Author: Jaci Burton


Maybe he did know what was going on. Or maybe he just didn’t care.


Surely the man wasn’t that clueless. Had he been in on it the entire time? He and Liz worked closely together. He knew every time there was a promo op. Surely Liz had cleared this with Mick, so he had to have known.


Nausea bubbled up, and she palmed her stomach. The sun and the knowledge that Mick would use Nathan like that made her dizzy. She needed to sit down, but she refused to walk away, not when Nathan was so vulnerable.


Fortunately, the cameras soon moved away, and Tara could breathe again. She wanted nothing more than to grab her son and run like hell, but she was responsible for this event, and she wouldn’t let the foundation down. So she swallowed her anger and kept her focus for the remainder of the afternoon, making sure the rest of the event went off without a hitch.


When the last of the kids had piled back into the buses and everything was wrapped up, she grabbed Nathan.


“We’re leaving.”


Nathan frowned. “What? Why? Mick said we’d go out to eat.”


“Don’t ask questions. We need to go. Now.”


Mick was next to her in a second. “What’s wrong?”


She couldn’t even look at him. “I have to go. We have to go.”


He grasped her arm. “Tara. What’s the matter?”


She shook her head. “I need to get Nathan out of here.”


“Is something wrong?”


Her head shot up, and she could barely meet his gaze. “You know what’s wrong,” she whispered. “How could you do this?”


His eyes widened. “What the hell are you talking about?”


She shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about this.”


She moved away from the crowd of players and wives and girlfriends, taking Nathan with her. “Mom, what’s the matter with you? Why are we leaving?”


“We’re done here.” She was done here. She was done with Mick.


She passed by Elizabeth and saw the look of triumph on her face.


Yes. Liz had won. Finally. Tara was finished with Mick. With all of this.


MICK THREW HIS KEYS ON TOP OF THE TABLE NEAR THE front door, flopped into the chair, and grabbed the remote. He turned on the TV, needing background noise to drown out his own thoughts, because all he’d been able to think about for the past several hours had been Tara.


She’d been upset. Even more than upset. She was mad as hell. At him. And he had no idea why. He’d tried calling her cell. She wouldn’t answer, despite repeated attempts.


He drove by her house and rang her bell, but she wouldn’t answer, even though he knew damn well she was inside. Short of busting down the door, which he didn’t think was a very good idea, there wasn’t much he could do.


So now he sat here like a dumb-ass, flipping through channels and trying to figure out what the fuck he’d done to make her so mad.


They’d barely even had any time together today. She’d been busy all day with the event, and she’d done an incredible job. He’d been so proud of her, and so had Irvin Stokes, who’d come looking for her. Mick had made up an excuse for her, saying she was probably wrapping things up. Earlier in the day she’d been a little harried, but smiling and happy. And then boom—disaster. But he hadn’t said anything or done anything to make her mad at him. Not mad enough to storm off without an explanation or refuse to take his calls or answer the door.


He didn’t get it.


The news was on, and they had a report about the event. Mick clicked up the volume to hear Liz talking up the foundation. Mick saw himself, Nathan, and a few other kids behind Elizabeth while she talked about the kids. He leaned forward when Liz motioned toward Nathan, looked at him, then described the problems kids in the foundation had, from abuse to drugs to everything in between. And then Liz brought Nathan forward, then Mick.


What. The. Fuck. Liz might as well have hung a sign on Nathan and used him as a poster child for damaged children. And there Mick was, smiling and slinging his arm around Nathan, totally clueless about what Elizabeth had just done.


Son of a bitch. She’d used Nathan. Hell, she’d used him, too. And Mick would wager a year’s salary that Tara had seen it and thought he and Liz had cooked it all up as a promotion and even planned to use Nathan in it.


Fuck! He threw the remote across the room and stood, shoving his hand through his hair. He knew Liz was a master manipulator, but he’d never known her to go this far. He never minded her using him or an actress or model to get a good promo shot, but a kid? Oh, hell no.


He grabbed his cell phone and dialed Liz’s number. Even though it was late, he knew she would answer.


“What’s up?”


“Get over here. Now.”


She laughed. “I’m kind of busy here, Mick.”


“I don’t give a shit how busy you are. Get your ass over here.”


There was a pause. “Here being your place?”


“Yeah.”


“A problem?”


“You have less than an hour.”


“I’ll be right there.”


He continued to pace the living room, then decided he should fix himself something to drink, realizing he’d really like a shot of whiskey. His gut churned, and the need for alcohol made his hands shake.


He clenched his fists and took a deep breath, then went to fix a glass of iced tea.


He was on his second glass when Elizabeth knocked at the door. Glass in hand, he went to the door and opened it. She strolled in, hair pulled up, earrings sparkling in the overhead light of his living room. She had on some fancy dress and heels.


“You tore me away from a very important business dinner, honey. Now what’s wrong?”


“What the hell were you doing at the carnival today?”


She arched a brow. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Care to be more specific?”


He hit play on the news spot he’d recorded. Liz watched, then turned back to him. “Okay. So?”


“So? Are you kidding me? You used Nathan.”


She shrugged. “He was there. With you. It was convenient. One kid is just as good as another.”


Mick sucked in a deep breath, never as close to wanting to punch a woman in the face as he was right then. “Elizabeth. Listen very closely to me. You hurt Tara. And in doing so, you hurt Nathan. You put his face erroneously on national television without her permission and used him to promote me and the team. She’s furious. At me.”


“So? I’ve been telling you—and her—for months that it’s never going to work between the two of you. She just doesn’t get it.” She pointed at the television. “That was great promo. You with underprivileged kids. Great emotional angle. Come on, Mick. Awesome bonus points.”


He finally grabbed her arms, wanting to shake her so badly he had to grit his teeth to keep from doing so. “No, you don’t get it. She’s important to me. What you think—or want—isn’t. I love her. And if I lose her over this, you’ll regret it. Do you understand that, Elizabeth? Do you have any idea how much I hate you for what you’ve done? Right now you are about two seconds away from having your ass fired.”


He’d said the last two words loud enough to get her attention, because her eyes widened. “What?”


“Fucking fix this, Elizabeth, or you’re history. I’ve had it with you deciding what’s best for me and my career. You haven’t known what’s best for me for a long time now. If you had really known what was good for me, you’d have had your goddamn eyes open over the past couple months and seen what I needed.” He shoved her away from him. “You want to know what’s best for me? Tara is best for me. Nathan is best for me. They make me happy, something you obviously don’t understand, since you don’t have a goddamn heart.”


She’d gone pale, her normal snobbish bearing seeming to shrink.


Good. He didn’t give a shit how she felt.


“Get your ass out of my house right now. You have until tomorrow to figure out a way to fix this massive fuckup, or I will fire you. Do you understand?”


She nodded, rapidly blinking back tears as she grabbed her bag and headed for the door. “I got it. I’ll fix this, Mick. Don’t worry.”


He held the door open for her, and she hurried through it. He slammed it behind her with so much force the pictures on the wall rattled.


God, he’d never wanted to hurt someone more than he wanted to hurt Elizabeth. And he’d never once in his life laid a hand on a woman. But she’d infuriated him and messed with his life. And no one did that and got away unscathed.


Now he had to do something to repair the damage she’d caused.


Considerable damage. Maybe irreparable damage.


TWENTY


TARA SAT IN THE COOL DARKNESS OF HER LIVING ROOM, her knees pulled up to her chest, trying to keep the headache that had started last night from turning into a full-blown migraine.


Nathan, her thankfully oblivious son, had no idea what had set her off yesterday. And she wasn’t about to burst his bubble about Mick. Not just yet. Later, when she was stronger, when she’d shored up her defenses, she’d sit him down and explain to him that people sometimes weren’t who you thought they were, that sometimes they couldn’t live up to your expectations.


She would have to break her son’s heart. But her job as his mother was to hit him with the cold slap of reality and force him to step outside the bubble of fantasy that he—that they—had been living in for the past couple months. It was her own fault for trying to grab the brass ring, for thinking she could have it all— great career, great kid, great guy. She should have known it wasn’t possible.


Nathan had gone to the last preseason football game tonight. No reason to deny him the enjoyment of it, at least one last time. She’d given up her seat to one of Nathan’s friends, and the friend’s dad had taken them. He was spending the night at his friend’s house, so she had a reprieve. She hadn’t watched the game, didn’t even want to think about football right now.


She just wanted to hide out in the dark and not think. Unfortunately, all she’d been doing was thinking, and her mind was on overload. Was it too much to ask for a few hours of peace?


The knock at the door said that it apparently was too much to ask. She pushed off the chair and inched over to the door, determined not to open it if Mick was there.


No one was there. Huh. She pulled the door open and reached down to pick up the box that lay on her doorstep. It was too late at night for a delivery service, so someone must have hand delivered it. There was no name on the box other than hers. She closed and locked the door, brought the box into the living room, and grabbed her scissors to rip it open.


Inside was a DVD with an envelope on top. Scrawled across the top of the envelope in lovely penmanship was—Tara, Please Read Before Viewing.


She opened the envelope and pulled out a sheet of linen paper, opened it, and read the handwritten note.


Tara,


Sorry seems like such an inadequate word, but I hope the video helps. My humblest apologies for what I did to harm your son and you. I have no excuse for my behavior. I let my goals and ambitions blind me, and I hope someday you can forgive me. Please view the video. This will be on all the news channels tomorrow at the six and eleven broadcasts, as well as all the prime sports broadcasts. Print media will be given the story as well with photos and write-up.


Again, I’m deeply sorry.


Elizabeth


Tara gritted her teeth, dropped the note, and shoved the box to the side. She stood and walked into the kitchen to pour a glass of wine, her heart ramming double time against her chest.


The sheer balls on that woman to think she could send some flimsy apology and expect Tara would be fine with it. She didn’t care what was on that video. Nothing could erase what Elizabeth had done to Nathan and to her. She’d done it deliberately to embarrass Tara. Tara could handle anything Elizabeth dished out. She was an adult and could hold her own. But to bring her child into it was underhanded, dirty and uncalled-for, and utterly unforgivable.

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