THAT ONE IS A WILDCAT
I plug one ear with a finger and press my phone into the other as I walk away from my table toward a quieter corner in the bar.
“Yo, College, where you at?” My buddy, Ash, asks on the other end of the line.
“A bar near campus. I had a meeting with my advisor this afternoon, and a couple of buddies from my summer classes invited me out.”
“I’m bored. What time will you be back?”
“Probably not until late. It’s trivia night.”
“Trivia night?” Ash snorts with laughter. “You don’t get enough of that in school?”
I roll my eyes, letting him get his jabs in. I’m used to the guys poking fun at me for taking classes while playing in the NHL. It’s all in good fun. Mostly.
“Wait.” His voice goes serious, and I can almost picture him sitting up straight and preparing to move from his favorite spot in the middle of the couch in his living room. “What’s the girl situation? Are hot girls still into trivia?”
“Doesn’t matter. They’re all totally out of your league,” I say as I glance around the busy bar that’s popular with Whittaker students. My gaze lands, not for the first time, on the gorgeous bartender working tonight. She’s new, or at least I’ve never seen her before.
This place is packed. A month into the new semester and it looks like all those good intentions to stay in and study during the weeknights have been tossed out the window. Man, some days I really miss college. Nights like this are few and far between for me during the season.
For the next eight months, I will live and breathe hockey. With any free time, I’ll hang at Ash’s house, or he’ll be at mine. We’re neighbors and teammates. He has the better TV setup, complete with every gaming system you can imagine, but I have the better patio and pool.
“Maybe I should drive down,” he says. I can hear him punching buttons on the controller and the video game in the background. “I’ve got you covered in Philosophy and History. I bet some other guys would be up for it, too.”
“By the time you get here, trivia will be done.”
“Then we can still have a beer and get you tucked in by midnight, Cinderella. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to keep me away. Afraid I’ll steal all the hot girls for myself?”
“Yeah, that’s it,” I say dryly. “I’ll see you in the morning.” I hang up before he can goad me anymore or talk himself into coming for real. It isn’t that I don’t want to hang with him, but if the entire Minnesota Wildcats team shows up here, it’s going to be a shitshow.
I can usually go undetected in a crowded bar, save the occasional hardcore fan. On the ice, I might want the attention, but not here. At the reminder, I pull my hat down a little lower over my eyes and keep my head down as I walk.
Before I’ve made my way back to the table, Ash has sent me a series of texts with the middle finger emoji.
Brad and Micah stop their conversation when I slide onto my chair.
“What’d I miss?” I ask.
Micah leans forward, elbows on the table and beer bottle dangling from one hand. “Settle a bet for us. Did you or did you not hook up with that reporter after you eye-fucked her boobs during this interview?”
I groan, and their cackles fill my ears.
Brad slides his phone onto the table, the infamous video playing. Last week, guys from teams all over the league attended a pre-season strength and training camp. It was a great week. Lots of media stopped by. It was interview after interview on how strong we were feeling going into the new season, our expectations for our teams, blah blah blah. Interviews are not my thing. Guys like Jack, our team captain, and even Ash are much better at handling the mundane and repetitive questions.
I press pause on the video and slide it back to him. “I wasn’t staring at her boobs.”
Or I hadn’t meant to be anyway. I was tired and hungry and concentrating on coming up with something more to say than “I’m feeling good” and “The team looks good,” which I’d already said a half-dozen times that day alone.
“You are hardcore staring at her cleavage, Lohan.” Brad holds up his phone, the screen paused on a frame where my eyes are downcast, and indeed it very much looks like they’re focusing on her boobs. And they’re great boobs, so I get why people would think that, but I was so exhausted after a long ass day of workouts, she could have been topless, and I still might not have checked her out.
The other problem? She’s very obviously checking me out. Her gaze dips several times in the video over my sweaty chest and abs, even dropping to my crotch at one point. Yeah, not my best interview.
“We didn’t hook up.”
“Dammit. Really?” Brad’s shoulders slump, and he finishes off his beer.
“Sorry to disappoint.” I’m not breaking his heart and telling him I’d never hook up with someone in the media. I have a hard enough time with interviews. I don’t need to piss off any of the reporters.
Micah sets his empty bottle on the table with a clang. A victorious smile pulls at his lips. “Make sure they grab one from the back of the cooler. I like it ice cold.”
Brad starts to get to his feet to grab the drinks.
“I’ve got this round,” I say, standing and placing a hand on his shoulder. “Shots? Pitcher?”
Their eyes light up. I remember all too well what it was like to be a poor college kid. I won’t get to hang much since the season is about to kick off. All summer long, we drank here after our Wednesday night finance class. It was nice.
Until next summer, I’m only taking one class a semester online. I wish I could do more, but I’ll finish my degree eventually.
The bar in this place spans one long wall. It’s a narrow space with tables scattered in front of it. There’s no dart board or pool table and only one TV. It’s a total dive, but the proximity to campus keeps the cramped space in business. It has a friendly, fun vibe and is obviously the place to be tonight. It’s busier than I’ve ever seen.
I choose the less crowded end of the bar closest to the new hottie bartender. I’ve come to know some of them. Mike, the owner, is the only one I recognize tonight. I don’t think Mike knows who I am, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would make a big deal out of it even if he did.
They’re really slammed, so I settle in to wait.
Hottie bartender moves slowly as she pours a line of tequila shots. She’s concentrating so hard, like it might be her first night. She’s holding up the line, but she’s damn fine to look at, so no one is complaining much.
Her long brown hair is the color of aged whiskey. It’s pulled back in a ponytail that sways around slender shoulders. People are calling out to get her attention, but she continues taking her sweet-ass time like she isn’t bothered by the chaos around her.
The guy buying the shots says something to her with a cocky tilt to his mouth before he hands over his credit card. He holds on when she tries to take it and leans in closer. She recoils, and I don’t have to be a genius to know he hit on her, or more likely, propositioned her. She snatches the card away and turns to run it. As if he didn’t get a clue by her avoidance, he bends over the bar and smacks her ass.
Damn. Ballsy. I stand tall ready for… fuck, I don’t know. Mike catches the dirtbag in action, scowls, and comes over, presumably to defend his employee and kick the guy out, but before he can, she stomps back with a wild look in her eye, picks up one of the shots, and tosses it at him.
I laugh. Mike, not so much. Most of the other patrons have a good chuckle and then slide down to the only remaining bartender. Not me. I’m enthralled.
“I’m sorry, Mike,” she says, hands balled up in fists, looking about as sorry as I feel that she doused that guy in alcohol.
“That guy had it coming,” Mike grumbles. The two of them move my way to talk more privately. “But you can’t go around tossing top-shelf liquor in every douchebag’s face, Scarlett.”
Scarlett. I try her name out in my head as I get a better look at her. Her tank top and denim shorts are the standard attire of half the girls here, but it shows off her lean body and slight curves. Her eyes are dark, but the way she smiles, a little mischievously and a whole lot sexy, makes them light up under the glow of the bar.
“We need to start trivia. Why don’t you help Jade?”
She pulls a bottle opener from her back pocket and hands it to him. “Sure.”
“Good. I think that’ll be a better fit for you.”
“Why? Because they’ll be too busy to grope me?” Her voice is raspy, annoyed, and sexy as hell.
He smirks. “No, because the drinks on that side of the bar are already paid for. Toss away.”
She brushes past me, and Mike meets my gaze and moves in position to help. “Wildcat.”
“What’d you say?” In all the times I was here this summer, he never mentioned the team or let on that he knew I was an NHL player.
“That one is a wildcat,” he says with a head tilt in the direction Scarlett went. “What can I get you, man?”
I breathe a sigh of relief that I haven’t been outed. I can go most places with a minimal invasion of privacy, but here hanging with guys from class, I don’t want to be Leo Lohan, NHL player. I just want to hang with some friends and relax.
And maybe get Scarlett’s number.