This Heart of Mine (Chicago Stars #5)(15)


by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

"Fabulous game, Kevin."

"Kevin, querido, over here!"

"You were awesome! I'm hoarse from screaming!"

"Were you excited when you took it in? God, I know you were excited, but how did it really feel?"

"¡Felicitación!"

"Kevin, chéri!"

Charm came easily to Kevin, and he flashed his smile while he untangled himself from all but two of the most persistent.

"You like your women beautiful and silent," his best friend's wife had said the last time they'd talked. "But most women aren't silent, so you home in on foreign babes with limited English. A classic case of intimacy avoidance."

Kevin remembered giving her a lazy once-over. "Is that so? Well, listen up, Dr. Jane Darlington Bonner. I'll be intimate with you anytime you want."

"Over my dead body," her husband, Cal, had responded from across the dinner table.

Even though Cal was his best friend, Kevin enjoyed giving him a hard time. It had been that way since the days he'd been the old man's resentful backup. Now, however, Cal was retired from football and beginning his residency in internal medicine at a hospital in North Carolina.

Kevin couldn't resist needling him. "It's a matter of principle, old man. I need to prove a point."

"Yeah, well, prove it with your own woman, and leave mine alone."

Jane had laughed, kissed her husband, given their daughter, Rosie, a napkin, and picked up their new son, Tyler. Kevin smiled as he remembered Cal's response when he'd asked about the Post-it notes he kept seeing on Ty's diapers.

"It's because I won't let her write on his legs anymore."

"Still at it, is she?"

"Arms, legs—the poor kid was turning into a walking scientific notebook. But it's gotten better since I started tucking Post-its in all her pockets."

Jane's habit of absentmindedly jotting down complex equations on unorthodox surfaces was well known, and Rosie Bonner piped up.

"Once she wrote on my foot. Didn't you, Mommy? And another time—"

Dr. Jane pushed a drumstick into her daughter's mouth.

Kevin smiled at the memory, only to be interrupted as the beautiful Frenchwoman on his right shouted over the music. "Tu es fatigué, chéri?"

Kevin had a facility with languages, but he'd learned to keep it hidden. "Thanks, but I don't want anything to eat right now. Hey, let me introduce you to Stubs Brady. I think you two might have a lot in common. And—Heather, is it?—my buddy Leon has been watching you with lascivious intent all evening."

"What kind of tent?"

Definitely time to shed a few females.

He'd never admit to Jane that she was right about his preference in women. But unlike some of his teammates, who paid lip service to the notion of giving all they had to the game, Kevin really did. Not only his body and mind but his heart as well, and you couldn't do that with a high-maintenance female in your life. Beautiful and undemanding, that's what he wanted, and foreign women fit the bill.

Playing for the Stars was everything that mattered to him, and he wouldn't let anybody get in the way of that. He loved wearing the aqua and gold uniform, taking the field in the Midwest Sports Dome, and most of all, working for Phoebe and Dan Calebow. Maybe it was the result of a childhood spent as a preacher's kid, but there was honor in being a Chicago Star, something that couldn't be said for every NFL team.

When you played for the Calebows, respect for the game was more important than the bottom line. The Stars weren't the team for thugs or prima donnas, and during the course of his career Kevin had seen some brilliant talent traded because those players hadn't measured up to Phoebe and Dan's standards of character. Kevin couldn't imagine playing for anyone else, and when he no longer got the job done for the Stars on the field, then he'd retire to coaching.

Coaching the Stars.

But two things had happened this season to jeopardize his dreams. One was his own fault—the crazy recklessness that had hit him right after training camp. He'd always had a reckless streak but, until now, he'd restricted it to off-season. The other was Daphne Somerville's midnight visit to his bedroom. That had done more to jeopardize his career than all the skydiving and dirt-bike racing in the world.

He was a sound sleeper, and it hadn't been the first time he'd awakened in the middle of making love, but up until then he'd always chosen his partners. Ironically, if it hadn't been for her family connections, he might have thought about choosing her. Maybe it was the appeal of forbidden fruit, but he'd had a great time with her. She'd kept him on his toes and made him laugh. Although he'd been careful not to let her see it, he'd found himself watching her. She moved with a rich girl's confidence he'd found sexy. Her body might not be flashy, but everything was in the right place, and he'd definitely noticed.

Even so, he'd kept his distance. She was the boss's sister, and he never fraternized with women connected with the team—no coaches' daughters, front-office secretaries, or even teammates' cousins. Despite that, look what had happened.

Just thinking about it made him angry all over again. Not even a hotshot quarterback was more important to the Calebows than family, and if they ever found out what had happened, he was the one they'd be coming after for explanations.

His conscience was going to force him to call her soon. Just once to make certain there hadn't been any consequences. There wouldn't be, he told himself, and he wasn't going to worry about it, especially now, when he couldn't afford any distractions. On Sunday, they were playing in the AFC Championship, and his game had to be flawless. Then his ultimate dream would come true. He'd be taking the Stars to the Super Bowl.

But six days later his dream was snatched away. And he had no one to blame but himself.

By working day and night, Molly finished Daphne Takes a Tumble and put it in the mail the same week the Stars lost the AFC Championship. With fifteen seconds left on the clock, Kevin Tucker had refused to play it safe and thrown into double coverage. His pass was intercepted, and the Stars had lost by a field goal.

Molly fixed herself a cup of tea to ward off the chill of the January evening and took it over to her worktable. She had an article due for Chik, but instead of turning on her laptop, she picked up the legal pad she'd left on the couch to jot down some ideas she had for a new book, Daphne Finds a Baby Rabbit.