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Chapter Two

As the small brunette took the glass from his hand, her fingertips barely brushing against his knuckles, Cole was surprised to feel his cock immediately growing thick. Hard.

He’d always had a strong sex drive, strong enough that if he didn’t get his rocks off at least a couple of times a week, he’d hit too hard during practice from sheer sexual frustration.

He’d gotten the call from his grandmother right after Sunday’s game and had headed straight to Vegas. Usually within a couple of hours of landing in his old hometown, Cole had at least one woman under him. This time, though, he’d gone without. The only thing that had mattered was taking care of his grandmother.

And fulfilling her dying wish.

“I love champagne. Thank you.”

Cole stared down at the woman, who was holding the glass in a death grip. Jesus, was her hand actually trembling? If he wasn’t careful, the first available good girl he’d seen all day would run and he’d have to go to his grandmother’s room alone in the morning.

Okay. First he needed to stop breathing in the woman’s sweetly scented hair, something he’d never, ever noticed on anyone. Second, he needed to think past the heavy throbbing in his cock for three seconds. Long enough to figure out what to say or do to make her feel safe with him.

The problem was, he’d never been with a girl like this. Didn’t know the first thing about making a nice girl feel safe and comfortable.

Not when he’d spend the past fifteen years perfecting wicked.

Finally, he decided on, “I couldn’t help but notice you from across the room.”

And it was true; she’d been the only square peg in a room full of round holes. Hell, she might as well have been wearing a halo for all the innocence pouring off her. Now that he was close, he realized she even smelled innocent, like fresh strawberries in a sunny field, or some shit like that.

At first, he’d been too busy congratulating himself on his reverse psychology of finding a sweet girl in a club to think about how this was actually going to go down. But now that she was staring up at him like a doe caught in the middle of a busy freeway—and he was as hard as he’d ever been without touching more than her fingertips—he realized this was going to be a first for him: He was going to have to work for it.

Or else risk losing the one woman he needed.

You noticed me? ” Champagne sloshed out of her glass and splashed across her chest as she gestured at herself in clear surprise.

Cole looked down—even further down that he was already looking just to see her eyes—and realized she had a pretty good body. Maybe even great. It was hard to tell with the pink, shiny dress she had on, but from his vantage point her cleavage was pretty awesome. Awesome enough that his cock was begging to come out and play.

“You have beautiful eyes,” he began, but then, figuring she might buy his lie if he pulled his gaze back up to her face, he forced himself to stop ogling her tits and actually did look into her eyes.

Cole was stopped cold by eyelashes so long that when she blinked, the curling tips brushed against the tops of her cheekbones. Her eye color was unlike any he’d ever seen, a combination of blue and green that had him thinking of cool mountain lakes and perfect summer days.

She blinked, smiled, and the way her eyes lit up stopped his breath for a second.

“No, not beautiful,” he said, almost to himself. “Stunning.”

Her eyes got even bigger, along with her smile—and his cock. “They are?”

He moved closer, those big eyes of her acting like a magnet on him. A lock of her hair fell in front of one of them and he reached out to slide it to the side, his fingertip barely grazing her skin.

He felt her tremble beneath his touch, even as something shook inside him.

What the hell was going on here?

He’d come looking for a good girl. Not another one-night stand.

But he couldn’t think straight anymore. Not when all he wanted was this woman beneath him, naked and panting, her blue-green eyes flashing with ecstasy as she came in his arms. Not when all he could think of was relieving the heaviness in his groin with the woman who had put it there.

Stop drooling and woo her, asshole.

“Dance with me.”

He had her hand in his and was halfway to the dance floor, borderline desperate thoughts of pressing his thick erection against her belly riding him with every step, when he felt her tug at his arm.

It was a surprisingly strong tug for such a little thing.

“I don’t even know your name.”

She hadn’t said anything to him about football yet, so he’d already guessed that she was one of the few people who weren’t fans, thank God. A chick looking for fame would only complicate things further. Still, he didn’t want to risk anything by giving her his full name, just in case she recognized it from the papers and got ideas.

“Cole.”

She cocked her head to one side, managing to look cute and sexy at the same time, and his erection pressed hard enough into his zipper he wouldn’t be surprised if it marked his skin.

“You know,” she said, “I think I could have guessed that. You look like a Cole.”

“And you look like an angel.”

Her lips turned up in another smile and knocked the wind out of him. Again. He’d already thought she was pretty. But when she smiled, she was breathtaking.

“Almost.” Her smile trembled and she looked shy again. “My name is Anna.”

He couldn’t wait another second to touch her, to know whether her curves felt as soft as they looked, and tugged her closer, pulling her as close to him as they could get in a public bar with their clothes on.

Lord, but he wanted to get even closer. No clothes between them, no other music than the sound of her passion as he made her come with his hands. His mouth. His cock. Jesus, he could feel the pre-come rushing already. Just from holding her.

“Dance with me, Anna.”

Her name was soft on his tongue, just as soft as he knew her skin would be when he finally got her clothes off.

She didn’t push him away, but she did shake her head and bite her lip before saying, “I don’t really dance.”

He had to laugh at that, appreciating the flash of irritation in her eyes at his response.

“Are you saying I’m going to be your first?”

His question hung in the air between them, heavy and pulsing with double meanings.

Jesus, he’d never been with a virgin in his life. Never wanted to be. Not when he appreciated a woman’s experience so that it was wasn’t up to him to do all the work. But the things he wanted to do to this woman—right fucking here, right fucking now—were crazy.

Batshit crazy.

Her flush—and lowered eyes—answered his question. “No. Of course you’re not my first.”

“Are we still talking dancing, Anna?”

Her gaze shot up to meet his again and she opened her mouth, but no words came out.

She looked so cute, standing there trying to figure out how to respond to his very forward question. He knew he wasn’t being fair, playing with her like this, but it was so much fun.

He was having fun.

Cole Taylor didn’t have fun. He was all business, all about crushing the competition.

Sure, he partied as much as the next rich, single, pro-football player, and of course he took the best-looking women in the world to bed, but it wasn’t so much about having a good time as it was about taking his due.

And yet, standing in the middle of a Las Vegas nightclub with a woman whose name he’d only just learned—but whom he wanted more than any woman he’d ever met—Cole felt completely off his game.

The truth was, he was tired. It had been a long, frustrating day looking for a nice girl to take to his grandmother.

His dying grandmother.

“Cole? Are you okay?”

He blinked and looked into Anna’s clearly concerned ocean eyes, felt something soft and warm on his forearm and realized she’d reached out to touch him.

Women looked at him in lots of ways—with dollar signs in their eyes, with lust, with anxiety when he was about to dump them—but never with concern.

Never like they actually cared about him.

“My grandmother is sick.”

Shit, where had those words come from?

She moved even closer, put her other hand on him. “I’m so sorry.”

He worked to swallow past the lump in his throat. “I am, too.”

Together they stood like that for several moments, her comfort flushing through his veins, heading straight for his heart.

“Are you sure you’d still like to dance? Maybe we could find a quieter place and we could talk instead.”

She was right. He didn’t want to dance. But he didn’t want to talk, either.

He wanted to kiss her.

He put his hands on her face, brushing his thumb against her lower lip. She went completely still, not blinking or even breathing as he lowered his face to hers. He didn’t want to scare her and tried to go slow, even though all he wanted was to shove her against the nearest wall and wrap her legs around his waist as he sank into her wet heat.

Her breath was a sweet puff of heat against his mouth as he moved in to kiss her, her lips as red and tempting as plump berries in summertime. Cole liked kissing, always had, happy to spend plenty of time at first base even when most guys were already going for the home run. It was a bonus that kissing made chicks hotter, hornier.

But holy hell, no kiss had ever been like this. No kiss could have prepared him for Anna.

Her mouth was soft and so damn sweet, he lost track of his plans—forgot all about taking it slow and not scaring her. He had to taste her, had to run his tongue along the seam between her lips, from the center then out to first one corner and then the next. Hunger like he’d never known took him over, made him forget everything but the promise of pleasure.

A groan escaped as she opened up for him, her tongue tentatively finding his, a small stroke of sweetness that had him burning up head to toe. His hands slid up into her hair—so damn soft, he couldn’t believe it—and his fingers tightened on her, pulling her closer.

She whimpered her pleasure into his mouth, the soft press of her curves against his hard muscles driving him crazy. His erection throbbed against her belly as he deepened their kiss, no longer able to be gentle, to worry about boundaries.

And then, suddenly, everything turned and she was the one kissing him.

Devouring him.

Her arms moved around his torso, her hands and fingertips all but scratching at him. Her tongue battled with his, her lips sucking at him, her teeth nipping and feasting on his mouth.

His kitten had turned into a lioness.

The club, the music, the overpowering scents of booze and sweat and perfume, all fell away as they made out in the middle of it all. She was heat and curves and pure sex in his arms and he knew if they’d been alone he’d be a heartbeat away from sinking into her, from taking everything she offered and giving her everything she demanded.

Something flashed in the back of his head, something he was supposed to remember, something he was supposed to do, but he couldn’t follow it, not when he was utterly, hopelessly lost in Anna.

Sweet Anna.

Finally, she pulled away from him, gasping, her tongue coming out to lick at her swollen lips as if she were still trying to taste him.

“I’ve never done anything this crazy.”

Her words trembled with confusion—and so much desire—that his mouth found hers again a moment later and she was so sweet he knew it would kill him when he finally had to stop tasting.

Instinctively, Cole knew it wasn’t the champagne that made her taste like sugar. The sweetness was all her.

Grandma would love her.

The thought came at him blindside. He’d almost forgotten why he was here in the first place, why he’d picked her out of the crowd.

He didn’t know anything about Anna other than how good her body felt against his, how right her kisses were, how much he liked her scent, how hard she made him—and how perfectly she embodied the “nice girl” he was sure his grandmother wanted to see with him.

He hadn’t thought beyond finding someone to play the role he needed her to play, but now that he had, he was surprised to find guilt dogging his heels. He didn’t know Anna well enough to not want to hurt her.

And yet...his gut twisted at the thought of what he needed to do.

And he did need to do it.

Because he owed his grandmother everything.

It was that vision—of his grandmother, pale and frail in her hospital bed—that had him leaning into Anna, brushing her earlobe with his lips.

“Let’s do something really crazy, Anna.”

She shivered as his lips made contact with her lobe. Even though he knew he needed to be holding focus, that his goal was the most important thing here, not how much he wanted pretty Anna, he had to pull her earlobe between his teeth and nip at it.

So perfectly, incredibly responsive to his every touch, Anna arched into him, her full, hard-tipped breasts practically searing him through her dress and his shirt, another whimper of need, of desire sounding from her lips.

“So sweet,” Cole murmured against her soft skin as he ran his mouth down her neck, his tongue dipping into the hollow of her shoulder bone. Her breasts, full with arousal, pressed up and out toward his mouth from the neckline of her pink dress. He was half a breath away from unzipping her dress right then and there so that he could swirl her nipples against his tongue, when the crash of a glass at the bar pulled him back into the here and now.

Her eyes were cloudy with desire, only partially focusing as she said, “What could be crazier than this?”

Jesus, he’d completely forgotten about his question, about where he was going with it.

Again.

How was one tiny woman—a woman who wasn’t even his type, for fuck’s sake—turning his brain, and body, completely inside out?

Needing space, needing air to get his brain to function again, he made himself move back an inch from her curves, from her warmth. But all that did was make it easier for him to look at her. She was so pretty—and so damn pure despite the way she’d been kissing him like a wildcat in heat—that his stomach twisted even as he said, “What’s the craziest thing you can think of doing with me tonight?”

The club was dark, but not dark enough that he could miss the flush across her cheeks, or the way the heated vee between her thighs shifted closer to his rock-hard erection in an dance as old as time.

The smile curved his lips before he realized it. “Don’t worry, baby, we’re definitely going to be doing that, regardless of your answer.”

She licked her lips. Her sweet, plump, cherry-red lips. “I don’t—” She shook her head, her shoulder-length brown hair moving across her shoulders. “I wasn’t going to say—”

“You do,” he countered, “and you were.” Dropping his lips back down over hers, he said,

“But since that’s a given, what other kind of crazy have you got for me?”

Her fingertips tightened on his shoulders. “You and me doing ... it’s a given?”

“Yup.”

“But we just met.”

“Lucky us.”

He was glad to hear a surprised little giggle escape her lips, but then, too soon, she was back to her arguments.“I don’t do things like this.”

“I know you don’t.”

She frowned and, without thinking, he reached up to brush away the lines between her eyes. He wanted to see her smile, not frown.

“How?”

Her soft skin against his fingertips had him losing his train of thought. Hell, how could he possibly think without any blood left in his brain? Not even close to knowing what she was asking, all he could do was echo, “How what?”

“How do you know I don’t do things like this?”

“I just do.”

Her full lips pressed together. Shit, that wasn’t the right answer.

“Because I look boring.”

“Hell, no.” A little bit of spark came back into her eyes, enough to tell him that he was heading in the right direction again. Thank God. “You’ve been anything but boring.”

She cocked her pretty head to one side, the hair brushing against her shoulder blades, making him wonder what it would feel like brushing over his dick as she blew him, sixty-nine position.

“But you’re surprised by that, aren’t you?”

Jesus, he thought as he corralled his brain back to the conversation, what was this?

Twenty-fucking-questions?

A lie lay on his tongue, whatever she wanted to hear, but what came out instead was, “A little, yeah.”

“I knew it.” Her victorious expression disappeared as quickly as it came. “Tell me why you’re so surprised.”

The first words that came into his head were, “You were wearing a halo.”

He nearly groaned at the stupidity of blurting that out when he saw her outraged expression.

“A halo?” She actually reached up to the top of her head, as if she needed to make sure that she did not, in fact, have a halo hanging over her soft brown curls.

“No,” he said, trying to backpedal as fast as he could, “not a halo. You definitely weren’t wearing one of those.”

He needed to change the subject, get them back to ... Hell, what had they been talking about?

“Then what?”

Shit, he wasn’t thinking fast enough. Could barely get his brain to function when he could still scent her arousal, when he was still ridiculously hard and throbbing behind his zipper.

“It’s just that you just looked so innoc—”

Her eyes narrowed as she waited for him to finish and he decided it was smarter just to shut up. Whatever he said about her looking pure or innocent was just going to piss her off. He knew that now. He didn’t know why, just that it did.

Just as he didn’t know how the hell one tiny little woman was throwing him more off his game than a field full of three-hundred-pound guys all coming at him with everything they had.

Her nostrils flared and he couldn’t believe even that looked cute on her. Jesus, he had it bad for this one. In under an hour she practically had him spouting poetry.

And shooting in his pants from just looking at her.

“I’m sick to death of everyone thinking they know exactly who I am! I’m sick of everyone assuming all I want to do is smile and organize things while they go off and have their big romantic sunsets together! I’m sick to death of never, ever doing something so crazy that I get to regret it in the morning while secretly having loved every second of it! For all people know, I could be bringing guys like you home every Friday night and trading you in for a new guy on Saturday!”

Her hands had fisted on his chest now and he was sure she didn’t realize it, but she’d been hitting him to emphasize each of her points, one thump at the end of each sentence like an exclamation point.

Still, the picture of her throwing him over for another guy not twenty-four hours later had him growling with a sudden spurt of jealousy. “Have you done that?”

The low rumble of his question seemed to snap her out of her momentary fury.

“Seriously? Are you asking me that for real?”

His hands came around her shoulders, jealousy burning hotter than it ever had. If she said yes, he’d hunt down every one of those guys and break their necks with his bare hands.

“Have. You. Done. That?”

He’d seen enough game tapes to know that he had one of the meanest glares in football, but instead of being cowed by the four snarled words, Anna’s answering smile was the brightest one yet, so stunning that he almost felt blinded by her beauty, by that light that surrounded her.

“No,” she said, still smiling. “I haven’t.” She went to her tippy toes and tilted her face up to his to press a soft, short kiss to his mouth. “But thank you for thinking that I could have if I’d wanted to.”

On the verge of dragging her by the hair up to his room and tying her to his bed for the rest of the night, he growled, “Hell, baby, you could have any guy here in ten seconds flat.”

But he only wanted her to want him.

“That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

Not even trying to understand her—no question about it, women were one huge, endless mystery—Cole pulled his focus in tight again. “If you want to be crazy for once, I can help you.

What do you say, Anna? Should we be crazy together?”

“You mean crazier than—” She actually looked both ways and lowered her voice to a near-whisper. “—sleeping together?”

He chuckled against her mouth, swiping his tongue against her lips for another quick taste. At her indrawn breath he said, “Oh yeah. A whole lot crazier.”

A half-dozen expressions moved across her face.

Pleasure.

Excitement.

Curiosity.

Desire.

Doubt.

And then, as if it were single handedly going to lock down the coffin on his plans: Full-on fear.

But then, instead of pulling out of his arms and saying no, she took a deep breath and said, “You’re not talking about gambling or karaoke, are you?”

This time when he laughed against her lips—he was proud of her for not running, ridiculously impressed with her for staying in with him as long as she had—he was surprised to feel her tongue slide out across his mouth.

Knowing what she wanted—because he wanted it just as much—he plundered her mouth with his. He wanted to map out every sinfully sweet corner and crevasse, wanted to spend hours kissing her until he knew exactly what made her moan with pleasure.

Finally, he let her up for air and when she looked up at him, panting and aroused and so damn beautiful he could hardly believe it, he was blindsided by the strength of what he felt for a woman he’d just met.

Not just pride, but something more. Something even bigger, something he’d never felt before, something he’d never wanted to feel.

Shit. This wasn’t in the plans.

His grandmother. He had to remember that he was only doing this for his grandmother.

He had to remember that the only reason he’d looked for a girl like Anna wasn’t because he was actually looking for someone to love, but because he just needed it to look that way for a little while.

His throat tightened again at the thought of losing his grandmother. At how quickly his life with her could come to an end.

“Marry me, Anna.”

She stumbled back from him in her surprise—shit, he was right there with her, as shocked as she was at the words that had come out of his mouth—and he had to move fast to catch her before she was knocked over by the couple dancing in front of him.

She stiffened as he pulled her back against him, no longer the soft, pliable woman he’d held until then. He hated to see that frown where there’d been nothing but helpless desire before.

“Oh my God.” She looked like she was trying to catch her breath. “Did you just ask me to marry you?”

But even as she asked, he could see her growing stronger. Steadier.

For the second time since he’d seen her innocence shining out at him like a beacon from across the room, Cole was struck and surprised by her strength. She wasn’t stuttering now, she wasn’t panting with passion. Instead, she suddenly reminded him of his tenth-grade Calculus teacher, a woman who hadn’t cared that he was going to make millions in the pros, unlike most of his other teachers. She’d been hellbent on teaching him math and he’d had to excel, or else.

Thanks to her, he’d easily been able to take his earnings and multiply them in the stock market.

He’d never much cared if his women were strong, just as long as they were willing when he was ready to go—which they always were. So then, why did he find that surprising hint of strength, of backbone, so sexy in this one?

“I need you, Anna.”

And he did need her, desperately, only this wasn’t just about his grandmother anymore.

He needed her for himself, too.

The realization that his need for her had somehow gone way beyond physical, not only had his gut twisting, but his chest clenching too.

“Please, Anna. Take this chance to be crazy and marry me.”

She blinked once, twice, three times in clear surprise at his plea, her beautifully long eyelashes fluttering against her cheekbones. He had to press a kiss to each eyelid.

“Marrying you is more than crazy, Cole. It’s certifiably insane.”

God, he loved hearing his name on her lips. A sudden vision came at him of her lying beneath him on his bed, her eyes shining with pleasure as she cried out his name.

She was right. Getting married was insane, for so many reasons. He hadn’t told his grandmother he was married, or even engaged. He’d just said that he’d found love. So then, why did it seem so crucially important that Anna agree to marry him?

Insane didn’t even come close.

“I don’t get it. Why would you want to marry me?” She looked up at him, her lack of comprehension clear in her beautiful eyes.

Would her eyes ever not take his breath away?

But instead of crafting an answer that would convince her to marry him—something other than the inexplicable Because I think I could fall in love with you that kept ringing through his brain—he found himself telling her the only other thing in his head.

“Your eyes are like the ocean, Anna. So beautiful I could stare into them forever.”

She looked stunned and pleased in equal measure, but then, suddenly, she was looking away from him and saying, “Oh no.”

Following her gaze, all he saw were people dancing and drinking, the same as they had all night.

“What’s wrong?”

“My sisters. They look worried.”

She had sisters? And they were here, in this bar, right now?

A moment later she was cradled in his arms again and he wasn’t sure if he had pulled her closer—instinctively claiming her—or if she was the one hiding out against his chest.

“Shoot. They’re coming over here.”

He felt his heartbeat kick up, knew he was about to lose her, that she was about to disappear from his life as quickly as she’d come into it, but then her hands moved to his, her slender fingers strong and sure, her blue/green eyes clear and beautiful as she tilted her face up to his.

“Yes, Cole, I’ll marry you.”

This time he was the one floundering. “You—you will?”

“Yes. I will.” She shot another quick glance at the three women advancing on them. “But we need to leave right now or it isn’t going to happen.”

And the next thing he knew, his innocent angel was pulling him across the dance floor, through the throngs of people, and out through the casino so fast that even the paps didn’t have time to catch a shot of them...on the way to their wedding.