Night Games (Harlequin Kimani Romance Series #372)

Night Games (Harlequin Kimani Romance Series #372)

3.3 6
by Lisa Marie Perry

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No risk, no reward in the game of love 

Training the Las Vegas Slayers by day, sampling Sin City's delights by night, Nate Franco's life is one to envy. But a hot nightclub encounter could change all that. Because Charlotte Blue is more than a beautiful stranger. She's the daughter of his team's new owners—and his rival for the top

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No risk, no reward in the game of love 

Training the Las Vegas Slayers by day, sampling Sin City's delights by night, Nate Franco's life is one to envy. But a hot nightclub encounter could change all that. Because Charlotte Blue is more than a beautiful stranger. She's the daughter of his team's new owners—and his rival for the top training job. To keep his career and his legacy intact, Nate's prepared to play a little dirty. 

Charlotte works hard to make her mark in a male-dominated sport. On the field, she and Nate are the picture of professionalism. In the bedroom, she's risking everything for their breathtaking forbidden affair. But is Nate just using her so his family can reclaim the team—or will they be able to look beyond the passionate games to embrace real love?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The strength, loyalty and fighting spirit in the main characters are inspiring."
-RT Book Reviews on NIGHT GAMES

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Blue Dynasty Series
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You look like the devil's sex puppet."

It wasn't the greatest compliment on her appearance. Charlotte Blue thought, but it sure wasn't the worst. "Thank you," she hollered across the curb to Josephine de la Pena-aka Joey-who stood waiting near the Rio's entrance. Only in Sin City-and only coming from her best friend-could "sex puppet" be taken as a favorable comment.

Not giving the chauffeur a chance to circle the vehicle and open her door, Charlotte had stepped out and paused at the BMW sedan's lowered front-passenger window to tip the man, a silent thanks to him for politely ignoring the fact that she was the subject of hot breaking-news debate on every sports radio station he'd attempted to listen to during the drive. Now, as he bid her a good evening with a touch to the visor of his cap, he «o?-so-politely slid his eyes to the golden-brown cleavage displayed by the deep V-neckline of her dress.

She'd almost chosen a more modest outfit, a tamer hairstyle. She'd come this close to ditching tonight's Las Vegas Slayers team party. In the back of her mind she'd been a little fearful that a woman intruding into a boys' club-which the National Football League undoubtedly was-shouldn't waltz into it dressed as sin in stilettos. But the getup was an invitation to a high-stakes dare she'd made with herself: I dare you to take what you want…what you've earned.

There were few things Charlotte enjoyed more than a good dare.

Hurrying to join Joey for preparty drinks at VooDoo, she was glad she'd covered her insecurity with the brand of confidence that only a gauzy scarlet dress and chocolate diamonds could provide. After all, a newly hired NFL assistant athletic trainer shouldn't skip meet-ups.

The reality that she had landed a shot at bringing her sports-medicine experience to a professional arena still hadn't fully registered. Pushing for aggressive reorganization- from administrative cleanup to fresh acquisitions-the new owners had preached to the media about wanting change. But Charlotte, who'd taken her bumps playing high school football and paid her dues training players for two NCAA teams, had still been rejected-twice. Then at the close of the Slayers' minicamp, just when she was ready to give up her pursuit of the job, she was offered a position. No wooing, no frills, just a take-itor-leave-it open door to the gig of her dreams. And she was expected to be better than perfect.

According to the fresh headlines of major sports networks, she had three strikes against her: she was a woman, she was a young woman and the team's new owners were her parents, which screamed nepotism.

Thank the Lord this wasn't baseball, because three strikes didn't count her out.

Joey didn't wait for Charlotte to meet her on the curb before she jabbed her cane on the ground and limped with impressive speed toward the entrance, calling over her shoulder, "Vamanos! Gotta hustle before all the good tables, drinks and men are gone!"

Charlotte laughed, quickening her step and letting the oversize sheer bell sleeves of her dress flutter in the light wind. The red-and-purple glory of the Rio glowed against the dark sky that was illuminated with the lights of the Strip. She enjoyed what this city had to offer, but next week, right at the height of summer, training camp in Mount Charleston would be her home away from home.

Hot on Joey's Christian Louboutin heels, Charlotte said, "Let's divide and then we'll conquer our objectives. You snag a table, I'll order the drinks-rum and Diet Coke's still your drink of the week, right?-and we'll both scope out men."

"Could it be you're on the lookout for fling potential, too?" Though petite with an elfin face, Joey had a huge personality-and never minced words.

"I'm only looking, not touching. Camp's coming up and I really don't need the trouble."

"Oh, Lottie. If done right, a fling is anything but trouble." Joey led Charlotte to the entrance of VooDoo Lounge. "Where should we stake out? Indoors, outdoors, upstairs, downstairs?"

"Indoors downstairs for starters. I want to relax and savor my beer." Body heat, the mingling of spicy cologne and musky perfume, and the deep pulse of music confronted Charlotte as she followed her friend inside the dimly lit nightclub and began weaving through the crush of people. "By the way, I know what a fling is."

"Then you know it doesn't come with expectations and strings attached and everything else that falls under the trouble category. For a straight shooter who's always been about beating the odds, you sure play it safe when it comes to guys. I blame Wade. All I'm saying is if the same ol', same ol' disappoints over and over again, try something new. Think of the world as a bar. Why commit yourself to plain beer when you can have a shot of something new? Oh, found a table!" Joey took off in a blur of teal-colored chiffon with her cane tap-tap-tapping on the floor, leaving Charlotte no choice but to chase after her.

"Hey, I thought you were getting the drinks," Joey said when Charlotte claimed the chair opposite her and dropped her Fendi handbag onto the table. "Fine, I'll go."

Charlotte swiftly swiped Joey's cane from its perch on the seat of the chair between them. "No, you don't. I'll get the booze, but not until you hear this."

Joey muttered a creative expletive and Charlotte fought a smile. "FYI, I was over Wade the second he forbade- oh, yeah, forbade-me to take the Slayers' offer." Wade Eddington had used her to network in the NFL, promote his luxury-hotel chain and schmooze his suit-and-tie acquaintances with box-seat tickets before the Slayers franchise had even officially changed hands. The moment she'd shared with him the big news that hadn't been leaked to the media until tonight, he'd given her an ultimatum: give up her spot on the training staff or give him up.

That ultimatum had infuriated her, and so did Joey's accusation that Charlotte was incapable of taking a personal risk. She and Joey had been friends for three years, since the day Joey had caused a ruckus at the stadium's Slayers Club Lounge, complaining about her beyond-well-done prime-rib sandwich and saying she deserved to fill her belly with a good meal and see some football to forget how messed up it was that she'd been transferred to federal desk duty in Las Vegas after being pulled from a field job on Capitol Hill.

Charlotte, sick of being stood up, had taken satisfaction in giving away her no-show boyfriend's ticket and preferred bottle of Pinot Noir to a stranger, and she and Joey had been cool ever since. It was time to find out if her bestie could take what she dished out.

Charlotte folded her arms across her chest. "Have you had a fling this summer?"

"Uh, it's a bit more difficult for someone like me. What man wants a romp with a three-legged woman?"

"Don't say that, Joey." Truth be told, Joey was fortunate that the burden of a cane was the only lasting damage from the bullet lodged in her hip, and Charlotte didn't think it healthy for her friend to use her injury as an excuse to miss out on life.

Lightening the mood, and not one to let Joey get down on herself, she quipped, "Bet you a crisp hundred there's a hawt brother out there itching to get a three-legged woman."

Joey laughed, then, sobering, said, "Well, he may be 'out there,' but until he comes into this nightclub, I'm out of luck. Now please move your ass and get those drinks. I'm parched."

"You're horny and frustrated." Charlotte leaped up, grabbed her bag and dashed into the crowd before her friend could whack her with her cane.

At the crowded bar, Charlotte waited for a space to open up. She glanced back to her table and saw a man was already proffering Joey a drink. Clearly there was no shortage of men in Vegas interested in Mexican bombshells.

A woman vacated a barstool and Charlotte slid onto it, only to find no one manning the bar. A couple of young men with bottles of Dos Equis in tow bumped into her as they jostled each other for a spot at her elbow. At her firm headshake they grunted their "It's all goods" and moved on to a pair of women with flatironed hair and heavy eye shadow who appeared to be sopping up male attention like human sponges.

With a sigh, Charlotte inspected the front of her dress for damage. One camera snap of her looking disheveled would no doubt give her TMZ notoriety and the chew-up-spit-out sports media would be hungry for more-as if a beer-stained dress or even imperfect lipstick carried more urgency and importance than the fact that the Slayers had acquired three of last season's first-round draft picks and had snatched up a championship-winning quarterback just one day after his free agency had been announced. Not to mention that the injured safety the league had written off as a fallen star was in better health, in mental control, and come September would be in a silver-and-blood-red Slayers uniform-and Charlotte couldn't wait.

She took a moment to retrieve her compact and check her makeup. Beyond her own reflection in the small circle mirror was a pair of intense eyes…watching her. Snapping the compact shut, she whirled on her stool and silently confronted the man who lingered at the edge of the bar like a tall bronze-toned sculpture of muscle and lust and instant temptation.

At his quick wink all of her body heat redirected to pool deep in her belly. An unsteady breath escaped her lips before she could manage to string together a coherent sentence. "Need a mirror?" she uttered lamely, holding up the compact.

For the love of touchdowns, whatever you do, don't smile at me.

The corner of his perfectly kissable mouth tipped up in the suggestion of a smirk that sent the ball of lava-hot intensity inside Charlotte to dip even lower. Confounded at such an involuntary reaction to a stranger, she fell into an old nervous habit, wiggling her right foot back and forth.

"No, thanks," he said, moving behind the bar.

Of course he would be the bartender. Olive-brown skin, a burr haircut and what looked like a few days' growth of stubble-he probably made an incredible income on what he took home in tips every night from women who weren't immune to his in-your-face appeal.

The things this man was doing to her rationality were downright dangerous. And for once she didn't even think about whether or not he would be welcomed into her family circle. The only men her parents had approved of were the ones they'd set her up with. A long line of plain, generic-labeled beer bottles. Already this guy, a shot of something dark and exotic, was something refreshingly different.

Maybe Joey was onto something. Still, Charlotte wasn't a girl for snap decisions and wasn't about to take on the first all-right-looking…okay, lip-bitingly hot…man who tossed her a crumb of attention. Everything-including flirting with a guy who had trouble written on every sexy square inch of him-required precision. She'd had her fill of heartache. Control mattered above anything else. "So. How well do you know your way around a cocktail?"

Intrigue and appreciation danced in dark eyes that reminded her of espresso and dark chocolate and everything that was forbidden but too delicious to resist. "I do all right."

Was that a hint of arrogance she detected in his tone? Or was he laying down a challenge? The natural-born competitor in her took the bait. "Got skills, then?"

"Mad skills." His tone was colored with a touch of humor. One point in his favor. He strode toward her, the sleek bar between them. "What's your pleasure?" His rich, deep voice traveled over her like a flutter on her skin.

"Beer, actually. It may be basic but I like it." It was the truth. She appreciated anything from dry martinis to whiskey sours to brandy cocktails, but she knew what to expect from no-frills beer.

"No matter what, you go for what you want."

Charlotte tipped her head and felt her dark brown tendrils tumble heavily over one shoulder, exposing the side of her neck to the room's heat. "Is that what beer says about the person drinking it?"

"It's what I say about you."

To hell with beer. She took pride in being tough to predict and define-something that people like Wade and her own family weren't comfortable with. "I want some-thing…new."

"When did you decide that?"

"Just now."

Charlotte's eyes played over the broad span of his shoulders straining against his pristine white button-down shirt as he reached for a glass. For one dangerously weak moment she considered leaning across the bar to run her hands over his head and feel the spiky ends of his aggressively cut hair against her fingers.

Before she could do more than ogle him, he handed her a martini glass. That almost-smirk remained in place. "Maybe this will satisfy your need to be out of the ordinary."

Charlotte lifted the glass to her lips but didn't drink.

"What is this?"

"A Sexy Devil martini. If you like cranberry, you'll love this. If not…try it anyway."

She sampled the strawberry garnish before sipping the drink. The flavor of cranberry vodka with an undertone of tart lemon tingled her taste buds. "Hmm. I like it." She flicked her tongue over her bottom lip to catch a droplet of the liquid, and his mouth turned serious in response.

Suddenly her thoughts were at war. Order Joey's rum and Coke already. Give him your phone number. Concentrate on tonight's team party. Go book a room-you're at the Rio for heaven's sake!

A text message from Joey was the nudge she needed.

I send you off for drinks and you find Adonis himself. That's talent, woman.

Charlotte glanced back at the table, caught her friend's sly shooing gesture before Joey leaned flirtatiously toward the man now sitting with her. Charlotte's voice was huskier than she'd ever heard it as she slipped her phone into her bag, dropped a twenty on the counter and said to the bartender, "Thanks for my Sexy Devil martini." She hopped off the stool, and someone immediately took it. "Free to take a break?"

The grin he'd been wrestling with finally broke, lighting up a face that she had mistakenly doubted could get any more attractive. He leisurely made his way to her, then pointed at a man behind the bar in a dark shirt and slacks who was prepping to wow a group of women with a round of VooDoo's famous Witch Doctors. "I'm not a bartender. My friend Clay is. And as you can see, he's got talent, but I prefer mixing my own drinks."

Her heartbeat kicked up at the realization. The unspoken challenge egged her on, urged her to do what everyone, it seemed, thought she couldn't. Ultimately, though, she was in control and wasn't about to do anything she didn't want to.

"Good." With a crook of her finger she beckoned him to follow her.

She wouldn't be long. Joey'd be fine. She had company.

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