Hot Holiday Nights Page 18

Once she got past security with her badge, she wended her way through the crowd in search of either Alex or Ben.

She found Ben in the middle of a group of men. He smiled and waved her over, introduced her to several guys all in the business of promoting their own competitors in the contest.

He put his arm around her. “This is Victoria Baldwin.”

One of them, a tall African American man wearing a white-and-red flowered shirt, narrowed his gaze. “Aren’t you a sports agent?”

“I am. And you are . . .”

He held out his hand. “Sorry. Larry Banders.”

The name sounded familiar. Why couldn’t she place it? “Nice to meet you, Larry.”

“You represent Malcolm King, the basketball player from San Antonio.”

“Yes, I do.”

“He’s married to my sister, Cynthia.”

Now she knew why the name had rung a bell. She smiled. “Of course. I love Cynthia. She’s so supportive of Malcolm’s career.”

“Yeah, she loves basketball. Played some herself in high school and college.”

“Yes. We’ve had several conversations about that. I tried to recruit her for the WNBA, but she refused to listen to my grand plans for her career.”

Larry laughed. “Yeah, she wants to concentrate on my two nephews. I told her the same thing. I would have promoted the hell out of her if she’d let me. But she said babies first, career later. And now she wants to be a teacher.”

Tori shrugged. “Not everyone wants the career of an athlete. What are you going to do?”

“Nothing. I love those kids, so if she’s happy, then I’m happy. In the meantime, I put my label on everyone else. Like my kid here. In fact, I see him now, so excuse me. Nice meeting you, Victoria.”

“You too, Larry.”

Ben led her away from the crowd. “Do you always run into people you know?”

“It happens sometimes. Indirectly or directly, I usually find someone in the business.” As they headed through the crowd, she tilted her gaze up to his. The firelight highlighted the stunning features of his face and the utter sexiness of his eyes, something she tried not to notice. She was failing miserably. “Surely you have the same problem, since you’re in the athlete business.”

“True. I used to work with a lot of athletes, though I don’t brand as many as I used to.”

“Why not?”

He shrugged. “For one thing, I’ve made a lot of money over the years.”

“There’s always more money to make, you know.”

“True. But I’m not looking to become richer than I need to be. I just want to live comfortably, and I do. Chasing money requires a lot of work and hustle and time, and I’m just not interested in putting that much time into it anymore. And second, I’m pretty selective about who wears my brand. Plus, I like surfing. It’s still my passion, so limiting the chase for a higher income allows me to follow the waves. At least vicariously.”

She smiled. “It’s good that you still get to do what you love, even in this way.”

“Having enough money has its benefits.”

She wondered if she’d ever get to that point where it would be enough for her. She loved her career, adored her clients and it was still an adrenaline rush for her. “I don’t think I’ve reached the slow-down phase of my career yet.”

“You’ll know it when you get there.”

She turned to face him. “Before Alex gets here, I want to apologize for earlier today.”

He frowned. “What about earlier today?”

“I was tired and cranky and bit your head off about some things.”

He stepped in closer and swept his hand over her hair. “I didn’t even notice. Don’t worry about it.”

She shivered at his touch. “Well, thanks for being kind about it, but I’m pretty good at knowing when I’m being a bitch.”

He laughed. “It’s a good trait to have, but honestly, it takes a lot to piss me off.”

“Also a good trait to have, Ben.”

“I think you live longer that way. How about we find you a drink and you can really relax?”

“That sounds like a great idea. Is Alex here?”

“I saw him around earlier with some of the other surfers. I’m sure we’ll run into him.”

He led her to the drink station—an entire bar set up under one of the tents.

“What would you like?”

“Something hard. I’m in the mood to drink tonight.”

He cocked his head to the side and gave her a grin. “My kind of woman. Two Jack Daniels—neat. And make them doubles.”

He handed her the glass.

She looked down at the amber liquid, then back at him. “Are you trying to get me drunk?”

“Maybe.” He clinked his glass against hers and downed his drink in one swallow.

She wouldn’t dare do that, though she was good at holding her liquor. After countless years having cocktails with team owners and athletes who outweighed her by hundreds of pounds, she had learned to either pace herself or drink with them. She took a couple of sips, letting the liquid burn its way down her throat.

Mmm, smooth. She finished the rest in two swallows, then asked the bartender for water.

Ben motioned to the bartender, who handed over a bottle of water, and two more shots.

Victoria turned to Ben. “You are trying to get me drunk.”

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