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While I wait, I psych myself up. I picture the last several auctions. The way I feel when I stride across the stage. I try to call up those feelings of pride and confidence.

But they’re just out of reach. Tonight feels different. I’m feeling nerves, like I’m in high school again. This is so foreign. I hardly feel nerves when I step up to the plate in the majors, even against fire-hurling lefties.

“And the left-fielder for the Minotaurs is sold! To the guy in the leather jacket with the sinful beard,” Luke says, sounding like an auctioneer.

Maybe a dirty one.

Vargas shoots a naughty grin at the guy who won him, and I guess maybe someone is getting lucky tonight.

That’s another thing I love about this auction. Men and women come to bid on the guys. The lineup includes straight and queer athletes. The only requirement for an athlete who enters is to post a pic of the date they go on or send it to the organizers to post.

When Vargas passes me backstage, he whispers, “I warmed ’em up for you.”

I shake his hand. “Good man.”

When he leaves Reese whispers to me, “You look sharp. Bring it home. You’re a closer tonight.”

“I’ll get you a big win,” I say, then I steal a look at Luke.

The quarterback’s suit is fine. Fits like a dream, and that’s a problem for me. Suit porn is my downfall. Although to be fair, Luke with his shirt off did it for me last week too.

Focus, man, focus.

You’re at the plate. It’s the bottom of the ninth. Your team’s down by two. You’re the winning run.

There. I won’t think dirty thoughts about my buddy.

I can’t think dirty thoughts about a friend.

As he ambles across the stage, Luke chats with the audience about how the night is going, then finishes with, “All right, all right. Enough of me. That’s what you’re all saying, right?”

A man shouts from the seats in the back, “We could never get enough of you.”

Luke smiles his golden guy grin. “Thank you. And I can never get enough of all of you. The New York Leopards can’t either, so be sure to fill the stands and make some noise come football season.”

“We will,” a woman calls out.

“Now, I know some of you have been wanting to bid on me. I get it. I’m a top prize,” he deadpans.

“So enter the auction now,” another guy says.

I burn a little, but it’s not like the guy can win Luke. He’s not entering so there’s no need for me to feel…whatever this strange emotion is. An emotion I need to completely ignore. Just like I need to ignore these nerves. This uncertainty.

“Ah, if only I could enter,” Luke quips. “But see, I saved the best for last. There’s one guy you’ll all want more than me. And I am stoked to bring him onstage. The hottest baseball player in the city. The star shortstop for the New York Comets,” he says.

My chest swells a little with pride. Well, better my chest than my dick.

Dude, settle down. He’s talking you up for the auction. He cares about charity too.

“Come on down, Tanner Sloan,” he says confidently, then sweeps out an arm, inviting me onstage.

I stride across the hardwood, flashing my sexiest smile at the crowd. They cheer. Some hoot. Some shout take it off. Nate and Hunter do neither. Instead, Nate smiles evilly. Hunter does the same.

Ah, shit. Those two. I thought I cut their idea off at the knees with my laughter. With the way I steered the conversation far, far away from Nate’s ridiculous suggestion.

But they sure look like they’re going to egg on Luke, and I don’t know if I want them to.

I won’t look their way again. Out of sight, out of mind.

“Tanner, my friend,” Luke says when I reach him. “How the hell are you tonight?”

“Excellent, Luke. And you?” I ask genially, but I can’t read him. Can’t tell if he’s taking the dare or not.

“I am great. Especially since I have a good feeling about you.” He curls that damn hand on my shoulder again, sending a sharp sizzle down my skin.

Wait.

What the fuck was that?

“Tanner Sloan isn’t only one of baseball’s MVPs,” Luke says as I fight off the hot sensation flashing across my body. “He’s also an advocate for Minor League fair pay and has helped pave the path for the guys in the farm leagues. Plus, he’s always raising money to help get young kids off the street. Especially queer kids.”

Focus on the kids. The charities. The goal. I’ve got to stay in the auction zone. Not the bone zone.

Luke turns to me, genuine gratitude in his eyes. “Thank you for the work you do for homeless kids.”

I’m not an aw, shucks kind of guy, but I feel like one right now, especially since it takes my mind off other matters. I give a quick nod and say thank you.

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