Authors: Cheryl Douglas
His life seemed to be a series of one obligation after another, leaving little or no time for the things
wanted to do. Whenever he felt like griping about his schedule, he reminded himself that he’d agreed to that life when he signed his first professional contract. Besides, the multi-million dollar paycheck and being able to play the game he loved made it worth his while. He spotted the black plaque on the door at the end of the hall and turned the knob, hoping he would still have time for a full workout after the meeting. He smiled at the pretty brunette receptionist whose eyes widened when he walked in.
“Oh wow,” she whispered. “You’re Zach Foster, aren’t you?”
He was used to that reaction. Sometimes it still made him smile, but not that day. “That’s me. I got a call from a lady named Terri. She asked me to stop by.”
“Oh, uh…” The young woman pointed at a closed door down a short hallway. “Her office is right through there. I think she just went to the restroom, but you’re welcome to wait for her.”
“Thanks,” he said. He hesitated at the door, wondering if he should knock. He decided against it since the receptionist said Terri was in the restroom.
“Oh my God.” Rennie looked up at him, her features frozen in disbelief. Rennie and the assistant apparently shared a small office, with a desk in each corner. “What are you doing here?”
His heart kicked into overdrive. After ten long years, his body responded as though he’d seen her yesterday. She was still stunning, with long, straight blond hair and her bright blue eyes flashing emotions he couldn’t begin to decipher. “I got a call from Terri…”
“Damn it,” she muttered, her fingers flying to her temples as though she was trying to ease a persistent ache. “I can’t believe she called you without telling me.”
“Oh good, you came.”
Zach turned to face a tall, exotic creature with short, straight black hair and wide-set brown eyes. She was tall enough to look Zach in the eyes, which few women did. The petite woman sitting behind her desk still stared at him as though he’d wronged her instead of the other way around.
“You must be Terri,” he said, offering his hand. He was used to turning on the charm for the camera. Even though seeing Rennie made him feel as though he’d soaked through his designer T-shirt, he refused to let them see him sweat. “My buddy Grayson said you called the High Rollers office looking for me?”
“Yes, I did.” She shot Rennie a look. “I was going to tell you, Rennie, but I wasn’t sure he would show. I didn’t want to get your hopes up.”
Zach’s gut clenched when he realized she still used the nickname he’d given her in high school.
Clearing her throat as though she was trying to pull herself together, Rennie said, “Terri, I can handle the meeting with Mr. Foster. Why don’t you run over to the party supplies store and pick up the balloons for tonight?”
“You’re not mad, are you?” Terri shot her boss a hopeful look.
Zach could tell by their dynamic that Rennie was the director Grayson had referred to and Terri was her assistant. He wondered why Rennie hadn’t called him. She had to know if she needed or wanted anything from him, the answer would always be yes. He may have spent a lot of years lost in hurt, anger, and bitterness, but one look at her reminded him of the girl he’d fallen in love with… the girl he’d desperately wanted to marry.
“We’ll talk about it later,” Rennie said, obviously unwilling to let her assistant off the hook. “Please close the door behind you when you leave.” Rennie waited until her assistant left before she looked at Zach. “Well, this is awkward.”
“What the hell, Rennie?” He’d been waiting years to ask her questions. “Why’d you leave me standing there—”
“I don’t want to re-hash the past,” she said, holding up her hand.
That’s when he saw the narrow gold band on her left hand. The air left his lungs in a rush, and he struggled to find words that wouldn’t come.
As though she sensed the change in his mood, she dropped her hand to her lap. “I’m sorry Terri called you. I’m sure you’re a very busy man.”
On unsteady legs, he made his way to the single chair across from her scarred metal desk. He couldn’t speak. He just stared at her, trying to reconcile the polished professional in front of him with the sexy, sassy girl who’d loved him whole-heartedly. “Why?” The single word would convey his meaning. She may not want to re-visit the past, but he deserved some answers.
“Why did she call?” she asked, pretending she didn’t understand the question. “We got a letter from a little boy who’s anxious to meet you. He has a heart defect and”—she pushed the letter across the desk—“well, you can read it for yourself.”
Zach scanned the handwritten words. They were shaky, outside of the lines, as though the boy was just learning how to write in cursive. He immediately thought of his nephew. Kevin’s little boy, Danny, was four, but he was anxious to learn how to print. He wanted to write stories like the ones his mommy read him before bed every night. God, he loved that kid. He hadn’t been a huge fan of children until he held his nephew for the first time. That little man captured Zach’s heart, and he’d had him wrapped around his tiny finger ever since. If mommy and daddy said no, Uncle Zach always caved to his demands.
“Set it up,” he said. “I’ll have my people email you my schedule. Maybe he can come to a game, meet the whole team, get some autographs, pictures, whatever he wants.” He looked at her, losing himself in the memory of making love to her. He chastised himself for fantasizing about another man’s wife. Rennie was someone else’s wife, and that hurt more than the knowledge that he would never be free to touch her again.
“Um, okay,” she said, almost as though she was scrambling to think of an excuse to avoid making it happen. “I’ll have Terri make the arrangements. Obviously we can’t work together on this.”
“No, I guess your husband wouldn’t like it, would he?” Zach couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice. His hatred for a man he’d never met swelled. His eyes searched her desk for some evidence of the man who’d taken his place. He saw their wedding photo. “I guess when you agreed to marry him, you meant it, huh?”
“Don’t,” she said, conveying her hostility in a single word. “I said I don’t want to talk about the past. You don’t have the right to make me feel guilty for falling in love and building a life with someone else.”
A fastball to the gut—that’s what it felt like when
Rennie talked about loving another man. “Fine, you don’t want to talk about the past.” He got to his feet and braced his weight on his clenched fists as he leaned over her desk. “You wanna pretend I never meant anything to you, that the years we spent together didn’t matter? Fine. But if you want me to pretend I’ve moved on, I can’t.”
She’d already stomped on his pride when she left him standing at the altar like a fool, waiting for her. He had no reason to pretend the years since had done anything to repair his bruised ego. Every beautiful woman he dated or slept with was a poor substitute for the one who threw his wedding ring back in his face in the form of a folded slip of paper.
Sliding her chair back, she stared up at him, her eyes wide. “I never meant—”
“What? To hurt me? To ruin my life? Well, you did!” The other people in the small office suite could hear his outburst, but he didn’t care. He didn’t intend to leave until she knew what she’d done to him.
Her face hardened, and her remorse slipped behind a mask of indifference. “Don’t pretend to be the victim in all this. We both know you got exactly what you wanted.”
“How do you figure?”
“I left, and you were free to go back to the bachelor life you missed so much. No wife at home waiting on you, no kids demanding your attention.” Crossing her arms, she glared at him. “Is it everything you hoped it would be?”
He was shocked she was cruel enough to remind him of the life she’d stolen from him, the life she shared with someone else. “My life is pretty goddamn empty without you.” He couldn’t believe he was baring his soul to a woman who’d made it clear she was done with him. Almost as though his subconscious was in control, the feelings he’d been trying so hard to suppress rose to the surface.
“Yeah, I can see that.” She held up a newspaper photo of him with last night’s blonde. “I really feel for you.”
“What do you want me to say?” He threw up his hands. “That I’ve been celibate for the past ten years? I haven’t, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about you. I tried to track you down. Where the hell did you go?”
She lifted a shoulder as her gaze landed on the black and white photo of Zach and his date. “I needed to get away for a while, to sort things out.”
“How long have you been back?”
He had a perverse need to know everything that had happened to her in the years they’d been apart—everything except how she met the man in the photo. His eyes involuntarily slid back to the photo, and that’s when he saw the little boy. “Oh my God, you have a kid.”
He reached for the frame, wanting to get a closer look to determine if the little boy looked like his mother or the man he considered his mortal enemy. Before he could grasp the frame, she shoved it into her desk drawer. “I already told you I don’t want to take a trip down memory lane with you.”
“How old is he?” he asked, narrowing his eyes. The boy looked at least eight, which meant she hadn’t waited long to move on.
She licked her lips, and her eyes shifted from her watch to the door. “He’s… uh… turning nine.”
“Nine? So you meant
the year after you left me?” When she didn’t respond, he said, “God damn it, Rennie, you owe me something!”
“Fine, yes, okay. I met Nathan the year after I moved away. Are you satisfied?”
Was she out of her mind? He couldn’t remember a time when he’d been more irritated.
“I’m sorry to cut this short, but I have a meeting in a few minutes. I’ll have Terri contact your representative. If you can just give me a card with their contact information, or yours, I’ll pass it on to Terri.”
“I’m working with you.” He didn’t care if her husband liked it or not. Causing her new man as much discomfort as possible was suddenly his new mission in life.
“I don’t think so.”
“Really?” He scanned the letter on her desk. “Then you can be the one to tell Jake it ain’t gonna happen.” He was bluffing. He would never deny a sick child’s wish just to spite his ex, but she didn’t have to know that.
“You would do that?” she asked, her distaste for him seeping into her controlled tone. “Of course you would. I don’t know why I’m surprised.”
Taking a card out of his wallet, he slid the card across the desk. “So
can call me tomorrow. If you wanna make this happen, you can take me out for lunch so we can discuss the details.”
“But, but…” she sputtered, her face flaming. “You said to call your office, that your people would email your schedule and—”
“I know.” Lifting a shoulder, he smirked. She used to hate it when he did that. “I changed my mind. You must work with enough celebrity types to know how we are.” He hated fame and everything that went with it. She knew that—or at least she used to know that. Back when they knew each other better than anyone else. That seemed like a lifetime ago.
“So that’s the way it’s going to be,” she said, crumpling his business card.
“That’s the way it’s going to be.” He crossed the small room in two strides. “I’ll expect to hear from you tomorrow. Don’t wait too long to clear your schedule. Like you said, I’m a very busy man.”
Rennie was still fuming half an hour later when Terri returned. “I brought you a peace offering,” Terri said hesitantly, holding a take-out cup from Rennie’s favorite café.
“How could you do that?” Rennie slapped her desk. “I hadn’t even approved the application.”
“But I knew you would have if you’d heard Jake’s voice,” Terri said, setting the cup down when Rennie failed to accept it.
“How did you hear his voice?” As if she didn’t know. Terri had obviously been busy contacting the applicant and his family while she’d been tied up in meetings all morning.
“I… uh… called his house. I thought it would be a good idea to go ahead with the preliminary interview, just in case you decided to move forward with it.” When Rennie dropped her face into her hands, Terri said, “I didn’t make any promises. I just told them we would see what we could do.”
Rennie reached for the coffee. She deserved a reward for putting up with all the strong-willed people in her life. “I can’t believe you did that. What were you thinking?”
“I was just trying to help,” Terri said, her normally harsh voice softening. “I’m sorry.”
Rennie allowed guilt to seep in. Terri was the best assistant she’d ever had, and she couldn’t afford to lose her just because she was a wreck after seeing her ex. She couldn’t believe it. Zach not only knew she was back in town, but he knew she had a son. What a nightmare. “It’s okay. We’ll figure something out.”
“You mean Zach Foster didn’t agree to meet Jake?”
Rennie took a sip of her coffee as she scrambled to come up with an excuse. “He will, but he expects me to make all the arrangements.”
“I don’t see the problem,” Terri said, frowning. “You usually do that when high profile people are involved.”
“This case is different.” Rennie was trying to decide whether she should confide in Terri about her history with Zach when her door burst open and her son came barrelling in.
“I’m sorry, Rennie,” her friend Karina said. Karina was a dental hygienist who worked three days a week, so they shared carpool duties. “I told him to knock first.”
“It’s okay.” Rennie laughed as her son threw his arms around her neck. “Thanks for bringing him by. I’ll pick the kids up tomorrow. If that works for you?”
“That would be great. Thanks.” Karina waved as she closed the door behind her.
“Hey,” Terri said, crooking a finger at Tyler. “I have a secret to tell you.”
Rennie watched her son move in close enough to hear Terri whisper. His big dark eyes widened and his mouth fell open, revealing two spaces where baby teeth had been.