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Authors: Sara Rider

For the Win (7 page)

BOOK: For the Win
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Lainey wandered through the gray archway leading toward the change room, where her teammates were probably already enjoying steaming hot showers and dry towels. The image beckoned to her like the sweetest fantasy.

“Hey, wait up!”

Lainey sighed and turned around. Sure enough, the Hometown Ego was jogging after her.

“Just so you know, Grace Mallery has not, and will never, experience my superpowered penis,” he said solemnly.

“Oh, so she's just gotten to know your lackluster and unremarkable penis?”

Gabe's brows creased. He stepped closer, placing his hands on either side of her against the wall, trapping her. “Honey, there is nothing lackluster about my penis. Got it?”

“If I say yes, will you let me go have the shower I've been fantasizing about for the last three hours?”

“Interesting,” Gabe said in a hushed voice.

“What?” Lainey asked, exasperated. The man still wasn't wearing a shirt. Not that she cared. The soccer world was full of men with beautiful chests and chiseled muscles. She would not be distracted by bulging biceps or a treasure trail of hair dipping below his shorts. Or scorching-hot discussions of his penis. She bit her lip, then realized his intense eyes were studying her every twitch. Stop it, Lukas! She straightened her mouth into a hard line and leveled her gaze to his.

“Who knew we had so much in common? I've been fantasizing about you in the shower for the last three hours, too.” His smile clearly indicated he was following every errant thought running through her mind.

Lainey pushed his chest to free herself and walked away.

“No need to be a sore loser!” he called after her.

“It's not over yet! We're going to kick your butt at the cook-off.” Lainey picked up her pace, hoping Gabe would get the hint and let her walk away with the last word. She hated to admit it, but she was probably going to have to take a cold shower after getting close to him. How could a man smell so good after sweating that much? It was like he was biologically engineered to drive her crazy.

“You sure about that?” He jogged after her.

“Absolutely.” Lainey was a terrible cook, but she was confident Gabe was too lazy to know his way around the kitchen. Even if she had to read every cookbook ever written between now and next week, she was going to win the second round in this inane competition. It was no longer just about proving the Falcons' worth—this competition was turning personal, and there was no way she was letting Gabe Havelak get the best of her.

“If you're so sure, then you wouldn't mind a little side bet?”

“I'm already taking your Porsche once this is over. Are you sure you can handle losing any more of your dignity? It's not like you have much to begin with.”

“Oh, I'm more than willing to put a little bit of my dignity on the line for the chance to win a kiss from the famous Lainey Lukas.” He trailed a finger down the back of her neck.

Traitorous butterflies fluttered in Lainey's stomach. “Well, I suppose I can let you entertain that pathetic fantasy for a little while if it means you'll be cleaning the mud from my cleats.”

“Is that a euphemism for saying you want to get dirty with me?”

Lainey spun around. “Are these sexual overtures your way of avoiding the bet? What's the matter, Havelak, scared you'll lose?”

He clenched his jaw and held out his hand. “You're on.”

She shook Gabe's hand, and then headed straight to the showers to douse the heat radiating from her skin with a cold blast of water.


“Brush your teeth and wipe your face, then say hello to Graham and Grace! It's
The Graham and Grace Good Morning Show
. Today, we're featuring new decor trends for your patio, and a cook-off with Seattle's very own Hometown Hero Havelak!”

her breath.

“Hag,” Jaime whispered with equal disdain.

“Big ol' slut bag,” Lynn added, a touch too loudly.

The three women broke out in laughter. For once, they weren't hurling the insults at one another. Today, the target of their ridicule was Grace Mallery. They were fifteen minutes into the cook-off competition, and the woman had yet to even acknowledge the Falcons' presence.

Frank, who was standing next to the floor producer and monitoring his team's conduct, ran a finger across his throat. Sheesh. You'd think he'd be in a better mood today. Apparently, even the surprise announcement this morning that Channel 7 had agreed to pick up four home games and all play-off matches wasn't enough to cheer up their perpetually sour PR manager. Sure, it wasn't a full-season pickup like other teams in the AWSL, but it was enough to get them through the season. Maybe Frank was just worried that their on-air antics would screw up the deal.

“Back to work, ladies,” Lainey muttered. Her teammates grumbled but complied. With her head down and focused on the utensils in front of her, Lainey snuck a few sideways glances at Gabe and his teammates, who were working at the other end of the long, television-perfect kitchen workspace.

“Well, Grace, as I'm sure you and all of Seattle know, my mama—there she is in the front row—hi, Mama! Ma's an amazing cook and taught me everything I know about the kitchen. She always cooks my favorite dish before a home game. But, of course, she won't reveal her special cabbage roll recipe to just anyone, so we'll be making zarzuela de mariscos instead. It's a dish I learned while playing in Spain.”

The audience clapped for his saccharine ploy. Grace purred and leaned against the counter where Gabe and his crew were working, letting her cleavage spill out even farther. Johnny Darling halted his rapid-fire dicing of a pepper to gape at her and even the laid-back Joe Sheridan snuck a sideways peek. Lainey was a morning person, but it was still too damn early for this.

“So, Gabe,” Grace drawled, “you were saying the Battle of the Sexes between the Surge and the Falcons, sponsored by Channel 7 Sports, is raising money for charity. Tell me more about your heroic efforts to help the poor children of Seattle.”

Lainey fastidiously lined up three different-size knives on the white marble countertop, all the while trying to ignore Gabe's booming, flirtatious voice. She'd planned to take a cooking class after winning the World Cup. It was number twelve on her list. Right now, her diet consisted mainly of raw vegetables and lean proteins that a sports nutritionist specifically planned out for her. Cooking wasn't a luxury she could indulge in at this point. After the Falcons won the season, though, all that would change. Lainey would get to savor the delicious aromas filling the air. She might even splurge on a fancy Italian meal, rich with illicit flavors of white pasta and gooey, greasy cheese. After she won a championship.

Always after.

Lainey sighed. With the large windows at their backs exposing them to the passersby on Pike Street and the live audience in front of them, she felt like she was in a fishbowl. Her aunt Marnie and uncle Walt were in one of the back rows. Whereas her uncle was a gruff man most comfortable in a pair of worn jeans, her aunt was a kind, prim woman with a sensible haircut and impeccable manners. Lainey gave them a surreptitious wave. They responded enthusiastically, restoring some of her confidence.

“All profits from ticket sales to the events are going toward charity,” Gabe continued. “Whichever team wins will choose the charity. The Surge are playing for Wish-Upon-a-Star. After this cook-off, our next battle round is a fund-raising event. The team that raises the most money earns twenty points.”

Grace's eyes lit up with smug flirtation. “Will the Surge be hosting another bachelor auction? I know some women would pay plenty of money to get their hands all over you.”

Lainey chuckled as a look of panic briefly crossed Gabe's face.

“Ah, no. But close. We're finishing up a photo shoot for our Men of The Surge Calendar in the next couple of weeks, which will be available at all major grocery stores in the city next month for the low price of twenty bucks. We expect the proceeds to pull in well over five digits for the Wish-Upon-a-Star charity, but we need your help, Seattle.” Gabe gave a smoldering look directly into the camera that had Grace fanning herself. “With your efforts, we can make sure the sick children of Seattle have all their dreams met.”

“Well, Seattleites, let's make sure we all go out and support the Surge in their efforts. Maybe we'll convince them to make this a yearly endeavor!” Grace said in her squeaky voice.

“Good grief,” Jaime said, slamming a metal bowl on the counter. “This is bullshit. I can't take any more of her woman-hating favoritism. We need to take a stand. We need to show her exactly what the Falcons have up our sleeves.”

“But we don't have anything up our sleeves,” Lainey muttered, too quietly for Jaime to hear. She watched with a mix of horror and amazement as Jaime untied her apron, fluffed her hair, and barreled her way between Grace and Gabe, snatching the microphone from Grace's hand.

“You can make all the calendars you want, Havelak, but the Falcons have an epic fund-raiser planned that will knock your socks off. Epic! Ain't that right, Captain?”

The cameras panned to Lainey as she tried to keep the look of shock off her face. Leave it to Jaime to betray her just as they were starting to get along. Frank was glaring at her, thick black eyebrows raised with expectation.

“Yes, that's right,” she said lamely.

“And what is it?” Grace asked impatiently.

Lainey's mind was completely blank. “Well . . . it's a secret. But when we do reveal it, it will be . . . uh . . . epic, just as Jaime said. But the important thing is that we're playing for HomeStart—a charity that helps abused women and children find safe, affordable places to live.” The morning talk show environment was very different from what she was used to. In the pressroom, the cameras kept a respectable distance. But here it was as though the cameramen were trying to inspect her gums for signs of gingivitis. She tried to ignore the camera and the fact that her scar was on full display, though she was certain that nerve-induced red hives were bursting all over her neck and cheeks.

Grace gave an unimpressed snort.

“Clearly the Falcons intend to play coy with their fund-raiser details,” Gabe said. “But I'm sure Lainey will reveal a few hints at the end of the show. Personally, I'm hoping they'll be making a calendar, too.” He threw in a wink to the audience, instigating a round of applause. “Now let me tell you about my secret ingredient. I like to add a little flair to the sauce by adding Manzanilla olives. I encourage those of you at home—who will no doubt be trying this recipe out tonight—to not forget this special touch.”

Lainey was grateful for the reprieve, though annoyed it'd come from Gabe. She was doubly annoyed when he popped a green olive past a sly grin and the largely female audience sighed in unison.

The show cut to Grace's cohost introducing a segment on the season's hottest new shades of throw pillows, giving the competitors time to work on their meals.

“Thanks for throwing me under the bus,” Lainey said as Jaime walked back to the Falcons' side of the counter.

“Oh c'mon now, Lukas. You're our fearless leader. I have every confidence you'll come up with something,” Jaime answered jovially. “Now pass me the thingamabob over there.” Jaime gestured to the pile of utensils cluttering the counter.

“The what?” Since Lainey was useless in the kitchen, Lynn and Jaime had insisted she be relegated to the role of utensil organizer.

“You know. The thing? With the handle?”

Lainey randomly passed a spatula to her teammate, hoping it was what she was looking for. Jaime took the spatula without complaint, so Lainey figured she'd guessed right. Then again, Jaime used it rather ineffectually to mix some sort of heavy batter.

“Good god, woman, I thought you knew how to cook!” Lynn fumed, pulling the bowl out from under Jaime and handing it to Lainey, along with a wooden spoon. “Stir this until it thickens.”

“I never said I could cook. I said I needed to be here so that the Falcons look good on camera. Physically. I know it's early, but would it have killed the two of you to wear a little mascara?”

Lainey plunged the spoon into the batter and glanced over at the guys' side, where Johnny was expertly slicing and dicing vegetables while sneaking glances at Grace's cleavage as she hovered. Earlier, Johnny had mentioned he worked under the table as a sous-chef for one of the top restaurants in the city as a teenager. Lord help them, the girls were doomed. Lainey prayed Lynn could really cook. She was their last hope.

Over the next half hour, the women worked frantically to prepare their five-star Scottish-inspired meal, which, much to Lainey's relief, wasn't haggis but rather a fancy salmon dish wrapped in a pastry.
En cro
, Lynn said, though Lainey had no idea what that meant. Fortunately, her teammate was proving to be quite capable as a chef. Since Jaime's only real qualification in the kitchen was looking good in an apron, Lynn had taken over the dessert in addition to the main, giving Lainey the side—an elaborate vegetable soufflé—and reassigned Jaime to chopping and measuring. Somehow, Lainey was even managing to have fun with her teammates as they worked together in their own special, chaotic way.

Lainey picked up the set of red measuring spoons and read the labels. Quarter teaspoon. Teaspoon. Three-quarter tablespoon. No milliliters. “The recipe says thirty-five milliliters of cream of tartar. What is that in cups?” Lainey asked her teammates.

“I don't know, but make sure it's exact or the whole thing will fall apart,” Lynn ordered in a Gordon Ramsay–esque voice.

“What's the equivalent of thirty-five milliliters in tablespoons, Chen?”

“How the heck would I know?” Jaime said while frantically picking up the diced veggies that had spilled onto the ground. Streaks of white flour stood out starkly against her deep black hair.

“You're Canadian. Don't you use the metric system up there?” Lainey asked.

“Not for cooking!” Jaime shouted back, a hint of panic in her voice.

“Come on, ladies. We need that cream of tartar or this dough is going to fall flat,” Lynn shouted impatiently.

Lainey craned her neck to see if there were any other measuring cups around and nearly knocked her head into a heavy black camera that had come in for a close-up. She picked up a measuring cup that had millimeter equivalents. If 250 milliliters was one cup, then all she had to do was figure out what the equivalent of 35 milliliters was, then figure out how many tablespoons in a cup and do that math as well. She drew every ounce of concentration in her body to help her focus on the complicated math in her head. She could do this . . .

“Looks like the Falcons are having some trouble,” Grace said in her condescending way. She dipped her microphone in front of Lainey's face, breaking her concentration. “With only fifteen minutes to go, I'd hate to see your soufflé droop.”

Jaime picked up a knife and pointed it in the reporter's direction. “Listen, woman. The only things at risk of drooping are your fake ti—”

“Not at all,” Lainey interrupted just in the nick of time. Frank looked ready to throttle them all. “Everything is under control.”

She scanned the room for anything that could help her. Her eyes settled on Aunt Marnie's frantic waving and hand signals in the back row. Lainey silently gestured that she couldn't understand her aunt's cryptic instruction. With her mouth pursed in a tight line, Aunt Marnie marched her embroidered blue sweatsuit–clad self through the row of seats and down to Lainey.

“It's two and a third tablespoons, dear,” she instructed her niece. Lainey breathed a sigh of relief and poured out the white powder as the audience chuckled at her expense. “You need to whip this at a medium high speed if you want it to stay fluffy and airy.”

“Looks like someone isn't above a little cheating,” Gabe boomed out. “Perhaps I should get my ringer down here to help, too. Come on, Mama! Let's even out this competition!”

To Lainey's dismay, the portly, gray-haired woman wearing a Surge tracksuit in the front row instantly jumped up and made her way to Gabe with a beaming smile on her face.

“That's good, son,” she said in her thick eastern European accent, patting Gabe on the cheek. She turned to Johnny. “Now, you. Add a little more salt to this dish.”

“Whoa! Hold up, lady. You can't possibly know this needs more salt. I've got it handled,” the young player said defensively.

“It needs more salt,” Gabe's mom said firmly, grabbing the box of salt and liberally pouring it into the pot in front of him. Lainey and her teammates snickered, glad to see Gabe's plan backfire. Unfortunately, their laughter drew the attention of the staunch woman. “And you, ladies! You need nutmeg in that soufflé.”

“But the recipe doesn't call for it,” Lainey stammered.

“Well, it should.” Mrs. Havelak slammed her hand on the counter. “In my generation, young women knew how to cook. It's the secret to keeping a man happy.”

“This recipe has been passed down through generations in my family. It's perfect,” Lynn said, wielding a scraper in her hand. “And my man is plenty happy!”

“It really would help the flavor, dear,” Aunt Marnie chimed in, much to Lainey's shock.

BOOK: For the Win
4.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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