Playing for Keeps
Book 2 in the Game Changers Series
Delano “Del” Greer plays by the rules at all times. Especially after a scandal ruined his career at the police department and threatened to destroy his family’s reputation in his hometown of Providence. Now, he’s focused on establishing Game Changers as a reputable sports bar. Once a staunch adversary of social media, Del puts the success of the bar first and gives it a try, using a fake name of course. When his trial run quickly lands him in a steamy online affair he’s happy to play along.
Working alongside her father at his auto body shop since she was six years old, Rylan Kent is the polar opposite of her beauty pageant winning sister. She’s been best friends with Camy Greer for about the same amount of time. Imagine Rylan’s surprise when she inadvertently learns the identity of the guy who responded to her drunken chat and continued to share explicit ways he could bring her pleasure. Now, Rylan has no idea how the temperamental and all-about-keeping-up-appearances Del is going to react when he finds out the woman he’s been talking sex with is actually the one he called “greasy-peasy” all through high school.
Playing for Keeps
GCSports18: Tell me what you like.
Rylan stared at her phone screen; fingers poised to type a response.
She didn’t know what to say. Or rather she did, she just wondered if she should say it. After all, she had no idea who GCSports18 was. He’d popped up on the social networking site she was using to livestream karaoke night at the Game Changers Sports Bar & Grill.
Karaoke wasn’t usually her thing, but tonight was a special occasion. Ethan Henley, who co-owned the bar with five of his close friends and had grown up here in Providence, Virginia along with Rylan, was getting married on New Year’s Day. His fiancé, Portia Merin, was also from Providence but she’d gone away to college and came back as an intimacy instructor. With Thanksgiving, Christmas and the weeks Portia had to travel for work coming up, Rylan’s best friend and Portia’s maid of honor, Camelia “Camy” Greer decided to throw Portia’s bachelorette party a little early. The second week of November was probably a lot early, but the group of six women were having a fantastic time on this rainy Friday evening.
GCSports18 commented on the show and the rousing rendition of Aretha Franklin’s Respect by Kasey, one of the waitresses that worked at the bar. Rylan replied in agreement that Kasey was rockin’ the house with her sassy attitude and stage presence. After a few more comments that Rylan barely recalled because she was simultaneously chatting with others who were responding to her video, GCSports18’s screen name and bullseye icon appeared in a dropdown on her screen. It was a private message. Rylan had no idea who this person was or when they’d connected on the site. She didn’t normally spend time online. Managing and working on vehicles at Kent Automotive took up a lot of her time. She wasn’t certain that would be the case by the end of this year, but Rylan was determined not to think about that tonight. The staggered private conversation with GCSports18 had been going on for about twenty minutes, during which time she’d surmised he was a guy after he’d mentioned playing pool at an all boys’ club when he was a kid. She’d responded to his comment about the boys’ club with a comment about her early-sprouting breasts keeping her out of boys’ activities since she was eight years old. It was after that comment that Rylan sensed their conversation taking a very sexual tone.
“I’m going to advise you ladies go lightly on this next pitcher of Pink Panty Dropper. Despite what I’m sure would be the pleasure of more than one guy in the crowd, absolutely no panties will be dropped in Game Changers tonight. Or any other night, for that matter,” Delano “Del” Greer, part owner and manager of the bar, spoke in his deep somber voice, his lips barely lifting in what she knew was his general pass for a smile.
Rylan had known Del for the majority of her life, since she’d met Camy at Ms. Anne’s daycare when they were five years old. Camy was Del’s younger sister. Del and his twin brother Delancey, who they called Lance, were three years older than Camy and Rylan.
Camy laughed and clapped a hand on Del’s shoulder. He was a little over six feet tall, but Camy was sitting in a high-boy chair so they were almost face-to-face.
“You just head on back over there to the bar where you’ve been standing and stewing all night, big brother,” Camy said before rubbing her fingers over the side of the pitcher filled with the pretty pink beverage. “And we’ll continue to enjoy ourselves at this lovely party.”
Camy’s light brown eyes were a little glazed and her smile was constant. Rylan
knew what that meant. She would definitely be tonight’s designated driver. With that thought, she figured she might as well finish off the first drink she’d had tonight. The Pink Panty Dropper packed a hell of a punch, but she’d enjoyed a perfectly cooked well-done filet at Milligan’s Steakhouse, where the bachelorette party had started earlier tonight.
“I think somebody over there might like it if my panties get dropped,” Portia said between the giggles she’d had for the last half hour.
“I hear that!” Brenda Cole, who went to school with Camy and Rylan, said before lifting her empty glass into the air to toast with whoever thought what she’d said was a good idea.
Gina Rivera, who taught Zumba classes at the gym, lifted her glass to clink loudly with Brenda’s and Rylan grinned while shaking her head because Del didn’t find any of that funny.
“My fiancé is over there working, Del. And I happen to know for a fact that he prefers me panty-less,” Portia continued.
Now Del pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. This was a familiar reaction too. Unlike Lance who would’ve most likely laughed and provided a quick and raunchy retort, Del probably felt uncomfortable considering Ethan was one of his best friends.
“Not here,” Del said when he opened his eyes again. “This is the last pitcher for you ladies. Only coffee after this.”
His tone was stern and he topped it off by giving a curt nod, his medium-thick lips drawn tight, a muscle twitching in his jaw. Rylan didn’t actually see that muscle twitch because of Del’s full beard. But she knew it was there because it always appeared when he was agitated or worried. She knew Del like he was the brother she never had.
And because that was a fact, the moment he walked away from the table, Rylan looked at her phone screen once again. GCSports18 was still waiting for her response. She should close out of the app and put her phone in her purse. Nothing was going to come of an oddly sexual chat session with a stranger. Not for her anyway. While Portia and Ethan may be blissfully in love, Rylan was currently witnessing the divorce from hell play out between her parents.
Rylan: I’m not into roses and candlelight.
She typed because one of her mother’s chief complaints about her father was that he didn’t wine and dine her enough.
Estelle Kent had a list of complaints against Will, her husband of thirty-seven years, that was easily longer than Rylan’s left arm…and her right leg. Which was precisely why Rylan had no intention of ever getting married or even giving her heart to a man. But this was only chatting. While she hadn’t been on a date in almost three months, Rylan wasn’t yet ready to venture into online dating. And if she ever considered it, she definitely wouldn’t start the conversation while drinking at a bachelorette party. That was a sure recipe for disaster.
Del hated social media.
He despised the idea of putting his personal business online for billions of strangers to dissect and devour. He also didn’t like the amount of time it took out of the lives of a good majority of the people in this world on a daily basis.
But Noah Jordan—one of his closest friends and the marketing guru of Game Changers —could be as big a nag as anyone that Del had ever had the displeasure of meeting in his thirty-one years of life.
“Great crowd tonight,” Ethan, the bartender, said when Del once again joined him behind the bar.
The Brothers—as they used to call themselves—Del, Ethan, Noah, Rochester “Rock” Patterson, Jeret McCoy and Del’s twin brother Delancey “Lance” had been as close as if they were all blood-related since the time they’d spent together as teens at the Grace House for Boys.
“Yeah,” Del replied and looked out to the main floor to see that almost all of their tables were full of guests.
The Bullpen area, which was where he’d just come from, tending to Ethan’s fiancé’s bachelorette party, was also full. Upstairs, the private area they called the Skybox had been reserved by one of the bowling leagues attending an annual conference at the Regional Resort and Spa in Alexandria. Drinks were flowing, food was being brought out of the kitchen in regular intervals and the entertainment that Lance insisted would be a success was certainly entertaining the crowd. Del was happy. Even if it didn’t look like it.
They were closing in ninety minutes. An hour after that, Del and the brothers, along with their staff, would finish cleaning up the place and head to their respective homes. Del planned to grab a hot shower and fall face first into his bed. But before any of that happened, he would have to do something he hated. And not because he thought he was above doing it, but because he hated the smirk he knew he was going to see on Noah’s face, when Del admitted that Noah was right.
Advertising the bar in local papers and via local businesses willing to partner with them was not enough. Establishing a social media presence for the bar was a must. And because Noah was scheduling meetings with the representatives from the Washington D.C. Major League Baseball team and the National Hockey League to become an approved venue for the teams and their fans in the Virginia area, he’d assigned social networking to Del since he was the manager of this growing establishment.
That thought had Del cursing and remembering to pull his phone from his back pocket. He activated the screen and saw that MercedesGirl926 had responded to his last message.
“You been on that phone a lot tonight,” Ethan said. “Got a new lady in your life?”
“Mind yours,” Del snarled and turned away.
Ethan chuckled and continued to fill the next drink order.
Del looked down at his phone again. A whisper of a smile flashed over his face. She didn’t like roses and candlelight. He touched the screen to provide his response.
Del: I usually pass on them too.
Del picked up the live stream of the bar through something called a hashtag and had reluctantly joined in the conversation about the performance. MercedesGirl926 was running the video so Del presumed she was somewhere in the bar. There were dozens of women here tonight and truthfully, it wasn’t as if he were looking for a personal connection. His goal was to simply interact so that Noah would get off his back about being a social mediaphobe. But MercedesGirl926 was chatting with everyone using witty comebacks and humorous observations. She’d also complimented the bar’s hot wings and easy-going atmosphere. So, Del tried the private message button that lingered on the sidebar of the screen and a separate conversation had begun.
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about. This place has been packed since happy hour and the crowd doesn’t seem to be dwindling down, even though it’s getting late. Fellas, I’d say we’re turning a corner,” Noah announced as he joined them behind the bar.
“Yeah, and it would help immensely if both of you would stop standing around talking and actually help with this booming crowd,” Ethan quipped.
The former Secret Service agent who was about to become the first of their close-knit group to take the plunge into matrimony, leaned over the bar to deliver two frilly looking drinks to two smiling women. Del stared at each of them, one with brilliant blue eyes and red hair that reminded him briefly of Jean Gray from the X-Men. The second one had beautiful caramel-hued skin and wore her hair in long golden strands.
Was one of them MercedesGirl926?
“Karaoke Night is a good idea,” Noah continued. “With Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights reserved for football games and hosting all the Fantasy Leagues in the area, we’re pretty set on crowds for those nights. NBA games on Tuesdays and Thursdays. College football on Saturdays. Wednesday and Fridays had a gap, but I’d say we’ve filled Friday surprisingly good.”
Noah stood with his arms folded over his chest, nodding as he continued to look around the bar. Del couldn’t help but agree with him, after he’d watched those two women walk away from the bar and return to the group they’d been standing with. A group that was evenly paired, men and women. A tall man with wire-framed glasses slipped his arm around the waist of the golden-loc woman, his fingers splaying over the curve of her ass as he pulled her tightly against his side. No way was she MercedesGirl926. This guy was barely letting her breathe, let alone releasing his grip on her long enough so that she could participate in a cyber-conversation for the last half hour.
“Don’t forget Mrs. Tillman’s warning that we do nothing to conflict with the good people of Providence attending bible study and prayer service on Wednesday evenings,” Ethan chimed in when he stopped moving around to stand beside them.
The three men stood together, just as they had throughout most of their lives. Also known as the town bad boys, they’d all had a rough time of it here in Providence. Nobody ever thought they’d amount to anything after those years they’d struggled to grow into men. But they’d each defied the odds by either heading off to college or the military and afterwards settling into good, respectable careers. It was just a strange twist of that evil and spiteful fate that had them all ending those wonderful careers within the same year and returning to the only home they knew. Now, fifteen months later, they were standing in the midst of their second chance at this thing called life. After pooling their money and the talents they’d each learned throughout the years, they’d opened Game Changers and were all hoping for its success.
“No problem there,” Del said, with a nod of his head. “We’re still in the praying business.”
“You got that right,” Noah added. “I’m gonna head over to the front. The crowd will start migrating to the doors in the next half hour as we head toward closing and I want to make sure there are no issues in the parking lots or on the streets.”
“That’s a good idea. I’ll go over to the side entrance in a few minutes,” Del said.
Noah was once an in-demand Hollywood stuntman, and while his broad frame had slimmed down quite a bit since his return to Providence and from the eighteen months he’d remained free of steroid use, he was still the best one of the group to hire and supervise the security team for the bar. The fact that this guy was also a marketing genius would come as a shock to many, but not Del. Noah had always been able to sell anything, starting with the individual mints they used to grab handfuls of from the therapists’ office every boarder from Grace House was forced to see. The memory of how many sodas and snacks Noah had been able to buy them with the proceeds of selling those mints to the members of Pleasant Rose Baptist Church on the Sunday mornings they all marched into the building, was fresh and still funny in Del’s mind.
“I’ll text Rock to start shutting down upstairs,” Ethan said before nudging Del. “Or would you rather do that since you’ve been on your phone half the night?”
“What? Del was on his phone while working? Somebody call the cops. He’s broken his own staunch rule about paying attention to customers first and foremost,” Noah added with a hearty chuckle.
Del didn’t find either of them funny.
“Send your text and you get to the front door. I swear some kids never grow up,” he said before pushing past Noah to move toward the end of the bar where he could step out onto the main floor.
“We’re just following your example, as always, captain!” Noah yelled behind him.
Del didn’t bother to turn back but flipped his middle finger to the duo as he left them standing there. They’d always called him captain, and not just because he’d managed to bring up his failing grades from eighth grade to his sophomore year in high school, enough that he could play on the football team. By his junior year, Del was on the honor roll and was named captain of the team. But, as the oldest of the six friends, he’d always been considered their leader. A title he’d never wanted but respected all the same.
He was just arriving at the side door when a large group were getting up from their seats to head out. He smiled and thanked them for coming, wishing them all a safe night as they proceeded through the door he held open. It was a brisk fall night, so he quickly pulled the door closed and stood to the side as he noted another table getting their jackets on as well. With his legs slightly parted, hands clenched in front of him, he smiled and nodded at their guests, feeling a humongous sense of pride at all that he and the brothers had managed to build here. That worked for Del’s grand plan. He was determined that the small-minded people that still lived in this town were going to eat all the negative words they’d ever spouted about him and his friends, once and for all. They were running a fine, upstanding establishment that commanded respect.
The phone vibrating in his front pant pocket tugged Del’s attention from his thoughts and he pulled it out expecting that either Rock or Ethan was texting him with a status of their crowd exiting for the night. He was wrong. Surprisingly so.
MercedesGirl926: Something else I like is a man with strong arms and a great mouth.
On Del’s second turn reading the response, the word “mouth” had his dick jumping.
With a frown as his previous thoughts circled in his mind, Del wondered what the fine, upstanding citizens of Providence would think if they knew he was embroiled in a sexy conversation with a stranger he’d met online. His thumbs were moving as if they had a mind of their own, ignoring thoughts of anyone else but MercedesGirl926.
Del: I like a willing and hot mouth as well.
He typed the words and wished like hell he was going home to MercedesGirl926 lying in his bed, instead of stuffing the phone back into his pocket and forcing himself to smile, while his dick continued to throb.