Win Big, page 17
He holds out his arms and we hug. “Hey, Ev, long time no see. You weren’t at Mom and Dad’s for dinner on Sunday.”
“Oh. No. I was, uh…busy.”
His eyebrows lift and he smirks. “So I’ve been seeing. Pics of you and Bell are all over the place.”
My cheeks heat. Since he’s a sports reporter, I don’t want to tell him the truth about what Wyatt and I are doing. “I know.” I roll my eyes. “What’s new with you?”
We chat a couple of minutes until Théo takes the podium and greets everyone.
“I’m going to set up another family meeting!” I whisper to Asher. “I’ll be in touch!”
He nods, and I make my way back to the front of the room, carefully keeping to the side. Wyatt’s there now, looking handsome and relaxed in a pair of dark gray dress pants and a button-down shirt. He catches my eye and smiles. I lift a hand in a tiny wave, smiling back.
Théo talks about the mission of Hockey for All, the role of the ambassadors, and then introduces Wyatt. Wyatt steps up to the podium. “This is such an important initiative,” he begins. “And I want to thank the NHL and the NHLPA for their commitment to inclusivity in the sport of hockey, as well as the management and leadership of our team.” He nods at Théo. “It has to start at the top, and when leadership supports something, the players follow. We know that it’s up to us to create an environment in the team, in the dressing room, where anyone feels safe no matter their religion, culture, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical and mental ability. And not just in the sport, but also in our everyday lives, we have to be aware of it. I’m honored to be an ambassador for Hockey for All, but I’d be an ambassador for it unofficially anyway.”
They bring up Casey Gregg, who played for the US women’s national hockey team, and Brian Mankowsky, a sledge hockey player, who also say a few words. Then the media has a chance to ask questions.
Sure enough, it’s not long before that douche from the L.A. Journal asks, “Wyatt, there was a photograph of you taken at a local sex shop that appeared in a popular entertainment blog.”
The crowd snickers. I keep my face expressionless.
“The picture had people speculating about your own sexual identity, especially since you attended last year’s Pride Parade in St. John, New Brunswick. But you’ve never given any indication that you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, so were you mocking the community?”
Wyatt’s eyes widen briefly. “Mocking it? Uh, no, man. I’m a supporter of LGBTQ rights. The reason I participated in the parade last year is because a good friend of mine who I played hockey with in Rimouski came out last year, and I went to support him. The reason we were in that store…” He refers to me but doesn’t name me, a smile flickering on his mouth. “…is none of your business.”
The crowd chuckles again.
“But I wasn’t making fun of anyone. Except maybe myself.”
I can tell his answer and his charming self-deprecation have won over the media people there; in fact, I get the feeling that most of them didn’t like it that Foster had asked that question.
Wyatt meets my eyes again across the room and we share a small smile. I give a tiny nod to show my approval of how he handled that.
He deals with a few more questions and then Murray ends the conference, thanking everyone for coming. People start filing out. Wyatt’s chatting with Casey, Brian, Dave, Théo, and Murray. Casey is a very pretty blonde, who’s hanging on Wyatt’s every word. Ugh.
I guess I’ve done my part by being here, but before everyone’s gone, I approach Wyatt and touch his arm.
He turns to me and his smile is…intimate. Just for me. He runs his hand down my arm, barely touching me, and brushes his fingertips over mine. “Hi.”
“Hi. Good job up there.”
“Thanks.” We’re standing close together; closer than any others are. He bends his head. “I’ll come by your office in a bit, okay?”
As I walk back to my office, I check my phone for messages or emails. Another email from that watchdog dude, telling me that they’ve completed their work and will be publishing their findings in a month.
I don’t know why I’m so nervous about this. Okay, I do know. I’m afraid they’ve found something heinously bad that I’ve done and will tell the whole world, and everyone will know I’m a complete fraud and have no idea what I’m doing.
Yes, yes, this is crazy, but that’s how I think. Imposter syndrome is real.
I can’t do anything about it, though, other than worry, which sometimes is an actual strategy I use to keep something bad from happening. I know that’s a waste of energy, though. So I distract myself with other work, reviewing the proposals that my assistant, Beth, has deemed worthy of my attention, out of the thousands we receive.
A while later, I look up at Wyatt’s voice saying, “Hey, princess.”
I smile as he saunters in, all big and beautiful, the door swinging shut behind him.
“Hey.” I push back from my desk and rise. “Did you write that little speech yourself?”
I meet him in front of my desk, and he sets his hands on my waist, frowning. “Why would you ask that?”
I suck briefly on my bottom lip. “Because it was good?”
“You think I can’t write a good speech myself?”
“That’s not what I meant.” I give his chest a little shove. “I was just asking!”
“Okay, okay. Yes, I did write it myself. I mean, I didn’t actually write it all down, I just thought about what I wanted to say.”
“Well, you did great.”
“Whew. So…where should we go for dinner tonight?”
“I, uh, thought…well, I think we’ve done enough fake dating for the PR thing.”
“Fake dating?” His forehead creases. “You thought this was fake?”
I stare at him. “We both knew it was fake.”
“Was that fake fucking, too?” His voice is edged with annoyance.
I close my eyes. “No.”
“Everly. Look at me.”
I lift my eyes to his.
“I don’t care who sees us or what they say about us. I want to have dinner with you tonight.”
“Fuck, yeah. Look, maybe we had to go out on those dates, but I wasn’t faking the fun I have with you.” He pauses. “Were you?”
I slowly shake my head. I can’t lie. “No. I was having real fun.”
His lips twitch. “And fun fucking.”
He slides his hands around behind me, down to my ass, and pulls me to him. “Come here.” Then he kisses me, tilting his head and capturing my mouth with his.
I melt into him, winding my arms around his neck, letting his tongue slide over mine. I press myself against him, wanting to feel him everywhere I can, and a little moan rises in my throat.
“Seven o’clock?” he murmurs against my cheek long moments later.
“Okay.” The word comes out all breathy.
He draws back and smiles at me. “I’ll pick you up. See you then.”
I watch him leave my office, my lips throbbing, my nipples peaked, aching low inside, and my heart rocketing around in my chest.
What am I doing?
* * *
We go back to The Cellar, where Wyatt took me after the Cougars game. We sit in the bar, but this time Abby’s not here. It’s dim and crowded and noisy, and I check over the menu, looking for something that’s not too carbolicious.
I settle on a salad, a Niçoise with rare tuna, and a glass of wine. Wyatt orders an Angus beef burger and a b
“I’m getting fat and lazy,” he says, patting his abs. “Being off all week.”
My eyebrows shoot up. “I don’t think so.”
“Okay, I’ve worked out nearly every day.” He grins. Then his attention is diverted.
I look around to see a bunch of guys headed our way…Jimmy Bertelski, Arvid Bergström, and Derek Jablonski.
“They’re apparently back from Tahoe,” Wyatt mutters. “Okay if they join us?”
“Uh…sure.” I don’t think I have much choice, as they all greet Wyatt with bro shakes and backslaps, and start pulling up another table and chairs.
It’s not that I don’t want them to join us, but hanging out with his friends makes this seem…like we’re really dating. And I kind of wanted to talk to him about that, to make sure we’re on the same page. Only I don’t even know what page I’m on.
I’m not really good at going with the flow. Letting stuff happen. I like to be in control and have a plan. I’m freaking out a little.
Wyatt, now sitting beside me, leans in and whispers in my ear, “Sorry.”
Great. He can see I’m freaking out. I shake my head. “It’s okay.”
“I know you don’t like surprises.” He squeezes my hand. “It’ll be fine. You know I’ve always got your back.”
My heart quivers, and my breathing slows. I nod. I got this.
His buddies don’t seem surprised to see me.
“Hey, Everly,” Jimmy greets me, and the others say hi too.
“No broken bones?” Wyatt asks.
“Nah, man. I’m not allowed to ski, it’s in my contract.” Derek grins.
“How about snowboarding?”
“That is not specified,” Derek smirks.
“If you came back with a broken leg, you’d be so deep in fecal matter.”
“I know, I know.” He grimaces and holds his hands up. “I’m fine. We’re all fine. Had tons of fun.”
“I assume that involves women.”
Arvid laughs. “Oh yeah.”
“I don’t get why the chicks go for the Swedish guy,” Jimmy complains. “Swedes are boring.”
“We’re not boring. We’re just reserved. She thought I look like Alexander Skarsgård.”
I nod. “You do!”
“And I play hockey,” he adds modestly.
“Also, you can’t talk,” Arvid says to Derek. “You were with a different woman every night.”
“That chick you were with last night,” Jimmy says to Derek. “What was her name?”
Derek sighs. “Man, she could suck a bowling ball through a cocktail straw.”
I choke on my tuna.
“Oh, uh…sorry, Everly,” he says.
I wave a hand. “No worries. I have three brothers.”
“Don’t remind us,” Jimmy says. “We’re trying to pretend you’re not a Wynn.”
“Keep it up,” I encourage them. “I’m fine with that.”
“You gonna see her again?” Wyatt asks Derek.
“Maybe.” He shrugs. “Still don’t understand why you didn’t come with us.”
Wyatt’s face tightens and his eyes flicker. He smiles, but it’s a little strained. “I told you I hate snow.”
“I seem to remember that you love snowboarding,” Jimmy says. “But guys, shut up, we can see now why he didn’t want to leave town.” He waves a hand back and forth between me and Wyatt.
I know that’s not the reason he didn’t go with them, and I’m curious. But I keep that to myself.
The guys share funny stories from their trip, including how Derek met the woman who can suck bowling balls through cocktail straws, when she was too afraid to let go of the lift and was swinging through the air before dropping to the ground. He was on the lift right behind her and skied over to rescue her. Luckily, she wasn’t hurt.
Then Wyatt tells them about our crazy night out that ended with us breaking into a church, and they howl with laughter. I’m laughing too, reliving it.
The guys order food, we get more drinks, we’re all laughing our asses off and I realize, once again…I’m having fun.
Wyatt has his arm around my shoulders, resting on my chair back; we’re close enough together that our thighs are touching. He’s very handsy, brushing fingertips over my hand, my cheek, squeezing my shoulder. It’s so affectionate and heart-melting, and I’m just a big squishy pillow, listening to him and his friends trash-talk one another with genuine friendliness. It’s all the more impressive when I recall that he hasn’t even known these guys that long, having joined the team last season.
When we finally call it a night, Wyatt murmurs to me, “Come to my place?”
And I nod yes.
“Last day of the break,” I say the next morning. It’s nearly eleven, and we’re still in bed. “We practice tomorrow.”
“You need to practice, since you’re so fat and lazy.”
I laugh and pin her to the bed. “You calling me fat?”
“You said it yourself.”
I lean down to kiss her, enjoying her teasing, enjoying the feel of her beneath me in my bed. But I have something to tell her. Ask her? And I’m glitching a little about it. I draw back and gaze into her eyes. “Are you going to yoga class?”
“I have something I have to do today.”
She thinks I’m brushing her off. “I want you to come with me.”
She blinks. “Where?”
“To see a friend of mine and her son.”
A tiny notch forms between her eyebrows. “A friend?”
“Yes. I promised I would take Owen to the zoo.”
She gazes back at me. “Okay.”
“We can stop by your place if you want to change. Heather lives on Franklin Avenue, it’s not far.”
“That would be good. My heels wouldn’t be the best for the zoo.”
Am I doing the right thing? I’ve never even told people about Heather and Owen, let alone taken anyone to meet them. I don’t really know why I’m doing it.
We stop at a café and get coffees and bagels to go, then continue on to Everly’s place. I sit at her table with my phone, sipping my coffee, while she goes upstairs to change. Again, I feel that sense of calm that her condo creates, with all the light and the fresh scent and lack of clutter.
I smile when she returns, now wearing jeans, a black-and-white-striped T-shirt, and bright red Converse sneakers. Very zoo appropriate, and yet totally pulled together and polished. That’s Everly.
She sits too, to eat her bagel. “I haven’t been to the zoo in years.”
“Owen loves it. That day we ran into you, we’d been at the aquarium. He likes that too. He’s really into animals.”
“Cool. How old is he?”
“Just turned six.” I tip my head. “The night of the Birds Banquet?”
“It was his birthday party. That’s why I was late.”
“Oh.” She sinks her teeth into her bottom lip briefly. “I was a bitch to you about that.”
“Nah, not a bitch. You were doing your job.”
“I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
I shrug. “It’s fine. I know I have responsibilities to the team. But I’d promised him I’d be there, and Heather needed help with a rowdy bunch of five- and six-year-olds. We changed the time of the party, so I managed to do both.”
She eyes me over her coffee cup. “Owen must be very special to you.”
“I know what you’re thinking. Heather is just a friend. Actu
Her eyes warm and her mouth softens. “I’m sorry. What happened to him?”
I give my head a sharp shake. “Rather not talk about it.” The air in the room has grown heavy and thick. “You know what they say…life is short. So smile while you still have teeth.”
She laughs, but I can see she’s still thoughtful.
We make the short drive to Heather’s place and park in front of her little bungalow, Spanish-style stucco with a red tile roof.
“Should I wait here?” Everly asks.
“No, come in. You should meet Heather.”
She follows me up the sidewalk. The yard is getting overgrown. I should come trim back some of these shrubs. I ring the doorbell and Heather opens the door as Owen zooms up behind her and skids to a stop in his sock feet. “Wyatt’s here! Wyatt’s here!”
“Come in!” Heather beams a smile at me. Then her gaze lands on Everly behind me and her smile disappears.
I step inside and take Everly’s hand, tugging her into the small foyer too. When I look back at Heather, the smile is back, dimmer but determined. “Hello…”
“Heather, this is Everly. Everly, my friend Heather, and…my best little buddy, Owen.”
“Nice to meet you,” Heather says, extending a hand. “Everly Wynn, right?”
“Yes. Nice to meet you too.” They shake hands. Everly turns to Owen. “And nice to meet you, Owen.”
“Hi.” He studies her intently. Kids.
“Everly’s going to come to the zoo with us, buddy.”
“Here’s your backpack,” Heather says, now frowning faintly.
“I don’t wanna take my backpack.”
“I’ll carry it, bud,” I say. “Sunscreen? Hat? Water?”
“Check, check, check,” Heather says, smiling again. Her gaze darts between me and Everly and I sense the curiosity on both their parts.
Heather’s a beautiful woman—long golden-blond hair, big blue eyes. I know this, but I’ve never been attracted to her. She was married to my best friend. I hope Everly isn’t jealous, because there’s no reason to be.