Authors: Samantha Kane
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright Â© 2015 by Nancy Kattenfeld
Calling the Play
by Samantha Kane copyright Â© 2015 by Nancy Kattenfeld
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
is a registered trademark and the
colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
Calling the Play
by Samantha Kane. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
Cover design: Georgia Morrissey
Cover photograph: Studio10Artur/Shutterstock
There were days when you owned the world, and days when the world chewed you up and shat you out. Cass Zielinski, center for the redheaded stepchild of the National Football League, the Birmingham Rebels, had woken up thinking it was going to be the latter. First meeting after the draft, after a dismal second season and their complete and utter failure to make the play-offs, he'd expected some trash talk thrown his way and the offensive-captain patch to get ripped off his jersey. Instead he sat staring at the prettiest coach's assistant he'd ever met, while the Rebels' head offensive coach, Mike Richards, gave the traditional “This Is Our Year” opening speech. The speech wasn't quite polished yet, but there were only four of them at the meeting, so he had time before trying to bullshit the rest of the team.
“Hat.” At the sound of the whispered word, Cass looked over at his best friend, Beau Perez. Beau gestured to the hat on the table. It was sitting right in front of the new assistant, and she couldn't put her armful of papers down. “Hat,” Beau whispered again.
Cass clumsily yanked the cowboy hat off the table. He grew up in Texas, where people made room for hats on the table when there was nowhere else to put them. “Sorry, ma'am,” he said politely to the new assistant, who was staring at him. Marian, her name was Marian.
She blushed and smiled nervously, then looked away as she set her papers down at last. Damn, she was pretty. She had long, straight blond hair, part of it pulled back in some sort of professional-looking style, leaving the rest to hang down her back. Under the harsh lights, it shone brightly against the dark blue of her suit jacket. She was buttoned up like it was Sunday. He could still tell she was fit, long and lean and athletic. When they'd shaken hands she'd reached his chin in her low-heeled shoes. He was six four, so he guessed she was about five seven. Tall for a woman. She had a light tan to her skin, as if she spent time outdoors, not in a tanning bed. She made him think of those sexy beach-volleyball babes. Mike had told them she'd worked at a small Division III college in the northeast before coming to Birmingham.
Beau pinched his arm and he jerked away, glaring at him. “What?” he mouthed.
Beau wasn't a captain, but where Cass went, Beau followed. It was part of the deal when they'd signed. Beau gestured toward Mike with his head, frowning.
Beau looked damn scary when he was frowning. He was six-six, with hair so dark it looked black. He had that sort of coppery skin Mexicans had, pretty and soft-looking. Not that Beau looked soft. His face was all angles, his nose broken a time or two, his neck as thick as pretty Marian's thigh, Cass would bet. Beau's mouth was fierce and wide, with thin lips, but he had a sharp indent above, making his upper lip bow. Cass jerked his gaze away from Beau's mouth. Beau was looking at him, exasperated, and rolled his eyes at Cass. He looked like an exotic Hulk, but his brown-gold eyes full of laughter ruined the comparison. Beau got those pretty eyes and skin tone and hair color from his mama. Cass had met her. His daddy was some handsome stranger who had some fun and disappeared. According to Beau's mom, he'd been tall and rugged, like Beau. Too damn bad he'd walked away. He could have had a son in the NFL.
“Cass? Anything to add?” Mike asked. Cass turned his gaze to the coach, who was standing there, arms crossed, his expression clearly showing he knew Cass hadn't been paying a damn bit of attention. Mike was in his late forties, and with his short, graying hair he looked every inch the suburban dad who shuttled his kids to football and soccer practice and mowed the lawn every Saturday. In truth he was a workaholic who'd been divorced twice and had no kids. He paid someone else to mow the lawn of the house he barely saw.
“Nope,” Cass said, covering, frowning and nodding his head as if he knew what was going on. “Not right now. I think you said it all. I may have something after we talk.” Nice way to make a good impression on the front office, Cass thought, mentally kicking himself in the butt.
“I'll just bet you will,” Mike said sarcastically. “You know we drafted a good running back in Tom Kelly,” he went on, getting down to business. “We traded for two second-round picks next season, as well. We're still building this team.”
They sure as shit were. “Tom was a mediocre player,” Cass said, trying not to grind his teeth as he talked. Beau had told him that pissed people off. “And we got Danny Smith in the trade. We didn't need two new running backs. We had a chance to grab Taylor Reutsch when he went free agent, instead.”
“Reutsch wasn't a good fit for this team,” Mike said stiffly. “We discussed this.”
“And I disagreed,” Cass reminded him.
“Marian convinced me Tom's stats indicated he had more potential than what we saw while he was at Nebraska. Their system didn't work for him. Ours will. It's done.” Mike's tone indicated the topic was dead.
Cass glared across the table at Marian Treadwell. He'd underestimated her, obviously. She was more than a pretty face. And she was messing with his team.
“I'd be glad to go over his stats with you and explain why I encouraged the team to acquire him,” she said with a polite smile. There was nothing weak about her demeanor. He liked that. Liked that she spoke to him like an equal and clearly expected the same from him. Her offer was an olive branch. Cass recognized it. She wanted to stay. Cass had the power to make or break her here. He knew it. She knew it. The whole damn table knew it. But she wasn't begging.
“Sure,” he said, with a stiff smile and a nod. “That would be good. But Reutschâ”
“Reutsch is a pig,” Mike said, cutting him off with a curl of his lip. “I told you to trust me, Cass. I know what I'm doing.”
“I heard that about Reutsch, as well,” Marian said. “I don't like to give credence to rumors, but these were too prevalent to ignore. I didn't feel that, personalitywise, he would fit in here.” She was cautious, but still exuded confidence with each word she spoke. It turned him on. He was surprised by his interest in her because normally he didn't poach in team territory. But damn, she was going to be hard to resist.
She was just the type of woman he liked to take to bed. Strong, confident, not afraid of her own power. When a woman like that kneeled at your feet and gave herself over to you, there was nothing better. The rush of that was a high no drug could match. He'd given that to Beau, to replace the drugs. Taught him how to appreciate a woman's surrender, to crave her pleasure more than his own. Just the thought of Marian between him and Beau, giving them all she was and letting them take care of her, made goosebumps break out on his arms. The things he wanted to make the two of them do for him. The plays he could come up with. He practically vibrated with excitement at the thought.
“Damn straight,” Mike growled. Cass paid attention. Mike didn't growl at or about anyone very often. For a coach, he was pretty laid-back. “I wasn't going to say anything, but you won't let it drop. The truth is, when he played college ball he was the king of date rape. Roofies were his best friend.”
“What the fuck?” Beau asked incredulously. “How did he get away with it?”
“There was always a deep alumni pocket around to keep him playing,” Mike said, throwing a paper clip onto the table in disgust. “College sports can be a dirty motherfucker.” He grimaced in Marian's direction. “Sorry for the language.”
Marian laughed. “It's all right. I agree. I knew one or two dirty motherfuckers during my college-ball days, too.”
There was something in her voice that made Cass turn from Mike to Marian. Her face had gone pale, and she was fiddling with her pen, not looking at anyone around the table.
“I'm sorry. I didn't know,” Cass said. “I should have trusted you, Mike. I won't make that same mistake again. You're right. A guy like that won't fit in here. Nobody here is going to do that shit and get away with it.” He meant every word. He knew what it meant to be violated like that, used by someone to get what she wanted and damn the consequences or the rules. No one would ever do that to him again. And he wasn't going to let anyone do it to someone else, either, not if he could prevent it.
Marian's brown eyes grew big and she stared at Cass as if she'd never heard a man apologize before. Next to her, Mike turned his body abruptly in his chair to face her and she jumped.
“Whoa,” Mike said, his hands up in surrender. “Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you.”
She laughed that tight laugh again. “No, I'm sorry. I get lost in my head sometimes. Don't bother about me.” She cleared her throat. “Don't forget we also snagged Kitt Doyle. When he went free agent I thought he'd get more offers despite his age and injury record.”
She successfully changed the subject as Mike and Beau began to discuss how Doyle, a good veteran left tackle, would affect the offense. She glanced up and when she caught Cass's gaze, she tensed. After a second or two, when her mouth grew tight and she looked like she might say something, he looked away. There was definitely more to Marian Treadwell than what met the eye.
He was wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, for heaven's sake, Marian thought as she looked away from Cass Zielinski's penetrating stare. Did he think he was a Cowboy? Wrong team. The way the Rebels played last year, nearly the wrong league. She was exasperated, but it was with herself, not him. She was letting his sun-kissed good looks get to her. All six feet four inches and 280 pounds of him. That was a lot of good-looking. He had auburn hair and a beard to match, both bleached a little redder by the sun. And the cowboy thing? Yeah, a total button pusher. But she could resist it, because damn it, that wasn't why she was here. She didn't want to screw football players. She wanted to coach them. She had something to offer this team. The head office saw it and so did Mike. Clearly the players were going to be a harder sell. If she could get Cass Zielinski on her side, that would go a long way to getting the others to accept her. According to everything she'd read, and from what Mike had told her, the whole team idolized Zielinski. He'd been playing, and playing well, in the NFL for over ten years. Everyone knew he'd accepted the Rebels deal because they'd promised him front office when he retired, which wasn't too far in the future. He was thirty-one, old for an offensive lineman. And of course, the deal had included Beau Perez.
She stole a glance at Perez. He was a scary-looking son of a bitch. Taller than the average player, he was more thug than Latin lover, brooding and intense. The tattoo on his neck didn't help. She'd heard he was a real sweetheart in person, but she hadn't seen it so far. He obviously had Zielinski wrapped around his massive pinky finger, the way he'd jumped to remove his hat when Perez frowned at him. Somehow he'd ridden Zielinski's coattails back into the NFL after a suspension for drugs. His drug use and overdose were a red flag for any coach. He'd spent months in rehab, and Zielinski had been a constant visitor. That was the beginning of the rumors.
She hated to admit she'd read every tabloid rumor about them. Most of her information came from the
magazine. They'd been caught on tape having sex with the same woman. At the same time. The sex tape had gone viral. You couldn't Google them without it turning up, despite all their efforts to get it taken down. There was no sound, and there were some malfunctions with the recorder, but you didn't need to hear it to know they were giving her a hard, rough fuck. Jesus, Marian had watched that video about a hundred times and fantasized about them both. She wished she'd known at the time that she'd be working with them. She would have passed it by. She could hardly look at them without picturing them naked and straining, as they slammed into the willing woman in perfect synch. They had clearly done it many times before in order to have that sort of synchronization. With Perez's dark hair and exotic looks, and Zielinski's reddish hair and paler skin, they had complemented one another perfectly. She began to sweat and squirm in her seat as she tried to force her attention back to what Mike was saying.
Before long her gaze slid over to Perez again. He was a loose cannon, in her opinion. For the last two years he'd walked the straight and narrow, it was true. He played hard, stayed out of the limelight, and he was clean. Regular drug tests made sure of it. But his hold on Zielinski worried her. Cass clearly led the team, but Beau just as clearly led Cass. They needed the center to make this team work. He was the center in more ways than the position he played. The team revolved around him. He made it work, made this group of losers and misfits rise above their pasts and their reputations and play some pretty decent ball. Could they be better? Yeah, they could. And Marian was going to help make that happen. She'd hitched her wagon to the Rebels' star, and she wasn't going down without a fight.
She had something to prove. To herself and to her father. No one here but Mike and head coach Shannon Ludwig knew her dad was Rufus Sedgeway, one of the most successful coaches in Division I college-football history. And that was how Marian wanted it. She didn't want to talk about her father to anyone; she didn't even want to remember he existed on most days. He'd silenced her. He'd chosen some sleazy football players and his precious winning record over her. She'd had to go crawling back to him to ask him to help her get this job, but that was it. She knew he'd gotten her a job with the Rebels because he wanted her to fail again. He wanted to control her again. But she'd show him and everyone else. They hadn't broken her, not by a long shot.
Beau worried his lower lip between his teeth. He recognized that look in Cass's eyes. He was interested in Marian Treadwell. She was pretty. Too pretty, just the way Cass liked them. Beau liked them like that, too. Strong enough you didn't have to worry about breaking them. But he couldn't see her submitting to either of them. She was a ballbuster, no doubt about it. And she didn't like him. As far as he could tell, he hadn't done anything to earn her frowns since they'd met less than an hour ago. That meant she knew about his past and judged him for it. She wouldn't be the first. Hell, he judged himself for it. She hadn't given Cass frowns, so at least it wasn't that damn sex tape. Beau clenched his teeth at the reminder of their biggest mistake. What had they been thinking? That chick had been trouble and they both knew it, but damn if Beau hadn't needed to be with Cass like that so bad he ignored his instincts. And Cass had been looking out for him again, trying to give him something to get through another long night. And look where it had gotten them.