Thrown by a curve, p.36
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       Thrown by a Curve, p.36
 

         Part #5 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
Page 36

  Author: Jaci Burton

  She gave him a brief glance, but she backed away first. “Am I hurting you?”

  “No. ” But they weren’t alone in the treatment room, and he knew she was freaked out by what had happened earlier with Dedrick and Tommy. He wasn’t going to be able to talk to her about it now, because there were other athletes and other therapists in here.

  Later. They’d talk later.

  Except later, after they had both left—and he’d noticed that she’d hightailed it out of there as soon as she’d finished with his therapy—he’d called her and asked if she wanted to come over to his place. She’d told him she was busy with some family stuff and couldn’t see him tonight. And she’d gotten off the phone with him in a hurry.

  A cold knot formed in his stomach. Maybe she was being honest, and she really did have family obligations.

  Or maybe she was creating distance in more places than just the ballpark.

  And to Garrett, that just wasn’t acceptable.

  The next day, he tried again. After workouts and therapy, making sure they were alone in the treatment room, he asked her.

  “What are your plans for tonight? I thought maybe we could go out for dinner. ”

  She paused, mid stretch of his arm. “Um . . . what?”

  He tilted his head back to look at her. “Dinner. That thing where you get food. I get food. We eat. Talk. You remember that, don’t you?”

  “Of course I know dinner. But I can’t. Actually, I was going to talk to you about tonight. ”

  “You were?”

  “Yes. My cousin Jenna’s new music club is opening tonight. The whole family is going to be there. I was wondering if you’d like to come. ”

  Now it was his turn to pause. He sat up and she stepped back while he swung his legs over the table. “What?”

  “I’m inviting you to come with me to my cousin’s club opening. ”

  He wanted time with her. Alone. Not with her entire family. He didn’t do family. The whole family thing was awkward and uncomfortable, like with his family. “Oh. No thanks. ”

  She cocked a brow. “Why not?”

  “It’s your family. I’d be intruding. ”

  “It’s not a private thing, Garrett. The club is opening to the public tonight. My family is going to be there to help celebrate. Jenna and Ty—hell, my entire family has worked hard on making this happen. I’d love for you to be there. ”

  “Yeah, I don’t do the family thing. But thanks for asking. ”

  She shuttered her feelings behind a blank stare. “Okay. Lie back down so I can finish stretching you. ”

  He’d hurt her. She’d backed off, he’d pursued, and then when she’d relented and invited him back in, he’d turned her down. What kind of a dick was he, anyway?

  Dammit. How could he explain to her how uncomfortable family gatherings were for him? Every time he saw his mother, despite how happy she was with her husband, it reminded him of the pain of his parents’ breakup and how it had shattered him. And his dad? Yeah, that rarely if ever even happened. His dad was off in his own world, his own life with the woman he’d left them all for. His father couldn’t be bothered with his son.

  He liked Alicia’s cousin, Gavin, mainly because they’d been teammates before Alicia and he had ever gotten together. And maybe he never thought what was going on with him and Alicia was ever going to be anything more than just a right-now kind of thing. Nothing long-term, and sure as hell nothing that involved interacting with each other’s families.

  “Okay, we’re done here. I’ll get the ice pack. ”

  “Alicia. ”

  She stopped. “Yes?”

  “About this event tonight. Let me explain. ”

  She offered up a smile that didn’t transform her face like her typical smiles did. “No explanation necessary, Garrett. I’ll be right back with that ice pack. ”

  Shit. He raked his fingers through his hair. Somehow he’d have to work around this. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but damn if he wanted to thrust himself into the middle of her family tonight.

  But after expressing her fear about the two of them being seen together, she’d offered up an olive branch.

  And he’d just snapped the branch in two.

  Maybe he was an asshole after all.

 

 

  TWENTY-FOUR

  ALICIA WASN’T ONE FOR DRESSING UP OR GOING TO clubs. Not that Jenna’s club was fancy. She’d created it to be casual and welcoming, just like the original Riley’s bar.

  But it was opening night, and this was a big damn deal, so she’d bought a new dress and some strappy high-heeled shoes that were expensive and sexy as hell, just like the thigh-skimming dress that showed off way more leg than Alicia typically did.

  Riley’s Club was officially open, and there was already a line outside to get in. Jenna must be out of her mind with nerves and excitement. Alicia hadn’t even had a chance to talk to Jenna tonight, other than a quick hug when she’d come in an hour ago. Jenna had looked gorgeous in a skintight short black dress and knee-high black high-heeled boots, her hair in its customary spiked-up short cut with purple tips, her left ear adorned with a multitude of piercings, her body a tattooed map of her life experiences.

  Jenna was a former wild child tamed by the love of her life, hockey-stud Ty Anderson, the smiling, calming influence standing by her side right now, his hand around her waist while she welcomed everyone into the club.

  “They look stunning together, don’t they?”

  Alicia nodded at Savannah Brooks, her brother Cole’s girlfriend—no, make that fiancée. When they’d returned from their extended vacation, Savannah had been sporting one hell of a sparkler on her ring finger and a glow on her face that told Alicia they’d had a very special, very romantic vacation.

  “They look about as much in love as you and my brother. ”

  Savannah grinned. “That man melts my butter. Sorry, I know he’s your brother, but he’s more than I could have ever dreamed of. ”

  Alicia linked her fingers with Savannah’s. “I think he’s pretty lucky, too, Savannah. You saved his career. ”

  Savannah waved her hand. “He turned his own career around. ”

  “Oh, I think you were right behind him with those awesome high-heeled shoes of yours, giving him the kick in the ass he needed. ”

  Savannah’s lips curved into a knowing smile. “Maybe now and then. He didn’t need as much of a butt kicking as everyone thought. Even as much as he thought. He’s a very special man. ”

  And that’s what love was all about. People who saw through the flaws and loved you anyway, who helped you when you needed it most, who would always be there for you, and who always had your back. Alicia wondered if she’d ever experience love like that.

  She’d never been in love before. School and her career had kept her relationships mainly superficial.

  Until Garrett. She’d let him in, let him wrap around her heart, and now she was afraid she’d made a huge mistake, because there was so much she still didn’t know about him.

  Like why he was so reluctant to be around her family. He’d had no qualms about spending time with Gavin and Liz. Then again, that had been a more intimate gathering. Granted, her family en masse was nothing short of epically overwhelming. She understood that, but everyone was focused on Jenna as the center of attention tonight. She thought inviting Garrett would pull a little of the focus away from him.

  She realized after that episode in the tunnels the other day that she likely had overreacted. No one from upper management had come running to tell her she was fired. None of the players had even looked at her funny. Garrett had either said something to them, or the only person freaked out about the whole thing was her.

  She thought inviting Garrett to Jenna’s club opening would be a fun way for the two of them to hang out. It would be packed in here tonight, they co
uld get lost in the crowd, and he would get a chance to meet her family at the same time.

  So why had he balked at the invitation? Was it just the whole meeting-the-family thing? Had it been too much for him? Maybe that was too close to a relationship for him, and he just didn’t see the two of them that way.

  She sighed and went to the beautifully distressed antique bar to order a glass of wine. Eric, one of the bartenders, had shaggy blond hair that fell over his forehead and searing blue eyes that seemed to look into your very soul. Eric poured her wine with a sexy smile. At the other end of the bar was Penny, built like a centerfold, with a slender waist, legs that went all the way to Ohio, and one hell of an impressive rack.

  Jenna so knew how to choose bartenders. They were going to make a lot of tips, and they were going to sell a lot of booze.

  “What do you think, Alicia?” her aunt Kathleen asked as Alicia wandered around to visit with family members.

  “I think this is going to be another Riley success. This place is packed with both the curious and people wanting to sing tonight. Such a brilliant idea. ”

  Her uncle Jimmy beamed a wide smile. “I’m so proud of Jenna. She’s worked so hard to get this place in shape in time for the opening. There was even a write-up in the newspaper about it. ”

  “I saw that. You should be proud. And I’m excited. I can’t wait to hear Jenna sing. I’ve heard she’s incredible. ”

  “She’s amazing,” her aunt said, fighting back tears. She fished in her purse for a tissue. “I’m going to blubber all night. ”

  Alicia patted her aunt on the arm. “I think you deserve to. ”

  The music had already started up. The club featured a wide range of acts—anyone who wanted a chance to sing or play music could. Right now a guy had the mic and bellowed out a country-rock song that had people clamoring to get on the dance floor.

  After visiting with her aunt and uncle for a few minutes, Alicia wandered off again, running into family members and friends of the family wherever she went. But it wasn’t only family members crowding into the club. There were people she didn’t know. Obviously, word had gotten out about the great new club, which was excellent news for the new business.

  She decided she’d better elbow her way toward the front door so she could say a few words of congratulations to Jenna before her cousin got so busy she wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone the rest of the night.

  The only problem with that was the solid wall of people standing in her path. Short of pushing and shoving, she was stuck where she was. Instead, she leaned against one of the wood beams and decided to sip her wine for a while. She’d catch up with Jenna later.

  “Need a bodyguard to help you make your way through?”

  She laughed and turned her head, shocked to see Garrett standing there.

  And oh, did he look good in dark jeans and a white button-up shirt that hugged his lean, muscular body.

  “What are you doing here?”

  He cocked a brow. “I was invited, remember?”

  “I do remember. You declined my invitation. ”

  “I was a prick. I’m sorry. ”

  She wanted to ask him why he had turned her down in the first place, but it was so noisy in there that their voices would have to be raised, and this wasn’t the venue for that particular conversation. “I’d like to know why, but how about we table that topic for another time?”

  “Sounds good. ”

  He held a bottle of beer in his hands, and he looked so delicious she wanted to lean against him and not let go. “Thank you for coming tonight. ”

  “I’m glad to be here. Take me around and introduce me to your family. ”

  “Are you sure? There’s a lot going on around here. Chances are we could hide out in the back of the room and not be noticed. ”

  He slid his hand in hers. “Alicia. Introduce me to your family. ”
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