CRACK.

Dixon watched as one of his teammates darted for home, gracefully sliding across the plate even though the throw wasn’t even close. Tucker. Tucker Wilde. The wild dog shifter who played second base for their team and the object of Dixon’s wet dreams for the past few months.

Tucker stood, not bothering to dust himself off, and retrieved the discarded bat lying nearby. When he bent over, his lily-white rear shone through a long L-shaped tear in his uniform pants.

Dixon chuckled as Tucker tilted his head and then patted his posterior, obviously feeling a bit of a breeze on his backside.

“Nice rip,” Wiley, the shortstop, hollered. “You might want to cover it up, though.”

“And soon,” Trigger, the cranky catcher, added with a good dose of command.

While Dixon agreed on the compliment, he wasn’t in as much of a hurry to see that small portion out of sight.

Tucker trotted toward the bench, pausing at the steps leading down into the dugout area. “Why do I have a feeling that my butt is going to be plastered all over the sports channels for the next two days?” He shook his head and grinned at Dixon.

“Probably because it is?”

Even as they spoke, a cameraman hustled behind Tucker, lowered the angle of his camera, and fixated on Tucker’s rump.

“There’s already enough bad shit on television. Do we really have to add Tucker’s bare ass to it?” Trigger growled at the media guy. The man looked up, blinked, and made a hasty retreat.

“Hey, grizzly. Some people might like to see a little peekaboo from me.” Tucker wiggled his rear before turning to face Trigger, which ended up giving Dixon a great view of the flapping opening in the pants.

“Yeah, right. Keep wishing.” Trigger plopped down on the bench and snarled at Tucker.

Tucker was one of a kind and well-liked. If the players took a vote, Tucker would surely be a leading candidate for team clown.

Although, in this situation, Dixon wasn’t sure his silly antics hadn’t gotten Tucker in over his head.

Unable to resist, Dixon rolled his eyes, then laughed. “You’re cruising for a bruising, buddy. Better think about changing before Trigger gets serious.”

Tucker flashed him a mischievous grin. “What fun is it if you don’t poke the grizzly a little?”

“Fun or suicidal?” Dixon asked.

Trigger stared intently at Tucker as if daring him to press his luck. Dixon had seen that look in the past—right before Trigger launched into pissed-off bear mode.

“Just because he’s happily mated doesn’t mean he’s mellowed, Tucker,” Dixon warned. The polar bear shifter, Graham, seemed to be the only person who had the ability to chill Trigger out. Too bad, as a pitcher, Graham was relegated to the bull pen for the moment.

“Whatcha going to do, bear? Huh? Cat got your tongue?” Tucker teased while shaking his butt at Trigger again.

In a flash, Trigger lurched toward Tucker with a menacing growl.

Tucker scurried out of reach just in the nick of time. The playful threat didn’t stop him from flipping Trigger the bird along with a mischievous grin. Egging it on. Like usual.

The other players in the dugout broke out in laughter at the antics. Dixon included.

Trigger grinned wolfishly. “Good thing I actually sorta, maybe, almost like you.”

Tucker’s mouth fell open at the admission.

“Go change already. It’s not like the whole game is going to stop because you’re hanging out to dry.” Banner, the manager, waved toward the door leading to the locker room. His ordering tone ceased the fun. For now.

Tucker saluted and quickly disappeared.

Dixon tried not to stare at the flexing of firm muscles exposed for his viewing pleasure. When the door shut, Dixon turned his attention back to the game.

In the process, he noticed Wiley looking at him with what could only be called a Cheshire cat grin on his face. “What?”

Wiley shook his head but didn’t answer otherwise. The smile remained as well.

Well, hell. Wiley obviously caught his interest in Tucker’s partially covered rear. Nothing new, per se, since the whole team knew he was gay. However, he could see Wiley rattling his cage a bit about checking out a teammate for more than the size of bat he carried. The wolf shifter had a devilish streak that popped out now and again. Dixon would just have to wait patiently to see if anything came of his enthrallment with Tucker’s ass.

Smack.

The line drive flew just over the dugout, causing the guys standing at the rail to duck in a hurry.

“That had some heat on it.”

Dixon heard the familiar male voice and turned to find Tucker emerging from the locker room with a towel loosely hanging from around his neck. Sweat dripped from the sides of the wild dog’s face and onto his baseball uniform, leaving it soaked in places. The fresh pair of bright, clean white pants contrasted with the dirty shirt.

And covered up Tucker’s previously exposed rear. Damn it.

Actually, it was for the best. Dixon didn’t mind the eye candy but preferred to avoid riding the bench with a hard-on. Cups and erections didn’t fit together comfortably.

“Why didn’t you put on a fresh jersey too?”

“It would just get dirty.”

Dixon blinked at the rationalization. “So?”

Tucker shrugged. “So, the one I’m wearing is already dirty. Might as well save on the laundry bill when possible.”

“Okay.” Dixon shook his head in amusement. Not like the team pinched pennies, and all the players could certainly afford a few luxuries. Their large salaries guaranteed that. Leave it to Tucker to notice the small things and buck what others would typically do in the process.

“It’s as hot as hell today.” Tucker wiped at the beads of moisture once again.

Dixon could empathize. Though it was only preseason, the high nineties temperature made them all perspire and droop. Preston, their home city, was normally a good fifteen degrees cooler this time of year. Unfortunately, an early taste of summer had arrived, nearly before spring officially set in.

“Better keep your head on a stick around here. Those rookies can hit.” Dixon leaned back and stretched his arms out on the backrest of the bench.

Tucker nodded and sat down beside him. “They have promise.” He wiped his brow with the towel. “Most of them anyway.”

Dixon watched as one of the new guys on the team took his place in the batter’s box. Ares. Ares Warr. An unusual name for an unusual guy. One of the very few hybrid shifters in the league. A wolf-dingo cross at that. Dixon wasn’t sure what that meant in the scheme of things, but the kid had talent. Tons of it.

Since this was the last preseason game, Banner, the manager, decided to put all the rookies on the roster, replacing several of the starters for this one game. Dixon sat this one out while Ares took his spot. Tucker, on the other hand, had been at his usual second base position for most of the game. He’d just been relieved a few minutes ago. Thus, the accumulation of dust, dirt, and sweat.

“What do you think of Lance?” Lance, the top draft pick of the Preston Predators, also happened to be a tiger shifter.

Tucker shrugged. “Time will tell.” Tucker grabbed a bottle of water from a nearby cooler, removed the cap, and chugged half the liquid down.

The bobbing of his Adam’s apple snared Dixon’s attention and drew his mind off the topic of baseball and to his ever-present simmering libido.

Dixon secretly grinned at the walking mess Tucker presented. He’d been in the dirt to catch balls as well as sliding into bases. While others might be hesitant to get close and risk getting smudged or catching a whiff of sweat, Dixon didn’t mind in the least. More than that, he found the combination downright sexy.

Tucker could only be called a looker. The quintessential tall, dark, and handsome guy mixed those physical attributes with a healthy sense of humor, a wicked grin, and chocolate eyes that flashed mischief nearly as much as intelligence. He had muscles galore, but not so bulky that he’d lose speed. More like just a big guy with a nicely filled-out frame. Wide chest, narrower waist, powerful thighs, and a perfectly rounded ass. Throw him into a uniform and he made quite the showstopper. Scuffed up from playing baseball only made him more appealing in Dixon’s opinion. Not that he’d verbalized that fact. No way.

Because Tucker was straight. Always had been as far as Dixon knew. Most likely always would be too.

“Bringing that girl of yours to the party tomorrow night?” Dixon studied Tucker, waiting patiently for the all-important answer.

Tucker replaced the cap on the bottle, then rested his hands in his lap. “Yeah. She can’t wait to see the extravagance of that estate. Been talking about it for a couple of weeks.” Neil Garrison owned the Preston Predators. He’d opened his mansion to all the players and other high society members in an annual get-together.

Dixon sighed in resignation. He’d hoped and dreamed since Tucker joined the team. All to no avail. Now, he’d pretty much given up on the belief that they could ever be more than friends and teammates. While Tucker might be a switch hitter in the game of baseball, he didn’t seem to be in his social life. Which was too damn bad, in Dixon’s opinion.

“Bringing someone along for the party?” Tucker asked.

“No.” Dixon turned his attention back to the field.

“Why not?”

“I haven’t found anyone that suited, I guess.”

Tucker scooted a smidge closer and gestured toward Ares playing third base. “What about him? He’s put together well. A canine, to boot.”

Dixon rolled his eyes. “You know how wolves are, even mixtures. Besides, he’s a rookie. Could be traded in a couple of weeks.” The problem with early season was that rosters weren’t finalized for a couple months or so after opening day. Jostling and trades were a given during this time of year and made for some chaotic times. Especially for new players.

“True.” Tucker grinned. “I’d say you and Trigger would make a great match if not for Graham beating you to him.”

Dixon snorted. “Are you trying to get me killed?” The only two bears on the team paired up last season. Trigger had a soft spot for Graham. He treated the rest of the guys like his hired servants. Dixon didn’t take it personally. Trigger pretty much ran the show, was the best catcher in the league, and helped the team pull off the coveted series finale trophy last year. For that, he’d put up with playing with the devil himself and sustain a few harsh corrections aimed his way.

“Well….” Tucker chuckled before taking another drink. “Seriously, though. It’s time you hook up with a bedmate.”

“I do okay on my own.” The thought of Tucker helping him find a man seemed a bit ironic if not totally crazy.

“Says the man without a date for the big party.” Tucker tossed the empty bottle into a nearby trash can. “Tell me what you’re looking for in a guy and I’ll help you find one.”

Dixon arched an eyebrow. “You’re going to help me pick out a guy?” He’d always been gay and everyone on the team knew it. Thankfully, the Preston Predators embraced everyone, including mated pairs among the gay players. If another team dared throw insults that revolved around sexual orientation, Dixon knew his teammates would have his back. Hell, he’d been part of the pack at the end of last season when Graham’s old team started some bullshit. The Predators shut them down real fast. Not just in standing up to them, but in beating them for the championship too.

“Yep.” Tucker smiled even more. “What? Just because my gate swings the other way, you don’t think I can tell a sex-on-a-stick guy from a dumpster dive?”

Dixon reluctantly grinned. “Good point.”

“See. Let me think. The guy has to have a great ass. After all, that’s the part you’re checking out all the time, right?”

You certainly have a nice one. Dixon groaned to himself and wiggled a bit in his seat for comfort. “Not all the time. Besides, it helps if the guy has other assets. A nice rear doesn’t always make the man.”

Tucker tapped his lips. “I hadn’t thought much about it before, but I guess it’s not that different from searching for a fine woman. Just less curves and more muscles.” He paused for a second. “So, a guy with a great ass and a good-looking face. Top of the list.”

“What about brains?”

Tucker blinked at him in confusion. “What about them?”

“Damn, Tucker. I want a man. Not a blow-up doll.”

Tucker threw his head back and guffawed.

The sound rolled through Dixon, increasing his desire as well as easing his tension. He’d never tire of Tucker or his laughter, even if it was at his own expense.

A stiff breeze blew through the dugout, tousling Tucker’s deep black hair, parting it enough to emphasize the blond spot about the size of a sticky note just above his left temple. A testament to Tucker’s wild dog genetics and a mark Dixon considered cute. In Tucker’s shifted form, numerous spots of yellow and white broke up the solid black base. He even sported a white tuft on the end of his tail. Something Dixon found amusing.

Overall, Tucker was a man in his prime, his shifter DNA adding to his strength and impression. He carried himself with self-confidence and a flair of regality. The dimples in his cheeks were as endearing as his sometimes off-the-wall sense of humor.

Tucker was a good guy. A sexy man. And a hell of a baseball player.

All the more reason Dixon wanted him.

Except Tucker didn’t see Dixon in the same way. They did things as friends, sure, but Dixon never broached the subject of inviting Tucker into his bed. Too afraid of rejection to utter the words.

If I only had some sign that he tipped into the bi category….

But it had never happened. So, he admired Tucker from afar, so to say. Fantasizing about what could be, kept Dixon hot and bothered some nights. But, in the daytime, reality took over, placing him back into the role of friend and nothing more.

“Don’t you know how much fun blow-up dolls are?” Tucker waggled his eyebrows.

Dixon elbowed him. “I don’t have a thing for plastic. Thank you, very much.”

“Picky, picky.”

“Yep.”

Tucker glanced from Dixon and back to the field. “Does he have to be canine? A shifter?”

“I haven’t gotten that far.”

Tucker turned back to stare at him. “What do you mean you haven’t gotten that far?”

“Just what I said.”

“Well, that’s your problem right there. You just have to narrow your criteria down to what you want, then see who fits into that mold.” Tucker nodded.

You’ll fit. I’m sure of it.

Dixon rubbed his forehead. “Is this like your penchant for dating redheads?”

Tucker grinned widely. “Yep. I hunt… err, search for redheads, find one, then end up asking them out.”

“And how’s that working for you?” Dixon couldn’t quite grasp Tucker’s dating philosophy. The color of hair had little to do with the person, in his opinion.

“Found quite a few. They never disappoint. Especially this one. Gloria is damn hot in the sack, sexy as hell, and fun. That’s how it’s working out.”

Frustrated with the topic at hand, Dixon remained mute. The last thing he wanted to hear about was Tucker’s latest exploits in bed.

If she’s so great, why haven’t you put a ring on her finger?

Dixon already knew the answer to his unvoiced question. Tucker was a playboy. Had been as long as Dixon had known him. He dated redheads almost exclusively, kept them around for a while, until the women started seeing wedding dresses and baby carriages in Tucker’s future. Then he retreated—fast. The tendency offered a blip of hope to Dixon about a future with Tucker, but nothing more.

Cheers drew his attention back to the game. Wiley stepped up to the plate, bunted the first pitch, and managed to beat the throw to first. His success ended up loading the bases in the favor of the Predators.

Dixon clapped in appreciation for the effort and outcome.

“What about Slade?”

Automatically, Dixon looked to the bull pen, his gaze landing on the tall jaguar shifter. As he watched, Slade wound up and threw the ball into the catcher’s glove. Last season, an injury sat Slade on the sidelines for several months. Now, he was back. With something to prove if his pitching numbers meant anything.

While Dixon could appreciate the guy, he didn’t feel the sparks or butterflies like he did when he hung out with Tucker. Not even close. “He’s a good guy. Just doesn’t do it for me.”

“What about Mack?”

Dixon shook his head. “Nothing.”

Tucker slapped him on the shoulder. “The way I see it, bro, is that you either need to jump in with both feet or invest in that blow-up doll.”

“You’re just too damn easy,” Dixon threw back without menace.

“And you’re too hard.” Tucker smiled lopsidedly. His eyes twinkled with mirth. “Probably in all kinds of ways.”

The teasing went straight to Dixon’s needy cock. Not for the first time, he appreciated the looseness of the uniform even if the cup presently chafed his sensitive skin and compressed his genitals into what felt like a sardine can. “You’re a mess.” Dixon couldn’t resist grinning.

“Not the worst I’ve been called.” Tucker stood and headed to the steps to watch the game better.

Dixon couldn’t take his eyes off Tucker’s rear the entire time.

Now this is the life. Dixon chuckled to himself, relished the breeze, and enjoyed the scenery before him. The baseball diamond faded away as he stared at far more interesting things.

Good thing the game seized his undivided attention when he was on the field playing third base. Life on the hot corner could be dangerous at times.

So could cornering Tucker and spilling his feelings.

No sooner had the thought arrived than Dixon shut it down. The time wasn’t right.

It’ll never be right at this rate. Stop being a dumbass and just tell the guy. The inner voice belonging to his gray fox chastised him rarely, and always about his social life or lack thereof.

Dixon ignored it, just like he’d done before.

If it’s meant to be, then it’ll happen.

The phrase fell flat even in his own mind.