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Chapter One, continued

Angie Keller’s mother was trying to kill her. Slowly. One pointed question about her love life at a time. She loved her family but some days, she wished she’d taken the job offer for the Tampa Breakers instead of staying close to home and working her ass off for a chance to prove her worth with the Miami Thunder. But she’d made her choice and had finally gotten her opportunity with this fan cruise. All she had to do was make sure everything went off without a hitch and she’d be a lock for the Thunder’s new special events coordinator.

The cruise ship’s horn blared, nearly knocking her out of her skin and her new suit from Bloomingdale’s clearance rack. Right on time, the last player’s limo pulled through the port’s gate and headed straight toward her spot at the entry to the VIP ticketing area. “Mom, I gotta go,” she said into her phone.

“Why?” her mother asked. “I thought the ship didn’t sail for another three hours.”

“Colt Butler’s limo just got here.” She watched its slow approach as the driver swerved around swaths of people in head-to-toe Thunder gear hauling their luggage to the main ticket holders’ entrance.

“A limo, huh?” Her mom had that hopeful tone in her voice—the one that wondered if this was the moment when Maria Keller’s youngest and only unmarried child would finally see the error of her ways and sink her talons into an unsuspecting future husband. “Is he cute?”

Only if she found tall, muscled, square-jawed Southern boys with slow accents who had a talent for giving multiple orgasms attractive. “No, Mom, he looks like a troll with a slobbering problem.”

“Listen to how you talk to your mother.” Her mom’s Cuban accent had gone from second generation to just off the boat in a heartbeat. Guilt, it seemed, required a thick and slightly fake accent. “All I want is for you to be happy and— Dios mío!” She gasped. “You shouldn’t lie to your mother.”

“Did you just Google Colt Butler?” She should have known showing her mom how to Google image search was a bad idea.

“He is very handsome.” Maria made a low mmmm-hhhmmmm sound that no daughter should ever hear her mother make. “And so tall.”

And a Miami Thunder player who I have to babysit for the next three days.” As an active player with impressive numbers before he’d been injured, Colt was the cruise’s main draw. Fans would be clamoring for the attention he was famous for withholding. It was her job to make sure that everyone walked away happy, not to go back for some twist-the-sheets seconds. “Anyway, I don’t date football players and you know it.”

Except for the one time with Colt in Vegas, and that didn’t exactly count as a date. Twelve hours of orgasmic insanity? Oh yeah. A date? Not even close. That’s what made it acceptable, if not repeatable.

“It’s not like your bosses don’t mix it up in the office,” her mom groused.

“Mom, shhhhh. I told you that in confidence. And the Garcia own the team, they can do whatever they want. The rest of us are strongly discouraged from dating players.”

“You take all the fun out of things.” She could practically hear the eye roll in her mom’s tone.

“No, I’m the one who has to hear the sob story from every Thunder front office assistant when she realizes the guy she thought was different was just another player.” Those were ugly times made better only by copious amounts of wine and chocolate. “No way am I going down that road.”

“Why can’t you see this as an opportunity?” her mom asked.

“It is an opportunity for my career.” One she wasn’t about to let go to waste. The limo pulled to a stop in front of her and she rose to her full height of five feet two inches, straightened her shoulders and inhaled a deep breath.

“You’re not getting any younger and I want grandchildren.”

All the air whooshed out of Angie in one big rush. “I’m twenty-eight, mom, my ovaries aren’t going to shrivel up anytime soon, and there’s more to me than a pretty face.”

Colt got out of the limo with a duffel bag big enough to stow a boy band member, hefted it as if it weighed nothing and headed toward her. Her nipples woke up and said hello with enthusiasm, making her grateful she’d insisted on wearing the suit jacket even in the Miami heat.

“I gotta go, Mom.”

“Fine. Go,” her mom said, adding in a healthy dash of long-suffering parent with every single syllable. “I’ll work on your Miami Cuban Singles profile while you’re gone.”

Answering would only prolong the misery of this conversation, so Angie told her mom she loved her and hit the End button as fast as humanly possible.

Colt “45” Butler looked big on her thirty-two-inch TV, but in person he was humongous. Sun-streaked blond hair, a day-old beard and shades, he ate up the distance between them in two long-legged strides. The damage she could do to him if he’d been any other man… Look but don’t touch, Angie girl. The cruise was going to be chaotic enough without adding personal drama to the mix. She was never going to talk to her mother before a big work event again. It gave her bad ideas.

Colt stopped in front of her and slipped of his sunglasses, revealing blue eyes that were tinged with red. Her pulse picked up speed. Showtime. 

“Mr. Butler, I’m Angie Keller. I’m going to be your VIP escort for the cruise.” She held out her hand, amazed it didn’t turn to ash under the heated intensity of his gaze.

#

The automatic doors parted, letting out the bone-chilling air conditioning commonplace in all indoor public spaces south of Orlando. The VIP entrance lay straight ahead. Whispers of “Look, it’s Colt 45” started as soon as they crossed the threshold. He tensed up, his shoulders practically touching his ears, but didn’t make a break for it. Because he could have cleared the lobby in about six seconds if he’d wanted, the fact that he adjusted his strides with her much shorter ones surprised her.

“You have your passport?” she asked as they approached the cordoned-off VIP area.

He nodded and winced.

“Perfect.” She sent up a silent plea that the obviously hungover Colt wouldn’t throw up all over a fan as soon as they set sail. Someone—probably several someones—would Tweet the hell out of that. Definitely not the type of publicity she hoped to get for the team. “We just need to go through here.”

The boarding area was arranged much like an airport security line, with a red rope separating general ticket holders from the VIP ticket holders, mainly the former Thunder players and their families. Only one person stood ahead of them in the VIP line and there was no way she was a former player. Tall, blonde, tan and wearing a bright-blue, low-cut tank top and skin-tight capris, the woman had Miami diva written all over her.

The blonde turned with practiced precision. “Oh my God!” Dogs in Tampa had to have heard the woman’s high-pitched squeal. “You’re Colt 45!”

Colt stood his ground but moved his ginormous duffel bag from his side to hanging directly in front of him, a semi-effective barrier if the woman launched herself at him. “Hi there.”

“Mystie, with a Y and an IE. I am your biggest fan!” The woman smoothed her long, straight blonde hair that even Miami’s humidity didn’t frizz back behind her ears before clapping her hands together. The woman could have been a supermodel and it was kind of hard not to stare. “When my dad said he had a VIP ticket to the cruise, you know I swiped it out of his hand before he could blink. And now I am talking to the Colt 45! Oh! My! God! I could get pregnant just from being this close to you!”

Angie’s brain couldn’t keep up. It was like watching her mom’s excitable Jack Russell in human form. Hopefully, Mystie was just as harmless, but she’d probably need to notify security just in case.

She scanned Colt’s face, looking for clues that he needed rescuing. The vein in his temple danced the conga and he might chip a tooth if he didn’t unclamp his jaw soon, but he didn’t look any more weirded out than her Uncle Jorge had been when a transplant New Yorker had served him a Cuban sandwich slathered with mayonnaise. If he needed rescuing from his biggest fan, he’d better learn to give off better signals.

They handed their passports and tickets to the attendant, who ushered them through the turnstile and onto the VIP gangway leading up to the ship.

“I am so excited for this cruise.” The blonde’s long legs matched Colt’s expansive stride. “Aren’t you just totally excited?” The woman turned and grinned at Angie. “Are you a fan too?”

Afraid the woman was going to wrap her in a bear hug, Angie held out her hand to the tall blonde. “Angie Keller, I’m with the team.”

“You are? How exciting to always be around all these strong men.” The woman took her hand in a firm grip and pumped up and down several times. “Mystie Ferrara.”

“As in Miguel Ferrara?” Now this was a coup. She glanced over at Colt to see if he was following the conversation.  “The city councilman leading the way for a vote on providing tax breaks for the Thunder’s new practice facility?” She said it slowly, hoping Colt would pick up the signal.

Even he had to get the message to amp up the friendly factor toward his biggest fan. Real estate in Miami was a blood sport and Mystie’s dad could make or break the deal for the practice facility. 

“One in the same.” Mystie nodded and led the way onto the elevator. She pushed the number fourteen. “What floor?”

Angie pushed the sixteen. “We’re so glad to have you on board.” She pulled a business card out of her purse and handed it to the other woman. “If there’s anything I can do to improve your cruise, please just let me know.”

“I will.” The blonde’s smile was genuine and friendly, if a little overenthusiastic. “I’m sooooooo excited to get to hang out with you for the next three days, Colt!”

The elevator doors opened on the fourteenth deck, home to suites with balconies, comped room service and in-room Jacuzzis. Mystie stepped into the hallway and turned to face the elevator, waving goodbye as the doors closed.

Slack-jawed, she turned to Colt. “Wow.”

“That’s one word for it.” He kept staring at the doors as if his superpower was making elevators move faster.

“Well…that’s awkward.” Angie looked for inspiration for something else to say in the garish purple, gold and green weave of the elevator’s wallpaper and came up with nada. “Is it always like th—”

The elevator’s ding as the doors slid open stopped her question. Well, that and the fact that Colt took off down the hall as fast as his namesake. Angie had to do a half skip, half jog just to keep up. He stopped at his door and she slammed right into him—either that or she ran into a brick wall camouflaged to look like Colt. Both would be about equally as big and hard, but only one smelled like sandalwood, soap and six feet, three inches worth of cannot have.

She reeled back, clutching her folder of paperwork tight when she should have been throwing her arms out for balance. Yet again, her poor choices did her in and she lost her sea legs and fell back, but jerked to a stop inches before her ass hit the floor.

Colt’s arm wrapped around her waist, holding her soft body close to every big, hard part of his. “You alright?”

“Fine,” she whispered over her pounding heart.

Her vivid imagination painting the picture they made, with her arched back and him curled around her as if they were performing the deepest dip in a tango. Her skin sizzled under his touch and warm desire washed over her as palpable as the folder clamped to her heaving chest.

His gaze dropped to her mouth and his pupils dilated. Everything went still—the ship, the people, her mother’s voice yelling in her head to kiss him already, all disappeared. He dipped his head lower. Her eyes fluttered shut and she parted her lips, more than ready for whatever happened now.

In the next heartbeat, her feet were both firmly planted on the carpet and the warmth of his arm around her waist evaporated. She blinked her eyes open in time to see him swipe his keycard across his room lock and open his door. Embarrassment burned her cheeks. So much for her decision not to play with the players.

He paused halfway inside his door. “Look, my head’s killing me, I’m going to be trapped on a boat for the next three days, and I’d rather be just about anywhere than here.” He rubbed his temples. “How about you give me a list of things I have to be at and leave me alone the rest of the time?”

“Okay…” She fumbled in her folder for his itinerary and the contact sheet.

He mumbled a thank you and shut the door in her face.

Angie stared at the gold-plated room number, amazed at his rudeness.

And this is why some hot guys shouldn’t talk—once they did, they ruined the whole sexy-as-sin thing they’d had going on before.

What a total shithead.

Good thing she didn’t have to like him to do her job and get the Thunder front office to realize what she could bring to the team. Brain already spinning with ideas to limit her contact with Colt, she spun on her heel and marched back to the elevator for the long ride down several decks to her small interior cabin.

If you missed part one, you can find it here!

Come back next week for more of HOT DARE!

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