Player: A Secret Baby Sports Romance(6)

By: Aubrey Irons



“I was, uh…” I take another breath. “I was thinking about visiting?”

Mother gives a mirthless, brittle laugh. “Oh, dear, no.”

“Wait, seriously?”

“Oh, no, honey, I mean there’s no skiing this time of year.”

I frown. “I don’t ski.”

“Well,” she huffs. “We’re doing a bit of maintenance, you see.”

“Mother, I was just hoping to get away for a little while and-”

“Natalie…” My mother sighs again. “You are a grown woman, you know. You’re old enough to face and solve your own problems.”

Translation: I’m old enough to just go and marry my own stubborn rich asshole of a husband.

Like she did.

Three times.

Of course, there’s the unspoken reason my mother doesn’t want me interrupting a vacation with her newest beau. And that would be that she’s already had enough of Monty trying to peek down my top or up my skirt at their elaborate Tuscan wedding celebrations four months ago.

Third time is apparently not the charm.

“No, Natalie, this is not the time for running away, this is a time for smoothing things over with your future husband.”

I groan, dropping my face into my hand.

“Oh, and Vivian says you haven’t returned her phone calls either, Natalie.”

Right, my older sister, the queen bee socialite of New York City. The perennial favorite. The one that our mother seems perfectly okay with seeing a new man for every season.

And I get conniptions about leaving my fiancé for screwing around on me.

The room phone starts to ring as my mother continues to talk, and I grit my teeth and grip the mug of coffee a little tighter in my hand.

“Mother, I have to go.”

“Oh, do say hello to Vincent for me, won’t you?”

I hang up without dignifying that with a response.

The room phone rings again and I groan.

Now what.



“This is insane!”

I’m staring at the hotel manager across the check-in desk, feeling the heat flood into my face as she patronizingly shakes her head at me.

“Ms. Ames, I’m sorry, but we can’t charge a card that’s been declined.”

It’s the fourth time she’s said it, and it’s been getting less and less apologetic in tone with every run-through.

“It’s my fiancé’s credit card.”

You know, technically.

“That may be, Ms. Ames, but the card has been reported stolen.”

That fucker.

I feel humiliated, standing there in the same freaking cocktail dress I wore the the night before - the one I slept in - holding my shoes like some sort of walk of shame tragedy. There’s a line forming behind me, and I can feel the eyes of the people waiting to check-in glaring at the back of my head.

The concierge sitting awkwardly between the manager and I at the front desk console swallows thickly and smiles weakly at me. “Ms. Ames, if you have another card, we could-”

“Goddamnit, I don’t have another-!”

I clamp my mouth shut mid-shout, feeling my face turn absolutely crimson.

“I don’t have another card,” I say, quietly this time.

My phone buzzes in my clutch, and I shoot another evil look at the manager before I yank it out and feel my blood pressure go through the damn roof when I see who’s calling.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me, you fucking-”

“Now now, Natalie, let’s be adults here.” Vince’s voice on the other end of the line has my lips tightening to thin white lines across my mouth, my hand clenching in a fist tight enough to hurt at my side.

“Vince,” I say sharply, taking a deep breath. I’m not ‘thinking of the good times’ or ‘holding onto what we had’ or anything other bullshit line I’m sure he’s about to feed me. Because all I can see is her. All I can see is my own pride being swept way - and me allowing it to happen.

“They’re not going to let me stay here if you report my credit card as stolen.”

He chuckles, and I swear to God I almost throw the phone through the etched glass doors of the hotel.

“Well, Natalie, it’s my credit card, to be fair-”

“Which is mine to use-”

“For expensive hotel rooms and bar tabs after embarrassing me at the gala?”

My head’s spinning.

I embarrassed him - this is literally how he’s looking at the situation.

“Vince-”

“Here’s how this is going to work, Natalie,” he says abruptly, cutting me off. “I’ll pay for your silly night on the town, okay? I’ll cover the bill for last night, if…”

I grind my teeth together. “If what.”

“If you just come home, and we can put this silly thing behind us.”

This time, I do make the scene I never wanted to make, when the entire lobby gasps in shock as I scream. I wind my arm back, every intention of putting my smartphone violently through the plate glass door of the hotel entryway, when suddenly there’s a hand on my wrist, stopping me.

“What if we didn’t do that, princess.”

I jerk my head around at the sudden grip on my arm and the familiar voice in my ear.

Austin.

I blush bright red as I realize the man I never actually expected to see again - the man who got the full brunt of my drunk recklessness and shattering of inhibitions - is standing right in front of me. It’s like that moment when you say goodnight to a friend after dinner, only to realize you’re both parked in the same lot.

Only, you know, roughly ten-thousand times more embarrassing, given the context of our last exchange.

“Um, hi.”

Um, hi?

I cringe inside as the words fall from my lips before I can stop them. So much for years of training in polite conversation and etiquette.

“Ms. Ames?”

The harping voice of the hotel manager tears my attention away from the gorgeous man still standing in front of me, still holding my wrist in his hand.

“Ms. Ames, the card has been reported stolen, and I’m afraid I need to-”

“You know what, why don’t you just put it on mine. I’m checking out anyways.”

I whirl back to Austin, narrowing my eyes suspiciously at him. “Hang on, no one asked you to do that.”

He smiles quickly at me before looking back at the concierge over my shoulder. “The last name is-”

“Oh, of course Mr. Taylor, right away sir,” the guy at the computer says quickly, tapping away at his keyboard.

How the hell does everyone know this guy?

I peer at him, furrowing my brow and suddenly trying to figure out if I know him from the movies or something.

“Mr. Taylor, you’re all set!” The guy behind the desk is beaming at Austin with stars in his eyes. And I’m about to demand an answer as to what the hell is going on, and where the hell he gets off playing Superman like this, when he immediately takes my arm again and starts to pull me right out the door of the hotel.

“Okay, stop.” Outside at the valet stand, I finally yank my arm out of his grasp, taking a step back and crossing my arms over my chest. “What the hell was that in there?”

He scowls. “The words you’re looking for are actually ‘gee, thanks’.”

“No one asked you to play money-bags in there and buy my damn hotel room.”

“And a good thing they didn’t,” he says with a smirk, that thick Texan accent dripping like honey. “Cause with that fucking attitude, I’d probably have kept my damn mouth shut.”

I glare at him as the valet brings a sleek black sports car of some kind around to the hotel door. “I don’t need your help.”

“Says the girl holding her shoes who - unless I’m confused - was about to get herself arrested for credit card fraud?”

“It’s my fiancé’s card, actually,” I snap. His brow shoots up, and for some reason I feel the need to follow it up. “Well, ex-fiancé, or, whatever.”

He blinks and then shakes his head at me as he brings a hand up to push his fingers through the sexy mop of dark hair on his head.

God, why did I feel the need to think of his hair as sexy?

“Well, that all sounds super interesting, princess, but why don’t you hop in.”

He nods at the black sports car idling next to him, and I give him a look.

“Uh, pass.”

He grins. “Got something better to do?”

I roll my eyes. “Because I don’t even know you?”

Austin smirks at me. “You know me well enough to shove your tongue down my throat.”

My jaw drops. “I did no such thing!”

Suddenly, there’s a commotion from the front doors of the hotel, and I turn to see a cluster of what look like security guards, with the hotel manager pointing wildly in my direction.

“Yes, that’s her! The card owner called back and-”

“Get in the car, princess.”

I glance back at the three men in uniform stalking towards me, looking at me like I’m maybe as crazy as I look in my rumpled cocktail dress, still wet hair, and heels in my hands, before I turn back to the cocky, grinning man leaned against the side of his sports car like temptation on wheels.

“Okay, fine.”

I climb in and he rolls his eyes as he ducks around to the driver’s side and slips behind the wheel. I gasp as the car screeches away from the hotel, tires squealing as I clutch at the arm rest and try and get my seatbelt on.

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