False Start
Second Down Book 1
by Sasha Marshall
Genre: Sports Romance
 
 


Football, a kitten, and 14 dates.

Zhanna Hale

THEN

My father is a legend. Some call me football royalty, and in my hometown of Louisiana, I suppose I am. His legacy didn’t prepare me for Bryant Hudson. The quarterback. I swore I’d never date football players. Permanently. Yet Bryant had other plans.
Three dates and a handful of conversations, I handed him my heart without realizing it. But, Bryant shatters my soul. I’m left picking up the pieces. If only erasing him from my heart was as easy.


Bryant Hudson

NOW

I lost at the only game that matters. And it wasn’t even a game. It was and is my forever with Zhanna. I am the best quarterback out there. That should be enough, right? Achieving my dreams. But none of that matters without my woman beside me. When she left, she took my heart with her.
Now I’m back. To remind her of what we had. To see me—the man whose heart she owns, not the quarterback.
Our love is fate. Our lives are forever intertwined. I refuse to let a false start signal our end. I’m ready to repeat the play and show Zhanna she is my everything.






1

Present Day

 

I'M OGLING MY AQUA Man calendar and the stud on the cover photograph above my sister's blonde head while listening to her rant about the mediocre sex she's been having with a guy named Dave. Out of the blue, an old, familiar smell wafts into my office. Goosebumps erupt on the surface of my skin and heat curls in my belly. My fingers tighten around the arms of my office chair, and my toes leave imprints in the soles of my shoes. I leap to my feet, cross my office in five swift strides, and then stick my blonde head into the hall only to discover the back side of the source of the scent. I'd know that juicy ass anywhere because my hands have intimately touched it for years. 

Zina sticks her head out too to see what interrupted our conversation. "Ah, hell. What's he doing here?"

"I don't know, let's go find out," I tell her.

At the end of the hall, he takes a right toward the coach’s offices. We speed walk down the hall, pause before we turn the corner and wait to see where he goes. The door to the head coach’s office opens, and Otto Bullock steps out with a smile on his face. He loudly greets his guest by excitedly shaking his hand. Otto is my godfather and apparently a freaking traitor! The two men step through the office, so I use hand signals to indicate we should move, and Zina nods in understanding before we creep down the hall like two teenagers sneaking out for the night.

Zina is my sister and partner in crime. We're only eleven months apart, so we're pretty close… and nosey, which is how we end up leaning against the door to Head Coach Otto Bullock's office with our ears pressed flat against the piece of wood. We're doing this because my ex-husband just walked inside said office.

I should've known to trust my gut feeling this morning when I woke and felt dread. It's no coincidence that my otherwise unexplained anxiety and his appearance are linked. The man gives me heartburn… and lots of really great orgasms. God, he always got that right, but it wasn't enough to hold me and my college sweetheart together when things got tough.

Except… the sex. Lord. Have. Mercy. He is a god in the sack, and he uses his sexual prowess to make me do stupid things like sleep with him anytime we're in the same city. And that happens a good bit because he stalks me, and somehow always knows where I am. Swear to Jesus, the man is tenacious.

It's common knowledge that the New Orleans Voodoo football team has a critical quarterback issue at the moment–our last quarterback retired, and the backup QB asked to be traded to the North Carolina. It doesn't escape me that my ex is a quarterback, and he has a successful career in Los Angeles with the Spartans. He's a free agent this year, but the city loves him, and at age 28, he's still performing at the top. He took his team to the Superbowl last season against New England. They lost, but he still made it there and that's no easy feat in the NFL. There's no reason for him to leave his team.

"Stop breathing so loud," I whisper to Zina. Every time I think I can make out what the two male voices are saying, Zina starts breathing like Darth Vader.

"They said your name!" she whisper-yells.

"Shhh, I can't hear!" I whisper-shout back.

A deep male voice sneaks up and scares the crap out of me and makes my sister scream in terror. Shit. Our cover is blown now. "Who unleashed the Hell sisters?" Assistant Coach Jed Jones asks. He flinches every time he sees us together, because we’re known for giving all the guys hell. Just last year, we crashed his wedding and replaced all the expensive wine with blackberry moonshine. I've never seen so many people vomit in formal attire. How were we to know the guests couldn't handle their liquor? Surprisingly, Jed wasn't upset because he said it was the only time he's actually liked his new mother-in-law. Apparently, she's a frisky cougar on the dance floor when she gets her shine on.

Before I can back away from the office door, it's wrenched open, and I fall forward into the hairiest chest I've ever seen peeking through an unbuttoned polo. I get a mouthful of Coach Otto's gray strands and cough them back out. Crap. I'm going to have to pick these off my tongue individually. "Hey, Coach," I say and smile, then spit out a few more hairs. I try my best to act casual and must epically fail because Coach is frowning at me like I've lost my mind. A hair tickles the back of my throat and makes me gag. Ugh.

"Zhanna," Coach says and arches a curious brow. "Are you alright?"

Other than choking to death on his fur, just freaking swell. "Yes, sir."

He uses his thumb to point behind him where my ex sits. "I guess you want to talk to this guy." Not particularly. "Come on in so we can chat."

I follow him through the door and reach up to pluck a hair from between my front teeth. Gross. I'm scheduling a dentist appointment just as soon as I get out of this little pow wow.

Bryant is seated on the left side of the massive office on a large, tufted leather couch that looks like it'd be a dream to sleep on. While Coach turns around and shuts the door, I notice that Bryant is wearing a Voodoo team polo in the beautiful black and gold colors, so I flip him the bird to let him know how I feel about that. He leans that gorgeous head of his back and a deep, hearty laugh escapes him. It's a good laugh that makes me remember the good times between us, and I almost laugh with him until I remember I don't like him. I cut that shit out.

Pale green eyes meet my hazels, and my heart comes to a skittering halt. I momentarily forget how to breathe. He is quite the work of art standing at 6'5 and looking like every girl's wet dream. He weighs in at 240 pounds with a tight, muscular body covered in black ink that makes him appear menacing. His long chocolate colored hair with caramel sun streaks is pulled back into a man bun. If he weren't dressed in gray dress slacks that showcase an ass you can pop a quarter off and the polo that shows off his corded arms, he would look like he just rolled his gorgeous ass out of bed. The week old beard rounds out the complete package of one sexy beast.

Finally, he stands like a gentleman.  "Zhanna, you're as beautiful as ever." He leans in to hug me and lays a sweet kiss on my forehead, and then he whispers, "I miss you."

He's been telling me that every time he's seen me for the past two years. He didn't seem to miss me when his dick was in another woman’s mouth. I can only assume that he's trying to get into my panties, which isn't hard to do. I’m ashamed. I pull out of the embrace as soon as it's acceptable, and smooth my pencil skirt out before I take a seat on the couch beside him. I cross my legs and wait for Coach to take a seat behind his desk.

"I'm going to be frank with you, sweetheart," Coach begins. "I know you and Hudson have history, but we need him on this team just like we need you on the team taking care of and rehabbing the injured. I'm hoping the two of you will get along fine by being the consummate professionals I know you to be." We'll get along just fine alright–like a house on fire. "Zhanna, you and Zina have a special place in my heart. You may not see the intelligence of my decision to trade for your husband, but I made the same decision your dad would've made if he were still head coach."

"Ex-husband," I gently remind him.

He's got to go and bring up my dad, may his soul rest in peace. And he's right. When my dad was head coach of the Voodoo, he would've fought over the chance for Bryant to play for him. He loved a shotgun quarterback. And given the predicament the team is in now, I would also make the same decision. It doesn't mean I have to like it one bit.

“So,” I continue, “what you’re saying is Bryant is our new quarterback?”

“Yes, baby,” Bryant answers.

I pat him on the leg in a condescending manner. “Shhh, the adults are talking.”

Coach arches a brow at my rudeness. “Yes,” he says, “Bryant is our new starting quarterback.”

“Is the ink dry?” I ask.

Bryant blows out a breath of exasperation. “Christ, woman.”

Coach humors me. “Yes.”

I huff. “Did you forget that I was arrested and sent to jail for trying to murder him?” True story. Real news. I went to jail for committing assault and battery, and destruction of private property. I was committing domestic abuse and destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars of windows because I caught Bryant with his pants down. My heart was crushed, shattered into a million pieces. When Bryant answered the door drunk, he was a motley of colors ranging from red welts to already forming blue bruises. I'm quite the artist. Anyhow, thank God for high-priced attorneys, right?

Coach’s lip twitches at that, but he does a good job of hiding his smile. “I bailed you out of jail.”

“Yes, you did! Do you think they’ll drop the charges next time?”

“You’re my witness if she knocks me off,” Bryant tells him.

“Ha!” I laugh. “They’d never find your body!” Coach is looking at me with frustration knitted in his brows, so I raise my hand to see if it’s still my turn to talk. He rubs the space between his eyes, and Bryant snorts. “Sir, may I borrow a pen and piece of paper?” He hands me the two items and I write out a lovely little note and hand it back to him.

 

To whomever it may concern:

 

I quit. 

 

Sincerely, 

 

Zhanna Hale

 

“Alright, smart-ass,” Coach says.

“You’re not quitting,” Bryant tells me.

I’m about to tell him what I do is none of his business anymore, but Coach interrupts before the feuding can well and truly begin. “Why don’t you two take the rest of the day and talk this out? It would be good for you to establish boundaries for working with one another. I don’t want any marital shit hindering this football team or my quarterback, and Zhanna, I need you on your toes to make sure my boys stay healthy. I need you both on top of your games. I believe in both of you, it’s why you’re here.”

When the famous Otto Bullock tells you he believes in you, it’s really something. “Yes, sir,” we say in unison.

“Let’s go before he fires us,” Bryant says and grabs my hand, interlacing his fingers with mine.

“I already quit,” I remind him.

“See you tomorrow, Zhanna,” Coach says as I’m pulled from his office.

Zina’s standing outside, grinning when the two of us emerge hand-in-hand. “What’s up, bro?”

My ex releases my hand, picks up my little sister, and spins her around. “Hey, sis!”

Those two should’ve gotten married. They get along so much better than we do.

Zina pulls on the arm of his shirt. “What’s this shirt you’re wearing?”

“My new team’s shirt,” he proudly answers.

“Holy shit!” she yells. “You’re Voodoo now?” Then the reality of the situation dawns on her. “How in the hell are the two of you going to work together and live in the same city?”

“We’re going to be fine,” he assures her, and I’m glad someone has confidence that we won’t burn the city to the ground, because I sure don’t. While Zina and Bryant catch up, I start to sneak off to make a break for it when he reaches out and gently wraps a hand around my arm. “Not so fast, Z. You heard Coach.”

I roll my eyes. “We can make up rules in my office with Zina as mediator.”

“Nope. We’re going to the lot, you’re getting in my car, and we’re going to grab a bite to eat in public where you can’t commit another felony.”

“We’re not going anywhere. I can’t take off work, I have stuff to do. You can’t just waltz back in town and expect for me to drop everything. What are you even doing here?”

“I’m trying to win my wife back!” he shouts which causes a few people to look out of their offices.

“Shhh, keep your voice down!” I whisper.

His face grows serious as he leans down in my personal space. “Zhanna, you have two choices. You can walk to my car of your own volition, or I’m going to pick you up, carry you out there, and put you in the damn thing.”

“I’m wearing a skirt and heels,” I point out.

“Five.”

“Let’s just stay out of each other’s hair, okay?”

“Four.”

“No more sleeping together,” I tell him. 

“Three.”

“Stop it, Bryant and listen to reason!”

“Two.”

Assistant Coach Jed Jones heads in our direction again and frowns when he sees Bryant in my face. “You okay, Zhanna?”

My ex doesn’t look away from me as he tells him through gritted teeth, “She’s fine. Just stubborn as hell.”

Jed chuckles. “That’s why we call them ‘the Hell Sisters’.”

“One and a half,” Bryant continues.

I start walking back to my office.

“One,” he says, turns me around, and scoops me up before throwing me over his shoulder.

I kick and yell like a banshee, attracting all sorts of attention, and don’t you know, not one person comes to help. They just stare in awe at Bryant freaking Hudson being in their building. Since I just found out, I doubt many people know he’s already traded to our team. Meanwhile, I’m hanging upside down with all the blood rushing to my head. I actually pray a little that he won’t drop me on the hard ground.

Once we’re outside, he stops at his black M5, and opens the passenger door. He slings me over his shoulder, sets my feet to rights, and keeps me from falling over from being dizzy. “You need to go back to California.”

“I need you to listen to me, and listen to me good, Zhanna,” he says. “I’m coming for you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me until you’re wearing my ring, sleeping in my bed, and using my last name again. Wrap your mind around that, because I fucked up the first time with you. There won’t be a second.”

“In other words, you’re going to make my life a living hell until you finally realize I want nothing to do with you.”

He grins at me. “Nothing?”

Gah. Okay. I want his body, and his skills in the bedroom. “You know what I mean.” I  slide into the car, and he follows moments later.

“Oh, I know what you mean. I’m taking that to mean you want to keep our little arrangement where we fuck each other senseless every time we’re near one another.”

He makes me sound like I use him, which I totally do, but there’s an underlying sadness in his eyes that he thinks he’s hiding from me. I choose to ignore it. “Sure. We can keep that arrangement. It’s working for me, and that’s what’s important—  me and what I want for once. Don’t you think?”

“If that’s what you want,” he says, resigned to the fact that he’s probably not getting much more out of this conversation.

“That’s what I want. As a matter of fact, why don’t we go to the nearest hotel and get a round in before lunch?” I ask.

He shakes his head at me. “No, I’m not running around in hotels with you anymore. You’re my fucking wife! We both have residences that will suffice.” He pauses, looks out the front glass, and releases a sigh. “Your place or mine?”

I let the wife comment go. “Well, geez! Don’t sound so freaking excited about it!”

Bryant turns the ignition over and revs the engine before he backs out of his parking space and drives away. “We’re going to lunch,” he says five minutes later. “We’re going somewhere nice and expensive and quietly making up rules to make you feel better about this situation. We’re going to spend time together outside of the bedroom at my place.”

That gets my attention. “Did you already buy a place?”

“Bought it two months ago. Two blocks from your apartment, on Dauphine.”

"You could've bought any place you wanted in New Orleans and you bought a house two blocks from mine?"

He shrugs before he answers. “I wouldn’t want traffic to be an issue for you when you decide I’m of use.” He’s pouting, so I let him stew over there in his misery for a little while, and a little while ends up being over thirty minutes away in the heart of the French Quarter at a fancy French restaurant named Bourdon’s. At least that’s where I think we’re headed, but instead, he pulls into a drive five houses down from the eatery until he comes to an iron gate. He presses a button on his visor and the gate opens. Fancy. The area beyond the gate is only wide enough for one vehicle and at the end of it is a garage that looks newly upgraded to match the Victorian home. Once the car is parked in the garage, he gets out and I follow suit.

“I bought a home with furniture, but some of it’s hideous and the mattresses are lumpy. It would be a great help to me if you could get rid of the unwanted pieces and order furniture to replace them. You did a great job of decorating the home in L.A. Zina also mentioned that you know an interior designer.”

I have no idea when they could’ve had this conversation. “When did she say that?”

He shoots me an are you kidding me expression. “Outside of Bullock’s office.”

“Ah, I must’ve been ignoring you.”

He ignores that as we walk through the gate to a private, overgrown courtyard complete with a koi pond and dilapidated furniture. This place could use some weed killer, paint, string lights, and nice furniture. I had to clean up the shared courtyard of my apartment building when I first moved in two years ago as well. It’s nice to have a secluded place in the middle of the busy Quarter.

“So?”

“So?” I look at him with a confused look on my face.

“Do you know an interior designer or not?” he asks.

“Yes, my neighbor, Leslie. I can put in a call to him and have him meet us here if you like.”

He looks over his shoulder at me. “I think we have more important things to discuss first.”

“I thought you were taking me to a public place?” I remind him.

“We’re going to Bourdon’s, but first, we set the rules in place here. I want to change anyway. See if your friend can meet us here in a couple of hours.” He walks through a kitchen that also needs some work, and then into a den. “I’m not sure how comfortable the furniture in here is, but please have a seat and make yourself at home.”

He takes off for what I assume is the master bedroom, and I take a look around the narrow room with an original brick fireplace as the centerpiece. A large rectangular ornate mirror is hung above it. The couches are a hideous orange, but they can be recovered because they’re beautiful antique pieces. I wander into the kitchen and look at all the potential the area possesses. It’s hard not to picture myself here in these rooms, living with Bryant. When we were at LSU, he talked about playing for the Voodoo and us living in the French Quarter or the Garden District in an old mansion together. This house is big and three stories, but not a mansion by most standards. Still, this was the dream. Fast forward to today and we’re living apart in the Quarter because we’re divorced. It makes me realize just how precious and fragile love is.

“Are you ready?” he asks, and I turn to find him standing in the doorway to my right.

“Food?”

“Before we go to a restaurant where there are steak knives, I would like to try to calmly discuss your rules and work on compromises.” He looks behind me to the kitchen counter and back at me again. Then he holds a finger up to signal me to wait as he steps around me, grabs the knife block nestled against the tile backsplash, and puts it on top of the refrigerator where I can’t reach it.

I put my hands on my hips. “You’ve got jokes?”

He shoots me a boyish grin complete with those damn dimples. “I don’t want a pesky thing like my violent, untimely death to ruin my chances of getting back with you.”

"Focus, Quarterback. Rules."

"Rule number one: you should always take your clothes off when we're alone," he says.

"In your dreams. Look, the only thing I care about is my job. Please don't jeopardize it."

He grows serious. "I would never do that.”

Deep down I know he wouldn't put my career at risk, but there's a great deal I didn't think he was capable of until two years ago when I saw it with my own eyes. If someone told me the college kid who was after my heart from the moment we met eight years ago would destroy it, I would've told them they didn't know Bryant, not the sweet Bryant I met at college all those years ago.




Award-winning author Sasha Marshall, a concert photographer, toured with legendary bands such as The Allman Brothers Band. A self-proclaimed free spirit, she’s most often found outdoors, or painting a canvas, capturing a photograph, people watching, reading a book, or writing a new book. Sasha makes her home in the beautiful state of Georgia and loves to hear from readers.


 



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