Authors: Farrah Rochon
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #General
How much longer could he stand to do this to them? How deep did his selfishness run?
The self-disgust burned a hole in his gut, but Torrian knew he wasn’t ready to give up his career just yet. What was he, if not a ballplayer? He’d been nothing before football. He’d be nothing without it. He couldn’t give it up. The hiding, the lying, the guilt—they would have to continue.
He clenched his eyes shut and pushed the bar up from his chest. The weight suddenly eased. He opened his eyes to find Theo directly above, both hands wrapped around the bar.
“You can stop stalling,” Theo said as he lifted the bar and settled it on its holder. “Doc got called away.”
Relief washed over Torrian. He prayed it didn’t show on his face. “What’s that got to do with anything?” he asked, sitting up and wiping sweat from his brow.
“Cut the crap, Wood,” Theo said. “You know you’re scared as hell something showed up on the mid-season physical. Don’t worry about it. If they found anything serious, they would have called you in.”
Torrian rested his elbows on his thighs and hung his head so low his chin touched his chest. “I hate this.”
“I know,” his teammate said, understanding saturating his words. “Just remember it’s not the end of the world,” Theo reminded him. “Nobody plays this game forever.”
“A part of me knows that,” Torrian said. “But the other part doesn’t want to give up playing ball. This game is my life.”
“That’s bull. You’ve got a family.
are your life.”
“You’re right.” Torrian sighed. “My main concern is taking care of Deirdre and Dante.” He cut his eyes at Theo. “I hate when you start making sense.”
Theo returned his grin, then asked, “Speaking of your sister, is she seeing anyone?”
Torrian’s head whipped around. “What?”
“You heard me,” Theo said. He raised his arms up and hooked them around the weight machine’s handlebars.
“How long have you been checking out my sister?”
“Long enough,” Theo said. “Why do you sound so shocked?”
“You gotta admit Deirdre’s not the type of woman you usually have on your arm.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Theo asked with an affronted growl.
“Don’t try to play me. Your typical woman is five-nine, a hundred pounds, and twenty-three years old, everything Deirdre is not.”
“Stop making me sound so shallow, Wood. Besides, I’m getting tired of my typical woman. I’d rather spend time with someone who can hold a conversation that doesn’t pertain to shopping or watching
America’s Next Top Model
“Dee’s got a lot on her plate these days, but what can I say?” Torrian shrugged. “Go for it, man. But I’m warning you, if you hurt her, I’m coming after your ass.”
“I won’t hurt her. I just want to get to know her better.”
Cedric Reeves came into the weight room, one towel slung around his shoulders and another riding low on his hips.
“Hey, Wood, you pissed Paige Turner off something fierce, man. Did you read her latest response on the blog?”
Torrian’s chest tightened. “Don’t tell me she posted again.”
“Oh yeah, and it ain’t pretty.” Cedric grinned as he headed toward the showers.
Torrian groaned and fell back on the weight bench, covering his face with his hands. He didn’t know what else to do. He’d e-mailed three times since Sunday, damn near begging Paige to cut out this tit-for-tat thing they had going on her blog, but she’d ignored every one of them, choosing to keep everything out in the open.
Torrian had considered being the bigger man and apologizing, but this fight had become personal. After reading some of her past reviews, Torrian noticed a pattern. Paige Turner had it out for the rich. She occasionally had a kind word for an upcoming Broadway star’s performance, or a mom-and-pop deli trying to keep its head above water in New York’s saturated restaurant industry, but the positive reviews were few and far between, and virtually nonexistent for celebrity types.
He dragged his hands over his head and down his face. “I don’t know what else to do,” he admitted. “I’ve sent e-mails.”
“Apologize on the blog, maybe?” Theo suggested.
“Hell, no.” Torrian shook his head. He jumped up from the workbench and headed for his locker. Forget the showers. He could do that when he got home, after he took care of this latest post from her.
“You really should think about apologizing,” Theo said. “You
the one who started it with that stupid response. You should have just left it alone.”
He dropped the towel from his waist and pulled on a pair of sweats. “She started it by posting the review in the first place.”
“That’s her job!”
“Well, she needs to get a real job instead of giving opinions on something she knows nothing about,” Torrian retorted, stuffing his arms through the sleeves of his shirt and jerking it over his head. “I’ll bet she’s never even tried to write a book.”
“Dawg, you didn’t write this book either,” Theo reminded him. “You need to come with something better than that.”
Torrian started to speak, then stopped. “Shut up, man,” he finally said. “All this could have ended Sunday night if she’d erased that response like I asked in my e-mail. She’s the one dragging this on.”
It was hard to believe she was the same woman he’d met in the grocery store a week ago.
“So, what you gonna do?”
“Fight fire with fire,” Torrian said. He slung his gym bag over his shoulder. “They don’t call me the Fire Starter for nothing.”
Angela and Paige stood at the corner of 32nd and 3rd as lunch-hour traffic whizzed toward the East River.
“So, what’s the latest in the Torrian Smallwood drama?”
Paige groaned. “Don’t ask.”
“Uh-oh.” Angie laughed. “What happened this time?”
“That man is an ass,” Paige said. “Can you believe he had the nerve to come to my own blog and ask me if I started reviewing books because I was too insecure to write my own? I wanted to smack him through the computer.”
“Hmm, now that I think about it, that
a legitimate question.”
“Angie!” Paige screeched. The light changed, and the sea of bodies that had accumulated at the edge of the block flowed across the street. “I’m a columnist. I dabbled in creative writing in college, but I’ve never had any real aspirations to write novels. I love to eat and read and experience life, and I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to do all of those things. Torrian Smallwood is an insecure jackass who is too stupid to recognize when he’s lost the battle.”
“So, are you just going to keep this up?” Angie asked. “It’s been great for the Web site. This city is absolutely obsessed with the two of you.”
“The publicity was cool in the beginning, but this has gotten out of hand.” She looked pointedly at Angela. “But I’m not backing down first.”
If she looked deep enough, Paige could admit that keeping up this online quarrel with Torrian was retaliation for him not living up to the charismatic man she’d built him up to be in her own mind. The rational part of her brain knew it wasn’t fair to judge him based on a five-minute chance encounter, but the attraction had been too strong. She wanted him to be the man she’d met last weekend. Clearly, he was not.
She opened the door to the deli a block away from
Big Apple Weekly
’s offices. The owner, who knew them by name, greeted them as they walked up to the counter. Paige ordered a cup of vegetable soup and a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread. She tried not to cringe as Angela ordered corned beef on rye with a side of coleslaw.
As soon as they sat at a table, Paige’s cell phone rang. She grabbed it from her purse and saw a number she didn’t recognize on the screen.
“Probably a wrong number,” she said, and put the phone back into her purse without answering it. Not a minute later, the phone rang again. It was the same number.
“Just answer it,” Angela said. “They’re going to keep calling until you tell them they have the wrong number.”
“You’re right,” Paige said. She answered the phone. “Hello.”
There was a slight pause, then, “Is this Olivia Paige Turner?”
Paige’s stomach pitched and rolled. She instantly recognized that deep voice.
“Who is it?” Angela asked before taking a huge bite of her sandwich.
Paige shushed her, then spoke into the phone. “Yes, Mr. Smallwood, it is. And I go by Paige, not Olivia.”
Angela’s eyes bugged. She started choking.
Paige rolled her eyes.
“I guess you know why I’m calling,” Torrian said.
“I have an idea,” Paige answered. “What I don’t know is how you managed to get hold of my personal cell number.”
“I called in a favor,” he answered. Paige was inclined to believe him. She knew how things worked with these professional athletes. They were treated like royalty. Torrian Smallwood probably had people indebted to him all over this city.
“And why would you waste one of your precious favors on obtaining my phone number when you have no problem contacting me through my blog?”
“I think enough has been said on your blog,” he replied.
Angela was waving at her like a maniac on crack. Paige waved her off.
“I don’t know,” Paige answered. “You haven’t called my mother names yet. That’s usually the next step in the little junior high game you’re playing.”
“I don’t want to play any games with you, Paige.” The sound of his deep voice saying her name traveled down her spine like warm honey. “I just want you to delete that stuff on your Web site, so this can all go away. It’s gone too far.”
“I don’t recant my reviews,” she said “And, to be fair, you’re the one who started this little war.”
“Just what did you expect after tearing my book apart the way you did?” His voice had lost a bit of its hostility. He sounded genuinely disappointed.
“I’m sorry you did not agree with my review, but I have to be honest,” Paige said. “The book was weakly written. In my opinion, it lacked depth.”
“Fine,” came his exasperated sigh. “You’re entitled to your opinion, and maybe I shouldn’t have said some of the things I said on your blog. But can we please just end this? In fact, why don’t you let me take you to dinner to make up for the way I’ve acted?”
His dinner invitation took her by surprise. If she went to dinner with him, all of New York would think the cutthroat Paige Turner had fallen under Torrian Smallwood’s spell. Though God knows she was close to falling.
‘I can’t,” Paige answer, her good sense warring with her heart. There was nothing she wanted to do more than accept his invitation to dinner.
“Come on, Paige. It’s just dinner.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, ending the call.
With a deadpan look on her face, Angela said, “Well, that went well.”
hat went well,” Torrian snorted.
He’d promised four tickets to this weekend’s game against Denver in return for Paige’s cell phone number, and had blown the call, big time.
This entire situation was driving him crazy. But what had him even more frustrated than Paige’s insistence that their little online squabble remain public was his undeniable attraction to her. After the shots she’d taken at him on her blog, Paige was the
woman he should be attracted to, but he couldn’t stop thinking about her.
After a mental journey through his past relationships, Torrian had zeroed in on the one thing that made Paige so different from all those other women.
So many of the women he’d dated had tried to make themselves into what they thought
wanted them to be, or what society thought the girlfriend of an NFL player should be. Torrian had never gotten to know who they truly were. Paige Turner was different. His celebrity didn’t stop her from telling him exactly what was on her mind. It was definitely a turn-on.
He pulled into the underground garage below the North Manhattan Medical Family building where Latoya Stokes practiced. He got out of the car and walked over to Theo’s Lexus LX that had pulled into a slot two spots down from him.
Theo was still on the phone as he climbed out of the luxury SUV. He laughed at whatever was said on the other line. “That’s why I pay you fifteen percent. I’ll catch you later.” He nodded at Torrian. “How’d it go, Dawg?” Theo asked, pocketing his phone.
“Let’s just say I hope your call went better than mine,” he said as they headed for the elevator.
“Unless Paige Turner offered to strip naked for you, I’d say I had the better call.”
Torrian reached over and slapped palms with Theo, bringing him in for a one-arm hug. “The network made an offer for the anchor position?”
“Two million a year.”
“That’s even more than I’d expected.”
“My agent asked for three, but we knew that was a pie-in-the-sky number. We were ready to settle at one point five mil.”
“You’re really going to retire?”
Theo shook his head. “I don’t know, Wood. It’s tempting as hell. No more training camp. No more getting pounded on the field. It’s hard to pass up.”
“I didn’t think you were serious,” Torrian admitted. “But you know I’m behind you one hundred percent.”
If only his call could have gone a tenth as well as Theo’s, Torrian would be satisfied. The longer his responses to Paige Turner remained on that blog, the more he looked like a jerk who had verbally attacked a woman—not just any woman, but New York’s entertainment guru. As far as his image was concerned he may as well have slapped her across the face.
The elevator dinged their arrival to the fifth floor. Torrian’s first visit to this office had been two years ago, when he’d first noticed that he couldn’t see as far out of the corner of his left eye. He’d immediately thought of his grandfather who’d eventually gone blind because of some eye disease.
Torrian had been scared out of his mind. When he finally confessed to Theo, his teammate had made an appointment with his sister. Torrian had been ready to kill him. His biggest fear, even more than the gradually darkening spots, was the idea of the Sabers’ medical staff finding out about the trouble with his vision. He was a wide receiver; hand/eye coordination was the most important aspect of his job. News of his deteriorating vision was equivalent to throwing a contract renewal into a bonfire.