Quit Playing Games

Chapter 24

"Your boyfriend’s back."

"Hunh?" Miriam raised her eyes from the paperwork on her desk.

"Your boyfriend. He’s back." Hank pointed over to where Howie was just settling to on the treadmill.

Miriam watched the play of muscles in his legs and back as he started his warm-up. Damn he was beautiful! She missed him.

They’d only had one night together when he’d returned from the tour. She still has bruises from it. Then he’s left, again, to visit with family in Puerto Rico. Two weeks had stretched into three… Now he was back and she wanted him. Wanted him bad.

She walked over and leaned against the machine, jutting her taut breasts forward a bit.

"Hi handsome," she said.

"Hey." He leaned over and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. "I was going to call, but I got in really late last night. I figured you’d be here and I was going to come in anyway…" He looked abashed. "I should have stopped by your office, but the equipment looked so good…"

She laughed lightly, running a finger seductively across the metal railing near his hand. "How was your vacation?"

He chuckled. "I am not sure if being pummeled by all my nieces and nephews constitutes a vacation, but it was good. I didn’t get a chance to workout much. Just some swimming…"

Miriam shivered at the thought of him in a bathing suit.

"… and a little jogging, so I feel like a lump right now."

She looked him up and down boldly. "You don’t look like one."

Howie frowned quickly. "Well, I am sure I’ll feel better after I do some free weights."

Damn. She’d come on too strong, too quickly. Howie liked to be the aggressor in the romance department. Aggressor – god, that word was enough to make her wet, creating visions of primitive pleasures – and pain – in her mind. Better change that to "instigator" or she’d have an orgasm right here. And better back off some too. Let him get his endorphins going.

She sighed wistfully, running a finger along the machine again. "I wish I could join you, but I have so much paperwork…" She looked over at the weight rack. "Good thing I got an hour of training this morning. Maybe I’ll get a chance again later… Have fun."

Howie just nodded and turned up the tension on the treadmill.


Nick’s fingers gripped the armrests as the plane continued its final descent.

"Think of something else, Carter," he admonished himself, wincing at a particularly strident noise that came from the engine on his side of the phone.

He thought about the argument he’d had with Kat before he left. What the hell was her problem? Why wouldn’t she tell him the truth? That pathetic tale about them using each other’s girlfriends like communal property… it was as bad as the dolphin story. That crap about Howie trying to make it easy to get Kevin to sleep with her was a nice touch, but it was all bullshit.

So why had she clung to it so hard? Why had she insisted that it was true? If it were wouldn’t he know about it? He’d never agree to it… sure he and his parents were kind of on the outs right now, but they’d brought him up to respect women and he’d always done so. Okay, so there was that time… but that was consensual, even if she hadn’t fully realized that it was only going to be a one-night thing… Anyway, he’d never even think of coming on to any of his "brother’s" girlfriends… Okay, so he would think about it, he amended, thinking of back when he’d had that huge crush on one of Kevin’s girlfriends, but he would never do anything about it.

The plane bumped along the tarmac, moving towards the terminal. He tried hard not to think of all those articles that AJ would shove in from of him, ones that talked about planes that had crashed while they were on the ground, taxiing in or out. He could almost hear AJ’s cackle as he read another one loudly in the car going to some airport or other. It had taken a little while, but Nick had clued into the fact that AJ never did it when Brian was also in the car. It was one this to tease Baby Backstreet, another to harass B-rok.

He sat and waited in his first class seat, waiting for everyone to empty out. He had told his bodyguard when he was coming in, but didn’t want to take a lot of chances. It was a busy airport and he wouldn’t be able to make his exodus as discreetly as he would like, but standing around at the carousel waiting for his bags was another thing.

"The curses of fame," he muttered to himself. Add that to all the other things… The constant performing – even when he was too sick to stand, the long months away from home, the constant adulation of fans that was so claustrophobic, the continual second-guessing: "are they being nice to me because they like me or because I am who I am?," never being able to fully trust the people around you, that persistent "what do they really want from me?"

He had signed on for this, but he, hell, none of them, had realized what that could entail. They’d only looked at the good points: no one had mentioned the need for constant security, the distancing yourself from everyone… It had gotten to the point where he had to change his phone number, cell number and license plate every few months because some how word had gotten out. And he was getting phobic about white cars… they had a tendency of following him around, even chasing him down on one late night. And the cost of replacing the lawn at the house he had lived in with his parents…

"Getting grumpy again, Carter," he thought. Heck, talking to himself again! He needed out of this plane, to get back to his house, back on the boat, and away to the open water where he could finally relax.

Unless a shark came along…

A thought that brought him full circle back to Kat.

What was he going to do on that score? She had honestly never expected that ridiculous story to get out, had never realized what he knew all too well: every little thing he did, even didn’t do, was news. He was still going to go after that David jerk, if only for the sense of satisfaction he would get from wiping that smug smile off his face. And for the crappy way he used Kat. If all he got out of it was that, and the money that the tabloid had paid David, Nick would be very pleased. He’d give the money to a charity… maybe that Save the Manatees one (was there a dolphin one?). Anyway, that would be sort of appropriate.

Kat, though…

Well, she’d made it clear that the girlfriends tale that she’d spun to him was never getting out. She was doggedly determined that what she said was true, and that she didn’t dare make it public. She was that scared of them… Well, Howie, at least. Though she sure as shit better be afraid of what Nick would do if that crap ever got out. But then, his reaction when he’d been at her apartment was enough to convince her that he was serious about stopping that one with, what was that phrase? "Lead pipe cruelty…"

He made it to his bags without incident, nodding at Billy as he took his usual position. Together they made it to the car without major incident – just a few autographs and photos.

"You are quiet," Bobby noted.

"Turbulent flight," Nick replied shortly.

Bobby grunted and concentrated on his driving. In no time at all they were back at the house and Nick was waving goodbye to the burly man.

The usual doggie welcome home cheered him up tremendously, as did the night out on the deck of the boat, gazing at the stars.



Micheline groaned. "Not again."

AJ looked at her quizzically. "How can you be a woman and not like shopping?"

"You want to start exploring stereotypes, tattoo boy?"

"Nope. I want to go SHOPPING!"

She slipped from the bed, pulling a shirt on. "What for this time?"

"I dunno. It’s the hunt that is important, not what you get."

"Ah… AJ’s philosophy of life," she chuckled.

"I live by it, baby," he said coming up behind her and kissing her neck.

"So what am I? Part of the hunt? Or that second-rate thing you end up with?"

He looked at her wide brown eyes. "That is not what I meant…"

"So I am not a disappointment?" she grinned mischievously.

"Hell, no!"

She pushed him back on the bed. "Wanna prove it?"

He leered sexily up at her, pulling her down on top of him. "Always… just promise we can go shopping later?"

"Only if you are really, really good…"

"Baby, I promise to make it so good you’ll be begging for more."

She gave him an innocent look. "But won’t that mean you won’t be able to go shopping?" she asked with a smirk.

He groaned, then twisted her over, and assaulted her mouth with deep kisses.


Kevin jotted a few more notes down on the sheet, then played the piece again. It sounded good. Now if he could only find the right words….


"Baby, I am so sorry about this."

He sighed. "I know, Leigh. But if this is a really good opportunity for you then you have to do it. I want you to shine, sweetheart. Shine as bright as I know you can."

"But this is the second time…"

"We both know that we are already married in our hearts. So the actual ceremony gets put off a while… I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on you."

"I love you Bri-bear."

"I know Leigh-love."


"Nothing but net!" Nick crowed.

"Oh shut up, Frack, and give me the ball."

"What’s the matter, Frick? Don’t think you can take it from me?" Then he swore as Brian did exactly that.

They played hard for another half-hour, and then both collapsed in sweaty heaps on the side of the court. They drank from their water bottles, enjoying the companionable silence as they rested.

"Wanna talk now?"

Brian sighed. "I suppose. She did it again, Nick. Postponed the wedding."


"She got this TV pilot. It could be a big break for her."


"I’m beginning to think she doesn’t want to marry me," he said sadly.

"Come on, Bri, we both know that’s not true. She’s just been trying so hard for so long… She’s determined to show that she is capable of achieving stuff in her own right. Not because she’s your girlfriend."

"Unlike Tanya…"

Now it was Nick’s turn to groan. "Let’s not even go there."

"Sorry," Brian said morosely.

He really was depressed. "Brian, talk to her. Tell her you really want to make this official…"

"And what if I’m right, Nick? What if the reason she keeps postponing is because she really doesn’t want to marry me?"

Nick had no answer for that.


He dropped the bag of pasta in the cart and moved down the aisle. The grocery store was dead at this time of night, and its air-conditioning was highly agreeable. It was so hot out there… He wandered down the next aisle, trying hard to figure out which cans of soup to get.

"Nick Carter picking up food? I thought you just ordered pizzas by the dozen and sat in front of the television playing Nintendo," a caustic female voice said from behind him.

He turned to see a familiar face.


"You stupid, fucking, piece of shit! I’m gonna break you into a million pieces."

Kat finally managed to pull the tiny scrap of paper out of the printer, and set the machine back down on the desk. She reattached the cords and sat in front of the computer again.

This was just par for the course. She had been having a crappy month. First discovering that damn tabloid. Then seeing skunk-face and torpedo-breasts – hey, those were good ones, maybe I’ll just keep them. Nah, thinking up new and nasty nicknames for the dorkamic duo was too much fun…

Seeing Nick again hadn’t helped. And when he’d told her he didn’t believe her about what Howie had said… Well, "told" was a bit of a misnomer. "Bellowed" is more like it.

The only bright light was the fact that she hadn’t heard from any lawyers -- either from David of Nick – in the past two weeks.

Now if she could only get this damned printer to work so she could sent off this story… She fed the paper in and pressed the print button. And watched helplessly as the machine started to chew the sheet up.

The phone rang and she answered with a growled "What?"

There was silence on the other end.

"Look, I am not in the mood. So if you have something to say, say it, or I am hanging up." She turned back to the printer. "No, you stupid thing, you are supposed to print that out not rip it to bits."

There was a tentative chuckle on the other end of the phone. "Kat?"

She sat up straight. "Nick?"

"Yeah." He sighed heavily. "I’m really sorry to disturb you in the middle of whatever it is you are doing."

"About to murder my printer."


She sat there listening to him breath for a few minutes. "Nick? What’s up?"

"Could you come down here? I can have a ticket waiting for you at the airport."

"Ah… Why?"

He sighed heavily again. "I think you were telling the truth. About the sleeping with the girlfriends. Only I think that Howie is the only one doing it."

Chapter 25

(c) Kat Morgan