Authors: Olivia Lancaster
A Football Player Bad Boy Romance by Olivia Lancaster
Bonus Book: TKO
I had always been a loner. During my school days I was often the focal point of the bullies, an easy target for lowlife jerks who needed to knock someone else down a peg to feel better about their own pathetic lives. On top of being gawky and clumsy with frizzy hair and braces, I was always a huge nerd, as well. Being naturally gifted certainly benefited me in my scholastic career, but it didn’t do me any favors in the friend department. I mean, I did have a couple of friends back then, usually just as nerdy and socially inept as I was, but for the most part I learned how to get by on my own. Group projects generally turned into solo all-nighters, and I suppose that’s how I learned self-discipline, how to be my own coach and cheerleader.
It may not have gained me any favors with the popular crowd back then, but it sure as hell gave me a leg-up nowadays. I was a cub sports journalist, wedged between two equally fast-paced, high-stress writing gigs, pulling sixty-hour work weeks and micromanaging every dime I earned. I spent so much time with my laptop, pen, and spiral notebook that I occasionally had to wear wrist braces to deal with the strain. But I was determined to make my dreams of becoming a big-time successful athletic reporter come true, and if I had to skip meals, forego sleep, and claw my way there… then so be it.
Today I was in a particularly intense state of exhaustion, having spent the last couple of nights poring over football stats and researching the personal backgrounds of different players. The bulletin cork board hanging over my laptop in my cubicle at the office was covered with post-it notes and photos printed off the Internet, creating preliminary rudimentary profiles for each and every guy on the Nevada team. I was trying to narrow down which team member to select for a detailed interview, someone to follow for the season, like a sort of spotlight dedication.
It was mind-numbing work, trolling through stats and percentages, records and numbers. Don’t get me wrong, for a former nerd I was surprisingly into sports. Sometimes I wondered vaguely if my distinctly non-athletic past influenced my decision to go into sports journalism. Maybe since I never got to live that life myself, the closest option was to live it vicariously through the people I wrote about. But really, the main reason was just that it was easier to get into sports writing than I ever thought it would be. As a teenager, when I was first trying to come up with a life plan, I thought maybe I would be a world-traveling wildlife journalist, with the ultimate goal of joining the National Geographic team. But as it turned out, being in Vegas didn’t quite give the kinds of local connections I needed to jump into that field.
However, my cousin was a professional cheerleader. And she dated several different football players, fell in with their public relations teams, the writers who tailed them. She opened up to me one night about how much money those big-time sportscasters and editorialists made and I was immediately hooked.
Besides, I really, really did love football. At least, the culture surrounding it. I was fascinated by the passionate ire the game aroused in the American people, how it had become such a massive, sweeping phenomenon. Everybody and their mother had a team they pulled for. Football games spawned rivalries, ended marriages, changed people’s lives irreparably.
It was amazing.
And then there were the players themselves: tall, muscular, powerful. Young and talented men with the whole world being laid at their feet. It was a huge responsibility and a huge promise of reward. And every single one of them had some article-worthy story in their background-- if you knew how to dig them out and give them life.
That was my job: to find the story behind the jersey number, to dive into the inner lives and minds of these guys and give them a brand-new face for the world to see. I loved finding their weaknesses, their strengths. I lived for the moment when I came across some gem of an anecdote from some tough footballer’s childhood that suddenly cast him in a new light.
But usually my research came from extensive digging, reading up on high school track records and interviewing friends of friends of friends. I was only a blip on the journalistic radar, churning out the kinds of inconsequential articles that wouldn’t do much to influence my career, nor the careers of the footballers I wrote about. But today… that was about to change.
At least, I hoped it would.
Sitting at my desk, I closed my eyes and leaned back in my rickety swivel chair, letting out a long sigh. My stomach was already turning in knots and the interview was still hours away. It was dark in my office building, as even the nighttime cleaning crew had gone home hours ago. As usual, I was here all night, bent over my keyboard as I furiously hammered out the next piece for our online journal. This was my steady job, the one that paid my bills and kept me going. But it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever. I’d started here as a secretary, then worked my way up to becoming a line editor after I corrected so many mistakes on my boss’s notes and emails that he finally decided I was a better writer and editor than many of the full-time workers.
It was the first time, as far as I could remember, that anyone had looked past my quiet, timid personality to see the potential inside. Of course, I had grown up a lot since my days as the bullied nerd in school. Gone were my frazzled hair and braces, and I had shot up several inches, my curves filling out proportionately. I had grown out of the awkward laugh and the stutter that got me shoved into lockers in my younger years.
But that kind of trauma… it stays with you. And I knew the years of bullying had definitely taken their toll on me. Even though I didn’t look the part anymore, I still felt very much like the same scared little girl I used to be. I was jumpy and anxious, always trying to shrink down and blend in so people didn’t notice me. From what I learned as a kid, standing out meant being
out. So it was just easier to dress down, keep myself soft and quiet and unobtrusive. It was safer, you know.
However, blending in at an office full of loud-mouthed, pushy guys was virtually impossible, and I had faced my fair share of being singled out. But it wasn’t the same way it happened before. Here, people didn’t pick on me for being awkward or weird or unattractive. In fact, I was selected purely based on my dateability. The guys here seemed to be convinced that I was only working here in order to gain access to a wide array of available bachelors.
As if I would ever be interested in any of the guys here anyway. They were all the kinds of guys who screamed at the television when watching sports, who cracked jokes about beer and boobs and acted like I was inferior simply because I was a woman. Like the only reason I could possibly have gotten the job was because I was cute or because I flirted with the boss or something. Of course, that wasn’t true in the least. In fact, I regarded my boss here as more like a gruff, vaguely disapproving father figure. It wasn’t that he disapproved of my work or anything-- in fact, he constantly praised me as being the best writer in the division-- but he worried about me, I guess.
“You’re gonna run yourself ragged,” he warned me more than once. And I knew he was probably at least partly right. I was definitely working three times as hard as anyone else. I was the only one working full time here and somewhere else, as well. Yet I still turned in my work faster than the others, and my articles were polished and complete unlike my colleagues’. But then again, I was the only woman.
So I had to work harder, be better. It wasn’t fair, and I hated it. But that’s the way it was and had always been. Things were improving, slowly, in this genre of journalism. Finally, the public was starting to realize that women could be sports fans without just doing it to appease their sports-crazed boyfriends, fathers, and brothers. I was thankful for that. Still, in my office I was regarded as kind of a joke.
Joke was on them, though, every time the next issue of the journal came out and my work was on the front page-- yet again. My boss, Chuck Handler, often held up my work as an example to the others, urging them to be more like me. The teacher’s pet in me loved the validation, but at the same time, it put me in a rather awkward position with the other writers. Most of them left me alone nowadays, their bitterness giving me the wide berth I wanted all along from them, but there were still a few of them who couldn’t just leave me be. They would hound me in the break room, asking how I found the time to work so hard and get as much done as I did. They asked for my “secret” and demanded to know if there was something going on between Chuck and me.
There wasn’t. There never had been. And there never would be. He was at least twenty years my senior, with a paunchy belly and a grizzly salt-and-pepper beard. He looked like he could be my dad-- he was certainly old enough. Besides, he was about an inch shorter than me. That was one of the pitfalls of growing several inches since high school: it was tricky to find a guy who wasn’t at least slightly intimidated by my height. It wasn’t like I was a giant or anything, but at 5’11” there was a significantly smaller pool of men who were still taller than me when I wore heels. Not that I wore heels very often-- or ever.
Suddenly my phone buzzed, jolting me out of my reverie. I looked down at the illuminated phone screen and my stomach flip-flopped instantly. I had an email from a PR rep working for the guy I was supposed to meet up with and interview. It asked if we could push the meeting time back an hour as the guy was hungover and couldn’t get his ass out of bed yet. I groaned, rubbing at my temples. This didn’t bode well. I was a stickler for punctuality, myself, perpetually showing up early to everything. It was just the professional way to do things, and in my position I was all about looking as professional and put-together as possible in order to get taken seriously by the sharks hunting for chum in the water.
But it wasn’t my place to chide the footballer for being late. It was my job to be accommodating, to make this as easy and painless for him as possible so he would go along with my questions and not give me any trouble. I decided to swallow my pride and just do whatever I needed to make this happen, even if it was annoying. So I emailed back agreeing to a later meeting time, and returned back to working on the article pulled up on my computer screen.
It wasn’t even an article for the online journal-- it was a piece I was writing for a local newspaper, as a kind of independent reporter. My job here was great in that it provided a constant stream of relatively easy work, but I knew it was a dead-end position. However, the newspaper gig put stars in my eyes. Seeing my name in real, physical print on a real, physical page was a magical experience, and I craved more. I knew that pursuing my on-and-off unofficial position at the paper could be my ticket to the next stage of journalism: becoming an independent, critically-acclaimed sports reporter. So I worked hard to make it happen, even though my articles there paid significantly less than the work I did here with Chuck.
So I dug into my article, whiling away the hours until it was time to head out across town to the little cafe where I was supposed to meet the subject of my interview… Kieran Michaels. My fellow journalists were just beginning to trudge into the office by the time I packed up and headed out for the interview around half past nine. They were always late, and I was always already there working. It didn’t surprise anyone anymore these days, even though Chuck was still always a little wary of letting me stay up all night working. Luckily, over time he realized there was no stopping me or my indomitable work ethic.
I took a cab across town and walked into the cafe to wait, anxiously arranging my notepad and colorful pens on a corner table. I reviewed the list of questions I had to ask him, going over them in my head. My heart raced and I felt my hands going clammy as the hour approached eleven o’clock.
This could potentially be a big break for me. I never really got to have one-on-one interviews with the footballers themselves, and especially not one as well-liked and popular as Kieran Michaels. He was a relatively new face on the field, and still kind of a mystery to the adoring fans of the Vegas sector. I wanted to dig into his life and create a well-rounded profile, looking into his past, his thoughts and dreams. I was excited, but also extremely nervous.
And when he finally strolled in, fifteen minutes late, I felt my heart stop for a moment.
He was even more handsome in person than he’d looked in his photograph. I stood up and waved him over nervously, trying to shape my lips into a smile even though I really felt like throwing up. He was exactly the kind of guy who scared the pants off me: impossibly tall and imposing, startlingly attractive, and carrying himself with a self-confident swagger.