Rafe cut a piece of prime rib and lifted it to his mouth. Chewing, he met Ashlee’s gaze to give the illusion of actually listening, then slid his focus slightly left, where he could watch the customers at the bar again.
Ashlee giggled at something she’d said. She was three glasses into the bottle and now seriously tipsy, bordering on drunk. Rafe wished he were as lucky. While he was definitely feeling the Patron, he wasn’t near as numb as he wanted to be. And this dinner had the horrible potential to go on forever, especially considering Ashlee was talking too much to eat.
He picked up his water glass instead of the alcohol and tipped the glass back. His gaze skimmed over the bar again, and he caught sight of a new couple sliding onto stools at the end of the bar bordering the restaurant.
The man caught Rafe’s attention. Tall, blond, well-dressed, good-looking— Cole Kilbourne. The Rough Riders’ new trade from the Calgary Flames. Prick was the first thing that came to Rafe’s mind. It was no secret that Kilbourne wasn’t any happier about the trade than the Rough Riders were.
The guy was in his early twenties and needed to have that hot-shit chip smacked off his shoulder in a big way. He might be good at getting the puck in the net, but he lacked so many other crucial skills to pull a team together, Rafe thought they were better off without him. Kilbourne had nothing but a bad attitude since he’d arrived, he was too arrogant to even attempt to try and work with the other players, and lacked even the most basic respect for teammates and coaching staff.
“…and when I have children,” Ashlee was saying, “I’m certainly not going to have a nanny raise them. I’m going to raise my own babies, the same way my mama raised me. But I will definitely have a planned babysitter because I love to work out. I believe it’s important to keep fit for mind and body, not to mention a healthy sexual relationship…”
Rafe shifted his gaze to Ashlee again. How could someone so physically beautiful make him so viscerally miserable? If he had to listen to her drone on any longer, he might just stab his steak knife through his heart. Or maybe he could just stick his cock in her mouth.
When the thought made him wince, Rafe corralled his wandering mind and started strategizing how he could use Kilbourne to get him out of this. His gaze traveled back to the bar, where Rafe’s new teammate now stood very close to a woman he’d guided into a seat. Her dark hair was cut in layers and curved softly to her shoulders. She was slim, wearing a stylish, fitted dress that showed great curves. It was going to be hell getting him away from her.
Rafe was wondering if he had Kilbourne’s cell number in his phone. Wondering what he could possibly offer the guy to come over here and make an excuse to get him out of this.
Kilbourne put his hand on the back of the woman’s chair and leaned close to say something to her. She turned toward him, tilted her head back, and laughed. Her hair fell off her face and, wow, she was…
Shock stole his breath.
The reality of it hammered his gut with fire.
She was Mia.
Emotions whipped through him, colliding at the center of his body—excitement, happiness, desire. They mixed, creating a physical yearning to reconnect with her.
In that moment, looking at her from a distance for the first time in a year, he realized that not talking to her and not seeing her had only made him want her more, not less. And knowing he couldn’t have her, knowing he couldn’t break the trust he’d built with Tate, or the loyalty and respect he owed Joe, felt like a knife popping the balloon of joy in his gut.
Then Kilbourne’s hand slid across her shoulders, jolting an angry sensation straight into the pit of Rafe’s stomach. Mia’s earlier text filled his head: I’m ready for something different. Very different. And I think I’ve just found it.
Oh no. No, no, no.
She was not going to be fucking Kilbourne while Rafe was still alive and breathing. No way was Rafe going to look at Kilbourne’s ugly mug every day knowing he’d had Mia in a way Rafe had fantasized about for years.
He put down his fork and pulled his phone from his pocket, pretending he’d gotten a message. “Excuse me just a minute,” he murmured over Ashlee’s babble, tapping into his text messages. “It’s my agent. Go ahead, I’m listening. I’ll just text him.”
“Oh, no problem,” Ashlee said. “I do that all the time, carry on several conversations at once. You know, with cell phones and social media nowadays, everyone’s always communicating with someone…”
He tuned her out again, his mind suddenly stalling on what to say and how to say it. He had no right to tell Mia what to do or who to do it—or not to do it—with. After all but shutting her out of his life for an entire year and bailing on her tonight, Rafe knew he was the last person she would listen to.