Who doesn't love a good party? Nobody Quebec City Nordiques forward Gabe Martin knows. But no one parties like his potential new linemate Dante Baltierra, aka Baller.
Nobody has an ass like him either.
When Gabe strolled in, he found about half the guys had taken over the restaurant. Again, not surprising. They were sprawled over a few of the larger tables, laughing over beers, and Gabe smiled. These were his people.
“Banksy!” Baller shouted and waved Gabe over.
Gabe rolled his eyes but moved toward the empty seat at Baller’s table.
Baller was an idiot. The self-appointed life of the party, he was a stereotypical American abroad: loud and exuberant. But he was also a driven player and an excellent left-winger. He’d been the Dekes’ first-round draft pick last year, and sports writers had buzzed about his potential until he’d taken a hit to the head and gotten knocked out for the second half of the season. Now that he was back, Gabe looked forward to seeing what kind of player he matured into.
“Banksy! Beer!” Baller pushed a pint glass into Gabe’s hand.
Gabe was interested to see if he’d ever mature off the ice too. Probably not any time soon.“Are you corrupting the rookies?” It was the same every year—one part hilarious, one part frightening—when the American under-twenty-ones found out the drinking age in Quebec was only eighteen.
Baller grinned his crooked grin. “Who, me? It’s not my fault your country’s drinking laws are so lax.”
Next to him in the booth, Chef nudged his shoulder. “Fifi’s gonna make you babysit our first road trip in the US, you know that, right?” Gabe caught his gaze behind Baller’s back, and they exchanged smirks. It wasn’t that rookies couldn’t get into bars—especially when accompanied by a couple lines of veteran players—but making them believe they couldn’t was fun.
Baller waved him off. “My liver will need a break by then anyway.”
Well, that was probably true. Baller wouldn’t be twenty-one until January. Gabe remembered being twenty in the NHL. Parts of it, at least. The Wings—the team that had drafted him—partied a lot harder than the Dekes ever seemed to.
“But for right now….” Baller lifted a shot glass of yellow liquid in each hand and offered one to Gabe.
He might as well get it over with. He just hoped it wasn’t tequila.
Around the table, Fifi, Chef, and a handful of rookies, some of whom probably wouldn’t make the end of camp, raised shot glasses of their own. Nobody said to the season, because that was jinxing it. You didn’t talk about winning streaks for fear of breaking them; you didn’t talk about playoffs in case you didn’t make them. They just touched glasses and swallowed the alcohol.
Fucking tequila. Gabe made a face. “You’re the worst.”
Baller patted him none too gently on the shoulder. “You love me and José really. You gotta get up, though, ’cause we have bag skate tomorrow so I have to pick up early.”
Rolling his eyes, Gabe stood to let Baller out. “Gentlemen,” Baller said with a jaunty wave, and disappeared into the crowd of bodies.
“Our little rookie, all grown up,” Fifi sighed dramatically, leaning his head on Chef’s shoulder.
One of this year’s crop—Tom something, Gabe thought—shook his head and hunched his shoulders. “How does he even pick up girls here? He doesn’t speak any French!”
Gabe caught himself just before he sprayed the kid with a mouthful of beer. Chef took it upon himself to answer instead. “He’s a professional hockey player. He makes almost a million dollars a year. And he’s cute.”
“Dat ass,” Fifi added gravely.
Gabe rolled his eyes. “Last year he tortured me by singing ‘Lady Marmalade’ until I taught him some better French pickup lines.” Not that he needed them. Most of the girls Baller’s age spoke English just fine and weren’t shy about letting on, especially when it could net them a night with the Internet’s favorite drunken hockey player.
Brightening, the rookie beside maybe-Tom leaned forward, all lanky teenage earnestness. Lord, if he made the cut, the puck bunnies would eat him alive. “Can you teach me?”
“First of all, you should get a native speaker to teach you.”
“Why didn’t Baller?”
“Baller did, but Fifi was unhelpful,” said the man himself as he reappeared at the table with a beautiful girl under each arm. Gabe made a note to check his watch next time, because that was fast. “He has ideas about respecting women for longer than one night at a time. Speaking of!” He unwrapped his arm from around the girl on his left, who had sharp cheekbones and a full mouth and was blushing shyly. “This is Fleur”—he gestured to the girl on the right—“and Elise. She wanted to meet you,” he added in an undertone.
“You brought your phone?” he asked in French to cover his discomfort.
Elise nodded and produced an iPhone in a pink case with the Nordiques logo. Gabe stood long enough to put his arm around her shoulders while Baller snapped a photo, and then shook her hand. “It was nice to meet you, Elise.” Now to steer her back to someone who was interested. He tilted his head at Baller. “Be careful with this guy, he’s fragile. Still sleeps with his teddy bear. Leaves the hall light on.” He winked at Fifi and added, “Francois’s wife used to tuck him in at night until he finally got his own place.”
“What are you telling her?” Baller squawked as Fleur laughed out loud.
“Nothing that isn’t true,” Gabe said, switching back to English. “Have a good night, kids.”
Baller didn’t look at all reluctant as the girls dragged him toward the door.
Gabe turned back to the table to find the rookies staring at him. He sighed. “What?”
“You just—” Tom said, gesturing emphatically.
“She was so hot,” the rookie whose name Gabe had already forgotten said mournfully. “Is Baller seriously going to go home with both of them?”
Gabe shrugged. “Probably.”
“But why didn’t you…?”
“Superstitious,” Fifi said, proving he wasn’t Gabe’s best friend for nothing. “One time he pick up on the road, pull a muscle in his back doing too much athletic sex. Missed three games.”
It was a true story. It just didn’t involve a woman and had nothing to do with why Gabe never picked up when they went out.
“But it’s still training camp!”
“And a bunch of rookies are gunning for spots, including mine if I’m not careful,” Gabe pointed out. “Though if you keep drinking, I don’t know about your chances.”
Tom looked down at the plethora of empty shot glasses littering the table and turned a little green. Gabe smirked and passed over a couple bills. “I’m out for the night. See you kids bright and early.”
He’d lost the desire to watch his teammates pick up for the night while he was unable to do the same. He missed sex, but the fear of getting caught always kept him from doing something stupid.
At least so far.