“Good to see you,” I say to my sister, then stretch to give her a kiss on the cheek as I put my frustration aside.
“Hey, you. Thanks again for the tickets. And I wanted you to meet Soren,” she says, completely unable to hide her matchmaker enthusiasm.
“Nice to meet you,” I say to the guy who looks a little like Thor, all Norse god, flaxen-haired good looks and a great smile.
“I promise this was her idea,” he says, as we shake. “I was happy to wait for coffee in New York.”
I smile, grateful he’s acknowledged the mini elephant in the ballpark. “Don’t worry. I figured that out already,” I say.
Amelia rolls her eyes, laughing. “And you love me. Anyway, I can see you’re getting along,” she says, then makes a show of waggling her phone. “Oh, look! I need to take a quick call.”
She scurries out of the row.
“I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have a call,” I say.
Soren laughs. “She’s not obvious at all.”
“Not one bit. Did you enjoy the game? I mean, except for the third inning, and the second inning, and the first.”
“What first three innings?” he asks.
Maybe my sister is right. Maybe Soren is what I need. He’s nice enough, at least from what I can tell in these few minutes together as I give it my all, chatting with the handsome, affable attorney. But the clock is ticking, and I need to go do press interviews and put on my post-game face. “It was nice meeting you,” I say, right as Amelia returns.
“Nice meeting you too.”
Amelia grins at Soren, then me. “I’m so glad we ran into you tonight, Tanner.”
I roll my eyes. “Yeah, you just ran into me.”
“And you guys can do coffee in New York,” she adds.
Soren meets my gaze with bright blue eyes. “I’d love to.”
I wouldn’t. But I should want to. “Sounds great.”
Maybe by then I won’t be thinking about some other guy. When I see Luke at the wedding, I’ll need to devote all my energy to returning to the friend zone. I’ll have to tell him, too, that Christmas is canceled.
Later, I return to my hotel and shut the door to my room as my phone buzzes.
When Luke’s name flashes on the screen, my heart beats too fast.
Luke: You up?
I UNDERSTAND A CAT
I hit reply so fast.
Tanner: Just got back to my hotel room.
Luke: Cool. You doing okay?
That’s an odd question. Brow furrowed, I study the message as I walk farther into the suite, flopping down on the couch.
Tanner: Is there a reason I shouldn’t be?
Luke: I just know you’re the one player who likes to give it your all at the All-Star game.
Oh. Huh. He knows that about me. Did I ever tell him that? Not sure, but I’m grateful he gets it. I don’t have to pretend I’m happy with my performance back there.
Tanner: Yeah, well, tonight kind of sucked. I prefer to hit dingers for the fans, all things being equal.
Luke: Dinger is such a weird word. But I wanted to make sure you were okay.
This is nice that he reached out. We can be friends like we’ve always been.
Tanner: Thanks, man. I usually don’t let games get to me, but I wanted to do better tonight. For the fans, ya know. But I’m good. You?
Luke: Glad you’re alright. I’m packing for my early flight.
Before I can ask when he’s taking off, my phone rings. It’s Luke on FaceTime. I answer it faster than a friend would.
“Hey,” I say, but that came out too soft, too sweet. I clear my throat. My voice is deeper this time as I correct with a casual, “Hey.”
“Hey,” he says, and then he’s quiet, almost shy. Like he forgot why he called. “I just wanted to…”
He stops, snort-laughs, then turns his face to the side, lifting a hand behind him. “I’m only gone a few days,” he says to the orange cat who just walked behind him on the couch. “You won’t even miss me, End Zone.”
I dip my face to hide my smile over the way he talks to his cat. I can’t get caught up in how he speaks to a pet.
Luke turns to the camera again as I raise my face. “End Zone won’t really miss me while I’m gone. He just pretends he will,” he explains as the critter in question curls up on Luke’s shoulders.
“I don’t know, man. Looks like he’s marking you before you leave. I bet he’ll miss you.”
“Nah. He’s just worried Kickoff will be mean to him so he’s sucking up to me before I go,” Luke says, lifting his arm behind him to stroke the cat and giving me a nice view of his biceps again.
His muscles fill the screen, and my memory fills in from the other night.
When those big arms were braced on either side of my head as he drove into me.