Body Check(4)

By: Elle Kennedy

Her mouth grew even drier, prompting her to down the rest of her wine.

“You’re seriously nervous about this, aren’t you?” Darcy said, blue eyes widening in wonder. “When did you become so shy? You give lectures to classes of hundreds. He’s just one man, Hayden.”

Her eyes drifted back in the guy’s direction. She noticed how his back muscles bunched together as he rested his elbows on the pool table, how his taut backside looked practically edible in those faded jeans.

He’s just one man, she said to herself, shaking off her nerves. Right. Just one tall, sexy, oozing-with-raw-masculinity man.

This would be a piece of cake.

BRODY CROFT CIRCLED the pool table, his eyes sharp as a hawk’s as he examined his options. With a quick nod, he pointed and said, “Thirteen, side pocket.”

His young companion, wearing a bright red Hawaiian T-shirt that made Brody’s eyes hurt, raised his eyebrows. “Really? Tough shot, man.”

“I can handle it.”

And handle it he did. The ball slid cleanly into the pocket, making the kid beside him groan.

“Nice, man. Nice.”

“Thanks.” He moved to line up his next shot when he noticed his opponent staring at him. “Something wrong?”

“No, uh, nothing’s wrong. Are—are you Brody Croft?” the guy blurted out, looking embarrassed.

Brody smothered a laugh. He’d wondered how long it would take the kid to ask. Not that he was conceited enough to think everyone on the planet knew who he was, but seeing as this bar was owned by Alexi Nicklaus and Jeff Wolinski, two fellow Warriors, most of the patrons were bound to be hockey fans.

“At your service,” he said easily, extending his hand.

The kid gripped it tightly, as if he were sinking in a pit of quicksand and Brody’s hand was the lifeline keeping him alive. “This is so awesome! I’m Mike, by the way.”

The look of pure adoration on Mike’s face brought a knot of discomfort to Brody’s gut. He always enjoyed meeting fans, but sometimes the hero worship went a little too far.

“What do you say we keep playing?” he suggested, gesturing to the pool table.

“Yeah. I mean, sure! Let’s play!” Mike’s eyes practically popped out of his angular face. “I can’t wait to tell the guys I played a round of pool with Brody Croft.”

Since he couldn’t come up with a response that didn’t include something asinine, like “thank you,” Brody chalked up the end of his cue. The next shot would be more difficult than the first, but again, nothing he couldn’t manage. He’d worked in a bar like this one back when he’d played for the farm team and was barely bringing in enough cash to feed his goldfish, let alone himself. He used to hang out after work shooting pool with the other waiters, eventually developing a fondness for the game. With the way his schedule was now, he rarely had time to play anymore.

But with rumors about a possible league investigation swirling, thanks to allegations made in a recent interview with the team owner’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Brody might end up with more free time than he wanted. Mrs. Houston apparently had proof that her husband had bribed at least two players to bring forth a loss and that he’d placed substantial—illegal—bets on those fixed games.

While there was probably no truth to any of it, Brody was growing concerned with the rumors.

A few years ago a similar scandal had plagued the Colorado Kodiaks. Only three players had been involved, but many innocent players suffered—other teams were reluctant to pick them up due to their association with the tarnished franchise.

Hell would freeze over before he’d accept a payout, and he had no intention of being lumped in with any of the players who might have. His contract was due to expire at the end of the season. He’d be a free agent then, which meant he needed to remain squeaky clean if he wanted to sign with a new team or remain with the Warriors.

He tried to remind himself that this morning’s paper was filled with nothing but rumors. If something materialized from Sheila Houston’s claims, he’d worry about it then. Right now, he needed to focus on playing his best so the Warriors could win the first play-offs round and move on to the next.

Resting the cue between his thumb and forefinger, Brody positioned the shot, took one last look and pulled the cue back.

From the corner of his eye, a woman’s curvy figure drew his attention, distracting him just as he pushed the cue forward. The brief diversion caused his fingers to slip, and the white ball sailed across the felt, avoided every other ball on the table and slid directly into the far pocket. Scratch.