Chapter One Excerpt
Jesse Solomona skimmed his fingertips over the grass and dug his cleats into the dirt, his blood thrumming as he waited for the snap. He glanced out of the corner of his eye for the position of the refs, noting their location on the field, and took off the second the football was in Matt’s hands. Matt stepped back and Jesse darted around the offensive line, crashing into Matt and sprawling them into the grass as the ref’s whistle screeched.
“Personal foul. Fifteen yards.”
“Come on, Ryan!” Jesse protested, unable to hold back a mischievous grin. “That was an accident.”
“Bullshit, Sol. You’ve got almost a hundred pounds on Matt and this is a touch football league. You think we don’t see you coming? Especially when you get that gleam in your eye?”
Jesse shrugged and pulled Matt to his feet. He couldn’t deny that at six foot four and almost three hundred pounds he was the biggest guy on the field. When he’d played ball in college he’d been a solid two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle, but a job in software sales that kept him locked in a car or at a desk most of the day—not to mention too much beer when he was off work—had made him soft. Soft, but not flabby. He had a barrel chest and massive thighs even though these community league games were the only exercise he got anymore.
“My bad, Matt!” he called out to his friend as Matt tracked off the field, wincing.
“Fuck you,” Matt spat back. “I would flip you off but my shoulder fucking kills.”
One of the other guys lifted Matt’s arm for him and Matt yelled out a triumphant ha! as he sent Jesse a one-finger salute.
“Couldn’t resist, huh?” Kam asked as he sidled up next to Jesse.
Jesse glanced at his best friend and the quarterback for their team, Thomas Kaminski—Kam for short. The sun had fully set and the stadium lights glinted off the silver in Kam’s prematurely gray beard.
“We may be thirty-three, but we’re not elderly yet. I’m just working off some stress.”
“That bad of a business trip?”
Jesse grunted in lieu of answering that directly. Since he’d been out of town last night, he’d spent the better part of his evening scrolling through his apps for a hook up. The backroom blowjob he’d ended up with had left him emotionally reeling instead of satisfied, with the night capped off by waking up with hangover and vague memories of being bounced out of a club when he’d taken a shot at someone. His nerves had already been on edge driving back into Kensington, and he’d drove around town instead of going straight to the field, debating whether to show up at all.
He took a long drink from a water bottle—filled with vodka. The liquor burned down his throat, warming him from the inside. It was almost November and the air had a crispness to it that hinted at the possibility of first snowfall. Jesse sneered. He hated winter and he hated feeling this claustrophobic in his own body.
Kam leaned in and took a whiff of the bottle. “Jesus, Jesse.”
Maybe joining in on the end of their game hadn’t been the best choice. But it wasn’t as if he was particularly good at making the right choices lately.
“Hair of the dog.” Jesse cracked his neck and refocused on the game. “Who’s their backup?”
“Guy who’s been working with me over at the boxing club. We needed someone to take Danny’s place and he offered to give it a try.”
Jesse scanned the bench where the members of the other team were either huddled over Matt, rehydrating, or tightening braces around their own aging joints. It didn’t take long for Jesse to spot the outlier once he wasn’t solely focused on the field in front of him. Jesse muttered a curse as he took in the man’s full sleeve of tattoos on his left arm, his tall, lithe body, and tousled brown hair, curling over his forehead.
Jesse swallowed, trying to douse his unexpected flare of attraction. “The one with the tats?”
“I know that look, Sollie….”
Jesse swiped the sweat off his upper lip on his shirtsleeve. He was very sure his best friend didn’t.
Kam jabbed a finger into his chest. “…No blood.”
Jesse shook off his unease and slipped into the persona everyone expected from him. “Tears?”
Kam shrugged. “This guy’s tough, man. I don’t think you’ll be getting any tears out of him.”
Jesse cracked his knuckles at that challenge.
Play resumed five minutes later when Matt was settled on the sidelines with an ice pack over his shoulder and the first down line was moved forward for Jesse’s penalty. Jesse locked eyes with the new quarterback, forcing his attraction into the socially acceptable outlet of dehumanizing him, then plowing him into the grass. As long as they weren’t fucking, it was perfectly okay—even encouraged—for him to be on top of another man.
“What’s your name, pretty boy?” Jesse taunted.
“Doesn’t matter,” the man said. “You can’t swivel that thick neck fast enough to keep up with my game.”
A litany of oaths went up from the defensive and offensive lines. All of them knew enough not to piss off the one guy who would enjoy crunching them into the grass, even if it was supposed to be a tackle-free league.
Jesse chuffed. He hoped Matt’s team had a third string quarterback.
But the new guy was quick, and he had an arm with aim much better than Matt’s. He kept to a hurry-up offense that had Jesse scrambling to read the play. Jesse was always one step behind where he should have been to keep them from advancing, and his irritation level skyrocketed with each completed pass or missed touch to stop play. The refs watched him closely now, and despite that first hit on Matt, Jesse tamped down the desire to alienate all of his friends by leaving a path of injured limbs in his frustration-fueled wake.
His family and the Kensington boys were all that he had.
Jesse downed more vodka at the next timeout and stole a long look at the replacement quarterback’s lean but powerful arms before taking the field again. None of his boys suspected that Jesse’s list contained just as many men as it did women, but he didn’t worry about being caught looking—he wasn’t the only one taking stock of the newcomer.
Being good at a sport, any sport, helped the guy’s cause, but Kam vouching for him was the only reason someone from outside their group was here at all. The Kensington boys had a reputation for being wary of outsiders.
“Still waiting to see what you can do, Beast,” the quarterback taunted as he stepped up to the line.
The ball snapped into action and Jesse pushed through the line, gunning for another sack, regardless of a penalty. The quarterback caught eyes with Jesse and Jesse could’ve sworn that in the moment it was just the two of them on that field. His steps faltered at the flash of a dimple popping out on the guy’s left cheek, and Jesse dug his feet in for a burst of speed, but the quarterback spun away with a self-satisfied smirk and launched the football down the field for the winning touchdown just as time expired.
Jesse groaned and fought to catch his breath. Damn, he was out of shape.
And severely distracted.
The other team crowded around the new guy with congratulations and Jesse dragged himself over to the sidelines on tired legs. He slumped onto the bench with his back to the field, then felt a tap on his shoulder and he looked up from packing his duffel.
“I’m Chuck Dunn,” the replacement quarterback said.
Jesse toweled the sweat off his forehead. “Good game.”
Chuck’s cold-reddened lips drew into a lop-sided grin. “No better motivation than the fear of a massive fucker taking you down.”
A smile tugged at Jesse’s mouth, despite his shit mood. There was little that got him going more than good competition. That the competition was eye candy with a wicked mouth was a solid bonus.
Jesse chuckled. “Fair enough.”
“You joining us at McLoughlin’s, Chuck?” Kam asked as he strolled up to them and threw his arm over Chuck’s shoulder.
“That’s the bar over on Bridge Street, right?”
Kam nodded. “Bet you haven’t been there in years.”
“Not from around here?” Jesse asked.
“Not from Kensington.”
Kam gave Chuck’s shoulder a one-armed buddy squeeze as he looked at Jesse. “Chuck’s a born and bred west-sider. Should have given him a heads up who we were playing tonight though. You owe Matt a beer for that hit.”
Jesse smirked and caught Chuck’s eye. “Wish I could’ve made it two.”
Chuck winked, an honest-to-fucking-god wink that had Jesse’s insides heating from more than just the vodka. “Maybe next time.”
In certain venues, a line delivered like that would be considered flirting, but a crappy community football field in Kensington wasn’t one of those places. Jesse shook his head and lugged his duffel over his shoulder, starting toward the parking lot.
There was the patter of footsteps in gravel and Chuck appeared at his side. “I still don’t know your name.”
Jesse arched an eyebrow. “We dating now?”
Chuck held his gaze. “Nah. I just prefer to know who I’m running my ass off to avoid.”
“Jesse,” he replied. “But the boys call me Sol or Sollie.”
“The Kensington boys. Kam’s one of us. Even if he did go rogue and move into the sticks.”
“He’s mentioned you guys.” Chuck ran his fingers through his hair, smoothing errant curls off his forehead, and Jesse tracked the movement of the man’s agile hands. “You all grew up in the same neighborhood, right?”
“So, I’m guessing you’re the one who played football?”
Jesse nodded. “I was a walk-on linebacker in college for the Cavs. Then my knee got torn up in the last game of my third season.”
Chuck gave a low whistle. “Doesn’t seem to have slowed you down.”
“I couldn’t catch you,” he said wryly. “You have a pretty good arm. Did you play?”
Jesse stopped dead in his tracks and roared with laughter. “Tennis? You’re joking.”
Chuck’s gaze ran over him, a slow smile inching up his lips. “I have a mean backhand.”
“Fuck. Well, tennis boy, let’s see how your arm handles darts. I’ll see you at McLoughlin’s.”
Chuck slapped Jesse on the back and jogged off to his truck.
Jesse threw his bag into his backseat and opened the driver’s door, glancing over his shoulder at Chuck. He definitely didn’t notice Chuck’s ass when he bent down to place his duffel in the trunk and unzip it to pull out a fresh t-shirt. And he definitely didn’t acknowledge the heat pooling low in his belly when Chuck shucked his shirt, revealing a cut torso to match the badass sleeve of tattoos running up his left arm. Chuck wasn’t his type.
At least not the type any of his friends would pick out for him.
Chuck lifted his arms to pull a new shirt on and the light of the streetlamp glinted off a barbell in Chuck’s nipple.
“Fuck,” Jesse breathed out.
Piercing, tats, cut body, smartass, and athletic? Jesse groaned. He was going to need a hell of a lot more alcohol to make it through tonight.