Many thanks again to Estragon for everything. Words can never fully express the amount gratitude for your help and edits. As always, comments/feedback/suggestions are always welcomed. Cheers!
“Dammit! How in the hell am I supposed to find anything?” Hadley exclaimed to herself while she was driving. “Give a girl some mountains, something!” She blew out a frustrated breath and looked down at the directions Sam had given her on how to get to the house. She had gotten off at the right exit, turned left, gone down four miles—she had gotten lost.
One of the traffic lights turned red, giving her a minute to glance around for landmarks. Spotting a Dunkin’ Donuts and a small insurance company, she picked up the phone and called Samantha. The telephone rang several times and went unanswered. Of course it did, she thought. She’s hosting a party and figured you’d find your way to her house.
Shaking her head as the light turned green, Hadley reached down and re-examined the directions. Carefully glancing down and back up at the road, she caught her fatal mistake and had missed a turn off.
Looking for the nearest street where she could turn around, Hadley swiftly got back on track and within ten minutes finally pulled up into the long drive leading to the house. Expensive cars littered the drive and the paved area surrounding the house. Her trusty little Civic did her justice and got her from one place to the next, and she decided it was just as good as some over-the-top gas guzzler. She parked the car and got out as people were walking around outside. Loud voices were bellowing out from behind the house, so she assumed there was something happening back there. Music was playing but not blaring, as it seemed there were children running around.
Just as she started to walk up the front steps leading toward the house, a voice she would recognize anywhere called out to her. “You’re late!”
“Yeah, well blame my den mother. She gave crap directions.”
“I gave you the easiest directions ever!”
“Okay, yeah you did. How do you even get around here? I got lost.” Hadley stepped off of the porch and walked to the woman.
Laughing, Samantha rushed over and hugged Hadley. “I am so glad you’re here!” For several minutes, the two hugged, laughed and hugged some more. “I still can’t get over you moved to Chicago.”
Nodding, “It’s crazy, right?”
“Crazy, but it works! I want to hear everything. You were whispering yesterday so I have no idea what’s going on with your roommate.”
“Oh my God, Sam. I need a drink first.”
“That can be done, but first you have to come in so you can get introduced.” Hadley raised a fine eyebrow at her friend. “It’s standard, sorry. And please, as if you don’t want to give Gabe a hard time!”
“It’s my job. This is really your house?” She followed Samantha around the side of the house to where there were a gaggle of men and women lounging around with cups and beer bottles in their hands. The luscious aroma from the grill filled the air.
“Yes, but it still doesn’t feel like I live here. Don’t get me wrong, our stuff is scattered all over the place, but home is at the cabin.” Samantha waved over to her fiancé and he amiably walked over to the women, a big smile across his face at the sight of Hadley.
As if he’d known her for a lifetime, but really only met a couple of times in person, Gabe Russell pulled Hadley in for a giant bear hug causing her to squeak. “You smell like coffee.”
She struggled but managed to get out of his grasp, gasping she gave him a pointed look. “You smell like pigskin and it’s giving me a headache.”
If she’d expected to offend him, she should have known better. Gabe only laughed; “I’m not hearing any complaints.”
Hadley shook her head and flapped her hands, “I just complained!” Laughing, she turned to Samantha.
“Don’t look at me, I live with this.”
“Glad you made it, Hadley. What are you drinking? And if you tell me something skim I’m handing you a beer.”
“Wine would be fine, thanks Gabe.”
Before walking away to grab a drink for Hadley, Gabe turned and gave a swift kiss across Samantha’s lips. The sight of the two of them together made the humid air thicker to breathe. Samantha slipped her arm through Hadley’s and walked her along the backyard, introducing her. Several of the people around had said their hellos, others nodded and kept on with their conversations. Grabbing the drinks from Gabe, Samantha steered them into the house where Hadley got the full tour. Pictures were scattered on the walls, some from Gabe and others from Samantha and then several of the two of them together.
The house was definitely comfortable, but she knew her friend all too well and understood immediately. Even though the couple had been living within the confines of familiar articles, the house itself seemed a little more closed off, something that was definitely a far cry from who the residents really were. As they made their way back down, rather than heading back into the backyard, Hadley followed Samantha to the front porch. Before they made it outside, however, Hadley froze in place causing Samantha to jerk slightly.
Hadley’s eyes were riveted on a large picture that hung on the wall near the front door. Her eyes widened and her chest expanded. “This looks wonderful here.”
Samantha rested her head on Hadley’s shoulder. “I know, thank you for this one. I had this up at the cabin and made Gabe take it down to bring it here. There are just some things that you need to make a place feel like home, and this is one of those things.”
Hadley had spent so many nights haunted by visions for the canvas she had painted for them. One night, she had been lying in bed when all of the sudden the idea came at her. Her friend had always loved flowers, so naturally she started to use the shape of a single stem as the foundation. In the hours of the evening, her hand became possessed, the colors combined to create such variations and textures that by the time she finished it—it was one of her finest. Her works had all bits of metal infused with the paints, but Samantha’s was different. It was to embody a powerful union of people that was rich and true. Through deep reds and piercing ambers, the flower became a tree filled with branches extending out. Naturally abstract, it represented the life Sam and Gabe were creating. It touched her, that they had taken the canvas with them from one house to the next.
“Okay, sit. We won’t get bothered out here.” Samantha gestured to the glider on the porch and both women sat down.
“So how was your class yesterday?”
“Nope, this is all about you.” Samantha took a sip of wine and glanced at Hadley from the rim of the plastic cup.
Hadley caved, and threw her hands over her eyes. “My roommate is crazy! I mean that in the nicest way possible, I really do.” Encouraged by Samantha’s laugh, she went on. “The girl is always at the apartment, and I mean that. I keep telling her to get out and do something, but she says school is more important. I just don’t get her.”
“It’s only been a week, Had. You are a person of interest, I’d be curious too. “
“I’m no more interesting than she is. We talk, have coffee and everything else. I can’t help that I want to get outside and look at the buildings or go to an art gallery. Which, by the way is it just me or is everyone ridiculously nice here?”
“What do you mean?”
“The other day, I was walking around and stumbled into this gallery and started talking with a curator. Well, one thing led to another and I sort of got invited to an opening for an artist from Paris. I guess he’s coming into town for the event. Seems fun.”
“It’s not just you. It’s how things are here. People will open up and tell you their whole life stories in minutes.”
“That’s just you!”
“Yeah, that is just me. I am serious though, you’ll notice that more and more the longer you are here.”
As the women got caught up, they both seemed to be drinking in each other’s words and had not realized how much time had slipped by. An oversized SUV came roaring into the parking lot, pulling Samantha’s attention away from their current topic of her upcoming nuptials.
“Here comes trouble.” She muttered and took another sip of her wine. Hadley followed the gaze as a man who appeared in his later twenties shuffled up to the porch. Everything about him screamed sex appeal and international affair. Hadley took note of his designer jeans that hugged his muscular legs but left room for the imagination. With the heated September day, the man disregarded the warmth and chose fashion over humidity. He wore a stylish wrinkled button up that he’d left un-tucked from the jeans. A slim pair or silver rimmed sunglasses covered his eyes, which were focused on the two of them on the glider.
Samantha sniffed. Instantly Hadley turned to her and laughed. Her friend had crossed her arms over her chest. “You have absolutely no excuses, Mr. Jennings, for being tardy.”
“I’m not one of your students, Sam, I had things to do this morning. If your loving husband hasn’t already told you that.”
“He’s not my husband yet, but that’s beside the point. I’m still mad at you for how you just left that poor girl at the bar the other night.” Hadley’s eyes had gone back and forth between the two. She knew Samantha well enough that she was giving this man a run for his money.
“You set me up with a stalker, what else would you expect me to have done?” The man removed his sunglasses and placed them in the breast pocket of his shirt, his cool blue eyes slowly taking in Hadley.
“I didn’t know she was a jersey chaser until you said something. She seemed so normal and fun.”
“She’s fun, I’ll give you that. Normal, that’s one I’d reconsider.”
Realizing that she had completely forgotten Hadley, Samantha introduced her. “Sorry Hadley. This is Marcus Jennings, he plays for the Cougars. Marcus, this is my good friend Hadley Wilkerson.”
Marcus nodded, his gaze held firm on her but he remained silent. Arrogance oozed from his stance, but Hadley recognized the trait and knew it all too well so she spoke for him. “Nice to meet you, Marcus Jennings.”
Inside the house, someone shouted at the sight of Marcus through the glass windows lining the front of the house. Craning his neck, he looked beyond the women and shrugged his shoulders. Samantha shook her head at his quiet motion, “Oh just go! But do me a favor and bring a bottle of white wine out here will you?”
Marcus laughed as he climbed the stairs. “Why don’t you get that lazy lug to bring it to you?”
“Because that lazy lug was with you this morning, and he needs a break. You on the other hand, don’t get one.”
“Sam, don’t worry about it. I’ll go in and grab the bottle.” Hadley interrupted their friendly banter and started to rise. “I could use some water anyway.”
Samantha teased her friend. “What’s the point of having all of these guys around the house and you still end up doing all of the work?”
All three of them laughed, and Hadley followed Marcus into the house. As soon as he was inside someone pulled him into one of the rooms while she continued to head toward the kitchen. The house was definitely overwhelming, something Samantha had warned her it would be. It still surprised her to see both players and coaches spending so much time together, even off the field. Using the kitchen faucet, she poured a small glass of water and enjoyed a quiet moment. It seemed like a crazy lifestyle and she commended her friend for embracing it. Hadley found herself kind of glad that she didn’t have to worry about game schedules and which of the wives to be friends with. Grabbing one of the bottles of wine from the refrigerator she quieted the clutter in her mind in order to let loose and have a little more fun.
Marcus was talking to a few of the guys, but couldn’t give his full attention to the current conversation. While the guys were talking about the game the following day, Marcus’ mind was occupied, thinking about the blonde sitting next to Samantha. Even though she had been sitting, he figured she couldn’t be all that tall and was quite comfortable with herself. The blonde seemed like someone who walked around her own way, and could care less what anyone thought of her, especially anyone judging someone wearing cowboy boots on a humid day. It didn’t surprise him that she was friends with Sam. Over the past year, he had become close to Gabe and Samantha, but still didn’t the slightest clue as to who Hadley was.
A booming voice broke through his thoughts, “J—get out of the way for her.”
Snapping his eyes, Marcus turned and saw Hadley trying to squeeze through the crowded front room with a bottle in her hand. A crooked smile kicked up at the corner of his mouth. Shifting his muscular frame to open some space for her, Marcus walked over to get the front door for her.
“You overwhelmed yet?”
Smiling, Hadley looked up into a pair of piercing eyes that were dancing with intrigue. “Not a bit.”
“You sure about that one?” The tone of his voice filled with curiosity making the meaning questionable.
She saw right through his fake demeanor. “Didn’t you know, I already got all of the boys in the back lined up for shots.”
Marcus raised a brow and held the door for her. “You’re serious?”
“Very. Though I didn’t see you had signed up so I’m guessing you’re the one who’s a bit overwhelmed.”
Very few times did Marcus get taken aback, but the woman had taken the words right out of him. Laughing, he shook his head ruefully. When he recovered, he pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “Those guys won’t do anything with the coaches here.”
“That’s what the coaches said about you.” In her cowboy boots, Hadley reared up on her tip toes which hadn’t gotten her very taller, and dropped her voice. “Are you afraid of a little shot here and there?”
Without allowing him to respond, she gave him a wicked grin and turned on her boot heels, heading back out to the porch. Marcus stared for a good minute trying to know where in the hell that had come from. It wasn’t often a girl had turned the tables on him. He joined in the conversation between several of the other players, which was not surprisingly being held together by Jamal Wallace, the Cougars’ star safety. For a good while, he had gotten pulled into the jokes that were flying among the teammates.
Through the large bay window overlooking the front yard, he kept stealing glances out at the women sitting on the glider. The short blonde was gesturing with her hands and must have said something funny, as Samantha had tumbled over laughing hysterically. The girl--he had already forgotten her name, was shaking her ashy tresses and while turned in the direction of the house, caught a glance at Marcus as he was watching her. Her eyes crinkled at the corners as she smiled at him. He should have been embarrassed, but was pleased that she had seen him. Women came easily into his life, and he’d never had any troubles with the ones that had come and gone over the years.
Patting one of his teammates’ shoulders, Marcus spoke low. “I need a refill. Anyone else?” All of the guys who were huddled together declined the offer, so Marcus made his way into the backyard where the majority of the coaches were sitting with their families. It didn’t shock Marcus that the groups were separated. It was as if the guys were being chaperoned, only the separate lines didn’t bother him and he gladly crossed over.
Gabe sat in one of the many wicker chairs along the side of the house. Seeing an open chair next to him Marcus grabbed a couple of beers from the cooler and gestured one out to Gabe before sitting.
Nodding, the older man took the long-neck. “Thanks.”
He took a sip from his own bottle. “Nice day for this. Thanks again for helping me out this morning.”
Gabe took a swig of the amber ale. “Anytime. Sam was bustling around this morning, so I was more than happy to get out of her way. When she plans, it’s like a storm hits.”
“Isn’t she planning a wedding right now?”
“Yeah, and I couldn’t be happier that it falls right after the season.” Marcus didn’t believe him for a minute and knew that Gabe would be around to help Samantha out at any time.
“Who’s the girl that’s sitting with her?” After speaking the words, he nonchalantly tipped the bottle to his own lips.
Gabe gave him a pointed look. “No.”
“What are you talking about, no?”
“That’s Sam’s best friend, there is no way in hell you’re going within ten feet of her.”
Marcus raised his hand and shrugged his shoulders. “All I was doing was asking about the new girl that is at a party.”
Gabe eyed the younger man for several long seconds, so long that Marcus didn’t think he’d answer. “She moved here from Seattle. They’ve been friends for years. She’s off limits.”
Laughing at the bluntness Gabe was giving him, “Never any faith from either one of you. Here I was just asking a few questions.”
“We’ve got faith in you, but you be the one to ask Sam about Hadley and see what kind of response she gives you. Your track record isn’t very admirable. This was a fair warning.”
“Fair enough.” Marcus took another swig before venturing the topic that always made its way between the two men. “How do you think tomorrow’s going to go?”
“It can only go one of two ways. Everyone’s run through the plays more than enough times and you all know by now how to attack the Saints. We’ll have to wait and see what happens on the field.”
Marcus leaned back in the stiff chair and talked with Gabe. A few of the other coaches joined in before long and soon he found himself forgetting about Hadley and was enjoying himself with the people around him. Being around everyone brought him back into the mindset he needed to be in. The game tomorrow was crucial and he had to be in top form. Nothing could rattle him, and if it could, he couldn’t afford it.
Later that night, Gabe was gathering the last of the paper plates and stuffing them into a garbage bag. Samantha was lounging in the house on the overstuffed couch, relaxing from a job well done. Together they had cleaned up for the most part, but she had put the cookout together so he sent her in the house and told her that he would finish up. Tossing the last garbage bag on the side of the house, he walked inside and was immediately hit with the scent of vanilla. Smiling, he followed the aroma into the living room to a waiting Sam who was curled up reading a book, several scented candles lit within the room.
“I’d say that was a successful day.” As she spoke, Samantha put the book down and lifted up so Gabe could slide on the couch beside her.
Reaching around her, he tilted her chin with his thumb. “You threw a great party, sweetheart.” Winking at her, Gabe dropped his lips and kissed her softly, nearly breaking away as she hummed with pleasure.
For several long moments, they sat quietly, taking in the quiet evening. Samantha snuggled closer into his chest, but Gabe was the first to speak. “You and Hadley seemed occupied today, I hardly saw her for more than a hello and then to say goodbye.”
Raking her hands along his chest, she spoke quietly. “I know, it’s been so long. She was talking about her roommate and then about some of the requests for a few of her pieces out in New York. We sort of lost track of time. I still can’t believe that she only packed a single bag and came out here.”
Gabe rubbed her side and kissed the top of her head, his lips lingering as he spoke against the soft hair. “What’s she running away from?”
“I don’t think she’s running away from any person in particular, if anything it would be herself. I’m glad she’s here, besides I haven’t seen her this excited for a long time. Who knows, maybe this move is exactly what she needs right now.”
“You think she needs something?”
Samantha tilted her head and closed her eyes, thinking the question over for a moment. “I think she needs to stop trying to be someone and start being herself. She hides behind walls and sometimes it’s hard to break through her. Maybe by moving here, she will get a chance to see herself and really live for her.”
“You don’t think she was living for herself in Seattle?” Gabe was curious. From all of the conversations they had about Hadley, Sam had always been so concerned about her.
“She was, but there’s always influences. Here, she’s got only herself to turn to. It’s going to be interesting to see how she works it. Hadley can make friends with just about anybody, but she does it in a way where she can also walk away without thinking twice. She’s always been that way.”
“You guys are still friends, she hasn’t walked away from you.”
“We are more like family, she knows I’ll hunt her down.”
Gabe sighed. “All you can do is sit back on the sidelines and see what happens, then.”
Laughing, she twisted to look up into Gabe’s face. “You would say something like that!”
His eyes twinkled, “What?”
“Don’t give me that, what
! Always the coach. Look at Hadley, she came here with the barest of things. I can’t even go from one house to the other without our kitchen table and the picture she gave us.”
His voice dropped low, tenderness radiating from every part of him. “Those things are part of our home.” He dropped a feather light kiss across her pliant lips. “No matter where we go, they’re coming with us.”
“I love that you feel the same way I do about them.”
“I’m a good guy.”
Samantha squeezed him tight. “Don’t get too arrogant on me.”
Hearing her say that, made Gabe remember the conversation he had with Marcus. Stiffening up ever so slightly, he spoke. “Marcus seemed a little interested in Hadley today.”
Samantha sat straight up and looked at Gabe in the eyes. “I knew he would. That guy, I swear he thinks about one thing only. Well, he can forget it. When we were outside she mentioned him too. I guess Marcus was trying to be his typical self in front of her. Anyway, she laughed it off and picked up on his cockiness.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “I hate that she thought that about him, because he’s not shallow at all. But the things he does sometimes, he’s prone to come across that way.”
“You know he only thinks about football, and the women throw themselves at him. They’re only entertainment for him.”
“I know. If Hadley ever, and this is a huge if ever, but if she ever got involved with him it would be a fast lesson to learn.” Samantha noticed the hard look on Gabe’s face and lifted her brow in a silent question.
“I told him she was off limits.”
Laughing, she finally relaxed. “She’s a grown woman, Gabe. But thank God you did say something because if he asked me I would have slugged him!”
“If she knew any of this, she’d hurt both of us. I don’t care how small she is, she can hold her own.”
“No, she wouldn’t. She knows I love her and would always look out for her.”
Pulling her closer so that she fell into his lap, he spoke against her parted lips. “You know who’ll always love you?”
Smiling, she said “I do. I love you too.” They lay on the couch for some time holding each other close, before Gabe carried Samantha up to their bedroom where he could love her properly. Knowing he would leave her early in the morning for the game, he wanted to spend enough hours to luxuriate in her body and stay beside her warmth.
Marcus stood under the shower in the Cougars’ locker room, as the hot water pummeled his hair and ran down his face. The Cougars had pulled a victory against New Orleans on Sunday and Monday was the players’ off day but he took advantage of the afternoon to run a few laps, something several of the other players did on their days off. Seton had thrown him several passes, and he was proud that he’d caught every single one without too much of a hassle. He winced slightly as he soaped up his side. Ruelcox from the Saints had taken him down hard and a bruise was forming, the skin tender to touch.
There were only a few other guys left in the locker room. Shutting off the shower, Marcus grabbed the towel and rubbed his hair down before wrapping the cloth around his waist. Several of the guys were blowing off steam at a local hangout and he’d said that he would meet up with them for a drink or two. After the win, he was still riding the high. His little ‘hiccup’ as Gabe had called it was a distant memory and he felt like celebrating.
“We’re all meeting up at Bandidos
, you know the place J?” Tim Mathews asked as he was leaving the locker room.
Tossing his shaving kit down on the counter, Marcus rubbed his hair. “Yeah, I know it.” He knew it all too well. Many times had he gone to Bandidos
to blow off steam from a shitty practice or a game gone wrong. Other times, he’d gone to confide in a coach that seemed to understand him in more ways than one.
“So we’ll see you then, right?”
“I’ll be right behind you guys.” Marcus took his time shaving and getting ready. He hadn’t planned on doing anything other than working out for a couple of hours and calling it good for the day. But who was he to say no to the guys?
By the end of the hour, he was dressed and ready to go. His body fresh from the shower, and as he did a last glance over, he sprayed himself with the cologne someone sent his agent. Apparently some fragrance merchant had wanted him to represent them, so they’d sent samples. The stuff smelled good enough so he sprayed himself a few times. If it smelled expensive, it drew people in.
Parking in Chicago was accessible, but not always easy to come by. He’d gotten comfortable with parking his SUV on a side street, but seeing as there were more cars on the street and the spots were dismal, he ended up using the valet at the lot. Unless he was dining in the Loop, he hated doing this and would rather park his SUV himself, but tonight seemed necessary. There must have been something going on in the city that he didn’t know about.
Upon walking into Bandidos
he immediately saw his group. If it weren’t for the swarming mass of ladies that surrounded his teammates, he might have had a harder time locating them. Drawing in a deep breath, Marcus decided to put on the ‘Marcus show.’ All of his life, he had never had troubles with meeting people, so tonight would be no different. As he walked to the group, several people in the bar started shouting out at him. He waved as a courtesy and offered little nothings, but never let anyone in.
As he dropped an elbow onto the bar, he looked down for the bartender. He really didn’t want to be there that evening, and would rather be studying game film and practice patterns, but that was the least of his problems. He didn’t want to ward off women for the night or drink beers that would only make him run that many more laps around the field. Craning his head, he peered down and sure enough not five seats down from where he was, he saw a petite blonde woman hunched over the bar. There were several women scattered in the bar, but this one happened to be alone. He would much rather be sitting near someone on their own and wouldn’t have to worry if they were going to drape an arm around his shoulder or thrust their tongue down his throat. If he wanted it there, he damn well would get it there.
A sly smile curled from the corner of his mouth as he watched her. She was thumbing through something on her telephone and writing notes on a napkin. Her hair was as straight at a board and her presence quiet. It was as if she had a sign that said, ‘If you come on to me, I will gut you like a fish.’ Marcus saw something else in her attitude, and decided to walk over to her, forgetting the bartender in the process.
Seating himself in the empty seat next to her, he spoke casually. “What’s a pretty lady like you sitting by yourself in a happening bar?”
Slowly, Hadley’s head lifted, taking in the unwanted interruption. “I’m sorry, what?”
“It’s not very often someone sees a lonely woman sitting at the bar by herself, unless of course she’s looking for trouble.”
Cocking her eyebrow at him, Hadley wasn’t falling for his cocky jargon. “First of all, I’m not lonely. Second of all, I could make you cry in three seconds.”
“Yup.” Hadley took a sip of the beer in front of her.
Shaking his head, Marcus spoke condescendingly. “Yeah, somehow I don’t really think so.”
Never skipping a beat, Hadley reached over and grabbed his hand. She held it loosely but put a grip on a pressure point that caused him to jerk. His eyes snapped and a queer sound pulsed from his lips. With a sinister laugh, Hadley let go. “You’re a sissy.”
Marcus rubbed his hand and gaped at her. “Are you sure you’re a woman in that body?”
Laughing, Hadley sipped her beer. “I’m all woman, or can’t you tell?”
“I’m having a hard time with that one.” They both laughed. The bartender came over and took Marcus’ order, and Marcus gestured to refill Hadley’s drink.
Waiving her hands, she signaled that she didn’t want another but he denied her the chance. The luck of having her drawn into the bar was one thing, but the fact that she was still sitting next to him was something else entirely.
Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she leaned her cheek against her palm. “What makes you think I’m taking a single sip from that beer?”
“The fact that you even feel the need to ask me that, is just flat out stupid. Nobody turns down a beer.”
“What if I didn’t like it?”
Marcus took her bottle that had very little left and took a sip. Licking his lips, his eyes squinted while looking at her. “It’s an all right beer, but you’d be better off with a 312.”
“No. It’s local, but seeing as you aren’t from here, you wouldn’t know that, would you?”
“Listen, I don’t have to take this kind of crap from anybody.”
Marcus laid the barest of touches on her wrist, quieting any words that were forming in Hadley’s throat. Something inside sparked at his touch, causing her temperature to rise and heat to spread up her chest. “I’m not trying to piss you off, I’m only trying to be friendly.”
Sitting back in the bar stool, Hadley readjusted herself. “Seeing as you just got my drink, I’m going to use the washroom until it gets here.”
Marcus watched her as she stood up and started to walk to the back of the bar. She was all confidence and swagger that made him smile. He’d never met a girl that seemed so sure of herself, and yet wasn’t revealing anything. All of the women he’d gone to bed with or at least had pushed themselves upon him, revealed everything. And it wasn’t much. This one kept him guessing.
While she was gone, he took the time to send a few messages out that had been left on his phone. One to his agent, the others to a few friends that were wanting to meet up if he had time free in between practices and games.
As Hadley made her way back to the bar, she made up her mind to play around with Mr. Hotshot Football Player. He was cocky, she’d give him that, but he had probably worked it out in his mind that he would take her home and she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of that. Instead, she might as well have fun with him. The bar was playing some fun flashy song that had her dancing through the sea of bodies in the bar until she sat down. She was wearing frayed cut off shorts and a billowy top, and instead of following everyone else by wearing flip-flops, she wore ankle booties. Every article was carefully chosen from her tops to her hair, a perfect definition of someone selectively constructed.
Marcus watched her as she sang along with the song being played overhead. It was as if she forgot that there were people all around them. He liked that she was so carefree.
“You never answered what you were doing in a place like this.”
Hadley hooked her heel on the rung of the barstool. “A friend of mine told me about it, she said it was a fun bar to relax at.”
“If you didn’t notice, it’s pretty packed in here. Kind of makes it hard to relax.”
The ocean blue of her eyes twinkled. “I was doing just fine sitting right here until you decided to drop your dirty mouth on my bottle.”
There was something about her that was familiar, but he couldn’t place it. Marcus tried to think back to charities and nights out, somewhere he had met this woman. “If you say so.” Hadley took a sip from the large glass of the wheat ale and looked up at Marcus. “You’re welcome.”
“I never said thank you, but that is pretty good beer. Do you come here often?”
He shrugged his shoulders and looked at the screens behind her where clips from Sunday’s game were replaying, wincing at a replay. “Sometimes, it depends on the night. It’s usually a good place though, people don’t really bother you.”
Hadley propped her elbows on the bar and leaned into him. “People bother you often?”
“More or less, again, it depends on the night.” Marcus watched as Hadley ran a finger along the rim of her glass, before licking it. That little something in the back of his mind told him to probe her more. “So is your friend going to meet up with you tonight, or are you just hanging out by yourself?”
It didn’t really bother her that he hadn’t remembered who she was, actually she wasn’t surprised. He was a professional athlete, people probably came up to him at the most inopportune times. The price of fame. “You don’t remember me, do you?”
Marcus’ eyes stilled on her, and for a fleeting moment he wasn’t sure how to respond. Hadley sat staring at him, and then shook her head. “It’s okay, I wouldn’t remember me either. We met the other day, you’re actually friends with a good friend of mine. Samantha Morrison.”
The attractive blonde. The party. It all came back to him. How could he have forgotten who she was, let alone her sassy mouth that seemed destined to wreak havoc on anyone? “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.”
“I know you didn’t, that’s okay. I’m sure women are hanging off you half of the time.”
Marcus laughed, the sound deep and hearty and sexy as hell. Hadley sat up straighter in her seat. “Well, that’s something else. I’m—”
“Marcus, I remember.” She looked at him, her eyes wide and non-expectant. “Hadley.” She brought out her hand and brought it forward for a simple handshake.
Tilting his head to the side, he wasn’t used to a woman that was offering this type of gesture without flinging themselves at him. He accepted it and folded his large hand around her much smaller one, taking in her soft skin. “How long have you known Sam?”
“A while. We went to high school together, she was a couple of years ahead of me but we still had a few classes together. I can’t remember how we started talking, but we did and we’ve been friends ever since.”
“What brought you to Chicago? It’s a pretty good ways from home.”
“Not really, home is wherever you make it. It doesn’t have to be one place, or at least I don’t think so.” Hadley smiled at the way Marcus was thinking about what she had just said. “Several pieces of my artwork are being displayed in New York. Being someone from a smaller city, I wasn’t ready to make a move to a city that big so I chose the mid-way point.”
“Exactly. So I packed a bag and drove out. What about you, how long have you been playing for Gabe?”
“The Cougars, you mean?”
Hadley laughed, “Sorry. I’m terrible with sports and you’d think I’d know the name of the team by now, but it never stuck.”
“Don’t apologize to me, it’s the people in this city you’ve got to look out for. You’d think football was a religion here.” Marcus took a second to take a sip from the beer before continuing. “This is my second season here.”
“So where does the mysterious man behind the gridiron come from?”
He couldn’t hold back the snort that erupted from his mouth. “The Bay Area.”
“Really? Huh, I’m actually kind of surprised.”
“Because I’m not wearing Birkenstocks and listening to Green Day?”
“I wouldn’t have judged you if you had been.” Hadley laughed. “That was a horrible representation of the fine people of Northern California, by the way.”
“Yeah, it was. I have no idea where that came from.”
A large hand smacked the back of Marcus’ shoulder drawing his attention to the man behind him. Hadley noticed that Marcus appeared calm and must know the man who had patted him down. That man couldn’t have been much older than herself but had about one hundred pounds and a foot on her. It was times like these where she loved being small, or hated it. Seeing how the men were reacting, she was okay with it.
“Jennings, you gonna sit and talk with this chick all night? Or are you gonna hang out?”
Hadley interrupted before Marcus could say anything. “Unless you’re talking about some other girl, this woman can hear you loud and clear.”
The gorilla seemed at a loss from her remark. Marcus shook his head and chuckled. “Don’t take offense Fabian, I’m thinking this is how she is all of the time. Hadley, meet one of my teammates Fabian Velesquez.”
In a voice as sweet as pie Hadley turned and smiled. “It’s nice to meet you, Fabian.”
“I’m almost scared to be standing over here.” They all laughed, and before long several of Marcus’ teammates made their way over to their now growing group. Tables were brought up and Hadley found that she was the only girl in the group.
“So how do you know Jennings?” Fabian asked, his voice booming over the crowd behind him.
“Technically, I kind of know you too.” All four of the men instantly looked at her, their eyes widening at her declaration. Hadley waved her hands and smiled at the look of shock in their faces. “I’m not a groupie. Give me more credit than that. My friend is engaged to one of the coaches on your team.”
The men relaxed, a smile spread across Fabian’s face as he took in Hadley’s current attire. “You certainly don’t act like some of the girls that hang around.”
Without thinking, Hadley started laughing. Marcus was watching the guys move in on her and decided to drop his arm on the counter so it draped lightly behind her. They had moved their seats closer to allow the group to stand close while they were talking. Hadley turned with his movement and smiled at him, as a tender twisting in his gut kept him interested.
“I’m not really sure if that’s a compliment, but I guess I’ll take it. Speaking of girls that hang around, you seem to have lucked out tonight. Nobody’s coming up to you; when does that ever happen?”
Marcus cocked his head, “it’s why we come here. It’s about the only place where we can actually enjoy a night out, without being hounded.”
Jamal piped up from the side. “Some of us like being hounded.”
“Yeah right, your girl would have your ass if she heard you say that.” Until then, Devon Grant had been quiet.
“She probably would.”
A smile had been plastered to Hadley’s face as the guys started going off about their latest conquests, the women they were dating and weren’t dating. For a bunch of burly guys, they talked just like schoolgirls, and she was enjoying every second of their debate.
With the sight of her curious eyes, Marcus turned and whispered into her ear. “Hard to believe these guys play a violent game for a living, isn’t it?” He lingered for a minute as the scent of her shampoo drifted into his nose. It was soft and airy, like honeysuckle in the spring.
While the men argued about one of the rushing plays during the game on Sunday, Hadley turned to whisper back to Marcus. She didn’t want to interrupt the moaning and groaning of the group. “Yes, it is. I think I’m more curious that you’re all still standing here.”
“Why wouldn’t we be?”
“I don’t know. You all came to do whatever it is that you do, I don’t want to be in your way.”
“You’re not in anybody’s way. If anything, we took over your space.” His mouth twitched at the corners, and Hadley found herself feeling more than comfortable around the wide receiver. Something she knew she shouldn’t like, but was beginning to.
“That is true, I did come here to get away from my roommate.”
It was the first real statement she’d made about herself, and Marcus took advantage of it. “What happened with your roommate?” She took a minute to answer, as she sipped more beer. “Something so bad that you needed a drink first?”
“It’s nothing, really. I hardly know this girl, we’ve only been living together for a little over a week but I’m not used to living with someone so clingy.” He laughed, the sound deep causing her eyes to widen. “You laugh, but you don’t have roommates.”
“I forgot that you just moved here. Why didn’t you get your own place to start out with?”
Her shoulders shrugged, “Sam’s the only person I know here. She’s so wrapped up in Gabe and their wedding that I didn’t want to always bother her. But I’m the kind of person that has to get out and do something, and coming home alone wasn’t an option and I hoped to get a room with someone I could talk to. I’m kind of all over the place.”
“And being in a bar with your head in a sheet of paper is going to do that?”
“I didn’t say that. How did you know what I was doing?”
“I saw you first, remember? What were you doing?”
Hadley waved her hand. “Just a small sketch, it’s nothing interesting.”
“That’s not very fair. You know what I do, what is it that you do?”
“Oh there are so many names to it. Some would say perpetual wanderer, others would just call it being creative.” He gave her a look that told her she had not pleased him with her casualness. “I’m an artist.”
“So is Madonna.”
“Funny. Really, though. I paint; some of my work is starting to pick up. One of the bottles behind the bar caught my eye, and I started to draw it.”
“Is your artwork being showcased here in town?”
“Not here, no. I have a few pieces in a small gallery in SoHo, but have mainly sold privately to clients.”
Marcus raised his eyebrow. This woman was filled with wonder. “SoHo.”
Nodding. “It’s in Manhattan.”
He shook his head and laughed. “I know where it is!”
They began talking with each other, disregarding the group surrounding them that seemed to be dispersing in search for other people. Or to seek privacy of their own as onlookers were seeking them out. Even as she spoke about her art and newest job at a coffee shop not far from where she lived, the way she was revealing information seemed guarded. Not that Marcus blamed her for blocking herself off. He was more than familiar with that notion. Far too many times he had gotten a little too close for comfort with ex-girlfriends and they’d slapped a paternity suit on him or never told him that they had dated teammates. He’d known all too well to keep things at the bare minimum. By the fourth round of drinks, he was tired and knew the early morning practice was going to chomp at his gut that was filled with beer.
Shifting in the seat, he saw in the corner of his eyes that Hadley began to cover her mouth to stifle a yawn. Leaning over to her, “I’m tired too. I’ve got class tomorrow.”
A wicked smile broke across her pretty face. “Coffee awaits me. “
“And your roommate.”
“Don’t remind me.” Reaching down for her bag, Marcus laid a hand on hers to stop the movement. The touch sent a shiver through her body. Looking into his eyes, she noticed that they had darkened to a deeper blue. All he did was shake his head and went about paying for the entire tab of his group and her drinks.
Knowing she was still getting used to the public transportation as she had professed her fear of getting lost, he offered to drive her home. Hadley had wanted to say no, but something deep within herself told her to shut up and go for it.
Her apartment complex was on the other side of town and as his SUV weaved through the late night traffic, both of them seemed content with keeping quiet. Just as Hadley’s eyes started to flutter anticipating a deep slumber, Marcus pulled the car to a stop.
“Home sweet home, or I hope this is it. I can’t see the numbers from here.”
“Yes, this is it.” Hadley grabbed her bag and started to reach for the door handle. “Thank you, Marcus. I…I had fun tonight.”
“Me too, I guess there are perks for having a day off.” Slowly, she got out of the SUV and walked around the front to get to the front door of the complex. Marcus realized that all evening while they talked, he had never asked for her number. They’d laughed and held conversations as if they had known each other for some time. Hadley had gotten along with all of the guys, and even pulled a few jokes on some. Quickly, he wrestled with the handle and bolted out of the vehicle. “Hadley, wait!”
Stopping just short of the front door, she turned and saw Marcus taking the steps two at a time. “Since you don’t really know anybody in town, maybe you’d want to hang out some time. Might be fun to get shown around.”
“Won’t you be busy practicing throwing a ball around and getting caught up on daytime television?”
His voiced dropped low. “Smartass, I’m being serious. I have a life outside of football.”
For a long moment, Hadley stared at Marcus trying to sort him out. She couldn’t deny that she enjoyed the evening. He had been easy to talk with, and fun to be around. All it took was listening to him, in order to shut out his good looks. What harm could it be to know another person in the city? Since her roommate was slowly but surely turning into someone she definitely wouldn’t be spending more than the minimum amount of time with. Giving in to the summer blues of his eyes, she told him her telephone number and started to walk into the complex.
Just as Marcus had reached his car, she shouted out to him. “Just because you know where I live and have my number doesn’t mean you can stalk me now, Jennings.”
Laughing, he shouted right back to her. “All is fair Ms. Wilkerson; you gave up the goods so it’s time to pay the price.” He sank into the soft leather seat of the SUV and took off while she gaped at him. It had been a while since he actually enjoyed himself around a woman. Hadley seemed to be filled with surprises. Mentally taking note of his practice schedule, he figured there could be one day that she could squeeze him in between brewing coffee and splattering paint.
Marcus started the following Saturday with a morning practice at the Mall of America Field in Minneapolis and was now lying on the hotel bed studying up on plays. Even during his time away from the field, there was always something he could be doing trying to perfect his game. The team had an away game and was facing the Vikings the following afternoon. A light rain had descended upon the Twin Cities and he was more than thankful to be indoors even though he was getting bored with looking over the same sheets of paper as if it were the bible.
As he punched the pillows for a little extra cushion a thought occurred to him and he wondered why it had taken so long to remember. Even in his busiest of weeks, he always remembered to call girlfriends just to give a friendly hello. Or to fill the time that was always so quiet when he was alone in a room. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he leaned over to the nightstand and grabbed his cell phone. Thumbing through the contact list until he found her number, Marcus quickly glanced at the clock and saw that it was still early that afternoon. Getting comfortable on the bed, he dialed Hadley and hoped she wasn’t working.
“Hello?” Even though several days had passed, he remembered the sound of her voice as if it were yesterday.
“Hadley? It’s Marcus Jennings.”
“Oh…hi.” To his own ears, she sounded winded and short. He wasn’t deterred from the call, as she remained on the line.
“How is everything going?” A horn honked in the background and the screeching sounds of the EL muffled her words. “Or should I ask you where you are going?”
He was greeted with a breathy laugh, “Its going. I just got off from work, but have to be someplace in a few minutes. I’m surprised you called, Marcus.”
Tightening his grip on the phone, he spoke. “Why would you be surprised, I’m your stalker remember?”
“That is so true! So, what’s up?”
“Nothing, I’m bored and there’s nobody else around that can entertain me.”
Hadley scoffed, “So you call me…to distract you? That’s typical.”
Marcus was glad she couldn’t see him smiling because he couldn’t wipe the smirk from his face. “What else can I do before I head out for dinner?”
“Wait a minute, where are you?”
“Minneapolis, we have a game here tomorrow. I’ve been busy with practices all week otherwise I would have called you to distract me then, but it’s been crazy.”
This time, it was Hadley who paused. When she spoke she sounded unfocused on their call. “You don’t have to call me for a distraction, Marcus.”
“I can hang up right now.”
“That’s not what I meant. I know you are busy, I’d forget to call me if I was playing tomorrow.”
“No you wouldn’t.” Encouraged that she had not hung up, he kept talking. “Where are you going?”
“I’m meeting up with a guy to look at a studio space. It’s close to my apartment and cheap, how perfect is that?”
“I’m guessing pretty perfect. Why do you need a studio if you have an apartment to do your painting?”
“There are always fumes or fans going. I worry about my roommate and the people on the same floor. That, and I’m messy.” Marcus sank deeper into the bed and laughed at her casual confession. “I’m being rude, but since you called me, I guess I shouldn’t feel bad talking about myself. What is the typical day before a game like for you?”
“I’m watching reality shows on the television.” Hadley laughed, but Marcus didn’t have the heart to tell her that sometimes he really did watch horrible shows while he sat in the hotel room. Other times he would make calls to his agent, work out contracts for endorsements, or wander the streets. Wandering the streets never went over well, no matter which town he had gone to. People recognized the players, depending on their size or where they walked around. Dining out, he was always with groups and could care less. Playing ball was his job. He owed as much as an autograph or a warm smile to the people who got him this far. “I’m actually meeting up with a bunch of guys and we’re going for dinner in a little bit. You should catch the game tomorrow if you’re not working.”
“It depends on what time the game starts. I have to work until three and was hoping to work on a new canvas.”
“That’s too bad. Good that you’ll be painting. Bad that the game starts at one, so you’ll probably miss it.”
In a voice that sounded apologetic yet playful, she cooed, “Sorry, Marcus. I’m sure there will be someone in the café that will have updates going all afternoon, so even though I won’t see your pretty face, I will get to hear all of the highlights.”
“Very funny, you’ll get to see a game one day. Hey look, that’s not why I was calling though. Do you have any days off next week?”
“I’m pretty sure I have Thursday off, but will have to check the schedule. Why?”
“Hadley, you forget the reason I even started this call.”
“Yes and no. There’s a new restaurant off Hubbard that just opened up. My agent took his wife there and said it was one of the better places in the city. Do you want to go?”
“I don’t know, Marcus. With my job and everything, money is kind of tight right now.”
Marcus dropped his voice and spoke lightly with sympathy and yet still firm. “Who said anything about you paying? I asked you. Besides, this gives you a chance to blow a hole in my pocket.”
Forgetting all reason, Hadley snickered into the phone. “With an offer like that, I certainly won’t say no. I’ll have to check my schedule to make sure though. Can I call you back tomorrow?”
“I have a game tomorrow.”
“Oh God, that’s right! What about Monday?”
“I’m off Monday, so you can call anytime.”
“Even at three in the morning? Don’t answer that. I’ll check my schedule and let you know. Marcus, I hate to cut this short, but I just got to the studio and have to take a look around so I should probably let you go. Good luck tomorrow at the match.”
Marcus laughed on the other end; the girl knew nothing about football if she was referring to the game as a match. “Thanks, Hadley. Let me know how the studio turns out and don’t forget about Thursday.”
They hung up, leaving Marcus in his room to take in the conversation with Hadley. Considering they spent a few hours at the bar together, and they really didn’t know each other very well, they made easy conversation. She was funny where he was dry, and she certainly didn’t take any of his bullshit. Something he gave out often, but he was noticing she gave out just as much as she took. Fluffing the pillow, he closed his eyes and for the first time in his professional life, he didn’t think about football.
Her boots clacked on the pavement as she made her way toward Lynx,
the restaurant where she was to meet Marcus. A dinner that Hadley was fifteen minutes late for. Work had been an absolute zoo; one of the presses blew a fuse and stopped working close to nine—perfect timing for the morning crowd. By two the place was dead and she was able to leave a little early. Rather than taking that time to go home and rest up, she had rushed to the studio and completely lost track of time as she started to sketch out the base for a foil coated piece a client had requested. Before she knew it, the alarm on her buzzer went off and she had to run out in order to meet up with Marcus.
Eyeing the names of each establishment that she passed, she straightened her hair with a hand until she caught the knowing pale blue eyes of a waiting man.
“You’re fashionably late.” Marcus leaned against the side of the building, even as she walked up to him he appeared to be attracting the glances of several people around him, but remained unbothered.
“I’d say that I got lost, but you’d still harass me.”
His eyes crinkled at the corners, a set of pearly whites slowly shone through the smile forming at his mouth. “I would. Busy day?”
Holding the door open for her, she walked into the crowded restaurant. “It was terrible, but still good. I think I spent more time grinding beans than I did actually making cups of coffee.” Twitching his nose, he noticed the faint scent of coffee that hovered around her. As she looked up into his face, Hadley saw the curiosity that lurked in his eyes. “It’s the coffee; I stink. I would have showered but I went to the studio to start a new project, and kind of got lost in it. Sorry I’m late.”
The host stole Marcus’ chance to get more out of her, and directed them to the booth that had been reserved for them. Hadley’s eyes drifted from the other tables and booths to the bar at the front. The room was spacious and dimly lit by candelabras and soft bulbs in the wall sconces that were scattered throughout. The booths lined the restaurant while several tables were scattered in the middle. Rather than having proper chairs, the seats were wide, dark leather couches. Turning to look at Marcus, Hadley smiled at him. “You seem unfazed by all of this.”
A busser placed a couple of glasses of iced water on the table before dashing off into the mass of people. “I go out a lot, but this is a nice place. Different.”
“A good kind of different.” Hadley took a sip of water before continuing. “What all did you do today?”
“Apart from waiting for you?” Beneath the table, she kicked him lightly with the tip of her boot. “I had a couple of practices, then met up with my agent.”
Hadley dropped an elbow on the table and leaned her face into her palm. “And I’m sure your day was more interesting than you let on. Its okay, Marcus. You can
talk to me.”
Her eyes widened as he laughed at her authority. “Sorry, I’m not used to talking about everything.” Seeing her lean into the table, he was pleased that she wanted to know more. “We had two practices today, they were brutal. Tealman took me down early in the first one when I lost my footing, but the second practice was better. I worked with Gabe on a few drills.”
Hadley saw the very noticeable relaxing of his shoulder muscles, and heard the softening of his voice as he spoke. “See, doesn’t that feel better?”
Marcus laughed so hard that Hadley reached forward and tried to cover up his mouth with her hands. While he was pushing them away, the waiter came by to take their orders for drinks. Normally, she would have asked for wine, but there was something about the ambiance that had her blurting out “Sparkling wine”. On their way in, she had seen a woman sipping it at the bar and was intrigued. Marcus looked at her, and all she could do was tell him that the wine was a drink he wasn’t allowed to steal a sip from. The unvarnished table was clear of any menus, which didn’t stop Hadley from staring out the side of the booth looking for the waiter.
“You don’t have to worry about the menus. Everything is taken care of for tonight.” Marcus had been watching her anxious movements with open curiosity.
“If you’re going to say that you ordered for me, I’m walking right out of here.”
Laughing, “I wouldn’t do that to you. The chef is putting together a sampling of the entire menu. Think of it as prix fixe.”
“You can’t be serious?” Marcus shrugged his shoulders and feigned ignorance. “It sure must be nice to be famous.”
“It has its perks. When I called, the girl on the phone set everything up.”
Within minutes the drinks arrived and Marcus stared at Hadley as she took a slow sip of the sparkling wine. She closed her eyes as she took the sip and took a deep breath, savoring the faint raspberry flavor. Never a woman to turn down an offer to go out for an evening, especially in a city she was still figuring out, it couldn’t have been avoided. A small tinge of guilt tugged at the back of her mind for not calling Sam and letting her know what was going on, but she shushed it away. Knowing her friend, and herself, this outing was merely a chance happening. There were no expectations involved, especially knowing that a good portion of the patrons were well aware of Marcus’ presence and wanted a piece of him. Amazingly, he held his own, and smiled at other patrons but made it very clear, without words, that his time was devoted to Hadley.
Marcus didn’t say much until the first platter of antipasto arrived on the table. He was distracted by the way Hadley was mentally taking note of the textured walls. Her fingers trailed the seat beside her, feeling the soft leather. As he was extending a smaller plate filled with an endive, Granny Smith apple and goat cheese salad to her, he asked her a question.
“When you’re working, do you use familiar objects as inspiration?”
“Usually. I try and make every single piece personal, which is why I much rather paint for clients. In getting to know them, I get to make something that they may never really think about, but is very significant.” She took a bite and savored the sour of the apple being toned down from the cheese. “I’ve tried painting just to paint, but it just doesn’t work with me.”
“If I was to ask you to paint for me, what object would you use?”
“A fork.” Hadley laughed at his dumbfounded stare. “I’m eating all of this salad, you have to at least try a little bit of it.” Without thinking, she forked up some of the salad with her own utensil and brought it up to his lips. Marcus’ eyes followed her movements, and as he was getting ready to protest, she shoved the contents in. The glow of the candlelight caught the glitter shimmering in her eyes, and a small laugh escaped her plump lips. Heat shot straight to his groin as the candle light flickered in her watchful eyes.
Thankful for the dim lighting, he shifted in the seat and shrugged his shoulders, trying not to choke or groan from her little trick. His voice a little more hoarse than normal. “I’m saving my calories for the good stuff.”
Losing herself to the inevitable, and tossing being quiet aside, Hadley laughed. Everything he did was outrageous and she was really enjoying it. More plates started to fill the table as they were able to catch up about each of their weeks. When silences filled their table, they weren’t awkward but more to catch a breath. They seemed to talk about everything from his most recent endorsement deal for a national auto campaign. Hadley made him promise her that he would only sign the contract if he had to drive a minivan in the commercial. And with his curiosity, the topics fell more frequently on her painting and getting used to the new studio.
By the time dessert came around, both were too full to eat anything else. While Marcus covered the bill, Hadley excused herself to use the washroom and freshen up. When she came out, he was standing near the entrance door waiting for her. His body was turned facing the street. He was so well put together and comfortable in his skin as he stood quietly. At the sight of him, something fluttered in her belly that she begged to go away. Or tug on it and rein it in. Walking up to him, she placed her hand on the small of his back and raked her nails lightly. Marcus turned and smiled at her. When he offered her a ride home, she couldn’t find it in her to say no. A friendship was forming between the two of them, and she was curious to see what happened. It wasn’t every day a woman got invited out for a luxurious dinner at a lavish restaurant with one of the city’s most eligible bachelors. No, it wasn’t every day.
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with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.
<a href="https://www.lushstories.com/stories/novels/running-into-coverage-ch-02.aspx">Running into Coverage Ch. 02</a>