Playing to win, p.1
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       Playing to Win, p.1
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         Part #4 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
Playing to Win
Page 1

 

  Author: Jaci Burton ONE

  COLE RILEY HAD BUILT HIS REPUTATION ON BEING tough, especially on the football field. He didn’t yield, and when he had the ball in his hands, there was only one thing on his mind—the end zone. He was hardheaded and single-minded, and he liked to win.

  Same thing with women—once he had a target in mind, he went for her until he scored.

  So even though tonight’s team party was a target-rich environment, and more than a handful of the sexy women who’d come tonight were giving him the once-over, he hadn’t set his mind on anyone during the few hours he’d been here.

  Which was unusual for him. He liked the ladies. The ladies liked him. No ego on his part; he just enjoyed women, and he loved being around them. They were sweet, fun to be with, smelled great, and made him feel good. There was nothing bad about that. In return, he showed them a good time, spent money on them, and never lied to them or tried to be anything other than who he was.

  He’d learned a long time ago that women liked honest men. His mother would slap him sideways if he ever lied to a woman. He might be a little wild and reckless, but he wasn’t dishonest. He never promised a woman anything he wasn’t willing to deliver.

  Which meant steering clear of women looking to hook a boyfriend, a husband, or any kind of commitment. He gravitated toward the party girls, like the hot redhead and the statuesque brunette who’d been hovering near his radar all night. Those were the women who wanted to have the same kind of no-strings-attached fun he did. It was only a matter of time before he went in for the kill. After all, the hunt was part of the fun. All the circling, eyeing, and flirting was a game. He did love the game—and he played the game to win.

  Trying to figure out a woman’s angle was the fun part. They each had an angle, an ulterior motive. Some wanted nothing more than an autograph or a picture they could post on some social media site so they could show their friends they’d partied with football player Cole Riley. Others wanted to hook up for the night, hoping to share his bed so they’d have more permanent memories. If they wanted a good time, he was more than willing to show them one.

  The redhead and the brunette were definitely good-time girls. He could tell by the body language and the looks they gave him. They wanted a lot more than an autograph or a picture.

  Easy score, right?

  So why did his focus keep drifting to the cool blonde sitting by herself at a table in the corner? She wasn’t his type at all. She wasn’t wearing a skintight dress that showed ample amounts of tits and ass. She wore a simple, black short-sleeved dress that fell to her knees. Though she did have killer legs—legs he’d like to see a lot more of. She just wasn’t showing off her assets.

  She was beautiful, sure, with a face that would stop traffic. And the way she was put together screamed money or high society. Her hair was twisted up behind her head, she wore a pearl necklace that didn’t look cheap or fake, and he’d been with enough women to know that little designer purse sitting on the table in front of her cost a lot of money.

  Maybe she was related to the team owner. But he hadn’t seen anyone come within ten feet of the table in the past two hours. She was no wallflower, but she wasn’t giving off vibes that said, Come talk to me.

  Wasn’t his problem. He didn’t know her and he intended to have fun tonight. Team parties were always a blast, and even better, this one was media free. He could down a few drinks, chill with the ladies, and have a good time.

  There were plenty of women here to have the kind of fun he was looking for, and the blonde wasn’t the right type. He could tell from the rigid set of her shoulders and the stick-up-her-ass way she sat that she wasn’t a partier. She surveyed the room and gave off definite “keep the fuck away from me” signals, which was likely why no one approached her.

  Still, his gaze kept gravitating back to her. He hated seeing anyone sitting alone. He went up to the bar and nudged Grant Cassidy, the Traders quarterback.

  Grant turned, then nodded. “Hey, Riley. What’s up?”

  “Do you have any idea who that blonde is sitting by herself over in the corner?”

  Grant followed the motion of Cole’s head, then frowned. “No. Who is she?”

  “No idea. I figured you know everyone on the team. Is she related to the owner?”

  Grant shook his head. “Ted Miller’s daughter is a brunette. And she isn’t here tonight. I have no idea who the blonde is. She looks mean. ”

  Cole laughed. “That’s what I thought, too. ”

  He should ignore her and concentrate on the two other women. But for some reason she kept grabbing his attention and wouldn’t let go.

  Maybe it was because she kept staring at him. Not in the way other women looked at him—the take-me-home-with-you-tonight plea. Her gaze was cool and assessing. An occasional brief glance and then she’d look away, like she wasn’t at all interested in him.

  Oh, she was interested all right. They all were.

  So maybe she was a game player after all, and this was a new kind of game.

  He pushed off the bar and headed her way. She could throw off all the stay-away signals she wanted, but he was curious now. Someone that beautiful was alone for a reason.

  He stopped at her table and her gaze lifted, slowly assessing him. She didn’t smile, but she didn’t frown, either.

  “You here alone?” he asked.

  “As you can see, I am. ”

  Southern accent. It fit her. She was all peaches-and-cream complexion, full lips, and the prettiest eyes—the color of his favorite whiskey.

  He slid his hand out. “I’m Cole Riley, wide receiver with the Traders. ”

  She slipped her hand in his and finally gave him a smile—the kind of smile that made a man glad to be a man.

  “Hello, Cole. I’m Savannah Brooks. Won’t you sit down?”

  Bingo.

  LORD HAVE MERCY, BUT COLE RILEY’S PHOTOS AND videos did not do the man justice.

  In person he made a woman go weak in the knees. Savannah was glad she was sitting down, because now she understood the mystique she’d read about in the tabloids and all the articles about him as a lady-killer.

  Sure, she’d seen all the photos, and he was certainly pretty. Great body, beautiful dark hair. She could see how some women might be attracted to him, but she hadn’t understood why he was such a hot commodity.

  But in person? Oh, yes, definitely. He had charisma, a way of looking at a woman that would make her drop her panties faster than he could flash those unusual eyes in her direction.

  She’d felt the heart palpitations when he slid his very large hand in hers and graced her with one look of his drop-dead—what color were his eyes anyway? They were gray, tinged with blue, like a sky coloring up for a storm.

  Amazing. When he looked at her it was as if everyone else in the room fell away and she was the only woman on earth. Which she knew wasn’t true, because she’d studied him all night long, and there were at least twenty women focused on him as if they were a starving pack of wolves and he was meat.

  He wasn’t meaty at all. He was perfect and absolutely delicious. About six foot one and 215 pounds of sex on a stick would be her guess.

  If she were out scouting for a man—which she wasn’t—she’d pick him out of a crowd. With his inky black hair and gorgeous, well-toned and muscular body, he stood out, even if he did wear his hair a little long and shaggy. There was a certain presence to him. Arrogance, maybe. She’d read his file, and so she was surprised when she hadn’t found him commanding the room or involved in a brawl or wrapped around two or three women in a dark corner.

  Maybe the media had blown his off-the-field antics out of propo
rtion. Maybe his reputation was more hype than anything.

  But she’d reserve judgment until she got to know him better.

  “So, Savannah Brooks. Why are you sitting here all alone?”

  “I’m observing. ”

  He cocked a brow, his defenses obviously up, as he leaned forward on the edge of the chair like he was ready to take flight. “You’re not a reporter, are you?”

  She smiled at him. “No. I’m not a reporter. ”

  He relaxed and leaned back against the chair, stretching his long legs out in front of him. “Okay, then. ”

  “I take it you don’t like reporters. ”

  “Nope. ”

  “And why is that?”

  “They lie. ”

  “About you. ”

  “All the damn time. ”

  “What kind of lies have they told about you?”

  “I don’t want to talk about me. Let’s talk about you. You have a beautiful Southern accent, Savannah. Where are you from?”

  Not at all what she’d read about him. That he was an egomaniac, that every conversation centered on him, his stats, his prowess in the bedroom, that he hit on women as a second career, pressuring them to go home with him.

  Maybe the media did have it wrong.

  “I’m originally from Atlanta. ”

  “But you don’t live there now. ”

  “No. ”

  He smiled when she didn’t offer any more information. He had an amazing, off-kilter smile that made her stomach flutter. She had to stop being such a girl about him. He might be flirting but she was here on business.

  “Do you want me to guess?” he asked.

  “Not at all. I live in St. Louis right now. ”

  “Right now. Are you moving soon?”

  “No. My job’s keeping me here for the moment. ”

  “A lady of mystery. I like that. But this hardly seems the city for a Georgia peach like you. ”

  “Really. And what kind of city should I be living in?”

  “You seem perfectly bred for the south, obviously. All Southern-refined, laid-back beauty. Not here. ”

  He was certainly a smooth talker. “St. Louis is charming. ”

  “Agreed. It definitely has its charms. Does your job move you around a lot?”

  He listened. A good quality. “It does. ”

  “And what do you do for a living, Savannah?”

  “I’m a consultant. ”

  “Broad concept. What kind of consultant?”

  “An image consultant. ”

  He frowned. “What does an image consultant do?”

  “I assist clients who need help either boosting their image or changing it. ”

  “That must be an interesting job. ”

  “I love my work. To have a positive impact on people’s lives is very rewarding. ”

  He grinned. “Good for you. ”

  “And what about your job, Cole?”

  “I’ve played football since I was a kid. To be able to do this for a living is a dream come true. I’m very grateful. ”

  He was poised, confident, and polite. Why didn’t he come across like this in interviews? Why was he portrayed in such a negative light? There was more to Cole Riley than what she’d read about in his file.

  “Would you like a drink, Savannah?”

  “No, I’m fine with the sparkling water, thank you. ”

  “Okay. You still haven’t told me what you’re doing at this shindig. ”

  “I’m meeting a new client. ”

  “You work in sports?”

  “I work in all fields, but lately I’ve been concentrating a lot on sports figures. ”

  He cocked his head to the side and studied her. “Yeah? About to redo someone’s image?”

  “As a matter of fact, I am. ”

  “Huh. I wonder who screwed up and needs a makeover. ” He looked around the room, studying all the players in attendance. “Couldn’t be our star quarterback. Cassidy eats, drinks, and pisses charm. ”

  She resisted the laugh. It wouldn’t be appropriate.

  He looked at her, then around again, zeroing in on a group of players clustered in the middle of the room. “It’s Moose Clements, isn’t it? That guy couldn’t give a decent interview if you gave him a personality implant. Or maybe Jim Highland, the Traders’ defensive end. You want to talk attitude issues? That guy has serious problems. He’s your new client, isn’t he?”
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