Thrown by a curve, p.37
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       Thrown by a Curve, p.37

         Part #5 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
 
Page 37

  Author: Jaci Burton

  Something melted inside her. “Okay. ”

  The whole introduction thing took awhile since the family was spread out and people were packed in the club like sardines. But she found her parents and her aunt and uncle together, so they were first.

  Her mother grinned from ear to ear when Alicia introduced Garrett.

  “So you’re the one Alicia’s been working on. How is your shoulder?”

  Garrett graced her with his trademark smile. “It’s doing great. Your daughter is very good at her job. I’m hoping to be able to pitch soon. ”

  That made Alicia’s dad grin. “I’m glad to hear that. Scared the hell out of me when you got hurt last season. ”

  “Believe me, Mr. Riley, it scared the hell out of me, too. ”

  “I’m glad Alicia invited you,” her mother said. “And you and Gavin are friends, too?”

  “We are. ”

  “I hope you have a good time,” her mother said. “Thank you for coming to support Jenna. And look—she’s about to take the stage. ”

  They all turned as Jenna grabbed a mic.

  “I want to welcome you all to the club tonight. Thank you for making Riley’s Club’s opening night such a rousing success. I won’t stand here and give a long speech since that isn’t my thing. How about some music?”

  Everyone cheered. The band started up, and Jenna began to sing. Alicia knew Jenna wrote a lot of her own music. This song was upbeat and fun, the kind of song everyone would want to dance to. She had people crowding the dance floor, clapping their hands, and shaking their hips as she gave it her all. By the end of the song, they were whistling and cheering for her.

  “Your cousin has an amazing voice,” Garrett said.

  Alicia grinned. “Yes, she does. I’m so proud of her. So thrilled for her. Not just for the club, but because she’s living her dream. Finally. ”

  Garrett cocked a brow.

  “It’s a long story,” Alicia said. “I’ll tell you sometime. ”

  “Okay. ” He turned to Alicia’s parents, and her aunt and uncle. “Congratulations. This place is going to do very well. ”

  Her aunt couldn’t possibly smile any wider. “We think so, too. Wasn’t Jenna wonderful?”

  “I don’t know why she’s singing here when she’s better than half the people selling records right now. ”

  “That’s what I keep telling her,” Alicia’s uncle said. “But she insists this is the only place she wants to be. ”

  When they wandered off, Gavin turned to Alicia. “No grilling?”

  “Oh, if I invited you over for Sunday dinner, there would be grilling. They’re cutting you some slack tonight because it’s crowded and noisy in here. They’re just being polite. ”

  “Lucky me, then,” he said, sweeping his knuckles across her cheek.

  “At least where my parents are concerned,” she said as she saw her brother bearing down on her with a decided scowl on his face.

  Garrett straightened as Cole approached. Garrett didn’t look at all threatened as he casually slipped his arm around Alicia’s waist.

  “Been looking for you,” Cole said, his fingers linked with Savannah’s.

  “I’ve been here for a while. I guess we kept missing each other in the crowd. Cole, this is Garrett Scott. Garrett, this is my brother, Cole, and his fiancée, Savannah Brooks. ”

  Savannah shook his hand. “Garrett, so nice to meet you. I’ve heard great things about you. ”

  Cole shook Garrett’s hand, too. “You’re the one she’s been working with. Shoulder injury. ”

  “Yeah. ”

  “Rehab finished yet?”

  “Not yet. ”

  “Think you’ll pitch this year?”

  “Hell yeah, I’ll pitch. And when I do, a lot of the credit for that will go to Alicia. ”

  She felt a tug in the vicinity of her heart at his statement and lifted her gaze to his. “Thank you, Garrett. ”

  Cole gave Garrett the kinds of looks a brother would give any guy she was . . . whatever it was she and Garrett were doing. She knew Cole was being protective, but really. Cole didn’t know what was going on, so he could stop being all Neanderthal about this.

  “I’ve read your career history, Garrett,” Savannah said, obviously trying to defuse the tension. “I do image consulting, especially for athletes. So it’s kind of a specialty of mine to dissect you all. You’ve had an amazing career. ”

  “Thanks. I just hope I get to continue it. ”

  “Season will be starting soon,” Cole said.

  Master of the obvious, wasn’t he?

  “Yeah,” Garrett said. “Between Alicia and the coaches, they’re prepping me nonstop to get ready to pitch. ”

  “Yeah? And how’s that going?”

  “The past few months have been living in hell. I’ve been under the goddamn microscope so long all I want to do is disappear. ”

  Something in Cole seemed to switch off at that point, and he relaxed. “Dude. Been there. Not that I got hurt—” Cole looked at Savannah. “But yeah. Been under that same microscope. I’ve never had an injury before. It must be a downer having to deal with all the uncertainty. ”

  “It sucks. ”

  Cole laughed. “Want to grab these ladies a seat? And I need a beer. ”

  “Me, too. ” Garrett switched his gaze to Alicia. “Ready to sit down?”

  Alicia was so relieved to feel the ice thaw between Garrett and her brother. She nodded at Garrett. “Like you wouldn’t believe. My feet are killing me in these shoes. ”

  He grabbed her hand. “Let’s go muscle up a table, then. ”

  “Good luck in this crowd. ”

  “Come on,” Cole said. “We’re VIP’s. We’ll get Jenna to find us one. ”

  Jenna did find them one, in a spot she’d reserved near the stage for family members. Which gave Alicia a chance to introduce Garrett to both Jenna and Ty, at least for the minute and a half Jenna spent with them before she dashed off to see to her customers and introduce new musicians to the crowd. But at least they had a table. And seats with the rest of the family. Tara was thrilled to have a night out without Sam, though she kept texting Nathan, her teenage son who was on babysitting duty. And despite Mick’s assurances that Nathan could capably handle the baby, who had been fed and was sound asleep, Tara kept staring at her phone.

  Garrett seemed to be handling being surrounded by her family members well. He’d even bonded with Cole, the two of them talking golf of all things.

  “He’s very hot,” Savannah said, keeping her voice low as the two of them huddled close.

  Not that it would have mattered, since Garrett and Cole had their own huddle going on.

  “Who? My brother? Too much information, Savannah. ”

  Savannah gave her a look. “Ha, ha. And you know I was talking about your smoldering new boyfriend. ”

  “He’s not my boyfriend. He’s . . . ”

  She had no idea how to describe him.

  Savannah arched a brow. “Do go on. He’s what? Just the current athlete you’re working on that you decided to invite to a family event?”

  The knowing look Savannah gave Alicia told her that her hesitation was ridiculous. “Okay, so we’re involved. I just don’t know how to describe it. ”

  “Why is it so difficult to describe it?”

  “I don’t know. We’ve never defined it. It just kind of happened between us. There’s really nothing going on. ” She realized even as she said it that her explanation sounded stupid.

  “You seem afraid. ” Savannah offered up a serene smile and rimmed her wineglass with the tip of her finger. “Do you have reservations about this relationship?”

  “Well, we do work for the same team. And I’m currently his therapist. There’s a major conflict of interest going on here. ”

  “I understand. Believe me. I had much the same prob
lem with my relationship with Cole. Not in the same way as yours, of course. But you can’t let that mess up what the two of you have. If, in fact, you have something you think is worth the risk. ” Savannah paused and shot Alicia a direct look. “Is it?”

  Alicia glanced across the table to where Garrett was bent over in conversation with Cole. Just looking at him caused butterflies to take flight in her stomach. In the short period of time she’d known him, he’d completely wrecked her well-managed, orderly routine. Now, she couldn’t imagine that life without him in it.

  She returned her gaze to Savannah. “I’m crazy in love with him. ”

  Savannah’s lips curved. “Does he know that?”

  “Oh, God no. We’re not there yet. ”

  “Well. Learn from my experience. Cole and I did everything wrong, and it cost us both a lot of pain. Talk to him. Tell him how you feel. ”

  Somehow, Alicia didn’t think Garrett was ready to hear those words from her yet. Inviting him here to meet her family was a big step. That he was gracious enough to show up was a move forward.

  That was enough for now.

 

  * * *

  OKAY, SO MAYBE ALICIA’S FAMILY WASN’T AS UNCOMFORTABLE to be around as Garrett had imagined. Once they’d gotten past the initial discomfort, he and Cole had bonded fast over their mutual love of golf and poker, and then they’d launched into a discussion of some of their favorite video games. He probably could have spent all night talking to him, except Cole’s fiancée, Savannah, had dragged him away, claiming the current band up on the stage was playing a slow song she wanted to dance to.

  Garrett realized he’d pretty much abandoned Alicia, though she and Savannah had seemed engaged in an animated conversation of their own. He shifted to face her.

  “Sorry to leave you hanging. I like your brother. ”

  She grinned. “So I noticed. I think he likes you, too. ”

  “Would you like to dance?”

  Both her brows went up. “You dance?”

  “Not really. But I like having my hands on you, and that’s about the only way I’ll be able to do that with your whole family watching. ”

  She laughed. “Then by all means, let’s dance. ”

  He pulled her onto the jam-packed floor and drew her into his arms. There was a band with a lot of horns playing something slow and jazzy. He stroked up her back, liking the dress she had on. It was short and sexy and clung to her body, showing off all her curves and her great legs. He hadn’t yet told her how good she looked tonight.

  “I like this,” she said.

  “The band, or my hands on you?”

  “Definitely your hands on me. But the band is good, too, now that you mention it. ”

  There wasn’t much room for maneuvering, which suited him just fine since he had no finesse on the dance floor, so they mainly swayed back and forth in time to the music. What he really liked was having Alicia’s body pressed up against his, her breasts pillowed against his chest. With her high heels on, she was much taller. He didn’t have to bend down so far to see her beautiful eyes.

  “You’re quiet. ”

  He smiled. “Doing inventory. ”

  “What?”

  “Feeling you. Watching you. Thinking about how beautiful you look tonight, which I failed to mention earlier. ”

  “Wow. Thank you. You feel good, too. And you look amazing. Though I have seen you in ads all dressed up before. There was that one in the tux. You were hawking men’s cologne, I think. ”

  He grimaced. “Damned uncomfortable photo shoot. ”

  “Yeah. All those half-naked models draped over you. I’m sure it was a hardship. ”

  “Seriously. Those things take hours, and the models were unfriendly as hell. In between takes they would sip water, text on their phones, and otherwise look bored. They had no idea who I was and thought I was some newbie model dude at my first shoot. They couldn’t be bothered with me. ”
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