From Emma Hart, the New York Times bestselling author of the Game series, comes a brand new series where the game is realer, the tension is tighter, the sex is hotter, and the stakes are the highest of all…
Two people. Two agendas. Two games.
What happens when the out-there It-Boy of football meets the secret It-Girl of fashion?
As the daughter of Hollywood’s sweetheart, Leah Veronica can’t even buy a coffee without finding her face on a magazine stand, so it’s no wonder she’s launching her first fashion line in secret. With it debuting at New York Fashion Week in just under a month, extra time in the spotlight is the last thing she needs.
The son of the best quarterback the league has ever seen, filling legendary shoes as the L.A. Vipers’ quarterback was inevitable for Corey Jackson. So was meeting Leah Veronica—the first girl to hand him his ass without putting a hair out of place.
Getting the handsome, prickly blonde into his bed becomes his number one goal. But getting the sexy, over-confident footballer the hell away from her becomes Leah’s—at least until she realizes the best way to do that is to give him what he wants.
If only it was that simple.
When Corey discovers who she is, and private photos of Hollywood’s finest find their way online, everything they thought they knew is thrown into disarray.
And when secrets are exposed and hearts are shattered, they have to figure out if they’ve been blindsided by love or reality, and if it’s worth running the extra yard to win the game they never meant to play.
Chapter One – Leah
“Run, dammit. Run!” I glance up from my drawing pad. “Go ahead, fumble it. Why wouldn’t you?” I lean back against the sofa. “And this is supposed to be good preseason form. Good, my ass!”
“Leah? Why are you shouting? Are we being attacked?”
I look over at my elderly aunt as she enters the front room, her cane clicking against the floor with each step. “No. It’s just the football. That’s all.”
“It’s the what? The wall?”
“Football,” I repeat, my eyes following the play on screen. “Are you wearing your hearing aid?”
“Oh!” She slides her hand into her pocket and removes the tiny device. “There,” she says as she fits it.
“Is it turned on?”
She fiddles with it. “It is now.”
I shoot her a fond smile. “Oh, go! Go!” I point my pencil at the screen. “Run, you useless—”
My mom interrupts me. “Shouldn’t you be working?” My mom interrupts me.
“Um, I am. Kind of.” I wave my pencil lamely in her direction and keep my eyes on the game.
She leans against the doorframe to remove her shoes. “I still don’t understand how you love football so much.” She sets them in the hallway then enters the front room.
“Butts,” Aunt Ada answers her. “It’s the butts, am I right, Lele?”
“Yeah, that’s it. I watch hours upon hours of football because of their butts. Hey!”
Mom waves the remote. “You have to get those designs submitted before Quinn sends you all your Fashion Week designs to finalize.”
“I know.” I swallow the bitterness that rises at the mention of New York Fashion Week. “It still sucks that I have to miss it.”
“You could be honest.”
“No.” I fill in some detail on the shirt on my pad. “I told you before. I want to be successful for my work, not because my mom is Hollywood’s sweetheart.”
“And I respect that, honey, but you should be there for your show.”
“Are they winning?” Aunt Ada butts in, perching on the sofa next to me. “What colors are they in?”
“Red and black, and”—I glance up—“yes, they’re winning. Only just.”
“Oooh, who’s that?”
“Corey Jackson,” Mom answers. “He’s the Vipers’ quarterback.”
“He’s a handsome young man, isn’t he?”
“Aunt Ada!” I snap my head up. “Are you seriously crushing on him? Don’t you have bingo or something to go to?”
She cackles. “Not tonight, dear. Where can I find him?”
“Oh my God!” I smack the pencil down and look at her. “You are not going cougar on me!”
Mom laughs. “He’ll be at the premiere tomorrow night. It’s a shame your bingo will interfere with that, Aunt Ada.”
“What? Since when?” I look at Mom.
“Since the invitations were sent out.” She fixes her blue eyes on me. “Have you listened to anything I’ve told you about the premiere?”
No. “I, er… Not exactly.”
“What? I’ve been real busy. Plus, I am not interested in being asked when my big acting debut is going to be. If I have to tell everyone one more time that there isn’t going to be one, someone’s gonna get hurt.” I raise my eyebrows and go back to my design.
Mom sighs, but it’s obviously fake. “You know the drill. Turn up, humor them, watch the movie, hang around for an hour. Then you can escape out of the back door.”
“Let’s swap,” Aunt Ada announces loudly. “I’ll go in your place, Lele. You can stay here and work.”
My eyes follow her line of sight to where Corey Jackson has a close-up on TV. “I hate to tell you this, but he puts out more than your friends on trash day.”
“He’s a young, handsome man. They all do.”
“What do you know about young, handsome men?” Mom scoffs, walking into the kitchen. She opens the fridge and pours herself a glass of white wine.
“I was young once, Grace. And I knew a lot of young, handsome men.”
“Whoa! Okay. TMI!” I shudder. “Let’s move on. Crap. What’s the time?”
Mom looks at her watch. “Six o’clock. Why?”
Dammit, I forgot to eat again. And dammit, I have to get dressed. I sigh. “Macey and Ryann are dragging me out for my birthday.”
“Remind Ryann that she has an audition tomorrow,” Mom says as I shut my sketchpad and get up.
“Sure.” I tuck it under my arm and head for the stairs.
“Did you eat dinner?”
“Are you lying to me, young lady?”
“Young lady? I’m twenty-two!” I holler down. “And no, Mom!”
I twist my bedroom door lock shut then dart into the bathroom. Reaching into the shower and turning the knob, I yell, “What was that? Sorry, the shower’s on!”
I’m so not getting away with that.
“My feet are killing me,” I groan, leaning against the bar. “This is why I don’t wear heels!”
“Nah, you’re fine. You just need another drink.” Ryann raps her knuckles against the top of the bar and flicks her hair. The bartender shoots down to us like a baby after candy. “Three tequila shots please.”
“Aw, shit,” Macey mutters. “Not tequila. Anything but the devil drink! That should only be drunk in the safety of my apartment.”
I hold the tiny glass in front of my face. “It’ll stop my feet hurting. I don’t give a shit.”
“I’ll remind you that you said that when you call me tomorrow with a hangover.”
“I promise I’ll drink some water before I go to bed. My mom will kill me if I’m hungover tomorrow.” I bring the glass to my lips and tip it back. “Holy shit.” The tequila lights a fiery trail from my throat to my stomach. “Another.”
Ryann smirks and throws my words back at me. “Your mom will kill you if you have a hangover tomorrow.” Ryann smirks and throws my words back at me.
“Fuck off.” I click my tongue. “It’s my birthday, which, by the way, I’ve spent working and watching my half-assed football team almost throw a game. If I say another tequila, I want another tequila.”
“Okay.” Ryann shrugs, waving the bartender over again. “Three more, and three margaritas.”
He nods and fixes the drinks. A few minutes later, they appear in front of us, and I grab my purse.
“This is my round.”
“Hell no!” Macey cries. “It’s illegal to buy your own drinks on your birthday.”
“She’s right,” a smooth voice with a hint of a Texas accent says from behind me. “At least it is in Texas.”
I spin on my seat and look into the devastatingly blue-green eyes of Corey Jackson. The very same man my seventy-five-year-old great-aunt was ogling on the TV earlier. And, okay. I get it. I totally get it. His dark hair curls over his ears, and his bright eyes are sparkling with the same smile that’s twitching at his lips. And he has that jaw—you know, the kind of jaw that makes you want to rub your fingers over it repeatedly? Yeah, that jaw.
He’s hot. The, er, tequila said so.
Smart, that tequila.
“Is that right?” I reply.
“Sure is.” The twitch of his lips morphs into a slow, sexy smile.
“I hate to remind you, but this is California.”
“Oh, I know exactly where we are. Where else am I going to be lucky enough to buy a drink for a girl like you?”
“Are you hitting on me?”
He rests his elbow on the bar in front of me and hands the bartender forty dollars between his fingers. “Does it sound like I am?”
“Is it supposed to? Because I’m sure Corey Jackson, L.A. Vipers golden boy, can find a thousand girls like me just by turning around.” I nod my head over his shoulder. “Oh, look. I just found you a bunch of them.”
Seriously, half the girls in this bar are in fan-girl mode. Or panty-dropping mode. I think they’re synonymous where he’s concerned.
He takes his change from the bartender, his smirk turning cocky. “Finally, a girl who recognizes me for more than what is under my shirt. Is this my lucky night?”
“If this is a lucky night, clearly California isn’t doing much for you.” I throw the tequila shot back.
“You could always tell me your name.” He puts a hand on the back of my chair, leaning toward me.
“God, I just I love it when guys act like they have no idea who I am. It’s so cute.”
“All right.” He holds his hands up briefly. “You got me, Leah Veronica. I’d recognize you a mile away.”
His eyes don’t move from mine. “It’s a beautiful name for a beautiful girl.”
“Really? You’re trying that one?” I raise my eyebrows. “It hasn’t worked on me since I was fifteen. Nice try though, cowboy.”
He laughs a deep, chesty rumble that makes my skin tingle. “You’re hard work, you know that, Leah?”
I seal my lips around my straw and have a sip. “Have you ever met my mom? I’m afraid it’s a Veronica thing.”
His eyes rove over my face, taking in every detail from my blond hair to my glossy, pink lips. “I have, yes, and I fully believe you. Do you always make it this hard for guys to pick you up?”
“No.” I meet his eyes once again and twist my lips in amusement. “I’m only this much of a pain when the guy is overly certain he can.”
“Touché.” He moves in a little closer. “How about we make a deal?”
“If you leave me alone, I promise not to yell at you next time you throw an interception?”
“There’s definitely something to be said about you shouting my name,” he murmurs in a husky voice, “but no. That’s not it.”
“Hit me. Hopefully you have better aim now than you did earlier tonight.”
He smirks. “If you give me your number, I’ll leave you alone. For now.”
“Here’s a better idea.” I curl my fingers around his collar and stand, bringing my face closer to his. “You realize I’m not interested and let me enjoy the rest of my birthday in peace.”
“Are you askin’ or tellin’ me?”
That drawl tingles across my skin, but I hold my ground. “I’m telling you.”
He covers my hand with his and pulls my fingers from his shirt. “You can enjoy your birthday all you like, Leah, but I don’t believe you when you say you’re not interested.”
I snatch my hand from his grip. “What do girls see in you?”
“The money, the name, the body…”
“Figures. It sure isn’t your charming personality.”
He winks. He fucking winks. “Happy birthday, Leah,” he says smoothly as he walks backward.
I shake my head and turn away. How does that guy get laid? Oh, yeah—that’ll be the sexy smile and smooth lines that work only on desperate fan-girls.
“Was that…Corey Jackson? The Corey Jackson?” Macey puts her hand on her chest.
“The Corey Jackson?” I snort. “What is he, a football legend?”
“He plays football?” She blinks at me.
“How the hell are we even friends?”
Ryann laughs. “Damn. He’s hot.” She licks her lips.
“He’s also the biggest serial dater in the league. In fact, I’m sure his dates are more like casual fucks. So yes, he’s hot—”
“Very hot,” I correct myself, my eyes flicking to the back of his head across the bar. “But he’s a total jackass.”
Apparently my eyes linger on Corey too long, because he turns, his own blazing bright. I blink slowly. I’ve never felt anyone’s gaze so intensely. His eyes are clouded with determination, a lusty heat flaring in their depths. His gaze tingles through my body the way his accent just did. I feel it right down to the tips of my toes.
How on Earth is he making me feel like I’m half naked in this bar full of people?
Macey continues. “You should have given him your number. That would have been cool.”
“This is Los Angeles,” Ryann butts in. “It’s not exactly a huge deal if some hot, rich guy has your number.”
“Precisely,” I mutter.
“But he’s not just some rich guy!” Macey argues. “He’s Corey Jackson. The Corey Jackson.”
“You didn’t even know he’s a football player until two minutes ago!” Ryann cries in disbelief.
“Mace, why don’t you go and get his number?” I ask snarkily. “I’m not interested in him. Got it?” I turn to the bar and wave my glass. “I’ll have another.”
I dig out a ten-dollar bill when bar guy brings it back, but he shakes his head.
“Mr. Jackson said all your drinks are on his tab tonight.”
My eyes crawl along the bar to the corner table where he’s sitting with two of his teammates. Corey raises his glass in my direction, and I purse my lips.
“Well, you tell Mr. Jackson thank you very much,” I tell him. Bar guy makes to move, but I lean over the bar, grabbing his arm, my eyes still on Corey. “But I am perfectly capable of purchasing my own drinks, his supposed Texas laws be damned.”
I slap my money in his hand, grab my drink, and turn without another word.
“I am not hungover.”
Aunt Ada turns just as I slide onto the stool and bury my face in my arms. “You’re not a bunger?” She frowns. “Whatever is a bunger?”
I open my eyes long enough to give her my best unimpressed look. “Never mind,” I mumble into my sleeve. “Water?”
“Horter? You’re making no sense, dear.”
“Ughhhh,” I groan. “Water. Wor-ter.”
“You’d like some water?”
“Well, you should have said that!”
I flick my eyes open once more then give up. Oh, tequila, you bitch. You utter bitch. Why did I let myself have more than five shots? Why did I let myself have anything at all?
“Grace is going to kill you,” Aunt Ada informs me, setting a glass of water and two pills in front of me.
“Sshhh. Don’t say her name. You might summon her.”
I sit up straight, wincing at the pounding in my head. Ah, shit. “Mary Poppins,” I tell Mom, discreetly slipping the pills into my mouth and swallowing them with a drink.
“Smartass,” she retorts, turning and studying me. “Did you have a good time last night?”
“Did anything…interesting happen?”
“Macey went home alone.”
Aunt Ada sniggers and places some French toast in front of me.
Mom’s lips quirk into a smile despite her fight to remain stony-faced. “I’m certain that’s more surprising than it is interesting. No, Leah. I meant with you.”
I shake my head slowly, chewing. “No. I’m boring.”
Her smile grows a little more, and she hands me the rolled-up magazine from under her arm. I frown and take it from her.
“You have it already?”
“Sasha dropped it by earlier.” She waves her hand dismissively.
Right. I went out last night. Of course her assistant was up at the ass crack of dawn to get the tabloids.
“Oh! Is that Corey Jackson?”
“What?” I shriek in response to Aunt Ada’s question and flip the magazine around.
Sure as hell, there we are—front page. The image shows him leaning down as I’m looking up. We look like we’re about to kiss. Oh holy mothercrapper.
“Something to tell me, honey? Do you have a date for tonight?”
I look at Mom, my jaw dropping. “No, I don’t! Oh my God. Is this for real?”
“Is he more handsome in real life?” Aunt Ada asks.
I ignore her. “Nothing happened. I swear. He is the last thing I need when I’m about to launch Lea V.!”
Mom’s smile drops, sadness hinting her eyes. “I know, honey, but you’re allowed to have a little fun.”
I blink at her quickly. “Okay, so I’m taking fun as ha-ha-giggle fun and not the oh-oh-sexy fun, because I’m pretty sure you are not supposed to tell me to do that.”
“I’d have fun with him if I were twen—forty years younger. Actually, twenty, too.”
“Aunt Ada! God!” I gasp, looking at her. “You can’t say things like that around me. You’re gonna scar me for life.”
“Char you for life? No, Lele. I’m not cooking you.”
“Can you please get her that damn hearing aid? And maybe a gag?” I rip some French toast off with my fingers and shove it in my mouth. How is a girl supposed to keep any sanity around here? “Oh, I have a headache.”
“Hmmm.” Mom sweeps past me, hitting me with a suspicious glance, and stops in front of Aunt Ada. She bends, fits the aid in Ada’s ear, then stands. “Is that better?”
“Lovely.” Aunt Ada turns and hands her a plate of French toast, too. But she gets a kiss.
“Hey, why didn’t I get a kiss on the cheek?”
“You refuse to tell me if Mr. Jackson is hotter in real life than he is on TV.”
I’m a little alarmed at the level of her obsession with him. “Yes, he’s hotter in real life, Aunt Ada. There. Are you happy?”
“Will you bring him for dinner? I’ll make lasagna.”
“We’re, er, not exactly dinner buddies.”
She looks at the front cover of the magazine pointedly. I snatch it from the table and dump it on the floor.
Mom rolls her eyes, grabs the magazine from the floor, and drops it back in front of me. “Leah? You need to go and shower. The stylists are here in an hour.” She tugs on a lock of my hair before grabbing my shoulders and spinning me toward the door. “And Ada? I’ll be sure to extend your dinner invitation to Corey this evening.”
Fantastic. Let’s encourage the crazy old bat. That’s exactly what the world needs.
About the Author
By day, New York Times and USA Today bestselling New Adult author Emma Hart dons a cape and calls herself Super Mum to two beautiful little monsters. By night, she drops the cape, pours a glass of whatever she fancies - usually wine - and writes books.
Emma is working on Top Secret projects she will share with her followers and fans at every available opportunity. Naturally, all Top Secret projects involve a dashingly hot guy who likes to forget to wear a shirt, a sprinkling (or several) of hold-onto-your-panties hot scenes, and a whole lotta love.
She likes to be busy - unless busy involves doing the dishes, but that seems to be when all the ideas come to life.
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