The perfect play, p.15
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       The Perfect Play, p.15

         Part #1 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
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Page 15

  Author: Jaci Burton

  Tara wanted to crawl back in the limo, go back to the suite, and watch other people on TV. She did not want to see herself on television, though she was certain the cameras were way more interested in the movie and TV stars and models in attendance, and not her. She was not news. And fortunately, all the media people figured that out soon enough and ran off after the real celebrities so Tara could breathe.

  What she did enjoy was ogling the cream of the crop of Hollywood, who stood just feet from her, giving interviews and smiling for the cameras. So when she wasn’t having cameras popping off in her face, she wished she’d thought to bring her own camera and take some pictures for Maggie and Ellen and Karie to see. Though she supposed it might have been inappropriate for her to rush up to the stars of the movie and take a candid shot of them with her mini camera.

  When they finally got inside, Mick led them to their seats, and oh, the movie was wonderful. And the time spent with Mick was great. He held her hand or put his arm around her, and they both laughed at the movie, which was funny and so romantic. It was a perfect night, and Tara felt like she really was Cinderella. Mick even leaned over a few times during the movie and kissed her. She couldn’t have asked for a better date, and she’d remember this night forever.

  When the movie was over, everyone shuffled out and headed for their limos.

  Tara leaned against Mick, her arm entwined with his, as they slid into their car.

  “I had a wonderful time, Mick. Thank you. ”

  He grinned at her. “You’re welcome. But it’s not over. ”

  “It’s not?”

  “No, there are premiere after-parties. Unless you don’t want to go. ”

  “Oh, no. That sounds fun. ”

  They went to another incredibly swanky hotel where there was a party in the amazing and huge ballroom filled with balloons and movie posters and champagne fountains and—thankfully—food.

  “Oh, thank God. I’m starving,” she said as she and Mick found a table.

  “Me, too. I’m so glad you like to eat. ”

  She laughed. “Why wouldn’t I?”

  He gave her a look. “You’d be amazed by the number of women I dated who didn’t eat. You wouldn’t believe the look of horror on their faces when I suggested real food. There’s nothing more depressing than watching a woman nibble on a piece of celery. ”

  She laughed. “No fear of that from me. Lead me to the nearest cheeseburger. ”

  There were photographers and media present here, too, but it didn’t seem to be as much of a frenzy as there had been on the red carpet. Still, Tara was mindful that Mick had an image to uphold, so she tried not to shovel food in her mouth, even though at the moment she could have eaten a photographer’s right arm.

  The media seemed content to pick on the actors and actresses in attendance and leave them to themselves.

  “You’re probably sorry you didn’t bring someone more famous with you,” she said, finally able to speak after her stomach was full.

  Mick took a drink of soda, then arched a brow. “Why would you say that?”

  “Because we’re pretty much being ignored by the media. If you’d brought some hot actress with you, you’d have gotten more—what do they call it?—face time?”

  He laughed. “Honey, I didn’t come here so I could get photographed. God knows I get more photo opportunities than I need. I wanted to bring you so you could have a good time. ”

  “Oh. ” She looked down at her lap, feeling stupid for saying what she’d said. “I’m sorry. ”

  He tipped her chin with his fingers. “Don’t be sorry. But don’t misinterpret why we’re here. I’m not using you for a photo op for myself, Tara. I brought you here tonight because I wanted to show you a good time. No ulterior motive. ”

  She slid her hand around the nape of his neck. “Thank you, Mick. It’s truly been the best night of my life. ”

  He brushed his lips across hers, the kiss soft and gentle, the kind of kiss that made her heart want to do dangerous things—like fall in love.

  The flash of a camera made her jump. Tara blinked and looked into the face of a photographer.

  “Send me some copies of that one, will you, Jimmy?” Mick asked.

  The photographer laughed. “Sure thing, Mick. ”

  Tara lifted a brow at Mick after the camera guy moved away. “First-name basis with the paparazzi?”

  “They shove a camera in your face often enough, you learn who they are. Jimmy’s a nice guy. He’s a freelancer. And I really do want a copy of that picture. ”

  “Me, too. ”

  “So, you ready to meet some movie stars?”

  Her heart stuttered. “Seriously?”

  “Sure. ” He stood and held out his hand. “No point in bringing you to one of these fancy things if you can’t say you met some of the big names in Hollywood, right?”

  She might just faint on the spot.

  MICK SUCKED DOWN A BOTTLE OF WATER AND PUT THE cap back on, staring down at Tara, who’d fallen asleep in the limo on the ride back from the after party.

  He’d loved bringing her to the premiere, had enjoyed seeing it through her eyes. He’d been to so many of these things over the years he’d become jaded about the whole experience. And the women accompanying him had been after only one thing—career exposure and as many photo and media opportunities as they could get. Which meant cameras in his face all night and nothing but interviews, with a smile plastered on his face the entire time. These events had become a painful experience.

  Until Tara. She’d been wide-eyed and enthusiastic about everything, damn near petrified of the cameras, and had done her best to avoid them. And then she’d gone and apologized for the lack of camera time for him.

  Amazing. And refreshing to be with a woman who wasn’t out for herself, but who cared about him. He didn’t really know what to make of her.

  But he liked her. Really liked her. A lot. What wasn’t to like? She was beautiful, fun, and sexy, and their chemistry together was explosive. She was sweet and caring, and if he wasn’t careful, he could fall madly in love with her.

  If he was ready to fall in love.

  Was he?

  “You’re staring at me. ”

  He looked down. Her eyes were sleepy and half-lidded and sexy as hell.

  “I am. You’re beautiful when you sleep. ”

  She shifted, sitting up and smoothing her hand over her gown. “I am not. Sorry I sort of just dropped off there. I think the excitement of the day and night just took its toll on me. ”

  “It’s okay. You’ve had a long day. You were entitled to take a nap. ”

  When they arrived at the hotel, Mick took Tara’s hand and escorted her out of the limo. He liked being seen with her, not because she was a star, but because she was beautiful in a natural sort of way that turned people’s heads when she walked by. Another thing he really liked about her was that she had no idea how pretty she really was.

  In the elevator she laid her head on his shoulder, her fingers tightly clasped in his. Mick swallowed, a giant lump in his throat.

  Keep this light and easy and quit thinking about how big this could get between the two of you.

  He slipped the key inside the lock and pushed the door open, holding it for her as she walked inside, her full skirt making all kinds of sexy noises as she glided into the living area of the suite.

  She turned to face him, the skirt billowing around her. She looked like a freakin’ princess, and that lump in his throat sank to his chest.

  He moved to her and laid his hands on her waist. “Have I told you how incredibly beautiful you look tonight?”

  He liked that she actually blushed. She placed her hands on his shoulders. “Have I told you what an amazing time I had tonight?”

  And just like that, he started moving with her in his arms, their feet in perfect rhythm as he heard this id
iotic song in his head. She was a princess tonight, and they needed to dance together.

  “Mick. ”

  “Yeah. ”

  “Do you realize we’re dancing?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “I have to say again how good a dancer you are. ”

  “You can thank my mother for that. She insisted on ballroom. ” He raised his hand, and she slipped hers in his. He began to glide around the marble floor of the living room.

  “I’d love to thank your mother for this. You’re amazing. ”

  “Don’t tell the people at Dancing with the Stars. You know they love to get football players on that show. ”

  She laughed. “I can’t see you wanting to do something like that. ”

  “No. So for the love of God, don’t put that bug in Elizabeth’s ear, either. That would be right up her alley. ”

  “Your secret is safe with me. ”

  That was the thing. He could well imagine any of his secrets being safe with her. But not the biggest secret. It was too soon to tell her everything.

  He danced her to the balcony, slid the door open, and led her outside. The night was warm, the lights of the city bright and glowing. She looked over the city, and Mick wrapped his arms around her, breathing in her scent.

  “It’s been a perfect night, Mick. Thank you again. ”

  “You’re welcome. I’m glad you had a good time. ”

  “Your life is amazing. The opportunities afforded to you because of your fame are incredible. ”

  “They are. I’ve enjoyed them while I have them, appreciate them for what they are. Fame is fleeting, especially for someone in sports. We don’t tend to have a long shelf life. ”

  She turned to face him. “That’s a very reasonable outlook. So what will you do when your football career is over?”

  “I’ve invested well, haven’t lived beyond my means. I’ll have plenty of money when I retire from football. ”

  “But you won’t just do nothing, will you?”

  “No. I run a few charities, so I’ll oversee those. Maybe get into coaching. There are a few other options I’m exploring. Haven’t really decided yet what I want to do. It depends on how long I play. ”

  She stared at him, didn’t say anything.

  “What?” he asked.

  “You’re just a little too good to be true. You’re educated, wealthy, you don’t piss away your money on drugs or partying. You give to charity, and you’re actually planning for the future. Don’t you have any skeletons in your closet, Mick? Isn’t there a bad boy lurking in there, something that makes you less than perfect?”

  If only she knew. “No one’s perfect, Tara. Not even me. ”

  She sighed. “I don’t know. You sure seem that way. ”

  “Would it make you happy if I was bad?”

  She frowned. “No, not at all. I’m just afraid I can’t even begin to live up to . . . ”

  “To what?”

  She shook her head. “Nothing. Never mind. I’m being ridiculous. ” She leaned up and pressed a kiss to his lips. “This has been a wonderful night, and I’m giddy and exhausted. But not so exhausted that I can’t show you how utterly happy I am to be in your company. Now come help me out of this expensive jewelry and sinfully expensive dress. It’s time for Cinderella to turn back into a pumpkin. ”

  He laughed and let her lead him into the bedroom. He helped her remove the jewelry, unzipped her dress, held his breath when she stepped out of it, revealing the sexy-as-hell strapless bra and matching barely-there panties she wore with those stiletto heels.

  “I like the pumpkin more than Cinderella. Can you keep that outfit on? With the shoes?”

  She laughed, untied his bow tie, pushed his jacket off his shoulders, and then took her damn sweet time undoing the buttons on his shirt.

  “Seems it wasn’t that long ago we were getting you out of a tux. ”
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