Player: A Secret Baby Sports Romance(9)By: Aubrey Irons
I turn back and level my eyes at Austin. “Okay, the hell with it.”
He raises a brow. “Is that an ‘I do?’”
“Don’t get cute.”
He winks and I resist the urge to blush. “Okay, so how do we do this?”
Austin shrugs. “It’s not like I’ve done this before, you know.” He grins. “I guess at some point I call my lawyers, but for now-” He holds a finger up as he jogs over to the ice cream stand window and comes back with a pen. He yanks a napkin out of the holder leans over the picnic table.
“Here.” He grins as he holds up the napkin with “I swear to be married for six months for $500k” scrawled across it, along with what I guess is his signature beneath it.
I make a face. “This isn’t real, you know.”
I pause, letting the last lingering doubts percolate in my head - letting the last little shreds of my sanity wonder what the actual hell I’m doing saying yes to this.
But it’s a ton of money. It’s money that assures I don’t have to try and beg off my mother and all the drama that comes with that. It’s not going back to Vince Capra money.
Besides, it’s not real.
I’m grabbing the napkin and the pen, and scrawling my name next to his as the words whisper through my head like a mantra.
It’s not real.
I look up at my new fake husband, forcing the heat from my face as the realization that the man I kissed like a crazy person in the elevator last night is now technically my employer.
“So, what happens now?”
He flashes that wildly charming cowboy smile at me as he leans back on the bench and shrugs before lacing his hands behind his head. “Hell if I know. This is my first marriage, you know.”
“But I guess we should celebrate or something.”
I smile as I look down at the cup of melted ice-cream on the table between us. “I don’t know, think you can top ice cream on the beach?”
“I think I can manage.” He winks. “You like casinos?”
I raise a brow at the man across the table - the stranger with the expensive car, the chiseled, tattooed body, and the cowboy smile that keeps making me warm in places it shouldn’t.
The stranger who’s now my official fake husband.
“Ever been to Vegas?”
I just got fake married.
At an ice cream shop.
Oh, right, and now I’m in a car speeding through the desert to Las Vegas, with a man I don’t even really know.
Who’s my fake husband.
Natalie Ames, you have officially lost your damn mind.
The argument could be made that I lost my mind a long time ago, when I let myself fall into the same trap my mother, and her mother, and her mother before fell into - even thought I’d always swore I never would. But it’s like that fate was as inevitable as there being a city made of neon at the end of this dark desert road. I lost my mind when I gave up and gave in, and said yes to a man like Vince, knowing full well what that meant.
So, saying it again - however contrived, however phony, and however for financial reasons - to Austin should feel like giving up all over again. It should feel like I’m going down the same damn road - being the same damn piece of wall art, or arm candy.
I turn, peering at the bizarre and criminally attractive man behind the wheel in the low glow of the late afternoon sun. Except I might not know a thing about Austin, but I can already tell he’s nothing like Vince. Rich, and maybe the touch of arrogance that comes with that, but not scummy. Not disconnected.
Who knows, I think to myself, turning to look out over the copper sand of the Nevada desert. Maybe a fake marriage is exactly what you needed, Natalie Ames.
The valet is all over Austin as soon as we pull up in front of the Bellagio - grinning from ear to ear, firmly shaking his hand, and just like the guy from the bar, telling him he “can’t wait for this year.”
Whatever the hell that means.
Austin just grins and thanks him, giving him a high five as he poses for a freaking selfie with the guy before he slips on a pair of shades and walks over to where I’m standing utterly confused by the lobby door.
“Are you going to tell me who you are?”
He smirks. “I’m your husband.”
I give him a look. “Fake husband, but seriously, why does everyone know you?”
“Okay, everyone else in the world besides me, apparently. You’re like, famous or something, right?”
Austin grins behind those ridiculous movie-star shades. “Maybe I’m just a really likable guy.”
“So likable that random strangers want to take an Instagram picture with you?”
“Stranger things have happened, princess.”
Yeah, like me agreeing to marry a stranger for half a million dollars.
Inside, the woman at the front desk greets us warmly, of course addressing Austin by name and blushing when he grins back at her.
“Just checking in, Sarah,” he says in that smooth Texas twang, adding in just a touch more charm to it than I’ve heard before.
“King-sized suite, please.”
“Extra bedroom,” I add in quickly, arching my brow at him.
“Aww, now honey, what about that magic?”
Sarah blushes and looks down as I smile sweetly at Austin.
“Not going to happen,” I mutter quietly.
He grins. “You don’t want to seal the deal?” He slides closer to me and puts his arm across my shoulders. “You don’t want to consummate our marriage, dear?”
Sarah’s head jerks up so fast her glasses almost fall off her face. “Oh my God! You got married?” She squeals, shaking her fists in the air and beaming at Austin like this is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to anyone, ever.
“You’re so lucky,” she whispers conspiratorially at me, biting her lip and beaming at the two of us.
“Yeah, definitely,” I say with zero emotion, arching my brow and glancing around the room.
What the HELL is going on.
Austin turns back to me, wagging his eyebrows. “So…king bed?”
I’m about to open my mouth and tell him where he can shove his king-sized bed when he draws me in as if he’s kissing my cheek. I shiver before I can stop myself, feeling the heat bloom through me as I feel his lips brush against my ear.
“Appearances, dear,” he growls in my ear, and it’s like a live wire right to my core. I blush at the feeling of forbidden heat that creeps traitorously through my body. He steps away and winks at me before turning back to Sarah.
“We’ll take the spare room; might have some guests later in the weekend. Oh, and Sarah?”
She looks up with this eager look on her face that has me rolling my eyes.
“You guys still have that in-house personal stylist, right?”
Sarah beams. “Of course, Mr. Taylor. Will you be needing the same style suit as last time?”
“That and something for my wife.” He grins. “What do you have in white?”
We skip every single line at every single club and bar on the Vegas strip. Bouncers greet Austin by name, girls in line freak the hell out and snap pictures of him while shooting dagger looks my way.
“You sure you’re not in some movie I haven’t seen?” He laughs and I arch a brow at him. “Seriously, what did I get myself in-”
“Hey, princess.” He pulls me close and kisses my check as the crowd outside the club goes bonkers and shrieks his name.
“You’re getting paid to hang out with me at a place like this.” He shrugs. “Try and have a little fun.”
He nods at the bouncer and pulls me into the thumping, pounding swirling crowd of the club.
“And smile,” he yells into my ear over the pulsing roar of the house music. “We just got married, remember?”
I don’t even have time to roll my eyes, or give a second thought as to what madness I’ve managed to willingly get myself into, before he drags me into the throbbing mass of the crowd.
My nights out have historically involved catered dinner parties and high brow conversations, not pulsing club music and swirling masses of sweating, undulating dancers. And I want to say this isn’t my scene, or that I’m only at a place like this because I’m being paid to be here. Except, that’s not entirely accurate.
Because as much as I want to say this is beneath me, or stupid, or whatever, the truth of it is I haven’t stopped grinning since he took my hand and pulled me in here.
I have officially left the old Natalie Ames behind, and whoever this new version of me is, I have to admit…
I kind of like her.
Austin grins as he sets the bottle of champagne back into the ice and raises his glass towards the one he’s just poured me. We can hear each other better here, in the private room up on the second level overlooking the rest of the club.
“You’re being pretty quiet.”
“Well you’re being really mysterious,” I say quickly, taking a gulp of champagne.
“Isn’t that what makes a marriage last?”
I snort. “I think honesty makes a marriage last, or, at least that’s what they say.”
Austin grins and sits back in the book, his eyes dancing over me. “Well, in that case, I can honestly say you look fuckin’ hot tonight.”