“You're thirty-one,” Doug, the big-shot accountant, had noted on her recent birthday card. “I was making two hundred grand a year when I was thirty-one.”
Her father, the ex-big-shot surgeon, took a different approach. “Birdied number four yesterday. My putting game's finally come together. And, Annabelle… It's long past time you found yourself.”
Only Nana Myrna had offered support. “You'll find yourself when the time is right, sweetheart.”
Annabelle missed Nana Myrna. She'd been a failure, too.
“The accounting field is wide open,” her mother said. “It's growing by leaps and bounds.”
“So is my business,” Annabelle retorted in a mad act of self-destruction. “I've landed a very important client.”
“You know I can't give you his name.”
“Is he under seventy?”
Annabelle told herself not to take the bait, but there was a reason she'd earned her reputation as the family screwup. “He's thirty-four, a high-profile multimillionaire.”
“Why on earth has he hired you?”
Annabelle gritted her teeth. “Because I'm the best, that's why.”
“We'll see.” Her mother's voice softened, driving the point of her maternal knife home. “I know I aggravate you, baby, but it's only because I love you, and I want you to fulfill your potential.”
Annabelle sighed. “I know you do. I love you, too.”
The conversation finally ground to an end. Annabelle stowed her cell, slammed the door, and jabbed the key into the ignition. Maybe if there wasn't so much truth behind her mother's words, they wouldn't sting so badly.
As she backed out of the parking place, she gazed into the rearview mirror and uttered little Jamison's favorite word. Twice.
Match Me If You Can
Dean Robillard entered the club like a frigging movie star, a linen sports coat draped over his shoulders, diamond studs glittering in his earlobes, and a pair of Oakleys shading his Malibu blue eyes. With his sun-bronzed skin, rakish stubble, and blond, surfer-boy hair all shiny and gel-rumpled, he was L.A.'s gift to the city of Chicago. Heath grinned, glad for the distraction. The boy had style, and the Windy City had missed him.
“Do you know Dean?” The blonde trying to drape herself over Heath's right arm watched as Robillard flashed the crowd his red carpet smile. She had to raise her voice to be heard over the crap music coming from the dance floor of Waterworks, the site of tonight's private party. Although the Sox were playing in Cleveland and the Bulls hadn't drifted back to town yet, the city's other teams were -well represented at the party, mainly players from the Stars and Bears, but also most of the Cubs outfield, a couple of Blackhawks, and a goalie for the Chicago Fire. Added to the mix were a few actors, a rock star, and women, dozens of them, each more beautiful than the next, the sexual plunder of the rich and famous.
“Sure he knows Dean.” The brunette on his other side gave the blonde a condescending look. “Heath knows every football player in town, doncha, lover?” As she spoke, she surreptitiously slid her hand around his inner thigh, but Heath ignored his hard-on, just as he'd been ignoring all his hard-ons since he'd gone into training for marriage.
Going into training for marriage was hell.
He reminded himself that he'd gotten where he was by sticking to a plan, and being married before he hit thirty-five was the next step. His wife would be the ultimate symbol of his accomplishments, the final proof that he'd left the Beau Vista Trailer Park behind him forever.
“I know him,” he said. He didn't add that he hoped to know him a whole lot better.
As Robillard moved deeper into the room, the Waterworks crowd parted, making way for the former Southern Cal player who'd been tapped by the Stars to take over as the team's first-string quarterback when Kevin Tucker hung up his spikes at the end of the upcoming season. A hint of mystery surrounded Dean Robillard's family background, and the quarterback typically gave vague answers when anyone tried to pry. Heath had done a little digging on his own and unearthed some interesting rumors, but he kept them to himself. The Zagorski brothers, slobbering over a pair of brunettes at the other end of the bar, finally became aware of what was happening and shot to attention. Within seconds, they were stumbling over all four of their Prada loafers trying to be the first to get to him.
Heath took another sip of beer and left them to it. The Zagorskis' interest in Robillard didn't surprise him. The quarterback's agent had died in a rock-climbing incident five days earlier, leaving him without representation, something the Zagorski brothers, and every other agent in the country, hoped to rectify. The Zagorskis ran Z-Group, the only Chicago sports management business that rivaled Heath's. He hated their guts, mainly for their ethics, but also because they'd stolen a first-round draft pick from him five years ago when he'd needed it most. He'd retaliated by taking Rocco Jefferson from them, which hadn't been all that hard to do. The Zagorskis were good at making big promises to their clients but not as good at delivering them.
Heath had no illusions about his profession. In the past ten years, the business of being a sports agent had grown more corrupt than a cockfight. In most states licensing was a joke. Any two-bit hustler could print up a business card, call himself a sports agent, and prey on gullible college athletes, especially the guys who'd grown up with nothing. These sleazeballs slipped them money under the table, promised cars and jewelry, hired hookers, and paid “bounties” to anybody who could deliver the signature of a high-profile athlete on a management contract. Some reputable agents had left the business because they didn't believe they could be both honest and competitive, but Heath wouldn't be driven away. Despite the sleaze factor, he loved what he did. He loved the adrenaline rush of signing a client, of making the deal. He loved seeing how far he could push the rules. That's what he did best. He pushed the rules… but he didn't break them. And he never cheated a client.
He watched Robillard bend his head to hear what the Zagorski boys were saying. Heath wasn't worried. Robillard might be an L.A. glamour boy, but he wasn't stupid. He knew every agent in the country was after him, and he wouldn't be making any decisions tonight.
A sex kitten Heath had slept with a couple of times in his pre-training camp days zeroed in on him, hair swaying, nipples puckered like overripe cherries beneath her slinky top. “I'm taking a poll. If you could only have one kind of sex for the rest of your life, what would it be? So far the vote's running three to one in favor of oral.”
“How about I just vote for heterosexual.”
All three of the women laughed uproariously, as if they'd never heard anything funnier. He was the king of stand-up comics, all right.
The party began to heat up, and a few of the women on the dance floor started running through the jets of water that gave Waterworks its name. Their clothes melted to their bodies, outlining every curve and hollow. He'd loved the club scene when he'd first come to town, the music and booze, the beautiful women and free sex, but by the time he'd hit thirty, he'd grown jaded. Still, making the scene, bullshit or not, was an important part of his business, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd been in bed alone at a decent hour.
“Heath, my man.”
He grinned as Sean Palmer approached. The Chicago Bears rookie was a great-looking kid, tall and muscular with a square jaw and mischievous brown eyes. The two of them executed one of a dozen or so tricky handshakes Heath had mastered over the years.
“How's the Python doin' tonight?” Sean asked.
“No complaints.” Heath had worked hard to recruit the Ohio State fullback, and when Sean had gone ninth to the Bears in the first round of last April's draft, it had been one of those perfect moments that made up for all the crap. Sean was a hard worker, and he came from a great family. Heath intended to do everything he could to keep him out of trouble.
He signaled the women that he wanted some privacy, and Sean looked only momentarily disappointed as they faded away. Like everyone else in the club, he wanted to talk about Robil-lard. “Why aren't you over there kissing Dean's skinny white ass like everybody else?”
“I do my ass kissing in private.”
“Robillard's one smart dude. He's gonna take his time findin' a new agent.”
“Can't blame him. He's got a great future.”
“You want me to put in a word with him?”
“Sure.” Heath hid a grin. Robillard wouldn't give a damn about the recommendation of a rookie. The only person's opinion Dean Robillard might care about would be Kevin Tucker's, and even that wasn't certain. Dean alternated between idolizing Kevin and resenting him because Kevin had stayed healthy last season, which kept Dean on the bench for one more year.