Authors: Theresa Ragan
Published by Theresa Ragan at Smashwords
Copyright 2011 by Theresa Ragan
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These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Theresa Ragan.
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Los Angeles, CA, Present Day
The moment the door to the examination room clicked shut, Max Dutton pointed a finger at his long-time agent Jason Caldwell. “Dr. Stone is a quack. There’s no way I’m paying some high-strung, skinny dietician to follow me around for the next few weeks.”
“You don’t have a choice,” Jason said. “Not unless you intend to retire from the NFL a few years earlier than planned.”
Max snorted. “A few hours in the hospital and they start threatening dismissal. Give me a break.”
“You were there for two days,” Jason argued. “They just want to make sure you’re living a healthier lifestyle before they sign you. Routine. Nothing personal.”
When it came to the franchise, Max thought, everything was personal.
Max could see the frustration in his agent’s eyes as he spoke.
“Listen, Max. The franchise wants a guy with quick reflexes, good eyesight, a sense of timing and a responsible attitude toward safety. You’re thirty-three years old. In football terms, that’s retirement age. You’ve got to stop pretending you’re still twenty-two. I know you think you’ve got to squeeze a lot of life into the next few years, but things have to change.”
No matter how many times he told his coach and his agent that he no longer attempted sky-high-stoppies on his bike or attended wild parties on the weekends, they chose to believe the tabloids. He looked Jason square in the eyes. “I’m tired of letting a bunch of suits tell me how to live my life.”
“Don’t throw it all away just because you might have to have someone following you around and telling you what to eat for a few weeks,” Jason said. “They’re worried about you. Simple as that.”
They both looked toward the door as it opened.
Dr. Stone reentered the room only this time he had a woman at his side. As Dr. Stone made introductions, Max kept his gaze on the woman. She wasn’t tall and skinny after all. Nor was she short and fat. She was just right. Her dark, shiny hair was pulled back into a tight knot, revealing a heart-shaped face and creamy, flawless skin. She wore one of those crisp white doctor’s coats over a pair of black slacks and practical shoes that made Max wince. Her eyes though, matched the lush green hills overlooking Malibu Lake, thus making up for the shoes.
Being a connoisseur of all things female, Max also noticed that the woman wore no jewelry and hardly any makeup. His sisters would have a field day if they could get their hands on her...doing her hair and adding a little color to her cheeks. The thought would have brought a smile to his face if the woman’s eyes hadn’t gone all wide and surprised the moment she looked at him.
“Is something wrong?” Max asked her.
“No,” she said. “It’s just that I-I can’t help you.”
Max looked around the room to see if anyone else heard her.
Jason didn’t say a word. Dr. Stone just stood there and watched the woman turn about and head for the door.
Max should have let her go. Hell, he didn’t even want a nutritionist, but he found himself asking, “Why not?”
With one hand on the doorknob, clearly eager to make her escape, she spared him a glance. “I have another engagement. It completely slipped my mind.” She turned to Dr. Stone. “I’m sorry for any inconvenience I may have caused.”
Max stepped toward her. “You have something against me personally, don’t you?”
She looked him in the eyes. “Of course not. I have no idea what you’re talking about, Mr. Uhm...”
He wasn’t falling for it. The woman had recognized him the moment she walked through that door. Why else would her chin have hit her chest and her eyes popped out of her head? “Max Dutton,” he said, holding out a hand.
She looked at his hand as if it might bite her, then reluctantly dropped her hand from the doorknob and shook his hand. Her fingers felt tense, her expression guarded—not the usual response he got from the ladies.
“Nice to meet you, Max,” she said without sincerity. “I should be going now. If you’d like, I could give you a couple of names of nutritionists who might be able to help you.”
Max waggled a finger at her. “You don’t like athletes. I can see it in your eyes.”
She let out a small feminine laugh that might have been cute under different circumstances. “You caught me, Mr. Dutton. You’re right. It’s pro football players I have a problem with. They’re needy and, you know, sort of full of themselves. It would never work.” The door opened and promptly clicked shut. The woman was gone.
Despite the warning bells going off in his head, Max found himself hurrying out the door after her. Sure, she set his teeth on edge, but he hated the idea of somebody not liking him, especially for no reason. He was charming. Women of all sizes, shapes, and ages fell at his feet on a daily basis. Besides, something wasn’t right. The woman acted as if they had met before. “Hey!” he called out, “I didn’t catch your name.”
She shot a quick look over her shoulder, but didn’t slow her pace one iota.
He had to jog down the hallway to catch up to her and take long unruly strides to stay at her side. “We’ve met before, haven’t we?”
She laughed...that is, if air being blown out the nostrils counted as an expression of amusement.
“I don’t have time for this,” she explained. “Dr. Stone is a well-respected doctor. I’m sure he’ll find someone who can help you.”
“I don’t want just anyone. I want you.”
Bingo! He’d hit a soft spot, or at least a spot, because she stopped in her tracks. He did too, and then wondered if he’d really just told her he wanted her. Judging by the sour look on her face he’d done exactly that.
“We did meet before,” she said matter-of-factly. “Years ago.”
“I knew it!”
She stiffened. “You were naked.”
Max tried not to look surprised, although he found himself scratching his head. Now they were getting somewhere. He flashed a roguish smile that rarely...make that
failed him and asked, “Were you naked too?”
She shoved her hands into the pockets of her white lab coat and stood as stiff and straight as the Washington Monument. Intense green eyes met his. For a millisecond, she looked sort of sad and maybe regretful. “Yes...yes I was.”
Max found himself wishing he hadn’t followed her out into the hall after all. How often did a guy find himself in a situation like this? And how the hell did that same guy get himself out of such an awkward situation in one piece? He was certain his buddies would find his retelling of the story amusing. He had no idea when he’d met the woman standing before him. “I feel like an idiot,” he admitted.
He smiled. “That was your cue to assure me I wasn’t an idiot...that it’s understandable I might forget a face, albeit a pretty face like yours, out of the hundreds I run across.”
“Oh, I see. Do you have a script for me, Max?”
A knot formed in his throat. “You’re right. That was uncalled for. I’m sorry. I’m generally charming and witty.”
“Is that right?”
Shoot me now.
Max couldn’t help but hope she would run off again. But that would be too easy, and they both knew it. She was obviously one of those intelligent sorts, and she knew she had him by the balls. “Yeah,” he said, “so I’ve been told. Can I take you to lunch?”
She crossed her arms and shook her head for good measure.
“Dinner? Restaurant of your choice?”
The woman hardly blinked. Didn’t even waver. She was tough as nails, and damn if he wasn’t completely turned on. “Can you at least tell me your name?”
“Kari,” she said through tight lips.
Kari...Kari...the name didn’t ring a bell...or did it?
She patted his arm as if he were a small child in need of sympathy. “Don’t worry about it, Max. It’s completely understandable you would forget the name of a woman you slept with considering there must be zillions of faces and naked bodies swirling within that head of yours. All those nameless faces squished together like tiny gnats. Sheesh, I can’t imagine the difficulty you must have sorting it all out.” She exhaled. “Believe me when I tell you you’re not the biggest jerk in Los Angeles. You’re small, very, very small, if you get my meaning.”
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I do believe I get your meaning.”
“Well good. I must admit it has been delightful talking to you.” She tapped a short unpolished nail against his chest. “I haven’t felt this good in years. Thank you, Max. Thank you very much.”
“My pleasure,” he found himself saying as he stood there and watched her turn and sashay down the hall until her white coat disappeared through revolving doors.
Footsteps approached from behind. Dr. Stone was headed his way. “I don’t think she likes me,” Max told the doctor.
“Don’t worry about it. She owes me a favor. I’ll make sure she’s at your house first thing in the morning so the two of you can get started. As soon as she gives you clearance, I’ll sign your papers and you’ll be good to go.”
Max thanked him, although he guessed the good doctor had about a chance in a million of getting the woman to agree. Max found Jason waiting for him in the lobby and told him he’d call him tomorrow, then Max headed off, glad to be on his way.
On the drive home, the name Kari kept popping into his mind, swirling about like the tiny gnats she’d talked about. Kari...Kari...Kari. Damn! Who was she anyhow? Why couldn’t he remember her? Sure, he had a fondness for the ladies but he didn’t usually forget a face. She said they had met years ago. What did that mean? High school? He’d dated Alyssa Anderson on and off throughout high school. And, of course, there was dream girl, but after all these years dream girl was no more than an apparition...a ghost. He met dream girl the night he came home early from college to surprise his sister since he knew she was throwing a party. That was the same night he found Alyssa messing around with another guy. He still remembered the kick in the gut he’d felt when he spotted Alyssa on the couch in his living room tangled within another guy’s arms. His chest felt as if it had been smashed in with a sledgehammer, at least until dream girl led him up the stairs and showed him that life went on. Dream girl made love to him like nobody else; she made love with her mouth, her hands, and especially her eyes, made him feel like he was the only guy in the world. And it didn’t matter that he had never met her before, because when she told him she loved him, he believed her.
Max shook off the memory. Bottom line, he woke up the next morning and dream girl was gone. He never did learn her name. His sisters had no idea who he was talking about when he asked about her the next day. Not one person remembered seeing him with a girl at the party. A few days later his father died, right there in front of him as they argued in the family room. Max’s life hadn’t been the same since.
The uptight Ms. Kari in the doctor’s office was definitely not dream girl. Not even close. But then who was she?
With his eyes on the traffic around him, Max drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. Everything had changed after his dad died of a mysterious ailment. Max’s grandfather also collapsed at a young age, dying of unknown causes, which is why two of the best doctors in the State of California were called in to analyze his father’s case. An autopsy was performed and yielded no conclusive results. Toxicology and tissue tests also failed to shed any light on cause of death. Apparently, generations of female Dutton’s had lived long healthy lives, but the male side of the Dutton family had not been so fortunate.
Ever since learning that his probability of living past the age of forty was slim, Max’s mother and four sisters had done nothing but fret over him, acting as if he had eight days to live instead of nearly twenty years. Of course, now, twelve years later, Max was beginning to understand the panic they felt all these years.
He was thirty-three years old, which meant he had about seven years, tops.
If Max thought his mother was a worry wart, his four sisters were three times worse. And now his agent and every suit in the Los Angeles Condors’ franchise had started doing the same damn thing...fretting. Damn. He needed this contract if he wanted to sleep at night knowing his sisters and mother would be living a comfortable life long after he was gone. Sure, he might be able to snag a coaching job or try announcing, but it could be years before the money would match his current salary. And time was one thing he might not have.
Fifteen minutes later, Max exited the freeway, took a right on Wilshire Boulevard and made a left at Stanton before stopping at the bottom of his driveway. He pushed the button on the remote and waited for the iron gates to open. He sped up the driveway, past dozens of giant imported palms.
Parked in front of his five-car garage was Breanne’s shiny blue Honda, a little something he’d given his kid sister for her twenty-fifth birthday three weeks ago. Before he put his car into park he saw Breanne in his rearview mirror, running out the front door and sprinting down the flagstone stairs.
Even from a few feet away he could see she was upset. He climbed out of his Porsche and met her half way. “What’s wrong?”
“Where have you been?” she said as if he had telepathic powers and should have known she was waiting for him.