Authors: Laura Ward
a novel by
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Copyright © 2016 by Laura Ward
All rights reserved.
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products, bands, and/or restaurants referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book is dedicated to those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
Siblings, friends, parents, and children… your pain is never-ending.
But you move forward, live your life, and keep them with you always.
Bravery can come in the smallest of steps.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
“SON, I GOT a call about an hour ago. A couple of NFL scouts are coming to the game this Saturday. The guy I talked to said you’re looking like a first- or second-round draft pick.” Coach K sat back in his chair with his thick, burly arms crossed over his chest. “
you keep up your current numbers.”
Coach K had been the head coach of Indiana University’s football team for the past fifteen years. The man was a legend. Back in the day he was a star player for his college team and then went right into coaching, helping to bring several teams to the national championships. He was also the scariest motherfucker I knew. He allowed no bullshit from his players and doled out punishment workouts like a dentist gave out toothbrushes. Oh, and the man never smiled. Ever.
The corners of my lips turned up, but I kept my expression serious. “Yes, sir. I’ll be ready.”
Coach squinted at me and then took off his baseball cap, dragging his fingers through his bushy white hair. “Do you know what this means, Dean?”
I cleared my throat. “Team’s having a great year, and I’ve got a shot at the pros.” It was October, and the fate of the college football season was pretty much decided. Indiana University was known for its Big Ten basketball team, but football was holding its own this year.
Coach nodded. “You do. A serious shot.” He leaned forward in his chair and placed his hands on his desk. “Don’t fuck up, Goldsmith. You have three months to stay aggressive. Stay focused. This team is your family. That’s all you need. Football comes first—before the parties, the girls, the booze. This is your one chance. Give it all ya got.”
My hands started to shake, and I balled them into fists at my side. “Yes, sir. I understand.”
Coach waved me out of his office with a grunt. If that’s how the man acted when he had good news for me, I couldn’t imagine how he would act with bad news. I never expected emotion from Coach K, but a part of me hoped I had made the crotchety old dude proud. He believed in me enough to make me his starting quarterback for the past two years, and that spoke volumes.
I walked out the door of IU’s athletic complex and pulled out my phone to shoot my teammate Jon a text.
On my way
My phone buzzed.
New place today. Maria’s Diner on Third. Heard food’s ridiculous.
My phone buzzed again, and I grinned when I saw the caller’s name. Landon Washington.
“What’s up, dickweed?” Landon and I had been friends for my entire life. Our humor, however, had never matured past the fifth grade.
Landon laughed at my greeting. “Not much, a-hole. I wanted to check in. Great game on Saturday. You’re looking real solid.”
I grunted in response. Coach K and I had discussed the possibility that I could go pro since scouts started showing up at my games last year. Still, saying it out loud felt like I could jinx it. Landon knew better than most people that I’d wanted to be a professional football player since my dad first put a ball in my hands. He also knew I’d stop at nothing to make it happen.
My best friend attended the University of Southern California. He was a second-string running back for the team, a huge feat for a walk-on player at a school like USC. But Landon was not headed for the pros. He had different goals for his future, and he played for the love of the game alone. Of course, if he’d attended IU with me, his story might have been different. We could have played like we had on our state-championship high school team with me as the quarterback and him as my best running back. But Landon made—in my humble opinion—the biggest mistake known to man.
He fell in love.
With a girl.
When he was eighteen.
“Sorry about your loss. That was a tough game.” Landon’s season was not going anywhere near as well as mine. He groaned, making a sound that I took as disgust, so I moved the hell on to his favorite topic. “How’s Emma? You still pussy whipped?”
Landon snorted. “Shut the fuck up. I’m just smart enough to know that Emma’s the whole damn package.”
I crossed Tenth Street and waved to a group of sorority chicks as they headed back onto campus. “As long as she’s taking care of your whole package, dude.” Landon cussed into the phone, and I laughed. He was such a softie when it came to that chick. Hell, he’d followed her across the country.
“How about you? Met anyone yet? Some sweet, slightly disturbed chick brave enough to try and tie the infamous Dean Goldsmith down.” I pulled the phone away from my ear at the sound of his guffaws.
“You crazy, Landon?” I said as I put the phone back to my ear, lifting my chin in greeting to two freshmen football players as they passed by. “You might be dumb enough to get shackled to one woman, but I’m smarter than that. Plenty of girls keep me warm at night, but they know better than to expect anything more.” A wide grin spread across my face as I remembered Tuesday with Marissa, Thursday night with Leslie, and last night with Tracy…
Life was fucking good.
“Just wait, Dean. One of these days you’re gonna change your tune. And when that day comes, I’m gonna sit back, crack a cold one, and enjoy the show.” Landon’s voice muffled as he spoke to someone else. “Gotta go, man. Emma’s home.”
When that boy fell, he fell hard and fast. And for good.
Tied down to one girl? That would never be me. Tied up to the bedposts by a girl? Good possibility. I shook my head to erase that enticing thought. Right now I needed grub and some time with my boy, Jon. I opened the door to Maria’s Diner and approached my teammate. Jon and I had also grown up together, playing ball in high school along with Landon. “What’s up?” I smacked Jon on the shoulder as I slid into the booth. “You order yet?”
“Hey, man.” Jon raised his chin and put his phone down. “A few things to start. I’m fucking starving.”
“Coach K’s practices are killer, but this is it. Senior year and I’m going all in.” If it was going to happen, it had to be this year. This season. This was my time.
“Hell yes, thank you.” Jon moved his phone out of the way, and a basket of cheese fries, mozzarella sticks, wings, and a large pepperoni pizza were placed on the table along with a pitcher of soda.
My stomach grumbled loudly. “This is starters? You’re a pig, man.”
Jon grinned as he shoved a handful of fries into his mouth and chewed.
“Thank you,” I said as I looked up at the waitress.
Dark green eyes narrowed at me, and I swallowed hard. I couldn’t tear my eyes from hers. She cleared her throat, and I snapped out of it. I turned my head and was caught off guard by her hair. A thick braid hung down the front of her shoulder in the deepest shade of red I had ever seen.
“Can I get you anything else?” Her voice was clipped, and I immediately searched through the catalog of women I’d had sex with in my brain. Had we hooked up? Made out? Had I propositioned her? Bought her a drink?
My gaze traveled down her body. Creamy white skin covered in tiny brown freckles. She was thin but had tits. Killer legs and a great ass too from what I could see. No fucking way. I would absolutely remember bagging her. I’d remember that skin, those eyes, and that hot-as-hell hair. No way would I forget her. Time to make my move.
“Sorry, baby.” I looked back into her eyes and smirked. “I got sidetracked for a minute. I almost lost my appetite for food… unless you’re on the menu. I’d definitely like to taste you.” Leaning back against the booth, I rested my arm along the top and tapped my fingertips on the red vinyl.
“Excuse me?” She took a step back and crossed her arms over her chest.
Jon barked out a laugh, and I gave him the finger. She sounded pissed.
I loved when they played hard to get.
“What’s your name, sweet girl?” My previous douche bag come-on line was meant to make her laugh. Probably not my smartest idea being that I didn’t know anything about this chick and she sure as shit didn’t know me. If she did, she’d most likely be sitting in my lap by now. I poured some soda into the empty cup in front of me and took a long drink. When she still hadn’t spoken, I glanced back up. She was gone.
“Losing your touch, bro.” Jon wiped his fingers on a napkin and grabbed a wing. “Eat up, or it’ll be gone.”
Grabbing a slice of pizza, I folded it in half, took a large bite, and grumbled, “What the fuck? Uptight princess.”
“Maybe she’s not into you. Ever think of that?” Jon grabbed another wing and smirked. “Have you ever been turned down?”
My eyebrows furrowed, and I knocked my fist against the table. “Nope.”
“So glad I was here to witness it then. Indiana’s star quarterback can’t even get the first name of his waitress. Love this shit. I gotta text Landon.” The douche picked up his phone and typed, his big, sloppy fingers moving across the screen.
I drummed my fingers on the table, letting him have his fun. I had no insecurity when it came to my ability to get girls. If this chick wasn’t interested, there was something wrong with her, not me.
Nevertheless I looked up, searching for her. She stood behind the bar, pouring a cup of coffee. Her face was pinched, and her shoulders slumped. I rubbed the back of my neck. Was she a college student at IU? She approached a nearby table and delivered the cup of coffee. The white-haired man sat alone but smiled at the sight of her. Her face relaxed as she bent down and spoke with the gentleman. I wondered if he was a regular. He reached out and patted her arm, and she nodded. Her smile dimmed as she stood up and looked around the crowded restaurant. One of my younger sisters, Dianna, was a waitress at a restaurant in the town where she was attending college. She had told me the work could be brutal, and this chick looked bone-tired.