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I was combusting. Right here in the middle of a bar surrounded by a hundred people. The heat started in my groin and spread out and I just knew I was scarlet faced.
“Wha—I—this—what?” I managed to force out and pressed my hands against the wall to ground myself. I’d been teasing him, the innocent side of me thinking it was all a joke, and that I could get away with teasing Taz.
Only, I couldn’t.
I’d seen him looking at me and couldn’t take my eyes off him and had an irrational need for him to bend me over the nearest table. I wanted to flirt, but I never actually expected him to follow through on the ‘me’ comment, so much so that he caught me by surprise and I was wrong-footed. I hated that messy feeling of being off-balance like this. As quickly as the lust and attraction rose in me, it changed. From sexual tension to embarrassment and a desperate need to get away in less than a second flat. He must have seen the change in my expression because his smile became less sex-right-now and more rueful, and then he stepped away from me a little.
“Later huh?” He said, and sounded vulnerable, as if I had the power here.
The last thing I had was anything resembling control. I slid out from between the wall and him and gathered my composure. I’d worn a sweater over a T-shirt, but I was so hot, and I pulled the sweater off over my head, losing my glasses in the process. I looked around for them, shaking my sweater, but Taz had somehow caught them.
He handed them back to me and watched as I buffed them on my T-shirt before slipping them back on.
“Are they okay?” he pointed to my face. Before I could answer he reached out and patted me on the head. Like I was a puppy or something. I opened my mouth to protest but he interrupted me.
“Your hair was sticking up,” he explained, and then with a wink he took my hand. “Beer.”
I allowed myself to be led to a table at the back, the crowd parting as Taz forged through. Maybe it was due to his larger than life personality or the fact he was bigger than most of the rest of the people here, me included. Goog was the first person to shout hello, waving a bottle at me, which I took gratefully. I had a prop now and could sit quietly with the team and soak in what they were talking about. You never know what you might pick up from a team that was on their own time, maybe something that might inform a slant on a statistical analysis or something.
Taz, however, wasn’t having any of it. He slid in to the booth next to me and snuggled real close, taking his own beer and raising it to knock mine.
“To being on you,” he said, with a smirk.
I hoped no one else heard him, and no one was looking right at me, so I guess not. The conversation turned to the game with the Cougars, and how they’d won if they looked at it statistically. They all turned to me.
“We definitely won for real,” Goog said, with a wide grin and a teasing glint in his eye.
“Uhm, no, you lost in overtime,” I explained carefully, like there was something I wasn’t understanding, or maybe that they weren’t.
“Yeah but, if you look at the numbers, and take into account that the Cougars are way above us, then we won.” Goog sat back in his chair like he’d worked out the meaning of life, and he sat in silence for a few seconds before the entire table erupted into laughing. At Goog. Not me.
A wave of blue and gold descended on our table, the Cougar players high-fiving Rush players they knew, shaking hands with others. This was what hockey was about. Camaraderie off the ice, a sense of brotherhood that was an intangible thing to assess when analyzing a team. I saw Arou-Kalinski leaning to talk to Goog, McGarrity hoisting up his kilt and clambering over the back of a bench to land in Lester’s lap. There were no team boundaries here, they were all friends together, and I fervently wished I was part of something so free and easy.
Mathematicians did not sit in each other’s laps while drinking cheap beer and talking shit.
I decided that was what we should be doing.
People paired off to talk, or leaned into small groups, and somehow, I was left facing Taz and with a head full of nothing to say and a good beer buzz going.
“Did you watch tonight’s game?” He lifted his chin like he was waiting for me to say no. I looked at the split on his lip and recalled the way he grinned as he wiped away blood from his nose. McGarrity’s stats had him as someone no one should fight, but Taz had thrown caution to the winds and done it anyway. The idiot. Unbidden I reached up and touched his lip, and the sounds of the bar around me vanished.
“I watched the game,” I traced a path from his lips to his throat, lost in his gaze. “That fight was fucking sexy, but stupid. So stupid.”
He wrinkled his nose. “You can stop at me just being sexy.” He pressed a quick kiss to my finger and held it.
I knew at that moment we should have left when we had the chance. I wanted him so damn bad and we were in the middle of opposing teams debating the merits of stick manufacturers. How could I even think? What I wanted to say wasn’t something I could shout over the melee.
So, I did the next best thing, under the table I cupped his groin and caught the shocked surprise and then blistering heat in his expression.
He arched a brow.
And we got out of the bar as fast as we could.
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