Completing the Pass (Santa Fe Bobcats #5)
Teamwork improves the chances of scoring . . .
When the Bobcats’ fate on the field is sealed, and they would rather give their starting quarterback, Trey Owens, a break, they call in Josh Leeman: “The Backup.” But after Trey is placed on the disabled list for the season, all eyes are on Josh to lead the team. Josh’s sudden superstar status thrusts him into the spotlight, and garners plenty of attention from the ladies—except for one.
Carrington Gray is delighted to see her father released from the hospital—but not so much to see Josh at the celebration. Their mothers have long tried to set them up, although it’s had the opposite effect. But under the circumstances, Carri and Josh would rather go on fake dates to appease their mothers than rock the boat. Yet the more time these two work together on their little lie, the more they see the surprising truth . . .
Josh Leeman walked into the Bobcats headquarters and gave Kristen a wary smile. “Hey, I think someone is expecting me for…whoa, are you okay?”
Kristen, the front office’s high-octane, almost unbelievably efficient administrative assistant, gave him a weak smile in return. “Sure, I’m fine. Thanks for asking.”
Josh couldn’t help noticing she was wringing her hands as she said it. And for the first time since he’d met her several seasons ago, she was missing that certain polish that she carried around with her. Her hair was down, rather than back in its typical smooth bun, and looked a little tangled, as if she’d forgotten to brush it before heading to work. Her sweater was baggy, and if she wore any makeup, he couldn’t tell. It was a total one-eighty from the Kristen Kelpar he knew.
“Right. That’s good.” He rocked back on his heels, taking in the front lobby. It was a rare day he ended up in the front offices. Not much call for him here. He was the guy who stuck to the shadows of the team. Forgotten, until called upon. And he’d never wanted to be called upon before.
Somehow, it had happened anyway.
“So, I think Coach Jordan is expecting me.”
She nodded, nibbling on her lip and making a quick call to announce him. When she waved him on toward the double doors, she looked…worried.
Kristen was a known mother hen for the team. If she was worried, there was something to worry about. With this career, the options were pretty limited. He was being traded, or just straight cut. Try as he might, he struggled to think of a worse situation than being cut from the team he’d spent four years with.
He walked through the hallways, feeling insignificant beside the team photos of Bobcats past. Not to mention the few gigantic portraits of the NFL MVPs the Bobcats had held on their rosters over the decades.
As he entered the main bay of offices for the coaches and the owners, he approached the desk that sat in the middle of the open space with trepidation. There was something about Frank, the man who manned the desk, that terrified him. Maybe that was a pussy thing to say, that he was terrified of an old guy who might have been sixty-five, or maybe a ninety-five…but it was also the damn truth.
“Hey, Frank.” The man didn’t look up from his typing. With hands that looked gnarled as tree roots, he was typing what had to be at least eighty words a minute, and he wasn’t stopping anytime soon. “Uh, Kristen sent me back.”
“Coach Jordan’s office,” the older man barked, nodding his head toward the left back corner office. His fingers never stopped, and his eyes, nearly black behind wire rim frames, never left the computer screen. “Go on in.”
“Right.” He paused a moment, then said, “Thanks.”
Might as well have said nothing at all, for all the attention Frank paid him. Heading back, he wiped his damp palms on his jeans before knocking on the door.
The worst they can do is cut you. You try out for another team, or you go on to something else. Calm down.
“Come on in,” he heard Coach Jordan say. When he entered, he saw not only Coach Jordan, but also the quarterback coach sitting across from the head coach in a comfortable leather high-back chair.
The head coach and the quarterback coach. This…was unexpected. And not a good omen.
“Kristen called and said you needed to see me?” Josh took a few steps in, pausing by the door.
Coach Jordan nodded at it. “Go ahead and close it. Have a seat.”
He closed the door and took a seat beside Clayton Barnes, the quarterback coach that joined the team last year. Clayton reached over to shake his hand, but said nothing. No smiles, no friendly winks of reassurance, nothing.
The worst they can do is cut you.
Coach Jordan glanced at his wall a moment, as if still gathering his thoughts. His naturally tanned skin—thanks to his Hawaiian ancestry—seemed even darker. Likely he’d been on vacation with his two teenage daughters, one of whom Josh was pretty sure should be heading to college this summer if he’d done his math right. He followed his coach’s gaze to the wall of photos. Ones of his two teenagers, when they were younger. A few of him and the girls with his now-ex wife. Awkward. And a few newer additions with Cassie Wainwright—now Cassie Owens—Coach Jordan’s daughter from a past relationship he’d only recently connected with.
In the center of the grouping was a large photo of Cassie, her father and two sisters on Cassie and Trey’s wedding day. The bride wore white, and a smile that could light up the Bobcats stadium for Monday night football.
“Nice picture,” he said, because the silence was killing him. When Coach glanced at him, he pointed to the wedding photo. “She looks happy.”
That brought out a small smile in his stern face. “She was gorgeous. Prettiest bride you could ask for. Perfect day.”
Josh nodded, because it was polite. He had been there, of course. Most of the Bobcats team had been. But he was a smaller guy in a sea of linemen, and so he’d barely caught a thing during the wedding, and had ducked out early. Weddings without a date were basically pointless, to his way of thinking. Especially when the bridesmaids weren’t even an option to flirt with…with one being attached to running back Josiah Walker, and the other two being teenagers, and his coach’s daughters to boot.
“That brings me to what we need to discuss.” Settling back in his chair, Coach Jordan steepled his hands together and tapped his chin a few times.
The worst they can do is cut you.
“Cassie and Trey are currently on their honeymoon,” he went on. “They delayed the trip because Cassie had some conferences and such. Nerd Herd stuff.” Josh nodded again. “There was an…incident.”
Josh blinked, then looked over at Coach Barnes. But the quarterback coach simply sat, stone-faced.
“Incident?” He wiped his hands on his jeans again. “Is everyone okay?”
“Nothing life threatening. Cassie is fine. I’d have had to kill him if he brought my daughter back hurt,” the coach muttered. “But no, the injury was Trey’s.”
Those hands that had continued to sweat started to feel clammy. “Nothing major, I hope.”
“A sprain,” Coach Barnes said, sounding annoyed more than upset. “Left ankle. Who tells a multi-million dollar quarterback hang gliding is a good idea?”
“Easy,” Coach Jordan said. Coach Barnes glared, but settled back in his chair. “It’s a pretty bad sprain. We can hope he’ll be back for Game One, but we can’t guarantee it.”
Josh nodded again.
“You get where he’s going with this?” Coach Barnes asked.
“Uh…Trey’s hurt.” Barnes gave him a disbelieving look that said that’s all you got? “But he’s going to be okay. Right?”
“It’s a sprain. His foot didn’t fall off.” Coach Barnes looked at Coach Jordan with a What’s with this guy? look.
“We can’t guarantee he will be back by the first game. He definitely won’t be playing in the preseason match ups. So that means we’re looking at you to carry us forward.”
Josh froze, looking between the two coaches. “I’m sorry, what?”
Coach Barnes just rolled his eyes.
Coach Jordan seemed to have found some Zen in the whole thing. “Leeman, we’re saying you’re our go to guy right now.”
“But you’re looking for a replacement. Right?” His hands started to shake, so he shoved them in the pockets of his jeans. “To step in.”
“You are the replacement. It’s what you’re paid for,” Barnes snapped.
“With Trey only missing preseason, and maybe a game or two, we don’t feel it’s prudent to grab another quarterback at this time,” Coach Jordan said more diplomatically. Then he paused. “That’s code for ‘It’s not in the budget.’”
He could respect a budget. He was raised with the words “It’s not in the budget,” being a weekly mantra from his single mother.
“So you’re it.” Coach Barnes stood and slapped him on the shoulder. “I hope you’re ready for the spotlight. Because when it becomes news Owens isn’t starting game one, you’re going to be the person everyone starts watching. Hard.” He stood and left without another word.
Coach Jordan just gave him a wan smile. “We told you this now, in May, so you’re ready to put your nose to the grindstone in July for training camp. Don’t put on twenty pounds of fat we have to work off of you before you’re any good to us.”
“Yeah. Sure. Right.” He was nodding again like a damned duck you put on the edge of your water glass. “Don’t get fat. Got it.”
“Stay healthy. Stay in shape. And for the love of God, don’t go hang gliding.” His coach motioned to the door with his head, and Josh was dismissed.
As he walked back down the hallway, he paused in front of the 1989 Super Bowl championship Bobcats team photo. He took in the mullets, the porn-stashes, the out of control curls…and wanted to vomit.
Apparently, cutting him wasn’t the worst thing they could do.