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Authors: Sara Rider

For the Win (5 page)

BOOK: For the Win
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Gabe braced one arm against the wall above Lainey's head and leaned in until their noses were almost touching. She held herself ramrod straight, refusing to give him the satisfaction of knowing he had any kind of effect on her.

“Keep telling yourself that, sweetheart. But don't come crying to me when I show you exactly what I'm capable of. And when I do . . .” He paused dramatically. The shiver that rippled over her and left a trail of goose bumps was totally due to the overactive air-conditioning in the building. Totally. “You're going to march straight back to Carson Chester's office and tell him that the Falcons want to switch the rest of their practice times with the Surge.”

Lainey laughed, evaporating the tension. “That's your bet? Seriously? Why do you care so much about Cricket Field?” With the intensity of his stare, Lainey was prepared for a more tawdry response. Then again, she was wearing her muddy, stinky practice clothes. The guy wasn't attracted to her; he was just messing with her to get what he wanted. The realization snapped Lainey out of the trance induced by his dreamy blue eyes.

“Cricket Field is cursed. Every time the Surge has practiced there, the team captain suffers a freak, career-ending injury.”

“Let me guess,” Lainey said, brushing her fingertips against the flecks of silver along his temple, trying to give him a taste of his own medicine. His hair was so soft . . . Dammit! She retracted her fingers like they'd just been burned. “You just happened to be the one wearing a C on your jersey?”

“You got it, babe.”

“You do realize curses and superstitions aren't real.” With an abrupt
, the elevator opened to the ground floor. “They're just an excuse for losers.”

Gabe grinned and pulled away, trailing the back of his hand along her cheek. “Then you'll have no problem accepting the challenge.” He walked out of the elevator, leaving her stunned.

Lainey slapped her hand against the closing door and called out after him. “Hold up, Havelak! New gear for practice space isn't a fair deal, since it won't personally cost you anything. I want something else, too.”

He paused, shoulders tightening a fraction. “What's that?”

“I'm going to enjoy driving your car after the Falcons prove that we're the superior team. I believe it's a Porsche. Or is it a Ferrari? You know, the red one with the license plate that reads SCCRGOD.”

She held her right hand out to him. When he turned around, Lainey was pleased as punch that she'd finally gotten him to scowl. With just a brief hesitation, Gabe extended his hand. “Deal.”


Lainey jumped up from the couch and rushed to the door, almost knocking over the side table. Not that it was necessary to provide a proper greeting, since Jaime had taken the liberty of walking right in, followed by Alyssa and Lynn, who were laughing hysterically. They were too engrossed by whatever was amusing them to bother with social niceties.

It took Lainey only a few seconds to recognize the faint, familiar sounds coming from Jaime's phone.

Her teammates had discovered the YouTube video.

“I still can't believe you dumped a drink over his head!” Alyssa said between bursts of laughter.

“Or that he dumped one on you,” Jaime added.

Lainey groaned. “Does everyone know about that video?”

“Not yet.” Jaime tapped rapidly on her phone, then looked up with a devilish grin. “But now my ninety thousand Twitter followers do.”

It took a few minutes for the next round of giggles to subside. “Why don't you guys just have a seat while we wait for everyone else to show up?”

“How about you show us where you keep it?” Jaime asked, waggling her eyebrows.

“Keep what?” Lainey said.

“The virgin's blood you bathe in every night. Are you going to share it with the rest of us?”

Alyssa chimed in to explain, probably sensing Lainey's utter confusion. “You know, the secret to your mojo? Your unwavering discipline? Your uncanny skill? Didn't you invite us to your home to finally include us in whatever voodoo you do?”

Lainey rolled her eyes and ushered the women to the couch. “Just sit. Please.” She fretted for another fifteen or so minutes, waiting for the last of the team to arrive, filling glass after glass of water for her guests, who seemed to have no problem making themselves at home. It baffled her how easily they relaxed and laughed with one another. With the exception of the moments on the field where they created magic together, she always felt stiff and awkward around her teammates.

Once everyone had arrived and crowded into her tiny living room, Lainey stepped into the middle of the room. She gulped a breath of air that felt like a rock pushing down her throat and rubbed her sweaty palms against her thighs. “So I've asked you all to come today because I need a favor. A big one.” She paused and took in a shaky breath.

“Can't say yes if you don't tell us what it is,” Alyssa said with a kind smile.

Lainey nodded, grateful for the encouragement. “After last night's, uh, incident, Carson Chester threatened to bench Gabe Havelak and me unless we go through with a battle of the sexes. A publicized competition to determine once and for all the superior players.”

Lainey silently reassured herself that everything would work out. After all, she'd called her teammates to gather that evening on a moment's notice. That they'd all shown up without complaint was another surprise on the growing list of shocking things they'd done in the last twenty-four hours, which included not complaining when Lainey pushed them harder than ever at practice this morning, despite how hungover they all were after yesterday's debacle.

Not that any of this meant she'd earned their respect.

“This is obviously between you and lover boy. Chester didn't threaten to superglue the rest of us to the bench, so why are we being dragged into it?” Lynn asked. The imposing redhead was sprawled out with her legs hanging over the armrest of Lainey's couch. Even though it was a tight squeeze with the full roster of Falcons in the small space, no one dared insist the goalie make room. Rumor had it that Lynn wrestled boa constrictors for money in a traveling circus before getting scouted by her college soccer coach.

“Because it's not just my spot on the line. Carson Chester is threatening to pull the plug on the entire Falcons franchise if we don't secure a broadcast deal and sell some more tickets. Sure, most of us would be picked up by other teams next season, but right now we have the chance to go down in history as the first-ever winning team of the American Women's Soccer League. I believe in every single one of us. We're the best, and we can win if we get our act together. And crazily enough, our season ticket sales jumped by eight percent this morning after the YouTube video came out. Apparently, a head-to-head battle with the Surge is exactly what we need to get the fans excited about us.” Lainey had almost had a heart attack when Frank called her with the good news that morning. It wasn't enough, but it sure was a step in the right direction.

“Assuming the Surge don't kick our butts,” Alyssa said dejectedly.

“Not going to happen,” Lainey said. “We have so much more to lose, so we won't lose.”

“How much time is this going to take? Are we being paid extra for it? I've got kids to take care of,” Lynn asked.

“We're not making any extra for this, and we have to find the time to plan the fund-raiser around our work and practice schedules. It won't be easy. We don't have the resources, connections, or money that the Surge have. But we do have each other. Nothing is impossible if we work as a team.”

The room quieted to a sober hush, and Lainey's anxiety grew with each passing second. The niggling concern in the back of her mind shoved its way to the forefront of her thoughts: maybe she just wasn't cut out to be captain. She couldn't wrangle the media to save her life, and she sure as heck didn't know how to rally her team of misfits or make them gel.

Lainey would just have to tell everyone to forget it, that she would deal with the consequences of her own actions.

“All right, I'm in,” Jaime said, nonchalantly playing on her phone.

A wave of relief washed over Lainey as a few more voices joined the choir.

“Oh thank god.” Lainey exhaled her long-held breath. She walked over to the paper chart she had posted to her wall. “Now let me give you the details. The whole thing is based on a series of competitions, each worth a varying number of points. First, we do a skills competition this Saturday. There are ten points up for grabs for each event. There's a long-distance race, followed by a sprinting competition. Jaime, I think we can leave that one to you to earn us a victory. Then there's juggling, hardest shot, and finally, a shoot-out with the top five penalty-kick takers from our team, plus Lynn in the net. We can sort out the rest of the details on the morning of the competition. All this takes place at Chester Stadium, with tickets being practically given away for the first event to increase our profile. Sound good?”

When there was no dissent, Lainey scribbled the names of the volunteer competitors in the proper categories and continued. “Next comes the fun part. The PR suits decided to take our disagreement to the letter, so we also have a cook-off on
Graham and Grace Good Morning Show
next week, worth ten points. I can't cook worth a lick, but I have to be there. I need a couple of other volunteers—”

“I got this!” Lynn shouted, despite the fact a few more women raised their hands in interest. She craned her neck to glare at each one of her competitors, who immediately retracted their hands. “I'm a wiz in the kitchen. Taught all the tricks by my gram. My husband says it's why he married me. That and the angle I reach when we do reverse cowboy—”

“Oooo-kay,” Lainey interrupted. She didn't have a good feeling about Lynn's claims, but then again, who was she to judge? The most Lainey could accomplish in the kitchen was slicing a raw carrot without spilling blood. “Then there's a trivia contest for fifteen points. We also need to come up with a charity fund-raising event. Chester insisted on this part to help restore our wholesome image. Whichever team raises more money gets another twenty points.”

“Is that the big finale event?” Alyssa asked.

“No. There's one more aspect to the competition.” Lainey cleared her throat. “Four weeks from now, the Falcons meet the Surge in an exhibition game, for forty points.”

“Awesome,” Alyssa shouted. The rest of the women whooped and hollered. “Wait a second. What happens if we lose?”

“Officially, nothing. But I told Gabe that I'd speak to the higher-ups about changing our practice space. He thinks Cricket Field is cursed.” Lainey giggled at the ridiculousness of it. Her laughter was met by pregnant silence.

“Cricket Field really is cursed,” Alyssa eventually offered. “Riviera in 2011. Elliot in 2009 and Alvarez in 2001. Heck, in 1997, Nielson tripped over a stray dog that had somehow wandered onto the field and snapped his arm in three places. It's always the team captain who ends up injured.”

“That's just coincidence. Besides, Alvarez wasn't injured while practicing on Cricket Field. He blew his knee in a semifinal match against the Philly Flash. It wasn't even in Seattle; it was an away game.”

“During a season in which Chester Stadium was being renovated and the Surge were playing on Cricket Field.”

“There's no such thing as curses. Just excuses for not working hard enough.”

“Enough trivia, nerds. Save it for the competition. I want to know what we get if we win,” Jaime said, much to Lainey's relief.

“All the new gear any of us could ever ask for, courtesy of Gabe's endorsement with Nike.”

“New cleats?” Alyssa asked excitedly.

Lainey nodded. “As many pairs as you need. Plus clothes, sneakers, heart-rate monitors, and anything else we need.”

“That's it?”

“Well . . .” Lainey hesitated, cheeks flushing with embarrassment at having to reveal another impetuous act on her part. “I sort of bet Gabe his car.”

Jaime burst out in hysterical laughter. “Are you serious?”

“It was the first thing that came to mind. I wanted to hit him where it hurts.”

“Oh, honey, you're too much.”

“So I want to win. What's so funny about that?” She crossed her arms and tucked in her chin, nearly pouting, while the rest of her team laughed. She hated being the only person who didn't get the joke, which happened more than she liked to admit. At least everyone seemed confident they had a real shot at beating the men and weren't going to let her rot on the bench the rest of the season, and that was what was most important.

“You do realize that Gabe was just trying to flirt with you when you went off on him last night? Instead of politely rejecting him, you forced him to put all his pride and ego on the line in a public battle of the sexes. On top of that, you take his car? You aren't just trying to hurt him. You're trying to castrate him!”

BOOK: For the Win
10.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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