The perfect play, p.12
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       The Perfect Play, p.12

         Part #1 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
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Page 12

  Author: Jaci Burton

  Nathan shot her a look that said she was a complete idiot. “Gavin Riley, Mom. ”

  “Uhhhh . . . ”

  Tara shifted her gaze from Mick, who looked amused, to Nathan, who looked appalled.

  “Mom, Gavin Riley is not only Mick’s younger brother, he’s also a professional baseball player. First base? Plays for Saint Louis, which, by the way, is also Mick and Gavin’s hometown? What planet are you living on, anyway?”

  “Mars, apparently,” Tara said, shooting a helpless look to Mick, who laughed.

  “I don’t think she’s required to know every player in every sport, Nathan. And your mom and I just recently started going out, so she doesn’t know my bio as well as you do. ”

  “Yeah, but if she’s going out with you, she sure as hell should know who your brother is. ”

  “Language, Nathan,” Tara shot back.

  Nathan just shrugged.

  “We’ve mainly been just talking about each other, not getting into family history, Nate,” Mick said with a smile that was directed at Tara.

  The guys ooohed and ahhed in a very adult way. Nathan cast a curious look at Tara that made her want to slink out of the room.

  “That is gross. So anyway, about that game with Green Bay . . . ”

  Saved by football. Tara slipped out of the room before any other embarrassing topics about her and Mick came up. Tara let Mick enjoy the adoration of teen boys for a while longer, until he found her in the kitchen doing dishes. At least she hoped the guy sliding his arms around her was Mick. She turned around when he kissed her neck.

  “You don’t have to hide in here,” he said.

  She dried her hands on the kitchen towel and backed away. “I didn’t want to get in the middle of such hero worship. ”

  “Good kids. But like all boys, they tend to want to be the center of attention. I’m dating you, not them. And you have a right to assert yourself. ”

  “I didn’t mind. Where are they now?”

  “I sent the fan club home. Nathan is upstairs working out some plays for tomorrow’s practice with his buddy, then they’re taking off. He said he has practice tomorrow, so I told him he should be asleep by eleven. ”

  Tara heard the heavy stomping of feet down the stairs. Nathan and Devon appeared in the kitchen.

  Her son was smiling. Grinning, even.

  “We’re outta here. Bye, Mom. See ya, Mick. ”

  “See ya, Nathan,” Mick said. “Don’t forget to get some sleep. ”

  Nathan saluted. “You got it. ”

  After he left, Tara snorted. “Lights out at eleven? Yeah, right. Like that’s going to happen. ”

  “It will. He promised me. ”

  She arched a brow. “You’re serious. He’s actually going to sleep at eleven. ”

  Mick shrugged. “I gave my speech about growing boys and athletes needing sleep and how much football practice takes out of a body every day, especially in the summer. I can guarantee at eleven p. m. , he and his friend will go to sleep. ”

  Tara leaned back. “I’m . . . stunned. I can’t tell you how often I fight with him about going to bed at a decent hour. ”

  “I was a teenage boy once. I know how hideous we are and I apologize for my gender. ”

  She couldn’t help but laugh. “Apology accepted. ”

  “Good. Now come sit down with me and relax. ”

  He dragged her into the living room, turned on the television, and flopped down on the couch, then expected her to snuggle up with him.

  She hesitated.

  “What’s wrong?”

  “I don’t bring guys over here. ”

  He propped his feet up. “Why not?”

  She sat on the chair instead of the couch with him. “I don’t know. I just . . . don’t. ”

  “So you think it’s wrong for your son to know you have a guy over watching television with you?”

  She stared at him. “Mick. I don’t know. I don’t . . . date. ”

  “He’s fourteen, Tara. ”

  She chewed her bottom lip. “His birthday is next month. ”

  “So you’re telling me that he’ll be fifteen next month, and you’ve never brought a guy over? In how long?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “What about his dad?”

  She hesitated. “He’s not part of Nathan’s life now. ”

  He studied her. “How long has his dad been out of the picture?”

  “Oh. ” She looked down at her hands for a few seconds.

  “I’m prying. Sorry. ”

  “His dad’s never been in the picture. ”

  “Ever?”

  “No. ”

  “Bastard. ”

  She shuddered an inhale and lifted her gaze to his. “Long story. ”

  “Wanna talk about it?”

  “Not tonight. ”

  “Okay. But still, you’ve got a right to have a life. ”

  She shrugged. “I’ve been busy, first when Nathan was little, and then with my education, and now trying to get my career going. ”

  “Again, you need to have a life. And it’s okay to bring a date over now and then. ”

  When he put it like that, it sounded ridiculous and provincial. “I just never wanted to be the kind of single parent who paraded a bunch of guys in and out of his life. ”

  “And you haven’t, have you?”

  “No. ”

  “Then come over here and let’s watch a movie. I promise not to ravish you. ”

  “Well, where’s the fun in that?”

  OH, MAN. MICK WAS IN BIG TROUBLE.

  He liked this woman. Really liked her. And he liked her kid, too. She was a good mother; he could tell. She wasn’t out for her own pleasure. She took care of her son and his needs, obviously didn’t party to the detriment of Nathan’s welfare, and was actually one of those women who put her kid first.

  And this was so far out of his element he had no idea what he was doing.

  An hour and a half into the movie and she was zonked out on his shoulder, lightly snoring, which he found incredibly—real. No woman Liz would fix him up with would be caught dead with her mouth open and snoring on his shoulder, let alone her hair sticking out the sides of her ponytail.

  He adjusted and laid Tara’s head in his lap. God, she was cute. Not drop-dead gorgeous in the sense that he was used to. He’d had plenty of stunning women on his arm before. But he liked that Tara was just . . . normal and pretty. And she snored. Yeah, he really liked that about her.

  She snorted once and then rolled over onto her side, drawing her knees up toward her chest. Mick grabbed the blanket from the top of the couch and covered her with it.

  She didn’t wake up, was probably exhausted. He wondered how long she’d been doing everything alone. Raising a kid by herself? Man, there couldn’t be anything easy about that, and she didn’t say anything about her family.

  Nathan seemed like a nice kid, too. So did his friends. Which meant she was doing everything right. Alone.

  As if he didn’t like a lot about her already, he had to go and start admiring her, too.

  Yeah, he was in big trouble with this woman.

  SIX

  “SO HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?”

  Tara nearly jumped out of her skin as Nathan’s voice shattered the silence of her normal Saturday afternoon laundry folding activities. She’d gone to work early that morning, and he’d been gone by the time she got home. As was often the case, they were like two ships passing each other in the night.

  She laid the towel down on the top of the dryer. “You scared me. When did you get in?”

  “I dunno. A while ago. ”

  “I didn’t hear you over the dryer. How long has what been going on?”

  “You and Mick Riley. ”

  “Oh. There’s nothing going on. ”

  Nathan
cocked his head to the side and gave her the same look she gave him when the answer wasn’t good enough. She resisted smiling.

  “Come on, Mom. No guy comes over to have dinner with your kid if he doesn’t really like you. ”

  “You think so?”

  “Guh. You have it bad for him. ” He turned and walked out of the laundry room.

  Tara followed him into the kitchen and lifted the lid over the pot cooking on the stove. She stirred the sauce while Nathan fixed himself a glass of chocolate milk.

  “So, does it bother you?” she asked.

  “Does what bother me?”

  “Me seeing someone. ”

  “He’s not just someone, Mom. He’s the freakin’ quarterback of an NFL football team. ”

  “If he wasn’t, would it bother you?”

  “Mom, I don’t care if you’re dating the guy who picks up our garbage, as long as he’s nice to you. ” Nathan stopped in front of her and looked her straight in the eye. “Is he nice to you?”

  His question shocked her. “Yes. He is. ”

  “Then go for it. But it’s pretty darn cool that you’re dating Mick Riley. Don’t expect me to keep a lid on that one. ” Nathan kissed her cheek and walked out of the room, milk and a handful of cookies in hand.

  She was too choked up and teary eyed to jump on him about eating junk food before dinner.

  MICK WAS PHYSICALLY DRAINED, DRIPPING SWEAT, AND cussing his trainer, which made Ben laugh at him and call it a good workout.

  Mick wiped the sweat from his eyes and drained his bottle of water. “You’re a son of a bitch,” he said, panting.

  Ben sat next to him on the weight bench. “You pay me to be a son of a bitch. If you hate me at the end of a workout, then I’ve done my job. ”

  “Uh-huh. I’m dying here. ”

  Ben slapped him on the back, his bald head gleaming in the overhead lights. “Quit whining like a pussy and get on the treadmill for twenty to cool down. Then you can hit the shower. ”

  “You enjoy this. ” Mick dragged his sore body to a standing position.

  “It caters to my sadistic tendencies. And I get paid for it. What’s not to love about it?”

  Mick shook his head and dragged himself over to the treadmill, hit twenty minutes and a reasonable yet not pathetically slow walk, and started up. By then Ben was off to torture some other poor bastard. Mick focused on the television and hoped this twenty minutes would go by fast.

  “Man, you must be getting old. Ben’s workouts are damn near killing you. ”

  Mick grinned as Randy Lasalle, his best wide receiver, hopped onto the treadmill and started up a brisk pace. Randy was twenty-two and in the second year of his contract. Mick was glad to have him. The kid had come from a state school in Louisiana, drafted high because he had the best damn hands and the quickest stride Mick had ever seen.

  “You here to work out with Ben?”

  “Yeah. Gotta stay in shape for the ladies, don’tcha know. ”

  Mick snorted. “What you mean is you’ve gotta keep those fine legs in shape for me. ”

  Randy laughed. “Just don’t tell the ladies, okay?”

  Ben came by, leaned over Randy’s treadmill, and punched in some numbers. “Not quite fast enough, pretty boy. You want to keep making the big money on fast legs, then less talking, more running. ”

  After Ben walked away, Randy said, “It’s like being back in school again. I’m too old for this shit. ”

  “I don’t hear you sweating enough, Randy,” Ben said from across the room.

  Randy rolled his eyes, and Mick laughed.

  Mick showered, dressed, and headed toward the front of the gym, when he saw a gorgeous redhead wearing a power suit that was almost but not quite too short to be considered appropriate. Her hair was stylishly swept up, her eyes a witchy green, her heels sinfully high. She looked like sex incarnate—and smiled like she knew exactly how she looked as she leaned against the front counter while she talked on the phone, one hip cocked to the side, seemingly oblivious to the drooling masses of sweaty gym guys who were oh so obviously repeatedly walking by to catch a glimpse of her.