Game For Love(8)

By: Mara Jacobs

Declan mentally retraced his steps. All had been fine until they had separated at the party, she to go out the front, he to go out the back. Could she have met someone in the short time it took him to get to the car? Unlikely. But what could have happened? She had been surprised to learn he was Declan Tate. No, that wasn’t it. She had been surprised to learn who Declan Tate was—a football player. Could that be it?

Declan tried a different tack, determined to re-stoke the fire that she’d so abruptly extinguished. “So, Marlee, what do you do for a living?”

Marlee didn’t turn her head toward Declan, but she at least turned away from the window to stare straight ahead. “I’m a professor at Boston College.”

“Marlee, don’t be so modest,” Anna piped in from the front seat. She turned around to face Declan as she expanded on Marlee’s brief description. “She’s one of the most respected professors at Boston College. She teaches communication theory. Particularly speech. In addition to that, Marlee has worked with some of the top politicians on speech behavior. Taught a bunch of famous people how to give effective speeches. People in the tech field who might not be so good at public speaking. That sort of thing. I guess you could say she’s the Declan Tate of speech gurus.”

“Except I don’t have groupies,” Marlee added, a little too sharply for Declan’s taste.

“Aahh. So that’s why the deep freeze? Because of the groupies?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Marlee answered. She put as much conviction behind it as she could, but it still sounded lame to Declan.

Cole and Anna exchanged glances and Anna turned to face the front once more. Cole shot him a look in the rearview, and Declan gave a slight shake of his head. They didn’t know what was happening in the back seat, but they knew they were better off staying out of it. And Declan was grateful for that.

Shit, Declan didn’t know himself what was going on in the back seat. But part of him was enjoying it.

He’d tried the diversion tactic, asking about her work, and he was impressed, but he needed to get back to the game at hand. If she was still playing dumb, he’d bring on the full blitz.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about with the deep freeze. We had, I don’t know…a moment…back at my house. Something happened and I know you felt it too. Then I get in the car and you’re the Ice Queen. Is it because you realized I play football or because you realized all those women are groupies and they’re at my house?”

He did slide his arm around her shoulders then, but not in the soft, cuddling way he had intended earlier. This time he used his arm to propel her into facing him, curling his powerful forearm to hold her tight. He wasn’t one for strong-armed tactics, and certainly not with women, but this situation called for it.

“You can have whomever you choose at your house. It’s no concern of mine. I don’t even know you.”

“That’s right, I can. And you don’t know me. But had I known I was going to meet you, and that we’d have this…connection, it would never have been under those circumstances. I’m not interested in those girls; they just come with the team, I didn’t invite them. It’s been a long time since I was a rookie, interested in that kind of stuff. I just wanted to have a little party to thank my linemen for all they’ve done for me. But the after-game parties are never little. I don’t know why I was hoping this one would be.” And it was true, what he’d said about not inviting the girls, and also what he’d said about it being a long time since he’d enjoyed that sort of thing.

Declan had been wild his first few seasons, taking advantage of the beautiful women—girls, really—who followed the NFL players. He had indulged in all the excesses the league had to offer, many of them with Cole Taylor as his sidekick. In his fourth season, after being benched for most of the year, his coach had told him he was being traded.

“If you could just be as focused as I know you could be, you’d be one of the greats, Declan, but you love the partying and the girls too much. I’m just not willing to bet that you’ll grow out of it.” Declan had been traded to the worst team in the league, and it had been the wake-up call he needed.

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