The Pucking Wrong Guy: Chapter 11

BLAKE

The day had started with a sense of anticipation, but it quickly turned into frustration. Clark hadn’t replied to my text—which I guess was a good thing. But I’d also remembered that Ari and I still hadn’t exchanged numbers.

I could still feel him between my legs. I’d cheated on Clark with him.

And I didn’t have his freaking number.

So I may have been panicking this morning.

Charlotte’s untimely entrance into our apartment only added to my stress. She stumbled in, disheveled and clearly nursing a hangover from last night’s escapades with Soto. I sighed as she barged into my room, holding her phone up like a prized possession.

‘Blake, you won’t believe what I found,’ she slurred, thrusting her phone into my face.

I squinted at the screen, trying to make sense of the images she was showing me. At first glance, it appeared to be Ari, my Ari, with a beautiful brunette. Panic washed over me, and I could feel my heart racing. I examined the photo closer, trying not to spiral.

‘Charlotte, wait,’ I said, a slight tremble in my voice. ‘Look at his hair. It’s shorter, right? These pictures aren’t recent, are they?’

Charlotte blinked at me, her alcohol-addled brain working in slow motion. She squinted at the phone screen, her brow furrowing. ‘You’re right,’ she mumbled, her enthusiasm deflating. ‘I guess they’re old photos.’

I let out a shaky breath, relieved that my worst fears hadn’t been realized. But Charlotte’s little stunt had brought something else to the forefront of my mind—the fact that Ari was a famous hockey player.

I was used to powerful men—New York was full of them. Clark was one of them. Most of the women I knew were in relationships where they were required to turn a blind eye to what those men were doing. I hadn’t heard anything that said Thomas and Maura had that kind of arrangement.

But it wouldn’t have surprised me.

An NHL superstar would have even more options than those men. Was Ari like that? Would I be enough for him?

It felt like I’d never been enough for anyone.

And now that the chase was done, and he’d caught his prize…would he lose interest?

Or did I deserve something like that happening to me after what I’d done last night?

After Charlotte stumbled out of my room, I couldn’t resist the urge to do some googling. I typed in Ari’s name, and my screen was flooded with images of him, always surrounded by an entourage of women. Beautiful, glamorous women who smiled at him as if he were a prize to be won.

I clicked on an article that featured a series of photos of Ari at various events and gatherings. Each picture showed him with a different woman on his arm. They clung to him, obviously well aware they were holding something special. He looked every bit the charming, charismatic athlete that fans adored.

Another picture had the headline: Ari Lancaster’s Annual Gala Raises Record-Breaking Funds for Lost Children Organization. In the picture, he was a wet dream in a perfectly fitted tuxedo. I clicked on the article.

Dallas, TX — In a dazzling evening that left attendees spellbound, Ari Lancaster, the celebrated star defenseman of the Dallas Knights, hosted his renowned annual gala to benefit the Lost Children Organization. The event, now in its fourth year, proved to be an extravagant affair that captivated Dallas’ elite while breaking previous fundraising records for the charity.

The Lost Children Organization, dedicated to assisting and rehabilitating homeless and at-risk youth, has long been close to Lancaster’s heart. Every year, he leverages his star power to gather support and resources for this noble cause. The gala, held at the opulent Grand Dallas Ballroom, saw an impressive turnout of Dallas’ most influential figures, philanthropists, and celebrities…

Rehabilitating the homeless and at-risk youth? Why was that close to Ari’s heart? I mean, it was a good cause for anyone to have. But there were a lot of good causes out there. I would know. I’d attended charities for about a million of them.

A thought flickered in my head. But it still seemed so crazy. There was no way…the world was too big.

Shaking my head, I closed the computer and started to get ready for work. I needed to stop stalking Ari and being a stage 5 clinger. If he was really serious about what he’d said last night…I guess he’d stop by at some point.

Either way, everything would be fine.

It was a promise I made myself.

I just wasn’t sure I believed it.


Work had been a bitch. It was a typical bustling day, but our general manager was in an unusually sour mood. She’d made it clear that everyone was in her line of fire today, with me seemingly at the forefront.

I didn’t know there were so many things I could do wrong in a single shift, and I was teetering on the edge of walking out. But just when I thought my patience couldn’t be stretched any further, I saw him at the entrance of the restaurant…

Ari.

He ambled inside with the casual grace of someone accustomed to public attention, dressed in jeans and a tight Cobras t-shirt that accentuated his muscled chest. Like last time, it seemed like everyone stopped what they were doing and just stared at him.

Once again, it was crazy to me that the only person he was staring at…

Was me.

His steps didn’t slow at all until I was in his arms. Maybe I should have been embarrassed this was happening at work, but he hungrily kissed my lips, parting them with his tongue. There was an immediate ache between my legs, like my body had been asleep all day and just remembered what was missing. Him. I could feel him harden between us as his tongue slid over mine.

He only stopped after some of the patrons started freaking clapping.

“Forgot we weren’t alone for a moment,” he said with a wink.

I swooned. Because honestly…same.

“Hi,” I squeaked.

He grinned in response, just a subtle upturn of his lips that danced in his eyes. My stomach fluttered, the sensation like a swarm of fireflies dancing in my belly, He was a sun-kissed god. Like a dream, everything about him had a heroic, almost ethereal quality to it. Intense, enchanting, and utterly captivating.

He held out his hand. ‘I think we have an issue we need to remedy, sunshine. I need some digits.’

The world seemed to slow for a heartbeat, as relief rushed through me. I hadn’t realized until then how much I needed this connection. I grabbed my phone out of my pocket, my fingers trembling as I pulled up my contacts so I could add his number. “Okay, what’s your number?”

But Ari slipped my phone from my hand, his fingers brushing against mine. The brief touch sent a jolt of warmth into my veins, and I swallowed hard as my heart somersaulted.

‘I’ll do it,’ he quipped with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He inputted his number and a few seconds later held up his buzzing phone. His playful grin broadened as he handed my phone back to me.

‘Now it’s official. We’re besties,’ he declared, his voice a husky croon that had that spot between my legs growing…achier. “Besties” didn’t have quite the same charm as it had when I’d first met him.

He leaned forward, his lips brushing against his ear. “Would you rather me say, “it’s official. You’re mine?”” he murmured.

A grin lit up my face.

“I see you, sunshine. I’ll ace every test.”

A throat cleared, and my manager—who obviously didn’t know what the beginnings of true love looked like based on the prune looking snarl on her face—popped up behind Ari like one of those whack-a-moles.

Ari glanced back and jumped, pressing a hand against his chest. “Jump scare!”

Rachel did not appreciate this, but she was well versed in sucking up to celebrities. Ari definitely qualified as one, especially since the Cobras were on a five game winning streak, their first in four years.

“Blake, dear, how about you get back to work?” she asked in a tone that broached no argument.

“Yes, of course,” I murmured. “I’ll see you later?” I asked Ari, hating how desperate I sounded.

Way to play it cool, Blake.

He didn’t seem annoyed by it at all though. “What time do you get off so I can count down the hours?” he murmured.

“Blake!” Rachel snarled, her patience lost. Probably because there happened to be an A-lister in my section at the moment and it was the dinner rush.

Whoops.

“Eleven,” I said regretfully, and his face fell. I braced for him to make an excuse, to say he had better things to do.

Because who wouldn’t?

“I’ll be here,” he said instead.

And that seed of hope inside me, the one that had sprouted the day I first met him…

It grew a little more.


Ari

I strolled into the little coffee place situated right across from Blake’s restaurant, the scent of roasted beans hitting me like a warm hug as I walked in. I didn’t want to get that far away from Blake. But if I’d stayed in that restaurant for one more second, I probably would have thrown a tray at her dickwad manager. In here, I could catch glimpses of her without causing anyone bodily harm.

I looked over the menu, ready for a caffeine fix. Oh good, they had pumpkin cream chai tea lattes. My favorite. I was a basic bitch when it came to my fall drinks.

The barista, a twenty something year old girl with chestnut hair cascading down her back and hazel eyes, stood behind the counter. She wore a standard brown apron, and her skin had a warm, olive-toned complexion. In the past, I might have thought she was attractive, but now she might as well have been paint on the wall. There was nothing about her that piqued my interest.

All I could fucking see was Blake.

The barista flipped her hair like she thought I was taking auditions for a shampoo commercial, flashing me a flirty smile. Staring at the baked goods behind the glass, I really hoped she hadn’t baked them. I’d hate to bite into a pumpkin muffin and get some hair in my teeth.

Would totally ruin the experience.

‘Hey there, handsome. What can I get you?’ she purred. Sigh. The curse of being so damn good looking. Everyone wanted a piece of Ari Lancaster. Next time we talked, I needed to remind Lincoln I was the better looking of the two of us, just so he didn’t get a big head.

“A pumpkin cream chai tea latte with almond milk, please.”

‘Really?” she asked, looking behind me, like I was ordering for someone else.

“Yes. I know I have good taste. Anyone who orders a black coffee during pumpkin season obviously doesn’t like fun,” I drawled.

She grinned at me and I inwardly cursed…because she seemed to think I was flirting with her.

As she prepared my drink, I scrolled through my phone, stalking Blake on Instagram. She was so fucking pretty.

“Here you go,” the barista said in a sing-song voice.

“Thanks,” I murmured, distracted by a lingerie shoot Blake had posted this morning. There were already five thousand likes.

Fuck.

Maybe I could convince her to let me photoshop the pic so her undies had something like “Property of Ari” on them, because the comments men were leaving made me feel…feral.

I grabbed the cup, not amused at all when I saw the girl had jotted her name and number on the cup without hesitation. She hit me with what I’m sure she thought was a seductive smile.

I raised an eyebrow and pushed the cup back toward her. ‘Give me another one, please,’ I said, my tone firm and no-nonsense.

She blinked in surprise, her smile faltering. ‘What?…’

“A cup. I need a new cup. One that doesn’t have your number on it.”

The girl stared at me, flabbergasted, for so long, I was slightly worried she’d lost all brain function.

“Is this a joke?” she finally asked.

“I. Am. Taken,” I spelled out for her, holding up the phone to show her the most beautiful girl that existed on the planet. Adding “you do not compare,” probably would have been taking it too far, but I had the words ready, just in case she was one of those persistent types. ‘Just the coffee, no extras,” I said slowly, because she really was a slow mover.

Her expression shifted from disappointment to annoyance as she grabbed a new cup and dumped my drink in it. I frowned. She’d messed up the pumpkin cream! THIS WAS A TRAVESTY.

The next step was her probably spitting in my drink…or trying to roofie it, so I decided not to complain. I stalked towards the bench closest to the window, the one that would give me the best view of little miss sunshine, and I sat down to wait.

I took a sip of my chai tea, humming happily when it didn’t suck. My eyes of course landed on Blake across the road, watching her flash a bright, friendly smile at a customer. It was a different smile than the one she gave me, one that felt more cold and less…mine. The crazy thing was…I wanted all of her smiles. I didn’t want anyone else to get any version of her.

Self control, Ari. Self control.

The guy that was on the receiving end of her smile…it was evident that his smile was genuine. He was tracking her ass across the restaurant as she sauntered away. I clenched my jaw, a flicker of annoyance bubbling up. I’d never felt this insanely territorial…this, well…insane before.

To divert my attention, I decided to scroll through social media some more. Lincoln’s latest photos caught my eye. There he was, happily munching on a taco with Monroe. My eyes narrowed as I recognized the very familiar-looking tacos.

HOW DARE HE!

I immediately pulled up Lincoln’s number.

Me: YOU CHEATED ON ME. I’LL NEVER FORGIVE YOU.

Lincoln: Back to the 8th grade girl impersonations, I see…what’s up?

Me: You took Monroe to our place.

Lincoln: What place?

Me: Don’t play games with me, sir!

Lincoln: Maria’s?

Me: Yes, Maria’s! The embodiment of perfection in taco form.

Lincoln: Relax, drama queen. It was once.

Me: So you admit it!

Lincoln: I thought you just said you knew already.

Me:…

Lincoln: Does it make you feel better if I tell you tacos make Monroe horny? So it’s a win, win for everyone.

Me: How does that make me feel better?

Lincoln: I’ll be nicer to you in next week’s game if I’m well…fed.

Me: Fine. I’ll allow it. For the good of my face.

Lincoln: I’ll bring you some to the game. Still love me?

Me: …

Me: Duh.

Lincoln: XOXOX.

I was smirking when I glanced up, meeting Blake’s shocked gaze across the road. I started waving at her furiously and she ducked her head, pretending to ignore me as she took an order. She was very aware of me though, sneaking glances at me constantly.

Hi, I texted her, getting a weird little thrill now that I could message her. I mean, technically I had been texting her this whole time. Just as that douchebag “Other.” But responding yes, no…or not responding at all had been absolutely brutal. Now that I’d fixed my name on her phone—keeping Clark’s number blocked, of course—I could say whatever I wanted. Like…

Me: I love your boobs.

It took her three heart pounding minutes to check my message, but the big grin that crossed her face when she did was well worth the excruciating wait.

I adjusted the front of my pants and threw my head back against the padded leather of the high backed booth. This was going to be a long fucking night.

Because now I wanted her boobs.

The minutes ticked by, and I sipped at my drink, texting back and forth with Lincoln, and sometimes Walker, trying not to follow Blake’s every move.

At some point my gaze snagged on a group walking along the crowded sidewalk in front of me.

A teenage boy dressed in all black, no older than sixteen, was deftly weaving his way through a crowd of businessmen. I could tell what he was about to do before he even did it—he was being way too casual. He sideswiped one of the corporate yuppies, his hand grabbing the man’s wallet, no doubt fat with credit cards and cash. He got it out without the man noticing, but because of his rookie status, the boy totally fumbled his sleight of hand.

The wallet slipped from his grasp and plopped to the concrete. Which obviously caught the attention of the guy he’d just stolen from. There were some yells from the group, and it was pretty comical to watch the emotions dancing across the businessman’s face: anger, disbelief, and the sudden realization that he’d become part of an impromptu street drama. He bent down to retrieve his fallen property, but the boy scooped up the wallet from the ground and made a daring escape, disappearing into another bustling crowd.

A skilled pickpocket’s retreat.

It was a sight to behold; art, really.

As I watched this scene unfold, it triggered memories I tried not to think about very often, dark chapters from my own past.

The group home where I’d been unceremoniously dropped off as a toddler could have been literal hell. Neglect and cruelty were the only hallmarks of that place, and I’d barely survived.

When I was eight, I’d run away. I’d figured I had a better chance of surviving out on the streets than in that place. I was terrified when I left, but I couldn’t take it anymore.

I was a child, lost and alone, navigating a world that had given me nothing.

After a few days, it was clear I did not have what it took to survive on the streets. I thought I would die out there, crouched in a grimy alley, and I was ready for it.

Then Logan showed up. Nothing about him said good intentions, but he became the savior I desperately needed.

He took me under his wing, took me to a rundown house where other lost boys, just like me, sought sanctuary. Logan assumed the role of both our mentor and protector, teaching us the art of survival. And in Logan’s world, survival meant pickpocketing.

Those three years with Logan and the others had been an interesting blend of ruthlessness and camaraderie for a little kid. I thought I’d found a band of brothers, people who cared about me. For awhile, It almost felt like I had a family for the first time in my life.

I also got damn good at pickpocketing.

But nothing like that lasts forever. One of the other boys tried to pickpocket a federal agent. After being caught, he told them all about us, and they raided our place. Amidst the chaos, Logan was shot, and I was forcibly torn away from the makeshift family I had come to love, and taken to a different group home than the one before.

As I watched the teenage pickpocket sprint around a corner and disappear, there was a little ache in my heart. Life had a peculiar way of intertwining our past and present, reminding us of the roads we had traveled and the choices we had made.

I guess everything happens for a reason. I never would have met Layla—Blake—if it weren’t for all that.

But a lot of that had really fucking sucked.

My phone buzzed and I grabbed it like it was a lifeline. I hated thinking about my past. It was Blake, thank fuck. Her texts came in rapid fire…adorably awkward. I’d changed her name in my phone to Mrs. Lancaster, and I felt like a giddy little kid watching it pop up now.

Mrs. Lancaster: They’re letting me off early since it’s a slow night.

Mrs. Lancaster: But we totally don’t have to hang out.

Mrs. Lancaster: Because it’s late.

Mrs. Lancaster: Sorry I’m texting so much.

Me: On my way, sunshine.

I grabbed my empty cup, smirking to myself at how the barista was avoiding looking at me.

It was go time.

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