Playing with Temptation

By: Reese Ryan

CHAPTER 1

Nate Johnston entered the private dining room at his favorite seafood restaurant and froze, his expensive Italian loafers rooted to the floor.

The ghost of relationships past.

Kendra didn’t need to turn around for him to recognize the woman he’d once shared his bed with; the mother of his six-year-old son. He sensed her presence—like something warm wiggling beneath his skin—the instant he stepped into the room.

Nate was in the midst of the biggest crisis of his eight-year-long professional football career. Why would his brother invite him to dinner with the woman who shattered his heart seven years ago?

“Glad you’re here, Nate. Have a seat.” His brother Marcus indicated the seat next to Kendra.

Nate narrowed his gaze at his brother and took the seat beside him instead. “You asked me to meet you for dinner to discuss the situation.”

As if Kendra and every other sports network viewer hadn’t seen the grainy cell phone footage of him in a club, after a few drinks, ripping his teammates to shreds following the ass-whipping they’d endured at the hands of their division rivals. A devastating loss that put the brakes on the Memphis Marauders play-off run for the third year in a row.

The video had been edited to make him look like the villain. It didn’t include him detailing how his own mistakes—a dropped pass and a costly fumble—had contributed to the loss.

“That’s why she’s here.” Marcus’s response was terse. As Nate’s sports agent, Marcus’s job had become ten times harder since the tape hit the airwaves that morning.

“Hello, Nate.” Kendra’s apologetic smile indicated she knew something he didn’t.

Nate’s attention was drawn to her expressive face. How did she manage to get more beautiful every time he saw her?

Head full of short, dark curls. Sheen on high blast. Style on point. Body-hugging knit dress in his favorite color on her—Marauders blue. The color perfectly contrasted the expanse of smooth brown skin exposed by the neckline of her dress.

An uneasy feeling crawled up his spine. Nate turned to his brother. “What do you mean that’s why she’s here?”

“It means we’ve got a ton of damage control to do, in addition to negotiating your new contract with the Marauders and trying to renew your two biggest endorsement deals. I can’t handle everything alone. I’ve asked for Kendra’s assistance.”

Marcus had every right to be pissed, and Nate expected a little brotherly payback. But Marcus was a few cans short of a six-pack if he expected him to work with the woman who left him on one knee, ring in hand.

“What’s wrong with the PR firm we’ve been using?”

“They’re great when things are good, but we’re in crisis mode. We need someone tough who’ll get ahead of this thing and change the narrative out there about you.”

“And out of all the possibilities in the free world, you believe the woman who rejected my proposal is the best person for the job?” He slid his gaze to Kendra. Her cheeks glowed beneath her warm, dark skin.

A twinge of guilt settled in his gut. It was a low blow, but so was walking out on him when he asked her to marry him seven years ago. He’d convinced himself he was over it and her. Yet the rejection still stung, especially being relegated to a part-time father.

Nate’s father had tucked him and his six siblings into bed every night. Read them stories, taught them how to fish, fix their bikes and change the brakes on a car. He was still very much part of their lives. Nate had looked forward to being the kind of father who was present in his kids’ lives every day.

Kendra had destroyed his chance of being that kind of dad to Kai.

When she’d responded to his marriage proposal by walking out, she’d left a hole in his chest where his heart had once been. Discovering the pregnancy a few weeks later, then announcing she fully intended to raise the baby on her own, had ripped out his soul and left him in a tailspin.

He still couldn’t forgive her for reducing him to a baby daddy. For being the reason he didn’t get to tuck Kai into bed most nights. Now Marcus wanted to put his future in her hands?

Oh, hell naw.

“I know she’s the best person for the job.” Marcus’s expression was unwavering.

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