The All-Star Antes Up (Wager of Hearts #2)(3)

by Nancy Herkness

“Are you married?”

“No.” The tinge of amusement on Trainor’s face vanished. Maybe Miller was right about the woman thing.

“You wear an expression of cynical disgust, so her motives were less than pure,” Miller said.

Luke thought of all the football groupies he’d encountered from high school on. He’d been flattered until he realized they just wanted to be seen with “the quarterback.” Or sleep with him. It had only gotten worse when he started making big money in the NFL. He tilted the last of his water down his throat. “Good luck finding a woman without ulterior motives when you qualify as a member of this club.”

Trainor flagged down the waiter and turned to Luke. “What are you drinking?”

“Water.” He’d given up alcohol during the football season a few years ago. It took too much work to overcome the effects of liquor on his body now that he was over thirty.

Miller snagged Trainor’s bottle of scotch. He splashed a generous serving of liquor into his own and Luke’s glasses. “If we’re going to discuss women, you need something stronger than water.” The writer slapped the empty bottle into the waiter’s hand. “Bring us one of bourbon and another one of scotch. And some nuts.”

Luke picked up the glass of single malt, inhaling the smooth, smoky aroma. He stared at the clear, golden liquid and decided, What the hell. The first sip was pure heaven.

“Attaboy,” the writer approved before he went back to poking at Trainor. “Did she break your heart or just injure your pride?”

Trainor thought for a moment. “How can you tell the difference?”

The writer gave a snort of laughter. “Now that is an excellent question. When my fiancée dumped me, I believe she broke my heart. But I was new to Hollywood back then and quite naive.”

“Hollywood?” Trainor asked.

“She’s one of the actresses in the Julian Best movies,” Miller said. “I met her on the set.”

Luke enjoyed the movies, too, so he mentally scanned the cast. “Irene Bartram,” he decided. “She plays Samantha Dubois, the double agent.” Irene seemed like Miller’s type. She was hot and hungry.

Miller inclined his head in acknowledgment. “A true fan. My thanks.”

“You don’t have a lot of women in your books,” Luke said. That was partly why he found them relaxing.

“There’s a reason for that,” the writer said.

Trainor grunted in agreement before looking at Luke. “So, Archer, how do you handle women?”

During the football season, Luke focused on the game. On the occasions he sought out female companionship, he prided himself on keeping expectations realistic. “Full disclosure and keep it short. I don’t have a lot of free time.”

“None of us do,” Trainor pointed out.

Miller was intrigued by a different point. “Full disclosure?”

“No strings, no rings,” Luke said with a shrug. He never raised false hopes, and he always carried condoms.

“No gifts?” The writer raised his eyebrows. “I hear Derek Jeter gave them signed baseballs.”

The women Luke knew generally weren’t interested in sports souvenirs, but occasionally one would request something for a father or brother. “If they ask for a football, I’m happy to oblige. Seems kind of arrogant to assume they want my signature, though.” Except maybe on a check.

Miller gave him one of his provocative stares. “I would think arrogance went with the territory. You’re a quarterback.”

Luke met Miller’s look with one of those smiles that made defensive linemen take a half step backward. “I’ve got plenty of arrogance on the field.”

That stopped Miller’s jabs. He returned to Trainor. “So have you figured it out yet?”

“You’re damned annoying,” Trainor said, but there was no heat in his voice. “All right, pride. She played me and I’m pissed about it.”

“What are you going to do?” Miller asked. He leaned back in his chair, his eyes glinting. Luke poured himself another glass of Trainor’s scotch.

“Nothing,” Trainor said. “I don’t care enough to expend the energy.” The truth of it showed in the flatness of his tone.

“Disappointing,” Miller said.

Luke disagreed with the writer. You couldn’t let them know you were hurting. “It’s the only way to go.”

He wished he’d kept his mouth shut when Miller swiveled toward him. “Have you had your heart broken?”

“Half a dozen times,” Luke said. “I got over it.” The last time was in college.

“Ah, yes, the stoic, monosyllabic jock.” Miller was amused. “If I wrote you in a book, you’d be too much of a stereotype and my editor would complain.”

Luke had learned silence at the home dinner table, letting his family’s academic debates rage around him as he mentally reviewed plays for the next game. It had turned out to be a useful skill because it kept people guessing. He let his gaze rest on Miller.

The writer shifted in his chair and blew out a breath. “Since we agree that women are nothing but trouble, maybe we should play cards. It would distract us from our problems.”

“Cards? Where the hell did you get that idea?” Trainor snapped.

“Don’t they say, ‘Unlucky at love, lucky at cards’?” The writer gave them a one-sided smile. “Although it’s hard to predict who will get the good luck in this group.”

Luke took a swallow of scotch and leaned forward. “I don’t buy it.” The two supremely successful men drinking with him didn’t get into the Bellwether Club by sitting back and just waiting for good things to happen. “Everyone at this table knows you make your own luck. We wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

“Luck is the residue of design,” Trainor said with a nod.

“We’re all big on quotations tonight,” the writer noted.

Luke had a flash of insight. DaShawn looked forward to retirement because he had someone to share his future with, someone to give him a focus and purpose, someone who needed him.

Luke faced retirement with profound dread.

He slashed his hand down to silence Miller’s blathering. “How important is finding a woman you want to spend the rest of your life with?” Trainor took a sip of his drink while Miller lounged silently in his chair. “Pretty damned important,” Luke continued. “How much effort has any of us put into the search?” He gave Trainor and Miller each a hard look.