Authors: Mackenzie Crowne
To win the game, they’ll have to risk losing their hearts…
When a bizarre child custody stipulation pits popular sports blogger Gracie Gable against football superstar Jake Malone, losing the battle for her twin nieces isn't the only thing Gracie has to worry about. Forced to live for three months under the same roof as the sexy tight end, will she fall prey to his flirtatious pursuit? Or worse, will the skeletons in her closet destroy her chance for the love and family she so desperately wants?
Neglected by his parents as a boy, Jake doesn’t believe in happily ever after. Yet living with Gracie and the twins might be enough to change his mind—and his womanizing ways. But when the press unearths a scandal from Gracie’s past, will he lose the one woman he was ready to open his heart to?
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The Players Series
To Win Her Trust
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
A Players Series Novel
Kensington Publishing Corp.
Lyrical Press books are published by
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Copyright © 2015 by Mackenzie Crowne
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First Electronic Edition: August 2015
First Print Edition: August 2015
Printed in the United States of America
Smile of a rascal. Spirit of a lamb. Heart of a lion.
Miss you, brother.
Like pure, walking sin, Jake Malone closed the distance in a deceptively lazy saunter. Gracie Gable fought the nearly overwhelming urge to take off running. Clenching her jaw, she lifted her chin. Without knowing her true identity, the various press publications flooding her blog’s inbox with requests for interviews had been stymied in their attempts to track her down physically. How the hell had Jake?
And oh, God, why now?
A horrified groan rumbled deep in her chest. Having no idea what was in Pete’s will, she couldn’t afford to do anything to jeopardize her guardianship of the girls—like going toe-to-toe with the Manhattan Marauders’
right here on her brother-in-law’s front lawn. She shot a worried glance down the historic farmhouse’s long driveway, relieved to find it empty. With a little luck, Pete’s attorney would be delayed long enough for her to deal with the famous all-pro’s justified, but still overblown ego. She’d promise him anything—apologize profusely for insulting his integrity, offer him a bribe, whatever would get rid of him before Anthony Spinoza arrived.
Six foot five, with a fallen angel’s face and the body of a god, Jake continued to approach. Gravel crunched beneath the heels of his boots, marking his long-legged swagger, as his thigh muscles flexed and stretched under faded blue jeans. A worn and battered leather bomber jacket rode his yard-wide shoulders. His trademark black Stetson and snakeskin boots completed the image of the Outlaw who held his own against opposing defensive lines and cast him in countless feminine fantasies. Hers included. She’d enjoyed more than her share of secret imaginings concerning the Marauders’ number one tight end.
Though his nasty insults during their disastrous exchange on her blog the other day should’ve dealt a death blow to her foolish infatuation, the two-dimensional image she’d admired on her TV screen couldn’t have prepared her for the flesh and bone temptation that was Jake Malone. Dismay crowded panic as every double X chromosome in her body quivered with giddy, XXX delight.
The X girls danced with anticipation, and the erratic thump of her heart increased with every fall of his size fifteen feet.
Down, girls. He may look like every woman’s deepest sexual fantasy, but those boots are more likely to stomp us into the ground than end up under our bed.
As angry as he must be to have taken the trouble to discover her true identity
find her, she could clearly imagine him grabbing her with those meat hooks he called hands and shaking her until her bones rattled.
Try it, buster. If you think the press is in a frenzy now, wait till I’m done with you.
The silent threat boosted her flagging confidence. She angled her chin a bit more defiantly. At five ten, she was used to looking most men in the eye, but despite the added height from her three-inch heels, her gaze fell even with the sharp blade of his nose. Dark stubble shadowed the solid line of his jaw and upper lip, the same blue-black as the silky locks falling below the brim of his hat to brush his collar in the shaggy hairstyle popular among the ranks of pro football these days.
Disturbed at how badly her fingers itched to shove the hat from his head and stroke the glossy strands, she curled her hands into fists, and met his gaze. Blatant curiosity sparkled in eyes as verdant green as the needles of the pine trees lining the drive at his back. A slow smile curved his cleanly cut lips.
Huh? A sneer or even a dismissive smirk she could understand, but a smile? Where was his anger? She blinked when, instead of snatching her up, and shaking her like a dirty rag, he spoke in an easy, Texas drawl.
“You don’t look like any Anthony I’ve ever met.”
“Anthony Spinoza. I’m supposed to meet him here.”
Meet Anthony Spinoza? Why would Jake be meeting with Pete’s lawyer, and why pretend ignorance of her identity? Why the pretense? Her temper simmered as logic provided a nasty explanation. Jake Malone had powerful connections and was famous for his ability to strategize. How many times had she applauded his knack for finding his opponents’ weaknesses and using them to his advantage? Somehow, he must have found out, not only who she was, but her reason for being here today. She wouldn’t put it past the seasoned predator to play her, acting as if he didn’t know who she was, then pouncing when she relaxed her guard.
She bared her teeth in a tight smile. “Do you have business with Mr. Spinoza?”
“Of a sort.” He didn’t expand on the cryptic comment, crossing his arms, and raising an inquisitive brow. “Are you his assistant?”
Oh, he was good. The question contained the perfect amount of curiosity to make it believable. “No, I’m not. I’m supposed to meet him as well.”
Speculation replaced curiosity in his dark green eyes. Starting at the top of her head and moving down with a slow thoroughness, his gaze traveled her body, pausing momentarily at her chest. Her nipples immediately pouted in response. She fought the urge to slap her palms over them and prayed her fitted winter coat provided the necessary camouflage. Biting her bottom lip, she attempted to calm the girls by picturing him a good foot shorter with scrawny arms and nerdy glasses perched on a bulbous nose.
The vision refused to form.
His steady inspection continued down over her slim skirt. Winged eyebrows lifted at her leather half boots, and his smile slid toward a smirk. He examined her calves beneath the sheer protection her panty hose provided before his gaze made the return trip to her face.
“I should have known.”
She bristled at both the disdain in his eyes and his snide drawl. “What, exactly, should you have known?”
“Sorry, sweetheart. You’re a looker, but you’re a little young, even for an old hound dog like Pete Thompson.”
Hound dog? The derogatory description made no sense when attached to the loving older man her sister, Sarah, had adored, but then the rest of his comment registered. The insinuation quieted the remnant whispers of feminine awareness. Indignation strangled thoughts of crushes, walking sin,
expediting his departure.
She matched his stance, crossing her arms. Over the years, Sarah had done her best to break Gracie of her quick temper. When her sister’s efforts had failed, she’d predicted one day, the personality flaw would get Gracie into more trouble than she could handle. Today was shaping up as that day, but the possibility didn’t stop her from reacting to the insult his speculation represented.
She pinned him with a narrow-eyed stare. “Pete Thompson happens to have been my sister’s husband.”
His dark brows shot up. “No shit?”
She cleared her throat. “No shit.”
He startled as though having his words tossed back surprised him. After studying her in silence for a long moment, the legendary charm for which he was famous made an appearance. Matching dimples popped in his cheeks with his unrepentant smile. “My apologies.”
Whether the apology was for his implied insult or her familial connection to Pete, she couldn’t tell. Before she could ask, he stuck out a hand and doubled down on his ruse of having no clue of her identity.
“Why don’t we start over? Hello, I’m Jake Malone.”
She should call him out, of course, demand he tell her what he was up to, but she couldn’t resist the opportunity for a little tit for tat. She unfolded her arms to place her hand in his. “Gracie Gable.”
“Nice to meet you, Gracie.”
Despite her supple leather gloves, the tingling warmth of his large, bare fingers reached hers. She tugged back her hand, relieved when he let go. Equilibrium shaky, she sucked in a stealthy breath, crossed her arms once more, and cocked her head to study him. She tapped a fingertip to her bottom lip in mock concentration.
“Jake Malone? Isn’t there a semi-famous…um,
or something with the same name?”
His wry grin said he clearly recognized her slight for what it was. “Famous football player, actually. I play for the Marauders.”
She repaid his slow inspection with one of her own, sliding her gaze from his dark hat to the tips of his booted feet. At two hundred forty-seven hard-muscled pounds, there was a lot of territory to cover. All of it radiated the superbly conditioned perfection of a pro athlete. Her pulse picked up a notch as her gaze roamed over powerful thighs, past trim hips, and over a flat stomach to a broad chest and impossibly wide shoulders. By the time she reached the chiseled line of his jaw, she’d forgotten how to breathe. She needed every bit of concentration to offer him a smirk instead of licking her lips.
“I should have known.”
As paybacks went, repeating his insult was lame, but it was the best she could manage. He surprised her by laughing a full-throated, head thrown back, rumble of male approval. His eyes twinkled with appreciation when he lowered his head and winked. Despite the disturbing fluttering in her belly, she didn’t try to disguise her satisfied smile.