Fair Catch Sports Romance Bundle - Complete Series
Fair Catch Sports Romance Bundle - Complete Series
Join the members of the NFL’s Sacramento Vipers as they find love in the most unlikely of places. Each book in this sweet sports romance series is a standalone story and can be read in any order.
PROTECTED BY THE QUARTERBACK
Hiding from her ex, Shay takes refuge in an unoccupied cabin. Too bad the owner, NFL quarterback Josh, thinks she’s a groupie.
When NFL star Brock runs into his childhood friend and former neighbor Ainsley, all grown up and drop-dead gorgeous, he wants her. Too bad she friend-zones him.
He’s an NFL all-star and single father. She’s his daughter’s nanny. Too bad acting on their mutual attraction will ignite a firestorm.
NFL all-star Jax is intrigued by young widow Autumn, but when she finally dips her toe in the dating pool, disturbing things start happening to her. Too bad the police won’t take the incidents seriously.
NFL star Greg Sinclair has always been head over heels for his wife. Too bad she doesn’t remember him or the danger she’s in. Good thing he’d die for her.
An NFL player, his fake girlfriend, and a family camping trip to Yellowstone National Park. What could go wrong?
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Save 35% over buying the books individually.
- Contemporary Romance
- Romantic Suspense
- NFL Player
- Friends to Lovers
- Fake Relationship
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Chapter 1 -- Protected by the Quarterback
Chapter 1 -- Protected by the Quarterback
“Thanks for nothing!” Shay Campbell yelled at the fading tail lights that belonged to the man she’d hitched a ride with—the man who had dumped her in the middle of nowhere. He hadn’t even had the decency to let her get her one small suitcase out of his trunk. Now all she had was the pitiful contents in the purse slung over her shoulder. That, and the clothes on her back.
Slowly turning in a circle, she looked around. No one was in sight. The only thing she saw were pine trees. Lots and lots of pine trees. She was on a road in the Sierra-Nevada mountains of California, on her way to a new life—or at least what she hoped was a new life.
“Great,” she muttered. “What else can go wrong?”
That morning she’d had the last fight with her boyfriend that she was ever going to have. How did she know this? Because after he’d punched her in the gut, knocking the wind out of her, she’d finally had enough. After he’d stormed out of their tiny apartment, she’d packed her few belongings into her suitcase, walked to the nearby grocery store and bought a pack of gum. While paying for her gum she’d gotten forty-five dollars cash back, which had emptied her bank account. Then, with resolve pushing her forward, she’d caught a bus to the Greyhound station and bought a one-way ticket from Fresno to Sacramento. She would have preferred to travel farther, but that was all she could afford.
Reno was the vague destination she had in mind, although she really just wanted a place to start over. She’d visited Reno once, a long time ago, and when she thought about the bright lights she’d seen on that visit, they seemed like a beacon of hope.
Once she’d reached Sacramento, and with her cash gone, she’d been kind of stumped about what to do next. Although she’d known it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, she’d hitched a ride with a man who said he was on his way to Reno, which was well over a hundred miles from Sacramento. He’d told her he wasn’t going straight there, but he was the only one who’d offered her a ride, so she’d taken it. Everything had been going fine until he’d decided to hit on her, and when she told him to shove it, he’d pulled over and shoved her right out of his car.
Now, as Shay sighed in frustration that things never seemed to go her way, she unzipped her purse and dug around until she found her phone. Even as she wrapped her fingers around it, she wondered what the point was. There was no one she could call, except maybe an Uber. Although since her money was nearly gone, that would be pointless.
Despite that, she took her phone out, almost tempted to call Will, her boyfriend. Scratch that. Ex-boyfriend. Okay, she wasn’t really tempted. She wasn’t that desperate yet. In the end it didn’t matter because when she looked at the screen she saw that she had no service.
What did she expect? She was in the middle of freaking nowhere.
Sighing loudly, she knew her only option would be to try to grab a ride with the next car that came along. Maybe a nice woman this time. Or a family. She would even settle for a man who looked nice.
Then she heard the voice of reason in her head—or maybe it was her older sister Megan’s voice. “Shay, don’t be foolish. Do you want to end up dead?”
Of course she didn’t want to end up dead, but she also didn’t want to walk fifty miles—or however far it was to the nearest town. At least it was June so she wouldn’t freeze to death.
With one positive in mind, she started walking as she waited for a car to come along. There hadn’t been much traffic as she and the creep had been driving, so she knew it could be a while before her ride appeared on the horizon.
Glancing at the clothes she’d put on before racing out the door—a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops—she knew that when the sun went down in a few hours, the comfortable temperature she was feeling at that moment would rapidly drop.
She kept on walking, her purse slung across her body, her ears attuned to the sound of an approaching car or truck or motorcycle. Basically anything with at least two wheels that could carry her away. And as time went on she became less picky about who she would take a ride with.
She walked and walked and walked, but no one came. Not one single person. Millions of people lived in California, so why wasn’t even one of them driving on this road?
A breeze whispered through the pine trees, and for a moment she forgot her predicament as she enjoyed the simple peace of solitude. Lifting her face to the gentle wind, she closed her eyes and flung her arms outward as she listened to the trill of a bird. But like an idiot she didn’t stop walking, and after taking a few steps in her bliss, she tripped on a rock and went down on the asphalt. Hard.
“Dang it,” she said through clenched teeth. Her eyes were definitely open by then, and when she saw the drops of blood seeping out of the scrapes on her knees and palms of her hands, she nearly screamed in frustration.
Daring the universe to send a car down the road at just that moment, she sat down right in the middle of the road. Of course no one came. Still.
If she could at least wash the blood off of her hands…
That’s when it hit her.
She didn’t have any water. Or food. Or anything.
Trying to quell the panic that swam into her head, she turned toward the sun, which hung low in the sky, and guessed she had less than two hours before that ginormous ball of fire would sink behind the mountains, extinguishing all light. Trudging onward, she focused on the road ahead.
Her inner voice taunted her with the reality that no one was going to come looking for her. Her mother was too busy with her new boyfriend to realize she’d left town, and her sister Megan hadn’t spoken to her ever since Shay had told her to mind her own business when Megan had tried to tell her how to live her life.
Then she thought about her girlfriends. Will had pretty much scared all of them away, so basically she had no one to turn to. Besides, Fresno was nearly two hundred miles in the other direction. Not exactly a quick trip to come pick her up, even if she had cell service.
She had no one to turn to. No one except Will.
She didn’t want to think about his reaction when he realized she’d bolted.
Holding back a soul-deep sense of regret at her choice in men, when Shay turned her thoughts away from Will, her mind went to how thirsty she was and how much her hands and knees had begun to throb. And then she noticed that the soles of her flip flops were much thinner than she’d thought they were, and that the ground under her feet was pretty dang hard.
The heat from the sun poured over her like hot molten lava—which she knew she would wish for once the sun set. But at that moment she desperately wished the road provided some shade.
Well, genius, you could always walk under the trees, you know.
Her gaze slid to her right where a thick forest lined the road. Thick with shade, yes, but also possibly thick with creatures she couldn’t see. Like bears. Or maybe mountain lions. Then she looked at the carpet of pine needles under the trees and knew it would be easier on her feet to walk there rather than on the asphalt—assuming her flip flops didn’t fall apart or fall off.
Moving off of the road and onto the pine needle carpet, she listened extra hard for cars since she would have to dash back to the road if someone came along. Turned out she didn’t need to worry about that. No one came. Not a soul.
She’d been walking for nearly an hour when she felt the first blister forming on the big toe of her left foot. Anger at Will and at the man who had dumped her there grew inside her like a geyser getting ready to erupt. What kind of person dropped a woman off in the middle of nowhere just because she wasn’t interested in him?
Clenching her jaw in fury, she was so focused on her anger that she didn’t hear the car coming until it had flown right by her.
“Hey,” she yelled as she ran onto the road, her arms waving in a frantic attempt to get the driver’s attention. “Hey! Come back!”
Moments later, the car disappeared over a rise.
Wanting to scream in frustration, she trudged on, this time staying on the shoulder so she wouldn’t miss her chance to hitch a ride if another car came along.
Fifteen minutes later, when she came upon a rutted dirt road and saw a nearly-concealed cabin, a smile lit her face.
Chapter 1 -- False Start
Chapter 1 -- False Start
Brock Remington parked in the driveway of his childhood home, a kaleidoscope of emotions crashing over him. He hadn’t been expecting to come to Rosebridge, Idaho, but a phone call the night before telling him that his father had died of a massive heart attack had changed his plans.
Why had he waited so long to come home for a visit? It was true that he’d been extremely busy playing for the Sacramento Vipers, but was that really an excuse? His father had always been there for him—teaching him how to catch his first football, supporting him as football became his passion, all the way through being there when Brock was drafted into the NFL. It had never occurred to Brock that his father could be taken from him without warning.
Now though, as he shut off the engine of his rental car and stared at the house where he’d spent so many happy years, he frowned deeply as regret washed over him. After losing his mother to cancer when he was a child, Brock should have known that life could—and would—take unexpected turns, that he should never take his loved ones for granted.
His gaze slid to the neighboring house where his old high school buddy, Wes Hunter, had lived. Brock had lost touch with Wes and had no idea what he was up to, but he remembered spending many happy hours at the Hunter’s home.
Then an image of Wes’s little sister, Ainsley, popped into his mind. She was four years younger than Brock and Wes, and whenever the two boys had gotten together, she’d always tried to include herself in their fun. Shaking his head at the memory of the gangly girl who they’d teased until she’d cried with frustration, Brock longed for those simpler days.
Then again, he loved his life now. Being one of the best tight ends in the NFL was pretty amazing. He’d worked hard to get where he was and he loved every minute of it. He just wished his father was still around to enjoy it with him.
Exhaling a breath of regret, Brock opened the car door, the heat of the July afternoon pressing down on him, then he went inside the house.
* * *
Ainsley Hunter heard the car pull into the Remington’s driveway and peered out the front window of her house. Curious who it was, she stared hard, but the tinted car windows made it impossible for her to see who was inside. She had seen the ambulance at the house the day before and had learned that Dan Remington had passed away. Saddened by the news, she wondered if Brock would be coming home for the funeral.
Except for watching Sacramento Vipers football games, Ainsley hadn’t seen Brock in ages. Ten years earlier, when she was just fourteen, he’d left for college. And though he’d come home for school breaks, she’d been busy with her own life, and with her brother Wes away at college, Brock had never come over to their house. And then when she’d turned eighteen, she’d moved out of her parents’ house.
Now though, her parents had moved out of state for her dad’s job and they’d let Ainsley rent their house while they were gone. When they’d offered her a killer deal, she’d agreed without a second thought. Her job as a dental hygienist paid reasonably well, and she planned on saving for a down payment on a place of her own.
Watching the car in the Remington’s driveway, when the driver’s door swung open and a tall man stepped out, Ainsley gasped. It was Brock, and he looked even better in person than he did on the football field. That was saying a lot, because on the football field he looked mighty fine.
Six four with a powerful build, Brock was an imposing presence. Add to that his chiseled cheekbones, neatly trimmed beard, full lips, and soulful brown eyes, and Ainsley thought it was a shame to hide those good looks under a helmet.
Watching him as he climbed out of the car and walked toward the front door of his childhood home, Ainsley softly chuckled at the memory of trying to insinuate herself into the middle of whatever it was he and Wes had been doing—playing video games, shooting hoops in the driveway, or just hanging out. She shook her head, her long hair softly moving against her shoulders. Those boys had put up with her to a point, but had always quickly tired of her insistence that they should let her join in their games.
Appraising Brock’s broad shoulders as he stepped onto the porch before disappearing from view, Ainsley decided she should go over and offer her condolences. Both of his parents were gone now, and with him being an only child, who would he turn to for comfort? Ainsley knew he dated lots of women—yes, sometimes she Internet-stalked him—but she didn’t know if he had a steady girlfriend. Anyway, if he did, wouldn’t she have come with him?
It was early afternoon on a Sunday. Ainsley would give him a chance to settle in, but then she would go over and see how he was doing.
Chapter 1 -- Blindsided
Chapter 1 -- Blindsided
“I know this is last minute, Hank, but it can’t be helped,” London Chamberlain said.
Hank Parson frowned as he listened to his ex-wife, her voice filling his car over his Bluetooth speakers as he drove to football practice. “I understand. This is just unexpected.”
“I’m not thrilled that my movie shoot changed either, but we’ve finished the domestic filming and now we need to do the location work. It’s just for a few weeks.” She paused. “It’s going to be brutal, Hank. Extra long hours this time. Not the best place for a four-year-old. Plus, it’s overseas.” A loud sigh came across the line. “And must I remind you that Harper is your daughter as much as she is mine?”
Annoyed that London had thrown that in, Hank frowned. He adored his little girl and he loved when she came for extended stays. Wished he could have more of them. But London had primary custody and she often took Harper along on her movie shoots.
“I’m aware that she’s my daughter, London.” Barely controlled irritation rang in his voice. “And you know that she’s always welcome. No explanation needed.” He wanted to make that clear, even if her coming right now would add extra stress. Sunday—four days away—would be the first game of the new NFL season and his training had become intense.
“By the way,” London said, her voice a little breathless, and Hank could picture her rushing out the door, “Harper has a new nanny.”
Hank’s eyebrows rose. Harper had had the same nanny her entire life. “What happened to Emily?”
“She got married and moved away.” An exasperated sigh filled the brief silence. “I told you about this weeks ago, Hank.”
Nostrils flaring at her condescending tone, Hank shoved down the annoyance that flooded him. “Right. So tell me about this new nanny.”
He heard the sound of a door closing and then an engine starting.
“I’ve gotta run, Hank. Harper and her nanny will be arriving tonight.”
The connection abruptly ended and Hank scowled before calling Mrs. Stillman, his housekeeper and cook, to let her know that Harper and her nanny would be moving in for an extended stay.
* * *
With Harper’s little hand in hers, Mari glided down the airport concourse, her gaze sliding from one person to another as she searched for a driver holding up a sign reading Chamberlain. Harper’s last name was Parson, the same as her father’s, but London preferred to use her own last name whenever possible.
Mari couldn’t blame her. London was at the pinnacle of her career—at least, that’s what she’d told Mari—and loved to flaunt her success. The extravagant salary London paid Mari to be Harper’s nanny seemed to prove that. But Mari adored Harper, so the high salary was just a bonus.
“Am I going to see my daddy?” Harper asked, her green eyes shining with excitement.
Mari stopped and knelt in front of her, then smiled as she adjusted the Snow White backpack on Harper’s shoulders. “Yes you are. We’re going to stay with your daddy while your mommy is making her movie. And we’re going to have lots of fun, aren’t we?”
Harper bobbed her head, her eyes wide. “Yes.”
Tucking Harper’s long blonde hair behind her ears, Mari smiled before standing. “Help me find a man holding a sign that says Chamberlain, okay?”
“I will, because I know my letters.”
“Yes you do. You’re a smart girl, Harper.”
Harper beamed and they continued walking.
“I see it,” Harper said with enthusiasm a few moments later as she pointed toward a row of people holding signs. “I see the sign. It has my mommy’s name.”
Pleased that Harper had picked it out before she had, Mari gently squeezed her hand. “Good eye, Harper.”
Ten minutes later, they were seated in the back of a limousine and on their way to Harper’s father’s house, their luggage secured in the trunk. Mari had yet to meet Hank Parson, but when she’d taken the nanny job, she’d looked him up online.
A running back for the Sacramento Vipers, Hank was six feet tall and well-built. According to the articles Mari had read, he was fast on the field, although Mari didn’t care about that. Sports were frivolous and silly. Especially football. Men wearing little outfits as they ran around on a field throwing a ball and tackling each other? What was good about that? How did that qualify as entertainment? How was that not a waste of time and energy?
Art, on the other hand… Now, that was worthy of time and energy. Mari loved art, and she loved to paint. In the few weeks she’d been caring for Harper, she’d taught the little girl basic painting techniques and they both loved to spend hours creating.
She would have to make sure Harper’s father provided a bright, sunny space for them to work.
Thinking of Hank Parson, Mari recalled the pictures of him she’d seen online. Despite his silly profession, she couldn’t deny that he was movie-star attractive—dark blonde hair, close-cut beard, strong jaw, full lips. And his eyes. Mari could see where Harper had gotten her green eyes.
Despite his good looks, Mari didn’t know what to expect. London and Harper had given her conflicting descriptions of the man in whose house she would be living. London had warned Mari that Hank could be charming, but that underneath it all he was a selfish man.
Mari was no fool. She knew London harbored bitterness toward her ex-husband—despite the fact that London had cheated on him, had left him. Still, Mari had to believe there was some truth to what her employer had told her.
Harper, on the other hand, only had wonderful things to say about her father—how he gave her piggy-back rides and read stories to her. How she had her own princess room at his house. How he played with her in his enormous backyard.
She would see for herself soon enough.
Chapter 1 -- Pass Interference
Chapter 1 -- Pass Interference
Taking the day off had been a mistake. Autumn saw that now. She’d thought working today would be difficult, but having nothing to distract her from her memories was worse.
Today was April fourth. It would have been—was—her fourth wedding anniversary. Except that she was no longer married because her husband had been killed ten months earlier. Mitch had only been twenty-six and she’d been twenty-four. Much too young to become a widow. Much too young to lose the love of her life.
Mitch had been taking their dog—a yellow lab named Sasha—for a walk along a road near their house when a distracted driver named Glenn Richmond had run him down. Mitch had died instantly. At least that’s what the coroner had told Autumn. She hoped it was true. The thought of him suffering for even a second made her heart wrench with unspeakable anguish.
At least Sasha had been untouched. Small mercy.
Now, as Autumn used the flat iron to straighten her long, auburn hair, she gazed at her reflection in the mirror. A twenty-five year old widow. It just wasn’t right. She knew she wasn’t the first young woman to be widowed, and she certainly wouldn’t be the last, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with.
Glancing at her bare left finger, Autumn felt her stomach tighten. It had been two months since she’d removed her wedding ring. At the time she’d felt ready, but today of all days she wasn’t sure if she really was. Still, she knew it was time to move forward with her life. Mitch would want her to. She would leave her finger bare. As a compromise, she would wear the earrings he’d given her on their honeymoon—amethyst teardrops with silver inlays.
Smiling in remembrance of that idyllic week they’d spent driving up the coast of California—stopping in Carmel and staying at a bed and breakfast, shopping in the adorable boutiques in town—Autumn put the earrings in her ears and let the warmth of her memories wash over her.
Retail therapy. That’s what she needed. She would go to the mall and browse her favorite shoe store. Maybe even buy a new pair of boots. But they had to be comfortable. That was the most important thing. As a hairdresser, she was on her feet for hours at a time. Comfortable shoes were a must.
Autumn stepped from the bathroom into her bedroom and found Sasha lying on the carpet. At Autumn’s approach, she stood. “There’s my sweet girl,” Autumn said as she stroked Sasha’s head. Sasha’s tongue lolled out and her tail wagged with enthusiasm. “I’ll be back in a few hours, okay?”
Autumn grabbed her purse from the dresser, then walked through the living room and out the front door. Fifteen minutes later she pulled into a parking space and made her way into the mall. It felt strange to be shopping when she should be working, but Cassie and Haylie—her employees at the Cutting Edge Salon—had encouraged her to take the day off, and they’d been happy to cover for her.
As she picked out several pairs of boots to try on, she realized she wasn’t feeling as melancholy as she’d feared. Relieved, she carried the boxes to a bench and tried on each pair, admiring them in a mirror.
On impulse, she bought two pairs of shoes—cute low-heeled black boots and a strappy pair of heels—then left the store. An hour later she’d added three new blouses—they were on clearance!—and a new pair of jeans. Strolling down the mall as she balanced all of the bags in her arms, Autumn smelled the heavenly scent of cinnamon rolls. A sweet treat would be just the thing to top off her retail therapy. She looked toward the food court, her gaze searching for the cinnamon roll shop.
And then she walked right into a massive barrier. The impact knocked her onto her butt and her bags scattered on the floor. Looking up, she realized she hadn’t run into a barrier at all. No. She’d run into a huge man. A mountain of a man. A man whose back had been turned. But a man who was now staring at her, his eyes wide with surprise.
Mortified, Autumn felt blood rush to her face as she sat on the polished wood floor. But at the same time, she felt an unexpected spark of attraction to this man. An attraction that scared her senseless.
She couldn’t be attracted to someone else. Not yet. Not on this day.
Struggling to slow her suddenly pounding heart, Autumn gazed at the man. Tall and ripped, he had short brown hair and a nicely trimmed beard. And his eyes… they were the most striking shade of blue she had ever seen.
No, she shouldn’t be noticing those things. It wasn’t right.
* * *
Jax stared at the woman sitting on the ground. She was looking up at him, and he could see embarrassment written in her green eyes—eyes filled with such depth that they completely captured his attention. Her long hair—a beautiful shade of reddish brown—hung down her back, and the blush on her cheeks emphasized the soft curve of her jaw, the fullness of her lips, and the slender shape of her nose.
She was nothing like the women he was usually drawn to, but there was something about her—something vulnerable and innocent, something sad—that made him want to take her in his arms and tell her everything was going to be all right. But it was more than that. The way she stared at him, like she was a doe and he was a big, bad wolf. It filled him with the overwhelming desire to convince her that he was a good guy, that she had nothing to fear from him. Something about her brought out a tender side of himself that he didn’t even know he had.
As a pass-rusher for the NFL’s Sacramento Vipers, Jax was paid to be aggressive. And he was. Both on the field and off. But something about this woman made him put that aggressiveness on hold.
When she turned away from him to gather her bags, he knelt beside her and scooped up the bags before she had a chance to, then he stood and held out his hand to her.
“I am so sorry,” she said, her face flushed and her voice barely above a whisper. But she took his hand and let him help her to her feet.
Her skin was soft and her hand was swallowed up in his.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I get hit much worse all the time.” He waited for her to ask him to explain so he could tell her he played in the NFL—in case she didn’t recognize him, which she didn’t seem to. But she didn’t take the bait. Slightly disappointed, he kept a smile on his face—the smile that made women swoon. But she didn’t swoon. In fact, she barely seemed to notice him. What was up with that? Kind of desperate for her to pay attention to him, he asked, “Do you need help carrying your bags?”
She barely met his eyes, instead looking to the side like she was eager to escape. Finally, she faced him, her smile appearing forced—although it made her no less stunning. “No. I’ve got it.” She hefted the bags on her arms as if to prove she didn’t need his help, then said, “Again, I’m sorry I ran into you.”
She was about to leave. He couldn’t let her walk away without at least getting her name. “You can make it up to me,” he said, putting on his most charming smile.
Her forehead puckered.
“By letting me buy you lunch,” he added.
She immediately shook her head as if the very thought of spending one more second with him would be the worse torture in the world. “No,” she said to emphasize her refusal.
Stung, Jax couldn’t stop himself from pushing a little harder. “Do you already have lunch plans?”
She glanced away, her gaze shooting in all directions like she didn’t know the right answer. Then she turned back to him. “Um…no.”
Maybe she was married. He glanced at her left ring finger but there was nothing there. Okay. Not married. Then why did she seem conflicted? Maybe she had a boyfriend. A woman as pretty as she was? That had to be it. Jax had to know. “Are you single?”
A pained expression crossed her face and her teeth sunk into her lower lip as she looked at the smooth wood floor.
Chapter 1 -- Pass Protection
Chapter 1 -- Pass Protection
The moment she woke she knew something was seriously wrong. Glancing around the room where she lay, she recognized that she was in a hospital. But why? What had happened? Her mind was fuzzy, her world uncertain, and when she wasn’t even sure who she was, panic set in.
A tall, attractive man who she guessed was in his late twenties approached her bed, his eyes shiny with relief. The look on his face gave her a sense of calm. But only for a moment. Who was this stranger reaching for her?
As he drew near, she recoiled.
He stopped, his eyebrows tugging together. “Olivia?”
Was that her name? It felt familiar, but she couldn’t be sure.
The sincere look of concern in his eyes made her want to agree, to nod, to pretend that she knew he was talking about her. Still, she couldn’t quite get there. Not when everything felt so uncertain, so…unknown.
When she didn’t reply, he stayed near the foot of the bed. “How are you feeling?”
Blankets over her lower body kept her from seeing what damage she had to her legs, but her right ankle ached, and her head pounded in time with her heartbeat. She reached up and felt a small bandage on her head. A head injury. That was bad, right?
What had happened? She was in the hospital, so obviously she was hurt or sick. Had she been in some kind of accident? Had she been attacked? Not knowing scared her more than the fact that she was laid up in a hospital bed.
Not wanting to think about how much she didn’t know, she focused on her pounding head, but that only made her grimace.
“Do you want morphine?” the man asked, his forehead creased.
Morphine? Would that knock her out or just take the edge off? She wanted the pain to vanish, but she also wanted her wits about her. Especially with this stranger hovering around her. Maybe she should ask him to leave. But what if he had answers?
“I…” she began, but her voice was scratchy. Swiveling her head to find some water, when it was just out of reach, she closed her eyes in frustration.
The man was by her side in two long strides. “Here.” He held the straw to her lips. “Just sips.”
She complied without argument, and when she’d had enough she leaned away from the straw. The man stepped back, taking the glass away. Lifting her gaze to his face, when his grey eyes met hers with an unflinching stare, a stare that said I know you well, she felt unsettled. How could he know her when she had no clue who he was?
Wanting to focus anywhere but his eyes—eyes that seemed to see into her very soul—she turned her attention to the rest of him.
He was tall—over six feet. And he was built. Powerful biceps were visible in his short-sleeved t-shirt, and the way the fabric lay against his stomach hinted at six-pack abs. His dark hair was cut short and his strong jaw was covered by a perfectly trimmed beard. But those eyes... Something about them drew her in.
He was attractive, no doubt about that. But that didn’t help. She still had no idea who he was.
He took a step back, his brows knitting together. “I’m Greg.” A muscle worked in his jaw. “Your husband.”
Husband? She was married? To him? Why didn’t she recognize him?
This all felt wrong.
Narrowing her eyes, she studied him, looking for any sign of deceit.
Was he telling the truth? But why would he lie?
When she didn’t reply he sent her a long pained look before turning toward the window.
Chapter 1 -- Game On
Chapter 1 -- Game On
“Slow down,” Brielle said to the cream-colored Golden Retriever at the end of the leash she gripped with both hands.
Luna ignored her, pulling hard as she sniffed everything in her path.
They were at the park near the small apartment Brielle shared with her best friend Cara, and as Brielle blew a wayward strand of hair off of her forehead, she wondered if taking Cara’s beloved dog on a walk while Cara was at work had been such a good idea after all.
It’s not that she didn’t love dogs—she did. Luna in particular. It was just that she knew she should be spending every spare minute looking for a job. It was bad enough that the company where she’d been a receptionist had gone under without warning two weeks before, but if she didn’t come up with money for her share of the rent—which was due that very day—she would be forced to move out. Cara couldn’t afford the rent on her own, and Brielle didn’t want to be dead weight. Her savings weren’t exactly robust, and though she’d gone on two interviews, no job offers had come her way.
Even when she was employed she lived paycheck to paycheck. Now the little money in her bank account was rapidly running out. To stretch it she’d decided to end the one luxury she’d been indulging in—getting her nails done every two weeks. The sad state of her nails could attest to that. And she’d stopped going out to eat as well. There wasn’t much else she could cut. Yes, she could sell her car, but it wasn’t worth much, and she needed a reliable form of transportation to get around Sacramento.
Sighing with a mix of despair and frustration, she plodded on, wondering why she’d decided to take Luna on a walk in the afternoon. The heat of the August day was stifling. But she knew why. She needed a break from the desperation she was feeling. Better yet, she needed a vacation—from her worries. Shaking her head, she shoved down the sad laughter that wanted to erupt. A vacation was the last thing she could afford.
With every step she took, the desperation she’d felt earlier notched higher and higher. If she didn’t get a phone call with a job offer in the next thirty minutes, she would have to tell Cara to find a new roommate. Not a great way to start the weekend. But hey, maybe Cara would have time to help her pack.
Sighing in despair, Brielle did her best to control Luna as they marched along the pathway while at the same time thinking about what would happen if she had to move out. She would have to move in with her mom, that’s what. Something she wanted to avoid at all costs. Not only had she lived on her own for five years—since she was nineteen—but she knew her mom was barely making ends meet herself. Besides, she loved her independence and was loathe to give it up. Not to mention that her mom lived in Colorado. California was Brielle’s home now. In love with the sunny days and warm weather, she had zero desire to live in the snow ever again.
“Heel, Luna,” she called to the dog, who completely ignored her. Silently acknowledging that Luna was still a puppy, even if she was nearly fifty pounds, Brielle murmured, “You really need to learn some obedience.” She would point that out to Cara, even though she knew Cara would say Luna was perfect just as she was.
Another dog on a leash approached them, and Luna tugged harder, yanking the leash right out of Brielle’s hands.
Groaning out loud, Brielle took off at a run. If Luna got away, Cara would kill her.
* * *
Leaning against the picnic table, his legs stretched out in front of him, Tyler wondered how he’d gotten himself into this predicament. Well, he knew, he just couldn’t believe the way his mouth had run ahead of his brain. Sprinted, actually.
Rolling his eyes, he replayed the conversation he’d had with his parents two nights before.
He’d gone to their house for dinner, excited to discuss their annual camping trip to Yellowstone National Park. Though most of Tyler’s time was taken up playing for the Sacramento Vipers as a running back, he still loved to camp. And his absolute favorite place to camp was Yellowstone. He’d gone there with his family every year since he was fifteen—eleven years now. And despite his busy schedule, he’d never missed a trip.
When he’d arrived at his parents’ house two nights before, everyone had been there—his parents, his younger brother Rob, and his younger sister Mia. All there to plan their trip, although it hadn’t taken them long to start harassing him about his love life—or lack thereof.
Why this seemed to be a favorite pastime of theirs, he had no idea. Yet it was. And why they expected him to have a steady girlfriend, he couldn’t quite understand. Maybe it had something to do with his mother dying to have a grandchild, and since he was the oldest, somehow that responsibility had fallen on him. And he was sure his younger siblings were happy to help take the heat off of themselves.
That night he’d had enough, which is why he’d blurted that they could stop bugging him because he had a girlfriend.
“You do?” his mother had asked, her eyes alight with pleasure. “When can we meet her?”
“Soon,” he’d said.
“Is she coming to Yellowstone?” his sister had thrown in, obviously just as excited to meet her as their mother was.
“Of course.” Tyler had heard the words coming out of his mouth, but it was like someone else was speaking, someone he wanted to slap upside the head so he’d stop talking.
“Does she like to camp?” his mother had asked, her hands clasped together and her eyes bright.
“Uh, she’s never been before, but she said she’s up for the adventure.” Who was this person talking? It was as if Tyler’s mouth had been possessed by an idiot who liked digging deep holes for him to fall into. Or maybe an idiot who was letting his own wishful thinking get the better of him.
“We’re so excited to meet her,” his mom had said. “She sounds like a lot of fun.”
Yeah. She sounded like a lot of fun to him too. Except for the small detail that she was a figment of his imagination.
Shaking his head in disgust, he watched the people as they enjoyed the beautiful summer morning at the park. What would his family say when he showed up in Yellowstone the next day all alone? The thought of admitting to his family that he’d lied, that he had no girlfriend, left him feeling mortified. Then again, he could go and tell his family that his “girlfriend” couldn’t make it. But he had a feeling his family would see right through him.
Maybe he should beg off from going at all, claim he had a workout with the Vipers that he couldn’t get out of. But Yellowstone…
Sighing in frustration and focused on his dilemma, Tyler barely saw the flash of cream-colored fur before it practically leapt onto his lap, its tongue lolling out in a huge doggy smile. A leash trailed from its collar, but no one was holding onto the leash.
“Hello there,” he said, gently pushing the dog off of his legs. “Who do you belong to?”
“Luna! Luna, come!”
Tyler looked up to see an angel approaching. An angel who was out of breath and whose silver-blonde hair was sticking to her sweat-dampened forehead. He watched her approach, appreciating the way her shorts and tank top displayed her athletic build. As she got closer, an embarrassed smile on her lips, he couldn’t miss the startling green of her eyes.
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