When her relationship goes up in flames, Holly Funchess jumps straight back into the heat—by becoming a firefighter. Running as far away from her past as she can, Holly trains hard and lands a job with a small San Diego firehouse. With everything to prove, she has no problem putting her love life on the back burner. But where there’s smoke…
A former football player with a string of failed relationships behind him, Chase DeMarco has put his all into his Coast Guard career and the youth football team he coaches. He’s not about to let anyone distract him—especially Holly, the woman at his gym who seems to relish getting under his skin. But when their skirmishes turn into full-contact workouts—and they face off against the dangers of their jobs—Chase and Holly must choose between letting the clock run down or playing to win…
“Readers can’t help but root for them to fall in love.” –RT Book Reviews
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A Game On Romance
By Desiree Holt
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Desiree Holt
All rights reserved.
Chase DeMarco parked his SUV in front of Pump It Up and grabbed his gym bag from the backseat. Resigned, he climbed out and pressed his key fob to lock the doors, taking in the large two-story building in front of him. It was crazy to come to this gym — a study in concrete, steel, and glass, definitely not his kind of place — instead of his regular gym. But avoiding his friends tonight was more important than his comfort level, and he desperately wanted a workout after a long day at sea. Swallowing a sigh, he jogged up the sidewalk to the entrance.
Just as he reached the doors, his cell phone rang. For a long moment, he hesitated, not sure if he wanted to answer. He had a feeling he knew who it was, and he wasn't in the mood for the conversation. As the ringtone stopped, he pulled his phone from his pocket and looked at the readout. Yup. Right on the money.
As usual, John "Johnny-On-The-Spot" McFarland had lousy timing, always in Chase's face when Chase least wanted him around. He and John had been solid friends for sixteen years — four at the Academy and twelve in the Coast Guard. They had come up through the ranks together, and now John served on the patrol boat that Chase commanded. The phone rang for a second time. Persistent ass. Would John not leave him alone? When the phone rang yet a third time, Chase gave a sigh and tapped the screen to accept the call.
"Hey, bud." John's voice rumbled through the connection. "Where are you? Don't tell me you're standing us up tonight. After we sweat for an hour, we're all taking Mancini out to get him drunk and celebrate his engagement. We're waiting for you."
Waiting for him. Great. Unless someone's schedule made it impossible, Chase and three of his friends met at the Coast Guard's fitness center every night to work out. They'd been doing it since they'd all arrived at the San Diego facility. Sometimes they went out afterward, sometimes not. But it was a comfortable habit and he enjoyed it. Except for tonight. He'd told John he wouldn't be there, given him a lame excuse. He should have known his friend wouldn't let him off the hook that easily.
He just hated shit like this. It wasn't just celebrating his friend's engagement that left a sour taste in his mouth. It was the fact that every time one of his friends got hooked up, they wanted to find someone for him. Why was it when two people coupled up they wanted the same thing for everyone else? Couldn't they see he was happy just the way he was? That he did just fine flying solo? He told them often enough. Damn John — and everyone else — for refusing to believe it.
He swam on the surface of the dating pool, never sticking with any one female too long. He always broke it off before there was a chance for someone to get hurt.
He sighed again. "Sorry, buddy. Remember I told you I had a conflict? Text me where you guys end up. If I can do it, I'll catch up with you later."
There was a long silence.
"Jesus, Chase. Enough already. Get your ass in gear for later. I'll text you where to meet." John paused. "Don't let us down," he warned.
Chase would have answered him, but he was listening to dead air.
His life in the Guard was who and what he was, a man to be respected and admired. It was his anchor in life. Women came and went, but the Guard was always there, steadfast and loyal.
The days at sea were exhilarating, the work he did soul satisfying. Validating.
Validation, the thing he craved the most. It was a counterbalance to the words that never left his head.
"It isn't you, Chase. I just can't stay in this house any more, not even for you. Be good for your dad." His mother's voice seemed permanently lodged in his brain.
Along with that of his high school sweetheart. "Come on. Unbend a little. We're celebrating graduation, right?"
And Cheryl, the last straw for him. "We were just having a little fun. Why are you such a stick in the mud?"
He'd wanted to ask her if she'd ever heard of a thing called fidelity, but it seemed the women he chose in his life either hadn't heard of the word or didn't pay much attention to it.
The voices played in his head, echoing down through the years. Only his achievements in the Guard kept them locked away.
John wasn't right in his assessment, though. Chase was a commander in the United States Coast Guard. He wore his uniforms and his designation proudly. It defined him. No woman would ever be able to compete with that or shake his confidence again.
No relationships. Ever. And he was fine with it, at last.
But damn. Now he felt guilty for avoiding his friends tonight. Why couldn't this be a practice night for the youth-league football team he coached? It would have given him the best excuse in the world.
Chase, you're an asshole.
Yeah, he probably was.
"Are you planning to stand there blocking the door all day?"
The words were hostile but the voice had a low, musical quality to it that for some reason teased at his nerve endings. He turned around and nearly smacked into the woman behind him. She took a step back and glared at him.
"Did you hear me?" she demanded.
A more fanciful man might call her an earth goddess. She was tall, the top of her head coming just past his shoulder. Her long legs were emphasized by the short shorts she wore. Brown hair with streaks of light scattered through it was scraped back in a tight ponytail, the style accenting the hazel of her eyes, her high cheekbones, and her almost translucent skin.
What the fuck? Who was that stranger talking in his head? He'd been listening to his friends' wives and girlfriends too much.
"Well?" Her voice was impatient now. "You know standing where you are you're blocking the door, right? Some of us actually want to go inside and work out."
Chase shook himself.
"Sorry." He opened the door and stepped aside to let her enter, trying not to notice that she had a most excellent ass.
"Geez," she huffed. "Some people."
She flicked a glance at him over her shoulder as she moved into the building carrying her workout bag. Chase had to drag his eyes away from her. Tonight he was all about working out, not hooking up, not when his friend's engagement had dredged up yet again all the reasons why happy ever after wasn't for him.
Still, as though some evil elf were sitting on his shoulder, he tracked the woman's movements as she checked in at the reception desk and headed toward what he assumed were the locker rooms. The traces of whatever fragrance she wore still lingered, driving him crazy. As she walked, her ponytail bounced with the sway of her ass. He —
"May I help you?"
Chase rolled up his tongue and turned toward the front desk. Enough already.
"Uh, yeah, hi. I'd like to work out tonight. It's my first time here, so what kind of arrangements do I need to make?"
He tried to concentrate as the nice young lady behind the counter explained membership fees, guest passes, trial packages, and whatever else Pump It Up offered. But it was hard to concentrate when his brain seemed to have self-destructed. What the fuck?
"Yeah, I'll take that," he said, wondering exactly what he'd opted for.
"The thirty-day trial package?" The girl beamed at him. "That's a great way to start. Almost everyone who buys it ends up going for the full ride."
Thirty-day trial package? Had the snippy female mesmerized him so much he'd forgotten where he was? He'd only come here for one night. Oh, well, it would do him some good to take a step back from the group until they got over all the happy celebrating. He took the papers the girl pushed at him, filled them out, and handed her his credit card. Along with his receipt, she handed him a two-page brochure on the facility itself and a diagram showing where all the different machines and equipment were located.
He changed in the locker room, stowed his things in a locker, and hung the key bracelet on his wrist. His normal pattern was to start with either a treadmill or an elliptical, so he headed for the long double row of them facing the front wall of glass. The treadmills were first, but then he spotted Miss Ponytail at an elliptical so, perverse idiot that he was, he marched over and took the one beside her. After placing his water bottle in the tray and hanging his towel over the bar, he climbed aboard and set his program.
Why on earth was he doing this? He made it a firm habit to stay away from women with attitude like she'd displayed at the door. Women were problem enough without bothering with the hostile ones. Yet here he was, right in her space.
She glanced at him briefly, frowned, and went back to focusing on her routine and whatever she was listening to with her ear buds.
Chase did his one-minute warm-up and then hit his stride. Occasionally he slid a glance at Miss Ponytail, working that elliptical like she had a grudge against it. He wasn't sure he'd ever seen a woman work it that hard. He didn't know if that was her usual pattern or if she was trying to prove something to him. As if he'd even care. She obviously had a chip on her shoulder bigger than his truck.
They finished at nearly the same time. Chase stepped away, doing his best to ignore her, and went to throw away his empty water bottle. Free weights were next, but when he went to that area, she was already there, adjusting her wristbands and checking the weights. Damn! Okay, he could ignore her and go ahead with his planned routine or he could walk to another area and work out on something else.
As he stood there, indecisive, she looked up at him, irritation stamped on her features.
"Are you following me?"
Chase was so stunned for a moment he couldn't answer her.
"Because if you are," she went on, "I'll have to report you to management. They'll revoke your membership."
He was dumbfounded. Who the hell was this person, and who did she think she was? "Excuse me?"
"They don't tolerate stalkers in here." She planted her hands on her hips. "And I've had enough shit from men to last me two lifetimes. Go find some other corner to play in."
Stalkers? For fuck's sake! He was irritated enough to force the issue, but it was his first night here, he'd signed up for the thirty-day trial (Dumbass!), and he didn't want to get kicked out because some snippy female thought he was following her. What was her problem, anyway?
He turned on his heel and walked to the farthest corner of the floor, not looking back. He located the strength and weight training machines he liked, found one he wanted to use, and set the program. Doing his best to clear his mind, he went into his routine. But a brunette with a bouncy ponytail, a sexy ass, and a well-toned body had lodged herself in his mind. The entire time he worked out, he couldn't get her out of there no matter what he did.
* * *
Holly Funchess wanted to spit nickels. She was mad enough to spit quarters, but she wouldn't waste that much money on that asshole. She hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, thanks to a crappy date she never should have gone on. That had made her off her game today, putting her on the wrong side of her lieutenant at the firehouse. And somewhere along the way, she'd lost her lucky bracelet. Now this idiot jerk had to piss her off and make her already bad mood even worse. It was as if Life with a Capital L was giving her a big Fuck You finger.
Nice attitude, Holly.
Why had she been so bitchy to him, anyway? If she was truthful, he hadn't really done anything except stand in the entrance a few seconds too long. But by the time she'd finished what turned out to be an exhausting shift and gotten here tonight, almost any little thing would have set her off. Of course her ex, Brad, dipshit that he was, would say the shift had nothing to do with it. That she was just naturally a bitch.
She hadn't been able to help overhearing the guy sign up for the thirty-day trial membership. Overhearing was easy when you craned your head while trying to pretend you weren't paying attention. Was he even single? Damn it! She shouldn't care one way or the other. What was the matter with her? Hadn't she already learned her lesson about men like him? So he was hot and sexy. So what? He probably had an ego bigger than this building and an attitude to go with it.
She finished her reps on the machine she was using and reset the weights on it, deliberately ignoring the hot guy. Someone tapped her on the shoulder, and she nearly jumped a foot.
"Wow! I didn't mean to frighten you to death."
She looked up to see Adara Mann standing not six inches from her. Her college roommate had been a blessing when she moved to San Diego, even giving her a place to stay until she'd finished her fire science studies and been hired on. She'd been glad, however, to move into her own place, where she didn't have to listen to Adara lecture her all the time about her spotty social life. She was good with things the way they were. Fine. Excellent, even.
"I could have brained myself on this thing," Holly complained to the other woman. "What's up?"
Adara took a step closer. "Did you see the hot, hot guy who came in tonight? I mean, the really sexy one?"
Holly almost snorted. "Adara, you think every guy who walks in here is sexy."
"And you think every guy who walks in here or anywhere is an asshole," Adara shot back.
Holly shrugged. "He's just another run-of-the-mill jackass, as far as I'm concerned."
"No, no, no." Adara shook her head. "He's really sexy. Like sex on a stick. Poster boy sexy. Look. There he is working on the lat pulldown machine. No wonder he looks so fit. This must be his first time here, or I would have spotted him before."
Holly shook her head at her friend's instant focus on a guy. "That's the truth."
Adara seemed to look at every new male as a target in her hunt for the ideal hookup. Despite her determination to ignore the subject, she glanced over to where Adara was pointing.
She blinked. Of course. She should have known. The man she'd spouted off to on the way in.
Regardless, she found herself taking a closer look at him. For Adara, she told herself. That's all. She figured his height at just over six feet, and couldn't help but notice his well-toned body with its defined muscles and wide shoulders. His blond hair was cut military short, making her wonder if he was in the service.
Not that she cared, right? Of course not. She was checking him out for Adara. So what was with the unexpected, funny little feeling that zinged through her system when she looked at him? She didn't get zings these days. Not from him or anyone else. She'd promised herself she'd never get those zings again. Been there, done that. She'd declared a moratorium on zings. It had taken her too long to get past the pain of what had happened with Brad. She didn't need to deal with that kind of vulnerability again. She had a new life, a new career, and no time for some asshole to screw it up again.
"Well?" Adara nudged her. "What do you think?"
"Like I said, I think he's probably as much of an ass as every other man in here," Holly snapped, jerking back to reality. Alpha males made all her defenses pop up and lock in place.
"Well, geez, Holly." Adara blotted the perspiration on her forehead with the towel around her neck. "Are you ever gonna take that bug out of your ass? The longer you hold on to what happened, the harder it will be to let go. Stop giving that jerk so much power."
Holly shrugged, doing her best to wipe unpleasant memories from her mind. Adara was the only person outside her family who knew what had sent her hightailing it from North Carolina. She had arrived in San Diego a big hot mess, an emotional wreck, but determined to build a new life. The best thing to come out of it was her chance to pursue her dream of becoming a firefighter. A dream put on hold for so long, because ...
Stop! Just stop!
"I hear you. But you know, they don't exactly wear signs that say Not a Jerk."
She was very comfortable behind her high wall of defense. She was finished being the one in a relationship who did all the giving and then got virtually smacked in return. She had control of her life now, and that's the way things were going to stay.
Out of nowhere Brad's words leaped to life in her brain.
"A firefighter? Come on, Holly. That's not a job for a woman. People will think I'm marrying a guy."
Excerpted from Fourth Down by Desiree Holt. Copyright © 2016 Desiree Holt. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fourth Down starts off as a cute romance between frenemies that decide it is easier to pretend to be dating, than to constantly deflect their meddling friends and family. Chase and Holly don't really like each other when they meet, but eventually they become friends. As they begin to "date", both develop feelings for the other. Neither Chase or Holly is looking for a relationship, but soon they can't imagine their lives without the other. As their romance begins to heat up, will their insecurities help them to grow together or keep them apart? I applaud Ms. Holt for portraying a strong female heroine that is unafraid of embracing her job as a firefighter. She also created the perfect foil in Chase. I liked both characters and story development, but wish the transition for friends to lover wasn't quite so abrupt. I was given a free copy for an honest review.
Fourth Down by Desiree Holt.....This is a great entertaining story, it is a page turner. I liked Holly and Chase a lot both have had bad relationships in the past, will they be able to let their pasts go to have a relationship again. Desiree Holt is an amazing storyteller and does a great job with Holly and Chase's story. I highly recommend this book, it was so good. I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy from publisher via NetGalley.
I enjoyed this one. I found both Chase and Holly very likeable. Some of the secondary characters not so much. Since the main focus of the story is Chase and Holly I could overlook the annoying brother and best friend. The writing was excellent and the story had a nice pace so overall a very enjoyable read. Chase is a guy with a string of bad relationships behind him. Now he's looking to focus on his career and enjoy the peewee football team he coaches during his down time. No way does he want to get distracted by the incredibly sexy firefighter Holly Funchess. Holly herself has had it with relationships. It seems that her chosen career is too much for any man to handle. Except Chase doesn't seem to have a problem with it. Would he be worth risking her heart again? This is definitely a recommended read.