Former quarterback Lance Quaid just inherited the most losing team in the NFL. He’s got only a few weeks until draft day to turn things around, and after firing more than half his staff, he can’t do it alone. Thankfully, his HR manager is more than capable, if only she’d stop focusing on “due diligence” and stop looking so sexy while she’s yelling at him.
Charlotte James has made a life out of following the rules. But nothing could have prepared her for Lance Quaid—he’s a human resources nightmare. The man is brash, has no filter, and, as her new boss, is constantly relying on her to cover his ass. Which is admittedly quite nice.
When Lance begs her to join him on a trip down the coast for his brother’s wedding so they can finalize details—on a strictly business basis—she agrees...after they fill out the necessary forms, of course. Away from the office, though, sparks start flying as the team starts coming together. But both of them know anything more than the weekend would be a colossally bad idea—after all, the extra paperwork would be a nightmare.
Each book in the Heart in the Game series is STANDALONE:
* The Wedding Deal
* The Mistletoe Trap
About the Author
Cindi Madsen is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance and young adult novels. She sits at her computer every chance she gets, plotting, revising, and falling in love with her characters. Sometimes it makes her a crazy person. Without it, she’d be even crazier. She has way too many shoes, but can always find a reason to buy a pretty new pair, especially if they’re sparkly, colorful, or super tall. She loves music and dancing and wishes summer lasted all year long. She lives in Colorado (where summer is most definitely NOT all year long) with her husband, three children, an overly-dramatic tomcat,&an adorable one- eyed kitty named Agent Fury.
You can visit Cindi at: www.cindimadsen.com, where you can sign up for her newsletter to get all the up-to-date information on her books.
Follow her on Twitter @cindimadsen.
Read an Excerpt
As human resources manager of the San Antonio Mustangs, Charlotte's job was to manage the humans who worked for the NFL team, and her history of doing so in a calm, firm-yet-kind manner was impeccable.
But then Lance Quaid happened.
Charlotte hugged her notebook, folders, and the book she'd grabbed off the bookshelf in her office tighter to her chest, her heels clacking out a steady rhythm on the hardwood floor. Just what I needed. To go from a stable work environment where I finally feel like I'm on top of my game to having to deal with the ego and unpredictable moods of a former quarterback, who's obviously too used to people worshipping him instead of keeping him in check.
The guy had been the owner of the Mustangs for all of one week, and he'd already stacked up multiple complaints, as if he was determined to break as many records for that as he had on the football field before an injury cut his career short.
Being well versed in all things football, along with having a freakishly good memory and a penchant for stats, simply thinking his name called up his info sheet.
Lance Quaid: former quarterback of the Tennessee Titans. Six foot four, two hundred twenty-five pounds, round-one pick ten in the draft. Sixty-five completion percentage and once voted offensive player of the year. He came from football royalty, made a huge splash from his very first year in the NFL, and played solidly for six years until an ACL injury took him out.
Charlotte had no idea what he'd been doing for the past three years, but when his grandfather — and the previous owner of the Mustangs — had passed away, Lance had inherited the team. And she, in turn, had inherited the stubborn, privileged, foul-mouthed pain in the butt.
This is what you've been trained for. Her footfalls grew more determined, her chin lifting another inch. Unfortunately, it didn't magically untangle the knot of nerves that'd formed in her gut at the thought of the confrontation. Growing up, change meant something was about to suck even more, and she wasn't a fan. She liked structure. Give her predictable any day.
But changes inevitably happened, and she was doing her best to deal with it while wishing she didn't have to.
Owning the team doesn't mean he's above all the rules. People who felt the rules didn't apply to them irked her, and then there was common decency, which Lance Quaid had apparently never heard of, either. He has to figure out how to practice restraint and learn some respect, especially when it comes to talking to coworkers.
And it was her job to remind him of that.
Her stomach dive-bombed as she neared his office, a sarcastic lucky me breaking into her internal pep talk.
She'd already put off having this uncomfortable conversation with him for too long, telling herself she needed to attend to emails and other paperwork first. Because how exactly did one go in and tell their new boss that he was ... well, wrong? The complaints had come flooding in immediately after Mr. Quaid took up the helm, and while it was technically her job to listen to them, she'd sort of cursed how accessible she'd made herself. Before now, her most challenging tasks had been keeping up to date on ever-changing laws and double-checking payroll while trying not to feel a pinch of jealousy over the bloated salaries compared to her modest one.
A quick glance at her watch told her the big staff meeting was in thirty minutes, and she simply had to talk to Mr. Quaid before then. To say the transition in ownership had been rocky would be an understatement. Everyone was still grieving a bit — a pang rose up, one she quickly tamped down — and that exacerbated the situation, too. Honestly, things had been on the grim side for the Mustangs for a while. After several lackluster seasons, including the last one where they hadn't won a single game, they were quickly turning into the joke of the NFL.
But that was a different problem for a different day.
A section of her hair fell forward as she glanced at the door, the brown fringe obscuring the stainless steel knob for a moment. Just forget who he is and who he was and talk to him like you would anyone else. After all, she'd had to reprimand countless employees for breaking the rules in the seven years she'd worked here. In all but a few cases, the people involved corrected their bad behavior, and the work environment was better for it.
She sucked in a big breath, transferred the bulk of what she was carrying into her left arm, and rapped on the door, nice and loud.
A muffled "come in" filtered through the wood, and she opened the door and stepped inside the large office. Nothing had changed. The windows still boasted a nice view of downtown, the large flat screen TV was tuned to sports highlights but on mute, and every dark wood surface gleamed. Two cushy chairs that looked like they were meant for giants sat facing the large desk, and awards and trophies from decades ago, when the team had won a fair amount of games, were in a large glass case that lined the far wall.
The scent was different, though. Woodsy and masculine, not a hint of that spicy cologne that Mr. Price had worn. The pang she'd smothered returned and morphed into a sharp twinge she couldn't as easily ignore. He was really gone, the man who'd taken a chance on her at a time she was afraid no one would. Sure, he'd been a tad dismissive of the few ideas she'd lobbed his way during meetings, but his kindness more than made up for his old-school ways. It hit her all over again that he would never stop by her office to ask how her day was going or toss her one of those hard caramels he always kept in his suit pocket.
Lance Quaid glanced up, the full impact of his blue eyes hitting her. "Did we have an appointment ...?" The vague hand gesture he added made her realize he needed her to fill in her name.
Of course he didn't remember. He'd met a lot of people over the past week, so she tried not to take it personally. Tried not to compare him to his grandfather, who made it a point to catalog every staff member's name, no matter how big or small their position with the Mustangs. It wore a little shine off the famous ballplayer, too, which would make it easier to be firm. "Charlotte James. I'm the human resources manager."
"Right." He ran a hand through his nearly black hair, although the strands were short enough it didn't make a mess of it. Guys had it so easy. A dab of hair gel and they were done, whereas she had to use three-point-five products, decide whether to go curly or straight before her hair refused to do either, and the lightest breeze or hint of humidity could destroy all her efforts in two seconds flat. That was the nice thing about a pretty pair of shoes — they always looked good, and since she was a short woman in a world of tall men, they also gave her a few inches' boost. "Sorry," he said. "This past week's been a bit of a blur."
"Understandable." Time to get on with what she came here to do.
"While I didn't make an official appointment, Mr. Quaid, there are —"
She wished he hadn't interrupted, since it'd been so challenging to just start that sentence, but she could roll with it. "Fine. Lance. There are a few things I need to talk to you about before the meeting. There've been ... complaints. About you. And the way you talk to people."
One dark eyebrow arched, but the slight twist to his lips made him appear more amused than worried. "I'm sure there have been. Gotta break a few eggs and all that."
While she'd wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, he didn't seem to be taking this seriously. And people weren't eggs; they were human beings with valid feelings that shouldn't be cracked and discarded. She highly doubted Mr. Omelet-Maker had ever worked in an office before stumbling into ownership. Sure, he knew the game, but there was so much more that went into it. She'd been born and raised a Mustangs fan, and she'd hoped the new owner would care about the franchise and work hard to make it better. She didn't want to have to say "there's always next year" from now until the day she died.
To keep her fan side in check, she focused on her business side and strode closer to the desk, her noisy footsteps getting swallowed up by the tacky black and white rug you could lose a zebra in. "For instance, it was inappropriate last meeting when you told Coach Hurst that the only first down he's completed lately is shoving his head that much farther up his ass."
Lance chuckled. Chuckled! "One of my better ones."
Charlotte glared at him, lips pursed. "Well, it was also against section two of the employee handbook. As was asking the guys, uh" — she cleared her throat — "where they'd stashed their balls. Or if they had any to start with."
"So let me get this straight ..." Lance leaned forward and folded his forearms across the top of the desk. "People came to you to complain about these things I said to motivate them to pull their heads out of their asses?"
"I think they considered it insulting as opposed to motivating. And just an FYI, saying 'pull their heads out of their asses' also goes on the inappropriate list. In addition to being on the vulgar side, to build a happy and productive workplace, we need to treat others well and help them feel safe. Try more carrot versus stick in your approach, and I believe you'll get better results."
The line of his jaw tightened, and his words came out clipped. "You think I don't know what it takes to rally a team? To push them into action?"
Charlotte ignored the instinctual flight response coursing through her and held her ground. "On the football field, yes, but office dynamics are different. I brought you a copy of the employee manual, and I'm sure that reading over the policies will help you better understand." She slid the thin book off the top of her pile and tossed it in front of him. "Since we've got a meeting in a few minutes, I'll just hit the highlights: we politely discuss differences of opinions; all employees deserve respect; and we work hard to ensure that relationships between employees are appropriate and harmonious. A please and thank you never hurt, either — kindness is catching."
Lance picked up the manual and flipped through the pages so fast he couldn't possibly have read a single word. It dropped back to the desk with a thud, and he placed his hand on top of it. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Charlotte."
Something inside of her flickered at the way he'd said her name, all deep and a pinch intimate, and she quickly snuffed it out. So he had a sexy voice to go along with his drool-worthy looks, which she absolutely wasn't going to let throw her off. In fact, she wasn't going to think about his sexiness at all. Nope, she'd simply ignore how snuggly his crisp white shirt fit across his built chest and the way his Mustangs-appropriate red and black tie hid the fact he'd undone his top button, giving him a slightly disheveled edge. She definitely wouldn't think about the dark scruff covering his chiseled jawline or how underrated the rugged businessman look was.
All those were merely observations she'd catalog along with everything else in her brain about Lance Quaid.
The important thing was he'd said thank you without sounding even slightly sarcastic. Even if he didn't mean it, a lot of workplace etiquette was faking it till you made it. "Just doing my job."
"I assure you that I'm going to straighten everything up at the meeting. That way you can get this off your plate and focus on the more important parts of your job."
The urge to explain that employee relationships were an important part of her job was strong, but she figured it was one of those pick-your-battles situations. The biggest battle was over, and as that sank in, tension leaked out of her neck and shoulders. "Oh good. I was worried this would go a lot rougher."
"Not at all." He picked up a pen and spun it through long fingers she presumed came in handy when gripping a football. "I'm a perfectly reasonable guy."
"Glad to hear it." All that worry over nothing. She backed away from the desk, her steps much lighter with the pressure of scolding her boss officially off her shoulders. Maybe the transition wouldn't be so bad once they all got more used to each other. She probably shouldn't have judged him so harshly, either, simply because she hated change and was missing her old boss. "Okay, so I'll see you at the meeting."
He inclined his chin. "Until then."
... Lance strolled into the meeting room with its theater-like layout and cushy seats that faced a screen where the team often watched film. The facilities had recently been upgraded, and as much as he loved his grandpa, he didn't understand why he'd poured so much money into frivolous things that his staff hardly deserved.
The head coach, general manager, offensive and defensive coordinators, director of pro personnel, CFO, and director of scouting sat in the front row, shooting the shit and not even bothering to look up when he came in.
There were a dozen or so other people in attendance — the specialized and conditioning coaches, who were seated in the second row — as well as a few members from the front office, including the brunette HR manager who'd stormed into his office earlier. Despite the looming meeting, he bit back a smile at the way she'd reprimanded him for his insults and vulgar language, tossed an employee handbook at him, and demanded he read it.
He wasn't sure how he'd missed her in the blur of introductions, but his eyes lingered on her now. Her long, chocolate-colored curls contrasted her pale skin and perfectly framed her almond-shaped eyes, pert nose, and lips he'd bet were pursed more often than not. She gave him an encouraging head nod from her seat in the second row, and he walked to the center stage area of the room.
A little over three years ago, he'd been carried off the football field, and he'd known in his gut it'd been his last game, even as he tried to tell himself he could come back. He'd already had surgery on his torn ACL his senior year of high school, and instead of giving it time to fully heal, he'd pushed through the pain in order to play in college. After his second surgery, the doctors warned him that if he pushed much more, he could lose most of the mobility in his knee.
That almost hadn't been enough to keep him off the field, but months after the surgery and a lot of physical therapy, he still couldn't move as fast as he needed to, and he put what was best for the team above what he wanted. Now that his mom's father had left him the Mustangs, he planned to do the same thing he had back then and make decisions that would be the best for the team. This was his second chance to do what he loved, and he wasn't going to kowtow to his staff's fragile feelings.
Seriously, what a bunch of overgrown babies.
He fastened the middle button of the suit coat he'd thrown on before the meeting and cleared his throat, impatiently waiting as the chatter in the front row gradually died down and all eyes finally lifted to him. "We've got a problem — a big one. Everyone's gotten a little too comfortable, and a lot too complacent, and this whole organization's turned into a total shitshow."
Charlotte leaned forward, a finger in the air, and when he glanced at her, she mouthed, "Nice, remember? Be nice." She mimicked waving something in front of her face, her way of reminding him to use the dangling carrot method, he was sure.
"It's an unorganized mess," he revised, and she gave him a thumbs-up, along with an encouraging smile. She had a great smile, too, one that made her cheeks stand out and softened her uber-serious, all-business edges. For a second, he forgot he was in the middle of a speech.
That's it. No more looking her way.
She probably wouldn't be smiling for much longer, anyway.
"I tried to give you all a chance and tell you what I thought you'd need to hear to light a fire under your asses, but instead you decided to whine and complain, and that's not who I want for my team. You think it's funny to have a fucking parade to celebrate a so-called perfect season without a single win? Well, now you can parade yourselves on out of here." He narrowed his eyes on the front row. "Jimmy, Steve, Mark, Scott, John, Thomas, and Clint, you're all fired. Thank you for your time with the Mustangs, but I've decided to go another way."
Jaws dropped, and silence fell.
"Is this a fucking joke?" Jimmy asked.
Charlotte stood, a panicked gleam in her eye. "Now if we can all just keep calm, I'm sure —"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Wedding Deal"
Copyright © 2019 Cindi Madsen.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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