Game For Love(10)

By: Mara Jacobs

He could feel the strong pull of arousal beginning in his abdomen. If he kept his hands on her, it would be just a matter of time before he was sporting a full-fledged hard-on. Declan couldn’t remember, but he silently prayed that the restaurant had long tablecloths. He needed a shield, because he had no intention of keeping his hands off Marlee.

He was perceptive to the fact that touching her aroused not only him, but Marlee as well. It was as if he could keep her from thinking too much by using direct contact. It might keep her off-kilter long enough for him to combat this icy-cool façade she’d put in place. He, more than anyone, knew that the best defense was a good offense.

“Dude, what’s the deal?” Cole asked as he pulled Declan aside while they passed through the coat check area. “What was going on back there?”

Declan looked at his good friend. He’d played with a lot of guys over the years, and had partied with a bunch of them. None more so than Cole Taylor back in the day. He was glad he and Cole had always stayed in touch even after they both went to different teams.

He shook his head as he answered. “I don’t really know. I just know that I—we—felt something at my house. And then she totally shut me down in the car.”

Cole stood toe to toe with him. Cole was a linebacker and had a good four inches and fifty pounds of muscle on Declan. “If she shuts you down, you stay down. She’s a friend of my Anna’s and you can’t pull any of your shit with her.”

Declan looked at his friend. He hadn’t spent any time with Cole since he’d met and married (on the same night!) Anna. “Dude, marriage has changed you.”

Cole shook his head. “Not marriage, man. Love. Love changed me.”

It had. Declan could see that now. “That’s great, man. Really great.”

Cole smiled, but still stayed in Declan’s face. “Yeah, it is. And if Anna’s friend gets pissed, then my sweet Anna gets pissed. And if that happens, then I get pissed. And I know you’ve seen me get pissed…and it ain’t pretty.”

“Amen to that,” Declan said. He put a hand on his friend’s bulging bicep. “It won’t get that far, I promise. If she’s really not into me, I’ll back off. But”—he ran his hand through his hair, then looked at Cole—“I’ve got to try. It was too damn good when I held her hand to not imagine how good it could be if it became anything more.”

Cole studied him for a second, then slowly nodded. “Good enough.” He stepped out of Declan’s way, waving him forward. “This should be interesting.”

The restaurant was dark, with the only discernible lighting coming from the large candles on each table. The tables were of various sizes, but all round. White linen tablecloths were accented with blood-red napkins. It was a warm, jovial atmosphere. It was a family-oriented steakhouse, typically filled with older couples and young families. Declan had discovered it his first year in Boston and came at least once a week, making friends with Gino, the owner.

Many of the diners seemed to recognize Declan as they stood at the hostess stand, handing their coats to Cole to hang up. There was much murmuring, and then, as if on cue, the entire place erupted into a round of applause. Most of the men stood up. Declan took the outcry of emotion in stride. He hung his head, and then raised it with a wide smile. He gave a little wave of appreciation to them all. After all these years he was still humbled and honored by the devotion he felt from people.

“Paisan!” Gino greeted Declan. “I’m so honored you’d come here tonight of all nights! It was a shame your final game was a loss, but what can you do when the other team scores fifty-four points?”

“Score fifty-five?” Declan said with a smile on his face.

It was true that the Pumas’ defense was horrible this season, but Declan had always been a fierce competitor. He had learned to outwardly take defeat graciously, but inside his stomach would churn for days after a loss. He’d watch hours upon hours of tape, trying to see if there was one thing he could have done differently to change the outcome of the game. Then he’d start watching more tape of the upcoming team.

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