She watched him walk away, realizing how fast he was growing up. Time was so fleeting. Nathan sat at a table with Mick’s cousins, his laughter ringing out and so easily discernible even over this noisy crowd. God, she loved her son so much.
“It’s beautiful, Tara. Breathtaking. Thank you.” Kathleen came up to her and hugged her, her eyes filled with tears.
“You did good, girlie,” Jimmy said, grabbing her into a bear hug. “You made Kathleen cry happy tears.”
Tara laughed. “Jenna helped me out with photos of your wedding. You were such a beautiful bride, Kathleen. And you look just as lovely today.”
Kathleen’s cheeks turned pink. “Now don’t be silly. I’m a little older.”
“But still as sexy as the day I married you,” Jimmy said, sweeping Kathleen up in his arms and planting one hot kiss on his wife.
Tara made a discreet exit as Jimmy took his wife out onto the dance floor. The band struck up and started playing some rocking seventies music, which got most of the crowd boogying their way onto the dance floor.
Tara made her way over to the bar where she naturally found Jenna, who seemed out of sorts standing on the other side of it. But Kathleen had insisted her daughter not work tonight and instead enjoy the festivities.
“Don’t know what to do with yourself?”
“No. And she made me wear a damn dress.”
“You look incredible. The dress is beautiful on you.” A summery silk dress that fit Jenna’s slender body so well, it was a multiple print halter that showed off some of Jenna’s tattoos. She’d even worn heels.
Jenna wrinkled her nose. “I suppose it’s okay to dress like a girl now and then. Hard to fend off my idiot brothers if they want to play tackle football though.”
“I doubt they’ll do that tonight. I think you’re safe.”
She laughed. “You’re probably right.”
“And you might want to dance.”
Jenna shrugged. “Doubtful. I’d rather be flipping the tops off beers.”
“So no guy has caught your eye?”
“I get my fill of these moronic, beer-swilling jocks at the bar. Don’t need to dance with any of the brainless twits.”
Tara could tell Jenna had no love for any of Mick’s or Gavin’s friends.
“Anyway,” Jenna said, lifting her glass of wine to Tara. “Success. You did it.”
Tara nodded. “It looks that way. And you did a lot of the work, too.”
Jenna waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “I did nothing but toss you the guest list, some pictures, and suggest a few spots that could hold this crazy crowd.” Jenna turned to her. “You’re really good at this.”
Tara laughed. “Thanks, Jenna. I do love my job.”
“Maybe there’s hope for my brother yet. I was beginning to wonder, since all he ever dates are bimbos.”
“I think those were mostly public relations setups.”
Jenna took a sip of her wine. “Uh-huh. That what he told you?”
Tara turned to her. “Yes.”
“Well,” Jenna said with a wry grin. “Okay then.”
Tara pondered Jenna’s comments after Jenna had slipped away to talk to her mother, wondering what she’d meant by them. Had Mick’s relationships with some of the women he’d been photographed with been more than just photo ops and public relations stunts?
She knew he had a reputation as a bad boy lady-killer, but assumed that was all PR, too.
“Nice party. You do good work.”
Elizabeth Darnell. The perfect person to ask that question of, since she was Mick’s agent, but no way could she, or would she, ask.
“Thank you. You look beautiful. Not working tonight?”
Elizabeth arched a perfect brow. “Now why would you ask that?”
“You’re in a dress, not a suit.”
Elizabeth laughed. “I’m always working, honey, no matter what I wear. I just have to dress to suit the occasion.”
And Elizabeth was dressed impeccably in a tightly fitting black strapless cocktail dress that wrapped around her incredible body, and designer shoes with shiny crystals across the straps that called attention to Elizabeth’s perfectly manicured toes and exceptional legs. “So you’re meeting clients, then?”
“Mick and Gavin are my clients, as well as a couple other men in attendance here.”
“Gavin isn’t really just a client for you, though, is he?”
Tara read the shock in Elizabeth’s eyes, but she masked it right away. “I don’t know what you’re implying.”
“Oh, I saw the way you looked at him at his birthday party. You have a thing for him.”
“Gavin is my client. I treat all my clients like they’re special.”
“I’m sure you do. But the way you look at Gavin is different.”
“I don’t look at him any special way. What are you talking about?”
Her normally cool demeanor was ruffled, Tara could tell. She was wondering what it would take to knock some of the ice chips from Liz’s heart. Maybe she wasn’t as cold as Tara thought.
Tara shrugged. “I’m a woman. I see things.”
Elizabeth crossed her arms. “What things?”
“The warmth in your eyes when you look at him. A certain yearning. It’s not there when you look at other men.”
Now there was fear in her eyes. If Tara didn’t think Elizabeth was a giant pain in the ass, she’d almost feel sorry for her.
“You’re imagining things, Tara. Gavin is a great client who makes me a ton of money. You know what you see in my eyes when I look at him? Dollar signs. I do whatever it takes to make my players happy.”
“I see. So really, nothing is ever downtime for you, is it?”
“There’s always work to be done.” Elizabeth slipped her arm in Tara’s and led her toward the back of the ballroom. “And speaking of work, let’s talk about Mick.”
This should be interesting.
Elizabeth led her out the door and into the garden. The night was warm, but fortunately not hellishly so. Elizabeth walked over toward the fountain where a string of lights highlighted her red hair, which was expertly pulled up in what Tara decided had to be her trademark French twist. Pieces had been pulled down to frame her face. Elizabeth turned to Tara and smiled, but it was a calculating smile.
“Okay, Elizabeth, you got me out here. What about Mick?”
“I like Mick’s off time to be put to good use.”
“Which means what, exactly?”
“Charitable foundations, public events, premieres, galleries, anything where he can be seen and photographed. It’s good for his image and for the team.”
“And you think his relationship with me is getting in the way of that.”
“I’m glad you see things my way.”
“I’m not saying I agree with you, Elizabeth. I’m just saying I understand your meaning. I’m certain Mick can choose to do whatever he wants.”
Elizabeth didn’t frown, but Tara saw the flash of anger in her eyes. “Look, Tara. I’m sure he’s having a wonderful time with you and your son, but the appeal is going to wear off eventually, and he’ll move on. He’ll miss the glamour, the parties, the fun and excitement that he’s used to.”
Tara shrugged, refusing to let Elizabeth get to her. “And if he does, then I guess he will move on. That’s his choice to make when and if that happens. Or rather, it’s our choice to make as far as our relationship. Or do you expect me to kick him to the curb now in order to spare myself the heartbreak later?”
“He’ll leave you eventually.”
Tara refused to rub the ache in her stomach where Elizabeth’s words had created a hole. “So you say. And maybe he won’t. Maybe I can offer him something he can’t get anywhere else.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Tara, you don’t have enough to hold him, and he’s way too much of a playboy to settle down. You carry too much baggage and he can’t handle it. It’s only a matter of time. You should get out now before he hurts you. You have your son to think about, after all.”
What a bitch. No wonder she was so good at her job. She knew right where to stick the knife. “I think my relationship with Mick is none of your business.”
Now her eyes narrowed. “You don’t want me to make it my business.”
“You already have. Butt out.”
Elizabeth opened her mouth to speak, then shut it, the anger leaving her expression and a bright smile replacing it. Tara could guess why.
“Hey, there you are. I’ve been hunting you down and couldn’t figure out where the hell you’d disappeared to.”
Tara turned, already figuring out Mick had showed up. “Hi, there.”
He cast a worried gaze between her and Elizabeth. “What are you and Liz doing out here?”
Elizabeth strolled past, a plastic smile on her face. She patted Mick’s arm. “Girl talk, sweetie. I was complimenting Tara on what a wonderful job she did on your parents’ anniversary party.”
Mick relaxed his shoulders and cast a warm gaze at Tara. “She’s wonderful, isn’t she?”
Elizabeth kissed Mick on the cheek. “A peach.” She winked at Tara as she walked through he door. “We’ll talk again later, Tara.”
Mick’s gaze followed Liz, then he turned back to Tara. “What was that all about?”
Tara didn’t need Mick to intervene on her behalf, and the last thing she wanted was to cause friction between him and his agent. Elizabeth didn’t like her. So what? Tara could handle it. And if Elizabeth was right about Mick, then there was nothing she could do about it, was there? “Just chatting about the party and football. And you, of course.”
“Was she giving you a hard time?”
“Nothing I can’t handle. So, are you having fun?”
Tara frowned. “Why not?”
“Because I couldn’t find you. Where’ve you been?”
“I’m the event planner, remember? Trying to make sure everything’s in place, and seeing that everyone is having a good time.”
His lips lifted. “My parents are having a good time, which is all that matters. Thank you.”
Silence stretched between them, and she hated it. “Mick ...”
He took her hands in his. “Let’s sit down.”
He led her to the stone bench near the fountain, then sat next to her. She half turned to face him.
“Tell me what’s bothering you, Tara.”
“Nothing’s bothering me, other than me needing to apologize to you.”
He cocked his head to the side. “For what?”
“For blaming my failures—and Nathan’s—on you. I was a mess the other day when Nathan got drunk. I wasn’t there when it happened, and for some reason I felt I should have been.”
He rubbed her hand with the pad of his thumb. “So now you’re supposed to be psychic?”
She sighed. “I don’t know. This parenting thing is hard. And doing it by myself all these years has been even harder. Sometimes I fail. A lot of times I fail.”
“Guess what? Even two-parent families fail. No one’s perfect at raising kids.”
She took a glance through the doors at Mick’s parents, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes as they slow danced. “Some manage to get it right without screwing up.”
“You think my parents raised perfect kids?” He tilted his head back and laughed, then got serious again. “I think there are a few things you need to know about me, Tara. I’m not perfect. Never have been and never will be. I made mistakes when I was young. I messed up. Bad.”
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