One thing I need to decide for myself … am I playing to win, or playing for keeps?
Football is my passion. Right now, I have a chance to make my dream of being the best midfielder in the Women's Aussie Rules competition a reality. And soon I'll finish my studies and succeed in a role in sports management. For now, working in my dad's bar pays the bills. Even if he used to be a world–famous soccer legend and can't care less about Aussie Rules.
I won't let anything get in my way. Not even the hot–as–hot one–night stand who, oh yes, just turned out to be Jaxon Flint, one of Australia's most successful sports agents … and he's offered me a job. We've agreed we have to forget about our attraction to both stay on the track we've laid out for ourselves. So why does the idea of being with Jaxon make me want to take the biggest risk of my life? It's game on.
I told her my name was Jack. She told me her name was Angel. But an angel she wasn't when I took her home for the most amazing night of my life. I picked her up in a sports bar … but I never expected her to turn out to be the rising star of the new Women's Aussie Rules football competition. Or a natural at handling ego–fuelled sports superstars. I knew Angie was someone I had to hire … and a star I would be lucky to represent. Those are both good reasons to stay away from her. And after the way I failed my sister, I know I should stay away from someone so driven to excel. So why can't I get it out of my head that I want to be everything to my Angel?
Other books available in The Women of W.A.R. series:
Long Game by Catherine Evans
Fair Game by Amy Andrews
About the Author
USA Today bestselling and multi-award winning author Nicola Marsh writes feel-good fiction…with a twist.
She has published seventy books and sold over eight million copies worldwide. She currently writes rural romance for HarperCollins Australia's Mira imprint, emotional domestic suspense for Hachette UK's Bookouture and contemporary romance for Harlequin Dare.
She's a Romantic Book of the Year and National Readers' Choice Award winner.
A physiotherapist for thirteen years, she now adores writing full time, raising her two dashing young heroes, sharing fine food with family and friends, barracking loudly for her beloved North Melbourne Kangaroos footy team, and curling up with a good book!
Readers can visit Nicola at her website: www.nicolamarsh.com
Read an Excerpt
I liked working in a bar. Serving drinks, listening to life stories, dishing out advice, chuckling with the drunks. I could handle it all and frequently did at my dad's sports bar, The Scissor Kick, Melbourne's newest hotspot.
Arse-kicking Angie, they called me, and I liked it. I didn't take crap from anyone.
So what the hell was I doing here, perched on a stool at a rival bar, doing some reconnaissance work for Dad but putting up with unwelcome advances from a bunch of Neanderthal pricks all in the name of research?
I braced as a group of four cute-enough guys approached, jostling and elbowing as I'd witnessed many times before, usually when I wasn't the object of their intent.
'Hey, are you Cinderella?' Tall, Dark and Dickhead led the pack. 'Because I can see that dress coming off at midnight.'
I bit back a groan, not summoning the energy to point out I wore a denim mini and a black tank top. Idiot.
When I didn't respond, the second guy tried his luck. 'You must be a hell of a thief, because you stole my heart from across the room.' He clutched his chest to emphasise it and gazed at me hopefully.
I refrained from saying, 'I may have vomited in my mouth a little.' Just.
The third squared his shoulders, exuding cockiness. 'Your lips look lonely. Would they like to meet mine?'
That did it. No more. I pointed over their shoulders. 'Boys, there's a door over there for a reason. Use it.'
'Bitch,' the first one muttered under his breath, as they collectively glared at me before swaggering away in search of their next victim.
'Arseholes,' I muttered, determined to be more protective toward unaccompanied females at The Scissor Kick in future.
Was this the type of crap women had to put up with on a night out? I wouldn't know. I didn't date. I didn't socialise. I didn't do much of anything but work nights at Dad's bar and study days at uni. Though with a degree in sports management finally under my belt, I hoped to change all that.
I'd given Dad enough of my soul. He could find some other skivvy to tolerate his excessive demands.
'That was painful.' A laconic drawl from the stool on my left drew my attention. 'Men are jerks.'
I rolled my eyes. I'd seen this ploy too, where guys berated their own sex in the hope of cosying up to a woman. Pathetic.
However, when I half swivelled on my stool and saw my next victim of a potential tongue-lashing, any putdowns fled.
This guy didn't have The Look. The naughty glint in the eyes, the sleazy smirk, the roving stare. Uh-uh, this guy had the potential to command The Look from me.
Dark wavy hair. Dark soulful eyes. Dark designer suit. He didn't need The Look because one glance from those eyes and women's panties would drop all by themselves.
Lucky I was immune.
Though for a fleeting moment, as I remembered the last time I'd had sex an unmemorable eleven months earlier, maybe I should amend that to unlucky.
'You're a man. Doesn't that make you a card-carrying member of Jerks United too?'
'How foolish the woman.'
Against my better judgement, he had me intrigued. 'What does that mean?'
'It means that I'm upfront when I like a woman. I don't resort to all that bullshit corny line crap. I tell her I want her and not to expect more than what I'm willing to give. If she reads more into it ...' he shrugged. 'More fool her.'
My ovaries twanged. I may have met the male version of me.
'Interesting perspective.' I fiddled with the label on my boutique beer, an annoying habit I'd tried to conquer for years and failed. 'Yet one question remains.'
An eyebrow arched. 'What's that?'
'How foolish do you think I am?'
He laughed, a rich, deep sound that rumbled all the way through me, arrowing straight between those damn ovaries. 'From the way you handled those dickheads, I may have just fallen in love a little.'
'Be still my beating heart,' I deadpanned, enjoying our dry banter all too much.
How long since I'd done this? Swapped witty one-liners with a pro? Try never. The guys I'd dated occasionally in uni had been fellow sports-freaks who viewed sex the same way I did: as a form of exercise. No muss, no fuss fun.
I'd hooked up with exactly three guys, one a year, during my studies. None of them had made me sit up and take notice like this guy.
'Just so you know, I don't do love, so I paid you a massive compliment.' He raised his beer in a silent cheer.
'Just so you know, I don't talk to strangers, so the fact I'm sitting here listening to your BS is a massive compliment.' I clinked my beer bottle against his, unable to stop a burgeoning smile.
Because staring into those mesmerising dark eyes filled with humour made me want to laugh out loud for the hell of it.
'In that case, I'll drink to that.' He took a slug from his beer, the smooth convulsive action of his throat making my fingers itch to reach out and touch. 'At the risk of reverting to trite jerk status, what do you do when you're not emasculating misguided men?'
'I work at a bar not unlike this one.'
I must've inadvertently screwed up my nose because he laughed again.
'And not loving it, obviously.'
I shrugged, not willing to divulge my reasons for sticking around at my father's bar when he obviously didn't give a crap one way or the other. 'It's a stopgap until I get where I want to be.'
The truth hovered on the tip of my tongue but most guys didn't understand a woman wanting to make it big in Aussie Rules; why would this one be any different?
'Anywhere but here.' I placed my bottle on the bar and gestured around. 'Seen one mirror-lined, liquor-stocked, den of inequity filled with memorabilia from washed-up sports stars, seen them all.'
'Sounds like you really love your job. Cheers to that.' He took another slug of his beer as I bit back a grin.
I liked sarcasm. Go figure.
'Let me guess. You're one of those annoyingly chipper people who live for work.'
He held up his left hand. No ring. Not that it meant anything to some guys. 'Guilty as charged.'
'Workaholics are good.' I cast him a sly sideways glance. 'They end up alcoholics who keep me in a job.'
'I thought you were only playing bar wench as a stopgap?'
'And I thought you were just leaving?'
As much as I was enjoying our banter, I should go. I had an early start on the training track tomorrow and another double shift starting at midday.
'Is that an invitation?' He eyeballed me, bold and challenging. Damned if I didn't like it. 'Would you like to leave with me?'
No innuendo. No sly jibes. A blatant invitation that tempted me more than it should.
If I had a bucket list, sex with a stranger wouldn't be on it. That was before.
'Just so we're clear, we're not leaving here to have ice-cream, right?'
'There can be ice, and cream, involved.' He leaned closer, a waft of something crisp and expensive washing over me, befuddling me more than his words. 'If you're lucky.'
I didn't pick up men in bars.
I didn't do one-night stands.
But the longer I stared into his dark, hypnotic eyes, I knew without a doubt I was in danger of doing both.
How long since I'd felt this kind of pull with a woman? Months, years, aeons?
I dated. Casually. Women who knew the score. Usually wannabe models or starlets wanting a leg-up in the industry, using me for my credentials. I didn't mind. Having money, prestige and contacts meant I scored whenever I wanted.
Not that I was a man-whore. I was selective. Choosy, even. But for a guy who'd been bullied at school to the extent girls avoided me, I got my fair share of sex these days. I considered it an occupational perk.
So what was it about this woman that had me eager to take her back to my place and see if we could create sparks beyond the verbal kind?
I liked banter as foreplay. Give me a quick wit and I was a goner, the boner in my pants testament to that ever since we'd started sparring.
But I didn't pick up women in bars. Wasn't my style. But the longer she studied me like some complex science experiment she couldn't figure out, I knew this time I'd make an exception.
There was something about her ... an elusive hint of vulnerability beneath her brash exterior that guaranteed she'd be fun in bed.
Decision made, I stood. 'I'm leaving now. For ice-cream.' I made those cutesy inverted comma signs with my fingers that I hated. Shit. She had me seriously rattled if I was resorting to trite.
She stared at me and I saw the battle she waged in her eyes; big, brown, expressive eyes with dark caramel flecks that a guy could drown in. Interest. Excitement. Tinged with fear.
'I don't have ice-cream with just anyone, especially when I don't know them.' She raised an imperious eyebrow and squared her shoulders, drawing my attention to pert breasts encased in black cotton.
Unlike most of the women here she didn't go for the slinky revealing look, yet she rocked a denim mini and cotton tank better than the haute couture of past dates.
'The only way to rectify that is get to know me better.' I held out a hand, daring her to take it. 'My apartment is just around the corner.'
'Of course it is,' she said, rolling her eyes. 'Though shouldn't that be ice-cream parlour?'
'There's ice-cream there. Strawberry, boysenberry and double choc chip.'
She smiled and my cock thickened further. The simple action of her lush mouth curving upward transformed her face from pretty to spectacular and I couldn't help but imagine how that beautiful mouth would feel wrapped around me.
'What are you, a girl?'
I almost said, 'My sister visits regularly,' out of habit. But Erin hadn't visited in two years. Thanks to me. And I had to live with the truth that I'd contributed to my sister's death every fucking day.
I cleared my throat, hating the way it tightened whenever I thought of Erin, so I blurted the first fib I could think of. 'My mum stocked the freezer with her favourite flavours.'
It made me sound like a mummy's boy. I didn't care. Besides, I couldn't tell her the truth: that I stocked Mum's favourite flavours in the hope she would drop by unexpectedly like she used to.
These days, we avoided each other. I hated seeing the devastation in her eyes, she hates seeing the guilt in mine.
An eyebrow quirked. 'Wow, so we're really going to eat ice-cream?' I couldn't resist. 'I'm going to eat something.'
Rather than slap me, she chuckled. 'Bad boy.'
'I can be good too.' I gave in to the impulse to touch her and trailed a finger down her bare arm. Goosebumps sprang up over her skin and I glimpsed the telltale hardening of her nipples.
Fuck, I wanted to wrap my lips around them so bad. To suck them into my mouth, twirl my tongue over them, have her arch and thrust them into my mouth. Were they pink or brown? Large areola or small? Were her tits the perfect handful?
She must've glimpsed the lust in my eyes because she eased away. 'This is way out of my comfort zone,' she blurted, colour flushing her cheeks. 'But I'm renowned for my bluntness so here goes. I like you. I like the fact you've been straightforward with what you want. I don't like the fact I haven't had sex in almost a year.'
She blew out a long breath. 'And I'm very tempted to rectify that alarming statistic with you.'
My cock surged to fully erect. Suit jackets were good for something after all. How could this gorgeous, intriguing woman not have had sex in almost a year? A travesty, one I intended on remedying if she let me. She'd be so responsive, going off like a firecracker with the slightest ministrations, and I couldn't wait to get my mouth on her.
'Then what are we waiting for?' I held out my hand, willing her to take it.
She hesitated, staring at it for an eternity, before she finally moved, sliding off the stool to stand in front of me. Wow, she was tall, at least five-nine, her height a welcome surprise. I always felt like I'd break the petite ones, considering I'd hit six-two at nineteen.
'I won't bite.' I flexed my fingers, inviting her to take hold. 'Not unless you ask politely, that is.'
When her tongue darted out to moisten her bottom lip, I almost lost it, the yearning to grab her hand and make a run for it incredibly strong.
'This is so not me,' she murmured, so softly I barely heard, before she finally, finally, placed her hand in mine. 'But maybe for one night it can be.'
I squeezed her hand and she squeezed back, strong and sure, at odds with her wary expression. 'For what it's worth, I'm not some sleaze who picks up women in bars for one-night stands.'
She gave a slight nod. 'I'm a pretty good judge of character and I wouldn't be doing this if I thought you were.'
I wanted to say she shouldn't be so trusting. That you couldn't tell a good guy from a bad on first meeting. But it wasn't my place to lecture her and I knew she'd bolt if I did. Did that make me a selfish prick? Hell yeah, but with her soft hand in mine, my little head overruled my big one.
We'd barely made it out the front door and onto a busy Chapel Street when she stopped. 'I don't even know your name.'
I wanted to tell her but I'd seen too many women react to it, and if she worked in a sports bar she may know my identity by reputation. I didn't want to see her change. I liked her just the way she was, bold with a hint of susceptibility, embracing the sexual attraction between us but doubting its potency at the same time.
I didn't want her to treat me any differently, so I settled for 'Jack'.
'Angelica,' she said, with a proud tilt of her head, as if she expected me to make fun of her.
'Angel ...' I tried the abbreviation on for size. It fit.
When she stared at me in wide-eyed surprise, like no one had ever called her that, I ducked down to nuzzle her neck, inhaling a unique scent reminiscent of roses mixed with jasmine. Refreshing, like her.
'You don't mind if I call you that?'
'I don't mind.' The corners of her mouth twitched. 'Though I have a feeling I'm about to become a fallen angel, with my halo around my ankles.'
I grinned, enjoying her sense of humour. I couldn't spar with many women like this. It turned me on as much as her hot bod.
'Good. It'll be alongside your panties.'
She inhaled sharply, the flare of heat unmistakeable as she gripped my hand tighter. 'You're way too charming for your own good.'
'Hey, you're here, aren't you?' I swung our arms as we started walking, glad I'd chosen tonight to stop by Bobbie's.
I frequented the bar regularly because my clients liked it. Sportsmen flocked to the iconic bar in trendy South Yarra for three things. Live bands. Drink cards. Hot women.
I didn't go in for the whole bar scene, especially at the end of a long day, but what my clients wanted I provided. It's what made me the best manager in the country.
Besides, socialising with sports stars often led to referrals for new clients and I had enough elite footballers, basketballers, soccer players and swimmers on my books to keep me solvent forever.
'Me being here has absolutely nothing to do with your dubious charm.' She matched my lengthening stride with ease, her quirky smile alerting me to an incoming zinger. 'I'm here for the free ice-cream.'
'You've got a smart mouth.' I stared at it, imagining all the naughty things she could do with it. Damn, I couldn't wait to get her alone.
'It usually gets me into trouble.'
A brief shadow flickered across her eyes as I inwardly cursed for saying the wrong thing. I wanted tonight to be about fun. Playful sex was the best.
'Here's hoping.' I held up my free hand, fingers crossed, and she laughed as I'd intended.
'Where do you live?'
'Right here,' I said, stopping outside the newest high-rise on the block.
'Impressive.' She craned her neck, looking skyward.
I punched in my security code and the heavy glass door swung inward on a hydraulic hiss. We didn't speak as we traversed the marble foyer, past a massive floral arrangement, to the private lift that serviced the penthouse only.
I swiped my card and the doors slid open, revealing more speckled Italian marble, shimmering gold and mirrored walls. I hadn't lived here long, the bulk of my time spent in hotel rooms around the country, holding client's hands, negotiating deals, cleaning up their messes.
I earned every cent of my exorbitant fees, because if there's one thing I'd learned in this business it's that young people who earned a shitload of money often ended up in trouble because of it.
As we stepped into the lift and the doors slid shut, I risked a glance at her. She looked calm, serene almost, but the death grip on my hand said otherwise.
She nodded, but still didn't speak until the lift doors opened directly into my apartment.
Excerpted from "Game On"
Copyright © 2018 Nicola Marsh.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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