Hearts collide when the daughter of a former football pro must interview her greatest rival
Aspiring journalist Katie Hudson, daughter of the late Hall of Famer Dante Hudson, knows everything there is to know about football. Her editor is convinced that Katie can work her family connections to get an in-depth interview with Kent Hart, the elusive superstar receiver of the Sarasota Saxons, a team on the verge of going to the Super Bowl. Though Kent has always idolized Katie’s father—a man he considers to be his mentor—she has harbored resentment toward Kent for years. Swallowing her pride isn’t easy when the ghost of the man they both loved stands between them. Katie is dogged, but what will happen when she discovers a new side to the man she thought she knew? This ebook features an illustrated biography of Heather Graham including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.
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About the Author
Heather Graham (b. 1953) is a bestselling author of more than 150 romance, suspense, and historical novels that have sold seventy-five million copies worldwide. Raised in Florida, Graham went to college for theater arts, and spent several years acting, singing, and bartending before she devoted herself to writing. Her first novel, When Next We Love, was published in 1982. Although she became famous as an author of romance novels, Graham has since branched out into supernatural horror, historical fiction, and suspense, with titles such as Tall, Dark, and Deadly (1999), Long, Lean, and Lethal (2000), and Dying to Have Her (2001). In 2003 the Romance Writers of America, whose Florida chapter Graham founded, granted her a lifetime achievement award. She lives, writes, and scuba dives in Florida with her husband and five children.
Read an Excerpt
By Heather Graham
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1986 Heather E. Graham
All rights reserved.
Kent hart in the flesh. Very much in the flesh. Except, of course, Katie had her back glued to the door, so she wasn't close enough to him to see much.
But she had done it. She had swallowed the emotions of half a lifetime—not to mention her pride—to come here.
He didn't look so very different, Katie thought. Not from the last time she had seen him—really seen him, other than a speck on a field or a helmeted form on the TV screen.
And it had been fourteen years since she had seen him last. She had been twelve; he had been ... about twenty-two.
Katie could still relive that memory—as clearly as if it had been yesterday. Of course she could see it differently now. She wasn't a twelve-year-old anymore. But without even closing her eyes, she could recall that child and her feelings.
Time with her father—precious time, since it seemed to be little enough—was being interrupted. "You just gotta meet Kent, Katie!" Dante had told her. Dante, the best father a girl could have, a national hero ... but more than that. He was young, barely thirty-two himself at the time, giving, warm, and entirely lovable. A young Nordic blue-eyed blond, he had charmed everyone, especially his own daughter.
Katie had been jealous. It had been her day with her father, her day to listen to the calls, then to astound one of the greatest quarterbacks who had ever lived with her ability—a twelve-year-old girl's ability—to catch the magic pigskin ball. But when her father had picked her up, it had been to tell her that they were going to meet Cougar—Kent Hart, the infallible speed demon out of Alabama. He'd put a little-known college on the map in a big way. Not only had he the arms of an albatross and a grip like an eagle's talons, but he could run. "Lord Almighty," Dante had exclaimed to her that day, "that boy can run!" His grades had also been great. "Sheer genius!" in Dante's words.
Katie had hated the man before they'd even reached the football stadium.
Of course, he'd smiled at her. Kent Hart had smiled and ruffled her hair. Why not? He should be decent to the man who had helped him into the pros.
She'd hated to have her hair ruffled.
"Katie, show him your stuff!" Dante had commanded.
Katie had been ready, but for some reason, she had fumbled everything. Then she'd been sent to tackle Kent. "Tag football," Kent had said cheerfully.
But Katie hadn't been about to play a game of tag—especially when she had realized that not even her extreme youth and healthy young legs could combat Cougar's speed. So, once she'd gotten him, she'd tackled him with all her wiry young strength. And when he had laughed and refused to relinquish the ball, she'd clawed his cheek with her fingernails. Hard. So hard that she'd drawn blood.
"Damn!" Had been his astonished response. And he'd shaken her with fury, then kept her firmly away at arm's length. "Dante! Call off this little she-cat of yours! I think I'm going to need a rabies shot!"
It was the last time Dante had ever tried to mix company with his daughter and his friend. It was painfully clear that they despised one another.
Oh, there had been jokes. Dante warning Kent that everyone was going to think he'd had a row with his fiancée. "Really rough when you have to fight the girls off, eh?" Dante had teased. But he had been furious with Katie, so furious that he hadn't picked her up the next weekend, and she had learned to hate Kent Hart with a greater fury.
Oh, God, but that had been years ago. Long before her father's freak injury, before the game he had loved so dearly had quickly cost him his health, then slowly his mind. Long before he had finally died—old before his time, broken, a forgotten hero.
Returning to the present, she forced herself to draw in a breath and close a curtain on the past. She hoped that Kent Hart couldn't see how she was braced against the door for support.
"I'm Kathleen Hudson, Mr. Hart. Perhaps you don't remember me, but even with your own personal status, you must remember my father." Katie winced inwardly. She hadn't meant to sound so sarcastic and reproachful. It was just that she didn't want to be here, and she absolutely hated the fact that she had tried to compromise realistically with life and use a past association to get beyond all the walls of privacy Kent Hart built around himself.
Yes, she could see already that the words had been a mistake. He had brown, flashing eyes, so narrowed now that they seemed to burn with a red glint, ready to explode.
His hand—involuntarily, Katie was certain—moved to his cheek, his long fingers moving over it before falling back to the water.
"I could never forget your father, Miss Hudson. And"—he raised a dark and richly arched brow—"I don't think that I'll ever be able to forget you." His words were polite enough, but there was something very hard about his pleasant tone when he continued, "Every time I glance in a mirror, Miss Hudson, I get to remember you. Scars, you know."
She felt a little ill. Yes, peering through the steam that surrounded him, she could see that there were three scars, pale white lines that stretched from his cheekbone to his jaw.
It was time to apologize, she told herself. Perhaps remind him that she had been a child. Laugh, flirt a bit—wheedle herself into his good graces ...
Katie couldn't do it. She heard herself talking, and she hadn't even thought out what she wanted to say.
"I hardly think that those little scars can matter much. You're probably covered with them by now. How long have you been playing? Almost twenty years ..."
He smiled at her, but the smile was as stiff as the strong line of his jaw. "Is that it?" he inquired acidly, ignoring her question. "You've come to count my scars for your article. That's why it was so almighty important that you see me, that you had to barge in where you were not invited—and definitely not wanted?"
Katie could feel the heat flaming her cheeks. Again she spoke without thought. "No, you ass! I barged in here because you think you're so high above humanity that you can't bother with common courtesy! I—" She broke off, dismally aware that she had just ruined the whole thing. She had put herself through a week of torment before coming here, and now ... It didn't bother her so terribly much that she was going to lose the interview; it bothered her that she had come here at all, used her father's name, then bungled the whole thing in a spurt of temper.
Temper ... it had caused her first disaster with him when she had been a child.
"I'm sorry," she murmured, involuntarily lowering her head and her lashes. She had wanted to at least apologize with dignity, meeting his eyes. Oh, come on, Katie! she chastised herself. Raff said that you could charm water from desert sands if you wanted to!
She looked up and smiled sweetly. "I really am sorry. It's just that you wouldn't bother to talk to me. You wouldn't even bother to look at me ..."
His smile became warm in return. She wondered vaguely why his eyes still carried a little glitter, but she was getting too nervous to concentrate on his physical nuances.
"Sorry," he said softly. "Maybe I was a bit brusque. Be a good kid, will you, and come over here where I can see you? And you can toss me a towel."
Suddenly, she was feeling very nervous. She didn't want to get too close to the man, not after she had called him an ass.
"Perhaps," Katie murmured, "now that we've met, you could just meet me back out by the lockers."
"No, there will still be people around the lockers. Newscasters. I came in here looking for a bit of peace. Come on over—throw me the towel."
Katie set her purse and notebook on a bench and unhappily approached the whirlpool. The water jets and mist were all around him, so she could rationalize that there still wasn't anything indecent about it.
Near Kent and the tub was a shelf with a stack of towels. She managed to keep her eyes locked to his until she reached for a towel, but then she averted her gaze and threw it.
"Thanks," he muttered as the towel landed in the water.
When he began to stand, she found her eyes riveting to him again. "What are you doing? For decency's sake, sit down," she snapped.
He laughed, settling back into the water. "All right, but don't throw the next towel. Hand it to me. I'm wet—that's why the towel should be dry."
"You're supposed to be the greatest receiver in history," Katie mumbled as she reached for another one, "and you can't catch a towel?"
"I'd rather not take the chance," Kent said politely.
Katie felt a little flustered. She kept her lashes lowered and walked closer to the tub to hand him the towel.
Be nice, Katie, she warned herself, gritting her teeth behind a pleasant smile.
"Thanks," he murmured again as she came closer, extending her arm.
"Uh ... sure. Listen, I'm really sorry about snapping at you." She gave him a light—flirtatious?—laugh. "And I really am sorry about the scars. I was only twelve then."
"Mmm. And you've matured."
Was it a statement or a question? He had a husky voice, very deep. It seemed to touch her inside and ripple along her spine.
"Yes, well, it was quite a few years ago ..."
"Yes, it was. A little closer, please, I can't quite reach. And I'd love to get a better glance at a matured woman."
Careful, Katie advised herself. He's famous for his conquests, so let him think he can con you, too. You know how to be sweet while keeping your distance.
"Here," she murmured, standing directly beside him. And then she gasped with outrage as she felt his fingers wind around her wrist, dragging her down to her knees beside him.
"Let go of me, you overgrown bastard! I swear every damn thing you hear about football players is true. And I knew from that first time I saw you that—"
"You knew what?" He grated out disdainfully, tossing her wrist aside. "You were a selfish little brat when I met you, and it doesn't appear that you've changed much since. Don't flirt with me, Miss Hudson. I like you better when you're an honest bitch."
Katie tossed the towel in his face. "All right. You want honesty? I think you're an overflown ingrate—and when you fall, I hope you fall hard. I didn't want to do an interview with you, but since my future seemed to depend on it, I thought I could overlook the past. Personally, I don't think there's anything to write about, but, yes, I'm selfish enough to want a career for myself. Let's stick with selfish, shall we? I was wrong to dislike you for sharing my father's time—but I loved him! When you were gone, when everyone else was gone, I was still there! And if we want to get frank about it, my father actually did more for you than he ever could for me—"
"Hold it!" Kent snapped. He might have preferred his towels dry, but he distractedly grabbed the wet one and rose, wrapping it tightly around his hips to step with purpose from the tub. Katie didn't even realize that she watched him step from the tub, watched him as he strode angrily to her and sank his grip into her shoulders, shaking her as he had all those years before ...
"You think I owe you because of Dante, is that it? Well, you're wrong, dammit. You owe me! You didn't have the courtesy to give him my letters. You didn't even have the courtesy to let me know he was ill. You just carried on your little charade. You didn't even let me know when he died—I had to read about it in the newspapers!"
"Let go of me—" Katie began, but the words died on her lips. Just as he had all those years ago, he shoved her away himself.
Suddenly, tears stung her eyes. Kent Hart had written many times. But she hadn't returned the letters unopened—Dante had. "Tell him ... tell him we keep traveling," Dante insisted in his more lucid moments, and his beautiful Nordic eyes, turned rheumy, would sadden as if clouds had been flung over them. "Kent should never see me like this. Never."
"Dad, if he's your friend—"
"No. No!" Then Dante would be sorry that he had yelled at her. He would stare down at his hands, hands that shook. "I was a legend, Katie. A living legend. A true hero. I don't want that fantasy to die."
"Ah, Katie! Did I ever tell you about the day when we turned around and beat the Redskins? It was twenty-one to three at the end of the third quarter, but we rallied! We rallied and beat them by two touchdowns. Two touchdowns! God, could I throw! And Kent ... that man could catch anything and run like a jackrabbit. My Cougar. We were great together. What a game ..."
Memory faded. So did Katie's burst of temper. She drew herself up and stared at Kent Hart's back, smiling bitterly. He did have more scars. Four that she could see, across his shoulders.
She spoke more raspily than she would have liked, but a quiet dignity seemed to have come back to her, and the words were barely whispered. "My father didn't want to see you, Mr. Hart. He—he was very proud. He wanted the world to believe that he still existed with all his health and strength. I—I believe he always cared about you, though. Most."
She turned around, plucking her notebook from the bench and heading for the door. Well, the article was shot, and she'd probably be back on a local paper soon, doing the obituaries and interviewing more ladies who cooked for a town fair or kids from the high school athletic teams.
She'd only been given this chance because she was Dante Hudson's daughter. And the only person in the world Kent Hart might agree to do an interview with was Dante's daughter.
Sorry, Raff, she thought. You didn't know about the things that had happened. Dante's daughter is the last person in the world the man wants to talk to.
"Maybe"—his voice, as hoarse as hers, muffled as his back was still to her, made her halt, turning before she reached the door—"maybe we both owe each other."
Katie caught her breath, wondering if that meant that he'd do the interview. He turned around slowly, and she felt the heat of his dark eyes moving over her, as if he was assessing her. But before he could speak, the door opened suddenly and Sam Loper barged into the room.
"Kent—oh, sorry!" The young quarterback paused, looking curiously at Katie. "Hi."
"Hi," she responded a little uneasily. Women were gaining a grudged access to the locker rooms these days, and it had seemed all right to grit her teeth and walk into the showers to approach Kent when the other players had left. But now she felt totally out of place and deserving of the skeptical—and insinuative—way that Sam Loper was looking at her.
"Miss Hudson is a reporter from World Magazine, Sam," Kent said. Katie cast him a quick glance. It appeared that he was trying to save her—just a bit.
Except that he'd called her by name. Would Sam Loper recognize that name? Probably not. Loper was about her age. It was unlikely that he'd make the connection.
Apparently, the name didn't mean anything to him.
"Oh. Oh! Well, hello again, Miss Hudson." Sam Loper stuck out a hand and gave her a charming smile. Katie accepted his handshake and returned his smile.
"It was a wonderful game," she said. "You—uh—you were great." Loper was a good quarterback, probably a great one, just as the media was proclaiming. To do anything other than congratulate the man would have been totally churlish—even if he was looking at her lasciviously. Sorry, Loper, I'm not available. I've been this route before, she thought.
Sam Loper frowned suddenly, and she felt as if she liked him a bit better—even if he wasn't releasing her hand. "I hope this guy's been decent to you, Miss Hudson. He refuses to give interviews to anyone, and I know he can get a bit crude."
"Sam!" Kent snapped with aggravation.
Sam Loper was undaunted. "But listen, ignore him if he's a headache. I think it's old age setting in, you know? He gets cranky. But if you want—"
"I'll be happy to give you an interview."
Katie tugged at her hand, smiling as she rescued it from his grasp. "Thank you, that's wonderful, and I would like to talk to you." She gazed across the room at Kent Hart's towel-draped form with only a slight sparkle of maliciousness touching her blue green eyes.
Excerpted from Dante's Daughter by Heather Graham. Copyright © 1986 Heather E. Graham. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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