Dare to Play Chapter 1
Damon Prescott’s life had gone from golden to shit in an instant. Or rather in one violent football play gone wrong. He refused to watch the reviews of his injury. The slam of his head against the turf and the shattering pain before he blacked out were vivid enough in his mind.
Another concussion should have been the worst of his problems. Instead he’d also tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in a random test and had been suspended immediately. As if he’d touch the stuff. No unknown supplements went into his body. Period. So how the fuck had he tested positive not just once but on a second check as well?
A knock sounded at his door and he pushed himself up from his couch, his head still pounding a week later. Even his ears continued to ring. He walked slowly to the front entrance, opened up, and let his family into his home. It was the second meeting since the results had come back.
The people entering his house weren’t just family, they were his team. That team included Dare Nation, a sports management firm his brother Austin owned along with their uncle Paul Dare.
Austin, his oldest sibling and his agent, strode in first, his executive assistant and girlfriend, Quinn Stone, by his side. Austin patted him on the back. Quinn smiled and murmured her apologies for what was going on.
Next came Bri, his sister and publicist. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered,” she promised him, pulling him into a hug.
He’d deliberately kept this gathering tight. He didn’t want his mother, Christine, here. She was already upset by the situation and his injury. His brother Jaxon was at baseball practice and couldn’t be here. And Braden was abroad with Doctors Without Borders. Paul was at the office, fending off the press and holding down the fort.
But they did need a plan. First of all, the season started in two weeks, and Damon didn’t want to miss being allowed on the field for the first four games due to a suspension. He was appealing and should hear soon what the verdict was.
Austin cleared his throat. “Let me start by saying everyone in this room knows you didn’t cheat. But we also know the likelihood of winning on appeal in this zero-tolerance era and it’s not good.”
Damon clenched his fists at his sides. “I did not take a banned substance.”
His brother stared at him, his expression somber. “Players are responsible for what is in their bodies and a positive test will not be excused because a player was unaware he was taking a prohibited substance.” He repeated the words from the players’ collective bargaining agreement.
Words Damon already knew by heart.
“Golden Tate was taking fertility treatments he didn’t know contained prohibited substances,” Austin continued. “And if that doesn’t tug on the committee’s heartstrings, I don’t know what will.”
“Tate self-reported before he tested positive and they still didn’t cut him any slack,” Bri said.
Despite the fact that Damon heard his siblings, he refused to give up without a fight, and believing in himself was priority one. “I still say we go forward as if we’ll win. We thought we’d hear by now. Maybe it’s a good sign they’re taking their time.”
His brother and sister glanced at each other and nodded.
“We figured you’d say as much,” Bri said. “So, I’ve got an idea. Well, thanks to Quinn, I have an idea.”
Damon grinned. “You’re the family fixer. Of course you do.” But he rubbed his chest, which grew tight any time he let himself think about the mess he was in.
Without admitting it to his siblings, even he knew that the only out given on appeal was when the testing had been compromised. He couldn’t prove his had. But he refused to give up until forced to.
He was one of the team captains despite his young age, and it was a contract year, for fuck’s sake. The positive test gave Ian Dare, his team owner, every reason not to offer him the deal he deserved as the up-and-coming star quarterback of the Miami Thunder.
“You’ve spoken to Ray Benson’s PI?” Damon asked of the lawyer Dare Nation used and Austin himself had used when his baby girl had been left on his doorstep.
So much had changed in such a short time.
Bri shook her head. “Nope. I have someone better. A licensed PI whose work I value.” She clasped her hand behind her back and rocked on her heels, grinning in a way Damon didn’t trust.
His gut churned and he glanced at Austin. “You wouldn’t let her fuck me over, right?”
Austin rolled his eyes. “We’re all on your side. Though I will say Bri’s plan is a little … unorthodox.”
Before either could elaborate, the doorbell rang. Damon raised his eyebrows. “Who is that?”
“I’ve got it,” Bri said and rushed to the front of the house to let the unknown visitor in.
Damon waited, and seconds later, Bri strode back into the room with his biggest nightmare by her side. Evie Wolfe, Quinn’s best friend, a licensed PI, and a woman Damon hadn’t been able to get out of his head since the day they’d met, walked in.
Evie wasn’t anything like the typical female he was used to. No red-soled stilettos or designer handbags for her. A pair of scuffed leather boots and ripped jeans that fit her like a glove, along with a black leather jacket she rarely removed, were her normal attire. And damned if it wasn’t sexy.
“Hi, Damon.” She eyed him with an amused grin.
They’d met the first time at Dare Nation. She’d come off an all-night watch and strode in to meet Quinn for lunch wearing a similar outfit, jeans that hugged her ass, a long-sleeve tight top that showed off her full breasts and ample cleavage, her face makeup free and her mouth sassy.
Damon had been sitting outside Austin’s office while he was on a phone call, taken one look at the woman with the gorgeous dark hair hanging loose around her shoulders, not his usual type, yet he’d been drooling. Not literally.
“Staring at something?” she’d asked him with snark.
He’d held up his hands. “Just admiring the view.”
Austin had walked out of his office at that moment and smacked him in the head with the papers in his hand. From that day on, they’d gotten under each other’s skin. He didn’t know what it was about her, but he was more comfortable across the room and not close enough to smell her musky perfume.
“Well, who wants to hear the plan?” Bri asked.
He folded his hands across his chest and glared at his sister, who was enjoying her moment way too much. “Go on.”
“You tested positive for PEDs and you think you were set up,” Evie said.
“I know I was set up,” he said through clenched teeth.
Evie nodded. “And you need to know who did it, how, and why.”
“Which is why I need a private investigator.”
She grinned. “One who can stay by your side and get into places a regular PI can’t. Places a girlfriend can go.” She sidled up to him, rubbing her leather-clad arm against his bare one, and damned if his body didn’t respond, his cock perking up.
Then her words registered. “Oh, hell no.” He didn’t date women, for real or pretend.
He fucked them and sent them on their way. And he didn’t think he had a shot in hell of anyone believing he was together with Evie and her leather-clad body. Despite what his dick wanted, something he’d yet to understand.
“Damon, think about it. You need someone who can evaluate the people in your life.”
“In case you forgot, the suspension means I can’t do much with anyone on the team,” he reminded her.
“Yes, but they can’t stop you from running into someone in a public place.” She put quotation marks around the words she’d emphasized. “So, if there’s anyone you want to meet, he can subtly arrange it. This is exactly what we wanted,” Bri said with excitement in her voice. “And most importantly, I trust her.”
Evie checked him with her hip. “Come on. How can it hurt? Unless you’re afraid of me?”
He gritted his teeth. “Of course I’m not afraid of you. I just don’t think we’re … compatible or that it’ll look real,” he said, scanning from her scuffed boots to her windblown hair, ignoring the fact that he thought she was gorgeous in an understated and quite unique way.
She stepped in front of him and braced her hands on her hips. A flush of red stained her cheeks.
“Embarrassed to be seen with me?” she asked, telling him he’d been right. He’d hit a nerve. “Because I promise you I can dress up and play a role as well as any one of those cleat chasers you and your buddies hang out with,” she assured him.
From across the room, Austin glared. Because Evie was Quinn’s best friend? Or because Damon was being stubborn about a plan Austin had faith in? Probably a combination of both.
“Tell you what,” Austin said. “Let’s go to Allstars tonight and test the theory of you two as a couple.”
Damon considered the idea. The upscale bar would have enough people there to see them together and for them to get a feel for whether people familiar with Damon bought the concept of Evie as his girlfriend. He could handle testing things out. “Fine.”
“Don’t sound so thrilled.” Evie scowled at him. “I’m going home. Apparently it’s going to take me a long time to pull myself together for His Highness over here.” She jerked a thumb his way, making Damon feel like shit.
He hadn’t meant to insult her, just explain why he didn’t believe this plan would work.
“I’m going with you.” Quinn picked up her purse, shot a nasty look at Damon, and followed her best friend out, leaving Damon with his siblings. And he damn well knew if Quinn was pissed at him, Austin was, too.
“Well, that went well,” he said aloud.
“Because you’re an asshole,” Bri said. “Evie didn’t deserve to be insulted, considering she was willing to help you.”
Damon stiffened his shoulders. “I didn’t think I was offending her. Just being honest.”
“You as much as told her people wouldn’t think she was your type, bro.” Austin leaned against the wall unit in the family room.
“Actually, the way he looked her over all but insinuated she wasn’t feminine enough,” Bri said.
“Okay, look, you’re not in a position to fight this,” Bri reminded him. “A regular PI can’t talk to the people around you. She can. So suck it up and make nice.”
“I’ll see you tonight. I’ll text you the time. Want us to pick you up? You shouldn’t drive if you’re still having symptoms,” Austin said.
“I’ll take a driver.” He had a feeling Quinn would lay into him if they were alone. And the three of them might show up with Evie.
Damon needed time to prepare himself for the acting job of a lifetime.
“I’ll see you tonight. I expect you to be on your best behavior,” Austin said.
Damon frowned. “Are you speaking as my brother or my agent?”
“Both.” Austin stood up straight and started for the door. “And you could start with an apology to Evie.”
Bri smirked, liking when someone else was getting called on the carpet. “Hang in there, Damon. You can trust Evie to get the job done.” She paused. “As long as you’re not an asshole to her, that is.”
Ignoring her comment, he let his family out and leaned against the door with a groan. He was exhausted and needed to lie down if he was going to go out for an hour or so tonight. At least Allstars was quiet, known for letting athletes and famous people mingle in peace without groupies begging for autographs or signed boobs.
Speaking of boobs, he wondered how much cleavage Evie would show. Jesus, he was an asshole. Blaming the concussion, he headed upstairs to take a nap before his performance later tonight.
* * *
Evie yanked a hairbrush through her long hair, knotted from the ride in her convertible. She stood in front of the mirror on the wall in her bedroom, trying to get the tangles out while she was thinking about Damon.
“Stupid jackass,” Evie muttered. “Brainless, no-good, dark-haired, sexy, tattooed, bastard with full lips, tanned skin, and indigo-blue eyes.” She blew out a puff of air and ignored the tingling of her skin and the rush of arousal that always accompanied her thinking about Damon Prescott.
Quinn sat cross-legged on the bed and Evie could see her in the reflection. “He didn’t mean to be a jackass. He’s in pain and he’s frustrated.”
Evie turned to her best friend. “Are you standing up for him?”
“No.” She held up her hands, making it clear whose side she was on. “I just don’t want you to lose out on a good job.” She didn’t want to lose it, either.
Six months ago, she’d left her job as an investigator at the Miami District Attorney’s Office for reasons she didn’t like to think about and had gone into business for herself. Proving Damon Prescott innocent would boost her business, and as a new PI, she needed a high-profile client.
“Not to mention we need you,” Quinn went on. “Ignore Damon’s attitude. I’m sure Austin straightened him out when we left.”
“Fine but if he says anything rude tonight, he’s getting a stiletto in his foot.”
Quinn grinned, a genuine smile. Since falling in love with Austin and taking on the role of mom to the baby girl he’d found on his doorstep, she was lighter and happier than she’d ever been.
“Or we could sic your cop dad and all four of your brothers on him. That could be fun. If he wasn’t injured, that is.”
Evie rolled her eyes. “Now that you’re attached to the family, you’re no fun,” Evie said. “You’re too nice.”
“What are you going to wear tonight?” Quinn ignored her comment, slid off the bed, and headed to her closet to look through her dresses.
Evie narrowed her gaze, remembering how that handsome jerk had looked her over and found her lacking. Damon Prescott pushed all her wrong buttons. From the day she’d been introduced to him at Dare Nation, he’d treated her like an annoyance. She couldn’t deny the idea of dressing up and seeing his jaw drop at the sight of her held a lot of appeal.
“This.” She joined Quinn by her walk-in and reached for the black one-armed dress that draped her body and hit mid-thigh.
“Oooh, pretty. Reminds me of my red gown, and Austin nearly ripped that right off me.” She grinned at an obvious memory Evie didn’t want to know about.
“Keep the dirty details to yourself.”
“You know … you don’t need to cover your arm. The scar has healed and—”
“We don’t discuss it, remember?” Evie laid the dress out on the bed and smoothed her hand over the soft fabric.
“You don’t discuss it. I do because the past doesn’t define who you are, no matter what you think.” Quinn put her hands on her hips and faced Evie. “Now I’d love to lend you a gold dress that would look gorgeous with your skin tone. It drapes down the back and both arms are bare.” She went back to the subject at hand.
Evie shook her head. “A married woman hired me to catch her husband cheating and it turned out he was my fiancé. A man I hadn’t pegged as dangerous and I should have. I’d say that shows a decided lack in judgment on my part when I prided myself on being a smart chick.” And that was just one of the reasons she’d left her job. She couldn’t face people giving her that sympathetic look or questioning her skills because she hadn’t seen what was right in front of her.
“You’re still a smart chick. John was a slick bastard. He conned his wife as well as you and she’s an investment banker. I don’t think she’s stupid. Do you? What about the other women who’ve been duped by pathetic men? Who’s at fault?”
“I hear you, but it isn’t the same thing. I need my instincts, and if I can’t trust those, then I have issues I need to work through. And this is a reminder of my mistakes.” She held out her arm with the angry red scar running along her forearm.
“I don’t want it exposed for me to see every day or be asked about it and have to explain the knife wound.” Because John, once he’d been caught, had been so angry, he hadn’t hesitated to hurt her.
Tears formed in Quinn’s eyes and she pulled Evie into a hug, something she still wasn’t used to, even though Quinn had always been a hugger. Her brothers were more the shoulder-slapping types unless they were scared for her well-being, but they always had her back. Always. And they’d have gone after John if she hadn’t insisted she didn’t want them to end up behind bars.
“Okay, fine. I’m not going to give up trying to convince you that you’re the strong, kick-ass woman you always were, but wear that dress. When he gets a look at you, Damon is going to swallow his tongue. Now let’s see the shoes.”
A couple of hours later, Quinn had gone home to see Austin and Jenny, her adorable little baby, and change for tonight.
Evie stood in front of the mirror once more and she didn’t recognize herself. It had been a long time since she’d dressed up for any reason or gone all out for any occasion.
She’d put self-tanner on her legs, arms, chest, and face, because she never had the time to relax and lie in the sun. Her face was completely made up, including wearing false eyelashes, her lips were plump, and her brown eyes wide.
The dress accentuated her curves while the designer red-soled heels hurt her damned feet. Though she had to admit she liked the Chanel purse she owned for times when she had to look a certain way. And tonight? She appeared every inch the pro football player’s girlfriend. Damon Prescott wasn’t going to know what hit him.
* * *
Given his concussion symptoms, Damon couldn’t drink alcohol. It was hard enough to hold up his head, but he understood the need to be at the bar. If he wanted to discover who had set him up, he had to put a plan in motion, and testing Evie and their chemistry was a start.
He occupied a table at Allstars. On one side of Damon, Austin and Quinn were cuddled close together. Bri sat next to her friend Macy Walker, and beside her was Damon’s brother Jaxon, who never missed a chance to go out and party, even if the night was a mellow one.
Behind them but at a nearby table, close enough to share conversation if they wanted to, were other guys from his team, Devon White, his running back, and James Slater, his wide receiver.
Marnie, the cocktail waitress, an auburn-haired, stunning woman, knew most of them by name and took drink orders, fawning over Damon and his injury.
Beside him, Austin shifted in his seat so many times Damon grew agitated. “Bro, what the fuck? You’re annoying as hell.” Damon elbowed Austin in the arm.
Quinn grinned. “Your brother took Marnie home the night he found Jenny on his doorstep.”
Damon tipped his neck back and burst out laughing, immediately regretting the motion when his head began to pound. “I have to admit that was worth the pain.”
Austin shot him a dirty look, but Quinn merely cuddled up closer to Austin and continued to smile.
“At least you’re not the jealous type,” Damon said to the pretty woman with dark hair and green eyes, who seemed custom-made for Austin.
Not that they hadn’t had their issues. Between Quinn not wanting kids, Austin being handed a baby by another woman, and Quinn being his brother’s assistant, they’d overcome a lot in a short time.
“That’s only because Marnie’s keeping her distance from your brother.” Quinn’s gaze traveled across the room to where Marnie filled drinks by the bar.
“And that’s because you’re wrapped around me, staking your claim. Besides, I only have eyes for you.” Austin leaned over and pressed a kiss against her lips.
“You two are making me want to barf.” Bri picked up her bottle of Blue Moon and took a long sip.
“Amen.” Jaxon lifted his drink in agreement.
Macy, an attractive woman with long blonde hair, followed suit.
“So Macy, you feel the same way? No commitment for you?” Jaxon asked, his eyes glittering with interest in the attractive woman who was their sister’s good friend.
She shook her head. “I’d never have the time.”
Jaxon nudged her arm. “There’s always time for fun.”
“Says the man who helps keep social media active?” She fluttered her lashes at him and refocused on Bri. Obviously, she had Jaxon pegged.
And his brother, not used to being dismissed, frowned, causing Damon to chuckle.
Jaxon shot him the finger and Damon laughed harder. Macy had moxie and he liked her. Bri and Macy had met recently at an exercise class and become friends. From the little Damon knew, Macy had her hands full with the stepsister she was raising. Her life was complicated and Bri tried to get Macy out to have fun whenever she could. And if she knocked Jaxon down a peg, even better.
Damon turned from his amusement for the night and glanced at the entrance to the bar. A couple stood at the hostess stand, where they were led to an empty table. He watched them be seated, waiting for Evie, growing annoyed that she couldn’t make it on time like everyone else.
From behind him, James let out a low whistle. “Now she’s fucking hot.”
Damon turned to look. A brunette, her hair hanging in long, spiral curls, stood at the hostess stand, looking down. A short black dress with one sleeve clung to a rocking body. Her legs were long, her heels high, and if his head weren’t still throbbing, he could imagine them wrapped around his waist as he pounded into her, hard and deep.
She lifted her head and immediately met his gaze. He found himself looking at a bombshell with pouty bright red lips, cat-like liner around her brown eyes, and a knowing smirk on that familiar mouth. “Holy shit.”
“I think this is what they call Damon eating his words,” Austin said, sounding amused.
“You didn’t think she could do it, did you?” Quinn met his gaze, judgment in her expression, and she was right.
“No, I did not.”
Before he could say more, Evie sashayed across the room, every male eye on her as she strode directly toward him. Her stare locked on his, she stopped in front of him.
“Hi, honey. Sorry I’m late.” And with that pronouncement, she sat down in his lap, wrapped her arms around his neck, and settled her mouth against his.
He stiffened in surprise and she slid her tongue over his bottom lip, causing his cock to rise and his mouth to part. Next thing he knew, he’d gripped her neck, pulled her tight against him, and was kissing the hell out of her in public.
Damon had made out with many females, but he’d never wanted to get lost inside a woman the way he did with Evie. Evie. Jesus. Sanity threatened to return, but she ran her fingers through his hair and he forgot he’d been about to pull back. He slid his tongue over her lips and speared inside once more.
A whistle broke the moment, and Damon jerked his head back, taking the pain as his due. What had he been thinking, devouring Evie in a place he frequented? It was one thing to test the theory of them being plausible as a couple, another to stake a claim on her.
“You didn’t tell us you had yourself a hot woman,” James said. “Keeping her to yourself?”
Damon drew in a calming breath. His dick wasn’t cooperating and he was certain Evie felt it against her thigh, but he needed to sell them and now was the beginning.
“We were keeping our relationship quiet, but after Damon’s injury, we decided life’s short, why hide our feelings?” Evie spoke before Damon could jump in with an explanation. “Right, honey bear?”
He caught himself before he glared her way. He cupped his hand on her thigh. “Right, snookums.”
From beside him, he heard his siblings stifling laughter. But he had to admit, he’d underestimated Evie Wolfe. She could definitely pass as an NFL player’s girlfriend and he didn’t mind having her acting as his.
“Okay, let’s discuss things,” Austin said in a low voice. “Now that we know you two can act as a couple, Evie, what’s your plan?”
“I’d like to talk to my boyfriend alone and in private. Get a recounting of what happened, find out who he thinks could have it in for him on the team.” She shifted on his lap, leaning back to look into his eyes, and though he didn’t know if her thigh movement was deliberate, his body liked the feeling of her rubbing against his cock.
He cleared his throat. “Why don’t you come by my house tomorrow morning and we can discuss things.”
She nodded. “That works.”
Austin stared at them, taking in her arm wrapped around his neck. “You two also need to learn about each other and get your stories straight on how you met, how long you’ve been together under the radar, things like that.”
They both nodded.
As the family dispersed, Damon met Evie’s gaze. “I think you can get your own seat now. Or even better, it’s time to go home. I don’t think my head can take much more. I need to lie down.”
Concern etched her pretty features. “I didn’t realize you were still in pain. You didn’t drive here, did you?”
He knew better than to shake his head. “No. I took a service.”
“I’ll bring you home. My car’s a little small but you can squeeze in.”
He noted she remained on his lap, her thighs on his still-hard cock. “That’s okay. I don’t want you to go out of your way.”
She tilted her head, causing those gorgeous curls to spiral over her shoulder. “And leave my boyfriend to go home alone? Nope. Let’s hit the road, honey bear.”
Finally, she stood up, but that left him in an awkwardly hard situation.
* * *
After Evie dropped him off, Damon climbed into bed, nude, as usual. He lay back against the pillows, remembering the moment he’d realized the gorgeous woman at the hostess stand was Evie.
She affected him, the tough PI and the soft woman who’d sat on his lap. What a mix of contradictions she’d turned out to be. He thought he’d noticed her due to her alluring features, but Evie was more than a good-looking woman. Apart from the fact that she also rocked a dress like a goddess, she was not just smart but intelligent.
And she kissed like a fucking dream. Just the thought of her mouth on his, her thighs on his lap, and his cock thickened at the memory of how badly he’d wanted to thrust up and have more than just a pretend moment in time. He could even imagine it. Her eager and willing in his arms, tasting like the sweetest treat, her swiveling hips nearly causing him to come in his pants.
As he thought of Evie, he gripped his dick and began to work his palm up and down his shaft. But unlike in the past, he had a face to the woman holding him in her hand. Eyes closed, he envisioned it was Evie’s palm and not his own, her grip tight, pre-come helping to lubricate as he slid up and down.
He thought about her dark hair draping across his chest, her full lips, mouth parting to suck him in deep until he hit the back of her throat, and it didn’t take long. Suddenly he was coming hard, spurting over his abdomen and hand.
He blew out a long breath and groaned, wondering how long his palm was going to be a substitute for the real thing. He cleaned up and went to sleep, the woman he couldn’t forget on