The perfect play, p.10
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       The Perfect Play, p.10

         Part #1 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
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Page 10

  Author: Jaci Burton

  Fortunately, she’d been too damn busy all week for it to bother her too much.

  “No. Not seeing him at all. I told you we weren’t getting involved. ”

  “Uh-huh. He’s in the front waiting area. ”

  Tara shot forward in her chair and spilled drops of tea all over her paperwork. “Shit. ”

  Maggie laughed.

  “Dammit, why didn’t you just tell me that?

  Maggie grinned and grabbed a few tissues to blot the tea stains. “More fun this way. ”

  “Bitch. ” Tara smoothed her hands down the front of her flowing black-and-white checkered skirt, adjusted the wide black belt, and was just vain enough to take a quick glance at her hair in the mirror over her desk.

  Her blouse was tucked in and looked fine. She looked fine.

  “What is he doing here?” she asked Maggie.

  Maggie shrugged. “I’m sure I don’t know, but he looks good enough to eat. ”

  Tara rolled her eyes, moving around her desk toward her door. “You need a man of your own. ”

  Maggie sighed and followed Tara out of her office. “Don’t I know it. ”

  She was nervous as she walked to the front of the store. Mick stood there at the window, his dark hair highlighted by the sun streaming in. He was so tall, so imposing, so incredibly gorgeous. He turned when he heard her and smiled that dazzling smile that made her just a little bit weak in the knees.

  “Hi,” she said.

  “Hi, yourself. ”

  Maggie came up next to her, and Tara had to turn and give her a look.

  “Oh. Yeah. Paperwork. Later, Mick. ”

  Mick’s lips quirked. “Later, Maggie. ”

  “What are you doing here?”

  “It’s been a week since I’ve seen you. ”

  “I realize that. Figured you’d moved on. ” She almost bit her tongue clean off. Why did she have to say that? It sounded . . . mopey and girlie and needy and all those things she’d rather not sound like.

  “No, I just had some business things I had to take care of. I would have called you at night or come by your house, but you didn’t give me your cell number or your home address. ”

  She crossed her arms. “When has that ever stopped you? Couldn’t your oh-so-stealthy agent scout them out for you?”

  “Actually, yes, she could have. ” He cocked his head to the side. “I figured maybe you’d want to give them to me yourself this time. Maybe even invite me over to your house. ”

  “Why would I want to do that?”

  “Because you like me. ”

  Telling him no was on the tip of her tongue. She’d just gotten to the point where she thought she’d never see him again.

  And she’d spent the entire week missing him and feeling achy about not seeing him. How utterly pathetic, especially since she hadn’t wanted to start up a relationship with him in the first place.

  “I’d really like to meet your son. Does he like football?”

  She sighed. “He loves football. ”

  He moved in closer, picked up a strand of her hair, twirling the curling end between his fingers. “Invite me over for dinner. We’ll have pizza. ”

  “You don’t strike me as the pizza type. ”

  “Then there’s a lot you don’t know about me. ”

  No doubt. “That’s not a good idea. ”

  He leaned in closer. God, he smelled good. Her hormones noticed.

  “Invite me over for pizza. ”

  “Would you like to come over for dinner tonight, Mick?” Damn hormones.

  His smile could melt a woman straight into the floorboards.

  “I’d love to. Give me your address. ”

  She jerked a piece of paper from the pad on the table and wrote her address.

  “Might as well add your cell phone number, too. ”

  She did, then handed him the paper. “Six thirty okay?”

  “Perfect. ”

  He leaned in and brushed his lips across hers, and her stomach did flip-flops. Her utterly girlie stomach. Dammit.

  “See you then. ”

  He walked out. Tara stupidly stood at the window watching him walk across the street, his stride eating up the asphalt. He looked damn hot in a pair of cargo pants and a white T-shirt that stretched tightly over his mighty fine muscles.

  Maggie’s sigh over her shoulder jolted her back to reality. She whipped around to face Maggie, Ellen, and Karie.

  “What?”

  “You’re dating the captain of the football team,” Karie said with a dreamy sigh.

  Tara rolled her eyes. “Go back to work. All of you. This isn’t high school. ”

  “No, but it’s every girl’s dream from high school,” Ellen said with a laugh.

  TARA HAD A HALF HOUR BEFORE MICK WAS DUE TO arrive, and she was a total wreck. One would think the queen was arriving instead of just a guy coming over to sit on her couch and have pizza.

  Her house was a disaster, the scourge of having an unsupervised teenager running amok during the day. Empty soda cans littered the tables in the living room, the sink was filled with dishes, and said culprit had already taken off for his friend’s house for the night.

  The kid was going to be toast. She’d have him on housecleaning duty the rest of the week.

  She picked up, ran the vacuum, tossed the dishes into the dishwasher, then dashed upstairs to change clothes, deciding Mick was either going to have to deal with her life and the state of her house or he’d leave, preferring the jet-set lifestyle of caviar, maid service, and supermodels.

  Tara was neither caviar nor supermodelish, and she sure as hell didn’t have maid service. She was pizza on a Friday night, and the way she looked now, which was tank top, blue jeans, and flip-flops, with her hair wound into a messy ponytail thingy. He was going to have to take it or leave it.

  She let out a low shriek when the doorbell rang, then hurried downstairs toward the door, shooting a glance at the clock as she took the stairs two at a time.

  She was out of breath by the time she flung the door open, and Mick frowned.

  “Asthma attack?”

  “More like a panic attack. I was picking up the house and trying to make myself presentable. ”

  He walked in with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. “You look pretty presentable to me. These are for you. ”

  Wildflowers. Not a dozen roses, but daisies and bellflowers and lilies and freesia and baby’s breath. “They’re beautiful. Thank you. ”

  He followed her into the kitchen. “You didn’t strike me as a roses kind of woman. ”

  “I’m not a roses kind of woman. I love these. ” She grabbed a vase and filled it with water, then arranged the flowers in it and put it on her dining room table.

  “Where’s Nathan?”

  “Not home. ” She wasn’t about to tell him that Nathan was spending Friday night at a friend’s house. She wasn’t ready for Mick to meet him yet. It was too soon, and she wasn’t sure where she and Mick were headed. Hell, she wasn’t sure about anything. No way was she going to involve her son.

  “I see. ” He grabbed her around he waist and jerked her against him, then planted his lips on hers, giving her one seriously hot kiss that melted her feet to her kitchen floor. Tara sank into the kiss, forgetting all about where she was until Mick pulled away.

  “Wow. ”

  He grinned. “Figured we wouldn’t get any alone time for that tonight, so wanted to get it in now. ”

  She blinked to clear her head. “Okay then. ”

  He looked around. “So show me your house. ”

  “It’s just a condo, Mick. Nothing fancy. ”

  He turned to her. “I live in a condo. Nothing fancy, either. So show me yours, and when you come to my place I’ll show you mine. ”

  His words evoked images of you show me yours and I’ll show you mine
that had nothing to do with living space. She tried to suppress the tingle that rolled down her spine, but as she led him from room to room, she felt his eyes on her and wondered if he was really looking at her place or at her.

  “You have a nice place, Tara. ”

  She shrugged. “I try to make a home for Nathan. And he’s a slob, so if you find stinky tennis shoes anywhere, blame him. ”

  He laughed. “You forget who you’re talking to. And I’m glad we’re not at my condo right now, because you probably would find smelly tennis shoes somewhere. So relax. The fact you have a teenage boy and he actually lives here isn’t going to send me running out the door. I was a teenage boy once. I get how they live. ”

  “Fine. I’ll try not to panic. ” She took him through the living room and dining room.

  “I don’t think you want to see the upstairs. ”

  “Sure I do. I want to see your whole house. ”

  She sighed. “Fine. ”

  They took the stairs, and again she felt his gaze on her. It wasn’t making her uncomfortable, exactly, just aware that she was alone in her house with a man. When was she ever alone in her house with a man?

  Uh . . . never? She never brought guys over, never wanted to parade a stream of men in and out of Nathan’s life. She figured if she’d ever thought about having a permanent relationship with a guy, she’d let him meet Nathan.

  So why had she invited Mick over? They weren’t even really dating.

  “There are three bedrooms up here. Nathan’s room, my room, and the third I use for an office. I should probably warn you about Nathan’s room . . . ”

  “You can skip it. That’s his private domain, and I don’t want to violate it. ”

  She stood outside her bedroom door. “Oh, but you’d be fine with violating my private domain?”

  He leaned over her and turned the door handle. “Honey, I’ve already violated your domain. ”

  There went that flutter again, her sex and her nipples all too aware they were entering her bedroom.

  She stood back and let him look, figuring he’d take a cursory glance and they’d be on their way back downstairs.

  “It looks like you. ”

  She stared at her bedroom, at the cream and brown comforter, the pictures on the walls, the photos of Nathan. She turned to Mick “Really? How?”

  “Colorful. The art on the walls isn’t just some mishmash of crap. The textures of the two pictures over the bed bring out the colors in the bedspread. I like Mondine’s art, by the way. She’s trendy, but doesn’t paint that weird shit where you can’t figure out what the hell it is. The black-and-white photos of your son seem to capture his personality. He looks like he’s trying damn hard to be serious as hell and all grown-up, but he’s just a big goof and probably feels dorky a lot of the time. Curse of being almost fifteen. Cute kid, by the way. ”

  “Thank you. ” Her voice caught because he’d so perfectly described her son’s early awkward teenage years.

  “I can tell you put thought into each piece. Same thing with the knickknacks that you have spread throughout the house. It’s not overkill, just subtle touches. It’s not fussy; it’s simple. I don’t feel like I have to watch where I walk or where I would set a glass down. And I imagine your son is comfortable living here. Your place looks lived-in. It’s inviting. ”

  She stared at him for the longest time, until he laughed.

  “What?” he asked.

  “Who are you?”

  “Huh?”

  “No football player knows art and décor. And you know who Mondine is. ”

  “Oh. Well, blame Liz for that. ”

  “Liz?”

  “My agent. She makes me go to gallery openings and museums and charity events for the arts—the kinds of things no football player should have to endure. You soak enough of it up, some of it sticks. Like this sculpture here,” he said, picking up the entwined lovers. “It says something about who you are as well as the artist. ”
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