Rush me, p.46
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       Rush Me, p.46

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
 
Page 46

  For the rest of the afternoon, we bent over the table, flipping back ideas about publicity and websites and other avenues. Alexa’s background as a doctoral student meant she knew the material she’d written about inside and out, the odd tidbits and ancient gossip that made each story fascinating. And I could point out the parts that needed more clarifications, and the bits that wouldn’t interest the general public.

  We went on longer than I’d expected, long enough for the game to end even if it had gone into overtime. When Alexa excused herself to the bathroom, I quickly texted Ryan to see when he was free. Dammit, I should have texted earlier. Was there a sports equivalent of “break a leg?” I should have at least wished him good luck.

  My phone buzzed and I almost jumped.

  Give me 10. You still at the Easton?

  I saw Alexa coming back, and I quickly typed, Yeah, I’ll call you when I’m done.

  Alexa sat back down, unease sharpening her features. I wanted to dash out the door, but I also wanted to make sure everything was wrapped up and that she was okay. I liked Alexa. She came off as quiet but sincere, dedicated and sharp. And a little sad, but I couldn’t do anything about that. “Are you all right?”

  “Oh. ” She glanced over her shoulder, at the quickly filling lobby. “Yes. ”

  I followed her gaze, surprised at the number of people, and the disproportionate amount that did not look like guests. “Do you know what they’re all doing here?”

  About a quarter of the women dressed like the men, coats slung over jerseys, but an alarming amount wore casual-best or alarmingly tight dresses. The rest wore a heavy sprinkling of Leopard jerseys, and I frowned in shock. The staff acted irritated but unsurprised. I looked to Alexa to see if she felt as equally baffled as I did.

  To my surprise, she blushed. “Actually, I think I do. I heard that since this is the closest hotel to the football stadium, visiting teams often stay here, so fans sometimes come and hang out to try to meet them. ”

  “Really?” I craned my head to better scan the lobby. “Wow! And there was a game today. . . Do you think they’ll be back soon?”

  Alexa toyed with her fork. “Do you follow football?”

  Ha. “Not as much as I ought to,” I admitted, swallowing a laugh. This was ridiculous. How had I gone twenty-odd years without ever noticing a single football advertisement, and then all of a sudden they were everywhere? It was like the real life equivalent of Plato’s Cave—the moment you learn about it, you can’t stop seeing it. “It’s like you can’t throw a rock without hitting a football player in this town. ”

  Alexa’s elegant brows rose.

  I coughed slightly. “Do you follow it?”

  “Um. . . Yes. Sometimes. ” She shook her head, as though she were clearing it. “An old friend plays. ”

  The note in her voice was slightly off. I tilted my head. “Professionally?”

  Her face paled. “Yes. ” She spoke almost too faintly to hear. I followed her gaze to the lobby’s doors, and watched two broad shouldered men enter.

  Ah.

  The first had a stocky build, thick neck, and squarish, bluntly good-looking features. The second had less bulk, like Ryan and Mike, with eyes so wide and dark I could see them clear across the room.

  For a moment, I thought they were going to cross the lobby without anyone approaching them, even though I noticed as women crossed their legs so their skirts rose up higher, and a couple guys shouted out congratulations.

  Then two guys crossed the empty space and started in on what I could only assume was an instant replay of the game just completed. Like that, the dam was broken, and they were surrounded by well-intentioned fans. Mostly, I watched the girls, fascinated by how much they threw themselves. While some hovered in the background, nervously, others squeezed through gaps and flirted outrageously.

  Hmm. Well. I supposed if I’d had a group of good-looking, well-groomed guys competing outrageously for my attention, all the time, I might have turned out rather like Ryan had.

  The bigger guy laughed, throwing his head back, as a girl tucked a piece of paper in his belt. As he lowered his head, he stared straight across the room. Another grin, a more sincere version, flashed across his face, and he excused himself and started heading toward the little café.

  I jerked my gaze away, and focused on Alexa. “Is it just me, or is that guy headed straight for us?”

  Her cheeks pinkened. “Uh, no, it’s not just you. ”

  In two more seconds he was standing before us, grinning so hard two dimples showed up on either side of his big smile. “Well, hello, Alexa. Fancy seeing you here. ”

  Alexa stared at the table, and then raised her face with a pained smile. “Hi, Matt. Did you guys win?”

  “What, you weren’t watching, heart in your throat? What kinda fan are you?” He pulled up a chair, swiping his shaggy brown hair off his forehead with one huge hand, and then flashing a smile at me. “Who’s your friend?”

  “Uh—this is Rachael Hamilton. She’s helping me with my book. ”

  “That’s great. You also a writer?”

  “No, I work on the publishing end. ” My head pinged back and worth, fascinated by this interplay. How did Alexa know this guy? “So—you play for the Ann Arbor Bisons?”

  “Yeah, that’s right. You a fan?”

  I spread my hands apologetically. “I live in New York. I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed. ”

  “Oh, come on. ” He leaned toward me, body language open and inviting. “We’re way more attractive than any of the New York teams. ”

  I laughed outright. “I never knew players were so vain. But I know half a dozen Leopards who would knock you over for saying that. ”

  Alexa stared at me. “I thought you didn’t follow football. ”

  “I don’t,” I said cheerfully. “I just hear about it an awful lot. ”

  Matt’s interest visibly rose. “Who do you know?”

  “Oh—Malcolm Lindsey, Abe Krasner. Ryan Carter. ” I tried not to infuse his name with any extra emotion.

  “And you didn’t watch the game either? For shame, ladies. ” He shook his head. “For shame. Are you dating one of them?”

  He certainly moved quickly. “I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” I smiled to take the edge off. “I don’t think we’ve actually been introduced. ”

  “Matt Barrett. ” He reached across the table and pumped my hand in a warm, strong grip that lingered a little longer than polite. “You two coming out to Turquoise tonight?”

  I raised my brows at Alexa in amusement, trying to telecommunicate who is this guy? And what was Turquoise?

  Alexa didn’t meet my gaze. She’d fixed on something across the lobby, and now she squared her shoulders and refocused on Matt. She unleashed a brilliant smile at him, the kind so blinding they ought to be regulated. “Yes. ” She sounded more determined than I had heard since we stopped talking about the book. “In fact—I have a couple bottles of champagne we were going to start with before heading over. Care to join us?”

  I eyed Alexa. Where had this come from? I liked her, but did she really expect me to join her and some random football dude for drinks? I had a pseudo-date to plan.

 
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ALLISON PARR SERIES:

New York Leopards