Home > When Stars Collide (Chicago Stars #9)

When Stars Collide (Chicago Stars #9)
Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips




Olivia Shore gazed out through the darkened window of the limousine toward the private jet parked on the tarmac. This was what her life had come to. Flying around the country with a brainless, overpaid jock and too many bad memories—all to hawk a luxury watch.

It was going to be the longest four weeks of her life.

* * *

Thaddeus Walker Bowman Owens leaned closer to the jet’s window and peered out at the limousine that had stopped by the plane. Exactly thirty-eight minutes late. A driver emerged and pulled a suitcase from the back, then another, then a third. A garment bag appeared next, followed by a fourth suitcase. He drew his head away from the window. “What in the hell have I got myself into?”

Cooper Graham peered around him to see what he was looking at, and then gave Thad’s tailor-made virgin wool pants and cashmere silk sweater a semi-smirk. “Looks like you might have a little competition for the best dressed list.”

Thad scowled at the man who was both his best friend and a perpetual thorn under his skin. “I like good clothes.”

“Half the time, you look like a damn peacock.”

Thad shot a meaningful look at Coop’s jeans and hoodie. “Only in comparison to you.” He crossed his legs, resting one of his feet, clad in an Italian dress boot with a glove-soft interior, on the opposite knee. “Still, it was nice of you to come see me off.”

“The least I could do.”

Thad leaned into the leather seat. “You were afraid I wouldn’t show up, weren’t you?”

“It might have crossed my mind.”

“Tell me how you did it.”

“How I did what?”

“How you managed to convince Marchand Watches—excuse me, Marchand Timepieces—that having me as a brand ambassador was just as good as having the legendary Cooper Graham.”

“You’re not exactly a nobody,” Graham said mildly.

“Damn straight. And I’ve got the Heisman to prove it. The one trophy even you don’t have stowed away on your shelves.”

Graham grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “Your lack of personal jealousy is what I most admire about you.”

“Since Marchand is the official watch of the Stars, and they couldn’t have you, they wanted Clint Garrett, didn’t they?”

“His name might have been mentioned.”

Thad gave a snort of disgust. Clint Garrett was the brilliantly talented, egotistical young asshole quarterback the Chicago Stars had signed last year to replace the void they hadn’t been able to fill when Coop had retired. The same Clint Garrett who Thad was supposed to make a better player and—oh, yeah—substitute for if the idiot kid got injured.

When Thad had come out of college sixteen years ago holding that Heisman, he’d seen himself as another Coop Graham or Tom Brady, not as a guy who’d end up spending most of his NFL career as a backup for the starting quarterbacks on four different pro teams. But that’s the way things had turned out. He was recognized as a brilliant strategist, an inspiring leader, but there was that almost trivial weakness in his peripheral vision that stood between him and greatness. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

A stir at the front of the plane drew their attention to The Diva who had finally graced them with her presence. She wore a belted tan trench coat over black pants, along with royal-blue stilettos that added five inches to her already impressive height. A few trails of dark hair emerged from the sides of a printed scarf wrapped around her head like in old photos Thad had seen of Jackie Kennedy. Along with the scarf, the pair of big-ass sunglasses perched on her long nose made her look like a jet-setter right out of the 1960s or maybe an Italian movie star. She tossed down a designer tote bag big enough to hold a golden retriever and took a seat near the front without acknowledging either of the men.

As the faint scent of luxury perfume, high culture, and undiluted arrogance wafted its way to the back of the plane, Coop unfurled from the seat. “Time for me to get out of here.”

“Lucky bastard,” Thad muttered.

Coop knew Thad well enough to know that The Diva wasn’t entirely responsible for Thad’s bad mood. “You’re what that kid needs,” he said. “Clint Garrett has the talent to go all the way, but not without the old man getting him there.”

Thad was thirty-six. Only in football years was that old.

Coop headed for the front of the plane. He stopped as he approached The Diva and nodded. “Ms. Shore.”

She inclined her head, barely acknowledging the man who’d been one of the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL. Thad had the God-given right to throw all the shade he wanted at Coop, but that highbrow opera singer didn’t.

Graham tossed Thad an amused glance and left the plane, a rat fleeing a sinking ship. Thad doubted Coop had thought twice about turning down Marchand’s lucrative offer to serve as brand ambassador for their new Victory780 men’s watch. The ex-quarterback didn’t like being away from his family, and he definitely didn’t need the money. As for Clint Garrett . . . Young Clint was too busy chasing women and driving fast cars to waste his time representing a prestige company like Marchand, official watch of both the Chicago Stars and the Chicago Municipal Opera.

Despite what he’d said to Coop, Thad wasn’t entirely surprised Marchand Timepieces had come after him to promote their Victory780 watch. They needed a Stars player, and Thad gave good interviews. Also, that old Heisman had garnered him plenty of publicity over the years. Still, anybody with eyeballs knew it wasn’t Thad’s throwing arm or glib rejoinders that had sealed the deal with Marchand. It was his pretty face.

“You’re even better looking than The Boo.” Coop had tweaked him the first time they’d met, referring to the great Stars quarterback Dean Robillard.

Thad’s looks were a curse.

One of his favorite ex-girlfriends had told him: “You’ve got Liam Hemsworth’s nose, Michael B. Jordan’s cheekbones, and Zac Efron’s hair. As for those green eyes . . . Taylor Swift for sure. It’s like all the good-looking celebs in the world threw up on your face.”

He missed Lindy, but she’d gotten fed up with his noncommittal crap. After she’d broken up with him, he’d sent her a new laptop so she’d know there were no hard feelings.

Over the years, he’d done everything he could to roughen up his appearance. He’d grown a beard a couple of times, but then people started telling him he looked like the dude in Fifty Shades. He’d tried a porn-star mustache only to have women say he looked distinguished. He’d even gone for irony and sported one of those asinine man buns for a while. Unfortunately, it looked good on him.

In high school, everybody got pimples but him. He’d never needed braces or gone through an awkward phase. He hadn’t broken his nose or gotten one of the chin scars every other player in the League had. His hair wasn’t thinning. He didn’t have a paunch.

He blamed his parents.

But the one positive thing about his looks, along with his lean, six-foot-three body, was the extra cash it earned him. And he did like making money. Over the years, he’d lent his face to a men’s cologne, his butt to designer underwear, and his hair to some overpriced grooming products he’d never bothered to use. And now this.

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