The first book in my new football series will be released on November 19th! Ballbuster can be pre-ordered from Amazon now and here's a sneak peek! (Please forgive the formatting issues that can't be corrected on blog posts.)
© 2016 Lane Hart and Editor's Choice Publishing
Forget days, hours, or even minutes. The defining moments of my life have always been measured in seconds. To most people, seconds are inconsequential, too small and insignificant to count. Yet, if you string a few together, it could be the difference in winning or losing, being the hero or a chump, finding a place in the history books or being completely forgotten.
Football stadiums aren’t the only place where everything can change in a matter of seconds, but that’s exactly where I was when my life was forever altered.
It was a scorching hot July morning, the first day of pre-season and a brand new year ahead of the Wilmington Wildcats. A clean slate. Time to forget last year when we went fourteen and two, all the way to the playoffs where we lost horribly in the first round. This is the time of year when all thirty-two teams in the league are pumped up, hopeful for a winning season. All of us are starting out with zero losses before going head-to-head for seventeen weeks to see who has what it takes to win the playoffs and ultimately lift the championship trophy in February.
“Now, listen closely, ladies,” Coach Griffin, a small, yet powerful man of few words, says from where he paces in front of the gigantic PowerPoint screen in our stadium auditorium. As soon as he wraps up our first team meeting of the season, we’ll all get in our cars and drive south down the highway to the campus of Pender University in South Carolina. The school will host seven grueling days of training camp. This is the part I dread most every year, the hours of standing around under the sweltering summer sun. As the team’s starting placekicker, my conditioning drills are much easier than most of the guys, so I really shouldn’t complain.
“There’s one last important announcement to make before we hit the road,” Coach continues. “We’re adding a new player to the roster today; and by doing so, making history. Now, I want you to understand how important it is for each of you to maintain a high level of respect and dignity this season. Every media organization across the country will be watching and waiting to see how you handle yourselves. You will not, and I repeat, you will not disgrace this team in any way, shape or form or you will find yourself watching the action from the front row seat of your couch. Do you understand?”
The room of typically big, boisterous, obnoxious men falls silent since none of us know what the fuck Coach is going on about.
“I’m gonna reveal your new teammate on the screen behind me, and then you’ll have fifty-nine seconds to get every single idiotic comment, whistle, or any other juvenile sounds out of your systems. This is your one and only chance to comment; because if you want to continue to play for this team, you’ll sign the contract addendums Coach Bradley is handing out. You’ll keep your trap shut and hands off for the rest of the season. Are you ready?” he asks.
A few murmurs of agreement rise from the crowd before Coach finally clicks the mouse in his hand. Instead of diagrams of circles and arrows, there’s now a photo of a gorgeous blonde woman wearing nothing but a black sports bra and tiny matching shorts taking up the space of the entire wall.
“Holy fuck,” I mutter aloud, but it’s drowned out by the other catcalls and various curses being made by my teammates. I can’t take my eyes away from the stunner before me. Her hair is so light it almost looks white in the bright sun perfectly contrasting with her smooth, tan skin. The fact that she has big, round, innocent green eyes with the tall, curvy body of a centerfold makes her even more intriguing. In fact, I realize that I’m no longer slouching in my seat but leaning forward with my elbows digging into my knees, trying to get a closer look to catalog every inch of this unknown woman.
“All right, time’s up,” Coach grumbles before the screen goes blank. A disgruntled masculine chorus fills the auditorium before Coach continues on. “Her name is Roxanne Benson, and she’s gonna be Kohen’s backup.”
Hearing my name, I sit up straight, startled out of my hypnotic state of arousal. Wait, what did he just say?
“You’ll all get a chance to meet Roxanne later tonight, and I want you to make her feel welcome. That means not uttering a single sexist comment. You will treat her like your sister and any other teammate, which means you do not lay a finger on her.”
“Kohen,” my best friend and the team’s tight end, Lathan Savage, whispers from the seat to my right. When I glance over, I realize he’s trying to hand me a stack of papers. I take one from the top and pass the rest down the row to my left.
“I’ll read the important bits of the addendum aloud since I know some of you struggle with reading comprehension,” Coach says before he pulls his bifocals down from the top of his head and goes through the list of cock-blocking rules. When he’s finished, it’s clear that not only will any inappropriate physical contact with Roxanne get you kicked off the team, but any offensive comments will also do the trick.
“Remember, this is history being made, gentlemen. Don’t go down in the hall of shame as the dipshit who lost a contract worth millions of dollars because you decided to think with your dick instead of your brain,” Coach warns us. “Send a copy to your agent, manager or mommy, whoever the fuck needs to approve it, and then sign it and turn it in when you check in this afternoon at Pender. See you then and have a safe drive.”
“You lucky bastard,” Lathan says with a punch to my shoulder as we get to our feet like the rest of our teammates. “If she can kick as good as she looks, you’re in trouble, though.”
“Whathefuckever,” I mutter, folding the paper into quarters and then eighths until it fits into the pocket of my black nylon shorts. “I’m the third best kicker in the league, so there’s no way she’ll be better than me.”
“You better hope not. Your contract’s up for an extension renewal at the end of the season, right?” Lathan asks as we move down the stairs with the flow of big, beefy men leaving the auditorium.
“I’m not worried,” I tell him, knowing my position as the starter is secure. “She’s nothing more than a publicity stunt.”
“We’ll see,” he says with a grin. “So you wanna carpool with Quinton and me up to Pender?”
“Sure,” I agree. “Let me take the Audi home and get packed. Pick me up in an hour?”
“Make it thirty minutes. Quinton and I have a quick captain’s meeting; then we want to try and get a head start on the road,” Lathan says with a fist bump after I agree. Leaving him, I take off to the parking lot since I need to hurry home to pack.
On the way out of the stadium, all I can think about is that photo of the blonde bombshell. The woman was so goddamn mesmerizing that I worry the image of her has been branded into my brain and may never fade. And I’m not sure that I want it to. In fact, needing to see her face and her various other physical attributes again to determine if she’s that hot or if the photo was an aberration, I pull out my phone and type Roxanne Benson into the search engine. I want to know more about this girl who’s gonna be my backup. Is she gonna be a threat to my contract extension?
That’s my last thought before my legs are suddenly knocked out from under me harder than a defensive lineman’s chop block. After my back slams into something so hard the air is knocked out of my lungs, I go sailing through the air for several heartbeats before my palms fly out, bracing my fall and keeping my face from smashing into the abrasive pavement.
Pain radiates through my left knee that took the majority of the impact, and I definitely heard it make a god-awful popping noise. Fucking hell it hurts!
From my army crawl formation, I turn my head and make out what appears to be the fender of a black SUV, tires screeching it to a stop just inches away from my eyelashes. And with this unexpected accident, I know that after five years, the brakes were probably just slammed on my entire fucking football career.
Three hundred seconds earlier…
With every mile I put between Newtown, Tennessee and me, I’m feeling a little lighter. The bumps along the highway represent all the assholes who told me I couldn’t hack it on our high school football team; that I would never score a point in college; that I should pick up a pair of pompoms and shake my ass if I wanted to step foot on a professional field. There’s always been someone telling me I can’t, which only made me want to work that much harder to prove them wrong.
The sign on the side of the road welcomes me to Wilmington, and I flip all the asshole naysayers behind me and ahead of me the proverbial middle finger because this is it. My lifelong dream is finally coming true! It hasn’t always been easy, and there were several times I wanted to quit over the years. I thought for sure there was no chance I would ever make it on a professional team since I didn’t get invited to the scouting combine in February. But giving up is exactly what all the haters wanted me to do, so I pushed through and kept practicing and working out even when it meant sacrificing my social life. My manager encouraged me to stay in top shape after my senior year of college ball ended while she continued hounding a few teams, and thank fuck I listened to her. Thinking of never being able to play the sport I love again was terrifying.
Growing up without a mother but with a football coach for a father, I’ve been a tomboy pretty much all my life. Watching football with my dad either on the sidelines or on television has always been one of my favorite pastimes. At least until I started playing flag football when I was six years old, and then in seventh grade when I got to put on a real jersey, actually getting to play for my junior high school team. Even though I wanted to be a wide receiver, the coaches wouldn’t put me in at that position or any other contact position, for that matter. The best I could do was to be the extra point placekicker. Eventually in high school, as my leg strength improved, I was the team’s starting placekicker for everything, including long distance field goals as well as the punter.
It hasn’t always been easy being the only player on the football team without balls. The girls in school hated me for the attention the guys gave me, and the guys…well, they only saw me as a piece of ass, never as a serious competitor and definitely not as their equal.
College was pretty much more of the same but on a much bigger scale. Eventually, I learned to ignore the haters and let the sexist comments roll off my back. It helped that I started standing up for myself instead of slinking away like a coward, letting the hagglers think they were getting to me. I embraced the nickname “Ballbuster” instead of being embarrassed by the reason I earned it in my sophomore year of high school. I’ve also learned that proving myself on the field is the best strategy to make them shut their mouths.
So now I’m wondering what exactly the professional level has in store for me. My agent and manager, Winona Jones, will be meeting with the owner, manager and me today to finish negotiating my big, fat contract. I pray that the players here will be more mature than in high school and college. And, sure, some people will continue to dislike me, now on a national level, but I refuse to let them bring me down. I’m doing what no other woman has ever done before, not only for me but for the little girls out there who want to play any professional sport with the big boys. So, I’m going to kick ass; or, more specifically, I’m going to kick the hell out of some fucking balls.
The Wilmington Wildcats’ stadium is even more enormous than I expected as I roll up to the front gate. I’ve played in a few professional stadiums while I was in college and traveled to plenty with my dad, but this one seems like Goliath compared to all of those.
“Name?” the thick, balding guard in matching black shirt and pants asks me as I pull up to the gatehouse and lower the Jeep’s window, breathing in the warm, salty scent of the nearby ocean.
“Roxanne Benson!” I practically exclaim, bouncing in my seat. “I’m gonna play for the Wildcats!”
The corner of the man’s lips quirk up from beneath his mustache before he looks down at the list in front of him.
“Here’s your parking pass, Miss Benson. Welcome to the team,” he says, offering me the plastic placard for my rearview mirror. My hand shakes so badly that it takes me two attempts to accept the official representation that I’m really part of the team and get it hung on my mirror.
“Thank you, sir,” I say, flashing the guard the biggest grin of my life as he presses the button to lift the arm, allowing me to drive into the parking lot.
To say I’m nervous would be a drastic understatement. My best friend and my dad both offered to come with me, or more like begged, but I made them stay home since showing up with a buddy or parental escort is not exactly how the first woman signed by a professional football team should start her career with the big boys. Besides, my dad has his own season to worry about. Although the private college he coaches is small, the team depends on him to keep up the winning streak they’ve been on for three years now. The pay isn’t all that great, so he doesn’t have the extra cash to spend on plane tickets.
Thankfully I’m about to sign a two-year, million-dollar contract, which will not only provide me with enough money to live on but will ease my dad’s financial stress. It’s the least I can do for all that he’s sacrificed for me over the years, including up and moving us to Newtown my sophomore year after what the high school team did to me in White Falls.
Accelerating forward and brushing aside the reason I refuse to ever think twice about dating another teammate, I ease closer to the towering structure that lurks in the distance. The enormous parking lot is nearly empty since it’s the summer and only players and staff are probably milling about inside the facility. But in just a few weeks, thousands of fans will fill the stadium, and I’ll be down there on the field in the center of it all.
Not that I’ll ever actually get a chance to play, but this is still one small step for womankind and all that. What’s important is that I’ve made it onto the team! I’ll get to wear a jersey with my name on the back. And maybe someday, in a few years, after the first and second-string kickers retire or get traded, they’ll sign me as the first-string kicker, and I’ll have a shot to prove my worth. Until then, I’ll just work my ass off to become the best damn kicker ever while happily riding the bench of one of the best football teams in the league. God, I can’t wait!
My excitement shatters right along with the glass of my front windshield when something massive lands on the hood of my Jeep. I slam my foot down on the brake to stop and try to figure out what the fuck just happened, causing the large object to bounce off the hood.
And then the realization hits me.
Oh dear God!
No, no, no!
Shoving the gearshift into park, I undo my seatbelt and throw my door open to run around the front of the fender. That’s where I find a dark-haired man plastered face down on the pavement.
“Oh shit!” I shriek. “Did I hit you?”
“No,” the man groans. “I do pushups…in the parking lot. Motherfucker! Yes, you hit me!”
“It was an accident! I didn’t see you!” I tell him.
Jeez, he’s grumpy, but okay, I guess he’s entitled to a bit of snippiness since I just ran him over. His face is pinched with pain as he rolls to his side, holding his knee that’s awkwardly bent. Despite the less than stellar circumstances, I can’t help but notice that he’s young and handsome, the dark scruff along his jaw the same color as his damp, wavy, chocolate hair that’s in need of a cut. Wearing a white tank top and black athletic shorts, it’s obvious his body is long and lean with cuts of muscle up and down his powerful arms and legs, not enough fat to pinch. Although, I would need to see all the covered bits to be sure. That seems highly unlikely at the moment since he’s muttering a string of curses, each one making me feel even worse, if that’s possible. There’s also something about him that seems familiar…
“Oh my God! Kohen?” I ask, kneeling down next to him in my jeans, both of my shaking hands covering my mouth as I get a closer look. This cannot be him! Without my permission, my right hand shoots out and sweeps his hair back from his forehead for a better look at his face, making him flinch. “Ah, fuck!” I groan. “You’re Kohen Hendricks!”
No, no, no! Of all the people in the world, please tell me that I didn’t just run over Kohen fucking Hendricks, the Wildcats’ starting kicker!
“What the hell? You a crazy stalker or something?” he grits out between groans before he finally pushes himself up into a sitting position. His palms and legs are scraped bloody and heavily dusted in dirt and tiny pieces of gravel.
Again, I lose control of my motor functions. My fingertips start swiping at the debris embedded in his knees and the thick, powerful thighs revealed just below the hem of his shorts.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he mutters, wrapping his strong hand over the top of mine and yanking it up and away from his thigh to halt my forward progress. At the sudden, harsh contact, a gasp parts my lips, and I nearly choke on the excess oxygen when I glance up, my green eyes meeting his fiery melted chocolate and caramel swirled ones only inches away from mine. “Whoa,” he repeats softer, deeper than the others, and holding a completely different meaning. The first utterings of the word I’m pretty sure he meant for me to stop touching him, but the last one sounded more like…astonishment. “You’re her, the girl from the screen.”
“I’m so…so sorry,” I stammer, not sure if he hit his head too since he’s talking nonsense. Why, God, did I have to hit him today of all days? I didn’t even step foot into the stadium, and now I probably never will because no one is ever gonna believe this was an accident. Fate is one cruel jackass.
“You drive like shit,” he says before lowering my hand that’s still in his tight grip back down to his muscular thigh. Of all places in the universe he could’ve put it, why did he choose there? He doesn’t let go. Instead, he squeezes the top of my hand as if for comfort, right before his eyes widen like a light bulb is going off in his head. An instant later he suddenly shoves my hand away like it’s burned him while those narrowed dark eyes thin even more, glaring at me. “You conniving little bitch!”
My breath catches in my throat at the harsh insult. I’ve been called plenty of horrible things over the years; but for some reason, this man’s words are more brutal than all the rest combined. The burning sensation behind my eyes reminds me that I’ve stupidly let my guard down.
“It was an accident,” I repeat, although I know it’s useless. He’s already decided that I intentionally ran him over and won’t be convinced otherwise.
“You said my name! You knew exactly who I was --- your competition!”
“How stupid would I have to be to run you over on purpose in front of the stadium of all places?” I point out.
“Yeah, Tonya Harding. You probably should’ve hired someone else to do your fucking dirty work,” he sneers.
My jaw drops as indignation spreads through me, hardening my skin like armor. “Fuck you. It was an accident. Why did you walk out in front of my car?” I ask indignantly. “You ever heard of looking both ways?”
“Pedestrians always have the right-of-way!”
“Bullshit!” I screech while poking him in the center of his chest with my finger. Damn, it’s firmer than a brick wall. “This…this…” Shit, what was I saying? Oh yeah. “This isn’t a crosswalk, mister, so pedestrians have to watch where they’re going!”
“Get your hands off me, Tonya!” he exclaims, grabbing my wrist. He holds it tightly in his grip and pins it to the pavement on the outside of his thigh, leaving me hovering over top of the asshole, my long, blonde hair falling forward like a curtain around me.
“Let me go, jackass,” I tell him through clenched teeth while using my left hand to brush my hair back from my face.
“Why?” he asks, squeezing my wrist tighter. “So you can run before they figure out what you did?”
“I didn’t do anything!” I shriek.
“Might want to work on your story,” he leans forward and whispers. “Because it’s not very convincing.”
“It doesn’t have to be convincing; it’s the truth!”
“My word against yours. Who do you think they’ll believe, Tonya?” he asks, raising one of his dark eyebrows. And fuck if it isn’t sexy as hell, despite what a jerk he’s being to me.
“Stop calling me Tonya. My name’s Roxy. And hopefully, they’ll be smart enough to believe the truth.”
“I bet you’re used to always getting your way, right? Flaunting your tits and ass to make men cater to your every whim,” he says before his dark eyes dip down to the V-neck of my navy blue tee. Thanks to him, the front has fallen open because of the way he’s forced me to lean over him. After taking a good long look, his dark eyes finally meet my gaze again.
“If a man’s weak enough to succumb to my whims based on nothing but my tits and ass, then he’s an idiot,” I reply, vaguely noticing that his thumb is now stroking along the skin of my wrist. “The owner of your team and coaches aren’t idiots.”
“I sure hope not,” he says while stealing another glance at my lacy, sky blue bra. When his melted candy bar eyes land on mine again, there’s no longer the hint of pain reflected in them. Instead, they’re full of desire, and I can’t tear my eyes away. It’s like there’s an invisible chain tethering us, holding our gazes hostage. And despite how much I wish I could deny it, and how long I’ve refused to give any man, especially football players, a second thought, there’s no ignoring the honest to God truth.
I want this infuriating man.