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Julie Spencer could think of a dozen things she would rather be doing than watching the Super Bowl. Even scrubbing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees was starting to sound pretty good. But since her work as an image consultant rarely ended at 5 p.m. even on the weekend, she was sitting next to an important new client at a Super Bowl party, holding a drink she didn't want, feigning interest in a game she didn't like.
If only she didn't have to watch him play. Ty Calhoun was one of the world's greatest quarterbacks. He was also one of the world's biggest jerks.
Even on TV, Ty was too beautiful, too sexy. His chocolate brown eyes smoldered. His biceps beckoned. The slight wave at the end of his midnight black hair enticed a woman to reach out and run her fingers through it to see if it was as soft as it looked.
Thank God the game was almost over. Only eight more seconds, and then she could say her good-byes.
Her client, who had been narrating the game, jabbed her ribs with his elbow to get her attention. "An entire season is hanging on this play. The quarterback has to throw if he wants to win."
Julie nodded politely and focused on the huge plasma TV. All at once the field was a blur of movement. She could barely make out one player from the next.
"The defense is all over his receivers!" Her client was up off the couch, unable to contain his excitement. "If one of those linebackers gets through, it's all over for the Outlaws!"
After what Ty had done to her, he didn't deserve her concern. Still, a foolish part of her wanted him to do the impossible, to make the touchdown and be the hero.
"Oh man, a seam must have opened up! Ty's making a break for the goal line!"
This guy should just relax. Though Ty sucked at relationships, he was brilliant on the football field. He'd pull this play off.
Then an enormous player from the other team hit Ty hard on his right side. His knees buckled, but still, he moved forward. A hundred thousand fans in the stadium were losing their minds, and everyone at her client's party was jumping out of their seats, screaming and cursing at the TV.
Julie fought the urge to cover her eyes as Ty started to fall to the ground. Part of her -- a highly irrational piece of her heart -- couldn't stand to watch him fail just short of victory.
"He couldn't possibly..." whispered her client. "Oh Lord -- he is!"
Still holding the ball, Ty thrust it forward with every muscle in his body -- and the tip of the ball broke the goal line just as he hit the ground.
Ty Calhoun, the man she'd been stupid enough to give her virginity and her heart to ten years ago, had just won the Super Bowl.
Ty's teammates crushed him between them in a wild group hug, then lifted him onto their shoulders in celebration.
Moments like this were what he lived for. The screaming fans, hot babes whipping off their bras and throwing them onto the field. All his life, Ty had wanted to be a star, a hero. Now, with his first Super Bowl win, he was. And no one could ever take it away from him.
Someone sprayed champagne at him, and as he wiped it out of his eyes with the back of his hand, a flash of blond hair and lush curves in the stands seized his attention.
His heart pounded hard, nearly as fast as it had when he was reaching for the goal line. Was he seeing things? After all these years, had she decided to forgive him?
The woman pushed her hair back from her face and his heart sank. It wasn't Julie. Of course it wasn't. Ty silently cursed himself for being a pathetic idiot.
After all this time, he shouldn't still be thinking about her. About the one incredible night they'd spent together in high school.
Those twelve hours were the only time they'd ever spoken, ever kissed, ever touched. Yet she was still inside his head, and it drove him crazy. All of the supermodels and Playboy Bunnies that had slid in and out of his sheets should have replaced her. And some nights, if their moves were impressive enough, he convinced himself that they had.
But today was different.
Someone poured a fresh bottle of bubbly over his head and he played his part, laughing and high-fiving his coach. He winked at the cameraman, knowing that his face was filling every big screen in the stadium, driving women wild. Was Julie at a Super Bowl party somewhere, celebrating the Outlaws' win? Had she seen his game-winning touchdown? Had she been impressed?
Enough! This was the best day of his life, and he was going to forget about Julie, soak it up, and let the world worship him.
A reporter shoved a microphone into his face just as security held back a disheveled man who was trying to run onto the field. The man was weeping and looked like he hadn't bathed in a week or changed his clothes in far longer.
The months of rehab Ty had forced his father into over the years hadn't amounted to shit. Ty knew what was coming. What always came in moments like these.
"I'm his father!" the man wailed at the guards. "I taught him everything he knows."
No, Ty thought, I figured out how to be a goddamned football hero in spite of you.
Fuck the past. He had his friends, endless gorgeous women, and more money than he could spend. He had just won the Super Bowl, and he was going to celebrate.
Whether he felt like it or not.
Five months later, Ty's cell phone woke him up far too early. He ignored it, but whoever was on the other end was relentless, calling back every thirty seconds. He reached out, opened one eye, and looked at the caller ID screen.
Outlaw management. What the hell?
During the off-season, no one interrupted an Outlaw before noon. Certainly not before 8 a.m. These guys paid his bills, but he was the one filling the seats, not some guys in suits. Great players meant great TV, which meant everything to the ad men. The Outlaws' general manager, Sean, should be kissing Ty's ass right now, not pissing him off.
Ty flicked open his phone with one finger. "Ever tried waking a bear during hibernation?"
"We need you to come into the office, Ty."
Ty considered hanging up, but there was no need to be rude. "I'll look forward to seeing you in two weeks, Sean. At training camp. Good-bye."
A thick southern accent came on the line. "You'd better get your ass in here, boy, and quick."
Who the hell was that? No one had ever talked to him like that. No one dared.
"And you are?" he asked coldly.
"Bobby Wilson, your new owner. You want to keep your job, you'll be in my office in fifty-six minutes."
Ty hung up and immediately dialed his agent, Jay. He'd made the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl, for fuck's sake! No team owner on earth would talk to his star that way. Not if he knew what was good for him.
Jay told him, "Let's humor the guy. Find out what he's up to."
Fortunately Ty was still feeling good from a big money weekend in Las Vegas, and by the time he'd showered and headed into his living room, he was almost glad he'd gotten up so early. His Seacliff estate had a birds-eye view of blue sky over the Pacific Ocean, the normal Bay Area fog nowhere to be seen. He looked out the floor to ceiling windows to the Farallon Islands and watched surfers ride the waves while kids played on the beach below.
A couple of guys were sitting in his family room banging away on the Xbox, while another was out cold across one of the suede couches.
Ty grabbed a bottle of OJ from the built in Sub-Zero fridge. "Who's winning?"
AJ mumbled something unintelligible, then jammed his thumb into a red button several times in rapid succession.
Ty liked to see his friends having a good time at his house. As a kid he couldn't bring his friends back to the trailer due to his drunk-ass dad, so he'd spent most evenings and weekends at their houses. Their mothers hadn't minded having one more mouth to feed, but he'd often felt like a leech, like he was trying to insinuate himself into everyone else's perfect family.
Now his front door was always open. The party was always on. Even at 8:30 on a fine June morning, three hotties were lying out by his pool, soaking up the rays. Too bad he had a new boss to meet, or he would have joined them.
The grandfather clock in Bobby Wilson's office chimed nine o'clock at the precise moment that Ty lowered himself into an oversize leather chair, his agent doing the same. The new head of the Outlaws was on the phone, sitting with his back to the room.
A power play, plain and simple, and not even an original one. It could have gotten Ty's back up if he'd let it, but he'd learned early on that showing emotion put you in the weakest man's shoes.
He'd never seen Sean look nervous before. James, the head offensive coach, looked squeamish too. Neither one would meet his gaze.
Ty already had a list in his head of teams who'd piss themselves at the chance to hire him. Whatever goods the new owner had on Sean and James to make them quiver in their shoes like little girls, the ball was in Ty's corner.
Bobby finally hung up the phone and slowly spun his chair away from the plate glass windows that overlooked the San Francisco Bay. "Here he is, live and in the flesh. The infamous Ty Calhoun."
Ty raised an eyebrow. "Nice to finally meet you."
Bobby Wilson was a textbook bully. Full of bluster, probably because he lacked the goods where it counted.
"You're even prettier in person." Bobby stood up and his thick belly gave way to gravity, falling over his large, shiny belt buckle.
"I had a pretty mother," Ty said, though he wouldn't have recognized her on the street if he saw her. The one picture his father had kept of her was too faded and streaked.
Bobby smiled, revealing teeth that were far too perfect. "I do like to hear a boy speak nice about his mama."
Bile churned in Ty's stomach. Anyone who paid attention to football -- or celebrity magazines -- knew Ty didn't have a mother. Or a sober father, for that matter.
"I saw you make that winning touchdown," Bobby continued, "and I said to my wife, 'Honey, that boy sure can play football. He knows how to throw that ball and run real fast and get people to buy T-shirts and hot dogs.' The wife likes her diamonds, you know, and she agreed that I should buy the team right then and there. And I was mighty pleased with my new purchase -- until I saw your picture in the Las Vegas Review-Journal yesterday."
"She was one hot stripper, wasn't she?" Ty said blandly.
Bobby Wilson's face turned almost purple.
"I know you think you can mock me, son, and I know my traditional family values don't mean squat to you, but I will not condone such behavior on any team of mine."
Ty knew the big, rich team owner expected an instant "Yes, sir." All those years of effortless bullying must have made Bobby forget how to work for it.
"You should have seen the ass on her friend," Ty said. "Foxy and Roxy come as a pair, and they're quite a handful -- but well worth it."
Bobby didn't need to know that his buddies had wanted to chat up the strippers, not him, and that he couldn't control who took a picture of him with a nearly naked woman on his lap, any more than he could control newspapers printing the shots. It was the price of being a star.
Bobby's eyelids drooped and a sneer slid onto his lips. "I'm afraid I'm speaking a little too quickly for you, pretty boy."
Ty smiled, baring his teeth at the asshole. "The slower the better," he said, mentally ranking the list of teams for Jay to call.
"We're hiring you an image consultant. You have two weeks to clean your act up, or you can get your ass off my team."
Ty laughed. "You actually think I'm going to let some PR person tail me for the next two weeks?"
Bobby looked excessively pleased. "Actually, I like to think of it as more of a prisoner-warden type relationship."
"If you'll excuse us for a moment, my client and I would like to confer outside," Jay said, intervening before Ty could reply.
Bobby's beady eyes gleamed with malice. "Take all the time you need."
Ty had spent a lifetime facing down opponents who wanted his blood, and was all easy grace and confidence as he left the office. He kept walking out the main doors, down the block to the nearest Starbucks.
"I can't believe I missed my morning coffee for that ass-wipe." Ty didn't like the thought of leaving the Outlaws and San Francisco, but it was the obvious solution to a bad owner who was going to make his life hell.
Jay nodded. "I agree with you, that guy is a major dickhead. He made some money in oil and now he thinks he can take over the hottest team in the league. But just because he's taking a conservative line with his players doesn't mean we should do something rash."
Ty raised an eyebrow. "Rash would be pulling his heart out through his throat."
Jay held up his hand. "Under other circumstances, I'd be first in line to beat the crap out of this guy."
"The Outlaws have the best chance I've seen in decades to win back-to-back Super Bowls."
Jay was talking sense. Another Super Bowl would make him a lock for the Hall of Fame.
As if he could sense Ty softening, Jay added, "Plus your friends are all here. I know how you love this city."
Unbidden, the thought She's still here popped into Ty's head. He couldn't believe that a woman he hadn't seen in more than a decade actually figured into his plans to leave.
"Besides," Jay continued, "I hear Julie Spencer is the best in the business. I'm thinking it wouldn't be too bad to have her hanging around for a few weeks."
Ty blinked hard. Julie Spencer? He knew she was an image consultant, but it had never crossed his mind that they might work together one day.
Jay drooled. "And I hear she's sizzling hot too."
They should be playing hardball with Bobby Wilson right now, but a sudden image of Julie's long, silky legs wrapped around him and her perfect breasts in his hands pushed aside all rational thought.
"Fine. I'll do it," he said, tossing his empty cup into the trash. "But she's the only image consultant I'll work with. If she won't do the job, I'm heading out of town -- permanently. Let the Outlaws know for me, will you?"
Copyright © 2008 by Bella Andre