Game For Love(5)

By: Mara Jacobs

“Anna has my rental car,” Cole said. “It’s a white Escalade.” As Declan nodded, they started to turn, Cole and Anna toward the front door, and Declan back toward the party.

“Wait, I’m confused. Why do you have to go through the kitchen?” Marlee asked, puzzlement on her pretty face.

“I don’t want anyone to know I’m leaving the party,” Declan explained.

“Why?” Marlee still wasn’t grasping what the other three seemed to find a perfect plan.

“Because it’s my party. My house,” Declan said as he turned and started his journey. He looked back to see Marlee still looking confused. He returned to her, took her hand, and held it in his own for a moment. The thunderbolt was back. It hadn’t been a fluke the first time.

He looked into her eyes and knew she felt it too. How could she not when it almost knocked him off his feet?

He leaned close, his breath kicking up wisps of Marlee’s hair as he spoke. He tried to gently explain to Marlee who he was, not wanting to scare her off. He wasn’t sure how he knew that his identity would not be welcome knowledge to her, but it was something he sensed.

“I’m Declan Tate, Marlee.” Marlee nodded. Yes, she had caught his name during Cole’s introductions, so what? “This is my house. I’m the quarterback of the Boston Pumas. This is my team. Today was my last game ever, and if they realize I’m leaving my own farewell party so that I can get to know a beautiful woman I’ve just met, they are not going to be happy. And believe me, you do not want to make these guys unhappy.” Declan turned and once more tried to make his exit.

Chapter Two

Marlee stared after Declan, dumbfounded. She vaguely remembered the name Tate on the public address system at the game today, but she had been so overwhelmed just trying to figure out the basics of the game that she quickly gave up on names and just looked at the players’ jersey numbers. Even that had been a futile attempt to absorb the game. After a while, Marlee had just given up and caught up with Anna. Cole had watched the game from the sidelines, and although they could have sat in Cole’s friend’s private box, not knowing anyone else that would be there, she and Anna had chosen to sit in regular seats with the rest of the crowd.

The stands had been full mostly of men, but there was a good number of families too, and that was what Marlee’s eye kept returning to as she and Anna chatted. One family especially drew her in. The mother looked to be a few years older than her, the father about the same age. They had a son who looked to be around five. The father held his son on his lap most of the game while he tried to explain to him the finer points. It was obvious that even at five, the boy had a much better handle on football than Marlee did.

Was this what she would do when she had a family, Marlee had daydreamed? Would they go to outings every weekend? Certainly not football, but some other event. They’d bundle up the kids to brave the Boston winters, get them cocoa and a hot dog. She’d always remember to bring Wet Ones, like this mother had, for the perpetual ketchup and chocolate rings around the mouth. The boy had kept yelling something. What had it been? Oh yes: “Atta boy, Declan.”

Oh God. Marlee realized that boy had meant her Declan.

Shuddering at the ease at which she thought of him as her Declan, Marlee’s eyes were once again drawn to the man as he made his way across the room.

His room. Full of his people.

From her perch in the raised foyer, Declan looked like a salmon trying to swim upstream, the huge linemen from his team waves that he crashed against. People stopped him with handshakes and hugs, some of the huge men actually crying—much to Marlee’s astonishment—as they spoke with their leader.

Women threw their arms around him, hugging and kissing him. Marlee noticed more than one woman slip a piece of paper in Declan’s hand, which he would then slip into his pants pocket. One even went so far as putting a slip of paper in the front pocket of his pants herself, sliding her hand across his crotch and giving him a little pat.

An unease settled upon Marlee. She was out of her league here, amongst the aggressive—both in dress and action—women. She could not compete with such women. She would not compete with them. She was almost sick to her stomach thinking about how similar this scene was to one that had played out two years ago. She wanted to turn and run, but she could not take her eyes off of Declan.

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