The perfect play, p.17
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       The Perfect Play, p.17
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         Part #1 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
Page 17

  Author: Jaci Burton

  “So when’s he coming over again, Mom?” Nathan asked her for the fiftieth time as she sorted through his foul-smelling laundry.

  “I have no idea. ”

  “Did he call you today?”

  “No, he did not. ”

  “Does he call you every day?”

  She rolled her eyes. “No, he doesn’t. ”

  “Well, why not? Did you piss him off?”

  She turned on the washing machine and backed her son out of the room. “Nathan, give it a rest. ”

  Her cell phone rang, and Nathan hollered, “I’ll get it,” before she even had a chance to close the door to the laundry room.

  She didn’t even bother to yell at him. What was the point? It would probably be Maggie, and he’d toss the phone at her in disgust.

  “It was great. Yeah, we did workouts in the morning, then drills in the afternoon. Coaches taught us new plays from playbooks, stuff we never did before, so it was cool. And the drills were like the real deal, NFL stuff, ya know?”

  Had to be Mick. Nathan would not be discussing football camp with Maggie. She went into the living room where Nathan had flopped onto the sofa, making himself at home with her cell phone. And her man.

  Not that Mick was her man or anything.

  “Yeah, the food sucked, but we didn’t mind. The lake was awesome. Going to bed early wasn’t too bad because they worked the shit out of us the whole day, so we were pretty wiped by the end of the day anyway. ”

  “Nathan, language. ”

  Nathan rolled his eyes, listened, then laughed. “Yeah, she gets on me about that sh—I mean about that stuff all the time. Yeah, you’re probably right. Okay, sure. Here she is. ”

  He begrudgingly handed her the phone. “It’s Mick. ”

  She smiled up at him. “Oh, really? I thought it might be Maggie. ”

  “Funny, Mom. Real funny. ”

  Nathan stood and watched her. Tara cradled the phone against her chest.

  “Do you mind?”

  “You listened while I was talking to him. ”

  “You’re not dating him. ”

  Nathan rolled his eyes. “What-ever. ” He left the room and headed upstairs.

  “Hi. ”

  Mick laughed. “Hi, yourself. Sounds like he had a good time at football camp. ”

  “I suppose he did. I was mauled by the players when he got off the bus. Apparently he told them I was dating you, so now I’m very cool. ”

  “How nice for you. So now they want to go out with you?”

  Now she laughed. “Uh, no. Now they all want to come over for dinner when you’re here. They want nothing to do with me. ”

  “I’ll try to hit one of their practices, if you don’t think Nathan’s coach would mind. ”

  “I think Nathan’s coach would probably fall all over you in gratitude. ”

  “What have you been up to?”

  “Working. You?”

  “Same. I was wondering if you and Nathan were free this weekend. ”

  “I’ve got nothing on the calendar. I can check with Nathan, but I’m sure he doesn’t. Why?”

  “I’d like to fly you to Saint Louis. ”

  “Saint Louis. Why?”

  “It’s my hometown and where my family lives. No big thing, but it’s my brother Gavin’s birthday. There’s a party. He has a home game Saturday afternoon, then there’s a party at my parents’ bar that night. Thought you both might like to come. ”

  As usual, Mick’s lifestyle made her head spin. “Um, wow. Let me think about this for a minute. ”

  “It’s okay if you can’t make it. I understand it’s last minute, but they like to throw these things together at the drop of a hat. So if you don’t want to come—”

  “No, it’s not that at all. Let me call you back, okay?”

  “Sure. ”

  She hung up, her pulse jacked up and her heart rate accelerating. Meeting his parents and his brother? With her son along? This was all moving so fast. And maybe it didn’t mean anything at all. Maybe he brought women to meet his family all the time, and it was no big deal to him, so she was blowing this out of proportion. And it was a Major League Baseball game. Nathan would enjoy the chance to fly out to Saint Louis and see the game and meet Gavin. Why deny him that opportunity just because she thought the whole deal had ramifications that it probably didn’t?

  “Hey, Nathan? Can you come down here?”

  He opened his door and leaned over the railing. “What?”

  “Come down here. I need to ask you a question. ”

  “What did I do now?”

  She sighed. Why did everything with teenagers have to be so difficult?

  You know why. You were one once.

  “You didn’t do anything. ”

  He came down the stairs and lingered there.

  “Mick asked if we’d like to fly to Saint Louis for the weekend. It’s his brother’s birthday. His family is having a party for him after his game Saturday afternoon. ”

  Nathan’s eyes widened. “Are you shi—are you kidding me?”

  “No, I’m not kidding you. Would you like to go? We’d go to Gavin’s game Saturday, too. ”

  “Oh, man. That is just so cool. You said yes, right?”

  “No. I wanted to talk to you first to make sure you’d want to go. ”

  Nathan slumped his shoulders, then rolled his eyes. “Dude. Mom. Call him back. Say yes. Now, before he changes his mind. ”

  MICK WAS BRINGING A WOMAN HOME TO MEET HIS FAMILY. And not just a woman, but a woman and her son.

  He’d never done it before, and he wasn’t sure why he was doing it now, other than when his sister Jenna called him about the party for Gavin, his first thought had been to bring Tara and Nathan with him. He’d never wanted to do that before. He’d always gone home alone, because his parents were always after him to settle down and find a woman to share his life with. If he brought a woman with him, there’d be constant questions about whether she was “the one. ” He never wanted to deal with that.

  Christ. What was he thinking? This was going to be pure hell.

  And yet he liked the idea of having them with him.

  He had to be out of his goddamned mind.

  “So you grew up here?” Nathan asked as Mick headed south on the highway from the Saint Louis airport.

  “Yes. Spent my entire life here until college. ”

  “Then you went to University of Texas, where San Francisco drafted you number six. ”

  Mick laughed. “You do follow your football players, don’t you?”

  “I know a lot about the players I like in the sports I follow. Which means I know a lot about you and your brother. ”

  “I’m honored. Gavin will be, too. ”

  “Tell me about your brother,” Tara asked.

  “Not much to tell. He’s two years younger than me, decided he liked baseball better than football. He’s a giant pain in my a—uh—butt. ”

  Nathan snorted. “She’ll make you put money in the cuss jar if you don’t watch your language. ”

  Mick skirted his gaze to Tara. “A cuss jar, huh?”

  Tara looked over her shoulder at Nathan. “A quarter for every cuss word. The jar is getting very full. ”

  “You’ve put some quarters in there, too, haven’t you, Mom?”

  She looked straight ahead instead of at Nathan or Mick. “I guess I have. ”

  Mick laughed. “Well, we’re going to have to have a quarter-free weekend, because my family is Irish, and you’re going to hear a lot of cussing at the family bar. Cover your ears, Nathan. ”

  “I’ll do my best not to hear anything I’m not supposed to. ”

  Tara snorted. “Yeah, right. ”

  “It’s pretty here. I like it. Everything’s green. ”

  “It’s supposed to be green in the summer. ”

&
nbsp; “Where we live the hills are all brown. ”

  Nathan was right, Tara thought. It was beautiful here. Lush and green and summery. And it was hot and humid here, but Tara loved it. She loved the feel of the city as they drove down the highway. It felt homey, like a small city within a large metropolis.

  “This is really beautiful,” she said as Mick turned off the highway into a residential neighborhood of thick trees and brick homes, well-manicured lawns and wide picture windows—the kind of home she’d love to own someday. Mick pulled into the long driveway of a pale brick home, two stories, with one of those picture windows in the front that she loved so much.

  “This is your parents’ house?”

  “Yes. I grew up here. ”

  “How wonderful your parents still live in the same home you lived in as a child. It must give you an amazing sense of security. ” She wanted to give that to Nathan, but they’d already moved three times because her economic status had changed. At least it had changed for the better, so she couldn’t complain about that.

  She stood and looked at the huge home while Mick and Nathan pulled their suitcases out of the trunk of the rental car. Her heart lodged in her throat. What if they didn’t like her? How many women had he brought here before? She hoped Nathan didn’t burp—or something even worse—in front of his parents.

  Mick slipped his arm around her waist. “What are you doing?”

  “Girding my loins. ”

  He laughed and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “This isn’t an inquisition. My family is easy to know and very friendly. You’re going to love them, and they’re going to love you and Nathan. Quit worrying. ”

  Her son obviously didn’t have a shy or worried bone in his body, since he was already dragging their luggage ahead of Mick. That’s what she loved about her kid. No fear and full of adventure.

  She’d been fearless and adventurous once, too, and look where it had gotten her—pregnant at fifteen.

  The double doors flung open, and two people came out, one a tall, slightly thicker version of Mick, with a shock of salt-and-pepper hair, and a slender, petite woman who could not have possibly given birth to Mick. Her red hair was cut short to her chin, and she was just stunning.

  “Oh, you’re finally here!” the woman, who must be Mrs. Riley, exclaimed, enveloping Mick in a hug. He picked her up and kissed her cheek.

  “Hi, Mom. ”

  Mr. Riley hugged him, too, and kissed him on the cheek. “Been too long since you’ve been home, Michael. ”

  Mick grinned, totally comfortable and happy with his parents. Nathan was smiling, too, though obviously a bit bemused at all this affection. Tara laid her hands on her son’s shoulders.

  “Come in, come in,” Mrs. Riley said. “It’s so hot outside today. We’ll do introductions inside where it’s cool. ”

  They walked inside and left their luggage in the entry. The house was definitely older, yet beautiful, all light colors, beige and brown and cream, beautifully decorated, and the rooms oversized with lots of furniture. It looked welcoming and comfortable, not artsy and stiff.

  “Come on into the living room and make yourselves at home,” Mrs. Riley said, hugging Tara. “I’m Kathleen, and this is my husband, James, but everyone calls him Jimmy. ”

  Mick made the introductions. “Mom, Dad, this is Tara Lincoln and her son, Nathan. ”

  Tara was enveloped in a hug by both of Mick’s parents. Jimmy shook Nathan’s hand, and Kathleen hugged him. “Welcome to our home,” Jimmy said.

  “Jimmy, bring out the iced tea I set in the refrigerator. I’m sure everyone’s thirsty. We’ll go sit down. ”

  Mick took Tara’s hand and led her to an oversized chair for two. Nathan took a seat on the sofa by the window, and Kathleen sat in a chair covered by a quilt.