Thrown by a curve, p.12
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       Thrown by a Curve, p.12
 

         Part #5 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
Page 12

  Author: Jaci Burton

  “Yes,” Gray said. “Ever since college. It’s like a sport. ”

  “And I win,” Garrett said. “Every time. ”

  “In your dreams, Scott,” Drew said. “How many times did you have to buy the beer?” Drew asked.

  “Not very often. Because I won. ”

  Trevor leaned over to whisper in her ear. “I never had to buy the beer. I just let these clowns argue it out until they declare someone the loser. Then I reaped the benefits. ”

  “I heard that,” Garrett said.

  Alicia laughed, then sat back and listened while they bickered back and forth. It was like being in college again, partying at the frat houses. Lots of one-upmanship, who won what argument, who was the best at this or that. But it was clear that Garrett was relaxed and enjoying himself. She was glad. He needed that release of tension. This weekend would be very good for his state of mind, which was so integral to his recovery.

  “I don’t know what you morons have planned for the day, but I’m going to get Alicia out of here for a while. We’re going into the city so she can have some fun that doesn’t include soaking up all this testosterone. ”

  Alicia turned to him. “What?”

  “You’d take her away from all of this?” Drew asked, pointing to himself.

  “Yes. Especially you. ”

  “Have fun,” Gray said. “But be back for poker tonight. ”

  “Wouldn’t miss it. ” He pushed back his chair and held hers out while she stood.

  “What are you doing?” she asked.

  “Treating you to a day of fun. ”

  She stopped in the hall. “Why?”

  “Because this is boring for you. ”

  “No, it’s not. And even if it is, I’m not your girlfriend, Garrett. I’m not here to be entertained by you. I’m here to work on your therapy. If I’m bored, I can always go up to the room and work on my treatment plan notes or read or watch TV. ”

  “Oooh, sounds fun. ”

  “Stop that. ”

  “No, you stop. I feel bad enough for dragging you here this weekend. At least let me make it a little fun for you by taking you out and showing you around the city. ”

  She inhaled then sighed. “Wouldn’t you rather hang out with your friends? Isn’t that the primary reason you’re here?”

  “I’ll see plenty of them. And believe me, a little of those guys goes a long way. Besides, we won’t be gone that long. I’ll take you to Bricktown then to the outlet mall. ”

  That got her attention. “There’s an outlet mall?”

  “There is. Unless you prefer the regular mall. There’s a really nice one. ”

  “Oh, no. I love outlet mall shopping. ”

  He pressed the button for the elevator. “Outlet mall it is, then. ”

  Alicia went upstairs, slipped into her boots and a sweater, then grabbed her bag and met Garrett in the hall. She was ridiculously excited to be going out exploring; she’d never been to Oklahoma City before. Okay, she’d never been in Oklahoma at all, so everything here was a new adventure.

  “You’re kind of . . . bubbly and wiggly,” Garrett said as the valet brought his car.

  “I know. It’s ridiculous, really,” she said as she slid into the seat.

  “Tell me. ”

  “I love travel. It’s one of the highlights of being with the team. I’m so looking forward to hitting the road. When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, so while I had friends who would come back after summer vacation and talk about all these fantastic trips they took, about the only thing we got to do was go camping. Locally. ”

  He laughed.

  “It’s not funny. ”

  “Oh, I know it’s not. It’s just the face you made was like tasting rotten food. ”

  She pointed at him. “It was exactly like that. Imagine how I felt when my best friend came home, tanned and beautiful, from spending time with her grandparents in Florida. Me? I had mosquito bites from traveling a few hours up the road to a sucky campsite. ”

  “Poor you. ”

  “Fuck you. ”

  He shook his head. “Such a mouth on you, Alicia. I should complain to your boss. ”

  “Go ahead. Just remember who twists your shoulder. I can make it hurt even more. ”

  He shot a glance her way. “Oh. Blackmail, too?”

  She lifted her chin. “I’m not above it to save my own ass. ”

  “The things I’m learning about you. And you look so innocent. ”

  “Looks can be deceiving. ”

  “Hmm, is that right?”

  This time he gave her a long gaze that made her body heat up. Maybe that was just because the heater in the car had finally kicked in.

  Or maybe it was because he was assessing her in a way that made her want to check her lip gloss and smooth her hair, which was decidedly girlfriendlike. Or datelike. And neither of those situations applied.

  She didn’t know what to expect, but as they drove along, she decided she liked Oklahoma City. It was more sprawling, less congested than most major cities. A lot like St. Louis, actually, and she loved where she lived.

  He took her to the outlet malls first. When he parked, she turned to him and laid her hand on his arm.

  “Are you sure you know what you’re getting into?”

  He laughed. “I’ve taken my mom shopping before. I can handle this. ”

  “Okay. But I have to warn you—I’m like a storm trooper shopper. I’m relentless, and I’ll go in every store. ”

  “Have at it. ”

  It was a great outlet mall with super bargains. And if there was one thing Alicia loved, it was a sale. By the time they’d been through the first half of the outlet mall, she had four shopping bags filled with clothes and shoes. And every time she came out of a store with a bag, Garrett took it from her hands and held it for her.

  “Are you sure you don’t mind holding those?” she asked.

  “Nope. Go ahead and shop. ”

  “Are you sure you’re a human male? Your species mostly doesn’t enjoy shopping. ”

  He laughed. “You’re having a good time, aren’t you?”

  “Well . . . yes. ”

  “Then don’t worry about me. I enjoy watching the people. ”

  She shrugged. “Okay. ”

  He even gave opinions when she tried something on. Surprisingly, he was very good at it, shaking his head or wrinkling his nose when he didn’t like something, and nodding or smiling when he did. At least he wasn’t one of those noncommittal or uninterested men who said everything she tried on looked “fine. ”

  And the saleswomen nearly swooned after him. A gorgeous man who carried her bags and offered expert opinions on clothing? He was damn near perfect.

  But she couldn’t continue to take advantage. If left up to her, she could spend the entire day here winding in and out of every store. Surely, Garrett had to be bored out of his mind. And he needed to get back to his friends, which was the whole reason for the weekend.

  “Are you getting hungry?” she asked after they left one of the corner stores near the parking lot.

  “I’m fine. How about you?”

  “Starving. We’ve been at this for hours, you know. ”

  His lips curved. “I’m aware. You weren’t kidding when you said you were serious about this shopping thing. You could teach a master class on the subject. ”

  She hooked her arm in his. “Let’s get out of here and go get some food. ”

  He stopped and looked down at her. “You haven’t even laid siege to the other half of the outlet mall. ”

  She laughed. “I can live without laying claim to it. I’d rather have lunch. ”

  “There’s a great burger joint. ”

  She gave him a look.

  “Hey, they have soups and salads. ”

  “Fine. Burger joint it is. ”
>
  It had turned out to be a gorgeous day, with temps in the sixties, so Garrett took her to Bricktown, which was an outdoor area filled with shops and tons of restaurants. There was even a river and a water taxi to take you around the area. She loved it, and she could imagine how much fun this place was in the summer, with crowds jammed in, the nearby arena filled with people eager to watch events, then come out here after to drink some brews.

  “This is awesome,” she said as they settled in at a burger joint. They sat at a table with a beautiful view of the water, the sun beaming in on her face and body. She felt warm and good, so she turned to Garrett. “Thank you for this. It’s been a great day, but I feel a little guilty. ”

  He took a sip of the iced tea the waitress had brought. “Why?”

  “Because this is your weekend to be with your friends. ”

  “This is my weekend to do whatever the hell I want to do. I wanted to take you out so you could do something fun. Did you have fun shopping?”

  She leaned back with her lemonade and grinned like a cat in a window filled with warm sun. “I did have fun. ”

  “Okay, then. Let’s eat lunch without you having some guilt meltdown. ”

  “Fine. ”

  He shook his head. “Women. ”

  “Shut up. ”

  He lowered his head, but she caught his smile. God, he was sexy when he smiled like that. Everything south of her belly button quivered when he gave her that half-lidded look and wicked smile.

  The giant salad she ate ended up being delicious, as were the fries, and by the time they left, she was full and exhausted.

  “I could use a nap. ”

  “Stretch out in the car on the way back and sleep. ”

  “No. It’s okay. ”

  “You can trust me. I won’t grab you or anything while you’re sleeping. ”

  She turned to him and let out a soft laugh. “I didn’t think you would. ”

  “I might ogle your boobs if you fall asleep, though. ”

  She burst out laughing. “You are so unpredictable, Garrett. ”

  “Yeah? Good. ”

 

 

  EIGHT

  GARRETT DROPPED OFF ALICIA—AND HER MOUNTAIN of packages—in her room when they got back to the lodge.

  She said she was tired and she wanted to take a nap. When she woke up, she promised to come find him.

  He made a few business calls, relaxed in front of the television for a while, then went downstairs to the bar and found Gray, Trevor, and Drew, who’d just come in from playing golf since the weather had warmed up.

  “You missed a great game today, Garrett,” Trevor said, motioning for the waiter to bring them all a round of beers.

  “Yeah?” Garrett pulled up a chair at the table. “I suppose you all kicked ass. ”

  “We were killer out there,” Drew said, tipping the bottle and draining the last of the beer before answering. “Shot our best games. ”

  He knew they were lying. They always lied about their golf games. It was tradition. “Sorry I missed it. ”

  “What did you do?” Gray asked.

  “I took Alicia to the outlet mall. Then we went to lunch. ”

  Gray arched a brow. “Shopping. How . . . exciting for you. ”

  Drew gave him the once-over. “You sure she’s not your girlfriend? Because it seems to me she’s got you pretty well pussy whipped. ”

  “Yeah? How so?”

  “She calls, you come running. ”

  “In what way?”

  “When she wants you to work out, you go, right?”

  He leaned back in the chair. “Mostly. She does control my professional destiny in that regard. ”

  “And you brought her with you this weekend,” Trevor chimed in. “Whose idea was that?”

  “Mine, actually. ”

  “Oh. ” Trevor took a long swallow from his bottle of beer. “Still, shopping? Dude. ”
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