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CHAPTER 8

          ‘No, not the marriage speech again…’, Annalise said to herself. Every time John was spending some time at her house, talking to her Mom, he would start blabbing the same thing: that she should get married, that she didn’t need to work, and so on.

          But she wasn’t interested in getting a man in her life, at least not now, when she was trying to get her hands on the biggest client she would ever encounter in her career. She could be the youngest ad exec ever to land such an account. She needed John to say yes to her, become part of the ‘HL Sportswear’ future campaign, and convert in the ace up her sleeve to pull out later.

“John, answer me this, please. Would you quit playing before being sure that you did the best you could to win every single thing just because someone is telling you that you are already good enough? Would you do it if they tell you that you don’t need to prove to the world how good you really are? Would you quit playing soccer because the woman you love is asking you to do it just to prove to her how much you care about her?”

          A sarcastic, strangling sound rose from his throat. He licked his lips as if to rid himself of a really bad taste.

“Annie, this is different…”

“I know, I know. You’re Tarzan, and I’m Jane. You’re strong and I’m weak.”

          Her lips curled in disgust.

“John, sweetie, I care about you dearly, and you are the best friend/adoptive brother a girl could ask for. But, please, don’t play this game with me, you know me better than that. And my mom does too.”

          He huffed but did not dispute her accusation. Then his expression grew thoughtful again. He knew Annalise, and he was sure that she took all her precautions. And she was right, this contract could be good for him.

          At a first look, John was giving the impression of a golden-boy jock whose only concern would be fast cars and beautiful women. But beneath that illusion, there was a man who had a deep social conscience.

          His refusal of endorsement deals had gained him a reputation of eccentricity from some. Others regarded him incredulously as a fool to pass on the opportunity to make millions by doing nothing more than lend his name to countless companies willing to cover him in gold in exchange for his endorsement.

          But the simple fact was that John did meticulous research on all the corporations that approached him, and so far, none was good for him. Until now, until Annalise showed him a new angle.

“Alright, babe. Send me all the details and let me have a look. But I make no promises. If it checks every box on my list, I will come to meet him and listen to his offer.”

“Thanks, John, you are simply the best!” she exclaimed.  

“I don’t suppose that after this I could lure you into coming to see me playing the whole season?”

          Annalise exhaled and picked up her slice of pizza again.

“I don’t have so much free time. And even so, to be honest… I would rather quit my job than come to every game to watch 22 angry boys chasing a ball. A few games at the time are more than ok.”

“Well, Annie,” John said raising his hands in a defensive move, “you don’t have to be such a bitch.”

“You’re right… In fact, I was a bit bitchy… Sorry, John. When Jeremy was here, it was so much fun going with him to see your team play. But since he isn’t coming to LA so often, I kinda backed off myself.”

"Maybe I will invite Jeremy to a game..."

"Good luck with that. Washington DC is keeping my big brother too busy."

          She looked straight into his eyes and raised an eyebrow. 

“Listen, I might need another favor from you…”

          John didn’t say a word. Just glared at her, a little terrified, but also very curious.

“All I need are two of the best seats in the house for the next game… Since you will be playing in Los Angeles, I will be taking Lance to see you. And from this point on…”

“Babe, you are so damn expensive…”

          His expression went from teasing to serious with one blink.

“Please, take care of yourself, Annie. I trust you know what you’re doing, but I can’t stop worrying about you. That’s all. What happened in San Francisco would have never occurred if…”

          She stiffened and held her hand, halting him in mid-sentence.

“Right now, I don’t want to talk about San Francisco. Please, stop…”

          He nodded and she saw regret in his eyes. Annalise waited for her heart to stop beating so fast, and then she forced a smile.

“So, Mr. John Beckett, will you take a look at what I put together for you? Trust me, you will like Lance a lot. He’s a brilliant businessman, and his employees love him. He has a fantastic health-insurance plan. All his products are made in the States, he’s not shipping jobs or production overseas. Let’s see what else can I tell you about him? He is a regular contributor to a half dozen charities…”

“Ok, he is a saint, I get it.”

          John held up his hands in surrender.

“How do other men ever measure up?”

          He smiled looking at her expression, then John checked his wristwatch and let out a sigh.

“Babe, the pizza was great and the conversation also, but I need to go home and rest. Tomorrow I have to be on my way to Georgia very early. Remember to send me the stuff. And the tickets will be waiting for you at the box office.”

“You are unbelievable, John,” she said affectionately. “Thank you so much for doing this.”

“I will give you a call as soon as I will finish reading your data,” John added and he dropped a kiss on top of her head before leaving her house.

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