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It’s okay if I don’t get my bedroom unpacked, though. I’m having a party tomorrow night for the team to celebrate the end of training camp. A sort of last hurrah before our first preseason game on Monday, so I’ll just make sure my bedroom door stays shut so no one can see the mess inside. And personally, I’m quite content to live out of my boxes for a while. I mean, truly, what does it matter if I pull my underwear from a box or a drawer?

We had our last scrimmage this morning and I expect the coaches are hard at work right now making the release notifications. Those poor dudes that just didn’t cut it will get sent back down to the minors. I feel for them more than they’ll ever know because I’ve been there. Felt what they’re feeling today when someone tells you you’re just not quite good enough to play with the big boys.

I obviously made the cut. I mean, it was really a given, and Coach has had me playing first line all week, so I know I’ll be starting right alongside Alex and Garrett on Monday when we travel to Chicago for the preseason game against the Bobcats. I’m really digging my new team. How could I not? Defending Cup champions and all that? But man, seriously, playing alongside greats like Crossman and Samuelson. Fucking heaven.

I start to pick up the newspaper that had been cushioning my kitchenware for the move. I downsized tremendously with this move, and that’s just a product of living and learning. I bought my first house in Pittsburgh my second year in the league, a monstrosity of six thousand square feet. I learned that’s a lot of fucking house to keep clean. It was also a lot of fucking house to pay for when I basically lived in no more than nine hundred square feet of it.

So I bought a moderate-sized home here in Raleigh half the size of my previous, which meant I had to get rid of a lot of furniture as well. I just donated it to a veterans’ charity because it was easier than trying to sell it. Still, there’s plenty of room for a party tomorrow since it’s just my teammates and their better halves, and I have a kick-ass back deck that spans the entire length of the house. I’ll set tubs of beer out there, and with the mild, late-August evenings, people will congregate out there rather than inside.

It doesn’t take me long to clean up the rest of the kitchen. I break the boxes down, shove them and the newspaper into my large recycle bin in the garage, and glance at my watch. Just enough time to get a quick shower before heading over to Dave’s.

I wonder if Vale will be there. Considering what I know, I’m sure she’ll be working late even though it’s a Friday night. End of a workweek, and when everyone should be relaxing, I’m sure Vale will be working. And damn if that doesn’t twist my guts up. I hate thinking of her and Dave struggling. I hated even more seeing the look of disdain on her face when I offered to help. I hated it because it truly showed me that despite the olive branch—despite the truce—there are still hard feelings.

No clue why she’s the one that has them, but I’ll look past it. She’s got so much on her plate right now, I figure she’s just being defensive. And besides, I plan to hit Dave up tonight with the same offer. I expect he’ll decline, but he won’t be nasty about it.

When I hit my bedroom, I rifle through some boxes and pull out clean underwear, a pair of faded jeans, and an old vintage Mountain Dew T-shirt with a few holes in it. Not dressing to impress anyone tonight, so might as well be comfortable. Before heading into the master bathroom, I grab my phone off the bedside table and give it a quick check. I see a text message from Michelle and a quick smile comes to my face.

How’s life in Carolina?

I toss my clothes on the bed, sit down beside them, and text her back. Just finishing up some unpacking. It’s great here. Where are you?

She immediately responds, which is just like Michelle. As long as there’s cell service or Wi-Fi, the woman is always connected. Pittsburgh. Flew in yesterday.

Michelle is a sales rep for a large winery based out of the Hudson Valley. She flies pretty much all over the United States, but she’s originally from Pittsburgh and keeps a permanent apartment there. I met her at a party just under a year ago. Fucked her at that same party, as a matter of fact, and thus started a sort of friends-with-benefits type of relationship. We don’t get to see each other often; maybe every few months between both of our travel schedules. But when we do get together, we tear it up nicely between the sheets. Plus, she’s a really cool chick. Someone I could hang out with and have a beer—or a glass of wine, in her case. Our no-strings relationship was clearly defined early on and we operate on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Still, when Michelle’s in town, she’s my preferred hookup just because she’s great in the sack and has no aspirations of anything more.

Before I can text her back, she sends another. Up for some company soon?

Ordinarily, I’d respond immediately with my schedule over the next few days so we could iron something out, but my thumbs hesitate before hitting the screen. I hold my position and stare at her words. My mind blanks and a feeling of foreboding wells up within me.

What the fuck? I’ve got the next three days cleared before I fly out. I like to fuck. I really like to fuck Michelle. What’s with the doubt?

And before I can even fathom an answer, a picture of Vale bursts through my head. It’s of the younger Vale…the one I loved. Wild dark hair, facial piercings shining, a look of utter deviousness in her eyes that never failed to get me hard.

I shake my head hard to dislodge the image.

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