“Christ, I should have cracked my head through the windshield,” Jack said. “Maybe you wanted to see more blood.”
“I don’t take this decision lightly, Carson. And you should be grateful I don’t talk to Coach Thompson and recommend he cut you now and let you flounder while we sort out the details.”
Jack sneered. “Like a dozen other teams wouldn’t piss themselves to sign me.”
“Not if I introduce a good-conduct clause into all league contracts—starting this season. I’ll force you to behave or the entire team will be fined for your delinquency.”
“You can’t do that.”
“The preliminary language is with the player’s union now.” Frank paused. “No one will take a chance on you, Carson. You’re a risk and a liability and a PR nightmare. One day, you’ll pick the wrong fight or take home the wrong girl, and you won’t be as lucky as you are today.” He scoffed. “Three women last night, Jack?”
Jack couldn’t charm and rage at the same time. He threatened instead. “This is bullshit. I was giving those women a ride home.”
I braved a chance to jump into the conversation. “Mr. Bennett, a suspension or expulsion will only punish the Rivets and place Mr. Carson in the spotlight. If you feel discipline is the best course of action, we wouldn’t argue with you, but forcing more attention onto this issue will publicize the scandal.”
Frank exhaled. “I’m sorry, Ms. Williams, but Carson’s image hurts everyone. He is no role-model for the younger fans, and he does not project an impression of respect, decorum, or responsibility.”
Jack simmered, ready to blow. “How am I supposed to look responsible? Pick up litter in the park? Herd a family of ducklings across the road?”
Frank didn’t care for his tone. “How about presenting yourself as a functional member of society? Show up to practice, go home at night, and act like a reasonable adult. Find yourself one woman and settle your ass down!”
Just the words Jack didn’t want to hear, and yet…
His eyebrows arched.
He stared at me, lips curling into one of the smiles that would spell ruin for any woman he chased.
I never trusted Jack before, and I certainly didn’t now.
“You think people want me in a committed relationship?” Jack’s voice changed, suddenly excited. Thoughtful. Scheming.
Frank didn’t hesitate. “Yes. It would show you’ve matured. Grown. Become a wholesome, trustworthy man.”
“Well…” Jack’s smile grew, though he steadied his voice into a mockery of respectability. “As nice as that sounds for me...my girl deserves better than getting tossed to the media sharks.”
“Your girl?” Frank repeated.
“Why should I have to parade my girlfriend around to prove my behavior is honest?”
“Your…” Frank shared a moment of utter confusion with the rest of the room. “You have a girlfriend?”
Jack’s eyes darted to mine.
I silently mouthed to him. “What are you doing?”
He grinned. That was a bad sign. Jack was just getting started. He savored the attention and that meant everyone was in trouble.
“Yeah, I have a girlfriend. Long term. Which is why this whole issue is insulting to both of us.”
Jolene and Finn shared a puzzled look. They asked Jack the question at the same time.
“Who’s your girlfriend?”
His dimples flashed at me.
My stomach flipped. Twisted. Rebelled.
No way. He wasn’t about to drag me into this. He wouldn’t lie to save his own ass.
I chilled in rage and warmed in indignation. The penetrating and undeniably fierce gaze of a prowling Jack Carson focused on me.
Yes, he would.
He would totally lie, and he would drag my reputation down with him.
He was going to use me to get out of trouble!
“We haven’t made it public…” Jack said.
His smile would slay me. My heart crashed against my ribs.
Don’t you dare.
He shrugged. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to let everyone know.”
“Kiss, you know I’m crazy about you.”
I saw red. I’d never count to ten without exploding, so I tried in different languages, only making it to tres, trois, and drei before Jolene freaked out.
“You’re…you’re dating Leah?” She squealed.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m head over heels for her.”
No, no, no!
I didn’t have the air left in my lungs after that gut punch. I stared at him, dumbfounded, trying to figure out how to scream without any breath.
“We’ve been keeping it quiet.” Jack looked too goddamned proud of himself. “You know how she is. Leah would rather put someone else in the spotlight. I think she cares about my career as much as she cares about me. She’s got a big heart. That’s what drew me to her in the first place.”