And tonight she really, really needed to be drunk.
One more shot and she was getting into a cab and going home. Where she would hopefully pass out and wake up in the morning to find that everything that had happened today had only been a nightmare.
Because that was the only explanation for how she’d woken up this morning thinking all was right with the world and was ending the day mainlining alcohol.
She motioned for a refill and the bartender poured. She was so going to regret this in the morning, but given she was pretty sure that this wasn’t a nightmare and, unlike in the movies, no one was going to magically grant her a do-over for today, she was going to regret a lot of things and tequila would be far, far down the list.
“Ms. Jameson, you look like you need some company.”
Oh God. Not him. The universe could not possibly hate her quite so much that it would send the cause of her misery to the same bar where she was trying to drown out his memory. She turned very slowly. Alex Winters. Smiling at her. Wearing the same jeans, expensive white shirt, and gray blazer he’d worn this afternoon when he’d ruined her life. It was a disguise, she’d decided. He wore those clothes so no one would see that underneath it all he was another ruthless suit. But he was. And now he was here. Apparently she’d made the universe’s shit list after all.
She gritted her teeth and tried for some semblance of calm. The tequila burning in her stomach and fuzzing her brain made it difficult. “I’d prefer to be alone.”
His smile widened. “Drinking tequila alone is never a good idea.” He nodded at the bartender and a shot appeared in front of him like magic. If Alex Winters snapped his fingers, people jumped. High.
“Mr. Winters.” She heard the s on the end of his name slur a little and winced. “As I learned today, there are many things in the world that are not good ideas and yet that doesn’t stop people from doing them.” Top of the list being her father selling the Saints franchise to the man sitting next to her. The betrayal of it burned worse than tequila. She’d worked her ass off. Gotten a degree crammed full of economics and psychology—and then a master’s in sports management—going all the way to Chicago because her dad had insisted she had to leave New York for school so she could concentrate. Chicago. Where even the Cubs fans looked down on the Saints. All so she could help her dad keep the Saints alive. And now, now when she’d finally been ready to put her plans into action, Alex Winters and his two partners from Hades had made her father an offer he’d apparently been unable to refuse.
She scowled at Winters. In the dim bar light, you couldn’t see quite how green his eyes were and his hair looked merely brown but he was still appallingly compelling. It was like he had some secret master-of-the-universe force field surrounding him. All around them, women were turning to look at him and men were subtly moving aside, giving the alpha male space. She’d noticed the same thing in the meeting today. It was ridiculous and annoying and yet she’d had to work hard to not give in to the desire to do the same. At least until he’d started talking and she’d realized what was happening. Then she’d had no trouble finding him one hundred percent completely resistible.
“You’re upset,” Winters said. “About today?”
Her jaw dropped, her fingers clamping around the shot glass. “Did you seriously just ask me that? Well, gosh, Mr. Winters, no, I’m not at all upset that my father sold my legacy down the river. Didn’t bother me in the slightest.” She downed the tequila before she could do something stupid like burst into tears in front of the enemy. The alcohol hit her stomach like a bomb and she felt herself slide over the edge of tipsy into firmly drunk. Crap.
“We can talk about a job, if that would make you feel better.”
She squinted at him incredulously. The trouble with tequila was that it made men more attractive, she decided. And Alex Winters didn’t need any help in that department. The man was hot. Or he would be if he wasn’t a soulless corporate raider who had apparently grown bored with buying companies, building ever-taller skyscrapers, and seeding the suburbs of America with minimalls and had decided to come play at professional sports.
Men like him were the reason that baseball had turned into a business. She accepted that fact, but her father had fought to keep the Saints traditional, to not let it be all about the money. Which was possibly why they were the worst team in the league but was also why they had fans who wouldn’t abandon them despite their dismal record. Fans who loved hot dogs, and old wooden bleachers, and their silly halo-clad mascot as much as she did. Saints fans were more devoted than even the craziest Cubs fan. They had to be.
All she’d ever wanted was to work at the Saints with her dad. He was a hands-on owner, taking on the responsibility of running the Saints as CEO instead of leaving that to an executive team like some owners did. She’d always hoped one day she could step into his shoes and he could retire. Until Alex Winters had snatched that dream away. And he would no doubt proceed to turn the team into a slick moneymaking machine that was just as soulless as he was. So it didn’t matter what he looked like. She hated him.
“My dad was going to make me CEO eventually,” she said as icily as she could given how tanked she was. “Is that position available?”
“I’m afraid that’s my job,” he said.
“Figures.” Maggie sniffed. “Then, Winters, you and your job can go to hell. Where I’m sure you’ll be right at home. Being the devil and all.”
“I’m the devil?” He was grinning at her now. She wasn’t sure why. She’d just told him to go to hell. “Why, Ms. Jameson, are you feeling tempted?”
“I’d rather kiss a goat.” Heat raced over her face. Why was she talking about kissing? You didn’t talk about kissing to guys unless you wanted them to kiss you. Which she didn’t. Goddamn tequila.
He laughed. Which was unfair. His laugh was sexy. No, scrap that. Nothing about Winters was sexy.
“A goat? Horns, a beard, cloven hooves? Kind of like the devil?”
She dropped her head onto the bar. She was in no mood to banter with the devil. She knew her folklore. Nothing good ever came of trying to best Beelzebub. Nope, that path led only to lost souls and eternal damnation. Which sounded about right where Winters was concerned. He’d looked happy as her father had scrawled his signature on the offered contract and signed their lives away. Delighted even. Her father hadn’t been able to look at her afterward—he’d ducked out and made a rapid getaway and left her there with her world in pieces. Her throat burned at the memory. “Please go away.”
“Do you enjoy making people miserable?”
“If they deserve it.” He sounded serious. It made her shiver.
“I don’t think I deserve it.” She heard her voice hitch, squeezed her hands into fists where they were hidden by the bar. She would not cry.
“You don’t. I’m sorry. It’s nothing personal.”
Her head snapped up. “You took my whole life away today, that’s pretty damn personal.”
“Go to hell.”
“You already said that.”
“And yet, you’re still here.”
“Because I’m not leaving until I take you home.”
She stared at him. Maybe she was hearing things? She’d rather go home with … well, just about anybody. “It’s funny,” she said.
“That you apparently suffered a blow to the head sometime between this morning and now.” Maybe he’d suffered it earlier. Maybe that was why he thought there was any likelihood of her letting him anywhere near her.
“My head is fine, thanks.”
“Not possible. Because a rational man would not expect a woman whose life he just ruined to go home with him.”
He tilted his head, amusement clear in his eyes. “I didn’t ask you to come home with me, I said I was taking you home.”
His words slowly penetrated the tequila fog. “I’m not sure there’s a difference. The answer is still no.”
“Maggie. You’re drunk.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“Which means someone needs to see you home safely.” He paused, looked around. “You don’t know anybody else here, do you?”
She shook her head. “No. But you know what New York has? Cabs. Lots and lots of lovely cabs, willing to take me wherever I want to go.”
“People get into trouble in cabs.”
She peered at him. “Mr. Winters. No one could possibly cause me any more trouble than you have already.”
“Nevertheless. I like your dad and I don’t want to have to explain to him why I didn’t see you home.”
“If you like my dad, you wouldn’t have done what you did today.”
“I didn’t force your father to sell,” Alex said. “He was ready.”
“I wasn’t ready.”
“So I gather. But that’s a conversation for a time when you haven’t had quite so much tequila.”
“I doubt I’ll like you any better sober.”
“Pity. Now, are you going to let me take you home?”
“Okay, then.” He nodded at the bartender. “Perhaps it’s time for coffee?” He pulled out his wallet, extracted a couple of fifties. “Will this cover her tab?”
“You are not paying for my drinks.” Maggie fumbled for her purse in outrage. She wasn’t taking a penny from Alex Winters.
The bartender froze, his hand halfway toward Alex’s money. His eyes slid toward Alex, as if seeking instruction, which only made her temper worse. Goddamn it, did the whole world want to kowtow to him? She extracted her credit card and shoved it toward the bartender. “There.” She looked at Alex. He was regarding her with amusement. “You want to argue?”
His dimple flashed again. “This is a nice jacket. I’d rather not wear tequila.”
She stuck her nose in the air. “As if I’d waste good tequila on you.”
He lifted an eyebrow, looked at the bottle on the bar. “That’s hardly good tequila.”
Maggie reached out, lifted the bottle, poured herself another shot and downed it. It burned. He was right, it was terrible. “Tastes good to me,” she said, just to be contrary. The tequila swirled through her veins, the room spinning slowly around her. No more booze. Any more and she’d really regret it in the morning. Still, right now, she seemed to have achieved the perfect level of inebriation, the one where her earlier misery had subsided and had been replaced with a hot, hot anger that was far more enjoyable.
She scowled at Alex. He smiled at her. She was starting to hate that smile. Pity, when it made him even more gorgeous. But that was the devil for you. Pretty enough to distract you from his dastardly deeds. And apparently perpetually good-tempered.
Infuriatingly unannoyable. She wanted to sock him just to see if she could get a reaction other than good humor out of him. Something real. Something to indicate he might be human in any way. But drunk as she was, she’d probably miss and fall on her ass. She had no desire to have Alex Winters helping her up off the floor with his casual politeness. She scribbled her signature on the slip the bartender presented and slid down off the stool. Alex hadn’t picked up his fifties.
For some reason that was annoying as well. No one tipped a hundred bucks for one drink. Except if they were stupidly rich. Or a pretentious ass. Alex Winters was an ass but he didn’t strike her as pretentious. Which meant he was the former.
Maggie knew money, of course. Her father owned a baseball team; they weren’t exactly struggling for cash. But her father had inherited his money from a father who’d built a business from the ground up, a business he’d worked in as well. He’d raised her to have a healthy respect for the value of that money and what they could achieve with it … and not only for themselves. Her mom—before she’d died—had taught the same lessons. Appreciate what you had but still work hard and be thankful.
But there was money and there was money, and Alex Winters was in a whole other league. The new generation of bazillionaires. He’d probably earned thousands of dollars in various ways while they’d been standing here in the bar.
She gritted her teeth. She didn’t care if Alex wanted to throw away his fortune. In fact, she might pray for that very thing. It would be one way of making sure he gave up his grip on the Saints.
“Are you ready to go?” Alex asked.
“I already told you, I’m not going home with you.”
“And I told you that wasn’t acceptable.” His face was still pleasant but there was an edge to the words. A tone that expected to be obeyed.
Too bad. She was in no mood to obey anyone. “I don’t care what you find acceptable.”
“I know. But I do.”
She rolled her eyes. “Do you seriously think you’re going to get me to walk out of this bar with you?”
He shrugged. “I know you’re coming with me. You can walk or I can carry you, your choice.”
“Carry me?” She heard her voice go up half an octave. “Try that and you’ll—”
Alex regarded her steadily. “I’ll what? You’re not short but you’re hardly a giant. I’m taller than you. I’m a lot heavier than you. You’re pretty drunk. Unless you’re a secret ninja, I’m pretty sure I’ve got this.”
Maggie tried to talk, but she couldn’t quite make her mouth connect with her brain because she was too busy trying to convince herself that yep, he really just had said that. “You—you—” She gave up, turned back to the bartender. “Call me a cab.”
“Don’t.” Alex’s voice came from behind her, the command even clearer. The bartender froze again. Maggie glared at him—wimp—and started to reach into her purse for her phone.
“Carry it is, then,” Alex said from behind her, and before she knew what was happening, his arms came around her and somehow lifted her around and up and over his shoulder. The sudden change in position made the tequila swirl in her blood and the room spun even harder. She swallowed hard, not entirely sure she wasn’t going to throw up. Alex’s back was broad and warm as she rested her head for a moment and his arm was reassuringly strong around her legs. God. It was the perfect humiliating end to the worst day of her life. She wanted to keep fighting, to make him put her the hell down, but suddenly all the fight drained out of her and all she wanted was to be home. And if letting the devil take her there was the fastest way to achieve that, then so be it.
She closed her eyes and let Alex carry her out of the bar, ignoring the chorus of wolf whistles and applause that followed them as they went.
* * *
Maggie was not feeling even remotely human when the intercom buzzed the next morning. She clutched her coffee mug and groaned, wondering who on earth could possibly be bugging her at the ungodly hour of … She glanced up at the clock on the wall. Damn. Ten already. So really, not that ungodly. That was only the way her head felt.
The devil’s drink.
The thought reminded her of Alex Winters and the taxi and she clutched her mug harder and dropped her head down on the bench. The door buzzed again.
Deciding that answering it would be the quickest way to make the confounded racket stop, she moved very carefully over to the door, picked up the phone, and said, “Yes,” while she leaned her forehead against the mercifully cool wall and closed her eyes.
“Ms. Jameson, there’s a package for you. Would you like me to bring it up?” Dev, who’d been the doorman in the building forever, as far as Maggie knew, sounded, as always, cheerful.
“A box, Ms. Jameson. About as big as a shoe box.”
Shoes? She hadn’t ordered any shoes, had she? Last night’s tequila binge had been the pass-out-at-the-end kind, not the max-out-the-credit-card-on-inappropriate-footwear kind.
“Ms. Jameson? Would you like me to hold the package for you?”
“No, bring it up.”
Then he wouldn’t have to call again to remind her. Anyway, maybe she’d gotten lucky and someone had sent her Alex Winters’s head on a platter. Though that would require something substantially bigger than a shoe box given the size of the man’s ego. She’d read his press after all. Hell, she’d even had to do a case study on the previous boy wonder and his business success during her master’s. Alex Winters was not a man who doubted his own worth.
Nor did he downplay his successes.
Of which, annoyingly, there were many. Enough to make him the sort of man rich enough to buy a baseball franchise. Impressive when he was only thirty-seven. The sort of success brought by lightning striking at the right place and the right time. In Alex Winters’s case that had been a series of inspired real estate deals when he was fresh out of college and then an equally inspired series of corporate acquisitions starting with a stake in a little software house that had subsequently been acquired by Apple for roughly eleven zillion times what he’d paid for it initially. Everything Alex Winters touched seemed to turn to gold.
Probably proof that he was indeed the devil.
Devil or not, with his business instincts, she should be happy that he’d decided to take an interest in the Saints.
But all she wanted to do was scream.
Dev’s quiet knock at her door interrupted her train of thought. His face was carefully bland as he handed her the package. Given she was wearing sweats, her oldest Saints training camp T-shirt that dated back to sometime in the nineties and was threatening to become more hole than fabric any day now, no makeup, and second-day bedhead hair, that was nice of him.
She carried the box back to the bench, dug out Advil and water to go with the coffee, and unwrapped it without enthusiasm.
When she pulled out the voodoo doll from the final layer of tissue paper she was too surprised to look for the card for a few seconds.
When she found it, she recognized the handwriting as that of her cousin Sean who worked for the Red Sox.
“Thought you might need this,” he’d written.
Which meant, she realized with a horrible sinking sensation, that the news was out.
People knew the Jamesons no longer owned the Saints. Knew she’d been booted like a rookie who couldn’t connect with the ball.
She did what any sensible woman would do when coming to such a conclusion. She yanked the phone cord out of the wall, switched off her iPhone, and went back to bed.
* * *
Several hours later Maggie woke up again. This time the remembrances flooded back faster, which was probably a sign that her goddamn hangover had retreated slightly. Damn. She squinched her eyes closed, hoping that she could will herself back to sleep. No such luck.
Her mind, in a move she thought highly unfair, started replaying the events of the previous day from the moment Alex Winters had walked into the conference room at Deacon Field and she’d been hit with a hefty dose of reality. The images continued relentlessly until she reached the point where she passed out in the taxi that Alex had carried her into.
She rolled on her back, arm flung over her eyes.
A mature person would get up, shower, form a plan, and go out and show Alex Winters that a Jameson didn’t take things lying down.
Apparently her maturity had been significantly diluted by last night’s alcohol.
All she wanted to do was stay exactly where she was.
What she needed was a pep talk. A motivational speech. The sort of inspiration her psychology professor had always advocated. She considered how exactly that might go.
“Well, Ms. Jameson, what seems to be the issue today?”
“I don’t want to get out of bed.”
“That’s not really a reason, is it, Ms. Jameson? If you don’t get up, you won’t be able to achieve any sort of outcome today, will you?”
She pictured the notes being written.
Patient very unmotivated. Needs to find source of passion. Or large vat of coffee.
“I don’t care about outcomes.”
“Come now, Miss Jameson, everybody wants something.”
Patient very, very unmotivated. In danger of consuming large amounts of chocolate and ice cream.
“Think of something you want. Something small. Picture it in your mind. Can you see it?”
“What is it, Miss Jameson?”
“Alex Winters being hit by a piano falling from several stories up?”
Patient may be actively hostile. Or borderline psychotic. Prospects for intervention poor.
Oh good, now her subconscious was giving up on her. What did that say about the situation?
That she really, really wanted Alex Winters’s head on a platter. Or maybe her father’s. She still couldn’t believe he’d sold the Saints. Without even once mentioning his plans to her in advance. Which could only mean that he felt guilty about it. Had Winters pressured him? She wouldn’t put it past the man. He was a very highly motivated individual. All about the win. And the money. She knew men like him like the back of her hand, having grown up around professional athletes. Even though her father had tried to keep that culture out of the Saints as far as possible, there was only so much you could do to hold back the tide.
What she didn’t know was when he’d stopped trying. They’d had all these plans. She was going to come back from Chicago and start helping him out. They’d talked about it forever. So what had changed?
How had Alex Winters convinced him to sell?
She didn’t understand any of it.
So maybe that was the first step. Talk to her father.
* * *
Alex strode into his new office at Saints headquarters on Wednesday morning and paused just inside the door to take in the sight. His at last. No sign of Tom Jameson’s old battered desk and wall of photos. Instead there was everything Alex needed to get to work. The desk was just like the one back in his New York office. His laptop. A bank of three phones. The only things hanging on the wall were the number he’d cut out of his jersey after the bombing and framed and the bank of flat-panel TVs tuned to every possible sports and business station under the sun.
Right at home. Ready to make the Saints the team they could be or, at least, stop them from sliding into oblivion.
So why did he feel guilty?
Goddamn Maggie Jameson, that was why. She’d looked at him with those big angry brown eyes last night, and told him to go to the devil before she’d passed out in the taxi home.
She’d looked lost. Something he’d never seen before.
Maggie Jameson was a chip off the old block. Never far from her father’s side as long as Alex had been a Saints fan. Which was forever. He could picture Maggie’s childhood and teen years as well as his own, thanks to the never-ending photos of her in the press and in the team newsletter and on the Web site. She’d been cute as a kid, big brown eyes and straight dark hair and bangs, tucked under her dad’s arm or whacking at balls tossed by the pitchers at kid-friendly speeds. She’d had a pretty good swing, he remembered.
He rubbed the side of his face idly. He’d bet she had a pretty good swing now too and he’d probably been lucky that she hadn’t slugged him one last night. He wouldn’t have held it against her.
Tom’s Little Saint, the press had dubbed her, which had morphed into Saint Maggie as she’d grown older and become a seemingly perfect teenager, bringing home straight-A report cards, helping out with the Saints’ community programs, and avoiding any hint of teen drama. Or, at least, avoiding anything that Tom hadn’t been able to keep out of the papers.
She’d grown up to be more than cute—he’d had time to appreciate the sleek curves under her suit yesterday before she’d realized what the meeting was about and her expression had turned to ice and fury. But those sleek curves and the way her face was an intriguing mix of angles and softness were things he was determined to ignore.
He needed Maggie on his side, not in his bed. She knew more about the Saints than anyone apart from her father. In many respects she was the team’s mascot, even more than the actual fuzzy blue, white, and gold angel that cavorted on the sidelines at the games.
Trouble was, after last night, he had no idea how to win her over. And if he couldn’t win her over, he was going to have to fire her. Lucas and Mal were going to laugh their asses off. Lucas had suggested that informing Maggie about the deal sooner might have been a good idea, but Alex hadn’t wanted the complication, worried that guilt over his daughter’s feelings might stop Tom Jameson from doing what needed to be done to save the team.
There was no place for messy emotions in business. They didn’t get the job done. He wasn’t a monster, he tried to make sure people were treated well and taken care of, but someone had to make the hard decisions.
And that someone was usually him.
Which was just the way he liked it.
So why was Maggie Jameson tugging at his conscience like goddamn Jiminy Cricket in a bad mood?
Maybe he was just tired from the pressure of closing the deal, though, as one of his old bosses had said, “if you’re tired of the deal, you’re tired of life.” Alex wasn’t ready to be tired of life. He had a team to save. And he’d call the plays the way he saw them. Even if he had to drag the rest of the world kicking and screaming along with him.
He resolutely put Maggie Jameson and her long fall of dark hair and eyes like embers out of his mind and opened his e-mail to start dealing with whatever the day was going to throw at him.