Game For Love(3)

By: Mara Jacobs

Marlee’s chest tightened just from looking at the man coming their way. God, he was handsome. A physique to die for. He must work out a lot. If he was an agent, he had players for clients and maybe wanted to look good when he was next to them. And boy did he look good.

It was his size that was most attractive to Marlee. Big, strong, broad shoulders, but not hulking, overbearing strength, no oversized neck like the other men here had. This man was in perfect proportion. Deep brown hair and green eyes, a combination that Marlee always particularly liked. Being nearly five feet, ten inches herself, she was drawn to tall men. Not enough that she had to strain her neck to look up at them, but if her estimation was close, his six-foot frame would be perfect for her.

Perfect for her.

The idea breezed through Marlee’s brain. Gorgeous, good dresser, most likely an agent or somebody in the Pumas’ front office, so good employment and would be staying in the area. She stole a glance at his hand to see an absence of any wedding ring.

The night was looking up. The thought of staying at this party just got a whole lot more desirable. She could get to know this man and maybe get to see the kitchen as well. She could avoid meeting any of the football players by having Anna, Cole, and this other man to talk to.

She didn’t delude herself into thinking that any of the players would be falling all over themselves to meet her when there were so many other flashier, younger, and obviously more eager women in the room.

“Marlee Reeves, Declan Tate. Declan, Marlee. And this,” he said, while swinging a large arm around tiny Anna’s shoulders, “is my sweet Anna. Declan’s bored here so he’s going to join us for dinner, if that’s okay with you ladies?”

“Okay? Okay? Of course it’s okay. God, it’s great to meet you,” Anna said as she shook Declan’s hand. Marlee thought she was going a little overboard. Yes, the man was good looking, but Anna had seen handsome men before—was married to one!—and had never gushed like this.

“Mr. Tate, nice to meet you.” Marlee held her hand out to Declan. He took it, and piercing green eyes met Marlee’s as he held her hand. His hand was rough and warm on her soft and cold one. She had not fully warmed up from being outside for the game, even though she’d had the car’s heater at full blast on the ride over. Her palm, and then fingers, rapidly warmed as Declan held them.

Everything seemed to slow down to Marlee. The sounds from the party—which before had been grating—dulled, so that she could almost hear her heart beating. Faster. The perfume that had pervaded the air was now drowned out by the subtle hint of musk that emanated from the man still holding her hand.

“Please, call me Declan, Mrs. Reeves,” he said.

Marlee would later try to analyze the waves of feelings she had as Declan held her hand. Exhilaration, excitement, definite attraction, but mainly confusion at the onslaught of emotions from simply shaking the man’s hand.

Marlee was a respected professional. But she was also a woman, and emotion—more succinctly, lust—was overriding any logical thought that tried to occupy her brain.

Thunderbolt. That was how Declan described it. Plain, old-fashioned thunderbolt.

And just what he needed tonight.

He’d been feeling out of sorts. These parties were not his usual after-game ritual, but this one was unavoidable. All he’d wanted to do tonight was soak in his hot tub, have a glass of wine—his first in months—and sulk. Well, maybe not sulk. Reflect…yeah, he wanted to reflect.

Reflect on his life, his past, and, more important, his future. He’d wanted to be alone, to let emotions pour over him unnoticed, to let the weariness of the last sixteen years finally rest on his shoulders.

To admit his life, as he had known it, was over.

That had been his plan. But here he was surrounded by men and women. Some, like his former teammate Cole Taylor, he’d known for years, some for only six months. Some he didn’t know at all. He thought the party might get him out of his funk, but it had just drawn him in deeper.

Until he’d seen her. The most conspicuous person in the room, if only because she had the most clothes on.

He’d seen her come in as he’d watched from across the room. He assumed one of the women was Cole’s wife, because they certainly didn’t look like all the other women who came to the after-game parties. For one thing, they were older. Not old, probably only thirty—which was still considered young to thirty-nine-year-old Declan—but still much older than every other female there.

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