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Excerpt: The Player

Excerpt: The Player

Book 2: The Wedding Pact

Chapter One

Blair Hansen had always heard that near-death experiences made people reevaluate their lives. She’d spent nearly thirty years sure about what she wanted in life, but all it had taken for her to start questioning everything was some severe turbulence on a 747.

She picked up her whiskey and took a healthy sip. No girly drinks for her. Blair had forced herself to drink whiskey until she liked it. Being tough—and letting other people know it—was how she’d gotten to where she was in life. Which was currently in a hotel bar in Phoenix, Arizona, waiting to hear if they had a room for her to spend the night.

Of course, she wasn’t supposed to be away from home at all, let alone in Phoenix. She was getting married in five days, so her bosses had agreed to let her have a short four-day workweek in their office in Kansas City, but then the senior partner had called her on Sunday afternoon with instructions to board a plane to Los Angeles. And that’s exactly what she had done—despite the fact that she had a million and one things to do for her wedding. Robert Sisco Sr. didn’t want to hear excuses. Sisco, Sisco, and Reece only wanted to hear yes and see lots of dollar signs on checks, and her understanding of that fact was one of the reasons she was so close to making junior partner. They didn’t want her wedding to interfere with her work. Even if they were the primary reason she was getting married in the first place. Partners were typically married, which probably had something to do with the illusion of stability and maturity. It was all a bunch of hooey, but Blair Hansen really wanted to be a partner.

She took another gulp of her drink, the ice clinking against her glass because of her shaking hand.

The thing was, she’d realized something. Her future life had flashed before her eyes in those awful minutes on board the plane, and she hadn’t liked the look of it.

Now she wasn’t so sure she wanted to get married after all.

On paper, Dr. Neil Fredrick was perfect for her. Educated, personable, stable. Conservative politically and fiscally. Neil was a firm believer in playing it safe. And stability was exactly what Blair wanted after bearing witness to her parents’ chaotic marriage—her father’s affairs, her parents’ subsequent divorce, and finally her father’s death, which had practically bankrupted the family.

But lately, she found herself wanting something . . . more.

She blamed it on her best friend Megan. Megan had gotten married two months ago, though not to her original groom. Their story was the kind of gushy, too-cute-to-be-true, fairy-tale romance that wasn’t supposed to happen in real life. But for Megan, the impossible had happened. The weekend of her wedding, she’d boarded a plane home to tell her parents that she and her cheating asshole fiancé had broken up. After imbibing several drinks and a large dose of Dramamine on the plane, she passed out and was carried off-board by her gorgeous seatmate, who filled in as her substitute fiancé. By the end of the week, Josh had become her real husband, and the two were still nauseatingly happy.

Gag.

Still, Blair couldn’t dismiss the fact that their wild and crazy love had put a crack in her belief that she had the perfect arrangement—a crack that was starting to spider web. She and Neil had separate apartments, and although Neil had begun spending more time at her place, he remained surprisingly stubborn about keeping his after they were married.

A memory from a couple of months ago intruded on her, tapping directly on that crack in the glass.

“My apartment is closer to the hospital, Blair,” Neil had said matter-of-factly, sipping his morning coffee. “It will be easier for the nights I’m on call.”

It was hard to argue with his logic—and his stoic logic had always been one of his more attractive traits—but it still seemed . . . wrong. If they were unifying their lives in other ways, why keep separate places? And she knew how it would seem to everyone else.

“But the money—”

“The mortgage on my condo is more than covered by my salary, and the neighborhood is up-and-coming,” he had said, his eyes still glued on his newspaper. “If I hold onto it for another five years, there’s a chance it will double in value. It makes financial sense to keep it.”

At the time, she’d wanted to point out that he could rent it, and anyway, her condo was only twenty minutes from the hospital. He’d already vehemently nixed the idea of sharing his place. According to Neil, the loft was a bachelor pad, and they needed to have a home worthy of entertaining their friends and colleagues. Not that they were known for their dinner parties.

But pointing out those facts would only have instigated an argument. And one of the best parts of their relationship was that they rarely argued. Her job was taxing and full of dissent; when she came home, she coveted peace. And if she were truly honest with herself, a small part of her approved of the living arrangements. Now that he was staying at her apartment on a more consistent basis, she’d begun to find his presence surprisingly suffocating and his previously cute quirks—like the precise way he chewed his food or how he had to have the remote control positioned a very exact way on the coffee table—irritating as hell. But that was normal. As a divorce attorney, she knew better than to expect that marriage would be a roller coaster of excitement.

In fact, if she’d learned anything from her work, it was this: the couples who ended up divorcing after just a year or two were usually the ones who’d been head-over-heels, drawing-hearts-on-everything in love when they approached the altar. Megan’s delirious happiness aside, there was no such thing as true love.

If there were, she would still be with Garrett Lowry.

She clanked her now-empty glass on the bar to get the bartender’s attention. “Another, please.”

He shot her a grin as he poured her drink. “Must have been some kind of Monday.”

She grabbed the glass out of his hands. “You have no idea.”

The deposition had run nearly two hours longer than planned, and she’d barely made it to LAX in time to catch her plane. Her feeling of relief had been short-lived; the severe turbulence had convinced her and most of the other passengers that they were about to meet their maker. By the time they landed in Phoenix, many of the connecting flights had been canceled or delayed, and Blair discovered she was stuck overnight in Arizona. The airline had sent her to this hotel, but there had been a problem at the check-in desk.

Half her whiskey was gone before she realized it. There were so many things she needed to do in Kansas City, and she wouldn’t get back until at least mid-morning, which meant she’d have to rush to get to her morning deposition. To make matters worse, the damn airline hadn’t even confirmed her on the six a.m. flight. They’d only made a vague promise to text her around four in the morning to confirm if she had a ticket.

So now she was well on her way to getting drunk in the bar of an Embassy Suites, playing another round of This Is Your Life, Blair Anne Myers Hansen, and she wasn’t too happy with what she saw.

Practical, pragmatic, sensible Blair wanted a heart-stopping, butterflies-in-her-stomach kind of love.

All that turbulence must have rattled her brains.

But she couldn’t deny the fact that she’d been thinking of Garrett a lot over the last two months—much more than the asshole deserved. Truth be told, he was the only man she’d ever loved. And look how that had turned out. Five years later, she could finally admit to the role she’d played in their breakup, but that didn’t make it suck any less.

The rift had formed the night Blair had received word of her estranged father’s death. Rather than share the news with Garrett when he came over, she had lashed out at him, picking a fight over some nitpicky complaint. Anger had always been her go-to reaction, and Garrett had weathered many a storm, but that night he’d responded with a fire equal to her own. The fight had spiraled out of control, and before she realized what was happening, Garrett had packed the toiletries and clothes he kept at her apartment into a duffel bag. And then he was gone.

She had spent the next day drowning in an emotional fog of dismay, grief, and loss, and even skipping classes—something she never did. After hours of stewing in her turbulent emotions, she had realized she felt an intense ache for Garrett. For the first time ever, she had truly needed someone. She had decided to swallow her pride and go to him, ready to beg for his forgiveness and ask him to go with her to her father’s funeral. Never in a million years would she have guessed the surprise that she had found in his apartment.

Jody Stewart, a fellow second-year law student, who’d made no secret of her lust for Garrett, had opened his door wearing cheap superstore lingerie. Neon green, to make matters worse.

Blair had turned around and never looked back, not even when Garrett had run after her. Or when he’d pounded on her apartment door for an hour begging and pleading with her to let him explain. Not even when he’d tried to approach her in class every day for two solid weeks.

When he’d begun to single-handedly plow his way through nearly every available woman in law school the next year, not to mention a couple of not-so-available ones, she knew she’d made the right decision.

Garrett Lowry was a player.

He may have taken a momentary side-stop with her, but he’d wasted no time before jumping back into the game. She was better off without him.

Still, the memories chafed.

Between Garrett’s betrayal and her father’s bad behavior, it had been easy for Blair to decide what type of law to practice. In fact, she should thank them both. Maybe she’d take daisies to her father’s grave when she came back from her honeymoon. He’d always hated daisies.

She was motioning to the bartender to bring her another drink, wishing the hotel staff would finally give her a damn room key, when she noticed him—a man was standing in the entrance of the bar, his gaze fixed on her. She did a double take, certain the Embassy Suites was now including hallucinogens in their drinks, because standing in the doorway was the player himself—Garrett Lowry.

She stopped the bartender as he grabbed her glass. “I’m going to need you to make that a double.”