I fall back onto my sofa, realizing the gravity of the situation. I’m going to be with this man several days a week. I’m going to move in with him in a few months. With a baseball hero. Me. How did this even happen?
My phone vibrates with a text.
Rylee: Are you ready for tonight?
I smile. Rylee and Murphy have taken me under their wings. They’ve both texted me a few times since our meeting Monday night. I get the idea they think I need protection. From what I’m not sure. The notoriety? The crazy fans? Sawyer?
Me: I think so. Are you at the game?
Rylee: No. My son is running a fever and I didn’t want to leave him with the sitter. But I just saw Sawyer score. He’s doing great.
Me: He is. I’m sorry to hear about your son. I hope he feels better soon.
Rylee: Thank you. Do you remember what to say?
Me: Yup. I had good coaches.
Rylee: Coaches. Haha. I like it. I’ll be by my phone all night if you need me. Just go to the bathroom and call me, or you could send a quick text. We’ve got your back.
Me: I hope I don’t have to take you up on it, but you never know. I’m kind of nervous, especially after hearing the announcers talk about him. He’s really really good. I’m way out of my league here.
Rylee: You’ll do fine. Just act natural. And, Aspen – Sawyer’s the one who’s out of his league. You are definitely too good for him and everyone knows it.
Me: Not Sawyer.
Rylee: You’re probably right, he doesn’t. But don’t take it personally. His ego is bigger than his bank account. But underneath it all, he’s a good guy.
Me: I hope you’re right. I saw a glimpse of that guy when we first met.
Rylee: You’ll see him again. I’d bet on it. Good luck tonight. If I don’t talk to you, call me tomorrow. I want to know everything.
Me: Won’t Brady be in the bar with me?
Rylee: I promise you his version of tonight and your version will be miles apart. I’ll need details. Maybe we could do lunch.
Me: I’d like that. I’ll call you tomorrow.
Rylee: Sounds good.
I watch the rest of the game, wishing Bass were here to keep me company. He went out with some of the guys from fire school. I’m glad he’s out living life and making friends. Real friends, not fake ones like the ones I’m making. Not ones who will be gone in six months when I’m no longer under the employ of Sawyer Mills.
I check my makeup again before leaving. I look down at my clothes, worried that I’ve worn the wrong thing even though I followed Murphy’s recommendation. I’m not sure why I’m so nervous. This isn’t a date, it’s a business deal. I need to act like a professional. Like my life depends on it, because although it doesn’t, Denver’s just might.
The bar is only a few blocks over, and I enjoy some people-watching on my way. Despite the late hour, the streets are well lit. And even though we live in a safe neighborhood, I don’t take my hand off the mace in my purse.
I stand outside the bar, staring at the marquee over the door, knowing this is just the beginning. Knowing I’ll have to play this part and be someone I’m not for the better part of a year.
“You going in?” a guy asks, trying to hold the door open for me.
“Well, when you do, I’d be happy to buy you a drink,” he says. “That is, unless you’re meeting someone here.”
“I, uh … no, I’m not meeting someone. But I’m not sure, um … ”
Oh, God. I’m blowing this already and I’m not even through the door.
He holds his hand out. “I’m Conner.”
“Aspen,” I say, shaking his hand.
“Great name,” he says. He nods to the door. “Come on, I promise I don’t bite.”
I search my mind for something to say when my hand touches my phone in my purse, giving me an idea. I pull my phone out. “I’m waiting for a call and it’s too loud in there.”
“Okay, but the offer stands. Nice to meet you, Aspen.”
He goes inside, followed by a few more patrons, and I lean against the brick wall next to the door. Why did I think I could do this? I can’t even act naturally with a total stranger who has nothing to do with this.
My phone vibrates.
Murphy: Good luck! Call me tomorrow. I need details.
I smile at the text. I really like Murphy and Rylee. Despite the fact that I’m a hired actor, they are treating me like a friend.
Me: Thanks. Going in now.
I tuck my phone away, take a deep breath, and open the door.
The place is dark and not as loud as I thought it would be. I guess that’s because it’s Wednesday night. There are a few big-screen televisions in the corner and several groups of people sitting in booths. The bar is a large square in the center of the room and I immediately spot Sawyer among a group of guys at one end. I walk to the opposite side of the bar and find an open seat.
“What can I get you?” the bartender asks.
“A glass of the house Chard,” I say.
“Coming right up,” she says.
I laugh inwardly, because I realize out of habit I ordered the house wine. I ordered the cheap stuff despite the fifty-thousand dollars that showed up in my bank account the other day. But old habits die hard. And, besides, the money is not for me. It’s for Denver. It’s for Juilliard. It’s so the two of us can have the future we always planned.
I pull out my wallet when the bartender puts my wine in front of me. She holds up a hand to stop me. “Don’t bother, Dark and Dangerous across the bar took care of it.”
Here we go.
I look up, prepared to nod and smile at Sawyer to thank him for the drink, but when I do, my stomach flips over. It’s not Sawyer who is toasting me with a raise of his glass, it’s Conner, the guy I met outside. The guy sitting right next to the man I’m supposed to ‘meet’ tonight.
I know the smile on my face is awkward. I look from Conner to Sawyer and see Sawyer shaking his head. He’s pissed that someone beat him to the punch. We lock eyes for a half-second, both of us trying to figure out how to get out of this.
I see Caden and Brady among his group of friends. Brady gives me a reassuring nod.
I make some idle conversation with a few ladies sitting at the bar next to me. They obviously know who the guys are as they are planning which one each of them will go home with. I roll my eyes, but then I think maybe I can use this to my advantage.
“Do you think you could help a girl out?” I ask them.
One of them shrugs. “What do you mean?”
“The guy across the bar, the one with the red shirt on, he sent me a drink. But I’m not interested. I don’t want to hurt his feelings. I’ll buy your next round if you’ll … distract him for me.”
They look at me like I’m crazy. “Don’t you know who that is?” one asks.
“Don’t know, don’t care,” I say nonchalantly.
The redhead loosens a button on her blouse, showing more cleavage than she already was. “No problem. We’re good at distraction. And the guy’s name is Conner. The one sitting next to him is Sawyer,” she says in disgust. “Then there’s Spencer, Brady, Caden, and – who’s that other one, Carly?”
“Benham,” Carly says. “He’s a rookie.”
“You seem to know them pretty well,” I say.
“Just the one. Sawyer,” she says. “I know him very well. Well, his body anyway. We hooked up once. He’s an asshole. Left before I woke up. Didn’t leave a note or anything – just a catered breakfast. I hear he does that for all his girls.”
“He does?” I ask in disgust.
“Yeah. He’s the one-hit-wonder,” Carly says.
I almost spit out my sip of wine. “That’s what you call him?”
The redhead nods. “He never sleeps with anyone more than once.”
“What about you?” I ask Carly. “Have you been with him?”
“Not yet,” she says, rising off her barstool. “But there’s no time like the present.”
Oh, crap. I realize a bit too late that by sending them over to Conner, I’m sending them over to Sawyer.
“Why would you want to sleep with him knowing what he will do?”
We all look over at him to see him watching us.
“Who wouldn’t want to sleep with that?” she says. “I mean, look at him. And he’s got to pick someone sometime, right? Why not me? Maybe he’ll knock me up.”
“Oh, my God, you can only hope,” the redhead says. “Could you imagine?”
The girls squeal giddily.
I want to stick my finger down my throat.
“Have the drinks sent over to us,” Carly says. “That way, they’ll think other guys are interested.”
I watch them wiggle their asses and toss back their hair as they make their way around the bar. I order their drinks and then I sit back and watch what happens.
The redhead goes up next to Conner while Carly tries to get Sawyer’s attention. He ignores her, but she’s persistent. He calls one of his friends over and whispers something to him and then the friend strikes up a conversation with Carly.
Sawyer looks at me and shakes his head laughing. This is not how either of us planned for this to go.
He holds up a finger, asking me to wait for something. Then he turns to watch Conner and the redhead as they talk, laugh and eye-fuck each other. After a few minutes, Sawyer leans in and asks him something. Conner nods before he pulls the redhead even closer.
Sawyer calls the bartender over and motions to me. He’s sending me a drink.
The bartender laughs, putting another glass in front of me. “I don’t know what game you’re playing here, but it’s working.”
I smile and raise my glass, locking eyes with Sawyer. He smiles and toasts me back.
He excuses himself and heads to the bathroom. I want to follow him, but I think maybe that would be too obvious, so I stay put. A minute later, I feel warmth behind me and the hair on my arms stands on end.