The Perfect Play, Page 20Jaci Burton
Author: Jaci Burton
Mick laughed and put his arm around her.
“So where’s the birthday boy?”
“He’ll stroll in late as usual so he can make an entrance. He likes to be the center of attention. Middle child syndrome, I think. ”
While Jenna went off to serve some drinks, Tara looked to Mick. “You and Gavin seem to get along well. ”
“Heh. You should have seen us when we were kids. There was no getting along then. We competed over everything, from sports to toys to attention from our parents. ”
“Some boys outgrow that. ”
He grinned at her. “Some do. ”
“And what about your sister? She must have had it hard having two big brothers. Were you overprotective of her?”
He shook his head. “She never gave us a chance. She just tossed herself in the pile and mixed it up with the two of us. Or tried to, anyway. The girl has no fear. ”
“Obviously, if she can handle herself with the two of you, she can probably handle anything. ”
“Yeah, we never had to worry about her taking care of herself. ”
Over the next hour or so, Tara was introduced to Mick’s aunts and uncles and cousins and more people than she could ever possibly remember. The good thing was, there were some kids around Nathan’s age, so Mick made a point of introducing him to them. They seemed to hit it off, and Tara breathed a sigh of relief that he wouldn’t be the only teenager here tonight.
At the moment he was sitting at a table with a group of about six kids ranging in age from twelve to seventeen, all of them shoveling food into their mouths, drinking soda, and laughing. God, she loved seeing her son smile and laugh. It was all too rare these days.
“He’s fine. Quit worrying. ”
“I’m not worrying at all. I’m . . . blissful, I guess is the word. ” She turned to Mick. “You have an amazing family. Thank you for this weekend. ”
He cupped her cheeks and brought her face to his. “You’re welcome. Thanks for coming with me. ”
He brushed his lips across hers, and Tara breathed in his scent, wishing she could do more than lightly kiss him. While this weekend had been fun and she’d loved meeting his family, they hadn’t had more than a few seconds of alone time. She missed that, craved having time to do more than hold hands and steal a few short kisses.
When he pulled back, she saw the heat flare in his eyes and knew he thought the same thing.
“We’re going to need to steal an hour in a closet or the basement or something. ”
She laughed. “I’d be down with that. ”
“And if I keep thinking all the dirty thoughts I’m thinking about you, I’m going to get a hard-on in front of my entire family. ”
She batted her lashes at him. “I’m not making you think those thoughts. ”
“You don’t have to do anything but look at me like you want to eat me. Or fuck me. ”
Tara shuddered an inhale, lightly pressing her fingertips against his chest and leaned in to whisper to him. “Stop talking like that. You’re making me wet. ”
Mick looked around the room, then back at her. “I have an idea. How about we—”
“Well, I finally get to meet this mystery woman you’ve been spending all your time with. ”
Tara spun around to face one stunningly beautiful woman. She wore a black suit that fit her perfect curves. Her red hair was pulled up in a French twist, her nails manicured, and the shoes she wore were not at all knockoff, but designer, with killer heels made to show off her dynamite legs. Tara might be a woman, but she could appreciate another beautiful woman, and Elizabeth was sex on stilettos. And she was a sports agent? Good Lord, those poor owners never stood a chance once they locked onto her ice blue eyes.
“Hi, sweetie,” she said to Tara, holding out a creamy hand. “I’m Elizabeth Darnell, Mick’s agent. ”
Warning bells went off in Tara’s head right off the bat. From the scrutinizing look in Elizabeth’s eyes, she could tell the woman didn’t like her. She plastered on a professional smile and shook her hand. “Nice to meet you, Miss Darnell. ”
“Oh, call me Liz. All the women in Mick’s life do. ”
Zing. Clearly she wanted Tara to know that she was one in a string of many women Mick was fucking. “How nice. ”
“Why are you here, Liz?” Mick asked.
For some reason Tara was pleased that Mick didn’t seem happy. And she was doubly pleased when he slipped his arm around her waist and tugged her next to his side, a movement that made Liz narrow her eyes.
“I had some paperwork I needed Gavin to sign, and he insisted I attend his birthday party tonight. ”
“Insisted, did he? You and Gavin being so close?”
Liz threw her head back and laughed. “Why, we’re practically married, didn’t you know?”
“Elizabeth, no man wants to be married to you. You’d eat him for breakfast. ”
“Mick, why would you say that? Someday I hope to settle down and raise two point two children as is expected of my gender. ”
Mick snorted. “No. Can’t picture it, sorry. You love your career and all the money all your clients make you. Can’t see you giving that up for any man. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you dating any man. You don’t have time for love in your life, Liz. You’re too busy chasing money and success and trying to beat the big boys you compete with. ”
Liz laughed. “You’re probably right. What would I do with a man other than slap a contract in his hand and hope to God he could do something with a ball or drive a race car, right?”
Tara caught a flash of something in Elizabeth’s eyes, but just as quickly it was gone. It might have been regret or sadness, but she didn’t know the woman all that well, so she couldn’t be sure.
Liz turned back to Tara. “So, I hear you have a little boy?”
“Teenager, actually. Nathan. He’s over there in the Saint Louis jersey hanging out with Mick’s cousins. ”
“Oh, I see. Well, you must have started when you were young. ”
“Yes, I did, as a matter of fact. I was pregnant at fifteen. ”
Elizabeth arched a perfect brow. “Are you from a . . . rural area?”
“Liz, Jesus. That’s enough. ”
“No. From a fairly large city, actually. ”
Elizabeth waited, no doubt thinking Tara was going to spill her guts about her background. Wrong. It was time she told Mick about it, though.
“Hey there, gorgeous. Glad you came by. ”
Gavin spun Liz around, and Tara’s jaw could have dropped at the way Elizabeth’s face changed. The haughty, holier-than-thou cemented expression disappeared and the icy chill in the air melted. The woman even sported a genuine smile. She looked about sixteen years old when she smiled at Gavin. Her eyes just melted.
“Hi, there, handsome. Happy birthday. ” She did maintain distance and gave him what Tara would consider a professional hug, but Gavin pulled her into his arms, put his lips on her, and gave her a kiss that wasn’t at all professional. When she pushed back, her cheeks were flushed. She licked her lips. And she couldn’t quite tear her gaze away from Gavin’s face.
Well, well, well. So the ice queen was human after all.
“Come with me,” Gavin said. “Some friends of mine are here I want you to meet. ”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and said, “The things I have to do to keep a client happy. Ta-ta. ”
Gavin took her hand and tugged her along.
“Oh. My. God,” Tara said, watching Liz disappear into the thick crowd with Gavin.
Mick scratched the side of his nose. “Yeah, I know. Liz can be a real bitch sometimes. Never thinks before she speaks. Hell, you should hear the insulting things she says to me. But she’s really good at her job and—”
“No, Mick. Not about that. ” Tara waved her h
and, dismissing his worries about Liz’s nasty comments. “That didn’t bother me at all. ” She lifted her gaze to Mick. “But did you see the two of them together?”
“The two of—” He followed her gaze. “Gavin and Liz? Oh, yeah, she represents him, too. ”
She shook her head. “Not what I meant. It was like as soon as he showed up, a switch went off inside her. Total personality transplant. She went warm. Melty, womanly warm. You know what I mean?”
“What?” Mick shifted his gaze to where Liz sat at the bar next to Gavin and his friends. He looked back at her. “No. No way. Liz doesn’t have feelings. ”
“Yes she does, Mick. She has them, and she has them big. For Gavin. I mean, I don’t know her at all, but I can read a woman’s signals with a man, and her signals were pinging loud and clear. She’s in love with him. ”
Mick frowned and shook his head. “Liz doesn’t love anyone. Liz loves money. And her career as a sports agent. Believe me, I know. She’s been my agent and Gavin’s since we started out. Besides, she’s older than Gavin by like . . . four years. She’s like . . . thirty-two or something. ”
Tara laughed. “So?”
“So she doesn’t have those kinds of feelings, I’m telling you. Gavin’s a commodity to her. We all are. And if you thought all the stories about me being a man whore were true? Trust me, the ones about my brother are true. He goes through women like he goes through shirts. He doesn’t see Liz as anything but his agent. He’s sweet to her because she helps his career. There’s nothing between the two of them. ”
Tara shrugged. “Well, there might not be anything on his end, but I can guarantee there’s something on hers. ”
“I think you’re wrong. Liz is a great actress, and you just read her wrong. She plays up to Gavin’s weakness, which is a gorgeous woman with great legs. ”
“If you say so. ”
But Tara wasn’t buying it for a second. If there was one thing she could spot, it was a woman with warm gooey love yearnings for a man.
And Elizabeth Darnell had it bad for Gavin Riley.
MICK HAD HAD ENOUGH OF TOSSING AND TURNING IN the bed that was too damn small for his frame. And knowing Tara was at the end of the hall was driving him crazy.
Nathan had ended up going home with one of Mick’s aunts for a sleepover with her and her husband’s two teenage boys, since they’d pretty much hung out nonstop at the bar anyway talking football and some online video game that they were probably going to stay up all night and play. Tara was thrilled he’d found some friends, so she’d been fine with it.
But Mick had spent the entire night at the bar watching Tara, touching her but not really touching her, breathing her in and wishing he could do what he wanted to do with her. Instead, he’d had to be content with holding her hand and the occasional kiss, and that just wasn’t cutting it.
He finally threw on his shorts, grabbed a couple condoms, and as quietly as he could, opened the bedroom door. The house was quiet, no TV noise or movement from downstairs, which meant everyone had gone to bed. He crept down the hall to Tara’s room. He didn’t want to knock because he didn’t want to wake his parents, but he also didn’t want to scare the hell out of Tara by just walking into her bedroom, either.
He decided to risk it, turned the knob, and opened the door.
“Tara?” he whispered.
“I’m awake. Come in. ”
Thank God. He slipped in and shut the door, locked it for good measure.
She was sitting up, the pillows propped up behind her. She had the shutters open, moonlight spilling in and shining on her as she sat there and watched him approach.
She wore his team T-shirt. It swallowed her up, but damn if she didn’t look sexy as hell in it. It was worn and threadbare, one he’d gotten when he first joined the team. She’d snatched it from him and said it was soft and comfortable and she intended to sleep in it. It made him hard just thinking about her breasts brushing against it, her skin against something he owned.