Authors: Melanie Scott
Still, it might be wise to take her temperature before they went downstairs to face the baseball press. The last thing they needed was the Saints’ favorite daughter throwing a shit fit on national TV.
“Gardner, why don’t you bring Ms. Jameson in here?” Gardner nodded and turned to do just that. Alex bounced on his toes, trying to figure out what he was going to say to Maggie.
“Mal, Lucas, you go out and make nice with Tom and Veronica.” He’d only met Veronica Maxwell once, but he’d quickly formed the impression she would probably throw a party to celebrate the fact that Tom was selling the Saints. She was not fond of the sport but she was seemingly fond of Tom, and he got the feeling that she wouldn’t hesitate to express her views if she didn’t like how Tom was being treated during the transition. To anyone who might want to listen. Including ESPN, Fox Sports, the
New York Times
, and the commissioner of baseball. Having Lucas and Mal charm her couldn’t hurt.
Lucas shot him a suspicious look. “Why do you get to talk to Maggie?”
“Yeah, maybe we’d like to meet the famous Maggie Jameson,” Mal added with a twinkle in his eye.
“And so you will,” Alex said, ignoring the urge to grit his teeth. “But not right now. Right now, I need to talk to her. Alone.”
Lucas nodded and cocked his head at Mal. “C’mon, Coulter, let’s let Alex work his magic. We get the older generation.”
“Hardly seems fair. Particularly when it doesn’t sound like his magic worked too well on her last night.”
“Which is why he needs another swing at it. Or his poor little ego won’t be able to take it and we’ll have to listen to him whining for weeks.”
Mal and Lucas both grinned at him. Alex grinned back. “No whining here. Maggie will come around. Guaranteed.” Yeah, and pigs might fly. Still, he wasn’t going to share his doubts with his friends. He’d screwed things up with Maggie and he was the one who was going to have to fix it. And if she was going to be mad at someone about the sale, it was better that she stuck to being mad at him and didn’t include Mal and Lucas in the kill zone. Less complicated.
Plus there were those eyes,
a little voice at the back of his mind piped up.
Shut up, I’m a Saint now,
Alex growled back. The little voice made a rude noise.
No such thing as a saint when it comes to women who look like that.
“Earth to A?” Mal said, and Alex realized he was staring into space.
“Just thinking. Go on. I just need five minutes with her.”
“And there’s the overly optimistic idiot I know and love,” Lucas parroted back at him in a pretty good imitation of Alex’s voice.
* * *
The man who’d come to greet them when their car had driven through to Tom’s permanent spot in the underground parking garage at Deacon Field appeared again at Maggie’s elbow. She turned from her feigned interest in the ESPN pictures that were playing soundlessly on the screen in the suite they’d been shunted into instead of going to what had used to be Tom’s office.
“Could you come with me a minute?”
Maggie tensed. “Where?” She tried to remember his name. Something starting with
. When they’d arrived she’d been too busy trying not to give in to the sick feeling in her stomach that had swamped her when they’d driven through the gates to Deacon. One of her favorite places in the world. Her very own ballpark. Who wouldn’t love that? Only it wasn’t hers anymore. Right now, she was nobody. Not the owner’s daughter, not part of the team. It made her gut ache like someone had kicked her, the world once again feeling unstable beneath her feet. She hadn’t paid attention to how this man—one of Alex Winters’s minions—had introduced himself.
“Mr. Winters has requested a moment of your time.”
A moment of her time? Who was this guy? The butler? His accent was firmly American so probably not, but really … if all Alex’s staff were like this then they weren’t going to go down well with the Saints family. The Saints didn’t do formality very often.
She glanced toward her dad. She didn’t want to talk to Winters but neither did she want to cause a scene. Not when she’d promised Tom she’d do this. “Are you sure he didn’t mean Dad?”
“He specifically asked for you, Ms. Jameson.”
The guy smiled at her with eyes that were a nice shade of gray if you could ignore the fact they belonged to one of the devil’s hordes. They went with his Saints tie and slick charcoal suit. He looked older than Alex, with dark hair that had some gray near the temples. Working for the devil was probably aging. But his expression was that of a man on a mission.
Maggie cursed mentally, scraping for another possible way to get out of spending any time alone with Winters. “Won’t we be late for the press conference?” Her watch said it was five to three. They were due to start at three, if Tom had things right.
His voice held the same infuriating ring of confidence that Winters’s did.
It made her teeth ache. “It’s not polite to keep them all waiting down there in the cold,” she protested.
“If you come with me, they won’t have to wait too long,” he replied calmly. “This way.”
Apparently no wasn’t going to be an acceptable answer. She should have expected that. Alex Winters seemed to embrace the “full steam ahead” school of life. It was only natural that his staff were inclined to a similar attitude.
“Fine,” she said tightly. “Take me to your leader.”
That earned her a small smile and then the mystery man turned on his heel and headed back in the direction from which he’d appeared. Maggie realized where he was headed. They were in one of the hospitality suites in the tower that rose above the north point of the park. And now she was being led toward her dad’s office.
Only it wasn’t Tom’s office anymore. No, now it belonged to Alex Winters. The thought threw her off balance and she almost missed her next step. She caught herself before she could stumble. Damned if she was going to literally fall at Alex Winters’s feet.
She pushed the roil of emotions in her stomach down into a tight hot ball and followed her escort.
He paused at the office door and opened it, sticking his head through. “Ms. Jameson.”
“Thanks, Gardner.” It was Winters’s voice.
Maggie repressed a sigh. Part of her had been hopeful that he might have fallen out of one of the windows or something, but no. He was still here and alive and she was going to have to face him.
So first things first. Pretend last night hadn’t happened. At least, anything after the split second before he’d hoisted her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried her from the bar, that was. She made herself smile at Gardner and straightened her shoulders before she strode through the door.
Alex Winters was sitting on the edge of his desk. A new desk. Not her dad’s desk. The deal had been signed only yesterday … when had he even had time to move furniture in? And where was all her dad’s stuff? All the pictures and his ridiculous collection of baseball caps? She scanned the room, disoriented. It felt like a completely different office. The only thing on the walls other than a bank of TVs was a framed number from a baseball jersey. She didn’t recognize the colors. Some souvenir he’d picked up in between wheeling and dealing probably.
The walls were still the same color—apparently not even Alex Winters could completely redecorate in one day—which gave her some little comfort but not much.
She tried to regain a sense of control by focusing on Winters rather than the strangeness of the room as she heard Gardner close the door behind her, leaving her alone with the man.
Unlike the night before, he was wearing a suit. Dark navy with a crisp white shirt and a brand-new Saints tie. The sight of it made her vision blur for a moment.
Damn him. He hadn’t earned that tie. He wasn’t one of them. He never would be.
“Maggie,” he said, coming to his feet.
“Mr. Winters,” she said in her best “you are a bug” voice.
“I hope you’re feeling better this morning.”
Heat flared in her cheeks. Stupid pale Irish skin. She never could hide a blush. “It takes more than a little tequila and a Neanderthal to make me feel under the weather, Mr. Winters.”
He tilted his head at her. “I prefer ‘caveman’ to ‘Neanderthal.’”
“I don’t really care what you prefer,” she said. So much for pretending last night hadn’t happened. Two seconds in his presence and he’d managed to start her temper flaring all over again. She felt suddenly hot in her wool suit despite the fact it was only about ten degrees outside. Had Winters cranked the heat up in here? Hell was hot after all. Maybe he felt right at home in subtropical temperatures.
Winters was watching her with an odd expression on his face. “You made that much clear last night too. It wasn’t our finest hour, was it? I was hoping we could start over.”
“Are you going to change your mind and not buy the Saints?”
“Then I don’t think we’ll be starting over. I’m here today because my dad asked me to come. That’s it.”
“Then it seems we have a problem,” he said. He moved a few steps toward her, stopping when he was about a yard away. She wished she’d chosen higher heels. He had several inches on her, and this close he suddenly seemed to fill all the available space. The scent of him, clean and warm, flowed around her, and she had a sudden vivid flashback of the feel of his arm across the back of her legs and the muscles in his back flexing under her cheek.
“The only problem I have is you,” she snapped, willing the treacherous memory away. “And after this afternoon, I won’t be seeing you again.”
Alex seemed to consider this statement. Then he shook his head. “That isn’t going to work for me.”
“I said, it’s not going to work for me.”
“I don’t really care.”
Winters shook his head. “You care about the Saints, though, don’t you?”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
He frowned. “Is that a trick question?”
He looked like he’d suddenly reached enlightenment, green eyes widening under raised eyebrows. “Your father hasn’t spoken to you, has he?”
“Not really. Not since yesterday.”
“And not before, judging by your reaction.”
“What would he have told me?” Other than the fact he was selling the team that was her family out from under her?
Winters shook his head after a glance at his watch. “We have to go.”
“Your minion said the press would wait.”
“They will. For a while. But this conversation is likely to take longer than their patience will stretch.”
Maggie felt another chill run through her stomach. “What are you talking about?”
For a moment his eyes looked warm with sympathy. Screw that. She didn’t want his sympathy. She wanted to know the truth.
“Tom should’ve told you this. But like I said, no time now. Let’s make a deal.” He grinned down at her suddenly.
“Why do I get the feeling that’s one of your favorite sayings?” Why did she also get the feeling that making a deal with Alex Winters was very much a “put your soul in jeopardy” activity.
“Because it is. Deals are what I do.”
“I thought baseball was what you did now.”
“Baseball’s what I spend the money I make on deals on.” His grin widened. “Though there’s enough deals in baseball to make it fun.”
Her gut tightened. “Baseball is people not money.”
“We’re getting off track again. Deal time. If you—”
“Who says I want to make a deal with you?”
“You don’t really have a choice.”
“I can leave.”
“Really? I’m guessing you promised Tom you’d stay. Can’t disappoint dear old Dad.” He looked smug.
“He’s owned the Saints for thirty years. He can handle disappointment.” All Saints fans could. Though Alex, annoyingly, had her number. She’d never been good at saying no to her dad.
“That’s beside the point.”
“Oh? Does that mean you have one?” Unfair when she’d been the one delaying the conversation. But she was beginning to tire of their verbal games. If she was being kept in the dark about something, better to know now so she could figure out what to do about it. Ripping the Band-Aid off fast was always the best approach.
“I always have a point.”
“Then enlighten me, please. What’s your stupid deal?”
“You behave at the press conference and I’ll tell you what everybody else has apparently conveniently forgotten to.”
“You smile. Play nice. Act delighted. Follow my lead.”
“Follow your lead?” She folded her arms. Smiling politely and clapping in the right places was one thing. Letting Alex Winters boss her around was quite another.
She didn’t have to do it. She could turn around, walk out, get a cab, and just go home.
Yeah, and then what? No job, no idea what the hell she was going to do, and no idea what secret her dad had been keeping from her. As unappealing as doing what Alex Winters wanted was, it sucked less than door number two at this point.
“Anybody ever tell you you’re an arrogant jackass?”
“Once or twice.”
“I see it made an impact on you.”
“You can’t please everybody.”
Maggie found it hard to believe he pleased anybody, though there were probably women dumb enough to fall for the “tall, green eyes, dimples, and sun-streaked hair” thing. Lots of them. She sighed. “All right. I’ll play nice. But then you have to tell me what’s going on.”
* * *
Ten minutes later she was standing between Tom and Alex on the podium, wishing for a thicker coat and remembering how much she hated photo calls and press conferences. A hundred thousand flashes—or so it seemed—had nearly blinded her, so that all she could see was a blurred outline of the crowd of reporters and big bright floating blotches in front of her eyes. Unfortunately she could hear just fine, and right now she was having to listen to Alex Winters give a perfectly polished, perfectly pitched speech about the legacy her father had created, the history he and his friends had with the Saints, and their plans for the future.