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Egotistical Puckboy: Chapter 32

ANTON

I REACH OVER and close Ezra’s mouth. “Don’t worry, he’s usually shocked into silence around me.”

There’re hesitant chuckles as my news seems to seep through the room. I hadn’t been planning on saying that, but a second before I said the word, it felt right.

And now it’s finally out there, just like I wanted it to be.

When I watched Caleb Sorenson and Ollie Strömberg address the media when they came out, I felt sorry for them. It felt like they’d been forced into letting people into a part of their lives that no one had business knowing, but now, sitting here myself, I don’t feel trapped.

I’m free.

“When did this start?” a reporter asks.

“It’s been a while now, but if you don’t mind, we’re keeping details of our relationship private.”

“Do you worry about how the relationship will affect your games?”

“I’m the highest point scorer this season, what do you think?”

“Does this mean you’re gay?” someone else asks.

“I am. I’m gay, Ez and I are together, and no matter what happens there, it isn’t going to impact our team. We’re both professionals who have a job to do, and nothing will change that.”

I keep expecting Ezra to jump in with a smartassed comment, but when I finally glance over at him, he’s sitting back watching me, soft smile on his face. It makes my heart flip for a second, and I badly want to reach for him, but even though I can now, even though people know about us, I do want things to stay private. Right now, we’re teammates. The second we’re off the clock, he’s my boyfriend, my partner in crime, the man who’s helping me discover a lot of things about myself.

“Given Ezra’s past history, fans will have a right to be worried that if there’s a breakup, the team will suffer.”

Before I can jump in and tell the guy to mind his business, Ezra leans forward. “It’s no secret I like to have fun, but rest assured Anton has that more than covered.”

I whack him lightly on the back of his head as he starts to laugh, and apparently that’s enough for Coach.

He stands. “If there’s no more questions about hockey, these two have a game to celebrate.”

Voices and questions start to fire at us, but Coach gestures for us to get up and leave. We follow him off the platform and out of the room, and the second we’re in private, he turns on us, hands on hips.

“You had to say that last thing, didn’t you, Palaszczuk?”

“I might be in a relationship, but I’m still the same guy. You really should have expected something like that.”

Coach sighs. “People are gonna be worried about you two breaking up when what they should be worried about is how big your damn egos will get when you’re spurring each other on.”

“Egos?” I pretend to be offended. “Would we call it an ego when it’s totally justified?”

“Don’t worry, babe,” Ezra says. “He’s jealous of how awesome and talented we are.”

Coach lets out a string of swear words and what sounds like a cry for help under his breath. “Go celebrate. And stay away from the media for a couple of days. They’ll be looking for you two.”

Ezra shrugs. “Apparently the way I want to celebrate was plan B … or C? And according to Anton, it can’t be done in public, so I think we’re going to head home.”

“Right-o. Good game tonight.”

“Thanks,” I say at the same time as Ezra says, “Duh.”

Coach throws his hands up and walks away.

I turn to Ezra. “You know, no matter what he says, I think you’ll always have me beat for being the most egotistical player in the NHL.”

“And the sexiest?”

“Nah, I have that tied up.”

He narrows his eyes, but then his gaze runs down my body. “Damn it, I think you’re right.”

I step closer and pull him into my arms, every muscle relaxing as he squeezes me back.

“I’m proud of you.”

I want to give him shit on reflex, but it’s nice to hear. “Thanks. It actually felt good.”

“You know what else feels good?” His hand trails down to grab my ass.

I laugh and pull back, then cup his face so I can kiss him. “We almost had a serious moment there, Ez.”

“I know, close call.”

“Appreciate it,” I say dryly. “But to risk being serious again for a second, you don’t know what it means that you were with me in there.”

“Of course. We’re a package deal. Your shit is my shit and vice versa. You’re lucky I’m so incredibly low-maintenance that you won’t have to support me through anything.”

I grin. “Including meeting my parents?”

“Ah …”

“And I wanna meet yours one day.”

Ezra cringes. “Have you been listening to any of my stories about them?”

I drop a kiss on his nose. “I have. Package deal, remember? You don’t need to deal with that alone.”

“Careful. You’re dangerously close to being too perfect, and I don’t think I can compete with that.”

“Don’t worry. There was never any competition anyway.” Because he’ll always have me beat.

He pulls back to take my hand as we make our way back to the locker room.

I’m not expecting our whole team to still be there waiting.

Close to twenty guys look up when we enter.

Ezra bows. “I know, you do have me to thank for the epic win. Tonight was all on my shoulders, you’re welcome.”

Kosik throws a towel at him. “You two are dating?”

“Oh, that.” Ezra waves him off. “That doesn’t seem anywhere near as exciting as the two goals I scored tonight.”

“Are you forgetting who got a hat trick?” I ask.

“Yeah, but you’re supposed to get those. Honestly, it’s sort of embarrassing how few of those you have.”

“Talk to me at the end of the season when we’re taking out the Stanley Cup, and we’ll see if you still think that.”

I’m met by groans from nearly everyone in the room, and Ezra slaps a hand over my mouth. “It’s like you want us to fail.”

“Early vacation?” Luckily, my reply is muffled by his hand. He lets me go when he thinks I can be trusted. “I’ll let you punish me later.”

Larsen throws his hands up. “There are two of them. This is going to be unbearable.”

Diedrich points at me. “Remember the rules. No kissing and telling. And this time, it’s not even because you’re talking about a dude. It’s because you’d be talking about Ezra, and—” He shudders.

“No one needs to hear that,” Kosik finishes.

“But I’m cool to give details?” Ezra asks innocently. “Since it’d be about Anton, that makes it totally fine.”

“Same rules for you,” Diedrich says. “Always same rules, especially for you. None of us need the types of visuals you’re capable of coming up with.”

I cross my arms. “I’m beginning to think they’re under the impression that I’m innocent.”

“With the things you did to me last night, you have nothing to worry about.”

Kosik covers his ears, while Larsen points at Ezra with a solid “No.”

We both laugh, and I hold up a hand. “Promise that’s it. From both of us.”

“I don’t promise,” Ezra says.

“That ball gag is still an option. You don’t need your mouth to play hockey.”

“No, but I do need it for other things.”

Good argument. “You know what, I can’t be held responsible for what Ezra says.”

A few of the guys grab their bags to head out. They pat us on the back as they pass and say they’ll see us later.

A handful hang back, and Diedrich smiles.

“I knew there was something going on.”

“I figured you did,” Ezra says.

“What?” It’s the first I’m hearing of that.

“The pranks. Suddenly getting along …”

Kosik jumps in again. “Ezra spooning me to send you the photo. It all makes sense.”

“You knew too?” I ask.

“Nah, but now I do, I’m seriously concerned for your guys’ mating ritual.”

Ezra slings an arm around my waist. “Trust me when I say that’s not something you need to worry about.”

Diedrich’s teasing expression turns serious. “I’m not saying this to be a dick, but I am worried.”

“Yeah, I get it,” I say. “We have … history. That makes it hard. But if it helps, I’m prepared to stick it out for as long as he’ll have me.”

“In that case, you better not die first, because I won’t be done with you, and then things will get dark,” Ezra says.

“Maybe I should have said for as long as he’ll have me or I die. Whichever comes first.”

“It’s an important distinction to make.”

Diedrich shakes his head with amusement. “I’m guessing you feel the same, Palaszczuk?”

He looks at me. “Eh.”

“Eh?” I echo.

“I mean, you have a nice butt.”

“A nice butt?”

“And I suppose it’s sorta cute when you get those frown lines when you’re thinking.”

“Did you just … say I have wrinkles?”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“Okay …”

“The wrinkles are around your mouth.”

I rub my temple. “Amendment number two is as long as he’ll have me, I die, or he gets so annoying I spontaneously combust.”

Ezra nods sagely. “That’s fair.”

“You guys have the old married couple thing down pat,” Kosik says.

Marriage?

Ezra and I look at each other. Our eyes lock, and somehow I know we’re both on the same page when it comes to our future.

We burst out laughing.

“Ah, maybe in theory, but I don’t think marriage is for me.”

“Or me,” Ezra says.

Larsen pulls a face. “It’s still so weird to see you two agree. Even on something like not wanting to marry each other.”

I don’t point out that Ezra and I are getting good at agreeing. Like whose apartment to stay at and who gets to top, which of us needs to buy the lube when we’re running out …

We grab our bags and follow the others out.

“You guys coming for drinks?” Diedrich asks.

“Actually, I think we’re going to head home tonight.”

After that press conference, I don’t need to explain why.

All I want is some time alone with Ezra.

We go our separate ways, but Ezra and I cross the street holding hands. The media is still lurking, and I’m sure they get some shots of it, but I don’t care.

When we reach the safety of inside and get on the elevator, I lean against the back wall and tug him close. “You know I mean it, don’t you? That this is it for me.”

“Yeah. And I meant what I said as well. You really do have a nice butt.”

“Ezra …”

“Fine.” His voice drops so it’s raw and husky. “I love you.”

“You know I love you too, right?”

“Actually, I do. And I’ve never said that before, because it’s not something I feel lightly, and I never let myself be vulnerable around people. But I let you see all that, and it doesn’t make me embarrassed. You don’t make me feel like I need to hide that side of me or be someone else. You and me, Anton, we don’t need to justify this for anyone else, because we know what it is.”

“Oh yeah? And what’s that?”

There’s no hesitation as he answers me with one perfect word. “Forever.”


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