Game For Love(7)

By: Mara Jacobs

Marlee stood in front of his locker, searching his handsome face, waiting for an explanation. None came. He only said, “Excuse me, that’s my locker,” and waited for Marlee to move. She did, going numbly through the rest of the day, and crying to her older sisters that night in the privacy of her bedroom.

The rest of the year and her entire senior year, Marlee did everything to avoid Troy, which wasn’t too hard, as they shared none of the same classes or extracurricular activities. When she did have the misfortune to see him in the halls, he’d inevitably have his huge arms draped around Nicole. Either he didn’t even notice Marlee as he made his way past her, or he pretended not to know her. She wasn’t sure which idea hurt more.

And as if she hadn’t learned her lesson, she’d had an even more catastrophic experience with a professional athlete two years ago. She still couldn’t think about that without her heart—and pride—taking a beating.

The blast of cold air as they left Declan Tate’s house brought Marlee back from her thoughts of the past, and back to Declan.

She couldn’t believe that she was so attracted to a football player. She felt as if she had been duped, misled by Declan’s comparatively smaller stature, his attire, and what Marlee interpreted as a keen intellect. Right. Exactly what part of him screamed intellect? His gorgeous chestnut hair? The perfect white teeth in his perfect white smile? The eyes so green they looked like…Enough!

All thoughts—however brief—of Declan and her emulating the family she’d seen at the game went up in smoke. There would be no hot chocolate and Wet Ones for Declan and her. She simply would not settle in her quest for a man with whom to share her vision of family. Outwardly, Declan appeared ready for the starring role. But he was a football player. He had to have women everywhere, some willing to do anything to be with him. She could never be comfortable with that kind of man.

She would not go through that again.

She reluctantly slid Declan Tate from the “Lots of Possibilities” to the “Don’t Go Near Him With a Ten-Foot Pole” column in her mind.

Still, Marlee couldn’t shake the feeling of regret as the valet pulled up the car and they got in. Anna sat in the front with Cole, while Marlee entered the back. Her regret rapidly turned into resentment. She knew it wasn’t logical, but she became mad at Declan Tate for being a famous football player, and obviously a major playah if the array of women in his home was any indication. She’d had a momentary flash of—a future?…a relationship?—something with this man, all to have it dashed away with the knowledge that he was a huge sports star surrounded by women.

Yeah, she knew it was crazy, but that was how she felt. The cold must have seeped into her brain at the game.

They only had to wait a moment until Declan came from behind the house and joined Marlee in the back seat. He gave her a smile, put his hand over hers that had been resting on the seat between them, gave it a quick squeeze, and released it.

Marlee’s breath caught, but she quickly regained her composure. She pulled her hand to her lap and turned her head away, looking out the car window as they headed off to the restaurant. Her hand tingled. She was deluding herself if she thought it was from the cold and not Declan’s touch.

She needed to convey the message to him that their mutual attraction had ended as quickly as it had begun. At least on her part. Marlee decided that if she told herself that as many times as possible before they reached the restaurant, she might actually start to believe it.

What the hell happened, Declan wondered? He’d had enough experience with women in his life to know when there was chemistry. There had definitely been chemistry with Marlee, and it hadn’t been all on his side, either. He knew she’d felt the same thing he had when they’d shook hands. He had been reluctant to let hers go. It fit so nicely in his, a complement to his own. He could easily envision holding her hand, how they would fit together. Also, he could have sworn she’d made some kind of little sound just now as he squeezed her hand. A pleasurable sound.

He was about to put his arm around her when she took her hand away and turned her head to stare out the window. It was pitch black out, for Christ’s sake—what was she looking at? Or did she just not want to look at him? Shy? Declan didn’t think so; he hadn’t read that about her from the way she carried herself. She seemed very confident, in control of herself. She had met him head on, reaching for his hand to shake first, before he could react to her. No, not shy. What, then? Why the about-face from when he left her in the living room until he got into the car with her?

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