Loving Him Off the Field (Santa Fe Bobcats #2)
Sometimes the best defense is a good offense…
Aileen is a sports reporter trying to make a name for herself without relying on her looks, And what better way to do that than to break a scandal about one of the fastest rising stars on the Santa Fe Bobcats? Killian seems too good to be true, so she knows he must be hiding something…
It’s hard enough breaking into the NFL—even more so when you’re a single dad. Killian isn’t proud that he’s keeping his son a secret, but his ex has a reputation that could tarnish his squeaky clean image for good. So when Aileen starts sniffing around, Killian decides to distract her by any means necessary.
But Aileen is more than capable of giving as good as she gets…
It was the last thing Killian Reeves remembered uttering before having a heavy, unfortunate-smelling man slam him to the ground.
I get paid for this?
The man immediately stood, not delaying the inevitable. Killian did a quick mental check of his bones and muscles, contracting and relaxing each one until he was pretty sure nothing was broken or dislodged and getting up on his own wouldn’t prove fatal. So far, so good. He rolled over onto his side and groaned.
I do not get paid enough for this.
“Killian. Dude, you okay?” His holder—and backup quarterback—Josh Leeman, crouched down next to him. Which put his cup right in Killian’s eyesight.
“Get your junk out of my face, Leeman.”
Josh scooted back an inch, but not more.
“Christ, what happened?”
“Fumble,” came the obvious answer from the unhelpful holder. “Shitty snap, and I couldn’t recover.”
Killian tested getting up to kneeling position. Nothing snapped or bent in the wrong direction. Though he hated the idea, he reached out and grabbed Josh’s forearm to pull himself up all the way. “And exactly how did that ogre get around the block?”
“Um, bad luck?”
He resisted ripping Josh’s arm off—mostly because he wouldn’t have the energy for it. He saw from the corner of his eye the kicker coach and two trainers jogging out to meet them on the field. He waved them off, because…embarrassing. The other guys took dozens of hits in any given game. He took one all season and he needed to be carried off the field?
Not fucking likely.
Without limping, he met the trainers and coach halfway to the bench and shook his head. They followed silently to his own little corner, his own little space on the Bobcats sideline where nobody bothered him and everyone knew invading his territory was punishable by death.
Head Coach Jordan knelt down as Killian settled on the bench and unsnapped his chin strap. “Took a good one.”
“Felt like it.” Killian eased off the helmet, blinking when his ears started ringing.
“I think you flew back a couple feet. Like watching a rag doll get tossed.”
“Not making me feel better, Coach.” His job wasn’t to take a punch. His job was to use his golden foot and kick the pigskin through the uprights. That was all. Go out, kick, score, wave and retreat to his corner.
For this, he made a living.
One of the trainers stooped down beside Coach and shined a light in his eyes. Killian swatted at the pen light.
“I have to check your pupils.”
“There’s still two of them.”
Looking exasperated, the trainer pointed the flashlight elsewhere—thank you—and held up three fingers. “How many?”
“The number of seconds I’m giving you to step back: three.”
The other trainer, a cute little brunette who filled out the Bobcat polo well, jerked on his shoulder. “Give him a minute. He’s fine.”
“But I have to—”
“Give him a minute.”
Killian was going to send that girl trainer some flowers. Yeah. She deserved flowers for her good sense and timing.
Coach Jordan saw the look in his eyes and waved the trainers off. “He’s fine. I’ll get you if he needs you.”
“Not likely,” Killian muttered as they walked away. Likely talking amongst themselves about what an asshole he was.
Yeah. He was an asshole. He knew it. He cultivated the rep, to keep people from getting too close. Not that he had to try hard. He was a kicker. They were the redheaded stepchildren of the NFL.
Coach clapped his shoulder lightly. “Give yourself a minute, then come talk. We need to figure out just what the hell that was.”
“Talk to defense. Talk to whoever blew the snap. I didn’t even see it coming.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Didn’t see that semi-truck coming right at me.”
“You’re focused.” His coach shrugged, as if it were completely natural to just not see a three hundred pound man running straight at you, intent on destroying you. With that, he left Killian to his thoughts.
He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his neck. Though it was mid-September, edging up on playoffs, the Santa Fe heat turned his uniform into a sweat box. He never would have made it playing the game if he’d had to keep his helmet on as long as the others did. But they all seemed to love it. Loved everything that came from the game. The bruises, the battle scars, the chicks…
Okay, the chicks were good.
They fucked up your world with knife-like precision.
Bad enough, he knew because the kick was botched, people would be looking at him and wanting his take on the whole fiasco. The press were already rabid with the Bobcats this season, thanks to the delightful addition of one new Jordan family member. The Prodigal Daughter. Though he was fortunate enough to keep an arm’s length away from that shit storm by playing clueless—weren’t they all clueless?—and silent as a monk.
When he ran out, did his job and came back, nobody expressed any interest in seeing him. Which, frankly, was his dream come true. No reporters asking “What was it like to kick a ball through a goal?” No post-game analysis with the press.
When he missed, or something went wrong, especially in a high-pressure game like this, their fight for the division championship, suddenly everyone remembered his name and needed to hear his take on it.
But that wasn’t the worst part. No, not by a long shot.
Grabbing the nearest water bottle, he squirt a stream of water in his mouth, swished, then spit, hoping it would remove the bad taste of what was to come.
No such luck.
Mopping his forehead, he settled back to watch the team set up their defense.
“Charlie is going to give me such hell for this.”
* * * * *
Aileen Rogers plugged one ear, holding the other flat against her iPhone. “Bobby. Bobby! I can’t do this story.”
Bobby Mundane—his unfortunate real name—sighed. “Aileen, this is what you’re good at. Getting the women to talk. You’re disarming.”
Which, Aileen knew, was Bobby Code for, You’re not a bombshell. Women see you as their new best friend, not as competition. “That word isn’t a compliment, you know.”
“I don’t have to compliment you, I pay you money to do what I say. That’s what happens when you’re the owner. Now get something on camera about the groupies, get a few interviews, and get back with the editors so we can move on to the next story.” With that, he was gone.
Aileen stuffed the phone back in her jeans pocket. She’d curse, but it was a waste of breath. The guy thrived on being disliked. Something about how it made his job as everyone’s boss easier if nobody came in expecting to be treated well.
There’s a boost of morale if ever she’d heard one.
She picked her camera back up, checked the view through the lens, and nearly dropped the thing when the first shrill scream sounded. Another joined it, then another until the roughly two dozen women were all bouncing around on their high heels and attempting to out-shriek each other. Aileen captured a few moments of the groupie hysteria before she saw the first Bobcat player emerge from the side door.
Man, this felt creepy. It was bad enough she’d been forced to sit back by the players’ parking lot to get a good spot to talk with groupies about what made them tick—hint: not brain cells—but filming the men for a fluff piece about women who wanted to slip between their sheets, when she’d rather be interviewing them about the game they just played in the press room, felt like a very small step above paparazzi behavior.
After another few moments, Aileen gave up and tossed the small camera in her bag. She shuffled slowly through the jumping women, trying to reach one of the guys—any of them, honestly—to get a quote about the game. With her iPhone in her hand, recording app running, she called a few questions to the linemen as they walked past. But they largely ignored her, choosing instead to give attention to the women whose breasts were on display like pastries in a bakery window.
Trey Owens walked by, shuffled through the throng by security. He didn’t speak to anyone, groupie or otherwise, and quickly disappeared into the parking lot. So, at least she knew he wasn’t going to be featured in her groupie piece.
Every time she managed to get close to one of the players, she got an elbow in the head, or stepped on. The price of being barely five feet, nobody seemed to notice you when they almost squashed you. It was worse than a mosh pit.
Accepting defeat, Aileen took a step back and did her best to regroup. She’d wait, give the girls time to recover after the players had left, then ask a few questions to round out the footage she already had and wrap up her groupie piece.
And Bobby would just have to be satisfied with that.
As she leaned against a pole, she noticed one player walk out behind two others, sliding almost unnoticed by the other women. Killian Reeves, the kicker, and the unfortunate man to get blindsided by a tackle today. He hung back, leaning against the side of the building, as if waiting for the crowd to thin before attempting to get through. No other women approached him…in fact, one woman looked like she wanted to, then veered off course.
It was a sign. Quickly adjusting her bag over her shoulder, Aileen stepped in to stand beside him. “Hey.”
He glanced down, then away, then back down again. “Hey.”
“Killian Reeves, right?”
He raised a brow. “Fan?”
“I know my local sports.” She hitched her bag higher.
“Oh yeah?” He paused, glanced around, then crossed his arms over his chest. “I assume you were at the game, then?”
“Couldn’t get tickets.” True enough, Off Season wouldn’t foot the bill for the season pass. She couldn’t afford one on her own. Cheap-ass Bobby. “But I listened on my phone.”
“And now you’re out here.” His mink-brown hair, brushing over one eyebrow, fell a little farther to nearly cover his left eye. She itched to push it back behind his ear.
“I am.” She took a chance, then added, “Can I wait with you?”
He blinked at that. “I think you’ve got your players mixed up. You want one of them.” He pointed toward the players who hadn’t made a break for the parking lot. The ones who were not only allowing, but almost encouraging the touching and body-pressing and sign my jersey right over my breasts crap. “They love talking to women.”
Aileen made a face before she could catch herself. “I’ll pass, thanks.”
He started walking toward the opening of the parking lot. If he walked in there, she couldn’t follow. Strict No Trespassing rule, and she didn’t want to feel what it was like to be tackled by a security officer.
“Girls like you don’t wait out here,” he said, surprising her.
“Girls like…” She glanced down at her simple black V-neck shirt, jeans and Converse shoes. Was that an insult or a compliment? “I’m not sure how to take that.”
“Take it however you want.” He paused just before walking through the gate. Other girls were still hanging off the massive biceps of other players who had stopped to chat, but nobody approached them. Odd, since Killian was wide open. Why?
“Did you have something you wanted me to sign?”
“Oh, uh, no.” She was wasting her one opportunity. Aileen fought for something—anything—then blurted out, “What the hell happened when you got hit?”
His annoyed frown turned into a scowl. “You know, you might be the worst groupie I’ve ever seen. You’re supposed to make the guys feel like gods, not knock them down off the pedestal.”
“I’m not a groupie, I’m a reporter.” Her chest swelled a little at the title, even if it did come with the less-than-distinguished employment. She looked down into her bag for her press credentials, then glanced back up to find him already walking away. “Wait! Can I get a comment on the game?”
He shot her a sarcastic salute, then said, “I don’t talk to reporters.” And walked through the security gates, out of reach.
“Barking up the wrong tree there, sweetheart.”
She turned and nearly ran into a boob. Damn being short, once again. Craning her neck, she looked up at the woman with teased blonde hair and a number sixteen jersey stretched so tight over her breasts the material might split at any moment. “What tree?”
The woman laughed and slung an arm around Aileen’s shoulders, hunching over a little to do so. “Kicker Killian. He doesn’t talk to us. Like, ever.”
“Us…oh. Right.” They thought she was a groupie, too. Was she giving off a desperate vibe she was unaware of? “Why is that, anyway?”
“Well, some of the girls hypothesize he’s testy about his testes.” When Aileen blinked, confused, she laughed harder. “They think he’s got a small package in his cup, to go with his small stature.”
“That’s a small stature?” The man had to be five foot ten, maybe a hundred and seventy pounds.
“Maybe not to you, little thing, but compared to the rest of the prime beef he plays with…yeah. I’m Meg, by the way.” She escorted Aileen over to a pack of women who must have given up the ghost and accepted defeat on the man-hunt for the day. “This is Tricia, Sarah, and Eve.”
The women all gave her a little wave. Aileen smiled.
Meg gave her a squeeze. “Stick with us, honey. We’ll guide you to the more…shall we say, willing players.”
“Oh, I don’t—”
“I don’t need a willing man. I just like to touch the muscles.” Eve—she thought it was Eve—licked her lips. “One quick touch lasts me through the week.”
“Her husband’s a toothpick,” Meg whispered none-too-softly. Eve shrugged. “We’re going for drinks. Join?”
Aileen had to laugh. These women were more fun than she’d mentally given them credit for. Suddenly, her assignment didn’t seem so pathetic. “Sure. And actually, I have some questions…”