Vanilla Malt Kisses
Of course Kent knew who Alexei Mashkov was. The hockey world was small—pretty much everyone knew everyone. But there was a difference between knowing of someone and actually knowing someone. They had clashed on the ice, but Kent had a talent for pissing people off, so there weren’t many people that he hadn’t clashed with.
The game had been a rough one, with Kent taking a few hard hits thanks to that same talent for pissing people off. He tended to play just this side of dirty, always had. It wasn’t like he cared about what people thought about him, anyway.
Kent was heading home from the rink after a tough loss to the Falconers, one made worse by knowing that Zimms was looking to sign with the team, and just looking forward to getting a bath and then curling up with Kit, a glass of wine, and the next show in his Netflix queue, when he ran into Alexei Mashkov. Or, if he was going to be technical, Mashkov ran into him. Whatever; it didn’t matter.
Kent automatically recoiled—Mashkov had been within seconds of throwing punches during the game and there was no guarantee that he wouldn’t now, given how angry he had been—but instead, Mashkov grinned at him.
“Little Aces captain! Sorry you lost.”
Kent frowned. “Wow, thanks, Mashkov. Way to rub it in.”
Mashkov frowned. “No, no, want to be friendly! Dinner?”
Kent stared at Mashkov. “You want to take me to dinner?” he asked finally, convinced that he had misheard.
Mashkov shrugged. “Hear…rumors, say, about little Aces captain. Want to be sure, but maybe—”
“Wait,” Kent cut in. “I think I know the rumors you mean, and if you want your dick sucked, you don’t need to take me out first. There are some nice private places around here.”
Mashkov wouldn’t meet Kent’s eyes. “I’m maybe thinking that we are the same. And I’m thinking that Kent Parson is very pretty and maybe I want to take him to dinner.”
Kent didn’t have a response to that, just stood there and stared at Mashkov.
“Don’t have to,” Mashkov said eventually, clearly uncomfortable.
“No, it’s fine,” Kent replied. “I’m…dinner sounds good. Let’s do this.” He wasn’t about to admit that Mashkov was exactly his type—tall, dark-haired, accent—and that he had always found the other man attractive. He had just always thought that anyone in the league was unattainable, which, whatever, he was used to. He was pansexual, anyway, and there were plenty of pretty girls more than willing to spend a night with the rich and attractive captain of a professional hockey team.
Mashkov, unfamiliar with Vegas, had asked Kent to choose the restaurant. After a moment’s hesitation, Kent chose one of his favorites, Bailey’s, a small local family-run place that really only locals knew about. This was a place that knew him to the point that he didn’t have to order any more, one that never tried to piggyback off his fame, one that, honestly, felt the closest to home he had experienced in as long as he could remember.
“Kenny!” exclaimed the hostess, Maria, the eldest daughter of the family, as he led Mashkov in. “And you brought a friend.” She raised her eyebrows—the family had basically adopted Kent and had become his confidants in Vegas, knowing that he was pan and all—and Kent shrugged.
Mashkov looked between Kent and Maria, adorably confused. “What happens?”
“They’re cool. They know I’m pan. They know that this is a date. I think. I mean, I think on the date part. Not the they know part. Is it a date?” Wow, real smooth, Parson, he thought, mentally chiding himself.
“Is date,” Mashkov confirmed, winking at Maria, who giggled as she led them to a table and seated them, handing a menu to Mashkov. “But cannot tell.”
“Of course not. We know how the hockey world is and that we can’t risk outing Kenny.”
“I am play hockey, too,” Mashkov said. “Providence. Also,” and here he looked at Kent, “Kenny?”
Kent flushed. “Old family nickname. And they’re basically family, so they’ve adopted it, too.” He didn’t mention that the Zimmermanns had used the nickname, too, that no matter how hard he tried he still associated the name with heated kisses and stolen moments.
“Alyosha,” Mashkov said.
“What?” Kent couldn’t make the slightest sense out of the word that had just come out of Mashkov’s mouth. It was Russian, he could tell that much, but his Russian was limited at best. He had learned a bit for a rookie who had only stayed a season, but languages weren’t his strong suit.
“Is nickname, like Kenny. Nickname for Alexei.”
“But team call Tater. Little potatoes.” Mashkov laughed. “Or Tater Tot—littler potatoes.”
Kent couldn’t help laughing at that. Mashkov was huge, at least half a foot taller than he was himself, and just the idea of this giant of a man being named for tiny potatoes was ridiculously hilarious. Mashkov, for his part, looked pleased that he had amused Kent.
“Do you know what you want to drink?” Maria asked, also looking amused. “Kenny, I’ve already submitted your order.”
“I get same as Kenny,” Mashkov decided, handing the menu back to Maria as Kent tried to hide how hearing his nickname roll off Mashkov’s tongue in that thick accent affected him.
There was no denying, in Kent’s mind, that Bailey’s did the best burgers and shakes that he had ever tasted. Judging by Mashkov’s reaction, he felt the same, which was nice, since Kent loved the place and yeah, he was pretty possessive of it, but, at the same, he liked seeing that someone he had brought loved it.
Mashkov was funny, too, and damn it, this wasn’t part of Kent’s plan. He had been okay with dinner and a one night stand, but he really hadn’t been planning on actually falling for the man.
“Fuck me,” Kent muttered, not intending Mashkov to hear. But, of course, he did.
“I’m thinking not on first date,” Mashkov replied with a wink and Kent’s eyes went wide.
“You want another date?”
“Of course.” Then Mashkov frowned. “If you do.”
Mashkov was funny, attractive, exactly Kent’s type, and he was looking at Kent like he really liked him. Kent was fucked, honestly.
Mashkov looked around the restaurant, then came around the table to slide into the seat next to Kent.
“This okay?” he asked softly, using two fingers to tip Kent’s head up so that they were face to face.
Kent just nodded, eyes fixed on Mashkov’s—Alexei’s.
Gently, slowly, Alexei pressed his lips to Kent’s, a chaste kiss with a promise of more to come. Then he pulled back, meeting Kent’s eyes again.
“More than,” Kent whispered.
Alexei kissed Kent again, deeper this time, a kiss tasting of the vanilla malts they had both had with dinner, a taste that Kent knew that he would forever associate with the start of happiness he would hold for the rest of his life.