Time to make a move. Allan Clark wandered into the locker room and made his way to one of the benches. He barely noticed his locker but moved on instinct as he sat. He’d been switched. His regular role on the Wildcats team wasn’t in the wide receiver position but as a punt returner. He still couldn’t wrap his brain around the new information. He remembered the coach talking to him and watching his teammate, Glen Bilson, being carted off the field with a broken leg, but the gravity of his new position hadn’t quite made sense in Allan’s head yet. It was only the second week of September. He hadn’t planned on Glen getting hurt, much less switching to special teams.
Truth be told, he liked the change of pace and loved the challenge of punt returning. The new field position rested on his shoulders. He had to think fast and move even faster to dodge the opposing team. He stared at the helmet in his hands. From now on, he’d be part of the special teams squad. His returning two punts for a combined seventy-eight yards might have had something to do with the change.
Part of him wanted to be pissed off about switching positions. He’d always dreamed of being a boss wide receiver. Ever since he’d started playing football, he’d known he belonged on the field with the ball in his hands. He’d never thought about trying a special teams spot. Would he get as much notice with the reduced playing time? He could play some offense, but he’d be primarily used as a returner. Would that screw over his chances to be seen by the scouts for the professional teams? As much as he loved his college and playing at the collegiate level, his dream had been to play pro ball.
“Allan?” Coach Turner strode up to him. “You’ve got interviews. Don’t dick around.” He slapped Allan on the shoulder. “Seems the network wants to talk to you about that sweet forty-yard run.”
Allan blinked and dragged a long breath into his lungs. The network wanted to talk to him? Great. He stood and rolled his shoulders. He hadn’t had time to change out of his pads, but whatever. If he was going to talk to the media, he wanted them to see a player right off the field.
Two reporters and a cameraman crossed the locker room to where Allan waited. One shoved a microphone into his face and the other held a voice recorder. The reporters, both men, alternated in asking him questions.
Allan did his best to give solid answers. Hell, he wasn’t sure what the scouts looked at for off-field performance, but he didn’t want to give them much negativity if he could help it. As he talked to the reporters, he noticed his teammates around him. Some spoke with other members of the media, and a few changed. A lone figure wound through the knots of people and stopped at one of the smaller lockers. The player removed his helmet and opened the locker.
Unlike the guys around Allan, this man didn’t grab the attention of the reporters. Allan continued to chat with the news people, but he wished he could be more like his teammate. Whereas Allan needed to get as much experience in all aspects of the game if he wanted to go pro, Tyler Leigh didn’t. He’d seen Tyler around campus but hadn’t given him much thought.
From what Allan had learned by listening to the gossip, Tyler wasn’t planning to go into the draft. Ty’s future plans included finishing his degree—in what, Allan wasn’t sure—and going into the workforce.
A streak of jealousy hit Allan. He wished he could approach football with the same carefree attitude as Ty. No pressure to perform, just show up for the love of the game. No scouts watching his every move. If he screwed up, so what? Well, no. If Tyler screwed up, the coach would certainly come down on him. Still, the guy had talent and wasn’t going to use it for professional ball. What a nut!
Allan returned his attention to the media and finished answering the barrage of questions. Why’d he switch positions? Did he see a future in special teams? Had he known ahead of time that he’d be moved? What did he think of the team’s chances in the next few weeks? His brain buzzed as the reporters left him alone. He hadn’t expected being important on a minor scale would be so tiring.
He waited for the locker room to clear out a bit more before he stripped down to his underwear. He needed a shower but hated to use the facilities when most of the team was present. Having the other guys see him naked didn’t bother him. The claustrophobic feeling when more than a couple of the players joined him in the showers was more than he could handle. He tossed his soiled jersey and pants into the hamper then tucked his shoes and helmet into his bag.
After the games, the locker room was always ripe with body odor. He crinkled his nose as he tossed his flip-flops onto the floor and stepped into them. Tonight was no different. Someone needed to spray some air freshener in the room, and fast. He picked up his shampoo and soap as well as a towel and his robe, then headed into the shower room.
Across the tiled expanse, Tyler stood under one of the shower heads. Water trickled down his chiseled form.
Allan arranged his things on the small shelf behind the faucets, hung his robe on the metal peg, then angled himself enough that he could steal glances at the kicker. Who was he to deny himself the chance to ogle fantastic eye candy? He switched on the water and picked up his shampoo, then gazed over at Tyler.
Damn. Soap slid down Tyler’s spine and between his ass cheeks. There couldn’t have been an ounce of fat on the man’s body. No fat and no tattoos, not that Allan had expected Tyler to be inked. Something about the guy screamed clean-cut. Tyler smoothed his hands over his body, lathering his sides then down his thighs. When he bent over, Allan noticed his cock dangling between his legs. Holy fuck, the man is hung. Probably not super-endowed, but he’d make his partner happy, no doubt.
Allan pressed his lips together and shoved his head under the hot spray to clear his thoughts. A vision of Tyler’s pale form imprinted itself on his brain. From his bald head to his sculpted legs and feet, the man was sexy—at least from behind.
Voices filtered into the room. Allan glanced over his shoulder and groaned. Jesus. He got along with most of the other players on the Wildcats team but there were a few that drove him nuts. Blake Jackson and his lackey, Devan Fields, were two of the biggest offenders. Both men thought they were the best players on the team but neither put up big numbers. Blake had started out as the primary quarterback, but after a nasty elbow sprain had been moved to the backup position. He might have lost the primary slot but he hadn’t lost the pompous attitude. And Devan? He served as Blake’s shadow and sometimes even as a left tackle, on a good day.
Blake marched, fully clothed, up to Ty and switched off the water. “Your craptastic kicks nearly lost us the game.”
“Can’t win ’em all.” Tyler grabbed his towel, only to have the white bath sheet ripped from his hands. “I did my best and I know what to adjust for the game against the Bearcats.”
Allan squirted the shampoo onto his hand. At least Tyler had a good attitude about messing up. No doubt the guy would spend time practicing his kicks in order to improve.
“You put the game on the line.” Blake tossed the towel across the room. He folded his arms and stepped into Tyler’s personal space. “Losing isn’t in our vocabulary.”
“We won by twelve points and were ahead by at least ten through the first three quarters.” Tyler backed up and into the wall.
“We still could’ve lost it,” Blake snapped. “Because of you.”
Where Tyler possessed willowy grace and sinewy muscle, Blake was more compact. He embodied raw power and had the nasty attitude to boot. Tyler might have appeared somewhat menacing with his shaved bald head and his towering height, but he was nothing compared to Blake.
Allan rubbed the suds into his hair and turned his back on Blake and Tyler. He didn’t want to witness Blake’s verbal abuse. The guy might have looked as if he’d stepped out of a fashion magazine, with his perfectly styled blond mane and his expertly cut beard, but the nice package hid his rotten soul.
“You need practice and an attitude adjustment,” Blake yelled. “Either I’ll give you that adjustment or you’ll fix yourself. Your choice, but I doubt you could do anything on your own.”
What the hell did that mean? Allan turned enough to observe the exchange. Something wasn’t right. Even after their worst games, the coach wasn’t this angry about losses. He wasn’t one to berate players after a win, either. Blake? He seemed to get off on putting Tyler down.
“Blake, really?” Tyler covered his groin with his folded hands. “Do you have to be like this right now?” He met Allan’s gaze for a split second then diverted his attention. “I’m trying to get cleaned up so I can go with you to the party. We can discuss and dissect my shitty kicking skills later.”
“Yeah…no. I’m tired of discussing and dissecting anything with you. No matter what I say, you’re not getting any better. It’s a wonder Coach keeps you on the team.” Blake rested his hands on his hips. He kicked pooled water and suds back onto Tyler. “You’re not going to excel without the proper…encouragement.”
“I’m not going pro.” Tyler squirmed. “I’ve got other plans.”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about your goddamn plans. I’m going pro and I can’t have you playing like shit. The scouts want to see the team as a whole and how we interact.” Blake inched closer to Tyler, his face a whisper away from Tyler’s. “Understood, pissant?”
Allan rinsed the suds out of his hair and wiped the excess water off his face. Who did Blake think he was? He hurried to wash away the rest of the suds then grabbed his robe. He’d worry about properly drying himself later.
Blake cocked his arm and curled his fingers into a fist. “This is it, asshat. I’m done toeing the line so you can fail.” He swung and missed. “Come back here.”
Tyler ducked away from Blake, but the second time Blake swung his fist smashed into Tyler’s jaw, knocking him to the floor. Blood dribbled from his nose when he glared back at Blake. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Either get your head in the game or get your ass off the team. I’m not sticking my dick in your ass anymore. You’re not worth my time.” Blake shook his hand. “You fucking broke my knuckles.”
“I did?” Tyler curled up on the floor. More blood smeared from the corner of his mouth up his cheek. He tested his jaw and winced. “Blake, come on.”
“No. My dick is off limits to your worthless ass.” Blake yanked his arm back. In preparation for another swing? To hit the man while he was down?
Oh fuck no.
No more punches, not on Allan’s watch. Allan strode up to Blake. Others might have feared the stocky jerk, but not Allan. He grabbed Blake’s arm and dug his fingers into his skin. “I don’t think I’d want your dick anywhere near me,” Allan said. They had to have known he was in the showers and watching their every move and yet shock resonated in Blake’s eyes. Allan stood firm and flexed his hand around Blake’s arm. “It’s kind of shitty, you know, holding out cock for better plays. What sort of fucked-up racket are you running? You’re the asshat.”
“Fuck you,” Blake spat and shook free of Allan’s grasp. “Stay out of this.”
“Or what? You’ll hit me, too?” Allan stepped between Blake and Tyler. “Lay off and keep your goon to yourself,” Allan said, referring to Devan.
“This coming from the wide receiver who lost his position and was forced to go to special teams. Yeah, you’ve got balls. Waste of talent, but then again, you’ve flamed out a couple times in the last two years.” Blake folded his arms and widened his stance. “Bet you don’t get drafted in the first two rounds. Hell, you’ll probably go undrafted.”
“Blake, go.” Tyler wobbled to his feet beside Allan. He’d grabbed the wet towel and covered his nudity. “Get out of here.”
“You bet I will. You’re nothing to me.” Blake notched his chin in the air. He turned his attention to Allan and sneered. “I’d tell you not to waste your time on this lame ass, but you’re suited for each other. He’s a pussy and you’re dickless.” Blake nodded to Devan, who hadn’t had anything to say. “Let’s go.”
“Good one,” Devan said, finally breaking his silence. He followed hot on Blake’s heels as Blake left the showers.
Tyler inched away from Allan and snatched his things from the ledge behind the shower he’d been using. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
“What? Why?” Allan grabbed his things and hurried after Tyler as he left the shower room. “What for?”
“That’s my boyfriend.” Tyler didn’t look at Allan. Instead, he kept his back to his and huddled up to his locker. Suds slipped down his back and the bones in his spine became more pronounced.
“He seemed more like a boy and nothing like a friend.” Allan plucked a towel from the cart and offered the terry cloth to Tyler. “Dry yourself off. Don’t let him get to you.”
Tyler accepted the towel but kept his head down. “Thanks for stepping in. I had it, but I appreciate the effort. He’d only connect once more before he decided I wasn’t worth hitting.” Blood stained the towel. He blushed then tucked the soiled towel into his locker. He wrapped a fresh towel around his hips and rummaged in his duffel bag.
“That’s not okay.” Allan leaned against the locker next to Tyler’s and tipped his head to meet Tyler’s gaze. “Hey. He punched you and you could’ve broken your nose when you landed on the tiles. For a man who wants you to improve, he’s doing everything he can to keep you down.”
“He’s not so bad,” Tyler replied, although he didn’t sound convinced by what he’d said.
“Spoken like a man who’s spent a lot of time getting beat down.” Allan curled his fingers under Tyler’s chin. “Look at me.” When Tyler did as he was told, Allan continued. “How is that jerk not so bad? Because he’d only hit you twice? He insulted, then assaulted you. That’s not love or lust or whatever. He said he’d only give you cock if you played better. That’s fucked up.”
“I could use the improvement.” Tyler squirmed under Allan’s appraisal. “The one kick could’ve been straighter. It hooked and didn’t get the distance we needed. The other one just wasn’t long enough.”
Jesus. Allan bit back his frustration. Both kicks had been fine. So the one wasn’t a full field kick? They’d stopped the returner before he’d gained five yards and caused a turnover before the opposing team had gotten to the next set of downs. The other kick… Christ, if Blake wanted distance, then maybe he could spend time in the game throwing decent passes, not lounging on the sidelines because he didn’t have the arm to make the big plays. Tyler was the best punter the team had and more than effective as a points kicker.
“See? Even you’re questioning the kicks.” Tyler turned away from Allan. “They need to be improved.”
“I’m sorry, but you were fine. There was wind and you couldn’t know it would shift right when you punted the damn ball. Blake couldn’t have known that. I don’t care what he says. We turned the ball over and stopped the run game. You did your job,” Allan said. “Besides, you stepped in when Gene blew out his knee and made a forty-seven-yard field goal. That’s nuts but awesome as hell. I’m shocked the reporters didn’t swarm you.”
“Blake hates media day.” Tyler dried himself off and tossed the second towel into the closest hamper. He pulled a pair of boxer briefs from his locker then stepped into the underwear. The black material molded to his ass and showed off some of his best features.
“I don’t really care what Blake does or doesn’t like.” Allan licked his lips. He wanted to grab Tyler’s butt and squeeze. “I don’t subscribe to his method of encouragement. Beating a man and withholding affection in order to improve performance never works.”
Tyler dipped his head. “Just… Thanks for stepping in, but leave me alone. Trust me, okay?”