The All-Star Antes Up (Wager of Hearts #2)(9)

by Nancy Herkness

“Don’t judge me,” Trevor said. “I remember the stories you told about the football groupies and some of the wild stuff you did with them.”

“I was a lot younger and stupider then,” Luke said. “But even more important, I was single. No strings, no rings,” he repeated, remembering last night’s conversation at the club. He didn’t add that he’d never had to pay for sex.

Nor did he mention his concern about the press. The concierge—Miranda—had said she wouldn’t mention it again, and concierges probably needed to be discreet. However, if her boss gave her a hard time and she got miffed, she might talk to a reporter. Luke didn’t want Jodie or his parents hearing about Trevor’s little escapade from the media.

As he thought of Miranda, he remembered the sympathetic look she’d given him and the genuine warmth of her smile. There had been real understanding there, but also some intriguing banked heat in her big brown eyes. Both had caught his attention because they were unexpected.

She’d turned down football tickets, too. No one did that. He knew her boss was going to sell the ones he’d accepted—he could see it in the way the man refused to meet his eyes. But Miranda, who was the injured party, had rejected his first peace offering. He suspected she had accepted the football just to appease him and Spindle.

He’d waited for her afterward to offer his assistance because he could tell that her boss was unhappy. She had put him off then, too. It was interesting.

So was the fact that behind that serene mask she wore, she had reacted to him. Most women didn’t try to hide that.

Trevor picked up the pizza and ripped off another bite. “Yeah, well, I didn’t have a chance to do wild stuff when I was young and stupid.”

Luke’s hangover made his stomach heave at the sight of the congealed pizza, so he took his brother’s plate and tossed the rest of the pizza in the garbage. “At least eat something healthy.”

Trevor stood up and leaned forward so his face was just inches away from Luke’s. “I don’t have to eat healthy, because I don’t make my living with my muscles. I use my brain.”

There it was. The one weapon Trevor could use to jab at his overachieving older brother. Luke stepped back to avoid the bits of pizza Trevor was spewing.

“I spend hours reading and researching and analyzing and writing and discussing ideas. It’s exhausting. Up here,” Trevor said, tapping his temple. “You don’t understand that.”

Luke crossed his arms and thought of the hours he spent watching video and reading scouting reports, pinpointing his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, devising plays with the coaches, memorizing and running them with his teammates. It was exhausting, too, but that’s what it took to do his job to the absolute best of his abilities.

Trevor had always been the smart one. Their parents had been so proud when he had been the salutatorian of his high school class and gone on to Harvard for undergrad and his doctorate.

Luke, on the other hand, had taken the courses he had to in order to play football. His parents had been stunned when Luke received the National Football Foundation’s High School Scholar-Athlete Award, one of five given in the entire country. Their baffled astonishment when he’d told them about the luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City had been both gratifying and hurtful. They’d accompanied him, of course, but had spent the afternoon looking at the professional football stars attending the event—people he hoped to emulate—as though they were aliens.

Luke pushed that memory away. “I have a meeting at the Empire Center.”

“Go ahead!” Trevor shouted. “You with your helicopter waiting on the roof! With the groupies panting for your attention! With the view of the Statue of Liberty!” He waved his hand at the sliding doors that opened onto the penthouse terrace, where Lady Liberty’s torch showed above the railing. “You’ve got it all, and I’ve got nothing.”

Anger boiled up inside Luke, but he slammed the lid down on it. “You have a wife who loves you,” he said in a flat tone. “That’s worth more than all the groupies in the world.”

Shock silenced Trevor for a moment. He stared at Luke with his mouth opening and closing before he said, “You could have any woman you want.”

He’d had a lot of women he’d thought he wanted.

Thirty minutes later, Luke faced Head Coach Junius Farrell across his huge oak-and-chrome desk. “With all due respect, Junius, I think we should keep the play as is. We can change it up for next year after we have time to work on it in training camp. But reconfiguring it in midseason is going to cause a lot of confusion on the field.”

He’d been through this with the coach before. It was Junius’s first time as a head coach, and he wanted to put his stamp on the Empire, so he kept trying to fix things that weren’t broken. As the veteran quarterback, Luke got the job of running interference to keep the new coach from screwing up the current season. That’s why he was at the Empire Center on a Tuesday when every other player had the day off.

“But if we run the pick, it would free up Marshall,” Junius said, jabbing his finger against his desk authoritatively.

“You’re right,” Luke said. “But it’s tricky and we haven’t had time to practice it often enough. If we try to run it this week, we’ll have the guys tripping over each other at the forty. How about using it against the Colts?”

That game was in three weeks. By then, the offensive line could probably learn the new scheme well enough not to screw it up completely. In addition, it would work better against the Colts than either the Cardinals or the Buccaneers.

“I’ll consider it.” Junius swiveled to face his computer screen and clicked on his mouse a couple of times. He wasn’t a bad guy. He just didn’t realize he’d taken over an organization that had the talent and momentum to carry him to the Super Bowl if he’d get out of the way.

As long as Luke’s shoulder held out. He had to stop himself from rubbing at the phantom pain that had appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as fast. No one knew why he’d thrown that interception, and he wanted to keep it that way.

They discussed some personnel changes and some strategies for Sunday’s game before Junius thanked Luke for coming and let him go.

Luke walked down the carpeted hallway. It wasn’t empty, because the massive moneymaking machine that was an NFL football team ran at full speed from the beginning of training camp until the team’s last game—and then some. But the office staff members were smaller than the players, so they didn’t take up as much room in the corridor. Luke nodded to a couple of the PR people he passed. He didn’t envy them their jobs. There was always some problem that had to be hushed up. Or spun for the press, if it couldn’t be squelched.