The Striker's Chance Online - Rebecca Crowley

Chapter One

Holly’s lip twitched in amusement as the tall blond dropped onto the bench beside her with a dazzling smile.

“Nice weather we’re having,” he offered, the words crisp and clipped in his South African accent.

Kepler de Klerk, once the brightest star in the world of international soccer, now a late-season signing to Charlotte’s bottom-of-the-league Championship Soccer team, Discovery, was flirting with her.

And he had no idea who she was.

His name, photo and biographical information filled the three-ring binder on her lap, along with her carefully devised PR strategy to revamp his image and boost the team’s finances. In fact, she’d only sat down in the park to review the file one last time before heading into the hotel across the street for their first meeting.

Holly snorted. “Almost as nice as that line.”

The hem of his running shorts slid a little higher as he stretched out his long, tanned legs. She swallowed hard. He was even better looking in person. No wonder he’d managed to rack up just as many inches in the British gossip columns as in the sports pages.

Kepler grinned, revealing a set of perfect white teeth. He extended his hand. “Chris de Klerk. I’ve just moved to Charlotte.”

Chris? Holly fought to keep her expression neutral as Kepler’s bitter-chocolate-colored eyes regarded her intently. Was he waiting to see whether she recognized him? Although even the most famous players in the European soccer leagues could normally expect near anonymity in North Carolina, there had been a lot of local press coverage leading up to Kepler’s arrival—and she’d engineered most of it.

Charlotte Discovery was her biggest client since leaving her PR agency a year earlier and going solo. They’d hired her specifically to launch their new star, having decided that their own internal press team didn’t have the celebrity expertise. In Kepler’s case, however, it wasn’t just a question of placing a fluffy promotional spot in the six o’clock news. His career with London-based Archway FC, one of the best soccer teams in the world, had come to a tragic end eighteen months earlier when a car accident severely injured his teammate and left Kepler in traction. He’d gone back to South Africa to recover, but the British press had launched a vicious finger-pointing campaign in his absence, and when it was time to renew his contract Archway had no choice but to sell the disgraced striker to Discovery for a bargain-basement price.

Her job was not only to build interest in Kepler as a player, but to make sure his past didn’t catch up with him.

She decided to play along. She shook his hand, and the firm press of his palm against hers sent an unexpected yet delicious shiver of desire dancing up her arm.

She yanked her hand away as if she’d touched a flame. What on earth was that about? Okay, he was a good-looking guy—and a legendary playboy. Surely she hadn’t fallen for his well-practiced charm in less than a minute?

This man could be the biggest break in your career. This was a chance to learn something useful, not gawk at him like a dreamy schoolgirl.

“I’m Holly Taylor. What do you do for a living, Chris?”

He hesitated. His gaze flicked sideways, and then his face relaxed into an easy smile. “I’m a cab driver.”

Holly stole a glance over his shoulder, spotted the taxi rank outside the hotel and smothered a smirk. Very creative.

Still, there was something endearing about Kepler’s average-Joe charade, and she pursed her lips to keep a smile at bay. Did he not realize that a South African accent was more than a little exotic in this part of the world?

“Taking the morning off?” She indicated his workout clothes.

“I was about to go for a run, but I got distracted.” He gave her the sort of approving onceover she normally found infuriating. But as his gaze swept from her peep-toe heels to her crisp blouse before leveling confidently with her own, her cheeks burned with a flattered blush. Kepler’s look was more I’ll-make-you-scream-in-ecstasy-and-you-know-it than come-hither, and Holly was a thin line of impulse control away from suggesting he prove it right there and then. That hard body against hers, the slats of the bench digging into the backs of her thighs, the shocked stares of jealous female onlookers...

Her fingers tightened on the binder in her lap. She was being ridiculous. Her reaction to Kepler was just the natural result of a long sexual drought. She’d broken up with her last boyfriend—if one could even call him that—when he