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I was born to play and bred to win.
My priorities were instilled in me early on—family and football. Those ideals led me to TGU and a coach whose ironclad principles mirrored my own.
With one last college season to play, my goal was singular—get drafted. By realizing my NFL dream, I could save my family, our ranch, and the only home I’d ever known.
Two birds, one ball.
Playing hard was my only option, but there’s always a wild card.
For all of my planning and hard work, I never anticipated falling for the coach's daughter. Harper was a fair catch, but who knew loving her could be the one play to throw my career before it started or that the weight of our secret would change the game.
*The Guy in the Middle is a stand alone novel in the Underdog Series. This is Lance's story.
“I’ve missed you, you know? More than you can imagine.”
“Can’t imagine it at all,” he says, picking through a book he’s not reading.
“Can I help you two?” One of the store sales associates asks, and I shake my head and smile. When she takes her leave, I look over to Lance who stands fuming on the other side of a table filled with loose items. We’re in a mismatch shop full of mostly cheap junk, and I can’t imagine him finding anything for his mother here.
“Lance, I have missed you. Horribly.”
“Could have fooled me.”
I can only take so much. Irritated, I lift a designer coffee mug from the table.
“You like this for your mom?”
“How about this?”
“Nope.” He’s not even looking at what’s in my hands.
“You sure? It’s a hide purse. Cute for a rancher’s wife, don’t you think?” This gets his attention, and stormy eyes lift to mine.
“Would you buy that for you?”
I look it over and shake my head. “Not really my style.”
“Bet it’s not.”
I can feel my ears reddening. Fuming, I eye a box on the shelf, snatch it and shove it into his chest. “How about this giant fucking purple dildo and matching anal plug!? Think mom will like that?”
He looks up completely unaffected, “Nope.”
“I don’t think we’re in the right place,” Tossing the box down, I stalk out of the cluttered shop and into the department store next to it. He’s hot on my heels.
“Got that fucking right.”
I turn back to see he’s spoiling for a fight and release a stressed breath. Fighting with him is the last thing I want to do. “Look, lets, just…” I search around and pull a sweater from the closest rack. “How about this? Simple, elegant.”
“You think Mom’s simple, huh? I’ll give her your regards.”
“That’s it.” I hook the sweater back on to the rack and close the space between us, forcing his eyes to mine. “God, you’re still a brute, aren’t you? You haven’t changed a bit. Still pig-headed as hell.”
“Pig-headed?” He opens his mouth in mock shock and covers his chest with his hand. “How dare you.”
I’m in between fight or flight, but I’ve been dodging this long enough. My heart can’t take more confrontation. I missed him too much. His eyes flare with satisfaction at my irritation. “Misery loves company, right, Lance?”
“Never said I was miserable.”
“You don’t have to. Did you come to New York just to torture me?”
“Rub it in on what I’m missing out on?”
A voice sounds from next to us. “Is there something I can help you find today?”
We both turn to the woman with lasers in our eyes, and she swallows. I clear my throat. “We’re fine. Thank you.”
Lance winks at the woman, his eyes scanning her form. “Maybe you can help me?”
“You son of a bitch,” I hiss, before walking away from the table. His voice rings out next to me as I rip through a rack of scarves.
“Good to know you care, Priss, gotta admit, it’s surprising.”
I reel on him. “Don’t you dare! Leaving you was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I had to make a clean break. I had just lost everyone that mattered to me. I was losing my mind.”
“I got pissed for one day, and you went off the grid.”
“And you let me go because you knew no matter how much we wanted it to work, it couldn’t. You have no idea what I went through!”
“What you went through? Do you know I spent six months ranting to an Uber driver named Dave because everyone on my team hated me when the truth came out?” He stomps after me as I pull sweater after sweater off the rack. “Troy jumped ship after he got drafted. I had no one but Tony and those fights.”
I turn to him with twenty sweaters in my arms. “Jenner? When did y’all get so tight?”
“When shit got tough, and my fucking girlfriend bailed!” He glares down at me, his breaths coming out fast.
“Guys, we’re going to need you to take this outside.” A woman whom I assume is the store manager approaches us cautiously.
I look around the store and see all eyes are on us, especially the women sizing him up. “He’s available ladies,” I snap, laying the sweaters on a nearby table, “I’m willing to bet he comes really cheap.” He’s on my heels as I push through the glass of the department store.
“Oh, was I supposed to wait for you? Must have missed that memo. That’s it, you must want a saint. That’s why you didn’t stay.”
“I was twenty years old and alienated from a place I didn’t want to be anyway.”
“Good to know.”
“That’s not the way I meant it. And you know damn well until you, I was only there to appease my Dad, who I barely speak to now.”
“I’m sorry about that, I am, but that’s on him. And what in the hell are you talking about ‘alienated’?”
“Forget it.” I pull on my gloves as heavy snow starts to come down. “I think we’ve concluded our tour for today.”
He glances around the sidewalk. “Well, no need to show me more, I hate this fucking place!”
“And why is that? Not enough free-range chickens?!”
His eyes flare. “You digging on the ranch now, Priss? I saw a fucking rat the size of a cat on my run this morning!”
“Probably has better manners than you, shit head.”
“Pulling out the big guns now, huh? There’s that backbone. I was wondering where it went.”
“Go home, Lance, you hate it here. And you obviously hate me.”
“Just the opposite. It’s impossible, and believe me, I’m trying!”
“Well, I hope you succeed! Thanks for stopping by, Mary Poppins. Best Christmas ever! Make sure to bulldoze the nativity scene on your way out!”
“Fuck this.” He throws his hands up and eyes me warily before turning and walking away.
“Merry Christmas to you, too!”
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USA Today bestselling author and Texas native, Kate Stewart, lives in North Carolina with her husband, Nick, and her naughty beagle, Sadie. She pens messy, sexy, angst-filled contemporary romance, as well as romantic comedy and erotic suspense. Kate's title, Drive, was named one of the best romances of 2017 by The New York Daily News and Huffington Post. Drive was also a finalist in the Goodreads Choice awards for best contemporary romance of 2017. Her works have been featured in USA TODAY, BuzzFeed, and translated in five languages.
Kate is a lover of all things '80s and '90s, especially John Hughes films and rap. She dabbles a little in photography, can knit a simple stitch scarf for necessity, and on occasion, does very well at whiskey.