One Night with a Quarterback (Santa Fe Bobcats #1)
A one-night stand shouldn’t go into overtime…
She’s daddy’s little girl…or she would have been, had he known she existed. Cassie Wainwright thought her father—head coach of the Santa Fe Bobcats—ignored her purposefully. Come to find out, he had no clue she’d ever been born.
Now Cassie is determined to meet the man who’s always been missing from her life. Her mother warns her, being the long-lost daughter of a well-known NFL coach won’t be easy, but Cassie’s determined to stick it out. And before her life turns upside down, she wants one more night of fun.
Starting quarterback for the Santa Fe Bobcats, Trey Owens is tired of being in the limelight. Lucky for him, the beautiful brunette he meets at the club isn’t a local. She has no idea who he is…and she’s down to party.
Tomorrow, Cassie will think about her father. Tomorrow, she’ll think about her future. But tonight is for herself and the hottie she found on dance floor. It’s a matchup made in heaven—if only for a night…
Cassie Wainwright took a deep breath of the air inside the club. It smelled like freedom. And, okay, a little like alcohol and sweat. But if that’s what it took to have one blessed night of mind numbing escapism, so be it.
Her best friend, Anya Fisher, grabbed her wrist. “An hour, Cassie. No more. You don’t want to show up tomorrow looking haggard. In fact, let’s skip it. Let’s just go back to the hotel and—”
“No.” She yanked her arm from her friend’s grip. Tonight was about letting go. Forgetting the stress of finding out she had a father, a whole family she didn’t know and who didn’t know her. Tonight was about losing herself in the music and dancing away all the worry, doubt, and stress. That’s all she wanted. One last night.
And it had to count.
She could hear Anya sigh behind her, barely. The noise from the speakers was deafening. It was perfect. Noisy, crowded, just the kind of place you could get lost in. Someone in the crowd bumped her, crushing her even closer to Anya, so close she could tell that her friend wasn’t wearing a bra just from how she was squished up against her back. What are good friends for?
She turned her head to the side and yelled over her shoulder, “If you don’t want to be here, you can head back to the hotel. I’m not going to be mad.”
“And leave you out here on your own? Are you crazy?” Anya shook her head, long blond hair getting caught in Cassie’s dangling earring. They separated themselves, then wound their way to a tall cocktail table. She nearly crashed into a drunk woman, but managed to dodge at the last second. “What’s the plan, anyway? Get trashed, be hung over when you meet dear old dad tomorrow? For what? What good is that going to do?”
“Have you seen me order a drink yet?” Cassie’s eyes scanned the crowd, squinting a little to see through the darkness, using the strobe lights when they hit the dance floor.
“No. Actually, I haven’t. But if you’re not here to drink then what—”
“There’s a hole in the crowd. Let’s go!” She grabbed her overly-cautious friend’s hand and raced for the open spot on the dance floor. It seemed like the entire city of Santa Fe was here. Hot, sweaty bodies pushed and pressed around them, then a gap would open up and blessedly cool air would waft over her skin before another wave of people crushed around.
She didn’t care. Tonight was about letting her hair down, and forcing Anya to do the same, even if it killed her.
No negative thoughts. Tomorrow morning would come soon enough.
She glanced at Anya, laughed when she saw her friend looking mildly repulsed as a stranger danced at her. Not with her. At her. The overly-sweaty man wore a tank top and low-riding jeans that hinted he was one bad move away from being depantsed. And her friend looked like she was going to throw up.
“Shoo him away!” Cassie shouted through her own laughter. But her voice was lost in the boom of the music.
Anya shook her head, held up her hands in the classic, “What the hell?” sign. The poor sweetheart wouldn’t have the balls to be rude to the clueless guy. He was too busy…oh my God. Was he actually Voguing? Christ, Anya needed a rescue. Cassie reached an arm around her friend’s waist and pulled her until they were pressed together, front to front. Looking at the Voguer, she shook her head sadly and mouthed, “She’s with me.”
The guy had a moment of confusion, then it morphed into even more interest. The kind that said can I watch? Gross. She shook her head again and turned them enough so that their bodies blocked him out of their little circle.
“Did you just tell that guy we were a couple?”
“Maybe, on accident.” She laughed again and let her arm drop. Anya, sweet, conservative Anya, would find that horrifying. And secretly intriguing. Following the beat, letting her body move how it wanted, she danced with a guy who came up behind her, not caring where his hands roamed. At least until they went for the money shot, and then she slithered around, wagging a finger playfully and found a new spot to dance in. The sweat poured down her face, hair stuck to her temples. Her eardrums throbbed at the constant assault. Her feet were screaming in the four inch heels she’d shoved them into. It didn’t matter. The whole thing felt like freedom personified.
“I think that guy is trying to get your attention,” Anya yelled through the din. When Cassie couldn’t see anyone, her friend pointed out and up.
There, on the stage next to one of the big speakers was a guy who had several girls standing behind him. In various forms of dress—from jeans and simple tanks to miniskirts and hooker heels—the females giggled and waited off to the side.
“He’s waving at you to go up there. Do you know him?”
Cassie shook her head, curious, watching the man point toward a set of stairs off by the side.
“Don’t go. Turn your back. Pretend you didn’t see.”
She gave Anya her best Are you shitting me? look. “He probably just wants a few girls to dance on stage for a bit, like eye candy or something. Looks like fun to me!”
Anya grabbed her arm. “Don’t leave me alone in this crowd. I’ll never find you again and then I’ll have to kill you.”
“Then come with me. He’ll take us both or nada.” Not waiting for Anya’s reply, she grabbed her friend’s wrist, bumped and maneuvered her way to the stage, staring straight up at the guy that had been waving her over. He wore a black blazer over a graphic tee and fashionably distressed jeans, and she’d put him in his late thirties or early forties. Most likely, either the club manager, promoter or partial owner.
“Hey sweetheart. Want a break from the crush?” He smiled down at her, one corner of his lips tilting up more than the other. It looked practiced, like he spent an hour in the mirror before coming to the club rehearsing his facial expressions.
“Depends. What’s the break come with?”
“Just a couple of minutes dancing on one of our platforms. As long as you want, you can get down anytime.”
She held up Anya’s hand like a ref announcing the winner of a boxing match. “What about my friend? We’re a package deal.”
He studied Anya over, who muttered, “creep” in Cassie’s ear.
Then he shrugged. “Sure. Whatever. Stairs are right behind the deejay there. Watch your step.”
They worked their way over behind the turntable booth, gave a friendly smile to the tired guy flipping records, and walked up the dark stairs.
“This is the worst idea you’ve ever dragged me into.” Anya dug her fingernails into Cassie’s arm.
“What crap. We’ve done way dumber shit.”
“You say that like it’s a good thing. Why do I let you drag me around and get into all this trouble? Why?”
“You know, you ask that just before every single thing we do? And nothing bad has happened yet.” Cassie paused in the wings of the stage, adjusted her tank top, then did a little mini-squat to make sure her butt wasn’t hanging out the back of her jeans. “Body check. Everything covered?”
“So far. But come on. Why the hell are we going to dance up on platforms like go-go dancers? We’ll look like strippers.”
“Don’t take any money. It doesn’t count if you don’t take the money.”
“Did Dr. Phil tell you that?” Anya snapped.
But rather than answer, Cassie walked out on stage and waited with the other girls to be guided to a spot.
“What if we fall off?”
She gave Anya a reassuring smile. “I’d be willing to bet there will be several knights in shining denim and graphic tees just waiting to catch you and help you to safety.” She paused and studied her friend’s face in the strobe light. “Okay. Truth time. Are you honestly freaked out? We can walk right back down the stairs.”
Anya shook her head. “I really don’t know how you talk me into these things. But if you’re going, I’m going.”
She gave her friend a quick squeeze. “That’s why I love you.”
* * * * *
Trey Owens tried to take a sip of his beer, only to have the bottle clank against his lips. He hissed in pain and annoyance.
“Sorry, dude,” someone muttered from behind the elbow the stranger had bumped.
“Right.” Trey switched the bottle to his other hand and ran his tongue over his teeth for a quick check. All good. “I’m sure you are.”
But the rude weasel was already gone.
“Look at it like this,” Stephen said with a smile. “He didn’t recognize you. Clearly, the disguise is working.”
“I feel like freaking Clark Kent in these stupid things.” The fake frames his friend Stephen had forced him to wear felt foreign on his nose, and the flashing lights reflecting in the lenses were about to drive him insane.
“But not one girl has squealed at you,” his friend pointed out helpfully, taking a swig of his own beer. “Nobody’s running down plays, or giving you shit for interceptions, or trying to form lines for autographs. The glasses plus the dark equal a decent enough disguise to get you out of the house, you hermit.”
He had a point. In his first two years playing in the NFL, there had been little notice of him. As second string QB for the Arizona Cardinals, he hadn’t warranted any attention. But his move to lead quarterback for the Santa Fe Bobcats…that had been a game changer, both on the field and off.
There were days—weeks, months, years—when Trey wished he’d been born to be a semi-anonymous defensive lineman. Or third string kicker. Anything but the quarterback. There wasn’t a more visible position out there, and his luck had stuck him front and center.
“Look, you were the one griping about having a zero-based social life in the past few years thanks to the mobs that attack you every time you go out. I thought it was at least worth a try. It got you out of the cave. And frankly, it’s working.”
Stephen—one of the aforementioned semi-anonymous linemen, had dragged him out after lambasting him for being a “fucking monk” in recent months.
“You’re right. I know.” He took another cautious sip of beer, this time making the entire way through without being bumped. “It just feels so shitty. Is this my life? Espionage and secrets just to get a normal night out?”
“Welcome to the big show.” At that, Stephen’s eyes caught elsewhere, and Trey followed the line of vision.
Vision was one word for it. On a platform about three feet tall, two women danced. Both wore jeans and heels, but the blonde’s shirt covered up to her neck and down to her elbows. And she looked like she would rather be tossed in a shark tank than up there on the platform. The brunette, on the other hand…
Damn, she was a horrible dancer. He smiled a little before taking another sip of beer. Terrible, actually. If she was dancing to any sort of rhythm, it was only the one in her head. Her hair stuck to her forehead and cheeks in sweaty strands, her arms looked like they were seizing, and her head bounced around like a balloon on a stick. But she was having a fantastic time, and her enthusiasm drew him in, made her impossible to look away from.
Upon further glance, he realized they weren’t the only ones dancing on raised platforms. Dotted throughout the club were small circular stages, where presumably, a promoter or someone had pulled girls up from the dance floor and put them up on stage. The other women were eating the attention up with a spoon. Slithering bodies, roaming hands, pouty duck lips—and who the hell lied to women and said duck lips were sexy?—they were putting on a show for the men.
Brunette and Blondie, on the other hand, were having fun together. Not in the flirty, we’re girls so let’s dance sexily all over each other way. But in the fun, sweat-dripping, hip-bumping, laughing full out sort of way.
The sort of way that had him stepping closer to watch…along with a dozen other men. But if the brunette realized the crowd she drew, she didn’t show it. No eye contact but with her friend, no come hither glances, no winks or nods at all.
Was he insane to wish she’d pick him from the crowd and focus that energy on him?
Short answer: most likely yes.
“She’s hot,” Stephen said, leaning in a little to be heard.
“Yeah, she is,” he muttered, taking another swig of beer to cool himself down.
“But she looks terrified up there.”
“No she doesn’t.”
Stephen stared at him a second, then back to the platform. “Ah. You’ve got eyes for the other. You know me. I like blondes.”
Just fine with Trey. More chance for him. As the errant thought crossed his mind, he watched as the sexy brunette in the tank top tap her friend on the shoulder. With a silent nod to each other, they both sat down and scooted off the platform.
He was a half second too late, and several other men rushed to aide her, grabbing her elbow, her shoulder, something tangible to assist. Her friend wasn’t lost for admirers either. The blonde smiled shyly, but ignored them for the most part. The brunette gave them easy grins, a thanks, then walked off without speaking to any of them.
Trey took two steps after her before he realized what he was doing. He wasn’t there to score. He was there to enjoy a night out in anonymous fun.
Meeting a woman could be fun, right?
Anonymous, even. It might actually be a good test, to see if his pathetic disguise would hold up under closer scrutiny, like a one-on-one conversation.
“Where you going?” Stephen asked.
“Research,” he answered, and followed the horrible, hot dancer.
* * * * *
Cassie leaned over the bar and waved to the bartender. He held up a hand without looking her direction, signaling he’d caught her in his peripheral vision. She spun and leaned her elbows on the bar and grinned. “Fucking fantastic.”
Anya looked less convinced. “That was terrifying.”
“Terrifying how fun that was! Unwad the panties, Anya.” When Anya’s lips twitched, she knew she was golden. “Besides, I noticed a few guys rushing to your side when you got down.”
“You scared them off by telling them thanks but no thanks to the drink offers.” Anya sighed. “Just as well though.”
“You know the rule. We buy our own drinks.” Their unwritten rule for never getting so trashed they made dangerous choices. She turned when Anya pointed and ordered two bottles of water from the waiting bartender. After sliding him the cash, she caught an interesting face over Anya’s shoulder. “Hottie, twelve o’clock.”
Anya stared over Cassie’s head. “My twelve or your twelve?”
“Mine.” She closed her eyes a moment to laugh at herself. When she cracked the seal on the bottle and took a healthy swig of cold water, her entire body shivered in response. Oh, that was good.
“Big fan of water, huh?”
The interesting face had wandered up to stand next to them. She gave him a quick perusal. Cute, definitely cute. Toned body, much taller than her—but most guys were, given she was only five foot four. His hair had the look of total disarray, like he couldn’t keep from running his fingers through it when he needed to push it back. It was an interesting mix of gold and brown, not quite one or the other. And his eyes were dark behind cute frames.
“Big fan of not being dehydrated.”
Anya scooted closer to her.
“I’d offer to buy you a drink, but something tells me you’d say no.”
“Good guess. Thanks for the thought, though.” She took the last sip of water, screwed the cap back on.
“I saw you up there, on the platform,” the cute stranger said, watching her closely through lenses that were a little smudged.
She resisted rolling her eyes. Right. Trolling for pussy. Probably thought she was a stripper on her day off or something. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah,” he echoed, then grinned. “You sucked.”
She blinked, then laughed. Laughed until she almost doubled over. Holy hell, that was unexpected.
“That wasn’t very nice,” Anya said indignantly.
“Not nice, but true,” Cassie admitted on a gasping breath. “Very true. I’ve never been a good dancer. But I can’t help myself.”
“That was my favorite part.” His eyes confirmed he was in on the humor. “That you could block it out and not care, and love it anyway.”
Cute, and intuitive. Her last night of freedom was getting more promising by the minute. “You got a name? Wait, let me guess. Nigel.”
He blinked. “Huh? Why would you guess that?”
“Nigel Lythgoe. One of the judges from So You Think You Can Dance? Okay then,” she added when he showed no signs of following along. “Never mind. Lay it on me.”
He hesitated a moment, took a sip of beer. “Trey,” he said finally. “My name’s Trey.”
“Cassie.” She held out a hand. “Pleased to meet you, Trey Who Judges Dancing.”
“It’s a gift,” he said somberly, and made her laugh again.
Cute, intuitive, and funny. Trifecta.
She turned to Anya. “You’re tired?”
Her friend nodded immediately. “Exhausted. You ready to call it a night? Let’s catch a cab.”
“A cab? Our hotel’s not even four blocks away.” That was the beauty of staying in a hotel in downtown Santa Fe. Everything they needed for fun was walking distance away. Although Anya had argued for staying outside the city, Cassie had pushed and won. “Not ready to call it a night, yet. But ready to bust outta here, I think.” She glanced sideways at Trey. “Know a place where a girl can get a good stack of pancakes at one in the morning?”
His smile was contagious. “Can’t Dance Cassie, I’ve got just the place.”
* * * * *
Trey waited while Cassie conferred with her friend about meeting back at the hotel where they were staying, then a few more private details he couldn’t quite make out but weren’t his business.
She didn’t recognize him. She had no clue who he was. That might be shot to shit when they left the club and walked into the decently lit diner, where she could get a better look. But he was ready to fully test it out. Plus, he was positive the little diner a few blocks down served breakfast all day, and knew this late at night, it’d be nearly empty.
Stephen’s theory had been that people mentally place faces in context. Seeing him on the field or in his Bobcats jersey wearing the fake glasses would be worthless. But him in the glasses in a darkened club? He could just blend.
The theory was worth testing out. And thus far, Cassie seemed the perfect subject. Hot, sure. But also could laugh at herself, and wanted to have fun for fun’s sake. Not attention.
Even if she recognized him eventually, Trey had a feeling she wasn’t the type to bust out her iPhone and tweet the details right then.
And if she figured it out, he was no worse off for having had a night out.
“Ready?” Cassie walked back to him with her blond friend in tow. “I promised Anya we’d walk her back to the hotel first. It’s just a couple blocks south of here.”
“Yeah, sure. The diner’s about eight blocks south, so we’re heading that way anyway.” He waved at Stephen as they made their way toward the door. His friend blinked in surprise, then smiled and waved, adding a thumbs up when Cassie’s back was turned.
Trey knew what that meant. His horn-dog friend thought he was scoring a threesome. So let him think it.
They walked in near silence until reaching the revolving doors to a decent, mid-range hotel. Not top of the line, but safe and reasonable. He stood back and watched as the friends parted again. Women, in his experience, always took about five times longer than men to say goodbye. What could be accomplished with a back slap and a See ya in the male world required conversing, hugs, reassurances, and more talking with women.
Finally, Cassie disengaged from her friend, who headed inside with obvious reluctance.
“She could have come with,” he offered.
Cassie shook her head and walked beside him. “She really is tired. We’re not often out clubbing. Her stamina’s lacking. Thanks, though.”
“Want to catch a cab from here?”
She shook her head. “You said it’s just a few more blocks, right? I want to see the area a little.”
He took her arm to guide her around a good size crack in the sidewalk. Her skin was soft and warm, and he held on just a second longer than necessary. “How do you guys normally spend a Friday night, if you’re not out badly dancing?”
“Oh, the usual. Pillow fights in our underwear, practicing kissing on each other.” She grinned when he stumbled a little. “Sorry. I’ve got a smart mouth. My mother always told me it’d be the death of me some day.”
He hid a smile. “Yeah, you kind of do.”
She gaped at him a moment, then slugged him in the arm, then pulled back like she’d been burned. At her wince, he gently took the fist and rubbed his thumb over her fingers. That had to hurt.
“Okay, are you packing rocks in there?” She hissed in a breath, then let it out slowly when he took a chance and kissed the back of her hand. “That’s a little better,” she murmured.
“You should learn to pick on someone your own size.”
“Who, a fourth grader?” When he didn’t let go of her hand, she stared at their now-laced fingers a moment, then kept walking.
She went with the flow. He liked it.
“So what does a guy who hangs out in clubs, wears cute glasses, has biceps like boulders and takes random chicks with smart mouths for pancakes in the middle of the night do for a living?”
“Oh, just hanging out, looking good in glasses and taking random chicks out for pancakes. Throw in some weights and that’s about it.” He smiled at her eye roll. “Not a bad way to make a living.”
“Uh huh.” She stopped for a second, stepping off to the side to admire a shop window. The store behind was pitch black, but the window display of shoes was illuminated. And from the look on her face, she would have climbed in and rolled around in a pile of the things if she’d been able.
“Love,” she corrected. “Love shoes.” She popped one foot to the side and raised the leg of her jeans a little to show off her heel. “When you’re as short as I am, you learn to compensate.” After another fond gaze, she shook back her hair, then bent over at the waist. Surprised, Trey stepped back from the whipping hair and watched as she deftly arranged the long strands into some messy bun thing. “That’s better.”
Another hundred feet, and he opened the door to the diner for her. She paused for a moment, as if still weighing the pros and cons of going with him. He let the door shut again, still outside.
“You can head back. I’ll walk you to the lobby.”
Please don’t say yes. He’d do it, but it might kill him.
He wanted more time with her. Almost craved it. Needed to know if she could handle him without imagining him in his number sixteen jersey, and everything that went with it. Needed to know what she, Cassie, thought of him as a man.
“No. I’m good. We’re good.” With a brilliant smile, she reached over and opened the door herself, stepping through and giving him another minute of hope.