Rafe chuckled, hoping it didn’t sound as forced as it felt. “My thoughts exactly.”
He tucked in his shirt and fastened his belt. Beckett handed off the phone to Ty. “Don’t drool on it.”
The phone made the rounds through the locker room—for the tenth time since one of the team’s administrative assistants texted Rafe Ashley’s photo.
“You suckers were all pitying me last week when I got picked for this. But now, while you’re out shooting the shit like every other boring night at Top Shelf, I’ll be eating a five-hundred-dollar dinner and drinking a couple three-hundred-dollar bottles of wine from Bellissimo’s with that beauty, then moving up to her hotel room to get showered with sexual appreciation.”
The guys tossed out a variety of fake condolences and envious sarcasm that made Rafe smile.
“You’re so full of yourself,” Tate told him.
Yep, he was working his playboy image hard. It was the only tool left in his mental arsenal to fight thoughts of Mia.
“You have to be the luckiest shit on the planet,” Isaac said, handing his phone back. “Out of all the season ticket holders who could have won, what are the chances you’d get a woman like that?”
“Normally, I don’t believe in luck. I believe in skill.” He pulled his silk tie around his neck and wound it into a French knot. “But in this case, I’ve got to agree with you, because the probability of having a young, hot chick win this dinner out of a pool of rich old men has to be pretty low. I think the universe really wants me to get laid.”
“Probability?” Tate said, lifting a brow at Rafe. “This from the man who couldn’t pass high school stats without tutoring and cheating?”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” he told Tate. “I learned a lot from both tutoring and cheating.”
Like where my loyalties lie. Fucking the most important woman in Tate’s and Tate’s father’s lives would hardly be considered showing appropriate gratitude for all they’d done. A great reminder of why Rafe hadn’t rescheduled this obligatory dinner when he’d found out Mia would be in town.
Beckett shifted his duffel to the other shoulder with a wince and glanced at Tate. “See you guys at Top Shelf?”
A few of Rafe’s other teammates left with Beckett. But Tate stayed, waiting for Rafe to pack up his duffel and put on his shoes.
“Dad’s coming into town while Mia’s here,” Tate said. “He wants to take us all out to dinner.”
How was he going to get out of that?
The hell of it was, he didn’t want to get out of it. Joe had treated Rafe more like a father than his own dad. But Rafe knew how he’d feel if he had to sit through dinner with Mia. The same way he’d felt last year when she’d brushed him off for another man—like a mule kicked him in the gut.
“I’m sure he wants to spend time with you and Mia,” Rafe told Tate. “I’m not going to get in the middle of that.”
“What’s wrong with you?” The irritation in Tate’s voice signaled his friend’s suspicion, which meant Rafe wasn’t hiding his misery as well as he should. “Why don’t you want to see Mia or Dad?”
Shit. Now he felt like a selfish, ungrateful asshole.
He shrugged into his blazer and looked at Tate. “It’s not that I don’t want to see them. But they don’t get to come all that often, and our game schedule is really tight while they’re here. You should be their focus. They’re your family, not mine.”
“Stop acting like a prick.” Now Tate was angry. “They’ve been as much your family as mine since we were kids, and you never had a problem hanging out with them before. Where is this coming from?”
The locker room was emptying out, and Rafe’s muscles were tightening with the direction of this conversation. “Look, I’ve gotta go. If I’m late to dinner, management’s going to bench me.”
“We’re in the fucking playoffs. You could spit in Tremblay’s face and he wouldn’t bench you. All Dad and Mia will talk about if you’re not there is why you’re not there.”
Tate shook his head, disgusted. He pushed to his feet, true frustration and disappointment darkening his eyes. “I moved my interview with the ESPN journalist tonight back a couple of hours, but I’ll still be leaving Mia alone with a bunch of puck heads at Top Shelf. If you’re not fucking this other chick blind all night, maybe you could at least check in with Mia and make sure she’s okay.”
Tate started to turn, then swung back to face Rafe. “You’ve become a real ass over the last year, you know that?” His eyes narrowed and searched Rafe’s face. “I thought it was a phase. That it was the stress of the game, the job, the travel, the growth. I thought it would pass. But, to tell you the truth, I’m getting pretty sick of waiting.”