The perfect play, p.7
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       The Perfect Play, p.7

         Part #1 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
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Page 7

  Author: Jaci Burton

  Deciding to ignore them, Tara sat at her desk and opened her appointment book on her laptop.

  “Tara, you have to give us the scoop,” Ellen said.

  “No scoop to tell. Sorry. ”

  “When you walked out of your office, your cheeks were red and you looked like you’d been kissed. Really, seriously kissed. Did he kiss you?”

  Tara looked up at Maggie. “None of your business. ”

  Maggie grinned. “So he did kiss you. Oh. My. God. ”

  Tara blew out a breath. “There’s nothing going on between me and Mick Riley, so hold off on calling the gossip magazines, okay?”

  “Did he or did he not come in here to ask you out?” Maggie tapped her foot.

  Tara felt like she was the defendant in an inquisition as three sets of very determined eyes stared her down.

  “Maybe. ”

  “And you said yes, right?” Ellen asked.

  “I said no. ”

  Karie threw her hands in the air. “Tara, he’s gorgeous. Talented. Rich. Is it possible your standards are just a little high?”

  She stared down at her employees—really, her best friends, the trio of blonde, brunette, and redhead, all gorgeous, single women who would never turn down a guy like Mick. But they didn’t have the life—the complicated life—she had. They didn’t understand.

  “I’m not looking for a guy. ”

  “Why the hell not?” Maggie asked. “You’re young, beautiful, and single. Why shouldn’t you be looking for a guy?”

  “You know what my life is like. I’m busy here and at home. There’s no room in my life for a man. ”

  “Worst excuse ever. ” Ellen shook her head, her short blonde curls swaying back and forth. “You’re not getting any younger, you know. ”

  “Gee, thanks. ”

  “And guys like Mick Riley only come around once in a lifetime. If ever,” Karie added, flipping her dark ponytail over her shoulder.

  “And no one says you have to marry the guy. But come on, Tara. Why wouldn’t you go out with him?” Maggie asked.

  For one reason only. One very good reason.

  FOUR

  MICK HADN’T BECOME THE NFL’S LEADING QUARTERBACK by lying back and playing dead. He stayed in the pocket no matter the pressure on him, and he got pass completions, both on the field and off. If that meant he had to take some heat to get the job done, that’s just what he’d do.

  So he waited until Tara left her office on Monday, then strolled in, knowing the women there might be his best offensive line.

  The cute redhead hurried over. “Mick Riley. ”

  He held out his hand. “Yes, ma’am. And you are?”

  She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose while shaking his hand. “I’m Maggie, Tara’s assistant. And this is Ellen and Karie. ”

  “Hi, ladies. ” He shook their hands, too, his confidence growing after seeing their wide grins. Great. That meant at least one of them might be willing to help him out.

  “I’m sorry, but you missed Tara,” Maggie said. “She just left for an appointment. ”

  “Actually, I was hoping you would help me. Tara thinks it’s not a good idea for us to see each other, and I think it is. ”

  “Oh. I see. ” Maggie all but smirked in triumph. “Well, Tara doesn’t always make the best decisions. ”

  “So I was hoping maybe you could help me. ”

  The three women’s eyes all but sparkled.

  Women made the best matchmakers, especially if it involved one of their friends.

  “What can we do to help you?” Maggie asked, looking for all the world like Cinderella’s fairy godmother.

  Score!

  TARA WAS THRILLED AT THE POSSIBILITY OF ANOTHER new client, even though that meant she’d be working her butt off all weekend. Thank God it was a free weekend for her, otherwise it would be a nightmare. If Nathan didn’t already have plans for the weekend, she’d be in a bind, though he was usually busy on the weekends anyway these days. Still, she didn’t like leaving him.

  She pulled into the restaurant parking lot and got out. Nice place in Sausalito, high on a hilltop with a view back toward the city.

  She went inside and gave her name. The hostess led her to a private dining area that was closed off from the restaurant. The view was spectacular, four windows showcasing San Francisco at night.

  One table was set up in the corner with a white linen tablecloth centered with a vase of a half-dozen bloodred roses, gleaming white china, and perfectly placed silverware. The crystal was expensive and was the kind of place setting she’d choose for a client if money were no object.

  Who was this potential client anyway? She hoped whoever it was had money to spend on an event.

  And why all the secrecy? Either Maggie had failed to write down all the information, or this potential client was some kind of freakin’ oddball.

  Not that it mattered. She’d take oddball as long as the client had enough money to book an event. Growing her business was everything.

  “Have a seat. He’ll be here shortly,” the hostess said.

  “Thank you. ”

  Tara sipped her water, trying to tamp down her nerves. When she heard the door open, she stood and turned around, plastering on her brightest smile.

  Her smile turned to a frown as Mick shut the door.

  “Mick. What are you doing here?”

  He came over and lifted her hand, pressed a kiss to the back, and folded it between his extra large ones. “Hi, Tara. ”

  She tried to look around him, certain her prospective client was going to walk in at any moment. “You have to leave. I’m expecting someone. ”

  “No, you’re not. ”

  Then she understood. Her hope for new business died, and in its place irritation grew. “You set this up. ”

  He smiled. “Yes. ”

  “But Maggie said . . . ” Then it dawned on her. Maggie. Of course. The little matchmaker. “Oh, I see. You talked to Maggie. ”

  “Your friends like me. ”

  She rolled her eyes and jerked her hand away. “Obviously all women find you irresistible. ” She went to grab her purse.

  “Except, apparently, you?”

  His smirk indicated he wasn’t at all offended by her impending exit.

  “I’m leaving. I don’t like being set up. ”

  He held the door open for her, which only irritated her further, as if he was going to just let her walk right out. She pushed it closed and laid her purse on the table by the door, then advanced on him. “Look, Mick. I had a great time with you. But it was a one and out, okay?”

  “Why?”

  “What?”

  “Why was it a one and out? Didn’t we get along?”

  “Of course we got along. You were there. ”

  “Yeah, I was there. We had great chemistry, in and out of bed. ”

  She opened her mouth to object, but really, what could she say? He was right. They did have great chemistry. And she’d enjoyed the hell out of that night. “I’m just not in dating mode right now. ”

  “Because of your career. ”

  “Yes. ”

  “Because it takes up every single minute of your time. ”

  She crossed her arms. “When you’re playing football, doesn’t it take up every single minute of your time?”

  That smirk again. “No. I don’t let my career run my life. I like to actually have a life. You should try having one, too. And you managed to have one for a night with me, didn’t you?”

  “That was different. ”

  “So is this. You do have to stop and eat now and then while you’re busy becoming rich and famous, so we’re going to eat. ”

  “I don’t appreciate your lying to get a date with me. ”

  He held out the chair for her. “Then stop turning me down. ”

  This was r
idiculous. She should just walk out. Then again, she was hungry. And if he wanted to pay for her to eat an expensive dinner, then it was fine with her. He certainly owed her after setting up this ruse.

  She took a seat. “Fine. But this is the last time. ”

  “If you say so. ” He sat across from her, and the waiter came in bearing menus and a wine list.

  “Would you like some wine?”

  Tara looked up from her menu at Mick, who deferred to her.

  “A Sauvignon Blanc would be nice. ”

  The waiter left while they looked at their menus.

  Mick took a long swallow from his glass of water. “So, business is good?”

  “It would be if you had been an actual client. ”

  He smiled over the rim of his glass. “How do you know I’m not?”

  She arched a brow. “You have an event to plan?”

  “Okay, not really. But I am interested in finding out more about you. What made you decide to become an event planner?”

  “I fell into it, actually. I got a job working for a catering company while I was putting myself through college, and discovered I enjoyed the work. ”

  “Catering is a lot different than event planning, isn’t it?”

  “Yes, it is. But the woman I worked for wanted to be a wedding planner. She and I got to be friends and she told me her idea. It was so exciting. The thought of running an entire show like that, being in charge of everything from catering to entertainment to décor—it just clicked with me. ”

  “It’s a lot of responsibility, planning someone’s wedding. ”

  “It is, especially if you’re doing big weddings. But it can be so rewarding to take the bare bones and build it up, see it grow from nothing to something spectacular. Anyway, I helped her with the start-up, then went to work for her when she got it off the ground. It was fun, and her company really grew. But I knew even then I wanted something more than just doing weddings. I wanted to plan other events, too, and that’s when I got the idea to be an event planner. So I saved my money, started making contacts in the industry, and when I could, I started my own business. ”

  “Scary. ”

  Tara nodded. “Like the standing-on-the-edge-of-a-cliff kind of scary. I thought about it for months before making the decision, but I knew it was a now or never kind of thing. If I didn’t make the leap I knew I’d always regret it. So I did. ”

  “Good for you. How long have you been doing this?”

  “I started The Right Touch two years ago. First year it was just me and one other person. It was all I could afford. We were very small, but Maggie and I worked our tails off building the business. This past year I managed to bring in enough business to add more staff. It’s going well enough that I’m scarily optimistic. ”

  “I take it you get a lot of business from word of mouth. ”

  “I take it you know more than football. ”

  He laughed. “I did more in college than just throw the ball around. I did manage to get a degree. ”

  “In business, I’m guessing?”

  “Yes. You surprised it wasn’t in something like parks and recreation, or PE?”

  She snorted. “I didn’t say that. ”

  “You didn’t have to. ”

  “I’m impressed. A hotshot football player, and you’re smart, too. No wonder women flock to you. ”

  “They don’t flock to me because I’m smart. They flock to me because my agent is a PR wizard. She’s like a pimp for beautiful actresses and models. If they want to be seen and photographed, Elizabeth finds them and attaches them to me. ”

  Tara picked up a slice of bread and buttered it. “How nice for you. ”

  “It puts me on the cover of a lot of magazines, and that sells game tickets, which is good for the team. ”

  “It helps that you’re also a stellar quarterback. Your stats are amazing. ”

  He leaned back in his chair. “You’re a fan. ”
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