The Perfect Play, Page 2Jaci Burton
Author: Jaci Burton
Nothing was going to come of it, of course, but she was going to bask in his attention for just a few moments longer.
“I don’t get it, Mick. Why me?”
“Because you’re real. ”
“And all those women inside the ballroom aren’t?”
He grinned. “Pretty much, yeah. But it’ll be time for me to get back to some serious work soon. And what better way to end my time off than with a woman who’s honest and not a game player. ”
“You had a great last season. Congratulations. But I can’t imagine you wouldn’t enjoy your off season by basking in the glory of a beautiful actress or model or someone to help you relax. ”
“Thanks. We did have a kick-ass season. And I have a top-notch agent who likes to toss these cover models and whoever’s the current hot actress at me. Good for my image, ya know. ”
She leaned back to study him. “Yes, I can see how that would put you front and center in the entertainment news. And maybe get more people coming to your games. ”
“Exactly. But it’s tiresome. And maybe once I’d just like to be with someone who isn’t—”
“Famous? Connected? Isn’t going to drag you onto the cover of the tabloids?”
He laughed. “Something like that. Someone I can just talk to, have a real conversation with. Be with because she just wants to be with me, not because it’s good for her career. ”
She’d always envied people like Mick Riley and the women on his arm. Maybe she shouldn’t have. “It doesn’t sound like you’re having much fun. ”
“Oh, on the field I have a lot of fun. Off the field . . . ”
“Oh, come on. It can’t be that much of a hardship having to be with all those beautiful women. ”
His chest rose when he inhaled, and Tara wished he wasn’t wearing that tux. She watched all of the Sabers games. In his uniform, Mick was something to behold. He had an amazing athlete’s body. This afternoon when she’d run into him in the locker room? Wow. She didn’t know they made bodies that sculpted. She had to admit she wouldn’t mind a closer inspection. Did that make her shallow?
“Most people don’t understand why I’d complain about dating the model who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, or a popular actress without a single flaw. Sometimes I wonder about it myself. ”
“It’s not always about looks. Granted, physical attraction is what gets you in the door. But there has to be something beyond that to want to keep you there. ”
He cocked his head to the side. “You understand. ”
“Of course. I like a good-looking man as much as any woman does. But there has to be some substance beyond just his great looks. Something that keeps me coming back for more. Otherwise you’re left feeling empty. ”
“I don’t have these kinds of conversations with the women I meet. ”
“Have you tried?”
“You mean do I try to talk to them beyond just having sex with them?”
“Yeah, I do. We don’t get very far. They’re more interested in talking about themselves and their careers. It isn’t too long before I’m bored and out the door. ”
She smiled at him. “Maybe you’re just not meeting the right woman. ”
“Probably because I’ve never looked for her. ” He stood, held out his hand. “Let’s go dance. ”
A rush of panic hit her. “Oh, I can’t. ”
“Again, because I’m working. ”
“Bullshit. ” He tugged her along, and she went helplessly as he opened the door and led her back into the ballroom, through the crowds, and onto the dance floor. He pulled her against him, slid his arm around her back, and drew her close.
How timely. A slow song. The lights had dimmed, and couples were pressed intimately against each other. She cringed, certain she was the center of attention, but when she took a quick glance around, no one seemed to be looking at them. Maybe it wasn’t unusual for Mick to grab random women and dance with them. She prayed the media was off interviewing someone else or taking pictures of Katrina Strauss, the latest Hollywood It Girl. Maybe she was safe from the cameras at least.
But Tara was certain any moment someone from management was going to drag her off the dance floor and fire her. She tried to search the ballroom for Mr. Stokes or his assistant or anyone else on his staff, but the dance floor was too crowded.
“Hey, would you relax?”
She snapped her gaze to Mick. “What? Oh, sorry. I’m feeling kind of guilty. ”
“You’re here to celebrate. I’m here to work. ”
He slid his hand up her back and she wished she hadn’t worn such a revealing dress. The feel of his warm hand against the bare skin of her back made thinking clearly a near impossibility.
“You are working. You’re keeping the guests happy. ”
“Ha. I’m keeping one guest happy. ”
“The rest of the guests don’t seem miserable. Relax. ” He pulled her close and swayed with her around the dance floor. He had decent rhythm for someone so big. She expected a football player to be clumsier, but he glided around like he knew what he was doing.
“You dance really well. ”
“I took ballet lessons. ”
She tilted her head back to search his face, certain he was joking. “You did not. ”
“I did. Several of us on the team did. Good for coordination. ”
Resisting the laugh that bubbled up in her throat, she said, “Somehow I can’t picture you in tights and a tutu. ”
But he did laugh. “We made sure no one with a camera got within miles of the studio. ”
The more time she spent with him, the more she liked him. Dammit. Why couldn’t he be an arrogant son of a bitch, full of himself and talking of nothing but his career and his stats? It would be so much easier to walk away from him if he was self-absorbed. But not only was he gorgeous, he was also funny and was interested in her and her career, and she liked spending time with him.
And how long had it been since she’d danced with a guy? She couldn’t recall. That meant it had been too long. It felt good to feel his warm hand at her back, to clasp her other hand in his, to feel the pressure of his thighs against hers as he expertly managed the steps and moved her around the dance floor. He smelled good, like pine trees and outdoors. She leaned in a little and inhaled, amazed at the sheer size of him.
And when he dipped her at the end of the dance, her lips parted and she let out a small gasp. “Bet you didn’t learn that in ballet class. ”
He brought her upright, a wicked gleam in his eyes. “Don’t tell anyone, but my mom is a dance teacher. I might have learned a few things watching her classes. ”
“Your mother is a dance teacher? Like ballroom dancing for adults?”
He slipped her hand in the crook of his arm and led her to his table, then pulled out a chair for her, and she sat. “No, the teach-all-the-little-kids-how-to-dance kind of teacher. ”
She saw the pride in his eyes, and her heart melted just a little bit. “What a wonderful profession. I’m sure she loves it. ”
“She does. Though she was disappointed to have two sons who would rather be outside playing football and baseball than becoming the next Baryshnikov. ”
“How sad for her. ”
“She made up for it by having our little sister, who was forced to endure all the dance lessons. ”
Tara laughed. “She didn’t want them either?”
“Oh, she put up with them as a kid, but she would have rather been outside being tackled by my brother and me. She’s pretty tough. ”
Tara leaned forward and laid her elbows on the table. “Sounds like you have an amazing family. ”
“I do. What about yours?”
Now there was a topic she didn’t want to get into. “Oh, noth
ing at all like yours. ”
“Tell me about them. ”
Yeah, that would send him running in a hurry. “My family just isn’t hearth and home like yours seems to be. ”
He laughed and placed his hand over hers. “Not everyone’s is, honey. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to know about your life. ”
Really, he didn’t want to know about her life and the screwed-up mess that was her family. Fortunately, the caterer took that moment to beep in with a problem. She placed her hand at her ear and stood. “I need to go. ”
“Yes. Thank you for the dance. It was a lovely break. ”
“Come back after you see to whatever crisis you have to deal with. ”
“Surely by then you’ll have found some other female to hang out with. ”
He leaned back in his chair and picked up a glass of water, the look he gave her sending goose bumps down her arms. “No, I won’t. I’ll wait for you. ”
She hurried off, warmed to her toes by Mick Riley. He would be a dangerous man to get to know better. But he intrigued her, and it had been a long time since any man had done that.
Unfortunately, it was hours later before she freed herself again. The caterers had run out of one of the meats, the head bartender had a meltdown about a waitress who decided at the last minute to have a fight with her boyfriend via text message and storm out in tears, and Tara had to make a couple frantic phone calls to get every ruffled feather smoothed. By the time all that had been dealt with, she’d had to make a once-around again to make sure no other brush fires had erupted.
The party had mellowed out by then. Many people had left, and only a few diehards remained. But Mr. Stokes’s personal assistant had stopped her and told her that Mr. Stokes was very pleased with the party, and he would likely use her company again. She resisted the squeal that hovered at the back of her throat, calmly thanked him, and said she’d be happy to provide event services at any time. Hopefully he’d recommend her to others. She needed her business to grow.
Another couple hours, and everyone was out the door. Tara made sure the band packed up, and she thanked them, as well as the bar staff and the caterers, for doing such a great job.
Once everyone left, she looked around the empty ballroom, unable to resist a smile. She’d done it. Her first major event, and she’d pulled it off perfectly.
Her feet were aching. She fell into the nearest chair, kicked off her shoes, and twisted open the top on the mineral water she’d snatched from the bar before they’d closed up. She took a long drink and sighed.
“I thought they’d never leave. ”
She jerked upright in her chair, half turning to see Mick walking past the rows of empty tables. “I thought you’d left hours ago. ”
He pulled out a chair across from her and sat, surprising the hell out of her by grabbing her legs and propping her feet on his lap. “Me and a couple of the offensive linemen ended up in coach’s room for a couple hours, rehashing the last season. ”
“Oh. And how did that go?”
He lifted one of her feet and began rubbing the arch. She bit her lip to keep from moaning at how damn good it felt.
“We ended up blaming the division championship loss on the defense. ”
She laughed. “How convenient. ”
He shrugged. “The defense was probably in the defensive coordinator’s room blaming it on us, so why not?”
She wanted to tell him she’d missed him, that she’d sort of casually looked for him while she was wandering around the ballroom, but she couldn’t bring herself to admit that out loud. It sounded too desperate. She barely knew him.
Then again, her feet were in his lap and he was giving her a delicious foot rub that made her nipples tingle and her panties dampen. What did that say about her?
What it said was that California wasn’t the only place that had been in a drought for the past several years. And she was alone in a massive ballroom with one very sexy man with amazing hands. She wondered what else he could do with those amazing hands.