As if time came to a crawl and she was stuck in one of those cheesy movies, Chad turned toward her slowly. A wide, welcoming smile split his lips as his gaze flickered over her. He was already leaning down and extending a hand toward her.
Their eyes met.
The smile on his face faded as he jerked back, his eyes widening slightly in recognition.
Chad stared at her so long heat infused her cheeks, and then he spoke one word, breathed it really. “You.”
Holy shit, it was her.
Here, with his brother and Maddie. He almost couldn’t believe it. He was still pretty pissed that she had bolted on him that weekend, but he’d finally come to accept that it was unlikely he’d see her again. But here she was, a month later, popping up in a restaurant in the middle of the day with his brother, which meant there was no way in hell Bridget hadn’t known who he was related to when they met that night. First off, he looked just like his brother and secondly, everyone knew the Gamble brothers. Everyone.
Chad was struck stupid.
Today had started off like any other off-season day. Four-hour workout in the morning—it was true. Players really were made in the off-season—the training, the workouts. Then he managed to evade his babysitter for the rest of the morning. The stick was even farther up her ass than normal since he’d gotten caught leaving his brother’s bar with Tony. Yeah, he’d been a little intoxicated, but damn, he hadn’t been with a female and he’d behaved himself. Mostly. According to Miss Gore, having a few drinks was tantamount to punt-kicking a baby.
He’d kept a low profile the last month, but Miss Gore wasn’t impressed, and every time he stepped out of his house, she was right on his ass. So when Chase had texted him about lunch, Chad jumped at the chance to get out and also piss off Miss Gore at the same time. But the last thing he expected was to see her again.
She looked just like he remembered but better. Rich auburn hair pulled back in a low bun, but he knew it was long and full of soft waves that would tumble around her heart-shaped face. Her normally porcelain complexion was flushed now and full, pouty lips parted.
Chase cleared his throat. “Uh, you two know each other?”
He couldn’t stop staring at Bridget.
Her light green eyes were wide as she stared back, no doubt remembering just how well the two of them knew each other. Not as well as Chad had wanted but pretty damn close. Since she was sitting down, he couldn’t get an eyeful of those lush curves. He wanted to peel off that fucking cardigan because it was way too concealing.
Bridget swallowed, and her gaze swung toward his brother and Maddie. “Um, we met briefly,” she said.
Maddie’s mouth dropped open. “How come you never mentioned you met Chad?”
Yeah. How come? He was very, very curious and a bit offended. Why wouldn’t she mention that she knew him? Then again, considering where they met, most people didn’t bring up that club in common conversation.
Sitting down beside her, he leaned back and folded his arms. And waited.
Bridget glanced at him nervously. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
He was pretty confident that he was a big deal.
“And I actually kind of forgot about it.” She laughed, toying with the paper her straw had come wrapped in.
She forgot about it that quickly? Bull. Shit. His ego more than a little bruised, he was about two seconds from explaining just how well they knew each other but stopped. She didn’t want anyone to know what happened and he could respect that, but she was definitely going to have to reevaluate her “not a big deal” statement later.
Going along with this, Chad smiled and decided two could play at this game. “It was a while ago—at a game or something? You asked for my autograph, I think.”
Bridget’s delicate brows slammed down. “No. It wasn’t at a game, and I didn’t ask for your autograph.”
“You sure?” He glanced at his brother, who was watching them with raised brows. “Hell, I remember the face, but you’re going to have to refresh my memory about the rest.”
“No reason to. Like I said, it was just a brief meeting.” She squirmed a little, and it drew his attention downward. The curve of her hip and thigh made his cock swell. “I’m sure there are a lot of faces you don’t remember,” she added.
He tilted his head to the side, not missing the sly jab. “I imagine the same could be said about you.”
Her head jerked toward him, eyes a more vibrant shade of bottle green. She was angry. Good. He wasn’t feeling too cuddly, either.
Across the table, Maddie watched with rabid fascination. “Okay, so where did you two meet if it wasn’t at a game?”
“Good question,” Chad murmured, eagerly awaiting Bridget’s response.
She squirmed even more, so much so that her thigh brushed his.
“You’re fidgeting,” he pointed out. “And we’re waiting.”
“I’m not fidgeting.”
He clamped a hand down on her thigh, just above the knee, and she nearly jumped out of the booth. “You’re fidgeting.”
Her gaze dropped to his hand, and her flush deepened. He felt her shiver, and a near feral urge seized hold of him. Instinct demanded that he keep his hand right where it was or inch it down a few centimeters and then slide it up that skirt. Speaking of the skirt, it reminded him of a candy cane. He wanted to lick those stripes, but he doubted his brother and Maddie would be interested in that kind of show.
Smiling at her, he slowly lifted his hand, one finger at a time.
His brother and Maddie exchanged long looks. Lucky for Bridget, the waitress arrived to take their orders. Everyone ordered burgers and the waitress lingered longer than necessary, which normally wouldn’t have bothered Chad, but his attention was elsewhere, currently on the little liar sitting next to him.
“So, where did we meet?” he asked, grinning when she stiffened. If she thought she was off the hook that easily, she had another think coming. After a month of wondering what the hell happened to her, he wouldn’t let her get away this time.
Bridget looked up, her chin jutting out stubbornly. “It was at some bar. You were there with a friend.”
“Hmm, I can’t recall this bar.”
She shot him a glare, and Chad’s grin spread. Understanding quickly flared in her eyes, and then she looked away. “Anyway, Madison almost has the numbers finished for the winter gala.”
Maddie blinked. “Oh, yeah, with all the donations expected, we’re hoping to raise quite a bit of money this year for the Extended Learning program at the Smithsonian.”
“That’s my girl.” Chase bent his head, kissing her cheek.
Damn, his brother was whipped.
Sometimes it was strange seeing those two like that, especially Chase. They were perfect together, but Chad could never see himself in his younger brother’s shoes, loving someone so much you let go of the past and turned your whole world upside down for her.
“We only have a month to get everything ready,” Bridget chattered on, “but we’ve sold out the tickets.”
“That’s good news,” Chase said. “Are you guys going to have everything ready by then?”
Maddie nodded. “Yeah, the only thing that will be last-minute will be Bridget.”
Chad’s interest piqued. “Why is that?”
Beside him, Bridget went stock-still as she glared at Maddie, which was blatantly ignored. “Bridget always waits till the last moment to bring a date.”
“Does she?” Extending an arm along the back of their booth, he spread his legs, taking up as much room as humanly possible.
She scooted over a little, which planted her against the art deco wall. “I like to keep my options open.”
For some reason hearing that got under his skin. Was that why she had disappeared? Did she see someone at the club who was a better option? Doubtful.
“Anyway,” Chase said. “Back to you two. So you met at a bar and…?”
Bridget’s shoulders slumped.
Taking pity on her even though she didn’t deserve it, he said, “You know, I think I remember now. We talked about baseball.”
“Uh huh,” Chase said, sounding doubtful.
Maddie looked just as disbelieving. “You talked about baseball, Bridget? You don’t know anything about baseball.”
“Yes. I do,” Bridget huffed.
“Like what?” Maddie challenged.
Those lush lips he’d had so many plans for that night thinned. “People throw balls and try to hit them with a bat and get paid way too much for doing so. What more do you need to know than that?”
Chad tipped his head back and laughed. He had forgotten how feisty her mouth was. It hadn’t been the first thing that had drawn him to her—that had been that round ass—but it definitely had hooked him in, provoking his need to control and dominate.
“Sounds about right,” Chad agreed. He glanced at his brother. “I think Chase has said that a time or two.”
His brother nodded.
The food arrived and for a while the topic was dropped. Everyone dug in…everyone except Bridget, who spent more time breaking her burger up into tiny pieces than she did eating it.
He leaned over, close enough to catch the scent of her shampoo. Jasmine. It was just like he remembered. No heavy perfumes, just the soft, musky scent of jasmine. Damn, he hadn’t been able to get this woman out of his head. “Do you always play with your food?”
Bridget’s head snapped in his direction and as close as he was, her cheek grazed his. She gasped and then jerked back. “I’m not playing with my food.”
Chad knew he should move back, because he was far beyond the boundaries of personal space, but he didn’t. Some would say he was being a bastard like that, but for him, it was fun and he liked to tease.
All different kinds of ways.
“I’m actually waiting for you to start making a smiley face out of the bun,” he said.
“I could make one on your face if you wanted?” she replied sweetly.
He leaned back, chuckling. “I don’t think I could let you. I’ve been told I have a million-dollar face.”
His brother groaned. “You’re never going to let the whole People’s Sexiest Men bullshit go, are you?”
“Never,” Chad replied gamely.
“Wasn’t that last year, anyway?” Bridget threw in.
Maddie giggled. “Yeah, it was.”
“But this year hasn’t been released yet, so there’s always time.” Chad winked at Bridget.
She rolled her eyes.
He nudged her arm hard enough to make her drop her fork on her plate. “I bet you’ll buy that copy. Probably more than one copy, too.”
She stared at him. “Your ego is astonishing.”
Taking back the distance between them, he whispered for only her to hear, “That’s not the only thing that’s astonishing, but you already know that.”
“Okay.” Maddie drew out the word, looking at Chase like she expected some kind of explanation, but his brother just shrugged.