Chapter Five – BRYCE
Bryce shifted self-consciously, crossing his arms over his chest with a smile he couldn’t stop sliding across his face. “Um, thanks.”
The way Dakota’s hazel eyes raked slowly over his body gave him butterflies in his stomach, something he hadn’t felt in a long, long time.
Dakota was definitely flirting with him. Bryce had been flirted with by hundreds of women, and probably some men, though he’d been too oblivious to notice. He was noticing now.
He couldn’t stop thinking about the whole thing with Robbie and Nikki and going over his last conversation with Isaac. How many times did people have to call him gay before he had to take a good hard look at himself?
Could he be attracted to men? Nikki had accused him of it more than once during a particularly rough stretch of their breakup.
Apparently, there was only so much denial even he could maintain. Now seemed as good of a time as any to be open to new things. Why not? These next few months were a break from reality. Bryce could entertain new possibilities.
The thought of responding to Dakota’s flirtations terrified him, but in a good way. It felt like cresting the top of the first drop on a roller coaster, or like the first time he’d skated out in an official NHL jersey.
He’d start small. Did he want to touch Dakota? If he did what would it feel like? Hard muscles under his hand instead of soft curves. Strong hands gripping him tight and the scrape of stubble against his lips as they kissed.
His dick stirred in his pants as his thoughts slipped seamlessly from contemplation to fantasizing. So obviously, his body wasn’t completely against the idea of kissing a man.
Objectively, Dakota was very handsome. Anybody with eyes could see that.
His sandy blond hair was a tangle of messy waves, flattened a little from his helmet. Bryce wondered if it felt as soft as it looked.
Dakota brushed his hair out of his eyes as he watched Bryce scrutinize him. He looked amused, but he let Bryce look without saying anything.
The scruff on Dakota’s face was darker than his hair, but highlights throughout it glinted gold in the sunlight. His eyes were almost the same shade of blue as the sky, and they stared at Bryce with humor and obvious interest.
Bryce’s mouth was dry, and he licked his lips, but that could be from the altitude and not arousal; he’d better keep checking Dakota out to be sure.
“Everything okay?” Dakota asked.
“Um. Yeah. Fine. Great. Need any help with that tire?”
“No, I’m good. You good?”
“Okay.” Dakota squatted down next to the blown tire and pried the hubcap cover off.
Bryce continued his physical inventory of Dakota. He was younger than Bryce, probably mid-twenties. Tall. Not as tall as Bryce, but people seldom were. He was muscular, with a trim waist and broad shoulders.
Bryce wondered briefly what his hands would look like wrapped around Dakota’s hips. Would his fingers meet in the small of his back? Okay, that thought was probably a little gay.
More importantly, though, Dakota was kind and generous. He could have kept driving, but he’d stopped and helped Bryce without cursing him out or making fun of him any more than he deserved.
Adrenaline letdown from his near death experience sent odd bursts of energy skittering across Bryce’s skin, and he stared at the handsome knight who had driven up on his trusty steed to save him.
He was dying to kiss him, he realized suddenly. It was all he could think about.
It was a perfect way to test a theory. Dakota was a sexy stranger he would never see again. Bryce’s stomach dropped. He wasn’t sure if it was because he had just thought of a man as sexy, or the thought of never seeing Dakota again.
“Hey,” said sexy stranger called, interrupting Bryce’s reverie. “Hold this?” Dakota handed Bryce his black leather jacket.
Dakota squatted back down next to the tire. Bryce’s eyes got caught on the strip of skin above his waistband and below his shirt. The way his back muscles strained as he loosened the lug nuts was mesmerizing.
Sweat trickled down the back of Dakota’s neck, and he grunted as the lug wrench slipped off one stubbornly stuck nut.
Bryce laid the leather jacket carefully on the fence. “Here,” he said to Dakota. “I can do that at least.”
Dakota wiped a hand across his forehead and looked up at Bryce, squinting into the sun. “What about your knee?”
Bryce reached down and took the lug wrench out of Dakota’s hand. “It’s fine. I don’t need to kneel.”
Dakota frowned but stood up and moved out of the way as Bryce leaned down and fit the wrench over the lug. “You’re going to pull a muscle. Don’t forget, lefty-loosey,” he coached as Bryce reached for the handle.
“Shut up.” Bryce smiled and pulled the wrench up with one hand, easily loosening the tight nut. He may have flexed his biceps more than was strictly necessary.
Dakota raised his eyebrows when Bryce turned to grin at him. “Okay. That was impressive.” He let his gaze drift all over Bryce’s chest. “How much can you bench press?”
He was definitely flirting now, and all of a sudden past conversations Bryce had had with guys at the gym took on a whole different connotation. How many signals had he missed? Did he give off a gay vibe or did gay guys just hit on anyone and hope for the best?
A motorcycle roared past them on its way down the mountain. What would it feel like to take this road on something like that pressed up against Dakota? Probably amazing. “Two fifty,” he answered finally.
“You could bench press me easily,” Dakota said.
The way he dragged his eyes over Bryce’s muscles sent a shiver down Bryce’s back. “I could bench press myself,” he said. “Wait. That sounds wrong.”
Dakota laughed. He was even more attractive when he was laughing, with his wide smile and bright white teeth. Sunlight picked out the bright gold of stubble and the light sheen of sweat on his neck. Taking the lug wrench back, he squatted back down next to the ruined tire.
Dakota removed the old tire, rolled it out of the way, then slotted the spare on like he’d done it a million times before. He probably had.
Dakota didn’t look gay. He looked like a normal, masculine guy. Isaac looked more like Bryce’s mental picture of a gay guy.
Slim, neat, and smaller than Dakota, Isaac was always fashionably dressed, nice-smelling, and flirty with everyone. The thing was, Bryce wasn’t attracted to him.
But Robbie was gay, and he was a hockey player. If he were ten years older, Bryce could see himself maybe being attracted to someone like that.
How was Bryce supposed to tell if a guy was gay or not? Were there secret signs he should look for?
If Bryce couldn’t even tell for sure if he was gay, what made him think he’d be able to tell if other people were? Dakota wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, but that didn’t mean anything. There was only one way to know for sure. He’d have to ask.
Whistling softly under his breath, Dakota tightened the remaining lug nuts. He stood up, stretching his back with a groan. “Think you can give these a good tightening, Mr. Muscles?” He smiled at Bryce, and another spark leaped between them.
Suddenly, Bryce had to know if he was imagining the attraction between them. The fact that he’d never see this guy again gave him this wild kind of courage.
Bryce wasn’t an impulsive guy. He’d had everything in his life planned out since he was ten years old and had realized that people could make actual money playing hockey. And for the most part, his life had gone as planned. He’d made more money than his little ten-year-old self had even imagined.
The only thing that hadn’t worked out was the wife and kids. Maybe there was a good reason for that. Maybe that was a dream he’d have to set aside.
Pushing that depressing thought away, Bryce decided to seize the day. He felt dizzy, and as if he might throw up, but he’d been in tighter situations. What’s the worst that could happen? Dakota tried to punch him? Bryce had been in fights with guys much bigger than Dakota too many times to count.
Bryce was a stranger in a strange land. Dakota obviously had no idea who Bryce was so he wouldn’t be selling information to some sports gossip website. He had to know, and he didn’t feel like beating around the bush.
“Are you gay?” he asked quickly to Dakota’s back.