Playing it Cool (Book #2: Sydney Smoke Rugby Series) by Amy Andrews. eBook, 163 pages, Published September 12, 2016 by Entangled Publishing, ISBN: 1633757501
Harper Nugent might have a little extra junk in her trunk, but her stepbrother calling her out on it is the last straw… When rugby hottie, Dexter Blake, witnesses the insult, he surprises Harper by asking her out. In front of her dumbass brother. Score! Of course, she knows it’s not for reals, but Dex won’t take no for an answer. Dexter Blake’s life revolves around rugby with one hard and fast rule: no women. Sure, his left hand is getting a workout, but he’s focused on his career for now. Then he overhears an asshat reporter belittle the curvy chick he’d been secretly ogling. What’s a guy to do but ask her out? It’s just a little revenge against a poser, and then he’ll get his head back in the game. But the date is better than either expected. So is the next one. And the next. And the heat between them…sizzles their clothes right off. Suddenly, this fake relationship is feeling all too real…
Dexter Blake liked a woman with some junk in her trunk. And the tall, curvy chick on the sidelines was packing a whole lot of booty. She had one of those itty-bitty waists, too. And her cups floweth’d over.
Staring at her chest was practically a religious experience.
Unfortunately, she only had eyes for Chuck Nugent, the pretty boy sports reporter for Channel Five. He was currently doing his sycophantish spiel on the field, a cameraman following him around as he interviewed the players still milling around for their obligatory post-match interviews.
She was impatient for his attention, too, if her pacing was anything to go by.
As far as Dex was concerned, she could keep pacing. Watching everything jiggle was the cherry on the top of his pie tonight. There was nothing better than winning a hard-fought game of rugby union. But watching a fine-looking woman strutting her stuff came a very close second.
“I’d say don’t look now, booty at six o’clock, but I can see you’re ahead of me.”
Dex smiled at Tanner Stone, the captain of the Sydney Smoke and his good mate, as he pulled up beside him then dropped at the waist to stretch out his hamstrings.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Hey, Dex,” Bodie Webb said as he pulled up on the other side. “Your kinda ass on the sideline.”
A low whistle came from behind them. “I hope you’re planning on hitting that, Dex,” Lincoln Quinn murmured as he also appeared, casually waving at some teenage girls hollering at him from the dispersing crowd.
Dex chuckled. “Since when did you all turn into pimps?”
Linc clapped him on the back. “Just lending a hand.”
“Thanks. I can get my own ass.”
And, sadly, as much as sideline-chick ticked every box, her ass was off-limits. One look at her told him she was the kind of girl a guy loved. Got into a relationship with. The kind he married. Made babies with.
She was the commitment type.
Over a decade of avoiding romantic entanglements had alerted Dex to the signs, and this woman had I don’t do casual written all over her.
And he didn’t do commitment. His career came first. He’d fought hard for his place on the team, and at thirty, he probably only had a few good years left. He couldn’t afford to take his eyes off the ball for a second. He knew how easy it was to lose everything. To have it all go to shit when you least expected it.
He was never going back to Perry Hill.
There would be time for commitment later. Rugby was it for now.
“But you don’t,” Tanner said.
“Just because I don’t walk around with a permanent hard-on like Linc—”
Everyone ignored Linc’s half-hearted protest. The cocky back rower wore his horniness like a badge of frickin’ honour. “—doesn’t mean I go without.”
And if he did—it was none of their damn business.
Chuck finished his interview with the skipper of the losing team and, spotting Tanner, headed toward them.
“Christ,” Dex said. “Dickhead approaching.”
Tanner sighed. “Best to just think of our contracts and smile for the camera.”
“Ooh, helllllo,” Bodie purred. “She’s on the move, too.”
Dex’s gaze flicked to the woman again, tracking her progress as she hurried after Chuck. Her hips swung enticingly and her chest moved interestingly beneath her T-shirt.
Christ, it was a turn-on.
“Chuck,” she called, hurrying to catch up with him.
Idiot. Dex would never let a woman trail behind him like that. Not when she could walk in front and he could check out her luscious ass.
“What in hell does she see in that guy?” Bodie asked.
Dex had no idea, but the urge to throttle the smarmy reporter—something that was never far from the surface—spewed like the sudden rush of a geyser in his chest.
“Chuck,” she called, louder this time, almost caught up with him.
Dickhead stopped. Turned. Then glared before looking around him as if he was embarrassed. He hissed, “What the fuck, Harper?” He’d kept his voice low, but the edge of fury carried it farther than Dex was sure Chuck would have liked.
“I told you to stay in the stands, not embarrass me by running onto the goddamn field in a pair of jeans you’ve barely managed to squeeze your lard ass into. I have a certain image to maintain, and it does not involve being followed around by fat chicks.”
Dex’s jaw clamped tight as the hackles rose on the back of his neck. Fat chick? He could see the stain of red creeping up her neck from here, and the spewing geyser in his chest turned viscous, like lava.
“God, he’s a fuckwit,” Bodie whispered.
“Excuse me,” Dex growled.
Lava burning in his chest, he strode purposefully toward Chuck and the woman, who was hissing something back at the reporter Dex couldn’t quite hear. He was sweaty and dirty and every damn muscle bitched at him, but Dex paid none of it any heed.
The urge to deck the smarmy front man rode him hard, but by the time he pulled up beside Chuck, Dex had another plan.
A better plan.
One that involved less potential penalty. And more potential booty.
“Hey, Chuck,” he said, forcing himself to smile as he clapped the reporter hard on the back. It was satisfying to hear a strained, involuntary cough from the man.
“Oh Dex, hi,” Chuck said, sleazy smile in place, turning as if he were trying to block the woman from Dex’s view.
No chance with those puny coat hanger shoulders.
“Great game tonight,” Chuck enthused. “If you could just give me thirty seconds, I’ll be right over.”
“Actually, Chuck,” Dex glanced at the woman and smiled at her. She was even more magnificent up close, with a whole lot of pissed-off glittering in the depths of her Marsala brown eyes. “I was hoping you might introduce me to the lady.”
It was amusing to watch the pretty boy almost choke on his tongue. For a moment, Dex thought he was going to say lady, what lady? But he finally turned to acknowledge the woman behind him. “Of course. This is Harper…Nugent. My…”
The woman—Harper—folded her arms across her chest, and all the blood rushed from Dex’s big head to his little one. “Come on, Chuck, you can say it,” she said, her voice dry with amused sarcasm. “It starts with S. Ssssister.”
Something eased in Dex’s chest. So she was not getting naked with Pretty Boy. There was a God.
“Step!” Chuck said quickly, his voice sharp.
She rolled her eyes as she smiled at Dex and offered her hand. He absently noted there were streaks of paint on her fingers. “Nice to meet you.”
Dex was a tall guy. Big. Not as big as some of the team’s front row, but he was still six foot and had trouble buying shirts that weren’t tight in the shoulders. This tall—hell, Amazonian—woman could look him straight in the eye. He’d never met a woman who could do that in a pair of flats, and it was a strange kind of turn-on.
“The pleasure’s entirely mine,” he murmured, returning her firm and sure grip with one of his own.
He liked a woman who could handshake like a boss.
“Yes…anyway,” Chuck said, his expression pained, as Harper’s hand fell away. “Harper has to run. A girlfriend crisis or something.”
Dex’s eyebrow kicked up. A girlfriend crisis? A crushing sense of disappointment slugged him in the chest.
She was a lesbian?
She laughed and shook her head. “Not that kind of girlfriend.”
His gaze was drawn to her mouth, a plush, sexy crescent in the midst of her flawless olive complexion. He didn’t think she was wearing any makeup, but she was sporting some kind of clear lip gloss that emphasized the luscious curve of her lips.
They glistened, wet and tempting.
Dex laughed, too, as relief flowed like champagne bubbles through his veins. “I am so pleased to hear that.”
Chuck cleared his throat. “Yes. Well. I have to interview the team.” He looked pointedly at his sister.
“Fine. Just don’t forget to pick up Jace and Tabby after you’re done. They’re fine in the stands with Jenny while you wrap up, but she can’t take them home and I’ve told your mother that you’re bringing her kids now instead of me.”
“I’m not going to bloody forget them, Harper,” Chuck replied testily.
She shot an apologetic smile at Dex then turned to go. He and Chuck watched her. The outline of her sexy, rounded butt in the denim of her jeans actually made Dex a little light-headed. It was a sight to behold.
“God, she has a fat ass,” Chuck muttered, disgust colouring his voice.
Dex’s hands tightened to fists. What a monumental wanker. He opened his mouth before he engaged his brain. “Harper! Wait up.”
She looked over her shoulder, a puzzled expression drawing a crease between her brows. “Dex,” Chuck said, putting a hand on Dex’s arm as he took a step in Harper’s direction.
“Tanner’s waiting,” Dex said, shaking off the hand before jogging the short distance to where she’d stopped.
“Hey,” she said, tossing the long strands of her rich dark hair behind her shoulder, clearly still puzzled.
He smiled. “I was hoping you might like to go out with me one night.”
She blinked, the crease between her eyebrows almost cavernous now. “Oh.”
Dex chuckled. It wasn’t the standard response he got from women. Normally, they were tripping over themselves to be asked out by him. Hell, most of them didn’t wait to be asked. It was well known that he didn’t generally date, so they were more than happy to do the asking.
A man with a less healthy ego might have been insulted by Harper’s tepid response. But he could sense her reticence was real as she glanced at the guys to her left, all gawking and smirking, clearly talking about them. Her gaze travelled over his shoulder to where Chuck stood—glaring, if the prickle between Dex’s shoulder blades was anything to go by.
Her gaze returned to him. “Um…”
Hmm. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d thought. He looked pointedly at the mobile she held. “Give me your phone.”
She glanced at it for a moment, frowning some more. “Why?”
Dex gave an exaggerated sigh and plucked it out of her unresisting hand. “It’s okay,” he assured her as she murmured a protest, and his fingers busily navigating to her address book. “I’m just going to put my number in because obviously I don’t have my phone available to put yours into mine.”
She crossed her arms as she watched him enter the details, and it took him twice as long.
“There,” he said, passing the phone back to her.
She glanced at the entry, and his heart tap-danced in his chest as a smile pulled at the curve of her mouth. She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Dex the Stud?”
He grinned and shrugged. “What can I say?”
“And what do you expect me to do with this?”
“As soon as you’re done with your girlfriend thing, give it a ring and we can set up a time and a place for our date.”
“Well, that’s a step up from the last guy, who put his number into my phone hoping I’d send him nude photos,” she said, her tone flippant.
Dex blinked. What the actual fuck? “Absolutely no class.”
“Well, to be fair, he did request arty ones.”
He laughed. “Hey.” He held his hands up in faux surrender. “Never let it be said that I stand in the way of artistic expression, if you feel so inclined with my number. But definitely lose his.”
She laughed back, and it grabbed him by the balls. Like everything else about her, it was big and rich and real. But then her gaze flicked over his shoulder again, and her smile slowly slipped from her face.
Dex gave an exaggerated sigh. “You’re not going to ring it, are you?”
She shook her head, a glossy smile playing on her glossy mouth. “No chance in hell.”
She glanced at her stepbrother again. “Some things just aren’t worth the hassle.”
Dex couldn’t agree more. But he didn’t think Harper Nugent was one of them. Undeterred, he grabbed for her phone again, his reflexes lightning fast after a decade of professional rugby. “You leave me no choice,” he chided as he quickly rang his own number.
“Hi, Dex the Stud,” he said as the ring tone eventually gave way to his message bank. “It’s Dex.” He waggled his brows at Harper, and she smiled and rolled her eyes. “I’m ringing to remind you to call Harper Nugent on this number and ask her on a date again. Do not take no for an answer. Even”—he grinned at her—“if she offers nude arty photos in lieu.”
Dex hit the end button and passed the phone back to her. “There now. You’re in my phone. And I will be ringing you.”
She glanced at the phone then at him before flicking a look at the guys again. Linc was grinning like a loon as he shot Dex two thumbs-up.
“Sure you will,” she said, the tight, polite smile on her face making Dex want to slap Linc upside the head.
She bade him farewell and walked away, and for the first time in his life, Dex looked forward to something other than rugby and inflicting bodily harm on Linc.
Harper’s phone rang three hours later. She was a bottle of wine down with her best friend Em, who was in the middle of a boyfriend-number-sixteen crisis. Em was cute, peppy, and up for anything.
She just had really lousy taste in men.
When Em went into a relationship, she went all in, something which Harper had always admired even if her friend consistently chose the wrong guys to be “in” with. The type who were only out for a good time, not a long time. But she always sprang back, and Harper was in awe of her friend’s tenacity and absolute conviction that the right person was out there for everyone.
Although not tonight. While Harper was drinking wine, Em’s breakup booze of choice was butterscotch schnapps, and tonight it was leading her to seriously consider becoming a nun. To prove her seriousness, she was currently Googling how to re-virginise.
So, Harper was both tipsy and completely distracted when she answered the phone.
“Hi,” she said as Em made gagging noises at pictures on a website she was skimming.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up in instant awareness as they had earlier tonight when Dexter Blake had singled her out for a bit of attention.
Her mind went blank for a beat or two. He rang?
Of course he had. She had clearly been some kind of bet or dare or something with his team buddies. At twenty-three, it wouldn’t be the first time she’d been the butt of some douche’s idea of a good time. I dare you to ask the fat chick out. Snigger, snort, backslap.
Some men were such assholes.
But it had been so good, even momentarily, to put her sanctimonious step-brother in his place.
“Harper? It’s Dex the Stud. Remember me?”
His voice was warm and rich with amusement, and Harper shut her eyes. Remember him? She’d relived him asking her out about a dozen times, no matter how much she’d told herself it had all been some sick joke. It had been the first thing she’d told Em after her friend had stopped crying and asked for something happy to cheer her up.
Then they’d Googled him.
His voice was sharper this time and Harper pulled herself together, sitting straighter in the chair. “Yes. Of course… Hi.”
“You sound kinda…outta it.”
Harper eyed the empty wine bottle and the full one she’d just cracked open. “Well…I’m kinda drunk, so that’s probably why.”
His low chuckle slid seductive fingers down her neck. “The girlfriend emergency?”
Em looked over her shoulder. “Who is it?”
Her eyebrows practically hit her hairline. “The rugby dude?”
“Is that the girlfriend?” Dex asked in her ear.
“Yup,” she said to them both.
“Ask him if he knows how to re-virginise.”
Harper shook her head. “I’m not asking him that.”
“Asking me what?” His voice sounded delicious when it was amused. Thick and gooey, oozing all over her body. Like chocolate topping.
God, she loved chocolate topping.
“You should totally ask me whatever it is.”
“Trust me, you don’t want to know.”
“Are you kidding?” Em interrupted. “He’s a professional rugby star. Everyone knows they get laid all the time. What he doesn’t know about a woman’s anatomy probably isn’t worth knowing. He’ll know about re-virginising.”
Harper thought it more likely he’d know about de-virginising.
“Did she just say re-virginising?”
Had Harper been sober, she would have paid more heed to Em’s sage words about the mating habits of professional sportsmen and not the sweet seduction of a chocolate-topping voice. She sighed. “Yup.”
“Why would anyone want to re-virginise? Hell… Can someone re-virginise?”
“I don’t know and yes, apparently, according to the internet. Spiritually and surgically.”
Harper laughed. “Yes. For both.”
“And seriously, would you want some strange dude with a scalpel down near your lady parts?”
She shuddered. “I can think of better uses for a dude down near my lady parts.” His bark of laughter was loud in her ear, and she realised what she said. Her face flamed. “Oh God, sorry. I said that out loud, didn’t I?”
“You certainly did, Harper Nugent.”
“I take it back.”
“Oh no,” he chuckled some more. “You can’t take that back.”
Harper groaned internally. Jesus. Where was her filter? She glanced at the wine bottle. Somewhere at the bottom of that, no doubt.
“Fine. Ignore it then. It’s the booze. White wine makes me mouthy.”
“I can’t wait to see that.”
His voice had dropped an octave and roughened with the merest hint of a promise. It went straight to those aforementioned lady parts, and Harper actually squirmed in her chair to ease the sudden ache.
“She’s not serious, is she?”
It took her a moment to realise he’d moved on, and she leaped at the opportunity gratefully. “No. She’s pissed. Both at men and in the alcoholic sense.” Em had already been several shots of Schnapps down when Harper arrived. “Re-virginising is just one of many options we’ve already discussed tonight. I think she wants to make a voodoo doll next.”
He laughed again. “I like the sound of her.”
Harper sighed, looking at the gorgeous mop of caramel curls and the alabaster wedge of cheekbone making up Em’s profile. She looked like one of those babies from old-fashioned adverts for Pears soap. Only all grown-up.
“She’s gorgeous. You should ask her out. You’d make beautiful babies.”
There was a long pause. Long enough to make Harper think, somewhere in her alcohol-addled brain, babies were not on Dexter Blake’s agenda.
“Thanks,” he said, voice low and amused. “I think I’ll stick with my original plan, though.”
“You and me. A date.”
“Oh.” Harper’s stomach tightened. She’d seen the way his teammates had been watching them tonight. The way the younger guy had given the thumbs up. She could have kissed Dex for his timing, but a girl had her pride, right? Plus she never wanted to be one of those people who were gossiped about for punching above her weight.
“Look. I’m very flattered that you want to go out on a date with me, but—”
“You should do it,” Em interrupted.
Harper blinked at her best friend. “What?”
“I told you I liked the sound of her,” Dex said in her ear.
Em shrugged. “It’d be worth it just to piss off Chuckers.” If it was possible, Em disliked Chuck more than Harper did.
Harper considered that angle for moment, her head still spinning a little. It was a powerful argument. Why not? If Dex was using her to win some kind of ridiculous frat boy dare, why shouldn’t she use him, too?
“Okay, fine.” Clearly there was a level of drunk where pride rapidly diminished. “But I’m not sleeping with you. Or letting you anywhere near my lady parts.”
That low chuckle again. It ruffled seductively along flesh and nerve endings, and Harper fought the urge to stretch. And purr.
“You know you said that out loud, too, right?”
The lazy smile in his voice ruffled things even lower. “Yes. I know.”
“I will be on my best behaviour. I promise I won’t even bring condoms.”
Sober Harper nodded, pleased with the concession. Drunk, uninhibited Harper knew full well he could ruin her without the aid of a condom, and she seemed perfectly fine with that, too.
Uninhibited Harper was dangerous. She was going to have to cut that bitch off at the knees.
Amy Andrews is a multi-published, award- winning author of 50+ romance novels across both traditional and digital platforms. She writes for Harlequin Mills and Boon, Entangled, Harper Collins Australia, Momentum Publishing, Escape Publishing and Tule. She’s sold in excess of a million books worldwide and has been translated into over a dozen languages. In her spare time she is a PICU nurse and mother of two teenagers. She lives on acreage on the outskirts of Brisbane, Australia but secretly wishes it was the hillsides of Tuscany.