Hot Holiday Nights Page 12

“You competed before?” she asked.

“Yes, but it’s been a while.”

“Injury, or tired of the surfing lifestyle?”

He laughed. “Once a surfer, always a surfer. I hurt my back on a bad wave about ten years ago, resulting in the need for surgery. That was the end of my competitive surfing.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be able to do what you love.”

He shrugged. “I got over it.”

“That’s such a simplistic statement. It sucked, didn’t it?”

He gave her a direct look that told her he was surprised she understood. “You’re right. It did suck. For a long time.”

“Like years?”

“Yeah.”

She sipped her juice. “I’ll bet you were a pain in the ass to live with for a while.”

He let out a laugh. It was deep and filled with a dark, husky tone that made her tighten in places that had no business tightening considering her sex-a-thon with Alex last night.

“I was an unlikeable prick for about two years. Felt sorry for myself. Thought my life was over.”

“I think you were due a pity party. If it were me, I might have taken another year or so.”

“So what you’re saying is I have another year coming?”

She laughed. “Sorry. No retro do-overs. You screwed up. Now that you’ve manned up and gotten over it, your complaining days are over.”

“Too bad. I really enjoyed the drug and alcohol binges.”

“That bad, huh?”

“The pain pills were fine for a while, but eventually the doctor put a stop to them. I used alcohol to dull the pain after that. It got pretty ugly.”

“Did you have to go to rehab?”

“No. I never got that bad. I only drank at night so I could sleep, so at least I didn’t become an all-day drunk. Couldn’t stand myself after a while, and realized no one else could stand me either, so I cleaned myself up and rejoined the living.”

She smiled at him. “You look pretty okay to me. Glad you found your way back from the dark side.”

“Thanks. It was good for me, actually. Nothing like a long hard bout of feeling sorry for yourself to make you realize your life really isn’t over.”

“I deal with that with a lot of athletes, who often have very short careers.”

“I imagine being an agent is more than just negotiating contracts and fielding offers for commercials. You also have to teach them about investing in their future, just in case an injury sidelines them, or even worse, kills their career sooner than they think.”

She nodded, appreciating that he was so perceptive. So many people didn’t “get” what she did for a living, and thought she sailed around the country romancing prospects, having them sign on the dotted line, then rushing off to snare a new conquest. Her job wasn’t all big paychecks and sharing the spotlight with high-paid sports stars. It was a hell of a lot of work, and often a great deal of frustration.

“You’re exactly right. A lot of these young kids think they’re superheroes, that nothing bad will ever happen to them. One catastrophic injury and they’re out of the game in an instant. I advise them to invest their money well, and to have a fallback plan for when their careers do end, because the large majority of them won’t be in the game for as long as they think they will.”

He tilted his head. “You’re very smart.”

She laughed. “And that surprises you?”

“Not at all. But it probably surprises many of your clients. I wish I’d had an agent like you when I was younger. You do realize a lot of them are out to make as much money as they can from their clients for as long as they can, and they don’t give a shit about their clients’ welfare.”

“Sadly, I do know. There are many unscrupulous agents out there, but there are just as many who care about their clients’ welfare. You obviously had one of the bad ones.”

He finished his juice and made a perfect toss into the nearby recycling container. “Which is why I’m not retired and living on a beach somewhere, whiling away my days in a hammock.”

“Awww, too bad. You have to work like the rest of us poor suckers.”

“Yeah, my life is a living hell.” He graced her with a wicked grin that made the female parts of her quiver.

She had no business quivering over Ben Reynolds. He wasn’t at all her type. Which didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy his company. He was smart and engaging, and after all, she was on vacation.

She broke a lot of rules while on vacation.

“Somehow I don’t think your life is all that bad, Ben.”

“I’m not complaining. I still get to travel, still get to attend all the surfing events, and I still don’t have to pay for them, since my company foots the bill.”

“That doesn’t sound like such a bad life to me.”

He stood, and she did, too. “It’s a great life. Being as good a surfer as I was, I’ve learned to spot real talent. And when I do, I make sure I put my logo on their boards and their suits. They make me money. It’s a pretty sweet deal.”

“Sounds like your life is just where you want it to be.”

He led her outside, and she was surprised by how many people had shown up in the short time they’d been inside the tent.

The smell of something cooking made her stomach growl. She laid her hand there.

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