Night Games

By: Lisa Marie Perry

Chapter 1

“You look like the devil’s sex puppet.”

It wasn’t the greatest compliment on her appearance, Charlotte Blue thought, but it sure wasn’t the worst. “Thank you,” she hollered across the curb to Josephine de la Peña—aka Joey—who stood waiting near the Rio’s entrance. Only in Sin City—and only coming from her best friend—could “sex puppet” be taken as a favorable comment.

Not giving the chauffeur a chance to circle the vehicle and open her door, Charlotte had stepped out and paused at the BMW sedan’s lowered front-passenger window to tip the man, a silent thanks to him for politely ignoring the fact that she was the subject of hot breaking-news debate on every sports radio station he’d attempted to listen to during the drive. Now, as he bid her a good evening with a touch to the visor of his cap, he not-so-politely slid his eyes to the golden-brown cleavage displayed by the deep V-neckline of her dress.

She’d almost chosen a more modest outfit, a tamer hairstyle. She’d come this close to ditching tonight’s Las Vegas Slayers team party. In the back of her mind she’d been a little fearful that a woman intruding into a boys’ club—which the National Football League undoubtedly was—shouldn’t waltz into it dressed as sin in stilettos. But the getup was an invitation to a high-stakes dare she’d made with herself: I dare you to take what you want...what you’ve earned.

There were few things Charlotte enjoyed more than a good dare.

Hurrying to join Joey for preparty drinks at VooDoo, she was glad she’d covered her insecurity with the brand of confidence that only a gauzy scarlet dress and chocolate diamonds could provide. After all, a newly hired NFL assistant athletic trainer shouldn’t skip meet-ups.

The reality that she had landed a shot at bringing her sports-medicine experience to a professional arena still hadn’t fully registered. Pushing for aggressive reorganization—from administrative cleanup to fresh acquisitions—the new owners had preached to the media about wanting change. But Charlotte, who’d taken her bumps playing high school football and paid her dues training players for two NCAA teams, had still been rejected—twice. Then at the close of the Slayers’ minicamp, just when she was ready to give up her pursuit of the job, she was offered a position. No wooing, no frills, just a take-it-or-leave-it open door to the gig of her dreams. And she was expected to be better than perfect.

According to the fresh headlines of major sports networks, she had three strikes against her: she was a woman, she was a young woman and the team’s new owners were her parents, which screamed nepotism.

Thank the Lord this wasn’t baseball, because three strikes didn’t count her out.

Joey didn’t wait for Charlotte to meet her on the curb before she jabbed her cane on the ground and limped with impressive speed toward the entrance, calling over her shoulder, “Vamanos! Gotta hustle before all the good tables, drinks and men are gone!”

Charlotte laughed, quickening her step and letting the oversize sheer bell sleeves of her dress flutter in the light wind. The red-and-purple glory of the Rio glowed against the dark sky that was illuminated with the lights of the Strip. She enjoyed what this city had to offer, but next week, right at the height of summer, training camp in Mount Charleston would be her home away from home.

Hot on Joey’s Christian Louboutin heels, Charlotte said, “Let’s divide and then we’ll conquer our objectives. You snag a table, I’ll order the drinks—rum and Diet Coke’s still your drink of the week, right?—and we’ll both scope out men.”

“Could it be you’re on the lookout for fling potential, too?” Though petite with an elfin face, Joey had a huge personality—and never minced words.

“I’m only looking, not touching. Camp’s coming up and I really don’t need the trouble.”

“Oh, Lottie. If done right, a fling is anything but trouble.” Joey led Charlotte to the entrance of VooDoo Lounge. “Where should we stake out? Indoors, outdoors, upstairs, downstairs?”

“Indoors downstairs for starters. I want to relax and savor my beer.” Body heat, the mingling of spicy cologne and musky perfume, and the deep pulse of music confronted Charlotte as she followed her friend inside the dimly lit nightclub and began weaving through the crush of people. “By the way, I know what a fling is.”

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