After a winter living in New York, Kentucky couldn’t decide if a Texas summer was welcome or hell. There was a guy staring at him. Kentucky tried avoiding eye contact. Things always started the same way. Someone would stare, trying to decide if he was that one hockey player. Eventually, they always worked up the nerve to ask, and then Kentucky had to spend ten minutes of his life reliving the loss of his greatest dream. He’d made it to the big time for like five minutes. In truth, it was for five games. After years of grinding in the minors, Kentucky had finally been picked up by a major team. He’d hoped for at least one season on the ice in New York. Five games in, he tore out his knee and went down for the season.
Now, here he was, back in Texas and fixing cars in his dad’s shop. It was an honest living. Kentucky rubbed his chest. This wasn’t the dream he’d had for himself.
“Rory Vega. You’re good to go,” Kentucky called, ready to hand over the car he’d just finished to its owner. No one liked waiting for an oil change. Kentucky felt the man’s approach, but he didn’t look up from the paperwork he needed to initial. “You’ll probably need a new air filter the next time you come in. I topped off your windshield wiper fluid and your left front tire was a little low. It’s all good now.”
“You’re going to think this is an odd question,” Rory said, interrupting him.
Kentucky glanced up, finding the dark eyes that had been watching him now holding his gaze. A smile tugged at Kentucky’s lips. If he’d realized his stranger was so freaking hot, he would’ve made more of an effort to meet the guy’s stare. “Odd is my middle name.” Kentucky winked. “Not really. It’s Scott. What is it I can do for you?” Even though losing his career was the worst thing to ever happen to him, he wasn’t above using that minute of fame to land a hot piece of ass.
To his surprise, Rory’s staring had nothing to do with hockey. “Were you at Albott’s grocery on Main last night around seven?”
Kentucky blinked. “Uh. Yeah.”
The dude’s smile was amazing. It was deep lines that proved he did it often. Damn, coupling that with the perfect runner’s build, dark hair, and caramel skin... wow. “I thought you looked familiar. I was behind you in line.”
He was right. That was an odd detail to remember. “It’s a small world, I guess.”
Rory shrugged. “Normally, I don’t think I’d remember something like that, but we were in line forever. Also, you had jarred spaghetti sauce, and I was pitying you.”
A smile tugged at the corners of Kentucky’s mouth. “Yeah. I’m not a cook.” He tore off the man’s copy of the paperwork.
Rory didn’t reach for it. “Did you write your number on there?”
Kentucky didn’t respond. In truth, he didn’t know how to react. He was usually the flirt.
The guy’s smile hitched up a notch. “You know, so I can make you a real meal.”
“Hey, Kentucky, I need you to pull the blue Toyota into bay four.”
Kentucky glanced his dad’s way. “Yes, sir. I’m on it.”
“Oh well. Another time, I guess.” That was all the warning Rory gave before he took the papers from Kentucky and slid behind the wheel.
Before Kentucky had time to recover, he’d lost his chance. Rory was already pulling away. Well, fuck. His shit luck held true. Another good thing slipped through his fingers.
* * *
Goosebumps rose on Rory’s skin as another chill washed over him. He hated the cold. This was why he lived in Texas. Plus, everyone he’d met during his years living in California had been fake as hell. He was much happier here. Rory loved to skate as much as the next person, but damn Old West Ice kept it beyond fucking freezing in their rink.
“Tell me again why you forced us to join you in this upcoming disaster,” Jay said, sounding bored.
Rory looked away from searching for his prey long enough to focus on Jay. His hands were encased in fingerless gloves and wrapped around a cup of hot chocolate. Everything about the man screamed runway from his dark, on point hair, painted nails, and glittery outfit. Lucas was no better. His blond hair was a mess, but he’d worn his fur coat. Rory barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes. He did a lot of stupid shit for them. They could do this for him.
“Because,” Rory said, sounding exactly like he’d already explained this ten times, because he had. “While charming the woman who works the front counter at Armhill Auto, she told me Kentucky would be here tonight.”
Lucas popped his gum. “I don’t understand why you’re doing this. You should’ve just grabbed his ass at the grocery store, told him you’re a fan from his hockey days, and fucked him. He’d come back for more.”
“Shhh.” Rory shot a look around. “There’re kids here.”
Lucas rolled his eyes. The childish gesture did nothing to take away from his beautiful green gaze.
Jay jumped in. “Lucas is right. You’re better than this.”
A sigh came from Rory’s soul and left his lips. “If a fan approached you, wanting to take you home, how would you react?”
A scandalized look passed over his face. “Um, first of all, the whole world knows I’m with Lucas.” The pair blew each other a kiss. “Second of all... I see your point. This is better. Still, how did you convince her to tell you where he’d be?”
Rory shrugged. “I simply asked if she thought he’d go out with me tonight. She told me she doubted it. His baby brother has a birthday party here tonight, and no way would Kentucky miss it.”
A snort escaped Lucas. “You should’ve just asked him out for tomorrow night. Damn, you’ve already gotten an unnecessary oil change over this. For that matter, Jay is right; you should’ve approached him at the store. Instead, you sneaked a peek at the name on his work shirt and decided to stalk him like a crazy person.”
“I am a crazy person,” Rory said absently as he eyed the crowd.
“Be that as it may, he’s right over there,” Jay said, nodding to the left.
Rory followed his chin. Kentucky held a little boy’s hand, skating slow and protecting him from being run over by bigger and faster people. He took a deep breath. “Wish me luck.” Rory flashed them a warning look. “And don’t leave yet. If I get shot down, I don’t want to limp out of here alone.”
“We’ll be here.”
“Go get him, tiger,” Lucas called as he skated away.
Another sigh escaped him. Jesus. If he didn’t love them so much… His nerves were already bad. Rory was naturally an over-confident person, but this was insane, even for him. When he’d spotted the ex pro hockey player in line ahead of him the night before, he’d been wowed. It was a matter of pride for him to know all the names of the out and proud players in professional sports. He’d never expected the man to be so hot in person. The impact had left Rory speechless, especially the man’s eyes. He looked sad. Rory hadn’t expected that either. By the time he’d found his courage at the store, he’d lost his chance. Now here he was, three steps into the craziest fucking plan he’d ever concocted, which was saying a lot. In for a penny. He pasted on a huge smile.
Kentucky stopped skating and went down on his haunches. Damn, the guy had an amazing ass. And that long, thick blond hair… yum. Rory wanted to bury his fingers in it. He skated in close. “Okay. Now it’s more than just uncanny. It’s kismet.”
Kentucky turned from where he was zipping the little blond boy’s jacket. A bright smile lit his face, stealing Rory’s breath. “Are you sure you’re not simply stalking me?”
The remark hit home. Rory fought to keep an innocent smile in place. “I’m just lucky, I think.”
Kentucky stood. He held the boy’s hand while offering his free one to Rory. “I’m Kentucky.”
“Rory,” Rory said, shaking his hand.
“I remember.” The way Kentucky said those two words had butterflies stirring in Rory’s stomach.
Rory motioned toward the boy. “And you are?”
“This is my brother, Lexi. We’re here celebrating his fourth birthday.”
“Four,” Rory exclaimed as if it was the biggest number he’d ever heard. “No way. You’re getting so old. You’ll have wrinkles soon.” Rory switched his attention back to Kentucky. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt your party.”
“We have cake,” Lexi said, dragging Rory’s attention back his way. “It’s brown.”
“He means chocolate,” Kentucky said with a chuckle. It was hot.
Lexi nodded. “And trucks.”
Rory lifted his eyebrows in question.
Kentucky smiled. “His presents have trucks on the wrapping paper.”
“Ah. This sounds like an amazing party. I’m super jealous.”
“You can come if you want.”
At Lexi’s invite, Rory glanced Kentucky’s way again. He wasn’t sure how to react. “I’m sure your family—”
“Would be thrilled,” Kentucky said, interrupting him. “Trust me.”
Still, Rory wasn’t sure. He’d come here to accidentally on purpose see Kentucky, but he’d had no plans to crash a kid’s party. “Um.”
“You should join us,” Kentucky said, cutting off his excuse before he found one.
Rory glanced behind him, making sure Lucas and Jay were still waiting. They were. He met Kentucky’s stare once more. “Sure. Just give me ten minutes to find my friends and I’ll be there.”
Kentucky’s smile brightened. “We’re in the party room by the game room. I’ll see you in ten.”
Rory nodded before focusing on Lexi once more. “I want to hear all about the trucks.”
“Dear God,” Kentucky breathed. “You’ve done it now.”
With a laugh, Rory skated backward. “See you in ten.” Without waiting for a response, he skated away. Maybe he should, but Rory didn’t feel the least bit guilty for chasing a man he didn’t know. He had so few chances to meet nice men.
* * *
As Kentucky watched Rory skate away, he wondered if he’d really show. He couldn’t imagine someone as sexy as Rory having nothing better to do than come to a kid’s birthday party, especially one he didn’t know. With a shake of his head, he helped Lexi skate back toward the party room. He should probably let his mom know Lexi had invited another partygoer.
His mom smiled at their approach. “You’re getting very good, Lexi. Soon you’ll be on TV, skating just like your brother.”
Kentucky picked Lexi up and carried him to the table. “He’s doing great. By the way, while we were on the ice, we ran into a friend. Lexi invited him to join us.”
“No worries,” she said, waving off Kentucky’s words. “We have plenty of room for everyone. Who is this friend?” The way she asked left no room for doubt she was already assuming correctly.
“Rory,” Lexi answered for him, proving he’d been listening to every word, as usual. “He likes trucks too.”
Poor Rory. If he showed, Kentucky would learn fast if he was really interested. Lexi could talk a man to death.
“Where do I put my gift?”
Kentucky caught his mom’s expression before he had time to look behind him. Her face said it all. Rory was every bit as gorgeous as he thought. Everyone came to their feet. Rory held an envelope, looking nervous.
“I’ll set it over here with the rest of his presents,” his mom said, relieving Rory of the envelope.
“I don’t have a card or anything, so I just wrote my name on the outside.” He blew Kentucky away. Not only had he shown, he’d found a way to bring Lexi a present.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Kentucky said, feeling guilty.
Rory shrugged. “I’m not showing up to a birthday party empty handed. The woman at the front counter found the envelope for me. It was the best I could do on short notice.” He tucked his hair behind his ear, looking shy. Kentucky wished he could set Rory at ease. He’d shown up. With a present for Lexi. Kentucky couldn’t get past those two points.
He motioned toward his mom. “This is my mom, Lisa.” They shook hands. Kentucky waved a hand toward his dad, who was still playing a nearby video game. “That’s my dad, Brad. You probably saw him at the shop today. Of course, you’ve already met Lexi.”
Rory nodded at everyone. “It’s nice to meet you. I feel like I’m intruding on a family gathering, but I couldn’t turn down Lexi’s invitation. He asked so nicely.”
“We’re happy to have you,” Lisa said, sounding every bit as welcoming as Kentucky knew she would. “As soon as Brad gets done being the biggest kid here, we’ll have cake.”
“Dad doesn’t skate,” Kentucky explained. He hoped with enough talking that Rory would stop looking like he’d gate crashed. He led Rory to the bench at the table. They sat. “Mom has always been the one to drag us onto the ice. She used to be a figure skater.”
Lisa scoffed as she moved to reclaim her seat. “That was a long time ago, and I was mediocre at best.”
Kentucky rolled his eyes at her false modesty. “She competed in the Olympics.”
“Wow,” Rory said, looking genuinely impressed. “That’s amazing. Why aren’t you skating tonight?”
She shrugged. A sad look passed over her features. “I went down on the ice years ago and hit my head. I’ve had balance issues ever since. If I skate, someone has to hold my hand—like with Lexi. Since Brad doesn’t skate, I just hang out on the sidelines.”
“I’ll go out with you,” Rory offered. “Get some skates on. After cake and presents, you can hold my hand.” He was genuine. Kentucky couldn’t look away. No one had ever jumped in with both feet with his family before. This man who’d just met Kentucky had already shown up with a gift for Lexi and made his mom’s night. Kentucky didn’t know how to react. He kind of wanted to leave right then, stealing Rory away, and learning all there was to know about him.
Lisa chewed her bottom lip. It was beyond obvious she wanted to say yes. “Are you sure? That’s a lot to ask in this rough Friday night crowd.”
Rory didn’t back down. In fact, he seemed just as thrilled as Lisa. “I’m positive. Get your skates. You should get to have fun too.”
“Okay,” Lisa said, sounding bright as she hopped to her feet. She focused on Kentucky. “I’ll be right back. Don’t let Lexi run off.”
Kentucky nodded. “I’ve got him. Go.” The moment she was gone, Kentucky switched his attention Rory’s way. “That was really nice. She doesn’t get to do much anymore. You know, small child at home. Selfish husband,” Kentucky said loud enough for his dad to hear.
“Eat me,” Brad called over his shoulder, letting Kentucky know he was listening. “Your mom knows she’s free to do as she pleases. As long as it pleases her to keep me happy,” he tacked on.
Kentucky laughed. “He’s joking. Sort of.”
Rory’s eyes flashed with good humor. “Your family seems nice.”
“What about your family?”
Before Rory could answer Kentucky’s question, Lexi shifted onto his knees and climbed into Rory’s lap. He pulled a toy car from his pocket and showed it to Rory. “I have a car.” Lexi made car noises as he pretended to drive the car across Rory’s chest.
Rory held Lexi, ensuring he didn’t tumble onto the floor. “That’s amazing. It’s fast.” He cast Kentucky a quick glance. “My family wasn’t nice,” he said, keeping up with both conversations like a pro. “It’s not important. I have a group of friends who are like my family now. We do everything together—like have Thanksgiving dinner and celebrate Christmas. But I don’t have a normal family dynamic like this,” he said, waving a finger at their surroundings.
“This family isn’t normal,” Brad said, joining them at the table. “Don’t go into this thinking that or you’ll run away screaming before the end of the night.” He paused and eyed Rory. “You came in with that red Audi R8 today.”
A line appeared between Brad’s eyes. “You probably could’ve taken that to the dealership and gotten your oil changed for free. Don’t they do that free for the first two years or something like that?”
Rory repositioned Lexi on his lap. “I bought the car when I lived in Los Angeles, and you have to take it to the original dealer to get the free oil change. Besides, how else could I stalk Kentucky properly if I didn’t come to your shop?” He flashed Kentucky a smile and winked.
“I knew my son would come in handy somehow. What brought you here from Los Angeles?”
“I’m from here.” Rory didn’t appear to mind answering Brad’s million questions while Lexi crawled all over him, using him a race track for his car. “When I graduated, my best friend Lucas and I decided to go to California and spend the summer. Kind of a senior trip of sorts. Anyhow, we made some friends there. They convinced us to stay four years longer than we intended, but the taxes there are outrageous. Finally, it drove us back home. I’ve been back almost a year now.”
Kentucky did the math in his head. Rory had to be around twenty-two or three. He could work with that. Damn, he was young to have a car that cost close to two hundred thousand dollars. Kentucky had so many questions. Lisa reappeared with skates, talking a million miles a minute, showing her excitement. From that point, Kentucky lost Rory to his family. Rory fit right in, helping cut the cake and holding Lexi while he opened presents. All Kentucky could do was stare and enjoy the show.