Thrown by a curve, p.13
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       Thrown by a Curve, p.13
 

         Part #5 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
Page 13

  Author: Jaci Burton

  “I wanted to get her away from all of you, show her the city and a good time. She was really nice to come along with me for the weekend. ”

  “Isn’t that her job?” Gray asked.

  Garrett shrugged.

  “Whipped,” Drew said to the guys. “He’s either already in her pants or wants in them bad enough to kiss her ass. ”

  Garrett shook his head. There was no point in arguing with them when they had their minds set in one direction. If they wanted to believe he was sleeping with Alicia or wanted to sleep with her, there was nothing he could do about it.

  “Why don’t we talk about you instead?” he asked, turning his attention to Gray. “What was the name of that supermodel you were dating? Her name reminded me of a vitamin—Niacin or something?”

  “Nisema,” Gray corrected.

  “That’s a real name?” Trevor asked, turning to Gray. “It sounds like a face wash. ”

  “We broke up a few months ago. Her career and mine didn’t mesh. ”

  Drew arched a brow. “Since when do athletes and supermodels not mesh?”

  “She was always off on a shoot, and I was always working. And then we figured out neither of us missed each other when we were apart. We’re both too career focused to be involved, so we just broke it off. It was pretty easy. ”

  “She probably makes as much money as you do. That’s why it was so easy. ” Drew leveled a smirk at Gray.

  “I’m pretty sure she makes more money than me. I should be the one weeping over the breakup. ”

  Garrett snorted. “Right. Like you’d ever be sorry over losing a woman. ”

  “It could happen. Maybe. ” Gray looked over at the guys. “Okay, maybe it won’t. ”

  “I see you as the one who’ll never get married, if for no other reason than to spite your father, who’s looking for that “Preston heir,” since it’s obvious you’re never going to walk in his senatorial footsteps,” Garrett said.

  Gray laughed. “You’re right about that. Politics isn’t my thing. ”

  “No. You like loud engines and grease under your fingers,” Drew said. “And to think you started off with a baseball scholarship. I still don’t know how the hell you ended up in stock car racing. ”

  “Oh this sounds like a great story. Can I sit in?”

  Garrett looked up to see Alicia standing next to his chair.

  “Have a good nap?” He scooted over and made room for her to sit in the booth, then signaled for the waiter.

  “I did. I love shopping, but I don’t do it very often. I guess I was worn out. It was great to lie down for a few minutes. ” She turned to Gray. “But now I want to hear about you and baseball and racing. ”

  Gray shrugged. “Not much to tell. I came to school on a baseball scholarship. Now I race for a living. ”

  “You didn’t like playing baseball?”

  “Loved it. ”

  Alicia frowned. “I sense a ‘but’ in there somewhere. ”

  The waiter came over, and they all ordered drinks.

  “I played baseball all four years and was even sought after by several pro teams. But I’d always liked racing, did that on my free time. A friend of mine’s dad raced competitively, so I worked with them on their cars and raced with them whenever I could. When my buddy got sick one weekend, I climbed into his car and raced for him. And I came in second. Nearly won the race.

  “That was it for me. The only thing I wanted to do after that was get behind the wheel of a car and come in first. Baseball took second place, and I knew I couldn’t play for the major leagues. I’ve been racing ever since. ”

  “Much to your father’s irritation,” Garrett said.

  Gray’s lips lifted. “Yeah. But that’s just a side benefit. ”

  “He didn’t like you playing baseball, either, if I remember right,” Trevor said.

  “No. He hated that I got the baseball scholarship to Oklahoma. He wanted me to go to Harvard and study law. ” Gray grimaced.

  “His father was a little pissed off that he passed on the Harvard academic scholarship,” Drew said to her. “Law and politics is the Preston family legacy. ”

  Alicia stared at Gray. “Really. You got a scholarship to Harvard?”

  Gray shrugged. “Like I said. Baseball was my thing back then. ”

  “I take it you didn’t want to be a lawyer,” Alicia said.

  “Oh, hell no. That baseball scholarship was my ticket out from under the Preston family shadow. I ran as far and as fast as I could. ”

  “And then daddy cut you off. ” Drew lifted his beer and smirked before taking a long swallow.

  “Yeah. Thankfully. ”

  Alicia’s eyes widened. “He did?”

  “Yeah, he did. Best thing that could have ever happened. Without him threatening me with money, I could be free to do whatever the hell I wanted. ”

  “Yeah, like the rest of us poor suckers,” Trevor said with a laugh. “Poor being the appropriate word. ”

  “You managed just fine without him, didn’t you?” Garrett asked.

  “You bet your ass I did. Got my own team now. ”

  But Alicia noticed something distant and sad in Gray’s eyes. She loved her family so much. She wondered what that break from his family had cost him.

  “Are you gonna play poker with us tonight, Alicia?” Drew asked.

  “Oh, I wouldn’t want to intrude on your game. ”

  “So that means you know how to play. ” Trevor rubbed his hands together.

  “I know a little about poker. ”

  “Then let’s get this game going. I’m ready to take your money,” Garrett said.

  They moved into the card room, which was quieter and more private, with official dealers and everything.

  Awesome.

  Drinks were served, cards were dealt, and Alicia wasn’t about to tell them just how good she was at poker. Poker was a weekly Riley family event. She’d learned to play when she was a kid, plus she’d played plenty in college. She might not be a Vegas pro, but she was shrewd, and she often won.

  After about two hours of play, she had a sizeable amount of chips in front of her and four very irritated men glaring in her direction.

  “Do you take weekend jaunts to Vegas on some casino’s dime?” Trevor asked her, finishing a beer and signaling to the waiter for another round for the table.

  Sitting comfortably, Alicia offered up her typical poker face as she scanned her cards. Two jacks and an ace. The dealer had a jack on the table. Sweet. “No, I just played in college. I’m probably a little rusty. ”

  “Rusty, my ass,” Garrett grumbled, throwing some chips in to bet.

  When the dealer pulled up an ace, Alicia stayed perfectly still while she put in her chips and waited to see what everyone else was going to do. Gray folded; the rest of them bet.

  “I’m all in,” she said, pushing her chips into the middle of the table.

  “Fuck,” Drew said, tossing his cards on the pile.

  “I’m folding, too,” Trevor said.

  “I’ll see what you’ve got. ” Garrett went in with his bet. “Show me. ”

  “Full house, aces and jacks. ”

  “Sonofabitch. Three queens,” Garrett said, flinging his cards toward the dealer.

  The others laughed at him. “Did you purposely bring Alicia to play poker with us, knowing she was going to kick our asses?”

  “If I’d known she was that good, I’d have never invited her,” Garrett said. “Did you see the hand I had?”

  Alicia grinned and dragged the winning chips over to her side. “Thanks, guys. ”

  They broke to eat, and while the guys ate steak, she contented herself with an amazing tofu and nut salad. Then they went back to poker, where she tried hard not to kill them. Amazingly, they won some money back. Not much, but some. She still won a lot.

&n
bsp; “You really are good at this,” Drew said.

  She shrugged. “I had a lot of play in college. And I have a very shrewd poker-playing family. ”

  “Apparently,” Garrett said, rolling his shoulders.

  They’d been at this for seven hours. She finally stood and stepped behind Garrett, resting her hands on his shoulders. She felt the knots there when she pressed into his muscles. “As fun as it’s been divesting you all of your money, I need to abuse your friend here for a bit before I fall asleep at the table. ”

  A chorus of ooohs and catcalls went up. She rolled her eyes.

  “Assholes,” Garrett said, then pushed his chair back.

  “We might come to the door and listen,” Drew said.

  “You can come watch if you’d like,” she said.

  “Garrett. Did you know she was such an exhibitionist?” Drew called after them as they walked away.

  “You have to forgive my friends,” Garrett said as they headed up to the room. “Actually, don’t forgive them. They’re pricks. ”

  She laughed. “They’re fun. ”

  “Yeah, they are. And you’ve been great about it. I appreciate it. ”

  “It was no problem. I’ve enjoyed it. ” She slid her key card in the slot to her room. “I’ll just grab the heating pad and some lotion, and I’ll be right in. ”

  “Okay. ”

  She changed into more comfortable clothes, piled up her stuff, then knocked on his adjoining door. He opened it, already in his sweats and naked from the waist up, which again caused that jolt of awareness she tried not to be so—aware of, but the female part of her was finding it harder and harder to disengage.

  “You all get along so well. Was it always like that?” she asked as they waited for the heating pad to do its job.

  Garrett laughed as he settled in against the headboard and pillows. “No. Not always. Young guys with hard heads and a lot of testosterone. You can imagine what rooming with those knuckleheads was like the first year. It took us awhile to find our footing. ”

  “I can imagine. But you’re such good friends now, so you obviously found a way. ”

  “Yeah, eventually. It was pretty much sink or swim when you have to live together. So we had to learn to . . . live together. ”

  “Oh, I don’t know. You were all away from home with no one to depend on but each other. It probably didn’t take long for the four of you to bond. ”

  He looked at her. “You have a pretty keen insight for someone who wasn’t there. ”

  She shrugged. “I went to college, too, you know. I had the same experience. College life is like being dumped on an alien planet. You feel so alone, and the first thing you do is grab on to whatever lifelines you can. For me, it was my roommate. We stuck together through those first lonely months and became good friends. We’re still friends today. I imagine it’s the same for you and your guys. The fact you all played sports gave you even more of a common reference and glued you closer together. ”

  He nodded. “I guess you’re right about that. I never would have made it through that first year without the guys. ”

  Alicia took the heating pad off and stretched Garrett. “I know. It’s amazing how much those relationships change us. ”

  She dug into his shoulder, watching his face for any expression of pain. She caught the wince, so she dug harder in that spot to loosen up the scar tissue.

  “You do that on purpose,” he said.

  “What?”

  “As soon as you know an area hurts, you hit it harder to cause me more pain. ”

  “Would I do that?”

  He gave her a look. “Hell, yes, you’d do that. I think you must get off on causing pain. ”

  She laughed. “Then I’m in the right profession, aren’t I?”
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