Natural Born Charmer (Chicago Stars #7)(11)

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

“That’s great. I haven’t done an adult nude in ages. I need the practice.”

She wasn’t biting. He smiled to himself and palmed the remote. “Don’t take this personally, but the idea of being naked in front of a woman is just plain repulsive.”

“I’m a professional. Just like a doctor. You can drape your privates if you’re uncomfortable.”

He grinned. His privates?

“Better yet, we’ll wait until tomorrow when you’ve had a chance to adjust to the idea.”

Game over. He took a swig of beer. “That’s okay. I’ll pull on some clothes.” He unfastened the top buttons of his shirt and watched the Bulls’ new guard miss a foul shot before he switched off the TV and crossed the room to open the door.

Chapter Three

The Beav’s contempt for fashion clearly carried over into nightwear. She wore a maroon man’s T-shirt and a pair of faded black track pants that hung in accordion pleats around her small ankles. Nothing remotely sexy about either of those garments, except for the mystery of what they covered up. He stepped back to let her in. She smelled like soap instead of a perfume factory.

He headed for the minibar. “Let me get you a drink.”

She yelped. “Ohmygod, you don’t actually use that thing?”

He couldn’t help it. He looked down at his crotch.

She, however, had her eye on the minibar. She dropped her sketch pad, shot in front of him, and snatched up the price list. “Look at this. Two-fifty for a tiny water bottle. Three dollars for a Snickers bar. A Snickers bar!”

“You’re paying for more than the candy,” he pointed out. “You’re paying for the convenience of having the candy exactly when you want it.”

But she’d spotted his peanut can on the bed, and he couldn’t talk her down. “Seven dollars. Seven dollars! How could you?”

“Do you need a paper bag to breathe into?”

“You should just hand over your wallet.”

“Normally I wouldn’t mention this,” he said, “but I’m rich.” And, barring the total collapse of the U.S. economy, he always would be. As a kid, the money had come from substantial child support payments. As an adult, it came from something one hell of a lot better. His own hard work.

“I don’t care how rich you are. Seven dollars for a can of peanuts is extortion.”

The Beav, he realized, had some serious money issues, but that didn’t mean he had to buy into them. “Wine or beer, take your choice. Or I’ll choose for you because, one way or another, a bottle’s going to get opened here.”

She still had her nose buried in the price list. “Could you just give me the six bucks, and I’ll pretend to drink the beer?”

He took her by the shoulders and set her aside so he could get to the minibar. “Don’t look if this is too painful for you.”

She snatched up her sketch pad and retreated to the chair across the room. “There are people starving in the world.”

“Don’t be a sore loser.”

She reluctantly accepted the beer. Fortunately, the room only had one chair, which gave him the perfect excuse to stretch out on the bed. “Pose me any way you want.”

He hoped she’d suggest the naked thing again, but she didn’t.

“However you’re comfortable.” She set the beer on the carpet, crossed her ankle over her knee tough-guy style, and balanced the sketch pad on her ratty black track pants. Despite her aggressive posture, she looked nervous. So far, so good.

He propped himself on one elbow and finished unbuttoning his shirt. He’d posed for enough cheesy End Zone photos to know what the ladies liked, but he still didn’t entirely understand how they could prefer something lame like this to a game shot of him throwing a perfect spiral. That was women for you.

A spike of inky dark hair had worked free from the Beav’s perpetually disorganized ponytail, and it fell across one of her sharp cheekbones as she turned her attention to her sketch pad. He let his shirt fall open far enough to reveal the muscles he’d developed over more than a decade of hard work, but not far enough to reveal his fresh shoulder scars. “I’m not…,” he said, “…actually gay.”

“Oh, honey, you don’t need to pretend with me.”

“The truth is…” Slipping his thumb into the waistband of his jeans, he tugged them lower. “Sometimes, when I go out in public, the demands of fame get to be too much for me, so I resort to extreme measures to hide my identity. Although, in fairness to myself, I never lose my dignity. I wouldn’t, for example, go so far as to climb into an animal costume. Do you have enough light over there?”

Her pencil moved across the sketch pad. “I’ll bet if you found the right man you’d get past your denial. True love is powerful.”

She still wanted to play games. Amused, he temporarily switched tactics. “Is that what you thought you had with ol’ Monty?”

“True love, no. I have a missing chromosome. But a real friendship, yes. Would you mind turning to your other side?”

So he’d be facing the wall? No way. “Sore hip.” He bent his knee. “All those things Monty was saying about trust and abandonment issues…crap?”

“Look, Dr. Phil, I’m trying to concentrate here.”

“Not crap, then.” She wasn’t looking at him. “Me, I’ve fallen in love half a dozen times. All before I was sixteen, but still…”

“Surely there’s been somebody since then.”

“Well, there you’ve got me.” The fact that he’d never fallen in love drove Annabelle crazy. She pointed out that even her husband, Heath, a head case if there ever was one, had been in love once before he met her.

The Beav’s hand swept across the paper. “Why settle down when the world is your playground, right?”

“I’m getting a cramp,” he said. “Mind if I stretch?” He didn’t wait for an answer but let his legs fall over the edge of the bed. He took his time standing up, then stretched a little, which sucked in his abs and sent his jeans low enough to reveal the top of his gray stretch End Zone boxer briefs.

The Beav kept her eyes glued to her sketch pad.

Maybe he’d made a tactical error bringing up Monty, but he couldn’t get over somebody with the Beav’s strength of character being attracted to such a dick. He set his hands on his hips, deliberately pushing his shirt out of the way so he could display his pecs. He was starting to feel like a stripper, but she’d finally looked up. His jeans slipped another inch lower, and her sketch pad slid to the floor. She leaned over to pick it up and banged her chin on the chair arm. Clearly, she needed a little time to adjust to the idea of letting him explore her beaver parts.