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By Dorie Graham
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHE LOOKED GOOD ENOUGH to eat. Crystal Peterson drew in a breath of the early-spring air as desire bloomed in her. Sunlight dappled Ron Kincaid's golden hair and played off the contours of his biceps and thighs. He advanced with the other players up the field in Atlanta, Georgia's Piedmont Park, each ripple of muscle sending warmth twisting through her. The man might be a photographer during the week, but on the weekends he had all the right moves.
A shout drew Crystal's gaze from the object of her affections, calling her attention back to her own team-mates. Sam Schaffer, her longtime friend and confi-dante, launched the football in a neat spiral. It sailed toward her. She leaped, hands outstretched.
This was her chance.
If she played this right, she'd have everyone's attention - including Ron's. Rough leather stung her palms and a feeling of excitement gripped her. As many times as she and Sam had been through this drill, it never ceased to amaze her when she caught the damn ball.
Ron pounded down the turf after her. Keenly aware that all eyes were on her, especially Ron's, she kicked forward with everything she had. The makeshift end zone, marked by two park benches, yawned ahead of her, the way amazingly clear. Her heart quickened. She could make this touchdown. She could win the game.
Surely Ron would notice her then.
Someone went down with a loud thump behind her to her left, but she could still feel Ron in hot pursuit. He was close, too close.
He's going to catch me.
A thrill raced through her. His heat pressed in behind her as her heart tripped wildly. In one swift motion, he took her down, rolling to soften the fall, cradling her in his arms. The solid planes of his body pressed into her, his chest firm against her back, his breath hot in her ear and the hard ridge behind his fly nestled in the cleft of her bottom. She turned her head, so his mouth brushed across her cheek, then whispered along her lips -
"Go right!" Sam yelled from somewhere in the distance behind Ron, yanking her from her reverie.
She swerved to the right. As always, Sam was covering her back. She had been following his lead ever since that day in the first grade, when he had helped her outmaneuver a bully on the playground. Three years of their old high-school gang meeting in the park for these Saturday games had only ingrained the instinct.
If anyone could take out Ron, it was Sam.
The end zone loomed just out of reach. Her lungs burned and her legs ached. Shouts rose all around her. She could feel Ron hot on her tail. Close. She imagined him reaching out, his fingertips brushing the rolled waistband of her sweats. The temptation to let him catch her swept over her, but she shrugged it off.
With a primal yell, she dived for the end field. She hit the earth hard, clutching the football to her chest and rolling. Shouts and hoots of victory rose up around her. She fell to her back, gulping in huge drafts of air.
She'd made it. They'd won the game.
Ron moved into the patch of blue above her, breathing hard himself, his cheeks ruddy and his hair appealingly windblown. "You're fast, Peterson."
Euphoria rose in her and exploded in a wide grin. He knew her name.
Before she could manage a reply, he sauntered away, spreading his smile and his charm to the number of female admirers who'd watched him from the sidelines. They surrounded him now, evidently oblivious to Crystal's double victory.
She rose up on her elbows and cocked her head, squinting against the sun to be sure he showered his attention equally on each of his companions, without focusing on any one of them. All appearances indicated he was still single and unattached. Though it rankled to see so many women pawing him, she couldn't quite blame them.
The man had charisma.
Her teammates and friends closed in on her. A gorgeous brunette, one of the newcomers to the group, hovered near Sam. Not surprising, since she bore the long legs and sultry appearance that distinguished all of Sam's women.
Only she wasn't technically one of Sam's women. She had thrown out the bait, all right, but Sam wasn't biting, which came as a surprise. He'd never been one for serious relationships, though it seemed lately he wasn't even going for the casual ones.
Crystal shook her head. She had been watching poor damsels fall by the wayside ever since Sam hit his stride sometime in the seventh grade. Thank God she'd built up a natural immunity by then.
She tilted her head as he approached. The wind had ruffled his sand-colored hair, his green eyes shone and, though he rarely smiled, he somehow greeted everyone with warmth. He would make some girl a good catch. If not for his stubborn streak and cynical outlook, she herself might have been interested.
He offered her his hand, his eyes tinged with a curious note of censure. What was bothering him? Hadn't she just helped them win their first victory in weeks? Ignoring the look, she let him pull her to her feet.
"Good catch," he said.
Her eyes wide, the brunette by his side plucked a tuft of grass from Crystal's hair. "You were marvelous. My heart was in my throat. I didn't think you'd make it, until you dove at the last minute. I could never dive into the ground like that."
"Thanks." Crystal smiled a tight smile.
No, this woman wasn't the type to risk breaking one of her well-manicured nails. She seemed a bit on the fragile side, ethereal in her beauty. Crystal squelched the smidgen of envy that crept over her. What did she need with delicate beauty, when she'd just scored the winning touchdown?
Grinning, she turned toward the crowd of familiar faces. Mike Steels, their linebacker, and his wife, Paige, who'd warred through high school, then surprised them all by getting married right after college, beamed at her, their two-year-old daughter bouncing on Steels's hip.
"Hey, Crystal, that was awesome!" Steels, his blond hair cropped close to his scalp, high-fived her with his free hand. "We're naming number two after you."
Paige shook her own blond head as she rubbed the small bulge in her stomach. "I'm not sure he would like that, but you were awesome, Crystal, just like always. Where's that sister of yours?"
Frowning, Crystal scanned the remaining clusters of people. Had she been so wrapped up in Ron, she hadn't noticed Megs had no-showed? "She's probably just busy with that man of hers. They spend all their free time together."
Excerpted from Eye Candy by Dorie Graham Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. . Excerpted by permission.
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