What are you hiding?
Dylan wanted something from me even if it was for a good cause. Maybe she wasn’t like the other women, but I didn’t want to let my guard down.
My nerves kicked in with each mile traveled from the county to the city. The fields slowly gave way to city buildings. We’d be alone at dinner, the setting intimate. Would the lines between business and dating blur or would Dylan keep things strictly professional? Did I even want her to?
She sparked something in my chest, something that had long been dulled. I parked, heading up to my condo to get ready, determined to resist her even as I was looking forward to seeing her. I showered, putting on cologne, changing into black slacks and a blue V-neck sweater.
When she knocked a few minutes later, Callie having sent her my address, I reminded myself it wasn’t a date before opening the door. There was a pressure on my chest, a feeling tonight would change things.
Dylan wore dark wash jeans that clung to her legs like a second skin, short boots, a black sparkly top that draped suggestively over her breasts. Her eyes sparkled with happiness.
Was she happy to see me?
“You look—” she hesitated, taking me in from head to toe, drawing in a shaky breath, “—handsome.”
She looked sexy but I couldn’t say that. This was a business meeting. I’d need to pinch myself periodically during the evening to remind myself.
Instead, I settled on, “You look beautiful.”
“Thank you.” Her eyes lowered as she smoothed a hand down her jeans. I wondered if she wasn’t as confident as she sounded. If I took a step into her space, touching her chin, the back of her head, would her skin flush? Would her breathing hitch? My fingers itched to touch her. Instead, I took a step back which she took as permission to step inside.
“This is an amazing view.” She walked past me, her floral scent flowing behind her, to the large windows, taking in the view.
If she were my date I’d step behind her, skimming her shoulders, then her arms with my hands, kissing that sweet spot on her neck. I’d enjoy making her tremble at the sensations of my breath, my lips, my touch.
She looked over her shoulder. “You’re lucky to have this view to come home to every day.”
I hoped she couldn’t see every thought on my face, the lust in my eyes.
“I guess.” It was an amazing view. Now that she was standing here, I realized how much better enjoying it with her was.
She faced me, smiling. “Are you ready to go to dinner?”
Was she unaffected by me? Did she see me solely as a difficult player she had to coddle to get me to do her bidding? I didn’t like that. I wanted her to be here because she wanted to, not because I was a good business move.
No. Yes. “Okay.”
“You’re a tough one, you know that.” Her lips twitched as she touched my shoulder lightly before she breezed past me to the door.
Her touch lingered, the warmth seeping through my sweater. “Do you have a place in mind?”
“I thought we’d go to one of the restaurants on this side of town so we could walk.”
We walked side by side until we were in the elevator. Her lips tugged into a teasing smile. “Are you single, Reid Everson?”
I licked my suddenly dry lips, not sure where she was going with this. “Yes.”
I wasn’t sure why I said yes so easily. I was perpetually single as a rule. It wasn’t a secret.
She leaned against the wall, considering me. “Is there a reason for that?”
Her question felt like a challenge. “I don’t want people in my business.”
She tilted her head slightly, a naughty gleam in her eyes. “You can date and keep it from the media. It’s not like they’re stalking you outside your condo.”
I nodded in agreement. I wasn’t known as one of the troublemakers on the team. They followed me in the beginning then quickly stopped when they realized I went to the stadium, the grocery store, then home. There were a few rumors I was dating Callie, but we ignored them.
“Then why not? There has to be another reason.” The door opened to the lobby on the street level. I covered the opening with my hand so she could exit before me.
“I don’t know.” My heart was pounding in my chest. Was she asking because she was interested? I was too nervous to ask.
I moved to open the door to outside. She walked under my arm, brushing my side as she passed. I almost wished she was mine. That we were together so I could guide her with a hand on the small of her back. Whether she was trying or not, everything about her was seductive, drawing me in.
She gestured across the traffic circle at the new seafood restaurant.
I was surprised. “You need to call ahead to get in.”
“I asked Callie to make a reservation for us. She’s your assistant. I couldn’t get one on my own.” She shrugged.
She hadn’t done anything wrong. I couldn’t help but think I would have preferred to handle it. To drop my name and get a reservation at a restaurant where you had to call a month in advance. I’d never done that before. I wanted to do it for her.
“Was that okay?” She stopped on the sidewalk facing me. “I just thought it would be convenient. You have a game tomorrow, so you can’t be out late.”
I wanted to tuck her hair behind her ear. I resisted. “No. It’s fine.”
It was more than fine. It was sweet and thoughtful.
“Let’s eat.” I held the door for her, my hand dropping to the small of her back because it was so crowded. I felt the gentle sway of her hips.
I gave my name to the hostess, saying Eveson, skipping the r, and deepening my Louisiana accent to cover it.
She smiled in recognition. “Right this way, Mr. Everson.”
“It must be nice to be important.” Dylan smiled with no hint of jealousy.
I didn’t feel important. It was a status I actively fought against. “I don’t usually do this.”
“You never use your name to get a reservation?” She tilted her head.
“If my family visited I would.” I dipped my head down, so I could speak into her ear.
The hostess paused by a secluded table. I’d have to thank Callie later for the request.
I pulled the seat out for her.
“Do they visit often?” Dylan asked as I sat.
I accepted the menu from the hostess, not answering until she was gone. “Only on the holidays when I’m in season. My siblings are still in high school so games when school is in session can be difficult. Off-season, I stay at my home in Louisiana.”
I couldn’t find a way to avoid saying are. I watched her carefully but her head was bowed as she perused the menu.
“A family man.”
I should have been relieved she hadn’t asked any follow-up questions. Instead, I had this urge to tell her about my sisters, my mom, how I missed living near them.
I forced myself to look at the menu. When I decided, I placed it on the table, watching her, the way she scanned the menu, the arch of her brow, the sweet curve of her lips. “What about you?”
She smiled politely, but her shoulders tensed. “What about me?”
“Tell me about you.”
“I was born and raised in Annapolis. Went to school there. Stayed. I love it.”
Dylan was usually so engaging. It wasn’t my imagination questions about her family made her uneasy.
“You don’t like talking about family.”
She shook her head, her eyes narrowed. “No. It’s not that. We’re here about you, not me.”
“I want to learn things about you since we’ll be spending time together.” My words came out in a rush, my desire to know something, anything about her, made me speak without thinking first. I held my breath, hoping she didn’t notice the slip.
She chewed her lip. “Okay. What do you want to know?”
“Do you have any siblings?”
“No. I’m an only child.” Her tone didn’t have its usual lightness, her gaze slid away from mine to a spot on the table.
“It’s not so comfortable when the focus is on you, is it?” I gentled my voice so it didn’t sound like I was criticizing her.
She rolled her shoulders back, straightening. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t mind.”
“I think you do.”
The waiter paused at the end of our table, reciting the lengthy list of specials. We ordered then the table fell into a silent awkwardness.
Dylan sipped her water. “Are you ready for the game tomorrow?”
“I will be.” I was relieved for the change of subject to something I was more comfortable discussing.
“Is it exciting to be on the field? Everyone watching you, cheering you on?”
“I guess. I focus on getting the job done, not the fans. The yelling can make it difficult to listen to the play calls.”
“That makes sense.”
“Have you been to a game?” I hadn’t invited a woman to watch me at a game since college. The thought of her watching me, cheering me on, was appealing.
Her shoulders relaxed. “Just college. It was fun in the student section of the games.”
“Would you like to go? I get tickets but only Callie uses them.”
She leaned her elbows on the table. “That would be amazing. Can I bring Avery and Hadley, if they’re available?”
“I’ll text them.” She glanced down at her phone before asking, “If you don’t mind?”
“Go ahead.” I loved that she was so excited about going to the game she had to ask her friends right away.
She’d picked up her phone, nibbling her lower lip while she texted.
I knew the exact moment she got a response because Dylan’s face brightened. “Hadley’s available.”
Dylan placed her phone back in her clutch, resting it on the table next to her. “I’m so excited to go. Thank you so much for offering.”
“You should be able to get tickets from Lena now.”
Her eyes dulled a bit. “Oh yeah. You’re probably right.”
I immediately felt like an ass for saying anything. She was excited that I’d invited her. I wanted to rectify my mistake, erase the disappointment on her face. “Do you have a team jersey?”
She shook her head. “I’m not a fan, remember? Do they have stores in the stadium? Maybe I can pick one up tomorrow.”
I wanted her wearing my jersey, not Chase’s or Jonah’s. I didn’t want to tell her in case I couldn’t make it happen before the game. It would be a nice surprise.
“Seriously, thanks for offering the tickets to us.” She covered my hand with hers, squeezing lightly before removing it.
I nodded, clearing my throat, the feel of her soft skin imprinted on my hand.
The waiter dropped off the appetizers we ordered.
“The reason I wanted to meet with you is that I’d love to have you speak at the kickoff event. The local media will be there—”
“No.” The word came out harsher than I intended. I was seriously fucking this up with her tonight.
“I’m sorry?” Her voice was uncertain, shaky.
I softened my tone. “I want to work one-on-one with the kids. I don’t want to speak.”
It wasn’t anything I hadn’t said before. I hoped she’d respect my wishes.
Understanding and determination flashed in her eyes. “Lena said you were available for whatever I need.”
Despite my irritation, the thought of being available for Dylan’s needs took over. The blood rushed from my head, lower. I imagined her saying those words while she lay spread eagle on my bed, waiting for me. “That’s not the case.”
My words came out strangled.
“I know you’re media shy.”
“I’m not shy.” I’d never described myself that way. It sounded weak.
“The team is on board with this. They want to announce their involvement. This is the best way. Almost like a ribbon cutting ceremony.”
“Yeah, I don’t do those.” Irritation crept into my tone. What would it be like if she wasn’t asking me for things I couldn’t provide? What if she was here because she wanted to get to know me, the man under the uniform?
She was quiet for so long, concentrating on finishing her appetizer, I thought she’d let it go. “Why don’t you want to speak? All you have to say is how excited you are for the program.”
“I can’t.” I wanted to beg her please don’t make me explain, please don’t make me speak in front of people. I didn’t want to beg.
I kept my eyes on the table because she was potent in person. I was afraid she’d use her charm on me, she’d have me agreeing to whatever she wanted before I realized what was happening. I was helpless to resist.
She sighed, her presence like a tangible thing, as if her warm soft breath were coasting over my skin, her hair tickling my cheek. “Reid.”
One word. My name on her lips. I liked it too much.
“I wish you’d reconsider.”
“I’d like to avoid publicity if I can. I’m happy to spend time with the kids.” My tone brooked no argument even though I knew she could get Lena to force my hand if she wanted.
“There’s no way I can change your mind?”
I shook my head. If anyone could, it would be her. I wanted to help her, but this affected more than me. If the public reacted badly, the team, my reputation, my family’s stability hung in the balance.
I was happy she let it go for now.
We ate our entrees in silence when they arrived. I finished before her, satisfied with the meal. “I don’t get out often. This was nice.”
“What do you do in your spare time?”
I opened my mouth to mention Frank then stopped, not sure I wanted to share something so personal with her. “I’m low-key. I play football, study videos. In the off-season I visit my family.”
“You have no vices.” She said it like it was a fact.
I took that as a compliment. “I guess not unless you think maintaining good fitness is a vice.”
She laughed softly. “I don’t.”
“Jonah or Chase would be the best bet for the event.”
Her lips turned down in an adorable frown at the suggestion “I think you’d be perfect for it.”
I wanted to ask her why she thought that, but she looked uncomfortable, like she’d said something she shouldn’t.
“You probably need to rest for tomorrow’s game.”
“Yeah.” I did need to get back even though I wanted to talk to her about anything besides Kids Speak. What did she like to do in her spare time? Was she dating anyone? What were her dreams? All questions that weren’t relevant to our arrangement.
I got the check even though Dylan reached for it at the same time.
“This is business. I can get it.”
She’d said something similar on our blind date. “It’s not business when I’m out with a woman.”
Her face flushed but she didn’t argue.
I wondered if she felt the same way I did. Was she wishing this was a date?
I walked her to her car which was parked on the street by my building. We paused at the driver’s side.
“It’s not safe to leave your vehicle...” I gestured at her car parked on the street, instead of saying the words. It might be a trendy area but it was still Baltimore. It wasn’t safe for a woman alone at night.
She shrugged. “It’s fine. You’re with me.”
“I’ll have Callie get you a guest pass, use one of my spots.” I gestured at the garage to my building. “It would ease my mind.”
She smiled softly, her eyes shining with admiration and something else I couldn’t decipher. “Thank you.”
“You should get going. It’s late.”
She went up on tiptoes, brushing my cheek with her lips. “Night, Reid.”
Her hair tickled the scruff on my cheek as her breath warmed my skin and her scent surrounded me. I wanted to grip her hips, hold her in place so I could kiss her. The desire was so intense, so strong, I stepped back, curling my fingers into fists.
She smiled, soft and easy, before slipping into her seat. Her expression wasn’t practiced as if she’d planned it. Why had she kissed me?
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