Home > The Final Score (Play-by-Play #13)

The Final Score (Play-by-Play #13)
Author: Jaci Burton

ONE

“SO, HERE WE ARE, ONCE AGAIN LIVING IN THE SAME city.” Mia Cassidy took a sip of her green tea and looked over at Nathan Riley. “How did that happen?”

Nathan, the epitome of tall, dark, well-muscled and absolutely hot, leaned back in his chair and grinned at her. “Easy. You’re obsessed with me so you followed me.”

She laughed. “I don’t think so. You knew I was thinking of starting a business here so you decided you had to get drafted by the San Francisco Sabers.”

Nathan took a swallow of his iced tea and set the glass down. Mia tracked the movement of his hands. He had really big hands. She remembered that night several years ago in college when he’d used his hands to touch her—all over. They’d only had that one night together, but it sure had been memorable.

Yeah, the guy had magnificent hands.

“I’ve been here a year already, Mia. You just got here. So like I said, you followed me.”

Her lips quirked. “And aren’t you happy to have me here?”

“Actually, I am. Although who would have thought this kind of major shit would go down for both of us? You were going to get your PhD, and instead, you’ve got a start-up sports management company. I thought I’d end up in Cleveland or maybe in L.A., but not here in San Francisco, taking over as the Sabers quarterback now that my dad has retired.”

Mia clutched her glass, feeling the cloud of anxiety rain down over her. Which was why she’d asked Nathan to have lunch. His charm and humor had always been a distraction for her, and oh how she needed it today. “Big changes for both of us for sure. How is your dad? Is he okay with the decision he made to retire?”

“He seems fine with it. The Sabers won the championship last year, and he had the knee issue that plagued him at the tail end of the season. He’s thirty-seven, so he felt like it was the right time for him to step away.”

“And you don’t think he did that for you, to give you a chance to play?”

“I asked him that—more than once. He said no. Knowing my dad, he’d never walk away from football if he wasn’t ready. He loves the game too much.”

Mia nodded. “Since I have three brothers who play football, I believe that. You should believe him, too.”

She knew Nathan had been worried when his dad announced his retirement at the end of last season. She also knew it added some pressure for Nathan, because he’d take over as starting quarterback this season for the Sabers. He’d had all last season to learn from him, but succeeding someone as high profile as Mick Riley wasn’t going to be easy. Plus, Mick was his dad.

Now she was doubly happy she’d made the decision to launch her company here in San Francisco. Besides being a prime location for her, she and Nathan had always been close in college. Despite their one night together—which had definitely been a mistake—they’d remained friends. It was a bonus that now they would be in the same city.

“How’s your company coming along?” Nathan asked.

“Just getting things rolling. I told you Monique Parker came on board as my executive manager, didn’t I?”

He grinned. “Yeah. She’ll make sure nothing falls through the cracks.”

“I know. She’s incredibly organized, even more than me.”

“If that’s possible. I’ve never known anyone as anal as you.”

“Hey, I’m good at everything I do.”

He waggled his brows at her. “Don’t I know it.”

She laughed. “We promised we wouldn’t bring up that mistaken, drunken night ever again.”

“No, you made me promise it wouldn’t happen again. I thought it was amazing.”

Her body heated at his words. “It was amazing. But we’re friends, Nathan.”

“And friends can’t have sex?”

“I don’t know. Do you have sex with your friends?”

He cocked his head to the side. “You know what I mean, Mia.”

“I do. But we agreed after that night it wouldn’t happen again.”

“You made me agree. I wanted to keep you in bed with me the next day.”

She laughed. “We were drunk. It was a mistake. And I’d much rather have you as a friend than a lover.”

“Oh, so now you’re implying the sex wasn’t good enough?” He leaned over and grasped her hand, the contact instantly electrifying. “Because if that’s the case, I’m calling you out for faulty drunken memory loss. If I recall, you came three times that night.”

At least he whispered that last part. And if he kept talking that way she was going to have an orgasm right there in her chair. So much for pushing those memories aside. She snatched her hand away. “That is not what I meant and you know it.”

“Fine. We’re friends.”

“You need me as your friend, Nathan. Who will get you past all your training camp anxiety?”

He frowned. “Who says I have training camp anxiety?”

She twirled the stirrer around in her tea glass. “Don’t you?”

He leaned back in his chair again. “Maybe. Don’t you have a little anxiety, too, miss big-shot business owner?”

“Yes, I have anxiety. Like you would not believe. Which is why I’m glad we’re friends. I need you, Nathan. As my friend.”

He glared at her. “Shit. Fine. You know I’m always going to be here for you.”

He had no idea how much his friendship and counsel meant to her. “Good. Now let’s order lunch because I have to get back to work.”

“You’re a tough woman, Mia Cassidy.”

“But I’m also your best friend, Nathan Riley. And don’t ever forget it.”

These next few months were going to be critical—for both of them. They were going to need each other more than ever.

As friends. And nothing else.

TWO

AFTER HAVING LUNCH WITH MIA, NATHAN DROVE TO the Sabers stadium. He felt calmer after spending some time with her.

In many ways, Mia was right. Having her as his friend was one of the best things that had ever happened to him. They both came from sports families, so when they met in college in Texas they’d formed an instant bond. It had been a little weird for Nathan to have a female friend at first, but Mia was smart, funny and absolutely beautiful. And since she hadn’t seemed at all attracted to him, she was the one he’d gone to with girlfriend issues.

She’d always been straightforward with her advice, and it had always been helpful. When his girlfriend Sonja had broken up with him his junior year, he’d been a wreck. It was Mia who’d been there to help him pick up the pieces and move on. She’d kept him focused on football while soothing his ego about the breakup, reminding him that college romances rarely lasted anyway. After that he’d played the field without getting emotionally attached.

Until that one night he and Mia had been at his apartment, drinking and watching one of her brothers and his dad play a game against each other on TV. They’d ordered pizza and drank a lot. After the game they’d talked sports and family and careers and what they wanted to do with their futures. It was a heavy conversation. He didn’t know how it happened, but suddenly they were on the couch making out.

Damn it had been good. He was pretty sure it had surprised both of them, but neither of them stopped once they’d started.

Mia had been soft and pliant and the sounds she’d made had driven him crazy. She’d been receptive to his touch, and they’d moved things into the bedroom.

They’d spent all night together, and it had been a damn good night.

Until the next morning when Mia had told him it couldn’t happen again because she valued his friendship more than anything.

He could still remember the way her body had moved under his, could still feel the softness of her lips when they kissed, could still hear the sounds of her breathing as he moved inside of her. And now, goddammit, he had a hard-on as he sat in his car in the stadium parking lot.

He cranked the music up loud and focused on the playbook to get Mia out of his head. When he finally got his shit together, he got out of the car.

He bypassed the locker room and stepped onto the Sabers field. It felt like the first time. Hell, he’d been there countless times before with his dad, the famous Mick Riley. He’d watched him play the game, learned under his tutelage, picked his brain after every play, good and bad.

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