Authors: Jami Davenport
Text copyright ©2014 by the Author.
This work was made possible by a special license through the Kindle Worlds publishing program and has not necessarily been reviewed by Nyree Belleville, Oak Press, LLC. All characters, scenes, events, plots and related elements of Game For Love remain the exclusive copyrighted and/or trademarked property of Nyree Belleville, Oak Press, LLC, or their affiliates or licensors.
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GAME FOR YOU
By Jami Davenport
Is there life after football?
One hard hit too many has forced Branson Bullock into early retirement. His future looks bleak, and he's struggling with what's next, since he's never planned for a life off the field.
Sarah Largo escaped an abusive relationship and has reinvented herself with plenty of hard work and an attitude makeover. As Branson's housekeeper, she keeps his home spotless, plans his parties, and cooks his meals, but her bad case of hero-worship for the former football star is Sarah's delicious little secret.
Tired of moping around his house, Branson impulsively invites Sarah to dinner, never expecting the sparks that flare between them. Intrigued, he pursues Sarah with all the strategy and determination he ever put to use on the football field, but hero-worship aside, Sarah is still struggling with confidence issues and worries she isn’t worthy of a good man’s love.
Have their pasts broken them beyond repair, or is a new life—together—just beginning?
I’d like to thank Bella Andre for this opportunity to play in her world. I’ve loved her books since the first one was published. She’s been an inspiration as I start my self-publishing career with her invaluable advice she shares willingly with the romance author community.
Thank you also to Laurie Ryan, Chassily Wakefield, and Delia Brendan who dropped what they were doing to come to my rescue at the last minute when I needed help with the editing, cover, and blurb of
Game for You
Table of Contents
Branson Bullock’s life as he knew it was over. Fucking over. Done. The clock had r
un out, and he’d lost the final game. He’d played through various injuries over the years, but he couldn’t play through this. This was his head, and the League took that kind of stuff seriously with all the crap being discovered about head injuries and the legal ramifications.
He’d gotten t
hree separate opinions, and every doctor agreed. Damn them.
Too dangerous to risk one more hit. You’ve already taken too many risks and played beyond what was considered safe.
safe. Branson had never once in his life played safe, and now they were forcing him out. His hall-of-fame career couldn’t end after one hard hit in training camp over a week ago. It just couldn’t.
But it had.
The San Francisco Outlaws, the team he’d played for all eight years of his professional career approached him late last week with plans for a big retirement party and to honor him at the first home game. He’d flipped them off and stomped out of the practice facility. That afternoon, they cut him. Fine, he didn’t need them. His agent’s phone would ring off the hook.
He entered free agency, and not one team showed interest, not after the reports of his latest concussion. And now his last hope, that third doctor, drove a final nail in his gridiron coffin.
He was supposed to go out in a bla
ze of glory, catching his last football in the end zone during a championship game, not be taken out by a rookie free agent in a training camp scrimmage.
Stuff like this shouldn’t happen to him. He’d paid his dues, earned his stripes, and done everything the right way.
But now he was a month short of turning thirty, and he had no future. Only a past. No plans. No career. No aspirations. Nothing. Not a damn thing.
Sure, he had money
and plenty of it. He’d been mighty careful to stockpile his millions and invest wisely. No way would he be one of those players who was broke within a few years of retirement. He hadn’t clawed his way out of poverty to be shoved into that black hole again.
oney wasn’t an issue. Life without football was.
He’d dedicated twenty-nine years of his life to football, foregone a steady girlfriend, a wife, a fami
ly of his own. Everything in his life had revolved around football. But now it couldn’t.
Branson slumped down on the veranda of his waterfront view home
, wishing for dark storm clouds or thick, hazy fog to match his mood. Instead, bright sunshine streaked the water with cheerful bursts of light, as if mocking him.
heard his housekeeper, Sarah, bustling about the living room, cleaning and vacuuming. He wished she’d finish and leave him to wallow in his misery. Those pitying glances she’d cast his way all morning pissed him off. He hated being the object of anyone’s pity and she didn’t deserve his anger, so he’d escaped outside with his bad attitude and a carafe of coffee rather than take his frustrations out on an innocent bystander.
ullock, I made you some lunch.” Sarah stood in the doorway, usually a slight, nervous little thing. She used to remind him of a fairy or a lost waif or something equally small and fragile. She’d always been skittish, and he tamped down his temper so he wouldn’t scare the heck out of her.
, she regarded him with a steady gaze, friendly yet firm, and only a hint of her former shyness.
It’s Branson,” he said wearily, repeating the words he’d uttered a hundred times over the past three years she’d worked for him.
“Sorry.” Nodding, she placed a grilled-
cheese sandwich and bowl of thick, rich soup in front of him.
Even in his crappy mo
od, the delectable smell of one of her signature soups wafted to his nostrils, reminding him that he was damn hungry, not having eaten since yesterday at lunch when he’d gotten the final results from that last doctor and talked to his agent.
Sarah turned to walk
back inside. He put out a hand to stop her, and she cringed and pulled away, staring at him with frightened eyes, reverting back to the old Sarah. Branson frowned, temporarily forgetting about himself and focusing on her, and what little he knew about her, other than she was close to him in age and came highly recommended by a former teammate. She stayed in the background and out of his way. Never said much. And he never asked much. At least not anything personal. He understood her need for privacy. He was a private person himself.
She’d been one of the constants in his life which he took for granted. Like football had been.
But now he noticed little things, now that he was looking. He ran his gaze down her cute little body and up again to her face. She wore no makeup that he could discern. Funny that he’d never noticed before how pretty she was, or how nicely her simple cotton shirt shaped itself around a pair of mouth-watering breasts, or how her tan pants hugged her fine, rounded ass. Or those eyes. She had beautiful, expressive brown eyes, like a scared doe about to bolt at any moment. Her pale skin shone like porcelain. He guessed most women would die for skin like that, and his fingers itched to touch her. That thought sat him back on his heels.
What the hell?
He stared harder, unable to stop himself.
Lately, she’d been differ
ent. Not so skittish. There’d been subtle changes in her, even if they didn’t register in his brain until now. He’d long suspected she’d been involved in an abusive situation. He knew the signs all too well.
. The long-sleeved shirts on hot days, the occasional black eye, an arm in a cast, moving as if she hurt, and the fear in her eyes. He’d even approached her about it on more than one occasion, offered to help if she needed it. Of course, every time, she flat out denied any problem. And he’d let it go at that.
months ago, she started wearing short sleeves and the bruises on her arms faded to nothing. He hoped like hell she’d gotten rid of the bastard who’d done that crap to her. Branson’s fingers curled into fists at the thought of a man beating on a little thing like this. He’d like to give the jerk a taste of how it felt to fight a real man, not a woman half his size.
Sarah cleared her throat, startling him. “I’m sorry you were cut. I’ll miss watching you play.”
“You’ve watched me play?” He frowned up at her. She’d never once mentioned being a football fan. How had he not known that one simple fact about her after three years?
She nodded, her eyes lighting up for a moment. “I love football
and the Outlaws are my team.”
“I never knew.” Guilt sliced through him.
He should’ve asked her, offered her tickets once in a while, but he’d been too busy playing the part of Superjock—best tight end in the league, some said the best tight end ever, too busy for the real people in his life. Lack of time wasn’t an issue now.
“Now you do.” She met his gaze and started to look away
, then she visibly straightened, and stared right back at him, displaying an inner strength he’d never seen before, and he secretly applauded her for it. In fact, he glanced away first. Staring into her deep brown eyes with their hint of sadness and pain did strange things to him, things he’d not allowed himself to feel when football had been his only mistress.
“Join me for
lunch, Sarah.” His words shocked him and obviously shocked her. He reached out and gently tugged on her hand. This time when he touched her, she didn’t flinch. He didn’t want her to leave. Something about her appealed to him, perhaps it was a hidden, mutual pain, and their struggle to rise above it. Perhaps it was something more primal. He definitely noticed her female assets.
ared down at the big hand engulfing hers, and he quickly released it. “Sorry,” he mumbled. He seemed to be saying that a lot lately.
“I can’t. It’s not righ
t.” She made a move to leave again, but he held her in place with one stern look.
“Please, I’d love some company.”
He forced himself not to plead with her, already only a few words away from down-grading his alpha status to a miserable, pussy-assed beta.
hesitated, sucking her plump lower lip between her teeth. He stared at that lip and got hard. Instantly. Losing his career must be throwing him way off, as he’d never responded to her like that before, never noticed her body, never stared into her eyes, and definitely never groveled for her to dine with him.
Perhaps today might be a good day to start.
“Please,” he begged, half-desperate for her quiet, gentle companionship.
She didn’t say a word
, but escaped into the house.
He sighed. Alone again.
A few minutes later, she appeared with lunch of her own and sat in the chair opposite his without a word. He offered her a friendly smile. She smiled back, then ducked her head shyly, concentrating on her soup. Obviously, remnants of the old Sarah still existed, but her efforts to be brave struck a chord deep inside him. He was proud of her.
Branson finished first and leaned back in his chair, feeling better than he’d felt in a while just because of her calm presence.
He watched her finish a meal equivalent to his and wondered where she packed all that food on her little body. She smiled tentatively at him. God, when she smiled like that, she had to be the most adorable little lady in San Francisco.
He sat back in his chair and stretched,
leveling a gentle gaze in her direction. “So tell me, Sarah, what do you do when you leave here? Do you have a family?” Small talk, that’s all it was, yet he really wanted to know the more about her.
Her smile dipped
, and she regarded him with suspicion. “I—I live next door to my mother and help care for my sister’s younger kids while Mom works nights cleaning businesses.”
“Oh, I see.
Why doesn’t your sister take care of them?” Seemed like a safe question, but her frozen expression said it was anything but.
“My mom has full custody.”
Ah, okay. Branson tiptoed out of that mine field, seeking safer ground. “How many siblings do you have?”
“I’m the oldest. I have
“And one of them isn’t able to care for her kids
?” There he went, bumbling right back into the danger zone. He had no idea why he was being so nosy.
Her brown e
yes clashed with his showing that inner strength again, even if she did have to work for it. She raised her head proudly. “She can’t. She’s in prison for murder. She robbed a convenience store with her boyfriend, and the clerk was killed.”
I’m sorry. It’s really none of my business. I shouldn’t have pushed.” He ran a hand through his shaggy hair, mentally reminding himself to get it trimmed. He’d been raised poor, but his single mother had been church-going and respectable, God rest her soul. He didn’t have siblings in jail. In fact, he didn’t have siblings at all. He hadn’t lived in a world like hers, but he could imagine it, as he had friends and teammates who dealt with gangs and violence on a daily basis.