Jock: A Secret Baby Sports Romance(5)By: Aubrey Irons
Yeah, nerves; me.
I catch the bartender’s eye and motion for a second, smiling and thank her again before I turn back to watch the front entryway to the Woodside Grill. This is a power move, arriving early. Even if the other party is exactly on time - which I sincerely doubt Holden will be - they’re instantly on the defensive since you’ve “beaten them” there.
It sounds stupid, but it works.
I sip slower on this one - this round meant more for something to be holding when he walks in as opposed to the medicinal, nerve-calming last one. I might not have picked up my dad’s sense of “hunches” and “gut feelings”, but everything else is all him - including my love affair with good whiskeys.
That all said, this was a terrible idea. I shouldn’t be here, meeting Holden under these sort of conditions or in a place like this. I glance around the room with an approving look. He was right, this is a nice place. I’m suddenly more thankful than I thought I’d be of the cap-sleeved, thigh-length floral print Saint Laurent I packed at the last minute.
But that’s irrelevant, because this meeting should be happening in a meeting room somewhere, or his manager’s office, or literally anywhere else but a low-lit, romantic, oak and brick interior restaurant serving fifty-dollar entrees.
After the lingering looks, the lip-biting glances, and the forbiddingly hot little daydreams going through my head over the last two days since walking into Holden Cade’s physical therapy room?
Yeah, this “meeting” is a terrible idea.
I play with the hem of my skirt, nursing the whiskey and frowning as the minutes start to tick past seven-thirty.
So much for my little power-play.
Another minute goes by, then five more. At quarter till eight, just as I start to feel my blood boiling for being shockingly stood up by an arrogant prick like Holden, I feel a hand on my hip.
I whirl, ready to give him a thick serving of “nice knowing you”, but that’s when I stutter and just stop; my mouth going a little slack.
Okay, he cleans up good.
He cleans up really good.
Holden Cade looked sinfully, deliciously, temptingly good in a towel. He looks downright irresistible in a dark blue suit and a crisp white shirt.
Horribly, unfairly, inappropriately irresistible.
He’s got the shirt open one button too many across his bare, inked chest, but instead of looking smarmy or Euro-trashy, it only serves to make him even more attractive. He’s clean-shaven, the dark hollows of his cheeks and the slightest hint of a cleft across that perfect chin smooth of the scruff he wore earlier. And he’s wearing…something that should be goddamn illegal because I’m sniffing at him like he’s wearing some sort of drug.
His hand is still on my hip.
That’s literally what I say. Me, the power negotiator.
So much for my grand intro.
He grins at me, his eyes crinkling at the corners and those perfect lips parting across his pearl-white teeth like he’s completely aware of his effect on me. Like he’s amused at getting me tripping over my own tongue and off my game.
I clear my throat and remember to breathe before I quickly push his hand away and frown at him.
“Wow, surprise, you’re late.”
He only grins wider. “I got stuck signing autographs outside.”
I note that it’s an explanation, not an apology.
He laughs. “You know, when you’re a winning team, people wanna be around you and wanna get your name written on posters or tits or whatever.” He winks at me. “You probably wouldn’t know that though, with the team you’ve got.”
I roll my eyes. “Oh is that what you were busy doing? Signing tits?”
“It’s not an easy move, you know. Requires a firm hand.”
And now I get what we’re doing at this dinner. Holden Cade thinks he can out-play me.
Game on, dick. Let the psychological warfare begin.
I lean in, smiling sweetly at him.
“Imagine what you could sign if you actually won a season?”
The grin drops from his face as I turn back to the bartender with a smug look on my face.
“We’ll take that table now.”
* * *
“You strike me as a modifications chick.”
I arch a brow over the top of my menu across the table at Holden.
He grins. “You know, modifications - to your order, I mean. You’re one of those girls who wants no onions, no gluten, baby kale salad instead of fries, dressing on the fucking side. Oh, and some sort of super sweet Chardonnay or a Bellini or something.”
I give him a look as he wags his brows at me across the table. “I’m right, aren’t I.”
“How on earth do you get dates when you act like this at dinner?”
Holden laughs. “Thought this was a business dinner, not a date.”
“Oh, it is,” I say, rolling my eyes into my water as I take a sip from the glass.
“Thanks for clarifying.” He grins. “And anyways, my ‘dates’ tend to skip the dinner part and go straight for dessert.”
I frown. “Why would you skip din- oh.”
I can feel the heat flush through my cheeks as I quickly look down at my menu. Holden just chuckles across the table from me.
A waitress appears, smiling at us both, and her eyes practically jumping out of her head as she’s realizes who’s sitting at the table.
“Oh my God, Holden Cade?” Her jaw goes slack as her whole body turns to mush right in front of us.
Oh calm down, he just throws a ball for a living, sweetheart, I mutter inside my head.
“The one and only,” Holden says with an easy grin, resting with his elbows on the table and leaning casually towards her.
“And what’s your name?”
“Oh, who, me?” The waitress’s voice wavers as she starts to gush.
I roll my eyes and desperately wish I still had a fresh drink in front of me.
“I’m just Karen,” she giggles, biting her lip and completely ignoring the fact that I’m also sitting at the table.
“My boyfriend loves you,” she gushes out, still blushing and stammering. “Oh, I mean, uh, we both do, of course.”
Holden is just grinning at her stammering there in front of us like a fisherman might watch a fish flop on a line.
“Yeah?” He grins wider at her. “Well where’s your boyfriend tonight, Just Karen?”
She looks like she might actually die at the sound of her name from his lips.
I might if I have to keep watching this.
“Oh, he’s- he went out of town with some friends. They went to a casino for a bachelor party.”
Holden makes a tsking sound. “And he left you here all alone?” He shakes his head. “His loss, huh?”
Before Karen actually has an aneurysm right in front of our table, and before I gag myself with my salad fork, I loudly clear my throat.
“We could, uh, order?” She turns to me abruptly as if just realizing there’s someone else at the table.
“You know, if you think you’re going to be okay?”
She blushes furiously, darting her eyes back to Holden for a second. He flashes her another dazzling smile and nods, as if giving her permission.
“Oh, yeah! Sure!” Karen whirls back to me, all smiles with her cheeks still bright pink.
Holden grins at me across the table. “She’s going to have some sort of really boring salad with literally every ingredient changed to something even more boring.”
Karen raises an eyebrow at me. I only smile benignly, ignoring Holden.
“I’ll have a porterhouse, medium rare, extra onion soubise, right on top.” I frown dramatically and tap my finger against my chin. “Oh, and what comes on the side of that?”
“The chef serves it with a side of bistro fries, but we could always substitute a kale-”
“Fries sound wonderful, thanks, Karen.”
She nods quickly, writing down the order.
“Anything to drink with that? We have a wine list I could show-”
“You know, I think I saw a really nice looking bottle of the Pappy Van Winkle 23-year Special Reserve bourbon behind your bar earlier?”
Both her and Holden’s brows shoot up.
“Yes ma’am, we do?”
I smile. “Wonderful. I’ll have one of those neat with little splash of water on the side.”
Karen turns back to Holden, but he’s not grinning and mooning at her this time. He’s staring at me with what just might be a begrudgingly impressed look on his face.
“Well, huh,” he says, still looking right at me with an intrigued look in his eyes. “So much for that theory.”
He clears his throat and looks up at Karen. “I was going to do a salad, but I have a feeling I’ll regret ordering that now.”
I resist the urge to laugh out loud.
“I’ll do your salmon filet, light on the oil, with steamed vegetables on the side.”
I stare at him.
He avoids my eyes.
“Anything to drink Mr. Cade?”
Holden shakes his head. “Nah, just a bottle of sparkling water if you have it.”
I wait until Karen walks away to snort loudly across the table.
Holden shrugs. “What?”
“What? Are you fucking kidding me?”
He frowns. “What, it’s healthy.”
“You’re unbelievable.” I shake my head at him.
“Sparkling water? You-”
The word forms on my lips but I swallow it back.
Holden bursts out laughing. “Were you seriously just about to call me a pussy?”
I shrug. “Well, yeah, actually. After the shit you just gave me about salads and dressing on the side and Chardonnay? “
“Whatever,” he says with a frown. “I’m being good. I’m supposed to be training right now.”
I snort. “Oh, agreed, you definitely should be training after what I saw earlier.
He arches a single eyebrow at me, looking half amused and half irked.
“You know, I’ve heard stories about the famous ballbreaker LJ Jacobs.”
Karen arrives with his Perrier and my stupidly expensive bourbon, and I raise my glass in a half-toast as I smile at him.
“Living up to expectations?”
“I thought you were a dude.”
I swallow a luxurious sip of whiskey. “Sorry to disappoint.”
“Believe me, you’re not.”
The glass freezes against my lips for a second as my eyes dart up over the rim to lock with his. He holds them like that for a moment.
“You know what, fuck it, we’re celebrating.”
He turns and scans the room for Karen.
“Oh are we?”
Holden’s face breaks into a cheeseball grin as he sees her across the room and nods, pointing to my glass and holding a finger up.
He turns back to me. “Sure, we’re celebrating me joining your little shit team.”
I bristle, my jaw tightening.
“I haven’t actually offered you the job yet, you know.”
Holden winks at me. “You will.”
“Keep it up.”
He chuckles. “I’m just messing with you, you know.
Karen returns with his drink and stammers something incredibly awkward about Holden’s “excellent choice in whiskey” when I realize that somehow, my glass is empty.
“Oh, and I’ll take a refill, Karen.”
She’s about to scurry away again when Holden stops her with a hand on her arm that she literally might not ever wash again.
“Better make it two,” he says, his eyes never leaving mine.
I raise a brow, smirking as Karen leaves again.
“Trying to play catch up?”
Holden shrugs, grinning at me. “Depends, how far back am I?”
This is a dangerous game.
This is a terrible game.
Why am I even playing this game?
“I’ve had a few.”
No, idiot. Shut this down.
I remind myself for the tenth time that this is a business dinner, not a date. And going toe-to-toe on drinks with him is hardly appropriate for a business dinner.
He laughs. “That a fact, huh? A few?”
Karen returns with two more glasses of the Pappy Van Winkle, and Holden turns to flash her a smile.
“You know what, Karen?” He turns back to me, holding my gaze. “Just go ahead and bring the whole bottle of whatever we’re drinking.”
Karen’s eyes go wide.
So do mine.
“Mr. Cade, that’s a Pappy Van Winkle 23-year Special Reserve.”
Holden arches a brow at me, before he turns back to Karen.
“Yeah, better bring the whole thing then.”
Karen nods eagerly as she runs off.
“Nice stuff we’re drinking, sugar.”
I shrug casually. “It’s all we drink down in Bull country.”
He cracks up. “Yeah, the land of milk and honey is it?”
“Yep.” I resist the urge to grin as I sip on my drink.
“That why you keep losing?”
I stick my tongue out at him, which is pretty much the first indication that I should put the glass down instead of taking another quick sip like I do.
Karen returns to the table with our two-thousand-dollar bottle of bourbon, blushing as Holden thanks her with a wink. He pours a generous refill into both our glasses before raising his up.
“Well, here’s to building, or rebuilding, or whatever.”
We clink glasses, and I’m bringing mine to my lips again when he knocks his back in one gulp and reaches for the bottle again. He doesn’t look phased at all as he refills his glass.
“So how far back am I?”
I swallow the doubt that forms in my throat. “Uh, a few.”
“I better keep going then.”
He downs the second one right there, not once breaking eye contact with me and grinning right through the shot.
Because somehow, in an absurd and juvenile show of bravado, I’ve decided to go toe-to-toe on drinks with notorious party-boy drinker Holden Cade.
And something tells me I just bit off more than I can chew.
Or more than I can drink.
Damn this girl can keep up. I mean, I can drink and this chick is right there with me.