“My pleasure.” He nodded and tipped his glass, clinking it against hers. “So, pretty lady, are you a guest of the bride or the groom?”

She tried not to preen under the compliment, but he’d gotten under her skin already. “I’m a guest of the groom. Riley is my cousin,” she explained, before taking a cool, welcome sip of her soda.

“Are you related to the senator?” he asked.

“No, actually, Spencer Atkins is my uncle.” Riley had a complicated family situation, but Amy figured this man, probably an athlete, knew of renowned sports agent, Spencer Atkins, who was Riley’s biological father. “What about you? Which side of the family do you know?”

“I’m a guest of both, actually.”

“Which would make you a client of the Hot Zone PR and Athletes Only?” she said, referring to her uncle’s sports agency.

“Not only beautiful but perceptive, as well.”

She was certain she blushed. “What sport do you play?”

“You don’t know who I am?” His eyes widened. “I’m wounded,” he said in an affected tone with a little boy’s hurt in his expression. But immediate laughter let her know he was just teasing.

Amy smiled, enjoying his sense of humor and easygoing personality. The attraction went without saying. The man was definitely irresistible.

“John Roper, New York Renegades center fielder at your service.” He tipped his head toward her, then extended his hand.

“Amy Stone.” She placed her palm inside his. Searing heat branded her, sizzling up her arm and into her chest, knocking the wind out of her completely.


She’d never had such an intense reaction to a man before. She caught a whiff of his sensual cologne, which caused an erotic spike in her body temperature. “It’s nice to meet you, John.”

A cute smile pulled at his lips. “It’s nice to meet you, too, Amy Stone.” His voice dropped a husky octave.

She ran her tongue over her dry lips. “So what table are you seated at?” she asked him.

He’d been holding her gaze with a look hot enough to melt the ice sculptures she’d seen earlier, but suddenly he twisted his body, looking around before turning back to her again. “Listen, the seating is…um… complicated.”

“Tell me about it. It’s a wedding. Seating is always complicated. I’m just hoping I’m not at the same table as my mom and her sister.” Amy had picked up her place card earlier, but she hadn’t seen her relatives since they’d left the ceremony to ask where they were seated. Amy rolled her eyes at her predicament and laughed.

John didn’t join her. “It’s not that kind of complicated.” He mulled something over in his mind for a while before finally speaking. “I just didn’t expect to meet someone like you here,” he said, warmth and something inherently more in his tone.

“Tell me about it.” She hadn’t come here with a date or intending to meet a man, either, but she was definitely glad she had met one. Now she didn’t have to survive those awkward moments during slow songs. If John didn’t ask her to dance, maybe she’d just ask him instead. Though that sounded more like something her mother would do than Amy, this man was worth stepping out of her comfort zone for. A tingle of anticipation rippled through her at the thought of a slow dance, his arms wrapped around her waist…

He bent his head close to hers. She inhaled and his aftershave filled her with deep yearning. He leaned closer. For a whisper? Not a kiss, it was way too soon.

But her heart pounded in anticipation.

“Roper! Roper!” A shrill female voice called out his name.

The chance for her to discover his intentions disappeared as Amy and John jerked back and turned toward the sound. A beautiful woman walked, teetering on high heels, across the lawn, making a bee-line his way. Her long dress kept catching beneath her shoes, and although she held up the hem with both hands, the trip was obviously a difficult one.

“There you are,” she said. “Didn’t I ask you to stay on the patio? I told you I didn’t want to ruin my dress on the lawn.” She whined through heavily glossed lips that turned downward in what was obviously meant to be a pretty pout.

It was pretty, though Amy hated to concede the point. The other woman was model-thin and attractive in a waiflike sort of way, elegant despite her awkward trek across the lawn. And judging from the possessive way she aligned herself against John, she was his date.

His date. Disappointment rushed through her. All the while he’d been initiating conversation and coming on to her-at least that’s how she’d read his words and his body language-he’d had another woman waiting for him.

How naive could she be, thinking a hot baseball player would be interested in a country bumpkin? And that’s what she felt like compared to the chic woman standing next to him. She resented the emotion, hating that she allowed herself to feel inferior.

“I leave you alone for five minutes and I find you racking up another conquest in my absence,” the other woman said.

“I-” He paused. Obviously he couldn’t find an acceptable excuse because there was none.

Amy’s heart beat hard and fast while nausea overwhelmed her. She turned and started for the house, trying to get as far away as she could get from John Roper.

“Amy, wait!” He called after her. “I know this looks bad, but-”

She refused to turn around. It looked like what it was. He’d brought a date to the party, but he’d definitely come on to her.

He caught her arm, forcing her to face him.

His date followed, coming up beside them. “You’re worried about her and not me? You jerk! I flew out to this godforsaken place to be with you and this is how you repay me? By trying to hook up with a local bimbo?”

Before anyone could blink, the woman grabbed his drink from his hand and deliberately poured it down his shirt.

“Come on, Carrie. This is a Hugo Boss shirt!” He pulled at the stained material and glared at his date. “Was that really necessary?”

She forced a smile. “I think it was.”

Amy couldn’t believe this. The crowd around them grew silent and began to edge closer for a better look. Amy cringed. She hated being the center of attention and she resented that this man had done it to her now.

“You two obviously need privacy.” This time she ran from the circus act that was John and his date.

She slowed as she approached the patio, disappointment in John Roper and the way this day had turned out as strong as the sun overhead. She’d really been attracted to him, but she didn’t need a man like that in her life. She would begin her new job as a publicist for the Hot Zone, operating behind the scenes. But she definitely had to grow a thicker skin if she was going to deal with this kind of high-maintenance client on a daily basis.

A commotion broke out on the other side of the patio and Amy glanced over. Apparently the bride had decided to toss the bouquet early. She squinted for a better view and groaned aloud.

Amy’s mother, Rose, and Aunt Darla both jumped for the prize and were now rolling on the lawn, both determined to claim the flowers. Neither wanted the tradition that went along with the bouquet, since they’d sworn off remarriage. And they weren’t interested in the flowers, either. They just wanted the attention due them from catching it.

On one side of the house was John and his date. On the other side wrestled the crazy redheaded sisters who needed someone to separate them and give each a time-out.

This day couldn’t possibly get any worse.

But when the New Year arrived and with it, her new life, Amy swore to make it her mission not only to succeed, but to thrive.


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