When sultry British Baroness Piper Darrow falls on desperate times, she needs a diversion—and cash. As a talented photographer, she jumps at the chance to travel to the U.S. for a Manhattan Marauders football event. But she gets more than she bargained for when buff quarterback Wyatt Hunter’s errant pass lands . . . in her face. And when it results in Wyatt’s comeback of a lifetime, the superstitious athlete is convinced Piper is his good luck charm . . .
With his sights on the Super Bowl, Wyatt will do anything necessary to keep Piper close. The fact that she’s a feast for the eyes is a bonus. And as they get closer, he discovers that beneath her proper English surface is a sweet, sexy seductress. Soon the notorious playboy finds himself genuinely smitten, and surprisingly open to love—until his powerful family uncovers something about Piper that threatens to shatter his trust. Now he’ll have to decide whether to team up with his fears, or his heart.
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To Win Her Smile
A Players Series Novel
By Mackenzie Crowne
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Mackenzie Crowne
All rights reserved.
Wyatt Hunter hated to lose.
He glared at the game clock. Eighteen seconds. Time for two plays. Three, if he was damn lucky. Three plays to move the ball from midfield to the end zone. If he failed, he'd spend the next hour bombarded by reporters demanding to know how the reigning champions had lost to a team not expected to make the playoffs, and the next week reading about how he'd let the franchise down.
He needed a fucking miracle.
Dipping his knees behind the Manhattan Marauders' veteran center, he swiveled his head back and forth. "Thirty-six blue. Downtown. Hut."
Gabe Tillman snapped the ball into Wyatt's hands. He backpedaled several yards as the opposing lines crashed together. Determined grunts and the crack of pads competed with the thunderous cheers of the home team crowd. Settled deep in the pocket, Wyatt searched the pass patterns.
The right side of the field was covered. No hope there. Twenty yards downfield, Kevin "Tuck" Tucker stutter-stepped, then cut sharply toward the Marauders' bench in a square out route.
Wyatt sidestepped one of three blitzing linebackers. Another second ticked off the clock as he scrambled right, avoiding a second rushing wall of muscle. Racing toward the sideline, Tuck had temporarily broken free of the man-to-man coverage, but Albuquerque's left safety was closing in fast.
Wyatt cursed under his breath. No time to waste. Still in motion, he twisted his upper body and bulleted the pass. Like Superman in a helmet and pads, Tuck leapt into the air, hands outstretched toward the ball speeding his way.
Hit on his blindside, the air whooshed from Wyatt's lungs. His world tipped on its axis as two-hundred-eighty-seven pounds of all-pro linebacker rode him to the ground. A collective groan pulsed through the stadium. On his back beneath Dwayne Williams, Albuquerque's defensive captain, Wyatt desperately craned his neck to follow the play.
At least three yellow flags littered the turf and the Marauders' bench was going ballistic. Tempers flared and two separate shoving matches broke out between members of the opposing lines. Several players flanked Sam Fitzpatrick, holding the offensive coordinator back from lunging after Dante Grovers, the Rattlers' cornerback. Wyatt couldn't see Tuck, but a medical crew raced toward where he should have been.
"Son of a bitch." Wyatt shoved at Dwayne.
"I guess that shoulder injury story wasn't bullshit after all." Dwayne rolled free and rose. "You can't hit the side of a barn today, Hunter." With a taunting sneer, he spun away.
"Asshole." Gabe glared after Dwayne and offered Wyatt a hand, then tugged him to his feet.
An earsplitting cheer erupted as the head linesman announced defensive pass interference against the Rattlers. Gabe pitched his voice to be heard over the roar. "Your throw was dead-on. Tuck would have had it if Grovers hadn't clipped him."
"Shit." Wyatt's gaze whipped back to the bench. "Is he hurt?"
"Grovers spun him like a top, but he's on his feet."
As the offensive line gathered around him, Wyatt scoured the sideline. He spotted Tuck near the end of the bench where the medics huddled around someone lying on the ground. Wyatt's tensed shoulders loosened as relief edged out over concern. An injury to anyone on the roster was a problem, but losing their number one wide receiver in the opening game of the season would be disastrous.
They'd dodged a bullet, but weren't out of the woods yet.
He cast a quick glance at the game clock as Tuck returned to the field in a loping gait. Ten seconds left. Thanks to the Albuquerque penalty, the Marauders were facing a first down inside Rattler territory. They'd been handed an opportunity they couldn't afford to squander but, down by four, a field goal wouldn't do. It was end zone or nothing if they were going to pull off a win.
He clenched his teeth. Considering the clusterfuck the afternoon had been so far, that was a big if.
"Who's hurt?" he demanded of Tuck as he joined the loose huddle.
"A lady photographer. The ball tipped off my fingers and drilled her in the face."
A chorus of grunts sounded from the men.
Tuck nodded. "I didn't actually see her, but I heard one of the medics telling her she'll probably have one hell of a shiner."
Wyatt winced and shot a quick glance toward the medics.
Mario Davis, the team's bulky left tackle, sucked air through his teeth. "I'll bet. That pass was a damn cruise missile."
Gabe nodded in sober agreement. Tuck's lips twitched as if he were fighting a smile.
Wyatt frowned. "Why is that funny?"
"It's not, but the lady was. I'm not sure, because none of the words were actually profane, but I think she was cussing a blue streak."
On the other side of the circle, Jamal Knight didn't bother hiding his humor. The seven-year running back flashed his teeth in a grin. "Damn, Wyatt. You're on a roll. Looks like you've got another babe pissed at you."
"Yeah, man." Gabe leered and waggled his brows. "What happened to that legendary charm you used to have with the ladies?"
Wyatt grunted at the reminder of the fallout from his off-season injury. Caroline Wainwright, the team's owner, had docked him one hundred grand for skirting too close to the dangerous activities restriction in his contract, and V, his friend and the team's redheaded PR babe, was still giving him the stink-eye every time he visited the front office. He shoved his residual frustration over the situation aside to focus on the moment at hand.
In truth, his teammate's taunting snickers were a welcome change from the sober silence he'd faced throughout the afternoon. Gabe, Jamal, Mario, and Tuck were the best of the best. The starting line. All four had played at Wyatt's side since the Marauders had signed him as their starting QB. Over the course of seven seasons, they'd developed a solid comradery based on mutual respect, determination, and friendship. Mockery and laughter were a big part of the easy cadence that normally allowed them to work like a well-oiled machine.
So far today, that cadence had been off, but hell, it wasn't every day a team started the season with the possibility of making history by becoming the first team to win three consecutive Super Bowls. As their quarterback, it was Wyatt's job to set the pace, but nothing he'd tried had worked to overrule the men's understandable nerves.
He flicked a pained grimace toward the group of medics working over the lady press photographer. While he hated knowing his tipped pass had hurt the woman, it looked as if she might have delivered that miracle he'd been hoping for. He'd have to find a way to make it up to her. Later.
"Yeah, yeah." He eyed the play clock that had begun to tick off once again. "In case any of you forgot, we still have a game to win."
Sam's voice came through the speaker in his helmet, delivering what would most likely be the last play of the game. Not surprised by the ballsy call, Wyatt's grin was sharp. Nervous jitters hadn't been their only problem today. Albuquerque's defense had so far held the Marauders to fifty-eight yards in the air. With time running short, the Rattlers would be looking for the long pass, and that was just the advantage the Marauders would need to pull off their scam.
"All right, gentlemen, what do you say we dazzle these assholes with a little bait and switch?"
Tuck dipped his chin. "What's the call?"
"Eighty-two post left."
Wyatt was met with anticipatory grins all around. He reminded each player of their responsibilities, then broke the huddle. The men spread out on the line of scrimmage. Wyatt used the time on the play clock, uttering bullshit audibles designed to settle the defense deeper into their stances, then scrambled back into the shotgun formation, barely avoiding a delay of game penalty.
With his defensive line out of position for the developing play, Dwayne frantically shouted instructions for the shift. Wyatt didn't give them the time. He called the snap.
Jamal cut from the right, tucking his arms and bursting toward the left side of the field as if he'd accepted the handoff. The move drew several members of the defense with him and opened a hole in the line much smaller than Wyatt would have preferred.
No time for hesitation. He sprinted through the crack, continuing straight down center field, and hoped like hell he could stay free long enough to clear the route for one of his receivers. If he couldn't, time would run out, the Marauders would lose, and there was an excellent chance he'd end up in traction.
A wall of determined muscle pivoted toward him. His path to the end zone was blocked, but he kicked on the afterburners, drawing the defenders and eating up a few additional yards. The clock showed three seconds and he'd neared the line of scrimmage before Albuquerque realized what was happening. By then it was too late. Distracted by Wyatt's run, the Rattlers' right safety had fallen behind Tuck. For the league's quickest wide receiver, a step and a half was more than enough.
With two seconds left in the game, Wyatt launched off his right foot and let the ball sail. It flew past the confused defense to drop into Tuck's hands. The stadium exploded in frenzied celebration as he strolled into the end zone unopposed for the win.
* * *
Piper Darrow jumped as the curtained divider jerked open.
Eyes wide and full of concern, CC Tucker rushed to the side of the emergency room bed. "Getting out of the stadium was a nightmare. I followed as quickly as I could." The petite blonde cringed at the wad of gauze protruding from Piper's left nostril. "Oh, God. Is it broken?"
Touching a gentle fingertip to the bridge of her nose, Piper bit back a wince. "Slightly."
"Slightly?" CC dropped her gaze to Piper's blood covered sweater, then back. "That's an awful lot of blood for slightly." She crossed her arms. "Are you going all stoic English gentry on me?"
At her childhood friend's narrow-eyed complaint, humor overrode the dull throb of pain pulsing in Piper's nose and cheekbones. "I can't help myself. I am English gentry. We're reserved by birth and my stoic gene is dominant."
CC smirked. "I remember, Baroness Delaney. I also recall you participating in several very unreserved pranks during our summers in Italy. Especially one in particular that involved Signora Altobello's garden gnomes."
Piper laughed at the memory. "I was twelve and hadn't yet accepted the responsibility of my title." She pinned CC with an accusing grin. "And I wasn't alone in that mischief."
CC's eyes glittered with silent laughter. "Don't blame me. The gnome thing was Kris's idea."
"If memory serves, your cousin was the mastermind behind most of our pranks."
"Yeah." CC sighed happily. "We did have some fun, didn't we?"
They shared a grin, then CC sobered. "So, what's the verdict? Will you require surgery?"
Piper shook her head. A mistake. The headache brewing at the back of her eyes intensified. She dragged in a cleansing breath. "No. Thank God. Actually, I was pretty lucky. The doctor said it's a mild break and expects the bruising will be minimal. He prescribed rest, ice for any swelling, and an over-the-counter pain reliever."
CC's cheeks puffed on a windy sigh. "Oh, Piper. I'm so relieved."
"You and me both. I'll be released as soon as my paperwork is in order." Piper smoothed the sheet over her legs. "Apparently, American emergency rooms are the same as in the UK. They're a tangle of red tape."
"Give me a few minutes." CC adjusted the strap of her purse over her shoulder. "I'll take care of it for you."
"It's being handled. Caroline Wainwright's personal assistant is down the hall dealing with the hospital administration." Piper glanced at the door and frowned. "I have to say, I don't feel right about the Marauders paying my medical bills, especially since none of this is the team's fault."
"Of course, they're paying. As a contributing artist for the team's biggest fundraiser of the year, you were on the sideline as Caroline's personal guest." CC cocked her head and squinted. "Please tell me you aren't blaming yourself. This was an accident. You were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"I realize that but, you have to admit, it's obvious I have a major case of bad mojo when it comes to professional athletes."
"Mojo?" CC laughed.
Piper grinned and shrugged one shoulder. "You know what I mean."
"Don't even go there, girlfriend." CC's lips pulled tight in an affronted line. "It's not your fault Cody Beckett is a class A prick."
"There is no arguing that." Piper sighed. "But heavens. I haven't had a single incident with the normal men who visit Delaney Manor on a weekly basis, yet ten minutes surrounded by a field full of your American footballers and I'm a bloody mess." She touched a fingertip to the slight swelling between her eyes. "For my own safety, I believe I should limit my exposure to jocks while I'm here."
CC snickered and shook her head. "You can try." She propped a hip on the edge of the bed. "But it won't be easy. Especially with the Marauders players required to attend tomorrow night's fundraiser."
Piper chewed her bottom lip and winced. "There is nothing I can do about that, but I hardly think I'll have to watch out for flying footballs. With millions of dollars of art on display, I doubt the owners of the gallery will tolerate that type of tomfoolery."
CC grinned but her humor quickly died. She took hold of Piper's hand. "God, Piper. That ball had to be traveling at close to sixty when it hit you. When I saw you go down, I was scared to death."
"I admit, when I opened my eyes and found a crowd of uniformed behemoths standing over me, so was I, but I'm fine." She squeezed CC's fingers. "I promise."
"Okay." CC's chest expanded on a shaky sigh. "What can I do?"
Piper glanced down at the streaks of blood staining her sweater. "Have you a fresh jumper handy? I look like an extra from a horror film and don't want to frighten the hotel staff."
The concern in CC's eyes eased further with her laugh. "You don't have to worry about the hotel staff. I'm taking you home with me."
"That's not necessary."
"Yes, it is. You are not spending the night alone in a hotel room."
"Don't be silly." Piper tugged her fingers free. "I'm perfectly capable of caring for myself. Besides, I don't want to impose."
"Please. It's no imposition. The house has six bedrooms. We're only using two." Piper opened her mouth to make a further argument, but CC cut her off. "I should have insisted you stay with us from the beginning."
"Dearest, you know I appreciated the offer to be your guest then, as I do now." She softened her refusal with a smile. "But really, you have enough on your hands with a new baby, not to mention your handsome groom."
CC dismissed Piper's argument with the flick of her hand. "Tuck and I are hardly newlyweds and Huey is almost a year old. Anyway, bringing you home with me was Tuck's idea. If you want to refuse, you'll have to take it up with him."
Piper frowned. Having missed her friend's wedding because of scheduling difficulties at the manor, not to mention a decided lack of funds, she'd yet to meet CC's husband in person. "Why ever would he suggest such a thing? He's never even met me."
"Because you're my friend." A muffled jingle sounded from CC's purse. She bent over the bag and dug in search of her cell phone. "He didn't realize you were the lady photographer who'd been hurt. When he heard your name after the game, he called me from the locker room and insisted I convince you to come stay with us." She retrieved her phone and straightened, meeting Piper's gaze. "He feels guilty for not catching the ball."
"That's Tuck." CC shrugged and checked the phone's screen. Concern wrinkled her forehead as she answered the call. "Wyatt? What's going on?" She listened for a moment, then held a fingertip over the cell's mic to whisper, "It's Wyatt Hunter."
The name meant nothing to Piper, and she arched a questioning brow.
"The Marauders' quarterback," CC added, then spoke into the phone. "Besides a broken nose, she assures me she's fine." The deep rumble of Wyatt Hunter's voice reached Piper's ears. Whatever he was saying made CC laugh. "You can tell her yourself. She's sitting right here."
The headache in Piper's temples pulsed with renewed vigor. She waggled her hands in an I'm not here motion.
"He just wants to apologize." CC held out the phone.
Piper bit her bottom lip. Well, bother. So much for limiting her exposure to the Marauders players. Still, refusing to speak to the man would be rude and God forbid the Baroness of Delaney ever be discourteous. Swallowing the familiar frustration that came with the need to always do the socially correct thing, she accepted the phone and held it to her ear. "It's so kind of you to call, Mr. Hunter, but an apology isn't necessary."
Excerpted from To Win Her Smile by Mackenzie Crowne. Copyright © 2017 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
WOW WOW!! Here you have Baroness Piper Darrow and Pro Football Player Wyatt Hunter. Piper is in threat of losing the Manor[which has been in the family for a very long time]. Piper is a Photographer and jumps at the chance to go to the U.S. for a Manhattan Marauders football event but, while on the sidelines she get nailed with a football from one of Wyatt's passes and it ends up breaking her nose. Wyatt ended up having the best comeback ever and since he is a superstitious athlete he decided that Piper was his good luck charm. The Manhattan Marauders have their sights on the Super Bowl and Wyatt will don anything to keep Piper in the U.S.. Wyatt goes as far as offering Piper deal she can't refuse considering how she is strapped for money. The Manhattan Marauders offer her a deal as well. Wyatt has a secret about his sister and didn't want it coming out until his sister said something to her dad about the secret. Well some how the secret got out and all the evidence said it was Piper who revealed the secret. Wyatt was furious and lost his trust in Piper. Want to know what happens. Did Piper reveal the secret? Does Piper find out who revealed the secret? Do Piper and Wyatt get back together and work things out? You can get the answers by reading this truly awesome book!! I truly LOVED this book and thank you Mackenzie for an awesome book!!!!
Piper needs money to help save her family's estate and Wyatt offers her a job that could answer all her money problems, but will the personal sacrifice be too much... Mackenzie Crowne has spun a modern day romance that brings a sports figure, Wyatt, and a titled lady, Piper, into a story that is a little bit sweet and a little bit sassy. Throw in some spice, a bit of political scandal, some family drama, a little betrayal followed by an HEA that will have you swooning and you have To Win Her Smile.
to win her smile, is the fifth book in the gridiron players series. quarterback wyatt hunter has no idea how things will change when he decides the woman he inadvertently hit with a football on the sidelines is his new lucky charm. piper darrow has plenty of reasons to avoid a professional athlete, her ex saddled her with the label of the gold-digging baroness, and her land-rich, cash-poor inheritance helped lend credence to his claims. the last thing she wants in her life is another jock, especially not a superstar football player with hordes of press coverage, and even worse, his father happens to be running for president. so them as a thing can't happen. except someone forgot to tell her traitorous body. because one kiss from wyatt and piper's reasons completely slip her mind. and then there's the fact that wyatt keeps saying things like sticking together and falling for her and other words that commitment-phobes avoid. so she starts believing that maybe he won't let her down. of course he's a guy, and she's a lady, and there's this huge misunderstanding where he doesn't trust her or himself, mainly because someone he loves is hurt. and so winning piper back is going to take one hell of a grand gesture, because she'd been so close to believing in them when he forgot to believe in her. and those lapses of trust are harder to forgive even when you understand the reasons why. to win her smile is an enjoyable sports romance, and even though the fifth (possibly last) in the series it stands alone. although i enjoyed this enough to want to check some of the other books out. **to win her smile will publish on july 18, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/kensington books (lyrical shine) in exchange for my honest review.
4 1/2 STARS! A sexy pro baller plus a touch of British royalty equals the sassy ride of a lifetime! We recognize most of the supporting cast from previous books in the Players series, and enjoy jumping into their mix again. Lots of chemistry between characters and family turmoil abounds! Really fun and feisty read! British Baroness Piper Darrow is undercover in Manhattan taking the opportunity to visit an old friend and take part in a charity event at the same time. She never expects to meet the sexy quarterback of the Manhattan Marauders in quite such a slamming way! Wyatt Hunter is taken with Piper as soon as he sets eyes on her, and the fact that her misfortune on the sidelines of the game happened to be his turning point to a victory makes her this season's good luck charm! He'll do anything to convince her to stick around and help the team make it to the play-offs! When he offers her a deal she can't refuse considering she's a bit money strapped, will they use the opportunity to grow closer or will secrets tear them apart before they get the chance?
**I received a copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.** This was a sweet romance sports read and I enjoyed it a lot. The characters were enjoyable and the storyline was great. I even enjoyed all of the secondary characters. Piper knows what its like to have someone accuse her of using another person and feeling helpless to stop the rumors. The last thing she wants is to get involved with someone else but Wyatt Hunter is hard to resist. I enjoyed reading how their relationship developed and they were so sweet together. However, Wyatt has a secret to keep and someone will use what they have to get what they want. As they say, money is the root of all evil and it applies to this book. The ending was wrapped up nicely but I wished we got to see Wyatt's dad reaction when the truth came out since it was made a big deal in the story. So, that part of the story felt a little unfinished because I wanted to know what was said; what his dad said. Anyways, I enjoyed this story and I would definitely read more books from this author.
Loved this book! It had a ton of great characters and the story was fun and easy with a great flow to it. Angus is now one of my all time favorite characters! I really enjoyed how the relationship between Wyatt and Piper developed and how kind and caring Wyatt was when he found out about Piper's issues. Just an all round feel good story that left me smiling and happy. I highly recommend it to everyone.
To Win Her Smile by MacKenzie Crown Players #5 Do you believe in luck? Some, especially those that are sports minded and like to win, do believe and either have a routine or a charm or something they adhere to religiously – Wyatt Hunter is just such a man. When Wyatt’s football pass hits Piper Darrow on the sidelines changing their game from a loss to a win he is willing to stake money and more on getting her to attend the rest of the games. Piper, in need of money, has mixed feelings about the situation. Eventually an agreement is hammered out that includes photographs, money coming in from more than one source and the potential for some hot steamy times – without commitment. Well, a story can’t roll along smoothly without glitches so add in Wyatt’s politically minded father who has his nose in everything, a secret Wyatt’s sister does not want to come out, Piper’s atrocious cousin, misperceptions, mistrust and misconceptions and you have much to contend with. And…you also have a well written book that is not sunshine for all from beginning to end. I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. I am not sure if this is the last book in the series but I have a feeling it might be since there are five books published now and mention of The Fabulous Five throughout. There ARE other characters that could have their stories told, though, so who knows? Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books – Lyrical Shine for the ARC. This is my honest review. 4-5 Stars
To Win Her Smile is rich in laughter, strong in character and full of heart. Any story where the titular character has the ingenuity to not wait to be rescued but work toward their own salvation is aces with me. It's always a added bonus to discover a heroine as relatable and spirited as Piper. She bucked the odds by seeking a life filled with happiness. Wyatt, may be a jock but he's no fool. When the heart speaks he listens and that made him a winner in my book. Ms. Crowne continues to bring excitement and heart to some of the most delightful characters romance has to offer.