Excerpt from International Digital Award winning novel for best contemporary romance, PLAYING THE GAME:
“Damn it,” Roxanne muttered. Her drink had splashed on her dress. Looking right, and then left, at the partygoers around her, she took a surreptitious glance down to inspect the damage.
A very large, dark, wet spot spread over her left breast. Luckily it was only ice water—or maybe not so lucky, on second thought. She watched in horror as the red silk material clung to her skin.
“Double damn. My nipple is showing!” This time she forgot to keep her comment under her breath.
“Now that I’d like to see.” The man appeared from nowhere, towering beside her. He watched her reflection in the floor to ceiling window.
The heat of embarrassment ignited her face. The man was no gentleman. Her embarrassment turned to anger in a flash. She jutted her breast out for him to see.
“You can look all you want,” she dared, wanting to shift the discomfort to him.
She thought she’d succeeded, until the signature dimpled half-grin split his face.
“I’m Barry Dennis.” He held out his free hand for her to shake. He held a bottle of beer in the other. The famous lopsided smirk remained in place.
“Must be my lucky night.” She ignored his hand.
Biting her lip, she reminded herself to behave professionally. He was the star attraction at this gala and they were both there to raise money for a good cause.
“I’m Roxanne Monet.” She shook his hand. She eyed him, wondering if he’d dare to say something about her nipple.
“I know who you are. I watched you get fired from your job at the TV studio a few days ago. You were supposed to interview me.” Unrestrained amusement shone in his eyes now and his grin widened. She was really starting to dislike this guy.
“I was only fifteen minutes late.”
“I only had ten.”
He still smiled, but it was no joke to her.
“They didn’t fire you because of me,” he said. His gaze dropped to her still-erect nipple.
Heat returned to her body, but it wasn’t embarrassment this time. It was anger. Especially since he was right about her job.
“I got some bad press recently. The studio brass was nervous and I was expendable.” No need to hide the truth. It was all over the news. No need to go into the details either.
“I never did schedule another interview.” He took a swig of beer.
“Hank—the producer—must have loved that.” She resisted the urge to fold her arms over her breasts as he continued to stare. She had started it. She had to see it through. The nipple refused to soften.
“Hank expressed his disappointment. I was disappointed that you wouldn’t be the one asking the questions. I was looking forward to a confrontation.” He stopped and took a handkerchief from his tux pocket and handed it to her.
Maybe he wasn’t such a cad. Maybe his ‘too cool’ reputation was undeserved. God knows she knew how unfair the press could be. Finding the real man behind the enigmatic superstar was supposed to be her job—when she had a job.
“Well here we are. Would you like me to ask you some probing questions?” She snatched the hanky from his hand and resigned herself to the task of blotting the spot on her left breast to hasten the drying process. It was tough to be cool and sophisticated while she dabbed at her nipple.
He laughed. “Give it your best shot.”
He was probably the happiest man in the world right now, Roxanne thought. The Irish-Catholic boy from Queens had grown up to be the MVP of the National Basketball Association for four years running. At age thirty-one, the six-foot-nine guard was an international superstar.
“What’s it like having all your dreams come true, Mr. Basketball Superstar?”
Barry paused and stared at her with that unnerving blue fire in his eyes. “It’s like being in Disneyland. You have to go home sometime.” He took a gulp of his beer. A more cynical smile now appeared.
“I can’t picture you turning into a pumpkin,” she said.
“You don’t really think the fantasy will end when you leave basketball?” She couldn’t help the serious curiosity that mixed in with the seduction in her voice, as if she were asking the question of a lover and soul mate instead of a perfect stranger.
“I don’t know. I don’t think about it much. Everything I have, everything I am, is invested in the present—in basketball. I don’t think about what happens when they shut down Disneyland.” He took a longer gulp from his bottle.
“Maybe you’ll find Cinderella and carry her off to your castle.”
Barry remained silent for too long. Her pulse raced.
“Enough of the fantasy bull. I’m realistic enough to know when I’m being seduced by a woman like you.”
“It’s not bull. It’s a metaphor. And what kind of woman do you think I am anyway?”
“The kind of woman who is so sexy that she could have any man she wanted. Any time she wanted,” he whispered. His mouth twitched.
“That’s the problem. I don’t want just any man.”
He moved closer. Her pulse jumped to a racing pace. It had been so long since she’d flirted. A waiter came by and Barry dismissed him with a nod. Then he lowered his voice.
“Luckily, I like a challenge.”
“Oh?” She arched her brow. The buzz of the room around her faded. His ridiculous confidence sucked her in even though she knew fear drove her racing pulse at least as much as attraction.
“And I have to warn you…”
“I’m sure you do,” she cut in.
“I always play to win,” he said.
“That I knew.”
“You don’t play fair?”
“True.” She laughed.
“As long as I know the rules.”
“None at all,” she said.
“I’m used to that.”
“I’m experienced myself.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.” He nodded.
“And where is that?” She tilted her head to look directly into his eyes. She felt an army of goose bumps pop. She worried what he might say.
“Into your past.”
It was worse than she thought…