The All-Star Antes Up (Wager of Hearts #2)(10)

by Nancy Herkness

Luke hoped that Trevor’s little incident wouldn’t end up on their radar. It was pretty tame—a nonevent, in fact—but Luke’s image had been scrubbed clean because it was less distracting that way. However, the press would love to have some dirt sticking to him. He got it: scandal sold papers and drew viewers. He just didn’t want to answer questions about anything other than the game.

His head was throbbing again. Damn Gavin Miller anyway. He’d tempted Luke with the seductive forgetfulness of single malt. And talked him into that ridiculous wager. He considered calling the writer and telling him the bet was off. It wouldn’t surprise Luke if Trainor had backed out already, since the whole thing had been hatched in a drunken haze of one-upmanship. Who the hell bet on true love?

He pulled out his phone, found Miller’s number, then put the phone away. Luke had never welshed on a bet in his life. Let the other two call it quits. He could wait them out, because he was going to put it out of his mind until the end of the season and then show them how to run a courtship.

He headed for the cubicle pen where his assistant, Doug Weiss, worked, along with a battalion of other staff members who handled everything from ordering supplies for the locker room to cutting the players’ paychecks. It was a hive of activity. When Luke leaned into Doug’s cubicle, the tall, skinny young man pulled his telephone headset off and fluffed his mop of frizzy red hair. “Hey, Boss Ice, what do you need?”

“I need two good tickets to Sunday’s game with a signed football. And I need four VIP box tickets and the works.”

“The works?” Doug whistled. “Is this for some charity auction I don’t know about?”

“No, it’s for someone my brother dumped on.”

Doug grimaced at the mention of Trevor and spun around to his computer, his hands poised over the keyboard. “Let me have the info, boss.”

Luke gave him the two concierges’ names before adding, “Check on Miranda Tate’s schedule, and have the VIP tickets and the works delivered to her personally.” He didn’t want Spindle horning in on his apology gifts to Miranda. “You got the list of who else needs tickets for the game, right?”

“All taken care of,” Doug assured him. “And you saw the addition of the table at the gala next Thursday night on your schedule, right?”

Luke didn’t curse, but he wanted to. “Remind me whose idea that was?”

Doug’s freckled cheeks reddened. “Um, Kathy Middleton’s. She’s in PR.”

“I see.” Kathy Middleton was a hot brunette Doug had a major crush on. Luke lowered his voice. “Have you asked her out yet?”

Doug shook his head, making his hair flop. “She wouldn’t go out with someone like me.”

“You just got me to go to her gala. She’ll be positively disposed toward you.”

“Seriously?” Doug’s eyes were wide. That was one of the reasons Luke liked his assistant; the kid didn’t take advantage of his access to a celebrity.

“Try it. I’m betting she’ll say yes.”

His assistant took a deep breath. “Okay.”

“Keep me posted,” Luke said.

Back out in the corridor, he debated whether to watch some video or go home. Instead, he shrugged into his leather jacket without zipping it and jogged across a couple of vast parking lots to the stadium. Swiping his security badge into the players’ entrance, he cut past the locker rooms and headed out into the big shell of the arena.

A couple of maintenance crews worked on the field, their black fleece jackets contrasting with the emerald green synthetic turf. A gust of wind pushed chilly air through the cotton of Luke’s shirt, but he kept walking until he was right in the middle of the Empire logo on the fifty-yard line.

He performed his weekly ritual, turning slowly in a full circle to imprint the empty seats and near silence on his brain. On game day he would use this image to overlay the roaring, heaving crowd of spectators so he could block out everything except the players on the field. His college coach had taught him the technique after his first game freshman year, when he’d been distracted by all the commotion on the sidelines and beyond.

Luke had always had natural field vision, the ability to see how a play was developing and what patterns the players were running. This visualization was one of the ways he’d honed it to a precision tool.

“Hey, I figured I’d find you here.” Stan Gatto jogged up to him. The older man had been Luke’s trainer since day one at the Empire. “We gotta talk.”

“About what?” Luke folded his arms across his chest.

“You know about what. And let’s do it inside. It’s colder than the hair on a polar bear’s butt out here.” He looked at Luke. “I know they call you Iceman, but you don’t have to take it literally.”

“Seriously, Stan? I’ve played in blizzards.” Still, Luke started walking back toward the tunnel.

“That’s different. The adrenaline keeps you warm.” As they passed through the big doorway, Stan glanced around and lowered his voice. “So what happened on that last pass on Sunday?”

“It got intercepted.” Luke kept walking.

“Yeah, even that moron announcer Chris Hollis could figure that out. What made you throw a pass that got intercepted? You could have connected with Marshall with your eyes closed, but you threw it right at the Patriots’ cornerback.” Stan put his hand on Luke’s nonthrowing shoulder and pulled him to a stop. “Talk to me.”

“In the training room,” Luke said, nodding toward a door farther down the hall.

Stan jogged beside him as he strode along the corridor and into the empty room. The trainer closed and locked the door behind them before he turned to Luke. “Well?”

Luke allowed himself to roll his shoulder. He should have known he couldn’t fool Stan. “I was cocked to throw to Rob when I saw that Marshall was wide open. I tried to make the change when this pain just ripped through my shoulder and arm. It came out of nowhere, and then it was gone again. That’s why I screwed up the throw.”

“Sit down,” Stan said, pointing to a chair. He came up behind Luke and started probing his shoulder and upper arm. “Does it hurt now?”

“Only when you jab your fingernails into my skin.”

“Smart ass.” Stan jabbed especially hard. “Answer my question.”