Changing the Game, p.1part #2 of Play by Play Series by Jaci Burton / Romance & Love
Author: Jaci Burton ONE
GAVIN RILEY KNEW ELIZABETH DARNELL HAD BEEN avoiding him for the past several months. And he knew why.
She was afraid he was going to fire her just like his brother, Mick, had.
Oh, sure, Mick played in the NFL and Gavin played Major League Baseball, so in a lot of ways they were similar. And since Mick was Gavin’s big brother, many people thought Gavin followed Mick’s lead, especially in business matters. After all, Mick had hired Elizabeth first, and Gavin had followed suit.
But people assumed wrong. Gavin made his own decisions about business and didn’t do everything his brother did. Even if Liz had messed with Mick’s personal life, had hurt Mick’s girlfriend and her son, and had done just about everything humanly possible to piss his brother off. She might have apologized and set things right with Mick, Tara, and Tara’s son, Nathan, but it had been a case of too little, too late.
There were things a sports agent did that were valuable to an athlete’s career. But screwing with an athlete’s love life could be the kiss of death for an agent.
Liz had never once touched Gavin’s love life. In fact, Liz threw women at him like a pimp. Beautiful women. Actresses, models, the kind of women that made Gavin look good. Gavin had no complaints. In fact, Liz had done the same thing for Mick until Mick had fallen in love with Tara Lincoln and put an end to Liz coupling Mick with the latest and greatest starlet on the cover of whatever magazine would get him the most exposure. But Liz had tried to get Tara and her son out of Mick’s life, which had resulted in Liz getting fired.
And that’s why she’d been avoiding Gavin, no doubt afraid Gavin had sided with Mick and was ready to do the same, which Gavin found pretty damned amusing. Elizabeth watched over her clients like a hawk, and for her to go to complete radio silence was like giving up and letting the vultures swoop in and take over her prime real estate.
Not that Gavin was the best player around, but she’d sat on him since she signed him, not letting any other agents get within talking—or signing—distance.
Maybe it had something to do with that night Mick had fired her.
Mick had walked out of the locker room, leaving Elizabeth alone with Gavin.
Liz had come up to him looking all teary-eyed and vulnerable, two things that were totally uncharacteristic of her.
Then she’d kissed him. And walked away.
Not that he’d thought about that kiss over the past months.
Except after that she’d disappeared, hadn’t called him, e-mailed him, seen him, or stalked him in any way—also uncharacteristic of her. So had it been the kiss that had sent her into hiding or the fear if he saw her he’d fire her?
Did she really think he couldn’t hunt her down if he wanted to cut ties with her?
It was time for her to come out and face the music.
She couldn’t avoid him forever, especially not at this sports banquet where she had several clients—him included, though she’d been doing her best to steer clear of him.
He’d lain low most of the night, letting her flit around and focus on a few of his baseball peers. He always enjoyed watching her work a room full of hotshot jocks. Elizabeth commanded attention. It didn’t matter whether a room was filled with the hottest females around—a guy would have to be either limp-dicked or dead not to notice her. Hair the color of his favorite red sports car, incredible blue eyes, creamy soft skin, and legs a man could only hope to have wrapped around him someday. And she showed it all off with practiced precision. She was a walking sex bomb with a wicked brain. A lethal combination.
Gavin would be lying if he didn’t admit to being tempted by Liz. But he never mixed business with pleasure, and he took his opportunities elsewhere. Liz had been a great agent, had locked him up tight with the Saint Louis Rivers Major League Baseball team right out of college, and she’d worked her ass off to make him rich, get him product endorsements, and keep him in his position at first base. He never wanted to do anything to change that.
Besides, he doubted Elizabeth was his type.
Gavin was pretty damned particular about the women he chose. And ballbusting women like Elizabeth? Definitely not his type.
But they needed to get a few things straight, and she could only avoid him for so long.
The banquet was winding down, and most everyone was leaving. Liz was with Radell James and his wife, walking toward the main ballroom doors. Gavin shot out a side door and hung back, unobserved, while she said her good-byes.
She looked good tonight in one of her usual business suits. Black, which seemed to be one of her favorite colors, and tailored to within an inch of its life. The skirt hung just above her knee, and those shoes she wore played up her toned calves, too. She walked through the front doors of the hotel and outside with Radell and his wife.
Gavin stepped outside unnoticed while Liz talked with Radell. Gavin stood in the background and watched until Radell and Teesha’s taxi arrived.
After they left, Liz leaned against the brick wall and closed her eyes. She looked tired. Or defeated. Her guard was down.
Time for Gavin to make his move. He stepped in front of her.
“You’ve been avoiding me, Elizabeth. ”
Her eyelids shot open, and her eyes widened with shock. She started to push off the wall, but he pinned her there by placing his hand on the wall by her shoulder. There was a planter on the other side, so she had nowhere to go.
“Gavin. What are you doing here?”
“It’s the sports banquet. You knew I was here. In fact, I’d say you danced around tables doing your best to not run into me tonight. ”
She blinked. Her sweetly painted mouth worked, but nothing came out for a few seconds. He didn’t think he’d ever seen her at a loss for words before. Her gaze darted from side to side like a cornered animal looking for escape.
Finally she relaxed and the old Elizabeth was back, her game face on. She tipped her finger down the lapel of his jacket.
“I wasn’t avoiding you, sugar. I picked up a new client, so I had to babysit him a bit and introduce him to all the right media people. Then there was Radell, and we had a few things to discuss that were important. I’m so sorry we haven’t had a chance to catch up. Did you need me for something?”
“Yeah. We need to talk. ”
In an instant, the warmth fled. Her expression narrowed. “About what?”
“You and me. ”
Something flashed in her eyes, something hot he’d never seen before.
Or maybe never noticed before. As soon as it was there, it was gone.
Maybe he’d just imagined it. But Gavin didn’t imagine things, and what he’d seen caused a tightening in his balls. It was like the kiss that night, throwing him for a loop and making him second guess everything he thought about her. He’d always maintained his distance from Liz because they had a professional relationship. Besides, she didn’t pay much attention to him other than in a professional capacity. She never fawned over him in the same way she did with a lot of her other clients. He figured she didn’t have a personal interest in him, which suited him just fine since he had no problem finding women, and women had no problem finding him.
But what he’d just seen in her eyes had been . . . interesting.
“You and me? What about you and me?” she asked.
“You finished with all your client stuff?”
“Let’s go somewhere and . . . ” He skimmed his gaze down her body, lingering where her silk blouse lay against her breasts. He dragged his gaze back to her face, searching for a reaction.
She swallowed, and the muscles of her throat moved with the effort.
Elizabeth was nervous. Gavin didn’t think he’d ever seen her nervous before.
This was perfect.
“Yeah. ” He pushed off the wall and signaled for the valet, gave him his ticket, and grabbed Elizabeth’s hand, bringing her with him to the curb while he waited for the valet to bring his car.
Fortunately, the sports banquet was in the city where the Saint Louis Rivers spent spring training. Damned convenient and no travel biting into his schedule. He traveled enough during the season, and having to add one more event where he had to hop on a plane would have been a drag.
He tipped the valet when he brought the car. He and Elizabeth got in, and he zipped onto the highway.
“Where are we going?”
“My house. ”
She arched a brow. “You have a house? Why not one of the hotels?”
“I stay in enough hotels during the season. I want a place to myself during spring training. ”
They drove in silence. Gavin made the turn north toward the beach.
“A house on the beach?”
“Yeah. It’s remote and I can run in the mornings. ”
She half turned in her seat. “Dammit, Gavin. Are you going to fire me? Because if you are, I’d rather you just do it right away. Don’t drag me out here to your house, then expect me to take a cab back to the hotel. ”
Gavin fought back a laugh. “We’ll talk when we get inside. ”
“Shit,” she whispered, then folded her arms in front of her and propped her head against the window for the remainder of the drive.
He turned off the highway and took the beachfront road, pulling into the garage. Elizabeth let herself out of the car and followed him inside, looking like a prisoner on her way to an execution.
He flipped the lights on and opened the sliding door leading out to the back porch.
“Nice place. ”
He shrugged. “It’ll do for now. Want a beer or some wine?”
“Why? Trying to soften the blow?”
He slipped his hands into the pockets of his slacks. Ignoring her question, he asked again, “Wine, beer, something else?”
She inhaled and let out an audible sigh. “Glass of wine would be nice, I guess. ”
He opened a bottle of wine, poured a glass for her, then grabbed a beer from the fridge.
“Let’s go outside. ”
The house had a great back porch, though he supposed out here it was called a veranda or balcony or something. Hell, he didn’t know what it was called, only that it overlooked the ocean and he liked sitting out here at night to listen to the waves crash against the beach.
There was a long cushioned swing for two and a couple of chairs. Liz sat in a chair, and Gavin took the other one.
She took the glass he offered and tipped it to her lips, taking several deep swallows of wine. “Is there a particular reason you dragged me out here to your beach haven instead of telling me what you needed to at the hotel?”
Yeah. He wanted to set her off balance. Liz was always in control. Besides, he didn’t want her to stalk off or find an excuse to leave.
And . . . hell, he really didn’t know why he’d brought her here, other than he wanted to know why he hadn’t seen her in months. She was on his tail constantly, until the thing happened with his brother. Since then she’d all but fallen off the face of the earth.
“You usually call me twice a week, and I see you at least once a month. ”
She shrugged. “You were busy with the end of your season. I was busy, too. Then there were the holidays. ”
“You always make it a point to be wherever I am so we can have dinner. And when was the last time you missed the holidays with my family?”
She snorted. “Your brother fired me. His fiancée hates me. I hardly think it would have been appropriate to spend the holidays with your family. ”
“It wouldn’t have mattered to my mother. She loves you and thinks of you as family. Personal is different from business. ”
“Not to me it isn’t. And I’m sure it isn’t to Mick and Tara, either. I wouldn’t have wanted to interfere in your family celebrations. I know I’m not welcome there anymore. ”
She looked away, but not before he saw the hurt in her eyes.