Romancing the Running Back (Santa Fe Bobcats #4)


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They’re not on the same page in the playbook…

When Anya Fisher is asked to be the maid of honor in her best friend’s wedding, she jumps at the chance to go to Santa Fe. There’s nothing left for her in Atlanta—except a bitter and controlling almost-ex husband. Starting over as an online personal shopper is challenging, but not as much as having to plan wedding festivities with uptight groomsman Josiah Walker…

As a Santa Fe Bobcats running back, Josiah wants to make his mark on the field, not on the earth. A serious conservationist, he’s all about saving energy. So why is he wasting so much on the flighty fashionista in his best friend’s wedding? One kiss leads to another—and more. But when Josiah discovers that Anya has just as much substance as style, their harmless little fling may go into overtime…

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Excerpt

Anastasia Fisher hefted another suitcase from her best friend Cassie’s SUV with a grunt. The massive case landed against her hip, and she groaned in pain.

“If you tell me you brought an entire suitcase of nothing but shoes, I will never stop laughing at you,” Cassie said as she wheeled the suitcase she’d claimed—the light one—in front of her and up the stairs of the home she now lived in with her fiancé, Trey Owens.

“No, it’s not just a suitcase full of shoes. There are also accessories in here,” Anya retorted.

“For a one week visit? God, Anya.” Taking a quick break, Cassie let the suitcase rest at the bottom of the first porch step. Anya wheeled up behind her and set her own suitcase on four feet.

“Did Trey get a bicycle?” Anya wondered, looking at the bike leaning up against the side of the porch railing. From her eyes, it looked like a pretty serious one, not something you’d buy at Target for seventy-five bucks to cruise the neighborhood. “Seems like an odd hobby to suddenly take up. Doesn’t he have enough going on, with the upcoming season and wedding prep and all that?”

“Wedding prep has been thrown completely into my lap, unfortunately. Being the nerd of the relationship, he knew I would love making lists and checking things off. He failed to realize that the aesthetic portion of the event would suffer greatly with me in charge. Not to mention my sometimes-ill-advised desire to go a little crazy when I’m stressed.”

“Which is why you brought in the ringer…namely, me.” Anya beamed at her. “Cass, have I ever let you walk out the door looking like an idiot when it was in my power to change that?”

“Nope.”

“Have I ever willingly let you do something crazy if I could persuade you otherwise?”

Cassie grinned. “You do your best to rein me in.”

“Then trust me. Your wedding will be gorgeous, along with proclaiming your and Trey’s special personalities.”

Cassie raised a brow. “Special personalities?”

“Aw, sweetie.” Anya rubbed her arm. “Of course you’re special.”

“Shut up. And it’s not Trey’s bike, anyway. It’s Josiah’s. He must have come over to hang out while I was gone.”

“Josiah? As in his teammate, Josiah?” she wondered as she followed Cassie up the steps, lugging the suitcase up each one with a thud. She was so not a football person, but she’d caught pieces here and there of Cassie’s talk about the men she’d grown to love like brothers. “If you’re going to tell me there are two able-bodied football players in there who didn’t come help us with these suitcases, I’m going to kick your knee out from under you.”

“You wouldn’t. Your aim sucks. And they’re not ignoring us. My guess is they’re watching practice film.” As she opened the front door, the sounds of…something filled Anya’s ears. “Yup. That’s practice footage.”

“How can you tell?” Anya called out, following Cassie inside and through the foyer to the kitchen.

“Too much time spent with my dad, and Trey, in a very short period of time. I’m surrounded. Yup, there they are.” She paused as she pointed out Trey—whom Anya had met once before—sitting on the couch alongside a lanky man wearing a backwards cap and shaggy hair. Both men were engrossed in the television, watching and making caveman-esque sounds with every bone-jarring hit that came on screen.

Anya winced. Football was so very much not her thing. After having met Trey and his friend, and teammate, Stephen a year ago, she’d tried watching a few games. It hadn’t improved much. She’d given up.

“Hello?” Cassie called out, winking at Anya. Anya simply stood back with her luggage. “Hello?”

Neither man turned around. The volume was too high, and they watched as someone on screen wearing a Bobcats polo shirt and a navy visor stepped up and started yelling at one of the players. He grabbed the man’s face mask and screamed something about holding his position. It looked rude, and more than a little scary.

Cassie walked up to the back of the couch, reached around Trey and grabbed the remote, muting the sound. “Hello!”

“Whoa!” Trey grabbed for the remote, but Cassie danced out of the way. “Okay, at least pause it, please.”

“You gonna to act like a polite human being and greet our guest?”

“Our gu—Anya. Right.” He flushed a little as he caught sight of her from the side. The man was seriously gorgeous—even wearing his fake geeky glasses from the night he’d met Cassie—and the flush only gave him a charming appeal. “Anya, I’m really sorry. I forgot you were coming in today. Josiah and I were just watching some practice footage.”

“Of course. No problem.” She stood awkwardly. This was the man her best friend in the world loved, and would be marrying in less than a year. But to her, he was still all but a stranger. Cassie was the outgoing one. Anya liked people, but struggled with strangers. “Thank you for having me.”

“Hey, Cassie’s maid of honor? No problem. She told me you were the only one she could consider dress shopping with.” Clearly not struggling the way she was, Trey came over to give her a hug. She forced herself to relax and lean into it, smiling when Cassie gave her a thumbs up over her fiancé’s shoulder.

Anya gave her one back, along with a weak smile.

“So, do you need help carrying in anything from the car?”

“Nice timing, lover man.” Cassie grabbed a fistful of his shirt and yanked him down for a wet smooch. “But we brought them in.”

“Them?” Trey looked between them, and she saw him counting suitcases. “Four?”

“One was a carry on,” Anya said defensively.

“That’s a lot of luggage for a visit.” The other man unfolded his lanky frame and walked over to stand beside Trey. His hair, a light brown, sprouted in unkempt tufts from under the backwards baseball hat he wore. His eyes were hazel, she thought, though they seemed to change depending which direction the light hit them. His t-shirt was clean but worn, as were his jeans. And he wore running shoes that looked like they’d seen better days.

“Anya, this is Josiah. He’s also on the team with Trey and Stephen,” Cassie explained.

“How do you do?” He extended a hand and gave her an easy-going smile. One of his incisors was crooked. It was charming in its imperfection. Coming from her arena, perfection was achieved at all costs. That little hint of normalcy made her like him for some reason. “I hear you’re the maid of honor.”

“Guilty. Ah, where should I put these?”

“We’ll carry them up, since you did the first part. Josiah, help me out?” Trey grabbed the suitcase Cassie held, along with the garment bag slung over it.

“Let me get those.” Josiah came over and reached for the handle just as she did, bumping his head into hers. His cap tumbled to the tile floor as he rubbed at his head.

“Sorry, sorry.” Mortifying. She’d just concussed a professional football player. Could the Bobcats sue her for that?

“No, it’s my bad.” Scooping up the hat, he settled it back on his head. “So, what’s in all these bags?”

“Shoes, accessories, that sort of thing.” When he gave her a blank look, she shrugged. “It’s my job. My, well, life, I guess. I’m a fashion consultant. Or, if you want to be less technical, personal shopper.”

“Can one be technical about shopping?” he wondered, his smile cooling a little.

“You can be technical about anything, really.” Why was he staring at her like she’d grown two heads? “It’s a job, and I like it.”

“Uh huh.” He stood at the base of the stairs while Trey walked back down empty-handed.

“First door on the left, man. Thanks.”

“Sure thing. Wouldn’t want these shoes to be misplaced.”

Was it her imagination, or had that been a deliberate put-down? No, she was travel-weary. That’s all it was. He’d been perfectly polite before. She wandered back to the kitchen and twisted her thick braid off her neck. Maybe she should start looking into pinning it up into a bun to keep it from smothering her. “Is it always this hot?”

Cassie grinned and reached into the fridge for a glass pitcher of water, then into a cabinet for a few tumblers to fill. “You bet. Drink up, because being dehydrated only makes it worse.”

“Trey, I’m taking off,” Josiah said, coming back into the kitchen. “Since I rode, it’ll take me awhile to get home. I hate biking in the dark.” He grabbed his keys and wallet off the kitchen counter, then—surprisingly—a bike helmet Anya hadn’t noticed before.

“So, you’re a big biker?”

“I’m big on getting wherever I can without using a car.” He swung the helmet from the strap a little. “I don’t like waste. Like, I don’t know, a dozen pairs of shoes when one will do.”

The way he watched her told her exactly the problem that had cooled his opinion of her. She was a waste. Or at least, her career and her love of fashion was.

Cassie leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Have a good ride, let us know when you get back. Be careful.”

“Always, beautiful. See ya, Trey.”

Trey shot a hand up from the couch in a goodbye wave.

“Nice to meet you, maid of honor,” he said simply, heading for the front door.

She had the most bizarre feeling again. The one that said he’d cut her down, but in an invisible way she’d never notice. What was clear was that he considered her frivolous.

What did it matter? He was Trey’s friend, not Cassie’s. Other than a few events here or there, she’d never really have to worry about dealing with Josiah again.

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Josiah Walker pulled into his apartment and walked his bike up the stairs. Eventually, he needed to look into getting a house. It just made financial sense, plus the amount of work he could do to it to make it more efficient would trump the inconvenience of being an owner rather than a renter. But for now, his semi-studio apartment sufficed.

His friends joked about the bike. The fans found it an amusing quirk. The media thought it was novel.

It was just a damn bike. But it was also a conversation starter to get people going about conservation. So he didn’t mind, in general, when someone asked or joked about his preferred mode of travel.

Not that he was an idiot. He believed in being practical. Lugging the gear around he needed for practice some days wasn’t going to cut it on his street bike. So he had a hybrid SUV. Maybe he would have gotten better gas mileage with a smart car, but he’d found the SUV for a song, and believed in being conservative with his money as much as natural resources. Plus, just imagining piling his friends—huge football players—into a tiny smart car made him think of a circus clown car. Pass.

Frivolous, to his way of thinking, was different than being practical. Frivolous was bringing four freaking suitcases for a one-week visit. Who did that? Princesses and other high maintenance folk.

He pulled out his canteen from his pack and headed to his fridge to fill it up from the filter pitcher.

The maid of honor—Anya—couldn’t be more different than Cassie. Cassie was bright, nearly genius level with computers. She was a geek with heart and sass. She wore funny, nerdy t-shirts with sayings he didn’t always understand and listened genuinely when he went off on a tangent about making solar panels available to the masses.

Anya looked like she’d rather club him with a sandal than hear ten seconds about something that didn’t pertain to her, or clothing and buttons.

Maybe he was judging her too harshly. Josiah sank down on his couch and let his feet land on the coffee table—a Goodwill find because who cared what happened to it? He hated when people judged him for being a dumb jock, despite the evidence to the contrary. He should probably not write her off. Cassie was cool, and she loved Anya. There had to be more to the chick than what earrings went with which top.

It really didn’t matter anyway. She was here for a week stay to do what she did best—shop. Technical personal shopper. Then she’d come back for the wedding, and it wouldn’t matter. He had a season to prep for, a wedding to help his best friend survive, and Stephen to watch out for relapsing. His plate was full already.

It didn’t ease his mind that later that night, her face drifted in and out of his half-conscious dreams.

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