Chapter Two, Part 2
The one-hundred-strong Thunder Dome Crew filled the roped-off area on the lido deck, turning it into a sea of black and gold as far as Angie could see. What she couldn’t spot in the crowd was Colt Butler and Darius Washington, the latter of whom had promised her twenty minutes ago to drag the star linebacker down here by the ear if necessary.
The free watered-down drinks had kept everyone satisfied for the first few minutes, but the team’s superfans’ grumblings were getting louder with each passing minute. If she squinted she probably could still see Miami in the distance, making it too damn early for everything to go to shit. Her gut pinched and twisted as she worried her bottom lip, working it between her teeth until the metallic taste of blood hit her tongue.
Mystie, dressed not in a Thunder jersey but in an obviously expensive and custom-made black and gold Miami Thunder minidress, handed Angie a plastic cup of red sangria. Colt’s superfan had spotted Angie as soon as she’d crossed the velvet rope and had provided a running commentary about the team, the Thunder Dome Crew and Colt’s stats since then. The constant chatter had helped keep her from going nuts waiting for the opening mixer’s big draw.
“Take the edge off.” Mystie tapped the side of Angie’s cup. “He’ll show.”
The sweet wine with a hint of bitter went down way too easy. Another six of these and she won’t even care if she got the special events director promotion or not. “What makes you say so?”
“It’s Colt, he always comes through.” Mystie sipped her sangria, amazingly more relaxed when she wasn’t basking in number forty-five’s aura. “You’re solid.”
It would be nice to think so, but she doubted it. “If not, you’ll help me find cover when the Thunder Dome Crew riots, right?”
“I vote for over there by the margarita machine.” Mystie jerked her chin toward the machine dispensing neon-yellow chilled drinks.
Angie laughed for the first time since she’d proposed the Thunder fan cruise to Ian Garcia. “Deal.”
Suddenly, the air around them changed, became more charged, and then the whispers started. Colt 45 had arrived. As if they worked by osmosis, the fans started the Thunder Dome chant in one loud voice, with Mystie’s ringing out. “We will shock you, rock you, beat you in the Thunder Dome.” Then they stomped their feet twice in unison like a double crack of thunder.
Darius raised his fist in the air and let out a deep holler. Colt stood stock still, looking like the heroine in a bad slasher movie, all petrified round eyes and defensive posture.
“Oh shit.” Her stomach dipped to her toes. God, why hadn’t she realized it before? “He doesn’t like crowds, does he?”
Mystie shook her head. “Not even a little bit. That’s why he doesn’t do many appearances. He’s real shy, that’s why it’s important to take the lead in the conversation so he doesn’t have to. I have that part down in my notes.”
And he was Angie’s main draw. The player every one of the fans who’d paid out the wazoo to be on the cruise wanted to see. They’d want their pictures with him, want him to sign autographs and shoot the shit—and this small gathering of one hundred had him ready to bolt. She’d thought it had all been a pissy attitude on his part.
“How does he get in front of a stadium full of people to play every week?” she asked.
“No frickin’ clue.” Mystie shook her head and downed the rest of her sangria. “That’s one thing I haven’t come across in my research. However, I’ve studied the pictures and can tell you he dresses to the left and his favorite appetizer is cheese sticks dipped in Ranch dressing.”
Angie wasn’t even going to try to put together those two random factoids. She didn’t have time. Fans rushed Colt, gathering around him and Darius in a crowd three deep. The veteran glad-handed and joked around like a politician on the election trail. Colt gave it a go, but she could have spotted the uncharacteristic stiffness in his movements from space.
“This could get ugly fast.” She winced. There was no way she could just stand by and watch him go down. Not to mention that the cruise would circle the drain if she didn’t do something. She moved toward the excited mob of fans. “I better go rescue him.”
“Save me a spot up there.” Mystie shoved Angie forward. “I’ll be up as soon as I reapply my lipstick and fluff the girls.”
Angie surveyed the situation. Going straight through the scrum of fans wasn’t an option for someone her size. At most she came up to the majority of the fans’ shoulders. What she wouldn’t give for another three inches that didn’t involve putting on a pair of heels. She curled to the left of the crowd gathered around Darius and Colt, but it was ass to elbow there too. Raising up on her tiptoes, she could just see Colt over the fans’ heads, taking in his clenched jaw, tight shoulders and grim smile. Growing up in Miami, she’d seen alligators stuck in plastic mini-pools with cheerier expressions. There was no choice but to dive in and do her part to keep everyone happy.
“Excuse me,” she pushed forward. “Pardon me.”
Angie nearly drowned in the crowd as it ebbed and flowed like the ocean rocking the cruise ship. Two burly guys decked out in full Thunder gear pinned her between them and as they moved forward toward the players, she had little choice but to go with the flow and surge ahead with them.
“Hey!” she called out, but neither man seemed to realize what was going on.
Then the sea of people parted and Colt appeared in front of her, looking every bit like a man about to rip someone to shreds. If this was what opposing players saw on Sunday afternoons or Monday nights, it was no wonder they lost a yard or twelve.
Everyone turned and the Thunder twins scattered. Without them to hold her up, she dropped the two inches to the deck with a thunk.
He reached out but stopped short of touching her, hesitating with his hand in midair. “You okay?”
“Fine.” She glanced around, realizing everyone was staring and some were taking pictures with their phones. To cover the awkwardness of the situation, she plastered on her biggest I-got-this smile. “I was just coming to offer you some help.”
He grinned and held out a hand to her. “You gotta Sharpie?”
Ignoring the funny things his crooked grin did to her sense of composure, she pulled one out of her bag and handed it to him. Their fingers brushed and electricity jolted up her arm. That’s how it had been in Vegas—a live wire of attraction singeing them in the best way possible anytime they went near each other. She’d convinced herself that what had happened at the Sports America Awards a year ago was an aberration, but her body wasn’t as convinced.
He looked down at his hand and flexed his fingers before closing them around the Sharpie. “Thanks.” Colt turned, took a few steps and then looked back at her. “You coming?”
Angie nodded and fell in step behind him as he cut a path through the crowd. Her attention should have been focused on the fans, making sure everyone had settled and was having an experience worthy of the ticket prices. Instead, all she could think about was how many squats he must do to make his ass look that good in a pair of shorts—enough to make her mouth go dry, that was for sure.
If you missed earlier chapters, you can find it here!