The perfect play, p.40
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       The Perfect Play, p.40

         Part #1 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
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Page 40

  Author: Jaci Burton

  “If you cared about what was best for me, you would have known Tara was good for me. You would have cared about how I felt about her. You would have cared about Nathan’s welfare. All you cared about was getting Tara and Nathan out of my life so you could shove the next actress or model on my arm for a photo op. ”

  She lifted her hand to her chest. “No. I do care about you, Mick. I always have. I might not have done this right, but I do care about you. And Gavin. And all my clients. ”

  “Bullshit. You love the money, the prestige, and the power. You don’t give a shit about your clients. And you sure as hell don’t give a shit about me, Elizabeth. ”

  Mick picked up his bag and shifted his gaze to Gavin. “Give me a ride to Mom and Dad’s? I’ll take a later plane home. Figure I should stop by and visit. ”

  Gavin nodded. “Sure. ”

  He headed toward the door, stopped in front of Elizabeth.

  “According to my contract I have to give you thirty days’ notice. Consider it given. You’re fired, Elizabeth. ”

  Liz gasped.

  Mick walked out, leaving Gavin alone with Liz.

  She sat on the bench, her chin at her chest.

  Gavin didn’t know what to say to make her feel better. Hell, she probably didn’t deserve to feel better. She’d screwed over his brother and Tara and Nathan. She deserved this.

  She lifted her head, and tears shimmered in her eyes.

  Elizabeth was the toughest woman he’d ever known. Nothing rocked her. In all the years he’d known her, he’d never seen her cry.

  “I didn’t mean for this to happen,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. Gavin wasn’t sure she was even talking to him.

  “No, I imagine you didn’t. You’re going to take a hit losing Mick as a client. ”

  She shook her head. “Not that. I didn’t mean to hurt him, Gavin. He’s not just a client. He’s my friend and has been for a very long time. Or . . . was my friend. He isn’t now. I’ve lost clients before. Losing his friendship will hurt me more than anything. ”

  She lifted her gaze to his, the shimmer of tears making his gut clench.

  “I don’t have many friends. ” She let out a soft laugh. “I think I’m beginning to understand why. ”

  She stood and came over to him, her eyes liquid pools of blue. Her body came so close to his her breasts brushed against his chest. She lifted a shaky hand to his face and swept her fingers across his jaw, then traced his bottom lip with the tip of her finger.

  “Just in case,” she whispered, then lifted up on her toes and brushed her lips to his. Her mouth was soft, and the tip of her tongue touched against his. It was a light kiss, with the promise of more.

  He had to resist the urge to pull her against him and crush her to him, to deepen the kiss. A sudden need to have her, to fully taste her, rocked him back on his heels.

  Oh, yeah. He wanted more. He reached for her, but she stepped back and her lips lifted.

  “I’ve always wanted to do that,” she said, then turned and walked out the door.

  Well, hell. What was that about?

  And why did he want to go after her? Why did he want to pull her into his arms and take that kiss a step farther?

  Why did he care?

  He blew out a breath and went to catch up to Mick.

  MICK FIGURED HIS PARENTS WOULD BE IN BED WHEN HE and Gavin came in.

  The house was quiet and dark.

  “You staying?” he asked Gavin as he used his key to open the front door.

  Gavin shrugged. “Maybe. For moral support. ”

  Mick arched a brow. “You never stay here. You have your own place. ”

  “Didn’t say I was spending the night in my old room or anything. You know how it is. Too much hearth and home is smothering. ” Gavin pushed past him and headed down the hall. “I need a beer. ”

  Mick shook his head and followed Gavin into the kitchen. “What do you want? Soda or water?”

  “Soda. ”

  Gavin tossed him a can.

  Mick tapped on the top of the can while Gavin twisted the top off a bottle of beer and took a couple long swallows.

  “So you fired Elizabeth. You’d better get the word out that you need a new agent pronto. ”

  Mick popped the top off his soda can and sipped it. “No hurry. I’m good for awhile. I don’t need any vultures knocking down my door while I’m busy trying to play football. Besides, I need to get my personal life sorted out first. The agent thing can wait. ”

  “I guess it can. Liz looked devastated. ”

  Mick shrugged. “She’ll get over it. ”

  “Want me to fire her, too?”

  “Not unless she pisses you off. ”

  Gavin took a long swallow of his beer, then a smile lifted his lips. “Pissed-off isn’t the description I’d use. ”

  “I thought I heard voices down here. Oh and look, it’s both my boys. ”

  “Hi, Mom. ” Mick stood and wrapped his mother up in a bear hug.

  She went over and hugged and kissed Gavin, then sat at the table. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d have to fly back to San Francisco right after your game. ”

  “Girl trouble,” Gavin said.

  Mick shot him a scathing look.

  “Well, it’s true, isn’t it?”

  “Oh, dear. Haven’t patched things up with Tara yet?”

  “And he fired Liz, too. ”

  Mick rolled his eyes. “What are you—eight?”

  Gavin gave him a smug grin. Mick’s mother’s eyes widened. “You fired Elizabeth? Why?”

  Gavin opened his mouth, but Mick raised his hand. “Shut up. Let me talk. ” Gavin clamped his lips closed.

  “She did something I didn’t like. Something that hurt Tara and Nathan. It was the last straw. ”

  “I see. ” His mother crossed her arms. “Want to talk about it?”

  Mick looked up at Gavin, who made no move to leave.

  “Gavin, let me talk to Michael alone. ”

  “Oh, fine. I miss all the good stuff. ” He kissed his mother on the cheek. “I’m heading home. ”

  She snatched the bottle of beer from his hands. “How much beer have you had?”

  “Jesus, Mom, I’m twenty-nine now, not sixteen. Just a few sips. ”

  “Then you can go. Love you. ”

  “Love you, too. ” Gavin slugged Mick’s arm on the way by. “Call me if you need me. ”

  “Thanks, Gavin. ”

  “So what happened with Tara?”

  Mick filled his mother in on the details of what went down at the carnival and what happened with Tara after.

  “Do you think she loves you?”

  “Yes. ”

  She laid her hand on top of his. “She’s afraid. ”

  “I know. ”

  “What are you going to do about it?”

  “I can’t make her accept my lifestyle, Mom. It’s a pretty heavy commitment. And she does have her own career. And Nathan. ”

  “She’s a strong woman. She can handle it. You need to give her some time. ”

  “I’m not big on leaving things be. I’m proactive. I like to go after what I want. ”

  Her lips twitched. “I know. You’ve always been the one to get things done. This time I think you need to sit back and let her stew for a while. If she loves you like you say she does, she’ll come to you. ”

  “But—”

  She squeezed his hand. “Let her come to you, Michael. Don’t push her, or she’ll feel cornered. She knows she loves you. And she knows you love her. Now let her come to realize it. ”

  “I’ll try. ”

  His mother gave him a knowing smile. “You do that. ”

  TARA PUT THE FINISHING TOUCHES ON HER PROPOSAL, saved the file, loaded it up in the e-mail, and pressed send, offering up a fervent prayer to the busines
s gods that the proposal would be accepted.

  It was a big client and would mean a lot of money for her business if accepted. Now she just had to keep her fingers crossed.

  She grabbed the prospective client’s file, along with other files that littered her desk, and went to the cabinet to do some much needed filing. She’d been working nonstop for the past two weeks, trying to get back in the groove of work. Nothing but work. That and Nathan starting school, which fortunately kept him busy with football practices and team meetings and getting his schedule.

  He wasn’t happy with her at all, had taken her breakup with Mick personally, and had reverted to his old sullen attitude, though he and his coach and team had loved the revised televised and print piece on him and his team. His coach had personally thanked her for putting the team on the map, even though she’d had nothing to do with it. Coach had asked if Mick would be able to attend any of the Friday night games, and had looked crestfallen when she told him she and Mick were no longer seeing each other.

  She was the one who had been dating Mick. Not Nathan, not his friends, not his coach or his team. So they were all just going to have to deal with it. Mick was out of her life. Out of their lives. They’d all get over it eventually.

  Even she might get over it. Eventually.

  After she finished filing, she went back to her desk to pay a few of the bills she’d been steadily ignoring for the past few days.

  Her door opened and Karie, Ellen, and Maggie walked in, their expressions determined.

  “Get out,” Maggie said.

  Tara’s brows lifted. “Excuse me?”

  “You heard me. It’s Thursday night, six o’clock, and Nathan’s first game is in an hour. Go home, change clothes, and go to his game. ”

  She lifted her gaze to the clock on the wall. “I’ll make the game. I just have a few things left to do here. ”

  “Whatever those things are, they can wait,” Ellen said.

  “Bills can never wait, and I’ve been putting them off because I was busy with other stuff. ”

  Maggie marched over and snatched the bills from her desk. “I’ll pay the damn bills. Now go. You’ve been working yourself nonstop since you dumped Mick. You can’t hide in here forever. ”

  “I am not hiding. I am focusing my attention on this company. Which, I might add, pays your salaries. ”

  Karie went behind her and pulled her chair back. “We’re profoundly grateful. Go home. ”

  “I’m the boss. I could have you all fired. ”

  Ellen held out her purse. “You wouldn’t fire us. We’re the life-blood of this company. You’d crumple into the fetal position and suck your thumb without us. ”

  Tara snorted. “You’re probably right. ”

  She walked out of her office, turned around, and all three of her employees—her friends—guarded the door to her office. “Good night. ”

  “Bye,” they all said.

  Tara rolled her eyes and left the office, drove home, and hurriedly changed into her jeans and Nathan’s team T-shirt. She grabbed a sweater, knowing it would get cool once the sun went down, then drove to the high school stadium, parked, and headed toward the junior varsity field.

  Nathan was starting the game tonight and he was nervous and excited. Even though they’d been at odds the past few weeks, he still searched the stands for her, gave her a tilt of his lips when he saw her sitting in the third row at the forty-yard line. She gave him a little wave, and then he was off to warm up on the field with his team.

  It was just like the first game she’d seen Mick play. Tara’s fingers curled into her palms and she had to force herself to relax when, after the kickoff, her son took his place behind the center and counted off the numbers to the play. The center hiked the ball into Nathan’s hands, and, instead of shifting the ball off to a running back or throwing it to a receiver, Nathan saw the hole the offensive line had opened up in the middle and ran through it.