Authors: Locklyn Marx
“No.” He shook his head, turned the key in the lock, and opened the door. “This isn’t my house.”
He stepped inside, but she stayed on the porch. “What do you mean this isn’t your house?” She peered inside, looking for any signs of cameras, just in case she was on some kind of prank reality show. Maybe her sister was behind this whole thing. That would be just like Melissa, setting up some prank with a famous baseball player to try and cheer her up, not realizing that it would be the last thing that would make her happy.
“It’s my mom’s.”
“Oh.” She stepped inside. The foyer was amazing, with bright white crown molding, and a cream-colored travertine floor. She peeked down the hall into a beautiful kitchen, with cherry cabinets and dark granite countertops. “It’s gorgeous.”
“Thanks.” He shut the door behind her, and as he did, his chest brushed against her arm. Her breathing accelerated a little, and she felt her face get red.
“So where’s your mom?” she asked, trying to keep her voice even.
“I don’t know.” He shrugged, walking down the hall toward the kitchen.
She followed him. “So you don’t know when she’s coming back?”
He opened the refrigerator, and pulled out a bottle of flavored sparking water. He set it on the breakfast bar, and Kenley sat down in one of the stools in front of it. She opened the bottle and took a sip.
“You hungry?” he asked, moving to the refrigerator and pulling out a carton of eggs.
“Kind of,” she admitted. “You did interrupt my lunch.”
He nodded. “French toast?” He was already breaking eggs into a bowl, just assuming that she was going to want French toast, so Kenley decided to mess with him a little bit.
“Depends,” she said.
“On what?” He paused, but then kept cracking eggs.
“Are you going to make guy French toast?”
“Guy French toast?”
“Yeah,” she said, swinging around in her stool to get a better look at what he was doing. “Guy French toast is where you grab some white bread, dunk it in a few eggs, then burn it because you forgot to grease the pan.”
He turned around and looked at her. “This will not,” he said, sounding insulted.
“be guy French toast.”
“Okay,” she said. “Then I’ll have some.” He grinned at her, and she was struck again at how absolutely gorgeous he was. Curly dark hair, a perfect smile, dark brown eyes. There was no word to describe him other than smoldering. “So your mom doesn’t mind that you’re just using her house? What if she comes home?” She glanced behind her, toward the front door, half expecting his mom to come waltzing in. That would be totally awkward. What would she say she was doing here? How would Chad explain it?
Unless, of course, he brought women here all the time. The thought disappointed her, and she took another sip of her drink.
“She won’t be coming home,” Chad said. His back was to her as he added vanilla to the eggs in the bowl in front of him. “She doesn’t live here.”
Kenley frowned. “But I thought you said this was her house.”
“It is her house. But she doesn’t live here.”
She shook her head. “That makes no sense.”
He turned around, wiping his hands on a dishtowel. “I bought this house for my mom when I signed my first major league deal. But she didn’t want it.”
“Are you kidding?” Kenley asked. “Why wouldn’t she want it?”
“Because.” Chad shrugged. “My mom left when I was seven, and she was never really around. I bought the house because she always wanted to live near the beach, and I figured she’d want it. Siesta Key supposedly has the best beaches in the whole country.”
He was trying to sound like it was no big deal, but Kenley could see the hurt in his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“It’s not a big deal.” He shrugged again. She nodded, not knowing what to say.
She looked around. The house was meticulously clean and the refrigerator was obviously well stocked. Chad must have been paying someone to stock the fridge, to clean the house and keep it up. The cleaning made sense. The house would fall into disrepair without any kind of upkeep. But keeping the refrigerator stocked could only mean one thing – he was hoping his mom would someday decide to take him up on his offer of living here.
She felt a lump in her throat, thinking about the rejection he must have been feeling. “So why did you bring me here?” she asked.
“I told you, I wanted to talk to you.”
“Yeah, but we could have talked anywhere. Back at the hotel, anywhere.”
He grinned then, all traces of sadness about his mom gone. He crossed the kitchen and sat down at the breakfast bar across from her, turning her stool toward him so that their knees were touching. It was the same move he’d used last night at the hotel, and her body was filled with longing, wanting to go back to that moment. “I wanted to impress you,” he said, “Give you the star treatment.”
He was teasing her, she could tell. God, he was hot. And his lips were right there, just inches from hers now. It was all she could do to keep herself from kissing him. She tried to turn her chair back around, but just like last night, he held her legs, not letting her move. He touched her chin, pulling it, tilting it toward his.
“Bullshit,” she said, and pulled away from him. “You wanted me on your turf, somewhere where you were comfortable.” Her heart was beating fast, so fast she could hear it, and she worried that he could hear it, too.
“Your heart is beating fast,” he said, and put his hand over her heart. “Are you nervous?”
“Why would I be nervous?”
“Because,” he said, and grinned. “You’re alone with me.”
“So last time you were alone with me, you lost control of yourself.”
“No, I didn’t.” She turned away again and tried to move her chair away from his, but he was still holding her tight.
“You didn’t?” He reached out and slid the tip of his index finger across her lip.
Heat exploded through her body.
“No,” she said, “I didn’t. Not even close.” It was a lie, of course. She’d wanted him so badly that she’d almost completely lost control of herself. But almost didn’t count.
“Okay,” he said easily, and just like that, the spell was broken. He stood up and moved back over to the stove, pulling out a frying pan and setting it down on one of the burners.
Kenley took a sip of her water and tried to calm herself down. Damn. She hated that it seemed like he was always getting the upper hand with her. But he was just so damn hot. And it wasn’t just his looks, either, although he was sexy as hell. It was his whole being, his whole vibe. He had this confidence about him that was such a turn on she almost couldn’t stand it.
“Okay?” she asked, trying to sound annoyed. “That’s all you have to say for yourself?”
“No, actually, it’s not.” He pulled a loaf of crusty French bread out of the breadbox and began slicing it into thick chunks. “I have a proposition for you.”
“Yeah.” He turned around and leaned against the stove. He looked relax and in control. “So you know how I had a meeting this morning at Expera?”
“Right,” she said. “And you said there was something that went on there that had to do with me. I’m assuming it’s something besides the fact that you tried to have sex with me last night because you thought I worked there?”
He grinned. “I was hoping you’d forget about that. Of course, I guess it was kind of unforgettable.” He winked at her and slung the dishtowel he was holding over his shoulder.
“Whatever,” she said. “So what’s the proposition?”
“Well.” He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the counter.
He looked like he was trying to figure out the best way to explain something to her.
“You really know nothing about baseball? You don’t watch it at all?”
“No,” she said. “Baseball’s boring.” It was true. She hated sports, but could handle watching basketball or football if she had to. But baseball. Ugh. It took way too long to get through. The games were so long that sometimes even the players seemed bored, standing there in the outfield, waiting for a ball to come their way. Kenley enjoyed needling Chad in this way, insulting his sport, but he didn’t seem bothered by it.
“Well, my team, the Brooklyn Heat? We’re trying to rebuild our reputation.”
“Oh, imagine that,” she said, and held her hand to her chest in mock surprise.
“Your team has a bad reputation?”
Chad said, ignoring her sarcasm, “when I went to that meeting this morning, the one with Expera, they were really interested in signing me up for an endorsement deal. But they had some concerns.” He dropped a pat of butter into the frying pan in front of him, and it slowly started to melt.
“So your reputation proceeded you,” Kenley said. She didn’t feel sorry for him.
What had he been expecting to happen? It was about time these athletes figured out that they couldn’t just get away with cavorting with random girls and getting into all kinds of nefarious situations. She didn’t know for sure that Chad did any of these things, of course. But she was willing to bet on it, especially after what had happened last night.
“Well, sort of.” Chad pulled his phone out of his pocket, pushed some buttons, and then showed her what was on the screen
She looked down at the pictures on the screen and gasped. It was her. Her and Chad. It was so shocking to see the two of them in a picture together, so unexpected, that at first, she didn’t remember who had taken it, how anyone could have gotten the two of them together. But then she remembered. Last night. The bartender. Getting ambushed outside of Chad’s hotel room.
“Where did you get this?” she asked, as her fingers slid down the screen. She made the picture bigger. Her hair was all wild, and her clothes looked a little disheveled.
In the background, you could see the door to Chad’s room, and it was obvious they’d just come out. They both had shocked looks on their faces, like they’d just gotten caught doing something bad.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “The photo hasn’t been released.”
she shrieked, trying not to panic. She could just imagine the headlines. “Connecticut Girl Caught With Bad Boy Baseball Player” or
“Who’s The Mystery Woman?” or “Chad’s Latest Conquest!”
They’d critique her hair, her body, her clothes. She’d end up on Perez Hilton, like one of those girls who got caught with Charlie Sheen or Ashton Kutcher. Of course, those girls at least got to have sex with the guys they were accused of messing around with, and then they got to sell their stories. She didn’t even have a story to sell! All she’d done was kiss Chad.
“To the press.”
“Oh my God!” She was having trouble breathing, and she felt the blood drain from her face.
“Hey, calm down,” Chad said. He handed her the flavored water that was on the breakfast bar. She took a sip. “Don’t worry, Expera is owned by the Gulf Group, and they also own a lot of magazines.” He shrugged. “One of the editors at one of their publications got offered the picture, and so they put it on retainer.”
“Put it on retainer?”
“Yeah. They paid for an exclusive period of time to hold the pictures and decide whether or not they want to pay for the rights.”
“So no one’s seem them yet.” She let her breath out in one big sigh. “Thank God.”
“Nope.” He walked back to the stove and started dipping pieces of bread into the spiced up egg mixture and dropping them into the frying pan. She stared at him. How could he be so calm at a time like this? Yes, he was obviously a lot more used to this kind of thing than she was, but still. Wasn’t he worried about getting his picture plastered all over the papers?
“So there’s no problem then?” she asked hopefully.
“The problem,” he said cheerfully, “is that the people at Expera think you’re my girlfriend.” He flipped a piece of French toast expertly. The delicious smell of vanilla and brown sugar filled the kitchen, and Kenley’s stomach rumbled.
“So what?” she said. “Just tell them I’m not.” Her body was filled with nervous energy, and so she got up from the breakfast bar and started opening cupboards until she located the plates. All the cabinets were filled to the brim with plates and bowls and mugs. It made her a little sad, honestly, thinking of Chad picking things out for this kitchen, hoping his mom would come back one day and live here. Of course, he probably didn’t even pick the stuff out himself. He probably had some assistant or designer or someone do it for him.
“I can’t,” he says. “Because if I tell them you’re not my girlfriend, they’re not going to sign me.”
“I don’t get it.” She brought the plates over to him, and he slid a piece of French toast onto each one. They looked amazing, with the perfect hint of cinnamon, and the perfect amount of golden brown on the crusts.
“Well,” he said, “if they think you’re just some random girl I picked up at a bar, then that doesn’t exactly fit in with their brand.”
She brought her plate over to the breakfast bar and poured syrup onto the French toast. She took a bite and considered what he was saying. “So basically, if you don’t tell them I’m your girlfriend, they think you’re some kind of male whore, and the deal’s dead. But if you
tell them I’m your girlfriend, it makes it okay that I was leaving your hotel room, and you become the new face of Expera.”
He nodded. “Exactly.”
She shrugged. “Well, looks like you lost yourself a deal.”
“That’s fine,” he said, setting his plate down and sitting across from her at the bar.
“But if I loose the deal then they’re going to publish the pictures.”
She almost choked on her French toast. “The pictures of us together?”
“Well, yeah.” He picked up a paper napkin from the holder and spread it across his lap. He grinned at her. “Bon Appétit!”
“Why would they do that?”
“Let the pictures go to press?”
“Well, if they’re not doing a deal with me, then they have no reason to pay the money to keep them out of the papers. What do they care if America thinks I’m some kind of male slut?”