Dr. Dane Bloom strode into the baseball complex. If he’d been told a year ago there’d be a professional-style baseball program in Cedarwood, he’d have laughed. Now, standing in the building, he believed the hype. He’d always wanted to play baseball, but his aptitude in sports had lagged far behind his abilities in the classroom. Excitement shot through his veins. He refused to keep his pride hidden. His town had come into its own.
“Well?” Devlin Chase made his way up to Dane. “What do you think? You like it?”
“I do.” He nodded. He’d only visited the medical and rehabilitation portions of the complex, but the state-of-the-art facility pleased him. “This is worthy of the hospital.”
“Good. That’s what we were going for.” Devlin gestured to the doorway. “I want you to meet someone. Dr. Raji Chopra is going to serve as our team doctor. Dr. Raji, this is Dr. Dane.”
The tall dark-haired man joined Devlin. Both men grinned. “Dr. Dane Bloom. I’ve heard good things about you.”
“I hope so.” Dane shook hands with Raji. He swept his gaze over his fellow doctor. Ever since he’d split from his last boyfriend, Dane had believed he wasn’t going to find another man to make him happy. Raji ticked a lot of his boxes. He liked tall men—someone to look him in the eye. But if this was Devlin’s attempt to fix him up, Dane wasn’t having it.
“We’ve got a good bunch of players and can’t wait to start the season.” Raji winked then turned to Devlin. “I need to finish my paperwork, babe. Stop by my office before you leave.”
Babe. Ah. Dane suppressed a groan. So much for thinking he’d been fixed up. He gritted his teeth. Why had he gone right to worrying about relationships? Devlin had only introduced Raji, not pushed them together.
Raji left the corridor and disappeared into one of the offices. Devlin cleared his throat. “Sorry,” Devlin said. “He wanted to meet you.”
“And he has.” Dane folded his hands behind his back. “Since you need to get to your boyfriend, I’m going to leave.”
“I wanted to talk to you first,” Devlin said. He directed Dane across the hallway to another office. “I should’ve told you I was seeing Raji. We didn’t think it would happen, but it did. I apologize for pushing our relationship under your nose.”
“Don’t be sorry for being happy.” Dane stayed by the doorway. He drank in the view of the room. “Is this your office?”
“It is.” Devlin blushed. “I wanted to keep things simple.”
“Being across the hall from Raji doesn’t hurt.” Dane nodded once. “Sorry. I’m being catty.”
“You have the right.” Devlin tensed. “What you and I had wasn’t going to last. We’re too different.”
“I know.” He’d enjoyed dating Devlin, but his former boyfriend was right—they weren’t meant to go the distance. But he was thirty-eight and wanted to settle down. Too bad his ex hadn’t wanted that, too. “What did you want to speak to me about? I’ve seen the rest of the complex and I’m happy my medical group is a sponsor. You’ve done well.”
“Thank you.” Devlin paused. His cheeks reddened. “I never thought we’d be at this point—friendly.”
“What’s to argue? We split and we’re still talking. I see no reason to be angry.” He’d packed the hurt away ages ago. Dane had no issues looking back, but he preferred to move forward.
“Just… Never mind.” Devlin sank behind his desk and his chair creaked. “I wanted to discuss the possibility of you sponsoring a player.”
“I don’t know.” Dane shook his head. “Devlin, I’m best when I’m at my practice or when I’m on my own.”
“You say that, but I don’t believe it.” Devlin rested his elbows on the table. “We have three players that need a sponsor family. I’ve got something in the works for two of the players, but the third one… He’s a custom fit for you.”
“Custom fit?” Jesus. “You’re buttering me up.”
“Why? I’m not looking for a roommate.” He didn’t spend enough time at home to have house plants, let alone someone living with him.
“You’d both live at your house, but you wouldn’t have to see him.” Devlin groaned. “Why do you have to make this hard? Don’t fight me. This player needs a place to live while he plays ball and you’ve got the room.”
“I’m never home and I’m not a good fit for anyone.” He massaged his temples. “Remember what Phillip said? Your brother hates me and you and I are friends at best. You’ve both claimed I’m horrible to live with, so why would you push me to having someone I don’t know exist in my house?”
“My brother hates you because he’s a prick.”
Ever since Dane and Phillip had split, Dane had wondered if he was meant to be part of a twosome. Thank God he’d never mentioned to Phillip he’d dated Devlin. The brothers would never speak again. “I’m at work all the time and I’m happy on my own. You said I’m grouchy. Why would someone want to share my house if they have to deal with a snarly man?”
“You’re a liar.”
“You heard your brother. He dumped me because I couldn’t give him enough and you dumped me for being gone too much.”
“He’s a needy bastard,” Devlin said. “As for what I said, Dane, I was hurting, but I was also lashing out so you’d hurt, too. We had fun, but we needed to be real. I like a guy who’s around. You’re dedicated to your job—which is not wrong. It happens. Don’t beat yourself up because I wasn’t strong enough to understand who you are and because my brother is selfish.”
“I’m trying, but it’s not easy.” He’d never expected to hear Devlin apologize…ever.
“I hate to admit this, but my brother is a chump. He expected you to take care of him. You were supposed to be home and at his command.” Devlin sagged in his seat. “I told him you were dedicated to your profession, but he refused to listen. He knew the score.”
“I know.” He’d told Phillip many times that his work with his patients came first. Maybe he’d always known Phillip wasn’t his future, but he’d never seen the point of putting Phillip before his job.
“Life doesn’t work the way my brother wants—people aren’t pawns for him to use.”
“I know.” He shook his head again. “I couldn’t afford his tastes, either.” He’d gone into debt trying to make Phillip happy. He never wanted to work that hard for so little ever again.
“Which is why I encouraged him to move on,” Devlin said.
“Dane. I knew you were going through hell.”
“I’m stunned.” Now he’d seen a side of Devlin he hadn’t thought existed.
“Honey, I knew he’d never give up and he’d drive you to bankruptcy. He needed to grow up and go somewhere,” Devlin said. “He’s moved on with Brian, but he refuses to mature.”
He nodded. “I remember the night Phillip left. He shouted, raved and accused me of being cold. Imagine if he’d known I dated you first. He swore I’d never find someone better than him and I’d end up alone. Maybe he was right. I’m better off on my own.” But that didn’t dull the ache in his heart.
“He was drunk that night.” Devlin leaned forward. “I couldn’t let him do that to you. I should’ve said something before that night, but he’s my brother and I thought he’d change.”
The wind rushed out of Dane and he eased onto the closest chair. His head hurt. He’d tried so hard to be good for Phillip. He’d thought he was a horrible person because of Phillip. He’d thought he wasn’t good enough to be with anyone.
“You deserve better than my brother.”
“I did,” Dane said. “He’s in the past.”
“You do and past, present…it doesn’t matter.” Devlin toyed with his tablet. “See this player? This is Tanner Fox. When he’s off the ballfield, he’s quiet, shy and does his job. He’s the quintessential Gary Cooper type. When he’s in front of an audience, he becomes a different person. He falls right into the Foxy Fox persona. He’s one hell of a ballplayer, but he’s got to find balance. He needs to be part of a family and in a situation with someone who won’t cater to his ego but will make him mellow out. All he really needs to do is come in, have some food, go to practice, be at the ballpark and play baseball. He won’t make a mess and won’t throw parties. When he’s not in public, he keeps to himself.”
“I see.” Dane hesitated to answer. He felt imaginary hands pushing him. “Why do I feel like I’m being asked to adopt him?”
“You’re not.” Devlin laughed. He pointed to the photo of Tanner. “He needs a sponsor family and you’re perfect.”
“Yes, you are.” Devlin left his chair. He held the tablet in front of Dane. “See? He’s cute, young and not going to cause trouble.”
Dane perused the photograph on the tablet. In his headshot, Tanner did look cute, but so young. “He looks twelve.”
“He’s twenty-five. Promise.”
“He doesn’t look it. Does he shave? He can’t have more than three chin hairs.” Yet, he was drawn to Tanner. He wanted to see the rest of the player, but he wasn’t sure if sponsorship was in his plans.
“He’s twenty-five and yes, he shaves.” Devlin switched photos. “See? He loves to play to the crowd. The shrieks from the ladies ratchet up his ego and the way he works the male portion of the audience… He’s dangerous. He can hit well when he’s focused. If he’s got a stable place to live and feels secure, he’ll settle down.”
“Is he gay?” Dane blurted. Fuck. Tanner’s sexuality wasn’t his business.
“I don’t know.” Devlin sat on the edge of his desk. “Give him a chance. You might find you’re compatible.”
“Are you trying to fix me up? Or get me to sponsor him?” Dane narrowed his eyes. “You’re being rather persuasive.”
“You can’t date him.”
“Ah.” Good to know. He wasn’t looking for a boyfriend and preferred knowing Devlin wasn’t trying to hook him up. Still, he couldn’t shake his irritation with Devlin. Why hadn’t his friend told him about butting into the relationship with Phillip? Why keep his intrusion quiet for so long? He appreciated Devlin caring enough to get him out of a bad situation, but he could’ve said something.
“Well?” Devlin pointed to the tablet screen. “Tanner?”
“What do I have to do?” He couldn’t believe he’d capitulated. Then again, he hadn’t seen much of a reason to say no.
“Feed him, give him a place to stay and be supportive. That’s it. If you want, we have an app that shows you how he’s playing and when he’s in a game.” Devlin grinned. “He’s got his own transportation, so you don’t have to drive him anywhere.”
He should consider this decision longer with careful, thoughtful musing. He wasn’t one for snap decisions. “Sure.” Had he just agreed? So much for considering his options and thinking this through. According to Devlin’s widening grin, he’d not only agreed but must’ve looked pleased, too. Well, shit.
“I’ll give him your address and he’ll report to you tonight.” Devlin shook Dane’s hand. “You won’t regret it.”
“How can I? If this is as painless as you claim, I should be fine.” He stifled a groan. He’d just optioned to have a minor league baseball player live with him. He liked the sport and always wanted to play, but never thought he’d sponsor a member of the team. His fellow doctor at the medical group, McCormack Stevens, loved baseball. He should be the one sponsoring a player. He’d been the one to suggest the practice put their money and name into the team. He probably already had a player living with him, but still.
He shook hands with Devlin. “He’ll be at my house tonight?”
“Yes. I’ll send the information to you both. He’ll learn about you and you’ll know everything about him. Deal?” Devlin asked. “It’s a good pairing. You’ll temper him and he’ll bring you out of yourself.”
“Yeah.” Hadn’t Devlin said something about them not dating? If he was going to be good for Tanner and vice versa, there had to be more than just living together involved and that was off limits. Still, he couldn’t tamp down his giddiness. “I’ll look for the email.” He’d just opted to take in a baseball player. Swell.