Blurb: Football is everything, but love is the only game that matters.
Tate Durham, the newest Philadelphia football hottie, has been in love with Gia Capri since the moment he laid eyes on her back in college. Unfortunately, that happened the same night her destructive and doomed relationship with the troubled Matt Lampert began. Tate didn’t stand a chance.
In the year since Matt took his own life, Gia’s been sleep-walking through her days and just barely surviving her nights. She’s not sure that she’s capable of anything else . . . until Tate finds her sitting on the floor of a grocery store, crying over potato chips.
Tate’s patience and honesty begins to heal what’s broken in Gia’s soul. Still, no matter how hard he tries—or how much he loves her—making her whole again might take more than he can give.
But love never gives up. And neither will Tate.
#99cents Keeping Score Boxed Set:
“So . . . no pressure, either outright or implied, right?” I spoke slowly, feeling my way. “You won’t push me, and you won’t . . . I don’t know, look at me or touch me in ways that could be construed as pressure?”
I expected Tate to agree readily, but he hesitated. “I don’t know if I can promise that. I’ll do my best not to gaze at you soulfully, and I’m not the kind of guy to mope around after anyone, but I can’t say you might not see what I’m feeling in my eyes. Can’t help that.”
I laughed a little. “You know, dude, if you were any other man, when I asked why you were here, you would’ve just fed me the friends-only line. I might not have bought it, but it would have given us both plausible deniability.”
Tate rested his chin on his hand and smiled serenely at me. “I’m not any other man.”
For a solid moment, I felt electricity crackle between us, and I couldn’t breathe. This was new, this hyper-awareness of another person, and I didn’t know quite what to do with it. I stared at Tate as my brain scrambled to figure out what to say or do next.
And then he sighed, breaking the spell.
“Ready for dessert?” He pushed back his chair and reached for my plate, carrying both his and mine to the sink. I cleared my throat and attempted to find normal again.
“Dessert? Need I remind you that we ate the cannoli several hours ago, when you claimed we hadn’t eaten lunch, and you were on the verge of starvation? Or did you buy a cake when I wasn’t looking? Or are you planning to whip something up in the next twenty minutes?”
Tate quirked his eyebrow at me over his shoulder. “Twenty minutes? Does that mean you’re tossing me out at nine?”
“No.” I shook my head and played with the spoon still in front of me. “It was just a figure of speech.”
“Good to know. But to answer your question, no, I didn’t buy any baked goods, and I’m not going to toss something together now. Nothing I have to bake, that is.” He rinsed off the scrubbed the plates with my new dish brush and set them into the drainer before turning to the fridge. “C’mon, woman. On your feet. This is something you can help me with.”
I stood up, watching as Tate withdrew the berries he’d bought. Dumping them into the colander, he washed them carefully before picking up the cutting board he’d used earlier to chop the potatoes.
“I’ll slice these if you’ll handle the whipped cream.” He reached for a knife.
I frowned. “We didn’t get any whipped cream.”
“Sure, we did.” Tate opened the refrigerator again, this time emerging with a small milk carton in his hand, which he set down on the counter in front of me. “Here you go.”
“Just what am I supposed to do with this?” I saw the words on the container. Heavy whipping cream clearly meant that whatever was inside the cardboard could somehow be transformed into the frothy goodness I loved, but I had no earthly idea how to go about making it happen.
“You’re going to whip it.” He winked at me. “Whip it good. I’ll get you started.”
I watched him moving around the kitchen, and I thought again how odd it was that such a large man could have such grace. I was willing to bet that it came from playing football, where I imagined his talent for maneuvering probably paid off.
Within a few moments, I had a small metal bowl, the brand-new electric hand mixer, a bag of powdered sugar and a bottle of vanilla laid out before me. I surveyed all of it with undisguised suspicion.
“Now pay attention, because this is tricky. Here’s the hardest part: dump the cream into the bowl.”
I rolled my eyes. “Ha, ha, ha, Mr. Smarty Pants Chef Guy. I think I can manage that.” I slid my thumb up the small crease and deftly opened the cardboard carton. The cream was thick and velvety as I poured it into the bowl. “Now what?”
“Plug in the mixer, submerge the beaters in the cream, and turn it on. Move it around a little now and then. And that’s pretty much it.” He turned back to his cutting board, slicing the tops of some luscious-looking red strawberries.
Gingerly, I dipped the shiny silver beaters into the liquid and used my thumb to move the switch to on. The small machine sprang to life, whirring in my hand. I held the bowl with my other fingers, staring into it, waiting for magic to happen.
A few minutes later, I was still waiting. “Tate, this isn’t working. It’s still just, like, cream.”
“Uh huh. Give it a little longer.” He didn’t even bother to look at me over his shoulder.
“But it isn’t changing. It’s just swirling around and around.” I raised my voice, in case he didn’t understand how serious this was. I was ruining the whipped cream.
“Yep, that’s how it works.” His voice remained serene and unconcerned.
I kept it up a little longer. “I think we must’ve gotten defective cream. It’s still all liquidy. Or maybe I messed it up.”
“The only way you can mess it up is if you whip the cream too long and it turns into butter. I don’t think you’re in danger of that yet.” He finished cutting up another berry, and drying his hands, stepped over to check out my work. “Okay, turn off the mixer for a minute, and then add some sugar and vanilla.”
I did as he instructed, resting the edge of the mixer against the side of the bowl. “How much?”
“Eh, two or three tablespoons of the powdered sugar and a couple of teaspoons of vanilla.”
I was troubled by his lack of precision in measurements. “Two or three? Which is it?”
Tate sighed. “Start with two. We don’t want it too sweet, just sweet enough.”
“All right.” I flipped through the measuring spoons he’d bought today and found the right one before I carefully measured the sugar into the bowl. Next I poured two precise teaspoons of vanilla. “I did it. Now what?”
“Back to whipping.” Tate used a paper towel to gently dry the blueberries. “Just incorporate all of that into it.”
Setting my jaw, I got back to work, peering intensely at the whirling white that was threatening to hypnotize me. The cream made a pretty design as it ran through the beaters, and it reminded me a little of snow. As a matter of fact, it almost looked like . . .
“Tate!” I flicked off the mixer again. “It worked! It’s thickening. Look!” I stood back so that he could see into the bowl without moving away from his spot at the cutting board.
“Excellent. I knew you could do it. Now keep it up a little longer. It’s not quite ready yet. But watch it, because too long there and it really will turn into butter.”
“Huh.” I squinted down, nearly afraid to look away in case what was in the bowl might suddenly betray me. “Does it honestly happen that fast?”
“Nah. I mean, hypothetically speaking, if you had a stand mixer, and you were whipping cream, and you got distracted doing something else while it was mixing, and you forgot to check on it for a while . . . then yeah, it’s a possibility. But you’re on it.” He scooped all of the berries into a round glass bowl and moved over to stand closer to me. “I think you’re good now. See how it’s forming nice peaks?”
I did see, and I felt an unaccustomed surge of pride. “I did it. I can’t freaking believe it, but I made whipped cream.”
“Yes, you sure did.” He swiped one finger into the cream and stuck it into his mouth. “Mmmmm, and you got the flavor right, too. Just sweet enough.” Before I could protest, he stuck that same finger back into my bowl again.
“Hey! Yuck! No double dipping. You’re going to ruin my masterpiece.” I scowled up at him.
“But I wanted you to have a taste, too.” So saying, he held up his whipped cream-covered finger a few inches from my lips. “Don’t you want to try it?”
My heart thudded a little. I hadn’t done anything like this . . . touched my tongue to any part of any man . . . for a long time. I swallowed and resisted the urge to fan myself. The kitchen was all of a sudden much warmer than it had been.
With a deep breath, I closed my eyes and lifted my mouth to his hand, closing around the creamy goodness. The second the flavor hit my tongue, I forgot all about how it got there.
“Oh . . . my . . . God.” I moaned the words. “That is amazing. So much better than the stuff I get in the can.”
“The real thing always is better.” Tate’s voice was hoarse, and he slid his finger out of my mouth. As I watched, he turned his back to me, busying himself with pulling out two small plates and a couple of forks. I wondered what I might have seen in his eyes if he hadn’t turned away. I wasn’t sure I’d have been able to deal with what whatever might have been there.
“Grab a spoon for your, uh, masterpiece, and let’s eat.” He lifted the berries on the cutting board and set the whole thing down on the table. “Serious conversations make me hungry.”
I rolled my eyes. “Is there anything that doesn’t make you hungry?”
Dragging out his chair, he shot me a wicked smile. “That’s for me to know and you to find out. And lucky girl, you’ll get to find out, because as long as you’ll let me, I plan to spend as much of my free time with you as possible.”
Tawdra Kandle writes romance, in just about all its forms. She loves unlikely pairings, strong women, sexy guys, hot love scenes and just enough conflict to make it interesting. Her books include young adult and new adult paranormal romance, new adult and adult contemporary romance and adult paramystery romance. She lives in central Florida with a husband, kids, sweet pup and too many cats. And yeah, she rocks purple hair.
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