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Read an Excerpt
To Win Her Back
A Players Series Novel
By Mackenzie Crowne
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Mackenzie Crowne
All rights reserved.
"All right. Last item. I want Samuel Fitzpatrick, people, and I won't take 'no' for an answer."
Victoria Price choked, nearly spewing a mouthful of sparkling water over the half-dozen paper-pushing office jocks seated at the long conference table. Every eye in the room turned her way. She gasped, struggling to drag in a lungful of oxygen as the air in the Manhattan Marauders' well-appointed conference suite suddenly evaporated.
Attempting to disguise her dismay, she pasted on an apologetic smile and blindly set aside the bottle in her hand. Unfortunately, the thick binder in front of her ruined her aim. She bolted forward as the bottle tipped, fumbling to catch it before the contents spilled onto the glossy teakwood.
Beside her, Tom Walden leaned in and whispered, "You okay, V?"
She shot the Marauders' players' liaison a sidelong glance. The concern in his blue eyes made her wince before panic set in. God. Did he know about her and Sam? How? And since when?
The answer smacked her in the forehead like a flat palm. Jake, that son of a bitch. She was going to strangle him and bloody his big mouth.
No. That couldn't be right. She was simply being paranoid. Guilty relief eased the panic as quickly as it had come. Tom and Jake might have been friends since before she'd followed Jake to New York, dragging her battered heart behind her, but he wouldn't blab about something so private. Jake wouldn't do that. Not to her. He wouldn't dare.
She forced a smile, nodded at Tom, and shot a nervous glance down the table. At the far end, Caroline Wainwright quirked a quizzical brow.
"Sorry. Clumsy." V offered the team's owner a sickly smile then quickly looked away. She set the bottle to rights and, feigning a casualness she wasn't close to feeling, snatched up her copy of the afternoon's meeting schedule and scanned the bullet points. The blood drained from her head as her gaze stalled on Sam's name.
Holy hell! How the hell did I miss that? Her heart performed a manic thump-and-roll in her chest, and her fingers jerked involuntarily on the page.
Across from her, George Tipton, the team's general manager, leaned on his elbows and shook his head. "I thought Fitzpatrick had been scratched from the list. He's still under contract."
With a manicured fingernail, Caroline tapped out three staccato beats on the tabletop. Determination narrowed her keen green eyes. "Not for long. His contract runs out in less than two weeks and, from what I understand, negotiations have stalled. Bob Duggan insists Fitzgerald is the best man to replace him. I agree." She shifted her gaze to V. "I want you to take the lead on this."
V's stomach muscles clenched, and she stared at the woman she considered a friend as well as her boss. In the seven years since Caroline had acquired the Marauders franchise, she'd shown an uncanny knack for assembling winning teams, both on and off the field. Three trips to the big game had netted two rings for her players and staff, and made her a force to be reckoned with across the league. With very few exceptions, Caroline got what she wanted. V had no interest in handing her a rare defeat.
Despite herself, she couldn't help the rush of pride over Caroline's recognition of Sam's talents. With several Division Two championships on his résumé, he definitely had the chops to take over as the team's offensive coordinator when Bob left. But, damn it! Their disastrous history made V the last person on Earth who should be negotiating his hire.
And there was no freaking way she was admitting that in front of the office jocks or Caroline.
V wracked her brain for a believable excuse to decline the task, one that wouldn't send up any red flags with her friend, and came up with zilch. Still, it wasn't in her to back down. "I'm your PR consultant, Caroline, not one of your scouts."
"You grew up in the same town. You know him."
Well, yeah, but. ... "I knew him a long time ago, and we weren't exactly friends." Guilt weighed down her heart. There was a time she and Sam had been good friends. More than friends, in fact. Then she'd gone and screwed up. Big time.
"He knows you, and that's what counts." Caroline flicked her hand in a dismissive slash, and shards of brilliant color shot from the customized Super Bowl diamond gracing her finger. "Anyway, the offer has nothing to do with friendship. It's a business proposition, and you're part of this business."
True, and V loved her job far more than she'd expected when she'd been offered a position with the team. After twelve years of scrambling to keep Jake Malone's image out of the crapper, her lifelong friend and famous client had traded in his playboy status for the family plan, and his cleats and helmet for wingtips and a microphone. She'd long since limited her client list to him alone and their association had left her wealthy enough that jumping back into the cutthroat world of representation held little interest. Retirement, however, was out of the question. She'd needed a new challenge, and Caroline had stepped in to provide it.
However, approaching Sam Fitzpatrick with an offer to come to Manhattan was more of a challenge than V had bargained for.
She mentally clamped down on the rush of alarm threatening to engulf her and held Caroline's steady gaze. "Does he know the Marauders are looking at him?"
"He will when you tell him." The team's owner pushed to her feet and held out her hand to the ever-present assistant waiting at her back. Accepting an envelope, she slid it across the table to V. "Our offer and all the incidentals are inside. Bob's in his office. He's expecting you. He'll answer any questions you might have. In the meantime, Fitzpatrick is accepting some kind of award during the half-time ceremonies tomorrow night at your old high school. Your flight for Texas leaves at ten AM."
V bit back a panicked groan, and any argument she might have made died on her lips as Caroline swept from the room with her assistant on her heels. The office jocks gathered binders and cups, then wandered off to their cubicles throughout the complex. Teeth gritted, V slid her flight itinerary from the envelope and sighed. At least she wouldn't be spending the night.
She squeezed her eyes shut. What were the odds she could slip in and out of town without the residents finding out? Her throat went dry and she swallowed against the invisible layer of east Texas dust she'd never been able to completely scrape off her tongue.
As if going back wasn't bad enough. The thought of facing Sam. ...
She refused to throw up.
Eighteen hours later, her stomach was still giving her fits as she slowed her rental car to a stop in the parking lot of Barlow High's football stadium. She glanced around and couldn't help a reminiscent smirk. The field on the edge of town had been ground zero for the football-crazy citizens of Barlow since before man had walked on the moon. Calling the place a stadium, however, was a stretch.
A faded blue, polyurethane oval circled the battered grass field. Perched atop the far set of bleachers and emblazoned with a fiery red rocket, the two-level press box sported a new coat of white paint, as did the concession stand at the far end of the field.
It was early yet, with more than an hour until kickoff. The parking lot and stands sat mostly empty, but the home team boys went through their warm-ups on the field. Smoke curled from behind the gymnasium, suggesting the boosters were on hand and had fired up the grills. Soon the enticing scents of grilling burgers and popping corn would greet the crowds streaming in for tonight's gridiron battle.
The late afternoon sun hung low on the horizon. To V's left, heat waves shimmered off the empty, time-dulled metal bones of the home-team bleachers. She eyed the spot beneath them where she'd unwillingly lost her "kiss cherry" to Brian Hayes during the last quarter of the homecoming game in her junior year. She flexed the fingers of her right hand and her lips thinned at the memory. The shock on Brian's face after her fist had connected with his eye had been worth the bruised knuckles.
Rolling her shoulders, she squinted through the windshield. She ignored the uniformed teenagers doing calisthenics on the fifty-yard line to scan the gathered crowd of adult males stalking the sidelines. Unfortunately, she found no sign of the muscular form that insisted on haunting her dreams.
She sighed. From what she knew, Sam's parents had remained in Florida after he'd graduated, and the home he'd grown up in had been sold long ago. Presenting the team's offer to him in private would be preferable, but with no idea where he now lived, she'd have to take what she could get. She could either wait until he showed up at the game and hope she'd get a moment to speak to him privately, or swing by the gossip central counter at the Barlow Inn and inquire after his address.
She stiffened her shoulders against a shudder. No way in hell. Esther Gimmly not only ran the only motel in town, she chaired the local chapter of the chamber of commerce and had been president of the town's unofficial grapevine since before the advent of the cell phone. She was also V's mother's best friend and would no doubt inform Anita Price of her daughter's reappearance in Barlow before the bell on the Inn's front door stopped chiming.
On the passenger seat, V's leather Gucci satchel buzzed. Shifting into park, she pulled her phone from the outside sleeve. She growled deep in her throat at her mother's name on the screen. For God's sake. She'd driven into town three minutes ago and had yet to speak to a single soul. Had the chamber of commerce installed satellite surveillance?
Shaking her head, she slid from the car, shut the door, and tucked the phone into the pocket of her blazer. Unanswered. If she was going to speak to Sam after all these years, she needed to do so with a clear head. She'd deal with Mom later.
She slumped against the hood. Sam was supposedly receiving his award at half time, but she knew damn well he wouldn't disappoint the townsfolk by missing a single second of the game. He'd be in his seat before the coin toss. All she had to do was wait — and ignore the nerves ricocheting around in her belly like pinballs on crack.
Five minutes later, sweat had begun to pool between her breasts. She swore beneath her breath. It figured a heatwave would accompany her on this fool's errand. Slipping open the button on her blazer, she flapped the lapels to create a breeze. She'd chosen the sleekly sophisticated suit because the crisp cut and creamy color pronounced her a serious businesswoman, and the heavy weave would protect her from the chill winds that usually blew this time of year. More importantly, the skirt and blazer held no resemblance to the worn jeans and football jersey she'd worn the last time she'd seen Sam.
When she'd literally added insult to injury by walking out on him wearing his number emblazoned on her back.
The all-too-familiar spiral of bittersweet memories and regret twisted her insides into knots, and she yanked the blazer off her shoulders and down her arms. What would life have been like if she hadn't been such a coward? If she'd been upfront with him from the beginning? The instant chilling of her blood took care of the clammy sweat.
Even fifteen years later, the thought of baring her soul to him, to anyone, left her cold. And damn it, exposing the vile secret she'd kept locked away in the dark recesses of her mind hadn't been necessary. Not with Sam. When he'd touched her, the past hadn't mattered. To her utter surprise and joy, the warm touch of his lips brushing hers had banished the memories of hot breath stinking of whiskey. His big hands were gentle, his touch sensual instead of sickening. And far from frightening, the press of his solid body against hers was exciting.
She'd moved beyond the terror while surrounded by his protective arms, and for a short, sweet time, the gleaming light of normalcy had shimmered before her. Knots of tension pulled her shoulder muscles tight. The harsh truth was, she'd reacted instinctively and cruelly when that light was extinguished in the blink of an eye, but not even the warm promise of Sam's love had been able to quell her panic at the thought of returning to Barlow once his dream of a pro career was dashed.
She tossed her blazer onto the hood beside her. Water under the bridge. As cowardly as she'd acted, she'd made her decisions and there was no going back. Still, if she were a better woman, one whose heart hadn't been hardened to coldness by the cruelties of life, she'd have found a way to apologize for any regrets she'd left him with when she'd run.
But she wasn't that woman. Never had been and never would be.
"Everything around here seemed so much bigger when I was seventeen."
With a soft yelp, she jolted away from the hood and spun around. Staring into Sam's familiar, slate-gray eyes, dizziness swamped her. She staggered slightly on her heels. He shot out a hand to steady her. The heat from his broad palm seared her ribs through the silk of her shell top. Her nipples pebbled in helpless welcome. She bit down on a dismayed groan and took a wide step back. His hand dropped away as she snatched the blazer from the hood and held it before her chest like a shield.
Flustered, she shot a darting glance at the field. The coaching staff and players had yet to notice his arrival. The moment of privacy was one she hadn't expected, but it worked to her advantage. It wouldn't last long, however. The quicker she delivered Caroline's offer, the sooner she could leave Barlow and its memories behind.
"Sam, I —"
She stumbled over what to say as she catalogued every nuance of his six-four frame. Starved for the sight of him, she slid her greedy gaze over the muscled body she'd known so well for too short a time. Cowboy boots had always been his preference, and she nearly smiled at the scuffs marring the toes. Her gaze climbed over the faded denim encasing his long legs. The soft fabric stretched tight over muscled thighs and cradled the bulge of the impressive package she remembered. She swallowed and jerked her gaze higher, past the tweed suit jacket covering shoulders and a chest that were wider than they had been at seventeen.
The laugh lines bracketing his mouth and spraying out from the corners of his eyes were deeper, and a smattering of gray wove through the jet-black hair at the temples. Neither detracted from the rugged appeal of his familiar face.
Oh, God. He was wrong. Not everything had been bigger when he was seventeen. Back then, he'd been larger than most of the boys his age, but he'd still been on the cusp of manhood. He stood before her now, broad-shouldered and proud, a man fully grown, and the soft gray eyes that used to look at her with love held nothing but disdain.
His lips curled in a sneer. "You're the last person I'd expect to find in Barlow. Slummin' it, V?"
She stiffened her spine and refused to wince at the sarcastic bite of his words. His animosity was no more than she'd expected. No more than she deserved.
That didn't mean she had to like it. If he'd expected more all those years ago, so had she. Her dreams had been crushed right along with his when he'd blown out his knee. And wasn't life a bitch? Hell. She was a bitch, or so she'd been told on a number of occasions. Sam obviously agreed. She snorted inwardly. She'd take the title of bitch over victim any day.
She jacked her chin to an extra snotty angle. "Normally, I wouldn't be caught dead in this dump of a town, but since you're here and I need to speak to you, here I am."
"Speak to me?" He crossed his arms. "That's a complete turnaround from the last time we saw each other."
Since his mocking claim was true, she'd give him that one. She pasted on a fake smile. "I have a business proposition for you."
From the far end of the field, one of the coaches called his name. Sam lifted his hand in a silent wave, then turned back to her. Though he was a foot taller and topped her by nearly one hundred pounds, she'd never been afraid of him. Yet, the way he stepped forward, crowding her against the car, made her nervous. She refused to flinch as he lowered his head until his face was less than an inch from hers.
"Baby, any business we might have had together was finished a long time ago."
Excerpted from To Win Her Back by Mackenzie Crowne. Copyright © 2016 Mackenzie Crowne. 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The is the 4th book the the Mackenzie Crowne's Players series. Sam and Victoria [V] had been High School sweethearts and were engaged and they thought they would grow old together and have success. Sam gets injured during a football game, he has to have surgery and is in the hospital but, V is not at his bedside, instead she was at home packing her stuff to leave town because she has a horrible secret that she thought would destroy her mom and she thought Sam would think she is horrible if he knew. V [Victoria] is a Public Relations Coordinator for the Manhattan Marauders pro football team. The team needs a new Offensive Coordinator and the owner of the team sends V to make the offer to Sam and bring him to Manhattan. While Sam is in Manhattan V finds he has a daughter named Lucy. Lucy and V hit it off great. Sam decides to take the offer but, is told by the owner that he has talk/fix things with V. The sex scenes are sexy. Does Victoria tell Sam her secret? Do Sam and Victoria get back together? Want to know what happens? Well you really need to read this book to find out. I truly loved the way Mackenzie explains things regarding Victoria.
Sam and V had been HS sweethearts and had been engaged who knew they would grow old together and have success. Sam lays in a hospital bed and his future career is ripped from him. V wasn’t at his bedside she was leaving town with no warning all Sam has a horrible secret that she thinks will destroy her mother and and have Sam thinking horrible of her. Sam could figure out was that he was not good enough for her anymore. Fifteen years later Sam and V was forced to work together. Sam comes to Manhattan with his daughter. V discovers Sam’s daughter has got into V’s heart but Sam is to far out of reach. Sam needs to show his new boss V and he can work together. Painful childhood secrets made V leave town . V now works for the Marauders football team.Sam works in P R and the Marauders had decided to offer Sam the position of Offensive Coordinator and V is to offer him the job then bring him to Manhattan. There is still attraction between Sam and V. but their lives went in different directions San had been working as a football coach. In Texas. Sam had became a manwhore and he had met his first sex buddy at the hospital where he was after he got hurt. V had never been with another person sexually in fifteen years. V had married her job. Because V had left Sam she was scorned by the town and didn't even go home to see her mother. V is ridiculed and gossiped about Sam doesn’t do anything to stop it even though it was a long time ago and he had moved on and now had a fourteen year old daughter and had went through a lot of women. Sam hadn’t waited long to get a girl pregnant. Sam rubs in V’s face she only had two months experience and he doesn’t regret all the women he has been with. Sam ran to V’s best friend when V left Sam had hopes to be an NFL football player until he got hurt. Sam’s daughter’s -Lucy- mom had passed away. V acts aloof and cold but around her friends and their kids Lucy is warm and loving and will do anything for those she loves. She doesn’t have a close relationship with her mother but she provides for her very well. Because of V’s secret she has problems opening up and trusting people. Sam and V had a lot of interference from family, friends, and even their boss when they do get back together. Sam was the best thing that ever happened to V but she had felt she had to leave so long ago. I really enjoyed this story. But I do have to question how much Sam had really loved V. He impregnates a young woman within a couple of months after V had gone. I also didn’t like how Sam let V be ridiculed and gossiped about even fifteen years later very immature as far as I can see especially knowing how it will hurt V’s mother who teaches Lucy dance. Sam should get over himself he is getting a lot of sex also as I said a lot of time had gone by. I know Sam was hurt but why didn’t he look for V and found out why she had left he had loved her enough to propose to her. I felt bad the V had to leave Sam her one and only love and lover. This story choked me up at times and other times made me chuckle and I love that my emotions were involved it made the story more realistic for me like I was there with Sam and V. I didn’t want to put it down. I also loved Lucy and though she brought a lot to the story wanted to see Sam and V together. With Lucy as a family I loved the characters and the ins and outs of this story and I highly recommend.
McKenzie Crowne writes a complicated romance that combines second chances with sport. V and Sam were high school sweethearts that got engaged as soon as they graduated. They went off to college and everything was good until an accident ended Sam football career. He return home to recuperate and V disappeared. Sam hooked up with a lot of girls and eventually one became pregnant. He became a single father and V pursued her dream far away from her Texas Roots. 15 years pass and V is now working in the PR department of the Manhattan Marauders.She is tasked with persuading Sam to join the team as a coach. She is forced to confront her past and Sam reluctant to give her a chance personally or professionally. As they work out the past, V and Sam start to remember the good times and soon their attraction is hotter than ever. How will Sam react when he learns V big Secret? If your a fan of second chances or sport's romances, this is the book for you. I was given a free copy for an honest review.
I really enjoy sports romance and To Win Her Back is a really fun and interesting story. It is fast paced and a real page turner. The Characters Sam Fitzpatrick and Victoria “V” Price were engaged in college but she disappeared on him and then she comes back to offer him his dream job, but life has changed and he now has a daughter (Lucy) to consider. I really enjoyed the character development an relationships that are built in this story. Trust has to be rebuilt after their history together, and Mackenzie Crowne did a good job in telling this story and showing that there are many layers of love. 1 like
Another great book in Mackenzie Crowne’s Player series! We’ve seen V be the hard-nosed sports agent previously and even seen her be a loyal friend, but we haven’t seen the softer side of her that comes out when we finally get the story of her past and what made her who she is today. Her turmoil really touches your heart! Victoria Price is loving her new job as the PR Coordinator for the Manhattan Marauders football team, but her newest assignment just might be end of it when it’s barely begun! Sam Fitzpatrick is super stoked at being offered the Offensive Coordinator position for an NFL team, but the fact that the woman that cruelly broke his heart all those years ago is the one there offering it is pretty off-putting! Can he actually bring himself to accept a job for the same team she works for? V had her reasons for walking away from Sam all those years ago, but she never shared them with him, so he and everyone around him assumed the worst. When she finds the strength to share her secret, will she finally be free to go for that love of her life once and for all or will it be too late to matter?
Fantastic book! I really enjoyed these characters. Sam and Victoria/V are great together. Add in Sam's wonderfully precocious daughter and you have a great read. V and Sam were childhood sweethearts but painful childhood secrets had V leaving the town and Sam in the dust. Now 15 years later, V is forced to see Sam again. The Marauders, the football team V works for in PR, had decided to make Sam an offer as offensive coordinator and have assigned V the task of delivering not only the offer to Sam but Sam to the Marauders. It's clear the attraction is still there but their lives are completely different now. Sam with his daughter and V with her career. Would they ever work or are they destined to break each others hearts again? I would definitely recommend this one.
To Win Her Back by Mackenzie Crowne Players #4 Not a great fan of second chance at love stories but this one worked even though there were fifteen years between the ending of the first chance and beginning of the second. At first I was not sold on the two of them being a couple that could, should or would work out but as I read I realized there were more layers to what happened between “V” and Sam than I first thought and that if they both really wanted to they could eventually make a go of it. I personally find it hard to believe this story could happen but then fiction is just that…a story that does not have to be true to life…it just needs to draw the reader in and provide entertainment. This book did just that. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the ARC. This is my honest review. 3.5 Stars