Natural Born Charmer (Chicago Stars #7)(6)


by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

“Just passing through.”

The guy started sputtering. “Gawdamn. Ben should have made Sheryl drive her own big ass to the hospital. Wait’ll I tell him The Boo was here.”

Dean’s college teammates had stuck him with the moniker because of the amount of time he’d spent at Malibu Beach, which was nicknamed “The Boo” by the locals.

“I saw that sack you took in the Steelers game. How’s your shoulder doing?”

“Coming along,” Dean replied. It’d be coming along a lot better if he stopped driving around the country feeling sorry for himself and started doing his physical therapy.

The guy introduced himself as Glenn, then launched into a review of the Stars’ entire season. Dean nodded automatically, all the while wishing the Beav would hurry up. But a good ten minutes passed before she emerged. He took in her wardrobe.

This was just wrong.

Bo Peep had been kidnapped by a Hells Angels gang. Instead of a ruffly gown, pink bonnet, and shepherd’s crook, she’d decked herself out in a faded black muscle shirt, baggy jeans, and the big old work boots he’d seen in the bathroom but mercifully forgotten. Defurred and delicate, she was maybe five four, and as thin as he’d imagined, right down to her chest, which was definitely female, but hardly memorable. Apparently, she’d spent most of her bathroom time washing up, because as she came closer, he smelled soap instead of musty fur. Her wet, dark hair lay flat against her head like spilled ink. She wasn’t wearing makeup, not that she needed much with that creamy skin. Still, a little lipstick and a dab of mascara wouldn’t have hurt her.

She practically threw her beaver suit at Glenn. “The head and the sign are out at the intersection. I stuck them behind the power box.”

“What do you want me to do about it?” Glenn retorted.

“I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

Dean whipped open the car door before she decided to throw another punch. As she climbed in, Glenn thrust his free hand at Dean. “It’s been great talking to you. Wait’ll I tell Ben that Dean Robillard was here.”

“Give him my best.”

“You told me your name was Heath,” the Beav said as he pulled out of the parking lot.

“Heath Champion is my stage name. My real name is Dean.”

“How did Glenn know your real name?”

“We met last year at a gay bar in Reno.” He slipped on a pair of Prada aviators with green lenses and gunmetal frames.

“Glenn’s gay?”

“Don’t pretend you didn’t know.”

The Beav’s husky laugh had a disconcertingly wicked edge, as if she was enjoying her own private joke. But then, as she turned away to look out the window, her laughter faded and trepidation darkened those grape candy eyes. It made him wonder if the Beav didn’t have a few secrets of her own hiding behind that feisty exterior.

Chapter Two

Blue concentrated on counting her breaths, hoping that would calm her, but her panic kept trying to resurface. She gave Pretty Boy a surreptitious glance. Did he honestly expect her to believe he was gay? True, there were the gay boots and those stunning good looks. But, even so, he blasted enough heterosexual mega-wattage to light up the entire female population. Which he’d undoubtedly been doing since he shot out of the birth canal, glimpsed his reflection in the obstetrician’s eyeglasses, and gave the world a high five.

Here she’d thought Monty’s betrayal was the final disaster in the rapidly unfolding catastrophe that had become her life, but now she was at the mercy of Dean Robillard. She’d never have gotten in the pro football player’s car if she hadn’t recognized him. His nearly naked, and incredibly buff, body used to be plastered on billboards everywhere advertising End Zone, a line of men’s underwear with the memorable slogan “Get your butt in the Zone.” More recently, she’d seen his photo in People’s “50 Most Beautiful” edition. He’d been walking barefoot on a beach and wearing a tux with the cuffs rolled up. Although she didn’t remember which team he played for, she did know he was the kind of man she avoided at all costs, not that men like him made a habit of popping up in her life. But now he was all that stood between her, a homeless shelter, and a sign that read WILL PAINT FOR FOOD.

Three days ago, she’d discovered that both her savings account, with its eight-thousand-dollar nest egg, and her checking account had been emptied out. Now Monty had stolen her two hundred dollars of security money. All she had left in the world was in her wallet—eighteen dollars. She didn’t even have a credit card—a huge miscalculation on her part. She’d spent her adult life making sure she would never be helpless, yet here she was. “What were you doing heading for Rawlins Creek?” She tried to sound as if she were making conversation instead of accumulating information that might help her feel her way with him.

“Following a sign to the Taco Bell,” he said, “but I’m afraid meeting your lover made me lose my appetite.”

“Ex-lover. Way ex.”

“Here’s what I don’t get. The minute I saw the guy, I knew he was a loser. Didn’t any of your Seattle friends bother to point that out?”

“I move around a lot.”

“Hell, you could have gone up to a stranger at a gas pump.”

“Hindsight.”

He gazed over at her. “You’re going to start crying any minute now, aren’t you?”

It took her a moment to figure out what he meant. “I’m being brave,” she said with only a hint of sarcasm.

“You don’t have to pretend with me. Go ahead and let it out. Fastest way to heal a broken heart.”

Monty hadn’t broken her heart. He’d made her furious. Still, he wasn’t the one who’d emptied out her bank accounts, and she knew she’d overreacted when she’d attacked him. She and Monty had barely been lovers for two weeks before she’d known she’d rather have him as a friend and she’d permanently kicked him out of her bed. They had common interests, and despite his self-centeredness, she’d generally enjoyed his company. They’d hung out together, gone to movies and galleries, supported each other’s work. She’d known he could be overly dramatic, but his frantic phone calls from Denver had alarmed her.

“I wasn’t ever in love with him,” she said. “I don’t do love. But we watched out for each other, and he sounded more upset every time he called. I started worrying that he’d really kill himself. Friends are important to me. I couldn’t turn my back on him.”