The perfect play, p.39
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       The Perfect Play, p.39

         Part #1 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
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Page 39

  Author: Jaci Burton

  Another knock on the door, and Tara slammed her wine goblet down on the kitchen counter. She’d bet anything it was Elizabeth. Hell, she hoped it was Elizabeth. She’d love to tell the woman exactly what she thought of her.

  She flung the door open, and her words caught in her throat as she saw Mick standing there.

  “What do you want?”

  “Five minutes. ”

  Dammit. She stood in front of the door, blocking his entrance. “There’s nothing you can say I want to hear. ”

  He laid his hand against the brick. “Five minutes. That’s all I want, Tara. ”

  He looked as miserable as she felt. God, she wanted to believe that look was sincere. “Five minutes. ”

  She moved aside, and he came in while she closed the door.

  She stood near the door, her arms wrapped around her middle. “Start talking. ”

  He turned. “I didn’t know what Elizabeth was doing until I saw it on the news last night. ”

  “How could you not know what she was doing? She was right in front of you. You pulled Nathan next to you when she pointed to you. ”

  “I know how it looked, but it was so noisy there. Nathan and I were busy grabbing T-shirts and footballs, goofing off, and talking to the kids and the other guys, mugging for pictures. We weren’t paying any attention to the cameras or what Liz was doing. I thought she was promoting the foundation. I had no idea until I saw it on the news. I was sick after I saw that news clip. And I was fucking furious with Elizabeth. ” He moved toward her. “I’ve never wanted to lay hands on a woman in anger until I saw that, Tara. I had to pull myself back because I wanted to hurt her. I’m so sorry. ”

  He was hurting as badly as she was. “She sent me a video. ”

  “What?”

  “She sent me a video and a note. Said she was sorry. It’s over on the chair. ”

  He went over and grabbed the note, read it, then panned his gaze over to her again. “What’s on the video?”

  She shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t looked at it yet. ”

  “Do you want to?”

  “I guess so. ”

  Mick put the video in her DVD player. It was scenes cut from the carnival, with a voice-over from a very prominent sportscaster talking about how the Sabers—and Mick—gave tirelessly to the foundation, and how much the charity stood to benefit from the carnival.

  It was the same thing, with Nathan and Mick highlighted in the video.

  Nothing had changed. What was her point?

  Except then it did change, with the sportscaster talking about Mick, his girlfriend Tara Lincoln, and Tara’s son Nathan and how they unselfishly gave of their time planning this event. He went on to say Tara was a local event planner and donated her time in preparing the event. He talked about Nathan being a sophomore at a local high school, briefly described the school, and showed a picture of the school and the team. He explained Nathan was a quarterback, and mentioned how Mick had started out as a quarterback, and he went on to make comparisons between the two.

  Dear God. Nathan would love that.

  Tara moved into the living room and sat on the sofa, watching how Liz had completely turned around a negative spot into something positive and beneficial. Nathan would come out of this looking like a hero. Tears filled her eyes, and she swept her gaze to Mick.

  “You did this?”

  “I told Liz she fucked things up. Bad. I told her to fix it. ”

  “Looks like she did. ”

  “I told her I’d fire her if she didn’t make it right. ”

  Tara lifted her hand to her mouth. “You threatened to fire her?”

  “I did. ”

  “Mick, what she did . . . that’s amazing. ”

  “She damn well owed it to you and Nathan to make it amazing. She had no right to manipulate you and Nathan that way. I won’t tolerate anyone who works for me treating the people I love that way. ”

  “People you . . . what did you say?”

  He stood, went over to her, and grabbed her hands, pulling her to stand. “Come on, Tara. Surely by now you’ve figured out how I feel about you. ”

  “No, I had no idea. We’ve never talked about it. ”

  “Well, let’s talk about it. ” His lips lifted in a hopeful smile.

  Oh, God. Her mind was awash in all the pain, in what this could mean. In what she’d hoped for. And in the agony she’d been through today. All she could think about was the pain and the fear. She pushed against him. “No, don’t. I . . . can’t, Mick. ”

  His smile died. “What? Why? I just told you I loved you. ”

  “Don’t. ” She shook her head. “I can’t do this. Please. You have to leave. ”

  He frowned, tried to hold her, but she stepped back, needing distance, needing him to go.

  “Tara. It’s going to be okay, I promise. I’ll make sure that video is run everywhere. ”

  “It’s not that, Mick. You don’t understand. Tell Liz I appreciate her making amends, but you and me? I can’t do this anymore. ”

  She backed farther away, but he wouldn’t allow it, kept following her.

  “What do you mean, you can’t do this? I say I love you, and you push me away? I don’t get it. ”

  “We’ve had a great time this summer, Mick. But it’s over. Your life and mine just don’t mesh. I have my career and Nathan. You have your career. And the two just don’t fit well. ”

  She’d hit the front door, and he was in front of her now. She had nowhere else to go. He didn’t touch her, but his body was inches from hers. “We fit. Perfectly. ”

  She shook her head. “No, we don’t. I can’t live in your world, and neither can my son. Your life is parties and trips and magazine covers and the news and it’s just not what I want for Nathan. ”

  “It doesn’t have to be that way, Tara. That was just Liz building up my image. ”

  “And you need that for your career. But I need a little breathing room. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and for Nathan. Now I just need some space. Nathan will be starting school soon, and he needs to focus on that, not on your crazy lifestyle. ”

  “It can be like that. ”

  The tears stung her eyes and she blinked them back. “Please go. ”

  “Do you love me, Tara?”

  Her heart wrenched as she lied to him. “No. I had fun with you this summer, but I don’t love you, Mick. ”

  He gave her a curt nod. “Okay. ”

  She opened the door for him, and he walked away without looking at her. She shut the door and locked it, then rested her head on it, listening to the sound of his car starting up and driving away.

  She let the tears come then. She was doing the right thing. For Nathan and for herself.

  But why did it hurt so much?

  MICK SAT IN THE VISITOR’S LOCKER ROOM AFTER THE opening game. He’d mentally and physically prepared and given his all for his team today. And they’d won, thirty-seven to seventeen over Saint Louis. He’d given postgame interviews to the media, put his best winning swagger on, rehashed the great plays, talked with optimism about the upcoming season and his thoughts on how well he thought his team would do. He’d done everything required of him, and when the players and media left, he’d let it all crumble around him.

  A week after Tara had thrown him out of her life he still couldn’t let her go.

  He loved her. And goddamn it, she loved him, too. He knew she did, and he wasn’t going to let her toss it all away just because she was scared.

  “What the hell are you doing in here all by yourself?”

  He smiled and turned to see Gavin leaning against the wall inside the door.

  “Shouldn’t you be playing baseball?”

  “My game was earlier today in Kansas City, so I got in a while ago. Heard about you and Tara. Sorry. ”

  “Mom blabs. ”


  Gavin pushed off the wall and sat down on the bench next to him. “She cares. You know how she is with us. If we’re hurting, she hurts. ”

  Mick didn’t say anything.

  “You love her?”

  “I do. ”

  “But she doesn’t love you. ”

  Mick tilted his head toward Gavin. “She does love me. She’s scared. This whole thing has freaked her out. ”

  “Man, I don’t know jack about this love thing. She loves you, so she kicked you to the curb?”

  “I hurt her. ”

  “Liz hurt her. ”

  “No, that’s on me. I should have put some reins on Elizabeth. She thought any PR was good for me. I should have been monitoring what she was doing. Plus I knew Liz didn’t like Tara. I wasn’t focused, wasn’t paying attention. When you love someone, it’s your job to protect them. And I didn’t do my job. ”

  “It’s not all your fault, man. You can’t be everything to everybody. ”

  “That’s where you’re wrong, Gavin. I should have seen this coming, and I didn’t. I have to own it. I just have to figure out how to make it right. And I don’t know if I can. ”

  Gavin laid his arm over Mick’s shoulders. “I’ve never seen you give up on anything. You’ve fucked up a lot of things in your life. ”

  Mick laughed. “Thanks. ”

  Gavin gave him a wry grin. “You know what I mean. You’ve dug yourself up from below the dirt before, Mick. And if you love Tara, then don’t give up on her. If she’s scared or hurt, then make it right. ”

  “I’ll try. I have to try. She means everything to me. ”

  “Then quit sitting here like a whiny pussy and go do something about it. ”

  Mick laughed. “Thanks for the pep talk. ”

  “That’s why I’m here. ”

  The door opened. Mick and Gavin both lifted their heads as Elizabeth walked through.

  “I assume you’re decent. ”

  Mick clenched his fists at the sound of Elizabeth’s voice. She hadn’t tried to contact him since that night when he’d threatened to fire her. Wise move on her part.

  Gavin turned to Mick and lifted his brows.

  “Gavin, I didn’t know you’d be here. ”

  “Just came by to say hi to Mick. ”

  Elizabeth strolled in, looking calm and beautiful as usual in a gray business suit, high heels, her hair pulled back, and two diamond earrings sparkling in the lights of the locker room.

  “Need a ride to the hotel? Bus will be leaving for the airport soon. ”

  He turned to face her. “No. ”

  “I need to talk to you. ”

  “This isn’t a good time. ”

  “It’s as good a time as any. ” She looked over at Gavin. “Can I have a word with your brother alone?”

  “Anything you have to say to me you can say in front of Gavin. ”

  Gavin stood, leaned against the lockers, and crossed his arms, looking amused.

  Elizabeth looked from Gavin to Mick. Her easy demeanor vanished.

  “Okay, fine. ” She turned her attention on Mick. “Look, I know I screwed up. I’m sorry. Did you see the sportscast? I fixed things. ”

  “You did. Tara appreciated it. ”

  She inhaled, blew out a breath. “I’m glad. I’m sorry, Mick. It won’t happen again. I’ve always been interested in doing what’s best for your career, in seeing you rise to the top. ”

  He zipped up his bag, then lifted his gaze to her. “You’ve always been interested in making sure your clients earn top dollar, so in return you can earn top dollar. You want your clients to be cream of the crop because it makes you look good. Frankly, Liz, I’m not sure if you’re more interested in making us look good, or yourself. ”

  She blanched. “That’s not true. I only want what’s best for you. ”
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