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Authors: Marie Force

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BOOK: Line of Scrimmage
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“Oh, God,” she moaned from under him.

Ryan kissed her back, her shoulder, her neck, and finally, her cheek. “Good morning.”

“This is nuts,” she repeated.

“What is?”

“This,” she whispered, so drained it was hard to believe she had just woken up.

He squeezed her breasts to remind her that his hands were still there. “Why?”

“We can’t keep doing this all the time.”

“Why not?”

She laughed. “Stop answering me with questions!”

“I’m waiting for you to give me a good reason.”

“I’m trying to think of one.”

He laughed, and it echoed through her.

When she closed her eyes and clenched her internal muscles, he groaned. “
Susie
. . . ”

“We
have
to think of some other way to fill our time.”

“Why?”

She reached up to pinch his shoulder. “
Now
can I go get the paper?”

“If you must.” He withdrew from her and rolled onto his side. “How’s your wrist?”

“Stiff but not as sore as yesterday.” She felt his eyes on her as she reached for her robe.

“You can’t go outside with just that on. You’ll cause a stir in the neighborhood.”

“Why? I’m covered.”

“That thing clings to every delicious curve, darlin’.

Take my word for it. You’ll cause a stir.”

“Honestly!” she said with exasperation.

Emerging from the bathroom several minutes later in a black sweat suit, her stomach growled noisily as she zipped up the sweatshirt
over her unrestrained breasts. “Better?”

“Yes, but I never imagined I’d be so jealous of a zipper.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

“I’ll be here.”

She went downstairs, made coffee, and put a piece of bread in the toaster, hoping to calm her stomach. While the toaster did
its thing, she pulled on boots and went outside to find the paper wrapped in a blue plastic bag that was in sharp contrast
to the snow on the lawn. She carried the bundle inside, took the paper out of the bag, and flipped it open.

“Oh, wow,” she whispered.

Chapter 20

RYAN LAY ON HIS BELLY AND WAITED FOR SUSIE TO come back. He’d expected to feel strange this morning after announcing his retirement
to the world, but nothing felt different. He supposed he’d be despondent if he hadn’t had Susie to give him something else
to think about. Well, if he were being truthful, there was only one thing he was thinking about lately, and she had finally
called him on it. He chuckled softly to himself. They’d always had an intense sexual relationship, but the last few days had
been extreme even for them.

The dull throb in his ribs indicated that he had been overdoing the physical activity, but she was worth every ache and pain.
She was back, she was his, and nothing was ever going to come between them again. He thought about the conversation he planned
to have later with Henry, and once again his blood boiled at what that guy had done to Susie’s arm. Maybe he’d do the same
thing to Henry—it was the least of what that bastard deserved.

Susannah returned carrying two mugs of coffee and the newspaper tucked under her arm. “Wake up, sleepyhead.”

He rolled over and sat up to receive the cup of coffee she handed to him. “How’d we do? Front of sports?”

“Not exactly.” She held up the front page of the
Denver Post,
bearing the banner headline “Sanderson Calls It Quits” over a huge photo of him dabbing at a tear during the press conference.


Holy shit,
” he said on a long exhale. Most of the front page was devoted to him. “Must’ve been a slow news day.”

“More like it’s the story of the year in this city.”

He put his coffee on the bedside table and reached for a pillow to put over his face. “Read it to me. I can’t bear to look.”

She chuckled as she stretched out next to him. “Are you ready?”

He grunted.

“One of the NFL’s most storied careers ended yesterday with the surprise announcement that the Denver Mavericks’ star Quarterback
Ryan Sanderson is retiring,” she read.

“Still bearing the bruises from his recent Super Bowl injuries, Sanderson, thirty-two, held a midday press conference at Mavericks
Stadium, at which he characterized his Hall of Fame career as a combination of ‘good luck and good genes.’ With his wife Susannah,
Mavericks’ Coach Duke Simmons, and team owner Chet Logler by his side, an often-tearful Sanderson paid tribute to the many
teammates, coaches, and competitors who made his ten years in the NFL a ‘joyful journey.’” Susannah glanced over at him. “I
liked that, by the way.”

“I sound like a total geek,” he said, his voice muffled by the pillow.

She laughed. “You do not! Shut up and listen. ‘I also want to thank the people of Denver and the tremendous Mavericks’ fans,’
Sanderson said. ‘You welcomed my wife and me with open arms when we first arrived in this town, and you’ve made playing here
the most rewarding experience I ever could’ve hoped for. I’ve been guided by an outstanding coaching staff—led by my good
friend, Duke Simmons—and was blessed to work for the greatest owner in the league.’

“Sanderson’s current contract is set to expire on Sunday, and recent reports put the Mavericks’ offer at $50 million for three
more years.

“The one-time AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year led the Mavericks to three Super Bowl victories in the last five years—the
only Super Bowl wins in the franchise’s 36-year history—and was twice named Super Bowl MVP, including this year. He’s a five-time
Pro Bowler and was recently elected again but couldn’t play due to the concussion and three broken ribs he sustained in the
final minutes of the Mavericks’ 35 to 7 Super Bowl rout of the San Francisco 49ers.

“A Heisman Trophy winner who led the University of Florida Gators to a national championship his senior year, Sanderson was
named the AFC’s most valuable player in six of his ten years in the league and passed for 39,620 yards during his career.
A physical quarterback who wasn’t afraid to tangle with opponents’ defensive lines, he rushed for more than 3,500 yards and
scored 23 touchdowns.

“Calling this the right time and the right place to end his career, Sanderson said he made the decision to retire before he
was injured in the Super Bowl. ‘I want to go on record as saying my friend Rodney Johnson’s spectacular sack had nothing to
do with my decision to retire,’ Sanderson said to laughter from the gathered press and his teammates, who lined the room wearing
Sanderson’s number 18. Also wearing his jersey was his wife, who filed for divorce 14 months ago. At the press conference,
Sanderson announced that the couple, who lost a son at birth more than two years ago, recently reconciled.”

Ryan took the pillow off his face and winced. “They
had
to put that in there, didn’t they?”

“I’m never prepared to see it in print.”

“I’m sorry, baby.”

She leaned over to kiss him. “It’s not your fault. Listen to the rest: ‘In addition to everyone in the Mavericks organization—past
and present—there are three people I particularly wish to thank today,’ Sanderson said. ‘The first is my late mother, Theresa
Sanderson, who never missed one of my games despite working two jobs. She was my greatest cheerleader, and I miss her. The
second is my high school football coach, Jimmy Stevens, who was the first to suggest I might have what it takes to play in
the NFL. He encouraged me to aim high and to think big. I’m here today because of him. Finally, I’d like to thank my wife,
who put up with me and stood by me—while doing her best to keep me humble—during this crazy ride. I love you, Susie.’”

“That was very sweet,” she said.

“It’s true.”

“Your mother would’ve been so proud of you yesterday.”

“I hope so.”

Susannah continued. “Sanderson, an honors graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in business, was circumspect
about his future plans. He said he was looking forward to spending more time with his wife and to having the time to focus
some attention on his vast business holdings that, combined with lucrative endorsement deals, have helped to elevate his net
worth to an estimated $45 million.”

“It’s forty-six, actually,” he commented dryly. He had no idea what the actual number was.

Susannah chuckled. “His endeavors include several restaurants, a car dealership, a television station, and numerous real estate
holdings. He and his wife are also well known in the city for their philanthropic work, especially on behalf of the Boys and
Girls Clubs of Metro Denver and Children’s Hospital.”

“That’s it?” he asked.

“That’s the main story. There’re a couple of columns, too. I liked Paul Dimbroski’s.”

“He was always good to me.”

“Listen to this: ‘Sanderson ended his career the same way he played the game—with class and emotion. While shocking in its
timing, coming so close on the heels of a third Super Bowl win, Sanderson’s decision to go out on top says more than I ever
could about his character. While many players milk the ride for all it’s worth and force their teams to make tough decisions
about once-dominant players, Sanderson showed us once again yesterday that the game itself was always his top priority.’

“I like that,” Ryan said.

“I figured you would.”

“So where’s the bad news?”

“There wasn’t any.”

“Come on. There’s got to be
something
negative.”

She flipped the pages. “Well, Bobby Temple has a stick up his butt, but what else is new?”

Ryan howled with laughter. “I love that dirty talk from my little debutante. What did my friend Bobby have to say?”

“It’s not worth repeating,” she huffed.

“Humor me.”

“All right, you asked for it: ‘Must be nice to be Ryan Sanderson who can easily afford to thumb his nose at $50 million.’
That’s basically the gist of it.”

“Bobby will never believe we’re not all in it for the money.”

“He irritates me.”

“I know. Me, too.”

She reached for her coffee. “Of course that’s why he does what he does.”

“Enough about him. What time’s your appointment?”

“Two.”

“I’ll drive you.”

“No, you won’t,” she protested. “I can drive myself.”

“You have a sore wrist.”

“It’s my left hand, and I’m not helpless. I’ll call you the minute my appointment is over.”

“I want to go.”

She turned on her side to study him. “What’s really going on? This isn’t just about my wrist.”

He fixed his eyes on the cleavage visible over the top of her zipper. “Two things—one, I’m worried about Henry hassling you.”

“He has no idea where I’ll be today, so what’s number two?”

His jaw shifted with tension. “Is Pam going to think I did that to your wrist?”

“Oh, baby,
no!
I’ll tell her it had nothing to do with you.”

“Yeah, right,” he said with a bitter snort of disbelief.

“Like she’s going to buy that.”

“I’ll tell her the truth.”

“Will she believe you?”

“I’ll make sure she does.”

The phone rang, and Ryan reached for it. “Yes, she is,” he said. “Just a sec.” He handed the phone to Susannah, kissed her
cheek, and got out of bed. “I’m going to take a shower.”

“Okay.” She watched him go before she took the call. “Hello?”

“Hi, Susannah, it’s Diane,” her divorce attorney said.

“Oh, hi, Diane. I guess you saw the press conference.”

“I did. I’m calling to tell you the judge saw it, too, and he’d still like to see you both on Monday at eleven as planned.”

“Can’t we just withdraw the petition?” Susannah asked.

“Nothing is that simple with this judge. You should know that by now.”

“All right. We’ll be there.”

“So will I. Just in case I’m needed. Are you happy, Susannah? Is this what you really want? You were so determined to go forward
with the divorce.”

“I’m beyond happy. We’ve worked everything out.

Thank you for all your help and support. You were a rock.”

“I’m glad for you and for me, too. I don’t get to see many happy endings.”

“This is definitely going to be a happy ending. I’ll see you on Monday.”

“Actually, I’ll see you at the ball.”

“Great. I’ll look forward to it. Thanks again for all you did for me, Diane.”

“No problem.”

Susannah arrived for her two o’clock appointment with five minutes to spare. She had managed to convince Ryan she could take
care of herself for a couple of hours and had driven herself into the city. As she waited for the doctor, her heart beat with
excitement and anxiety and—despite all her tough talk from yesterday—fear. How would she ever stand to wait thirty-nine weeks
to find out if she could carry a baby to term, and what would she do if the same thing happened again?

Before she had time to work herself into a total state of hysteria, she was called into the exam room and handed a gown. She
changed quickly and sat on the table, chilled to the bone all of a sudden. It was hard to say what she was more afraid to
hear—that she was pregnant or that she wasn’t. Maybe it was too soon to find out anyway. Gnawing on her thumbnail, Susannah
willed the door to open so she could get this over with.

Pam Dennis swept into the room ten minutes later, full of apologies for keeping Susannah waiting. She greeted her patient
with a warm hug. Besides their doctor-patient relationship, they’d worked together on several committees and had become friends
over the years. “It’s so good to see you, Susannah, and I was
thrilled
to hear you’re back with Ryan.”

“Yes, it’s been quite a week.”

Pam sat down and crossed her legs. “How did Henry take the news?”

“Not so great. In fact, this happened when I broke off our engagement.” Susannah held up her bruised wrist. “I don’t think
he meant to hurt me . . . ”

Pam got up, put on her glasses, and switched on a bright light to take a closer look. “Are those fingerprints?”

“I’m afraid so.” Susannah winced when the doctor pressed her fingers against the bone. “It isn’t broken, though, is it?”

“I can’t tell without an X-ray.”

“But you don’t think it is, do you?”

“I really don’t know. It looks like it must’ve hurt.”

“It did.”

“I can’t picture Henry doing something like this.”

“Neither could I—before yesterday, that is.”

“You know,” Pam said, appearing to weigh her words carefully, “this technically qualifies as assault. If you wanted to file
charges—”

“No.” Susannah shook her head. “I just want to move forward with Ryan, and I want to forget about what happened yesterday.
In fact, the main reason I’m here is I’m wondering if I might be pregnant.”

Pam’s warm brown eyes widened with delight.

“Really? What’re you feeling?”

“Hungry—all the time. And kind of full and tingly,” she said, with a hand over her chest. “Here.

Just like before, with Justin.” She dropped her hand to her lap.

Pam put her hand over Susannah’s. “And you’re already preparing yourself to lose a baby you don’t even know for sure you’re
having. Am I right?”

“Something like that.”

“Why don’t we take this one step at a time? A quick urine test will tell us what we want to know. While we’re waiting for
the results, we’ll do an exam. I’ll also take a film of your wrist to rule out a fracture. Sound good?”

Susannah nodded. “If I
am
pregnant, it’s not by much, only a week or so. It might be too soon . . . ”

Pam squeezed her hand. “Then we’ll do a blood test, too, just to be sure. Everything’s going to be fine, Susannah.”

“I’m going to do my very best to believe you.”

BOOK: Line of Scrimmage
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