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Authors: Diane Alberts

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Play Me

BOOK: Play Me
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Play Me

A Take a Chance Novel

Diane Alberts

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright ©
2013 by Diane Alberts
. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at
www.entangledpublishing.com
.

Edited by
Shannon Godwin

Cover design by L.J. Anderson

Ebook ISBN 978-1-62266-192-3

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition July 2013

The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Friendly’s, iPod, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Xbox, Band-Aid, Miss Manners, PlayStation, Call of Duty, Modern Family, How I Met Your Mother, SPCA, Golden Nugget, Asti.

Table of Contents

This one goes out to my readers. Without you, I wouldn’t be here. Without you, I’d still just be a girl with a dream…

Chapter One

Garrett Kelly might have been a laid-back middle school math teacher by day, but at night he was a basketball coach who yelled and cussed and fought for his team. And right now? He was yelling. And in his head? He was cursing up a storm. Mainly because his star player, Chris Worth, stood frozen mid-court of the middle school gymnasium.

What the hell was going on out there? Chris
never
choked. Never missed a chance to win a game. But he was just standing there. Not moving.

“Dribble the ball, Chris!” Garrett screamed down the court, his entire body tense. The damn score was tied at fifty-six with thirty seconds left and he still wasn’t moving. Garrett looked up in the bleachers at Kiersten Worth, Chris’s aunt and legal guardian…as well as acting mother, who shrugged back and scrunched up her nose. “Move!”

Chris finally launched into action, dribbling in between the opposing team’s defense as if they merely stood still, and banked another two points. The crowd went wild, both with moans and shouts, depending on which side they were rooting for.

“There you go. You got this down, boys,” he called out, rubbing the back of his neck. Now, they just needed to figure out how to prevent the other team from scoring in the next twenty seconds, and they would be able to maintain their undefeated record. And if they failed? He might have to give them all double homework duty on Monday.

His assistant coach, and best friend, paced behind him. “If they let this kid score, I’m gonna lose it,” Mike whispered. Then he raised his voice and shouted, “Arms up, defense!”

“You’re preaching to the choir.”

Garrett tensed as the opposing team headed down the court. Sending a prayer above—God had to like basketball…He was a
man
after all—Garrett clenched his hands tight. The other team’s tiny point guard dodged between two players, only to be caught off-guard by Chris. Chris snatched the ball out of his hands and dribbled down the court. He squared off and took a shot just as the buzzer sounded.

Swoosh
.

“Yes!” Garrett said, turning to give Mike a high five. “And the streak continues.”

“Thank God,” Mike grinned.

They lined up all of the kids in the most unorganized row ever, slapped hands and huddled for an after-game pep talk. After they finished, Mike and Garrett headed toward the waiting moms, who hovered like vultures waiting for their meal.

“Oh, God, Susan is eyeing me again,” Mike groaned, rubbing his forehead. “Help me.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have slept with her, dumbass,” Garrett replied, smiling at the woman in question as they approached the crowd. “I warned you to avoid her like the plague. Her ex-husband had to get a restraining order against her. If that doesn’t scream
caution
, I don’t know what does. You have no one to blame but yourself.”

“Yeah,” Mike shrugged. “But she’s hot. That throws the crazy scale askew.”

Garrett rolled his eyes. He scanned the crowd for the woman who wouldn’t be chasing him. Kiersten stood in the back of the well-wishers, waving at Chris and beaming with pride. Her straight blond hair looked silky smooth today and Garrett’s fingers twitched with the desire to see if it was as soft as it looked. But friends didn’t fondle other friends’ hair.

Or so he kept telling himself.

Chris held his index finger up to Kiersten, obviously needing a minute to collect his stuff and say his good-byes. Though Chris’s mom had died in a car crash when Chris was an infant, the boy had never lacked for a mother. Kiersten, though barely more than a child herself at the time, had stepped into her sister’s role without hesitation. She had even refused to let her older sister take on the responsibility, since Brianna had just had a baby with her husband. That was just one of the many things Garrett admired about her so much.

“Don’t even think about abandoning me for her,” Mike said between clenched teeth, following the line of his gaze. “You don’t stand a chance and you know it. Besides, she’s still depressed over Pete leaving her. Fucking asshole.”

“Agreed.” Garrett shrugged. “We’re friends, is all. Stop trying to make it more than what it is.”

“Are you so sure about that? Need I remind you of high school?” Mike called out. “Move on and leave her alone.”

Mike, of course, referred to the huge crush Garrett had held on to all throughout his teen years. But he was over it. He’d grown up and moved on, as people did. “You have no clue what you’re talking about,” he said before walking away.

“Yeah, I do. She’s my sister,” Mike retorted. “And you’re an as—” Mike broke off and looked at the kids surrounding them. “Uh, an
as
tounding fool.”

Garrett rolled his eyes at his friend’s quick recovery, waved over his shoulder—with one finger conspicuously higher than the others—and stalked to Kiersten’s side. All of the other moms let out a sigh and zeroed in on Mike. The poor sucker stood no chance, and deserved every second of it.

The closer Garrett got to Kiersten, the faster his heart thumped in his ears. It felt more like he was sprinting down the court for a winning shot instead of walking up to his longtime friend. She saw his approach and straightened, cheeks rosy. Her green gaze latched onto his, pushing him away without saying a word. “Coach Garrett, how are you doing tonight?”

Her voice washed over him like a soothing balm. He shook his head and grinned at her. “Kiersten, you can call me Garrett.”

“Not here,” she murmured. Her gaze flitted over his shoulder to where Chris probably approached. “Don’t want to give anyone anything to gossip about.”

He pasted his generic playboy-smile on and ran his fingers through his hair. “No one would get the wrong idea. It’s quite obvious we’re just friends. Speaking of which…are we still getting together for drinks tonight?”

“Yes,” she said quickly. “Now be quiet. Chris is coming, and I don’t want him to get the wrong idea.”

The
wrong idea
being that she was actually interested in more than friendship from him. Garrett knew all too well that wasn’t the case, even if he occasionally wished it weren’t. “Right.”

“Hey, coach,” Chris said. He walked over to Kiersten’s side and looked at Garrett with eyes far too wise for a thirteen year old. “What’s up?”

Garrett cleared his throat. “Nothing much. I’m just letting your mom know about practice on Monday at five.”

“Oh, okay.” Chris looked up at Kiersten expectantly. “Ready to go to Friendly’s?”

“I’m
always
ready to go to Friendly’s,” she replied. When she slung his gym bag over her shoulder, her gaze met Garrett’s for one brief second. “Good bye, Coach Garrett.”

“See ya,” he murmured.

He watched her walk away, the swing of her hips teasing him. Over the past three months, they had been getting together at her place to have a few drinks on the weekends, but not as lovers. Just as friends. Very
platonic
friends. It’s all they could ever, and would ever, be. He was her kid’s teacher and coach. Though the school didn’t frown upon such things… other parents did.

All it would take was one game where he played Chris longer than another kid and all hell would break loose. So no matter how much he might like to discover how those swinging hips felt in his hands…he needed to keep his head on straight.

And his hands at his sides.

Rolling his shoulders, he headed back to Mike. Upon seeing his return, Mike flashed him a dirty look. “About time,” he muttered under his breath. “Done drooling over my sister?”

Garrett ignored him. “Okay, everyone. Listen up. Practice is Monday at five. We’ll see you all then. Coach Mike and I have to go over some end-of-game plays, so we’re gonna head out now.”

The women dispersed, leaving him and Mike alone. Mike scowled at him and punched his shoulder. “Look, fuck-wad, stop chasing her.”

Garrett ground his teeth together. “I’m not chasing her.”

And he wasn’t. They were friends. If there were a moment or two where he wished they could be more, then so be it. That’s life. It didn’t mean he had to
act
on the desire. Making a move, especially an unrequited move, certainly wouldn’t do at all for his image—the image he’d worked very hard to build. He was the perfect picture of the content bachelor with no intention of ever changing his ways.

“Looked to me like you were chasing her,” Mike said.

Garrett gritted his teeth. “Then you weren’t looking close enough. I’m over her. I’ve been over her since college.
You’re
the one who needs to move on, man.”


I
did.” Mike eyed Garrett in a way that all too clearly conveyed that he doubted Garrett had.

“Yeah?” Garrett grabbed the clipboard. “So did I.”

“Good. Now, I need to drink a few beers and find a woman with a lot of daddy issues and no attachment issues whatsoever,” Mike said, gathering up his jacket and clipboard. “You in?”

Garrett hesitated. After all of the ribbing Mike had been giving him, the last thing he wanted to admit was that he was spending his Friday night at Kiersten’s. “Nah. I think I’m getting sick. I’m gonna go home and take it easy tonight.”

“Like you’ve been doing almost every weekend lately? Are you going to shave your legs and douche, too?” Mike snapped. “What the fuck, man?”

“Yeah, that’s exactly right. I’m going to go home and douche. See you later, asshole,” Garrett called over his shoulder. “Don’t forget that we have our own game tomorrow.”

Mike called out, “See you then. Wear a pretty skirt for me, will ya?”

Garrett flipped him off and stalked out of the gym. The cold air blasted his face as soon as he walked outside and he inhaled deeply. Damn, he loved winter. Tiny snow flurries drifted down from the sky and Garrett took a minute to appreciate the sheer beauty of the unblemished white snow falling around him. Too bad it wouldn’t stick to the ground. It wasn’t cold enough in Vegas for that.

But it sure looked pretty.

And then it struck him how very much like life falling snow could be. It looked great at first glance, but within minutes all you had left was yellow snow and gray streets. Nothing ever stayed pure and fresh—which was why he avoided romantic entanglements.

It wasn’t because the only woman he really wanted didn’t want
him
. No. All he needed was a warm body in bed every once in a while and he was good to go. It didn’t matter who she was or where he found her. Intimacy was overrated and overbearing.

Unfortunately, the more he told himself that…the less he believed it.

Chapter Two

Kiersten glanced in the mirror and smoothed her hair back out of her eyes with a trembling hand. Tonight, she was going to do something completely out of character. Terrifyingly so. When she had been sitting in the bleachers earlier, reflecting on the fact that today was
supposed
to have been her wedding day, she’d compared her life now to what she’d expected it to be. And quite honestly…it sucked. Pete was probably married to his skanky secretary by now. Blissfully and happily getting ready to raise cheating little babies to match their cheating, lying parents.

While she hadn’t even gotten laid since the break-up.

Today was supposed to have been her special day—the day she said
I do
. As the time had ticked down on Chris’s game, it also had ticked down on her contentment to just…be alone. Then it came to her—she didn’t have to be alone tonight. She could give a final fuck-you-Pete and sleep with the one man Pete had always been threatened by.

Garrett.

Pete would never know, but she would.

And it would feel
good
.

Now all she needed to do was tell Garrett.

She hoped she hadn’t misread the interest in his eyes. And hoped he wouldn’t turn her down. She was choosing him as her target because of three reasons. One? Proximity. He was coming to her place tonight anyway. Two? He used to have a crush on her back in high school and probably still wondered what it would be like between them, so less likely to reject her. And three? That whole secret fuck-you factor he would give her.

Maybe it was childish but so what? Pete had decided he loved to bang his secretary more than he loved Kiersten, so why shouldn’t she celebrate tonight with a little too much wine and a good bout of forbidden sex?

And hopefully some sore legs tomorrow.

Yeah. That’s
so
what she’d envisioned for this day when they had sent those save the date cards out.

Kiersten sent a quick goodnight text to Chris, who was sleeping over at his cousins’ house, and hurriedly brushed her hair. At most, she only had thirty minutes before Garrett arrived—and the furriness of her legs appalled her more than words could say. After a fast shower and an even quicker make-up session, she stood in front of her closet gripped with indecision on what to wear.

Could she really go through with this impetuous plan? Seduce one of her only friends?

When Pete had destroyed the tiny bit of faith she’d had in humanity, she had fallen to pieces. All her life, she had avoided relationships so Chris wouldn’t have a father figure enter his life and just as quickly leave. But then the
one
freaking time she trusted a man and let him in, he’d cheated on her with his secretary and they’d called the whole thing off.

She had been brokenhearted but Chris had been even worse off.

She would never do it again. Wouldn’t bring an unstable man into his life like she had before. She’d been right to avoid love. All the love she needed she got from her family.

But she wouldn’t think about that asshat Pete. She would drink with Garrett. Get a little stupid. Let loose. And have some casual, no strings attached sex. If she could do that with anyone in her life, it would be Garrett. He’d always been by her side, rooting her on.

Looking at her with those hot, blazing blue eyes that seemed to undress her without a simple touch. Her stomach tightened just thinking about him and that look. And given his years-long single status, he didn’t seem to want a relationship any more than she did.

But what if he wanted more than she could give him? A series of pictures ran through her head of how he would fall in love with her and ask her to marry him. Have kids with him.

She shuddered at the mere thought.

Nah. He wouldn’t want that. He’d never even acted on his crush in high school, so how serious could it have been? Not once in all of their time together had he even given her a slight hint he wanted those things. Hot glances? Yes. Happily ever after? No.

He was like her. Independent. Unattached, and content to stay that way.

Marriage obviously wasn’t for the Worth children. The only one of them who hadn’t been messed up from their parents screwed up marriage was her older sister, Brianna. She was married with three kids. Her first husband had died, but Brianna had met another man she’d fallen head over heels in love with. Thomas Jones. Now they were married and happily living their normal lives in their normal house in their normal world.

Then there was her and Mike.

Mike didn’t spend more than a night with the same woman—if not an hour—and Kiersten refused to even try relationships ever again. She was broken. Unfixable. She didn’t want to get married, or even fall in love a second time. Didn’t want any kids besides Chris. She was fine alone.

But she needed to get
laid
. Needed to prove to herself that she wasn’t a complete failure who couldn’t attract a man—much less keep him. And Garrett seemed like a sure bet, given the way he looked at her when he thought she wasn’t watching. Like she was a woman, and he was a man. And he wanted her.

Or at least…she thought he did.

After pairing a scoop neck sweater with a black skirt and applying a quick spritz of perfume, she made it downstairs just in time to feel her phone vibrate in her hand. He was here. When she opened the door, he stood there smiling at her, a bottle of Asti in his hand. The porch light illuminated his perfection, as if God was reminding her just how exquisitely he had made this particular male specimen.

“Hello,” she said, motioning him inside.

“Hey,” he murmured. His blue eyes swept over her body, leaving heat everywhere they touched. She normally wore sweats and a T-shirt when he came over to hang out, so he was probably wondering at the short skirt she wore. “Wow. You look pretty tonight.”

Her cheeks heated up. “Thanks.”

He came inside and she busied herself closing the door and locking it. The chill of the metal cooled her hunger for him—to some degree. “Is Chris gone?” he asked.

“Of c-course,” she stammered. “He’s at Brianna’s for the night.”

Garrett strode into the living room and set the bottle down before unzipping his coat. His black shirt clung to his finely tuned body, and her fingers twitched. Everything from his black hair, to his six-pack, down to his damn boots screamed out for her attention. And those blue eyes were mesmerizing. She could get lost in them for hours.

“That’s good.” Running a hand over his shirt to smooth it out, he cocked his head. “So we’ve got the whole place to ourselves, huh? No whispering required.”

She headed for the glasses. Images of her screaming out his name flashed over her, making her hot. She looked at him over her shoulder, hoping the smile she gave him would pass as seductive. “We can be as loud as we want. No one will hear me scream.”

He faltered in his steps, his eyes wide. Yep. She’d gotten her point across.

She pulled the corkscrew from the drawer but he slid up behind her and snatched it out of her hands. He always liked doing the muscle work, as if she couldn’t possibly do it alone. It used to bug her. Now, it didn’t. Weird.

She swallowed hard and watched his muscles flex as he twisted the corkscrew. What was wrong with her? She needed to stop ogling him like she was thinking about stripping him naked here in the kitchen. Because she wasn’t. At all.

She totally planned on bringing him upstairs before stripping him.

“Are you doing okay?” He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, his brow furrowed. He was probably wondering what the hell was wrong with her. “I know tonight’s gotta be rough for you.”

She swallowed. “I’m okay.”

“I know you are.” He squeezed her hand, then dropped it. She clenched her fist. “But I’m here if you want to vent or cry or whatever. Whatever you need.”

And she knew that, too. He was always there for her. But he said that without knowing what she needed tonight. “I know,” she said softly, her voice barely audible. “You’re a great friend.”

“I’d hope so. Sometimes I wonder, considering how much you try to hide our friendship.” When he reached around her to set the opened bottle down on the granite counter, his breath fanned her cheek. He smelled like cologne and woodsy shampoo. “I don’t get the secrecy. I had to lie to Mike again so he wouldn’t ask questions about us.”

“It’s just better this way.”

“If you say so,” he drawled.

He leaned back against the counter and crossed his arms. He was looking at her again.
Really
looking. And even worse, something inside of her responded in a way she didn’t fully understand or welcome. It was as if something gave way, or shifted for him so he could get inside. She stared back at him, refusing to shrink away. Refusing to back down. He held her gaze, both of them silently challenging the other to be the first to look away.

If Mike knew what she was planning to do with Garrett tonight, he’d slap her upside the head for messing with his best friend. Brianna, on the other hand, would cheer her on. She always believed that love and happiness conquered all, despite the fact that she’d lost her first husband to cancer way too young.

And despite the fact that God had also taken their sister in a car accident only months after she’d had her son.

Ah. To be so blissfully optimistic.

After what felt like a year, she finally gave up and lost the staring contest. The longer she looked into those baby blues, the more nervous she got. Sucking in a shaky breath, she busied herself with filling the glasses. “Thirsty?”

“Sure.” He eyed her but didn’t comment on her odd behavior. “Did you finish editing that book you were working on Monday night?”

“Yep. It’s been all prettied up and sent back to the author.” She worked from home as an editor and loved her job.

“Good.” Picking up the glasses, he handed her one and held his out for a toast. “Let’s toast to celebrate the win today. Chris did an excellent job and I have a feeling he’s only going to get better. You have quite the amazing nephew.”

“I’m not going to argue that,” she answered. She watched him over the rim of her glass, tension humming through her veins. His eyes latched onto hers, heating up under her stare. She looked away and tucked her side swept bangs behind her ear. “He wants to get a scholarship to Harvard, so let’s hope he keeps improving.”

“He can do it.”

Kiersten smiled at his utter conviction. Once again, something inside of her moved a little bit. She didn’t like it. “I know, but thank you.”

He lifted his glass again. “And we’re also toasting your freedom from an asshole who didn’t know what he had when he had it,” he said, his eyes hard. “If he hadn’t shown his true colors, you would be marrying that jerk right now. You deserve so much better.”

She bit down hard on her tongue. He was right, but it didn’t stop the pain and humiliation Pete had put her through. “I don’t want to talk about him. I want to…to forget. To not think about what would have been, or why I was stupid enough to believe in him in the first place.”

Because if she started thinking about what Pete had done to Chris and her…she would break.

“Fair enough.” He stepped closer, his toes touching hers. He smoothed her hair that she’d sloppily tucked behind her ear, watching her as he did so. “Did I tell you how beautiful you look tonight?”

“Yes, you did.” She shivered, swaying closer despite the warning bells going off in her head. And he didn’t move away from her. If anything, he moved closer. Thank God. “But you shouldn’t say that.”

He cupped her cheek and ran his thumb over her chin, perilously close to her mouth. “Why not?”

Yeah, why not?

And that brought them to her agenda for the evening—sex. Time to start her arguments. State her case. They were both consenting adults. Easy. Straightforward. Commitment free.

“I like it when you do.” She chugged the rest of her drink. “But right now, we’re just friends. Friends don’t call each other pretty.”

He quirked a brow at her and took the glass away. She waited for him to question the
right now
part of her sentence, but instead he said, “You can call me pretty if you want. I don’t mind.”

She rolled her eyes. “Okay, pretty boy. Get me another drink, or I’ll have to slap you around a bit.”

He chuckled. “I might like that.”

She licked her lips. “I bet you would.”

He hissed in a breath through his teeth. “You’re feisty tonight, aren’t you?”

“You have no idea.”

He shot her a heated look, finished his own cup, and refilled them both with trembling hands. He seemed to steady himself by the time he turned back around to face her. The fire was gone from his eyes and he looked completely harmless. But she knew better.

“Here you go. You might want to slow down, though. You’ll be drunk if you don’t.” His lips tilted up into a small smile. “But if that’s what you want, then keep drinking. I won’t complain. I’ll even tuck you in when you pass out on the couch.”

“Hm.” She tipped back the glass. “Or you could join me?”

He stilled, the glass pressed to his lips. “What?”

“I’m kidding, of course.”

Was it just her, or did disappointment cross his features? “Of course you are. I knew that.”

“But then again…” She rolled a small sip around her tongue, watching him the whole time. After she swallowed, she slowly licked her lips. He watched her every movement, his muscles tight. “Maybe I feel like being a little bit stupid tonight. Want to join me?”

“Depends.” His hand tightened on the wine glass. “What do you want to do?”

“I want…” She clung to her glass, trying to get the nerve to say what she wanted out loud. What if she’d read him wrong? What if he wasn’t interested in her at all? God, she was pathetic. She didn’t used to be so uncertain of herself. She could thank her asshat of an ex for that, too. She took another gulp of wine, wishing it would take effect quicker. “Never mind that. Are you seeing anyone right now?”

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