaned in and raised his head so that Cal could hear. "Thought for a minute there you were going to give me away."
"Not without a fight."
"Oooh, that would have been something to see. You and the tattooed he-man?"
"Yeah, well, Joe Jack's a friend and not someone I'd choose to mess with if I could avoid it."
They'd made it to the entrance and paused for Cal to put on his coat. The teasing left Elijah's face. "Listen. I had a chance to go home with a lot of guys tonight. I chose you. I'm not letting go till we're both so satisfied our lips form a permanent smile."
Ooookay. Time to go.
Outside, the November chill made Cal shiver. Eli must be freezing in his T-shirt. Cal wrapped an arm around him and pulled him close. "Want to get your jacket and take my car?"
"No. Don't like to leave the bike. I'll follow you."
Eli stepped away and walked toward a beautiful red crotch rocket parked by the fence. Probably a Japanese model. Hard to tell from a distance, plus Cal was distracted by Eli's great ass flexing in his tight jeans. Oh man, he had to have some of that. Funny, it had been months since he'd had sex. His being gay wasn't something he advertised. When they were on the road, Cal generally abstained unless he felt he could really get away from the press. Fortunately he was a rookie, so they didn't dig too deep--yet. He didn't want to embarrass the team and make them have to stand up for him. It was easier to just use his hand. Plus he'd been so damned distracted trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his fucking life, he didn't have the energy to pursue and conquer. He knew that fucking contract would be looming. He had to make some decisions fast.
But not tonight, baby. Tonight he was getting the prettiest ass this side of Hollywood. Well, actually this side of Connecticut, since that's where Roan lived with his brother and Em. But Eli gave the model a run for his money. Not as fashion-magazine perfect, but just as beautiful in a quirkier way. Cal practically ran to his car.