Takes Two to Tackle (Santa Fe Bobcats #3)



Takes Two to Tackle.

Football player Stephen Harrison has hit rock bottom—he’s fresh out of rehab, lost too much weight to be an effective offensive lineman, and has no support system in place. The Bobcats staff suggests he get a life coach to keep him sober and get him back into playing shape, but Stephen says his girlfriend will help. Too bad he doesn’t have one…

Luckily for Stephen, he does have a housekeeper. Margaret has always dreamed of starting her own elite cleaning service, and the money Stephen offers her to play the part of girlfriend is too good to pass up. But while Mags is helping Stephen bulk up and get ready for training camp, she can’t seem to block the feelings crashing into her heart. And one night of passion will pull both of their heads out of the game…

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Excerpt

Margaret Logan managed to get the door open, slip inside, and close it behind her with her toe, all without setting the two sacks of groceries down.

That, sadly, was her first win of the day.

She blew hair out of her eyes and moved toward the kitchen, humming along with the bump music the podcast on her phone was playing via her earbuds. Normally, she preferred to watch the news when she cleaned, as it was the only time she actually had to see the rest of the world around her. But Stephen had cut off cable when he went out of town, so she’d been bringing her old, refurbished iPod with her, loaded down with podcasts that were inspirational and listening to those while she cleaned. Everything from business to finance to self-help guru motivational speakers, she had it.

Went out of town. She rolled her eyes. Mags knew exactly where he’d gone, as did almost everyone else. He was in rehab somewhere, and thank God for it. Stephen Harrison was the sweetest man, but he clearly had a problem. Even so, she wouldn’t mention it if they crossed paths while she was there. Her business was dependent on her discretion. She could keep her lips closed even with the KGB torturing her.

Stephen was due back today, she knew, since she’d spoken to Trey Owens when she ran into him the week before while he was cleaning out Stephen’s fridge and cabinets of alcohol. The man was blessed with good friends . . . and good-looking ones. She smiled a little as she set the bags of groceries on the counter.

So it wasn’t her job to do the grocery shopping. He’d done something good for his health, and he should be greeted home by some healthy food to help out with the transition.

As she hummed and put groceries away, she ticked off the items she planned to do before he got home. Since he’d been gone, she’d popped by every so often just to keep the place from going stale, dust it up and run the water and double-check that everything was okay, security-wise. Simple things. Not even half her usual cleaning load.

Then again, he’d stopped paying her when he’d “gone out of town,” so she didn’t feel too bad about half-assing the job.

She pulled a bag of celery out of the sack, turned, and screamed.

“Jesus Christ!”

There stood a man who looked sort of like Stephen Harrison, buck-ass naked, in front of her. She dropped the celery, covered her eyes with one hand and reached for her purse—which had her cell phone—with the other.

“Who are you?!”

She heard him move—away from her, it sounded like—and she tried to breathe. Did Stephen have a brother coming in from out of town? If so, what the hell was he doing, walking around his brother’s house naked? Rude much?

After digging around blindly in her bag, she managed to get her cell phone. “I’m calling the cops!”

“No, you’re not.” The phone was plucked from her hand and she heard it clink down on the island granite. “Mags.”

She blinked. Okay, that was definitely Stephen’s voice. She peeked through two fingers, saw he’d wrapped a blanket from the family room couch around his waist, and sighed. Taking a step back, she laughed, a little shaky. “Sorry. You scared me.” Then she blinked. “You’re . . . home,” she finished lamely.

Home was not the first word that came to mind. Hot was. He’d been adorable when he left. Cute, but the effects of too many beers had shown.

The beer gut was gone now, along with the hint of sadness that had followed him, which he’d always covered up with false cheer. The false cheer was gone, too. Now . . . he was a stranger.

A hot stranger. He wasn’t ripped, but he was definitely lean. Actually, maybe on second—fine, third—perusal, a bit too lean.

And she’d spent way too much time staring at his torso now. Looking up—and up—into his eyes, she caught a gleam of amusement.

“Weight Watchers,” he said simply.

That made her smile. “Yeah, right.”

They both eyed each other warily before Mags broke from her frozen spell and reached for the dropped celery. They’d always had an easy employer-employee relationship before . . . Why was she feeling so awkward now? To put something in the silence, she added, “Welcome home, by the way.”

“Thanks.” Apparently comfortable with his near nakedness, he settled on a stool to watch her put away the groceries. She waited for a moment, then shrugged and went to work.

“The lawn guys were here weekly, in case you were curious.” She loaded the veggies in the crisper and started on the next shelf up.

“Applesauce?” Stephen’s voice was full of disbelief as she set the apparently offensive food item in the fridge. “I’m thirty-one, not three.”

“Applesauce—no sugar added—is a good snack.” She pulled a cup from the crate and tossed it to him. He caught it one-handed in a palm the size of a baseball mitt. The rest of him had shrunk . . . his hands had not. “Snack time.”

He raised a brow but leaned over the island and reached into a drawer. Then his hand swept around, knocking a few dish towels to the ground. “What the . . .”

“So, funny story.” Mags reached into the drawer containing the silverware and slid a spoon toward him. “Remember how I kept telling you your kitchen was a disorganized wreck?”

He scowled as he ripped open the foil top of his applesauce, a bit more forcefully than necessary. “I remember telling you I didn’t care.”

She ignored that and put some apples in a shallow wooden bowl by the never-used KitchenAid mixer. “And remember me begging you to let me reorganize the drawers and cabinets?”

Stephen pulled the spoon from his mouth and pointed it at her. “I remember saying no.”

“Since you weren’t here, I decided to do you a favor and organize your house for you.”

When he just stared at her, she added, “You’re welcome.” With that, she pulled her hair into a knot, tossed the cloth bags in the hallway by her purse, and reached under the sink for the cleaning supplies.

“I didn’t pay you.”

“I know.” She sprayed down the granite and got to wiping.

“Why did you keep coming if I didn’t pay you? I thought the agency would stop sending you.”

She would have preferred the news, but company was a nice second place while she cleaned. “Being able to organize your house was payment enough.”

“So it was you who moved my linen closet around, leaving me towel-less after my shower.”

She nodded and wiped.

“And why I couldn’t find any boxers in my drawer before coming downstairs.”

“Is that why you came down naked?” She hid a laugh by ducking down to wipe the floor where she’d dropped the celery. He just grunted. “Yes, guilty. I rearranged your drawers and closet.”

“I thought it was the guys playing a prank or something.”

That brought her up short. “That reminds me. Why did they tell me you were coming home late tonight? And if you’re here, why aren’t they? Why would they make you spend your first night home from rehab on your own? What’s wrong with them?”

“Whoa, easy.” He held out one hand, used the other to toss the applesauce cup into the trash can across the room. “Little harsh on my friends, aren’t you?”

“Why aren’t you more harsh?” She paused by the island, waited a beat, then made a shooing motion. He picked up his forearms so she could wipe down where he’d had his snack.

“I lied and told them I was coming home today, and took a cab by myself yesterday. And yes, they found out anyway, showed up last night, and spent the night here. I kicked them out early this morning so I could get ready and make it to my meeting later. Plus . . .” He ran a hand through his hair, then just draped himself over the island. She bit back a sarcastic comment about having just wiped it down. “I needed some quiet. Real quiet, not that manufactured zen yourself out junk in rehab. You know?”

She did know, and could sympathize. “Fine, then.” He looked so lost, she wanted to perk him up a little by annoying him. “I also rearranged the furniture in your small guest room.”

“What the hell for?”

“Funsies. So how’s the whole sobriety thing going for ya?”

He blinked, thrown off. “You don’t dance around it, do you?”

“Should I?” Feeling more cheerful now, she tossed the rag in the washrag bin and put the cleaning solution under the sink.

“No. God, no.” He ran a hand over his face and huffed, sitting back up again. The edge of the counter had imprinted a line into his skin. “I just assumed people would be all delicate about it, not wanting to mention rehab.”

“What, like it’s Voldemort?”

That made him smile. “Basically.”

“I’m not very tactful. But you know that, since we’ve had numerous arguments about how stupidly your pantry is arranged.”

“It’s not stupid,” he defended, pointlessly, in her opinion. “I put the stuff I eat most at eye level. That’s common sense. And aren’t you worried one of these days I’m gonna get fed up with your backtalk and fire you?”

“Nope. I’m too good at my job. You’d be an idiot to lose me.”

He grumbled, but she caught the corner of his mouth twitching. As he stood, he looked around the kitchen. “Thanks for the groceries. I’ll get your automatic payments set back up. Leave the receipt and I’ll write you a check before I go for those.”

She hadn’t planned on it. Buying the groceries—the few items she had gotten—was like bringing a casserole to someone who was sick. Just something you did.

He left the room without a backward glance, hitching the blanket up a little as he walked.

Too bad it didn’t just fall to the floor.

Okay, maybe that was uncharitable to think. The guy wasn’t a side of meat on a plate. He was a good man who had always paid her fairly and treated her with respect—unlike so many other clients over the years. He had a long road ahead of him, but he was tougher than others gave him credit for, even off the field.

She grinned and picked up her cleaning caddy fully of polish, rags, and wipes. Time to earn that paycheck.

 

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