Those were all the things he needed to be happy. He needed to stay away from women and relationships, because those two things screwed with his head. All he needed in his life was football. If he just concentrated on football, everything would be perfect.
Then he walked in the door of the restaurant and saw Mia sitting at the bar, and his newly constructed life plan went totally to shit.
MIA SAW THE LOOK ON NATHAN’S FACE WHEN HE WALKED in. He was not happy to see her. She half expected him to turn around and walk out. In fact, she found herself holding her breath for that fraction of a second as their gazes met, waiting for him to do exactly that.
When he didn’t, when he walked toward her, she exhaled in relief. He could be mad as hell at her, he could even yell at her. But what she couldn’t handle was him walking away.
Though that’s what she’d done, wasn’t it? She’d walked away from him—from them, without even giving him a truthful explanation about why. She owed him that, so she really hoped he’d stay to hear her out.
“I’m here to see Flynn,” he said.
She swallowed, her throat gone dry. “He’s not here.”
Nathan frowned. “Okay. I’ll wait for him.”
“I mean, he’s not going to be here. I asked him to ask you to come.”
“Because I figured if I asked you to come you wouldn’t.”
“You’re right. This is a waste of time.”
He started to walk away but she laid her hand on his forearm. “Please stay.”
“I don’t need closure, Mia.”
“Closure? I’m not— I don’t want that, Nathan. I want to talk to you.”
He looked around and so did she. The restaurant wasn’t crowded. It was still early so the dinner crowd hadn’t arrived yet.
She felt such relief at that one word. “Let’s get a table somewhere private in the corner where we can talk. Would you like something to drink?”
He told the bartender he wanted a beer. Once he got that, they went to a table in the far corner of the restaurant.
Mia took a sip of her wine while Nathan took several long swallows of his beer, then set it down on the table.
“What’s this all about, Mia?”
Now was the time to lay the truth out on the table. She hoped he didn’t bolt when she did, but she owed him that. She owed him the truth—and her feelings.
“I lied to you.”
“When I broke up with you. It wasn’t about my company or me. It was about you.”
He didn’t respond to that, so she continued.
“That afternoon of the preseason game, you put your arm around me and the media was there. They took photos and those photos showed up online. I sat outside Mick and Tara’s house. You remember we were supposed to meet there.”
“Yeah, I remember. You cancelled.”
“Right. I saw those photos and what the reporters were saying about you and me. They focused on the two of us together. They asked if we were a dynasty in the making. They accused me of using you to benefit my company. And suddenly it wasn’t about your game that day, Nathan. It was about us.”
She sighed. “How can you be so nonchalant about that? You know how the press focuses on an athlete and his personal life. I didn’t want that for you. Not at such a critical juncture in your career.”
Nathan took a sip of his beer. “Oh, I get it. So you decided it would be best to end things between us to save me. How noble of you.”
She knew he’d be mad about it. “I’m sorry. I thought what I was doing was for the best. For you.”
“Without talking to me about it. Without asking how I felt about it. Because Mia Cassidy knows best.”
She shook her head. “It wasn’t like that. I was scared for you, Nathan. I was worried how you’d be perceived, that the focus would be about the two of us instead of your performance on the field.”
“So instead of treating me like someone you care about, you treated me like a client. Hell, Mia, for that, I should sign with MHC, because you handled me beautifully, didn’t you? Your instincts were right on. Tell the client that personal life and entanglements come second to career. Right?”
This was not going like she thought it would. Couldn’t he see what she’d done for him? Couldn’t he see how much her heart was hurting? “That’s exactly the way I thought. I sacrificed us for you. Don’t you see that?”
His gaze narrowed. “Oh, I see it perfectly. Only I was in love with you, Mia. So while you were thinking all about business you ripped my goddamn heart out.”
He was in love with her? It was the first time he’d said it and she should be elated.
But she could only watch him as he stood, tossed money on the table for his beer and, without another word, walked out of the restaurant.
Mia stared at the empty chair where he’d sat.
Oh, God. She’d hurt him so much, even more than she’d thought. Because she’d had to be the one in control. So instead of loving him and talking to him about her fears and concerns, she’d managed him. He was so right. Instead of talking it over with the man she loved, she’d treated him like a client.
It really was over between them. And she couldn’t fix it. What she’d feared the most had happened.
She’d lost Nathan. Only it wasn’t the sex or falling in love that had driven the wedge between them.
It was her. She’d ruined them. And she totally deserved this feeling of utter loss and devastation.
NATHAN THREW HIS KEYS ON THE TABLE AND PACED the confines of his condo. He raked his fingers through his hair, still hot after the long drive home.
Mia had manipulated him, treated him no better than she’d treat any one of her clients.
He’d loved her. Hell, he still loved her, goddammit. And she didn’t care at all about him. How could she shred him like that without a thought to how he felt?
His phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw that it was Mia. He gripped the phone so tight it made his hand cramp, so he threw the damn thing on the sofa.
She’d made all the decisions and never once thought to ask him how he felt. Because in Mia’s world, business was everything. Business came first.
Well, no more. He was done with having his heart stomped on.
And he was done with Mia for good.
THE VISIT FROM HER MOTHER HAD BEEN A SURPRISE. Maybe it was the tone in Mia’s voice the past couple of weeks during their phone calls, or maybe Flynn had said something to her, but when her mom showed up on her doorstep three days ago, Mia had stepped into her mother’s arms and cried. And cried some more. And then even more.
She’d taken a couple of days off work, which she hadn’t wanted to do but they had no presentations and Monique had insisted they had everything under control. Monique told her she was tired of seeing her moping around the office, so she should spend some time with her mom.
Mia needed it.
They’d cuddled and talked and cooked and drank wine together. And Mia had poured out her story about what happened with Nathan.
“So, you screwed up,” her mother said.
Leave it to her mother to pull no punches.
Mia had reached for a tissue and blew her nose. “Yes, I screwed up.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
“Nothing. I tried explaining it to him and I only made it worse. He hates me now.” That made the tears spring forth anew so she had to grab for another tissue.
She was so tired of crying.
Her mom gave her a decidedly unsympathetic look. “I did not raise a daughter who gives up. You’ll have to find another way.”
She sighed. “I don’t know what to do. I thought I was doing the right thing. How could I have been so wrong, Mom?”
“Oh. You mean you’re not perfect and you don’t always make the right decisions? That’s called life, Mia.”
Mia frowned. “This is not helping.”
“Sorry. But you got yourself into this mess by not being open and communicative with the man you love. What were you thinking?”