The perfect play, p.19
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       The Perfect Play, p.19

         Part #1 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
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Page 19

  Author: Jaci Burton

  “So, is it serious?”

  Mick leaned against the counter. “I don’t know. We’ve just started seeing each other. ”

  “That doesn’t matter. Is it serious?”

  “Maybe. ”

  His mom crossed her arms, a smile lifting her lips. “I like her, Michael. A lot. ”

  She always used his given name when she wanted to get his attention.

  “I like her, too, Mom. But I haven’t told her everything yet, so don’t say anything. ”

  She smacked his arm. “It’s not my place to tell her all your secrets. That’s up to you. ” She tsked. “As if I would. ”

  He pulled her into his arms and hugged her. “I know. But I’m taking this slow, and I don’t want to screw it up. She’s special to me. She’s . . . different. ”

  His mother pulled away. “Different from the skinny little women who wear all the makeup I see you with on the covers of all those magazines?”

  “I wasn’t really dating any of them. Not seriously. ”

  “Well, handle this one with care. I get the idea she’s treading the waters of love very carefully. ”

  “Yeah, I get that idea, too. I’ll be careful with her, Mom. I promise. ”

  MICK ENJOYED BASEBALL PRETTY MUCH LIKE HE ENJOYED all sports. But today was different, because he got to watch the game through Tara and Nathan’s eyes.

  Nathan was wide-eyed when he led them to the box seats above the dugout. Thanks to Gavin, they had a great view of the game and the players. Gavin came out during warm-ups, spotted Mick, and waved. Nathan’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head.

  Of course Mick had even more surprises in store for Nathan.

  And Tara loved baseball, too, he discovered as she watched the game. The woman was a constant surprise to him. He figured—like with most of the women he dated—that he’d have to explain the nuances of the game to her. He didn’t. She understood innings and teams and balls and strikes and outs and positions from the pitcher to the center fielder and shortstop and what their functions were—in fact, she looked downright insulted when he started to explain what each player did.

  She looked at him like he’d sprouted two heads. “I love sports, Mick. I know all about baseball, just like I know football. Don’t make me slap you upside the head with my hot dog. ”

  He promptly shut the hell up and let her watch the game.

  Nathan, however, talked nonstop about Gavin and the Saint Louis team. He knew their standing in their division, who the weaker players were, what Gavin’s average was, and knew Gavin leaned too far inside the batter’s box and that’s why he walked more often, because he got hit by the ball more than the average batter, which was something Mick had told Gavin time and time again, despite Gavin telling him to fuck off and mind his own sport.

  Nathan was pretty astute, and they spent a lot of the game dissecting the players and the plays as well as the other team’s strengths and weaknesses.

  Fortunately, the home team won, and since it was a sold-out game, it was raucous, and Tara and Nathan seemed to have fun.

  “Thank you, Mick,” Tara said after the game. “We had a wonderful time. ”

  “Yeah, it was awesome,” Nathan said as they watched the teams leave the field and waited for the crowds to head up toward the exits.

  “Oh, it’s not over yet. I have a surprise for you. ”

  “You do?” Nathan’s eyes widened. “What is it?”

  “It’ll take a while, though, so have a seat and be patient. ”

  They waited about an hour, then Gavin popped up from the dugout. “Hey. ”

  “Hey, yourself. ” He turned to Tara and Nathan. “Come on. Let’s go down. ”

  “Holy crap. ”

  “Nathan,” Tara whispered. “Please watch your language, for the millionth time. ”

  Gavin put his arm around Tara. “I think he gets an excuse for excitement. ”

  They went down to the dugout, and Mick hugged his brother. “Good game. You didn’t suck. ”

  Gavin laughed. “Bite me. ” He turned to Tara. “You must be the girl who’s dumb enough to date my brother. ”

  “I think I might have just been insulted, but yes, I’m Tara. ” She grinned and held out her hand.

  Instead, Gavin grabbed her and hugged her. “Nice to meet you, Tara, but I think you’ve lost your mind to date this loser. ” He pulled away and shook Nathan’s hand. “And you must be Nathan. ”

  Nathan smiled. “Yeah. You played great today. ”

  “Thanks. We won, so it’s a good birthday present. ”

  “Happy birthday, Gavin,” Tara said.

  “Thank you. So how about a tour of the place?”

  Nathan’s jaw dropped. “Serious?”

  “Serious. ”

  Gavin was a good host and took them all around the stadium, even to the locker room, which had been pretty much cleared out, so at least Mick didn’t have to shield Tara’s eyes from any naked players. And Nathan’s biggest surprise came when Gavin gave him an autographed jersey.

  “Wow, thanks. And it’s not even my birthday yet. ”

  “Mick told me your birthday’s in a couple weeks. Fifteen, huh?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “Soon you’ll be driving, and your mom won’t sleep anymore. ”

  Tara laughed. “Don’t remind me. ”

  “You look too young to have a kid who’s going to be fifteen. ”

  “Thank you. You’re now my favorite person in the whole world. ”

  Gavin winked. “I need to head out. Got a few things to do before tonight. See you at the bar later?”

  “Yeah,” Mick said. “Thanks, Gavin. ”

  “Anytime. Thanks for coming to the game. ”

  “WHO’S THE CHICKLET? ANOTHER MOVIE STAR?”

  Mick laughed and leaned over the bar to press a kiss on his sister’s cheek. “Not at all. She’s an event planner, not an actress, not a model. ”

  Jenna gasped. “You mean she’s a normal, everyday person like you and me? Well, like me. You’re a bona fide stud and star. I’m the nobody of the family. ”

  He rolled his eyes. “You’re the star of Riley’s, pumpkin. ”

  “Yeah, that’s exactly what I always dreamed of being when I was a little girl. ”

  “Well, with those tattoos and ear piercings, I’m thinking rock star, but since you haven’t yet stood in line for American Idol, I have no idea what you’re dreaming of. ”

  She tapped her finger on his nose and winked at him. “I’m just totally fulfilled being the head bartender at my family’s restaurant. ”

  He snorted. “Yeah, I’ll bet. ”

  Jenna was gorgeous, and she really did look like a rock star with her short black hair spiked up all over the place and dyed at the ends with—purple, he supposed. She had a wild array of tattoos on various parts of her body and probably other parts that as a brother he just flat-out didn’t want to know about. Her left ear was pierced within an inch of its life, and she had a tiny little diamond pierced at the side of her nose that even he thought was kind of cute. But he really had no idea what Jenna was about or what she wanted out of life, since she seemed content enough to run the bar at Riley’s. Then again, at twenty-three, maybe she just hadn’t figured it out yet.

  “And she has a kid, too?”

  Mick’s gaze traveled to where Tara and Nathan hung out with his dad over at the video games.

  “Yeah. Nathan is fourteen. Almost fifteen. ”

  “Ready-made family. How utterly unlike you, Mick. What’s up with that?”

  He leaned against the bar. “I have no idea. ”

  “So, will I like her?”

  He turned to Jenna. “Yeah. I think you will. ”

  TARA HAD ALREADY HAD A WONDERFUL DAY, AND SO HAD Nathan. Mick’s brother was amazing. They looked very similar, though Gavin was more slender and his eyes
were an emerald green like Kathleen’s.

  Nathan had been in heaven after the game and the tour, and getting the jersey was the icing on the cake. And now the bar tonight.

  She didn’t know what she had expected when she’d been told the Rileys had a family bar, but it wasn’t this. Riley’s was an incredible upscale sports bar and restaurant.

  Tara thought she was going to be tense tonight, but so far it was going well, even if she had lost sight of Mick. But at least Nathan was in heaven. He was in an actual bar, for one thing, and it was noisy and atmospheric. There were vintage video games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, and he and Mick’s dad had bonded in a major way. Nathan having no grandparents had been something Tara regretted, but there was nothing she could do about that. She’d cut off all contact with her parents long ago, and not a thing had changed between her and them after all these years, so there was no point in exposing Nathan to their style of parenting. Or lack thereof.

  Being around Kathleen and Jimmy was good for Nathan. They were warm and nurturing, and Nathan naturally gravitated toward an older couple that offered unconditional love with no expectations.

  “You going to hide against this pillar all night?”

  She lifted her gaze to Mick. “Just making sure Nathan is settled. ”

  “My mom and dad will see he’s taken care of. And if not them, I have a lot of uncles and aunts and cousins you haven’t even met yet. Once Nathan’s introduced to them, the kid won’t stand a chance of being alone for even a second. He’ll be watched like a hawk. My mother will make sure of it, since he’s a minor in their bar. ”

  She believed him. She pushed off the wooden pillar to face him. “You have a big family?”

  “Just my brother and sister, but yeah, lots of extended family. You’ll meet a bunch of them tonight. ”

  She looked around the bar, which was already filling up with people waving to and hugging each other. Riley’s was warm and inviting, with polished wood floors and paneling, tables and booths set up near all the TVs—and there sure were a lot of those spread throughout the place—as well as a couple pool tables and video games and a very long bar where a stunning young woman was pouring beer.

  “Is that Jenna?” she asked.

  “Yeah. ”

  “She’s beautiful. ”

  “She is, but don’t tell her that. She already has an overinflated ego. ”

  Mick took her hand and led her to the bar, where Jenna was setting up glasses and pouring drafts of beer.

  “Jenna, this is Tara. ”

  Jenna leaned across the bar and held out her hand, her smile genuine. “Nice to meet you, Tara. Welcome to the insanity that is Riley’s Bar and the Riley family. ”

  “Nice to meet you, too, Jenna. Is there anything I can do to help?”

  “No, but thanks for offering. You’re obviously nicer than my brother. ”

  “Hey, you don’t offer to play football for me. ”

  Jenna snorted. “I could probably throw better than you. ”

  Mick arched a brow. “Is that a challenge?”

  “Maybe. You know I’ve got an arm. ”

  “In your dreams, pumpkin. ”

  “Wuss. You’re just afraid I’ll show you up because I’m a star with the long pass and you’re an old man now. ”

  “You and me. Backyard. Tomorrow. ”

  Jenna grinned and nodded. “You’re on. Now go away so I can get some work done. Tara, great meeting you. ”

  “You, too, Jenna. I’ll be there to see you kick his butt. ”

  Jenna looked up at Mick. “Oh, I like this woman. ”

  Mick flicked his gaze to Tara. “I can’t believe you’d root against me. ”

  Tara shrugged. “Girl power, you know. ”
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