The perfect play, p.18
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       The Perfect Play, p.18

         Part #1 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
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Page 18

  Author: Jaci Burton

  “Your home is lovely, Mrs. Riley,” Tara said.

  “Call me Kathleen, or I’m not likely to answer you,” Kathleen said.

  “All right,” Tara said with a laugh. “Kathleen. ”

  “Thank you. Mick and Gavin keep trying to buy us some big new fancy house, but we love this old place and don’t want to move. We had the kids in this house. It’s home to us and always will be. ”

  “Besides, it will give me something to work on when I retire,” Jimmy said as he brought the tray filled with tea. Kathleen passed out glasses, and Tara took a long swallow.

  “And when’s that going to be, Dad? Never?”

  Jimmy laughed. “Who’s going to run the bar for me? Jenna?”

  “She does that now, doesn’t she?” Mick asked.

  “She gives lip to all the customers. ”

  “And they love every insult she hurls at them,” Kathleen said.

  “Jenna is my sister,” Mick explained. “She bartends at Riley’s, our family bar and restaurant. Mostly a bar, but we also serve sandwiches. Big sports bar, really. ”

  “Oh, fun. So do you have multiple screens to show all the games?” Nathan asked.

  Jimmy nodded. “Can’t miss my boys’ games while I’m workin’, now can I? And it’s a big draw for customers. We have the main big screen over the bar, then multiple small screens to show whatever else is on. Baseball, football, hockey, basketball, NASCAR, soccer. You name it, we’ll have it on. ”

  “Awesome. ” Nathan turned to Tara. “Will I be able to get in?”

  Tara lifted her gaze to Jimmy. “I don’t know. Can he?”

  “Sure, as long as he doesn’t go to the main bar because he’s not twenty-one. But he can sit in the restaurant portion. There’s even some video games in there for the kids. ”

  “Rockin’,” Nathan said. “Can’t wait to see it. So do you have all your sports trophies from when you were in high school and college and stuff?”

  “You mean the hall of fame room? Yeah, unfortunately, it’s all here in the shrine. ”

  “The shrine?” Tara asked, laughing.

  “It’s not a shrine,” Kathleen scoffed. “What do you want us to do with the trophies and awards you and Gavin won? Box them up and throw them in the attic?”

  “Actually, that’s a great idea. I can take care of that while I’m here. ”

  Kathleen waved her hand. “Don’t be ridiculous. ” She turned to Nathan and Tara. “Would you like to see them?”

  “Yeah!” Nathan said.

  “I’d love to see them. ” Tara stood.

  Mick pulled at her hand. “You don’t have to go see them. ”

  “I want to. ”

  “Ugh. ”

  She laughed and followed Kathleen upstairs.

  Mick was right. It was like a shrine, but it was very sweet. There were trophies and pennants dating back to grade school. Everything from peewee football and T-ball all the way to the awards both the brothers had won in college, tucked away in what looked to be a room now used as an office, since there was also a desk and a computer.

  The pride on Mick’s parents’ faces was evident as they stood by and beamed while they pointed out what each of the guys had won each particular trophy for. Mick, meanwhile, just looked damned uncomfortable, which Tara also found incredibly charming. There were also trophies for Jenna for gymnastics, dance, field hockey, and softball.

  Clearly an athletic family.

  “Wow. All your stuff is just bangin’ awesome,” Nathan said, ogling Mick’s college awards. “You worked hard, huh?”

  “I did. ”

  “He also maintained a three-point-eight grade point average at the University of Texas,” Kathleen said. “We were more proud of his grades than we were of all the trophies in this room. ”

  Tara mouthed a silent thank-you to Kathleen over the top of Nathan’s head. Kathleen winked.

  “Yeah, but you don’t really need to worry about that once you make money playing football. ”

  Mick slung his arm over Nathan’s shoulders. “Not true, my man. You gotta have the smarts to get into college in the first place. They might want to draft a decent player, but they don’t want someone who’s going to struggle to make the grades, because it makes their job harder. Second, do you know how many football players piss away all the money they make in the NFL, and then when their careers are over they end up dead broke?”

  Tara and Mick’s parents followed Mick and Nathan down the stairs. Tara listened intently to the conversation, determined to let Mick do all the talking.

  “No. ”

  “More than you think. A lot more than you think. You need to put all you effort into your grades and into using your head first, because you’ll use up your body fast. And when that’s done, you’ll have to have something to do after. If you blow out a knee your second season, you’ll be what? Twenty something years old with your whole life ahead of you. You don’t want to be a dumb-a— you don’t want to be dumb and stupid with no education and no money, right?”

  Nathan looked up at him. “Huh. I never thought about that. ”

  Mick slapped him on the back. “A lot of guys don’t. Always use your head, not just your muscle. The smart guys always do. ”

  Nathan tilted his head back to look at Mick, and Tara’s breath caught at the abject hero worship.

  She hoped he listened to what Mick said about using his brain. Because Nathan was a smart kid. And his grades were good. She hoped and prayed they stayed that way and he didn’t count on football to see him through life.

  “So where’s your brother?” Nathan asked.

  “He has a game tonight,” Mick answered. “He’ll be by later, I imagine. Or at the bar. ” Mick lifted his gaze to his mother.

  “I talked to him this morning. He’ll come by for the party at the bar tomorrow night. He’s busy tonight. ”

  “Got a hot date?” Mick asked.

  Kathleen laughed. “I have no idea. Neither of you are very forthcoming about your love lives. Though I’m very pleased you brought Tara and Nathan with you this weekend. A step in the right direction. ”

  Kathleen took a seat on the sofa next to Tara. “So tell me about yourself, Tara. Are you from San Francisco?”

  She swallowed, sensing the inquisition forthcoming.

  “Hey kid, let me show you the workshop out back,” Jimmy said. “Mick, you can come along. Nathan and I might even kick your butt in a game of hoops. ”

  “In your dreams, old man. ” He turned to Tara and winked.

  Tara knew it was get-to-know-his-mother time. She returned her gaze to Kathleen. “I grew up in the East Bay, outside San Francisco. Never lived in the city. Too expensive there. ”

  “And your ex-husband?”

  “I was never married. Nathan’s father isn’t in our lives. ”

  “Oh, I see. Well, I’m sorry about that. So what do you do for a living?”

  That was it? No probing or disapproval for being a single mother? Huh. Not what she expected. “I’m an event planner. That’s actually how I met your son. I planned a party for the team. ”

  Kathleen clapped her hands together. “How delightful. And what a fun career for you. You must enjoy that very much. ”

  “I do, actually. I’ve only had the business for a couple years, so we’re still growing, but it’s going very well so far. I have high hopes for it. ”

  “It takes time to grow a business. And perseverance. ”

  “I have both. It took me a while to get to the point where I could afford to start up a company, but this is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ll do whatever it takes to make it succeed. ”

  Kathleen took her hand and squeezed it. “Years ago, women couldn’t do what you’re doing. I admire you, being a single mother, juggling your own business, and raising that fine son of yours. It’s not easy. ”

>   “Nathan’s worth the sacrifices I’ve had to make. ”

  “Can I ask you a personal question?”

  “Sure. ”

  “And you can feel free to tell me it’s none of my business. It won’t hurt my feelings at all. What about Nathan’s father? Did he just not want to be part of his life?”

  She could tell Kathleen she didn’t want to talk about it, but surprisingly, she didn’t mind. “I didn’t want him in Nathan’s life. I was only fifteen when I got pregnant, which was stupid, but I knew I wanted to have my baby. And the guy who got me pregnant wasn’t someone I wanted in my life or in my baby’s life. Drugs, theft, time in jail—he was a total loser. I made him sign away rights to my child before he got sent off to prison. He can never make a claim to Nathan now. ”

  Kathleen nodded. “Even then you did what was necessary to protect your child. You were smart. ”

  “I was dumb. I shouldn’t have gotten pregnant. But Nathan didn’t need to suffer for my stupidity. And how could I regret having him? He’s everything to me. ”

  Kathleen’s eyes watered. “A good mother is willing to lay down her life for her child. You’re a good mother. ”

  Tara blinked back tears. “Thank you. I don’t think anyone’s ever told me that. ”

  “Your mother?”

  Tara laughed. “That’s a topic for another day and another conversation. I think I’ve burdened you enough for our first meeting. Any more, and you’ll tell your son to run as far away from me as he possibly can. ”

  “Oh, I don’t know about that, Tara. My son, like me, is a very good judge of character. I don’t need to tell him what to do. If he chose you to be in his life, it’s because he thinks you’re good for him. ”

  “Thank you, Kathleen. I like Mick very much. I like being with him. I like the way he makes me feel when I’m around him. ”

  “That’s all I needed to know about you. You never once said you like the things he gives you. It was all about feelings. I’m so glad you’re here this weekend,. ”

  Her heart swelled with the feeling of family, something she hadn’t felt in—ever. “Me, too, Kathleen. ”

  MICK LEANED AGAINST THE WALL OF THE HALLWAY, feeling all kinds of guilt for listening in on the conversation Tara was having with his mother.

  But he couldn’t help it. He liked hearing her talk to his mom, liked how freely she opened up, talked about the guy who’d gotten her pregnant. One of the things he admired about Tara was how she’d done so much on her own from such a young age. He didn’t know everything about her past, but he was getting glimpses into it little by little. And from what he was getting, he understood that it had been shitty from the start, from her parents to the guy who knocked her up. And she’d gotten where she was today all on her own.

  It was time to sit down with her and get the story directly from Tara. He wanted to know more about her. And there were things he needed to tell her about himself. He wanted things to progress between them, because he was starting to care pretty damn deeply about her.

  And if you cared a lot about someone, you told them your secrets. And they told you theirs.

  So maybe it was time for that talk.

  Uh . . . soon.

  NINE

  “YOU BROUGHT A WOMAN HOME. ”

  “Yes, Mom. ”

  “This is the first time. ”

  “Yes, it is. ”

  “Don’t think it’s going to go unnoticed or that I don’t have questions. ”

  Tara was upstairs taking a shower before they went out to the bar tonight. Mick’s dad and Nathan had bonded and were off somewhere in his dad’s workshop doing God only knew what. Building . . . something together. Which left Mick in the kitchen with his mother.

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