The blond-haired, blue-eyed, sexpot was hoc stuff. She made headlines as often as he had and her tendency to appear more like a groupie than a professional made her bad business in Vaughn's mind. As was getting involved with Yank's niece. And if he worked alongside her, he'd be tempted to do just that.

He'd met Annabelle once before when she'd been on the arm of her client of the moment. Their eyes had met, held and the hit had been harder than any he'd taken in the field. He'd known then just as he did now, Annabelle Jordan meant trouble.

Without warning the intercom buzzed. Lola pressed the button and Yank roared, 'Well, is that son of a bitch coming in or is he gonna make me wait until I'm old and gray?'

'You're already gray,' Lola shot back, then glanced at Vaughn and spoke, lowering her voice. 'No need to tell him he's already a crotchety old coot' she said laughing. 'I guess he's ready to see you, Brandon.'

Vaughn treated Lola to one of his cocky grins. Nobody had ever seen him sweat and he refused to start now. Even if he'd rather deal with the physical agony of destroying his knee again than face the old man.

Vaughn strode inside. Yank Morgan looked as imposing as Vaughn remembered him, with just a few extra gray hairs sprinkling his wild hair and thick beard.

'Hey, Pop,' Vaughn said, using the nickname he'd adopted for Yank.

The other man scowled. 'Pop's reserved for family and friends. Not lowlife, back-stabbing-'

Vaughn rolled his eyes. Plenty of players left their agents and moved on. It was a fact of the business. 'I don't blame you for being pissed, but lowlife snake? You can do better than that,' he said, pushing Yank's buttons on purpose. At least this way the old guy would get it all out of his system and they could move forward.

'How about damn stupid, dumb-ass jock who let a woman lead him around by his-'

'That'll do,' Vaughn muttered. The cold, hard truth still hurt. 'Now are you going to forgive me or do I turn around and walk out the door for good?'

As Vaughn waited, his heart pounded hard in his chest while the deafening silence gave him too much time for unwanted memories to return. He'd missed the older man and suddenly even his professional reasons for returning to Yank's agency weren't as important as the man's forgiveness.

From the first day they'd met, Yank had provided all the praise and pride Vaughn's own parents had withheld.

Vaughn's Heisman Trophy, two Superbowl rings, and Hall of Fame induction meant nothing to Theodore Vaughn. In his embarrassed father's mind, Vaughn was still the pathetic son who'd only graduated high school then college because his teachers had looked the other way in deference to the school's athletic program. And his mother had stood by her man, to hell with her child. All Estelle's efforts went into the superficial. Creating the perfect-looking home, becoming the perfect-looking wife, and cementing the perception of…well, perfection.

Yank had not only represented Vaughn's interests in the first Dallas deal, but had cared about him, too. He'd straightened Vaughn's ass out in all the ways that counted. And he'd been repaid with Vaughn's betrayal.

'I heard you kicked your wife to the curb,' Yank said, finally breaking the oppressive silence by mentioning the woman who'd caused the trouble.

'Yeah.' Laura was a lesson Vaughn had learned the hard way. Before her, he'd kept all women at a distance, sticking to quickie sex and leaving right after. He never believed a woman would accept him, flaws and all.

Then came Laura, a high school teacher who'd convinced him to trust her, but after his injury, he'd quickly discovered she wasn't the soft-spoken woman he'd thought understood him. She'd changed into a money-hungry, self-indulgent, control freak and Vaughn had never seen it happen. He'd been too caught up in the game, because the game was all he'd had to define himself.

So while Vaughn was laid up in the hospital with a concussion and a potentially career-ending hit to the knee, Laura had made a deal with Spencer Atkins, Associates, Yank's PR rival. She'd talked Vaughn into leaving Yank at a time when he was out of his mind with painkillers and fear. She'd claimed she'd had his best interests at heart and so he'd stood by the deal she'd made in a stupid attempt to believe he had both a marriage and a career. In reality the two had already ended.

'Laura got the bars I opened in D.C., N.Y and Dallas and I got my freedom,' Vaughn said with no small amount of satisfaction.

'How do I know you've learned your lesson?' Yank asked. But the rough timbre of his voice told Vaughn he was softening toward him.

'Would I be here groveling if I hadn't?'

A smile lifted Yank's mouth. 'So tell me what you're doing here.'

Vaughn knew that was as much of an I forgive you as he was likely to get from Yank Morgan.

He'd take it. And now they'd gotten to the heart of the matter. 'I'm this close to opening a lodge in Greenlawn, my old hometown upstate.'

Yank leaned closer, squinting. 'And why the hell would you want to do that?'

He understood Yank's question. With all the recent aggravation, Vaughn often needed to remind himself of why it was important for this venture to succeed. 'It's going to be a winter retreat for affluent adults and a school/summer camp for special kids.' Kids whose education fell short, who slipped through the cracks, and who couldn't read as well as others.

A silent moment of understanding passed between them. Because Yank knew Vaughn's secret, the weakness he never showed or shared, he had no doubt the other man would understand Vaughn's reasons for the lodge without him having to go into detail.

Sure enough, Yank nodded slowly. 'So what's the problem then?'

'The shit started hitting the fan.'

Yank raised an eyebrow and leaned back laughing. 'I assume you don't mean that literally?'

'I'm renovating an old hotel. Problems started with incomplete deliveries, then some missed orders altogether. Finally a few of the construction crews failed to show on time. In each case they claimed I'd called to reschedule.'

'Did you?' Yank asked.

'Hell no! We're already behind. I'd announced a Thanksgiving opening and the way things are going we'll be lucky to have guests by Christmas.'

Yank grimaced. 'Any chance your assistant or secretary made the changes?'

'Not if they wanted to live,' he said with certainty. Besides he'd already grilled the entire staff over the possibility. 'Nobody rescheduled. Just like nobody who works for me started the rumor that there're termites in the building when there isn't a bug to be found.'

He slammed his hand on the desk, his frustration returning. 'I need good publicity and quick, or I stand to lose my entire investment. If I don't get paying guests in time for this winter, I'll lose the funding for next summer.'

Then the kids would miss out. Not just on fun but on the opportunity to work with qualified teachers who'd help them with their educational problems in time for the school year.

Yank rubbed his hands together in thought. 'You need Annabelle.'

'Sophie,' Vaughn said at the same time, thinking of the jock-hating sister.

Yank laughed, his eyes glowing with pride now that the subject had turned to the nieces he adored.

'Hey, I saw what Sophie did to turn Contreras's PGA amusement park from a kiddie snack shack into a high- class establishment,' Vaughn said, pressing his case.

'Sophie was darn good for Contreras but only because she doesn't consider golfers athletes. She wouldn't touch you with a ten-foot pole and besides she's busy making sure my biggest moneymaker and pain in the ass behaves going into his next contract negotiation.'

At Yank's declaration, Vaughn knew Sophie wasn't an option. 'I'll take Micki, then. The folks in town will like her.'

No small consideration. Whichever sister took this job would have to spend time in his small hometown of Greenlawn. Get to know the people. Be in close contact with Vaughn. And Annabelle was too much, too everything, to do his lodge or his reputation any good. At this point, his success was tied to both.

'Besides from what I've read this is right up her alley. She knows how to turn a bad situation into a golden one.'

'Yessiree, Micki can handle any jock. You've got my niece's numbers ' Yank said. 'Only problem is Micki's

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