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Authors: Alicia Hunter Pace

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Scrimmage Gone South (Crimson Romance)

BOOK: Scrimmage Gone South (Crimson Romance)
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Scrimmage Gone South
Alicia Hunter Pace, author of
Sweet Gone South

Avon, Massachusetts

This edition published by

Crimson Romance

an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.

10151 Carver Road, Suite 200

Blue Ash, Ohio 45242

www.crimsonromance.com

Copyright © 2013 by Jean Hovey and Stephanie Jones

ISBN 10: 1-4405-6263-6

ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6263-1

eISBN 10: 1-4405-6264-4

eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6264-8

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.

Cover art © 123rf.com; istockphoto.com/Anne Baek Pedersen

To Jack Duffey, the football hero of my heart. — J.P.H.

To my daddy, the man who first taught me to love football. — S.L.J.

Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Epilogue

About the Authors

More From This Author

Also Available

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to —

Our fabulous plotting partners, Lynn Raye Harris and Janette Kenny, who made us “hurt them just a little bit more.”

Keith Brown, Eric Malone, and Dwayne Sisk, who played high school and college ball. They also hurt their knees, lived in athletic dorms, and patiently relived it all for us.

Jennifer Lawler and Jessica Verdi, who always make it a better book.

Our
readers who love Merritt and have said they can’t wait to go there again.

Chapter One

Tolly Lee parked her Mercedes in front of the house that was the shining star on a rundown street. She lifted the baked ham from her trunk and made sure the card that read,
With Sympathy, Bragg and Lee, Attorneys at Law
was firmly attached to the aluminum foil. For the life of her, Tolly could not understand what good a ham was going to do. She’d wanted to bring a gallon of martinis but her cousin’s wife, Missy Bragg, had said that would be in bad taste. The deceased, Eula Lawson, had been the biggest teetotaler to ever live and die in Merritt, Alabama. Everybody knew that.

Well.
Everybody
seemed to always know a lot of things that Tolly didn’t.

Eula’s marigolds hadn’t gotten the news that it was October. They framed the neat little shingled house as if they had the most important job in the world.

The front door was standing open so Tolly balanced the ham on her hip and let herself in the screen door. The tiny living room was choking with people.

“Right through here, honey.” A plump woman wearing an apron, who was obviously in charge of people bearing food, led her down a short hallway to a neat utilitarian kitchen. “Now, do we need to put your name on your plate so we can get it back to you?” She took the ham but Tolly couldn’t imagine where she was going to put it. The counters and table were already filled with cakes, pies, deviled eggs, and casseroles.

“No. It’s in a disposable pan.” There were a half dozen matronly women milling around, some who had clearly been crying.

“That’s so thoughtful. Could we offer you some coffee? Or some iced tea?” The woman set the ham on the stovetop beside a platter of fried chicken.

“No, thank you,” Tolly answered. “I am so sorry about Miss Eula. Was she related to you?”

“Only by love,” the ringleader said, wiping her eyes with the edge of apron. “She was in our mission group at Wesley Methodist.”

“Well. I am sorry.” What was she supposed to do now? If only Missy had come with her. Or Harris. They always knew what to do. But Harris was in court and Missy had to take three-year-old Beau to the doctor.

One of the other women seemed to sense her discomfort and stepped forward. “You’re Tolly Lee, aren’t you? The lawyer that Kirby works for?”

“Yes. Kirby started working for my cousin Harris and me last summer.” He was smart and good at his job, though lately he was only able to come in for an hour a day during his free period at school. She would be glad when football season was over.

“He’s in the living room if you’d like to speak to him.”

Yes. That was the thing to do. Speak to Kirby. After all, he was the reason she was here. As she exited the kitchen, Tolly heard one of the women say, “What is that boy going to do now that his grandmother is gone?”

Good question, but not hers to answer. Kirby’s parents had been killed when he was two, and he had gone to live with his grandparents. Miss Eula’s husband had died a few years later and it had been just her and Kirby ever since.

A wailing woman wearing an orange sweater two sizes too small dominated the sofa and, really, the whole living room. This must be the daughter from Ohio, Kirby’s aunt, and maybe, new guardian. A bored looking man dressed in a tank top and jeans sat to her right, drinking a beer. That would be her husband. The Methodist minister, Dr. James Carlyle, sat to the woman’s left, offering comfort. Tolly had written Dr. Carlyle’s will last year after he had a heart scare that turned out to be indigestion, which proved that tamales could be good for business. He met Tolly’s eye and inclined his head toward the back of the room. She looked over the sea of mostly gray heads and saw the shaggy dark haired one she was looking for.

Kirby Lawson stood against the wall next to a console television, perfectly erect and perfectly alone. He wore pressed khakis, a blue oxford cloth shirt, and navy blue tie. At seventeen, he was poised beyond his years. Poise was a byproduct of grief, she supposed.

“Kirby,” she said quietly.

He swung his red rimmed eyes, which were the color of faded denim, to meet hers. They were wild with fear and grief. Eula had died unexpectedly while making a cake and Kirby had found her when he’d come home from football practice yesterday.

“Oh, Miss Tolly! Hello. I won’t be able to come to work tomorrow. I hate to let you down. But the funeral — ”

Tolly laid her hand on his arm. “Oh, honey. Of course, not. And don’t you even think about coming today either. Harris and I won’t be there tomorrow afternoon, anyway. We’re closing the office to come to your grandmother’s funeral.”

“You are?” His eyes filled but he quickly blinked the tears away and Tolly pretended not to notice.

“Of course, we are. And Harris said to tell you he’d be here right now but he had to go to court. He’ll be by later.”

“Yes, ma’am. I appreciate it.” He looked at the floor.

What to say now? Tolly had never had anyone close to her die but she’d heard it was good to make the bereaved think of something happy. And Kirby Lawson was a good boy. He deserved to think of something happy.

“Kirby, your grandmother was a wonderful woman. I bet there’s not a person in Merritt who hasn’t had her cake on at least one birthday.” Eula had baked special occasion cakes to supplement their income. Kirby had brought Eula’s famous red velvet cake to the office on Tolly’s birthday in June.

Kirby grinned. “The McGowan twins.”

“Pardon?” Tolly asked.

“The McGowan twins. They never had her cake. Their birthday is in January, the same day as mine. Mrs. McGowan kept asking, but Granna always said she only baked one cake on that day and it was for me.” His grin became a full fledged smile, though it was a little sad around the edges. “To tell the truth, that suited me fine. I never liked them.”

“Why, Kirby Lawson.” Tolly patted his hand and gave him the best smile she could come up with. And if anyone needed a little wink, Kirby did, so she supplied that too. “I believe that’s the first negative thing I’ve ever heard you say about anyone.”

His smile faded and his mouth went hard. “I could fill your ear full of plenty of bad right now.” He looked toward the sofa where his aunt continued to wail and his uncle had opened another beer.

“Go right ahead, honey. Say anything you need to and I won’t tell a soul. Even if it’s not fair. You don’t have to give out fair today.”

“Well.” He inclined his head to her ear. “My aunt. She never hardly even called Granna. And now she’s acting like she doesn’t know how she’s going to keep living. It’s been like that ever since they got in from Ohio at four o’clock this morning. Plus my cousins Randy and Carlene didn’t even come. I guess they couldn’t be bothered.”

“I’m sorry.” Tolly took his hand in hers.

“And, Miss Tolly — ” He swallowed and this time didn’t try to hide his filling eyes.

“What, baby? Tell me.”

“Granna was fixing a cake for a baby shower. It was nearly done when she — ” He closed his eyes and tried to regain his composure.

“Yes, Kirby. I’d heard that.”

“And they — ” He cast a murderous look toward the sofa. “You won’t believe what they did. I came in here this morning and they were
eating
that cake. I took it from them and told them they had no manners and no feelings. I’m not their favorite person right now. Was that bad of me?” His face that had looked so much like a man’s a bare second ago was now a child’s.

“Oh, honey. No.” Tolly held out her arms and he came into them. He had to bend over to lay his head against her shoulder.

Tolly sensed that someone had walked up behind her. She felt a hand clamp around her upper arm, just above the elbow. She would have known that hand anywhere, even through the silk of her blouse, even after all this time. She tried to shake loose but the grip just got tighter. It was not a grip of affection.

“Coach.” Kirby raised his head from Tolly’s shoulder and stepped out of her embrace.

“Seven.”

Seven. Ah, she had almost forgotten that football people often called each other by their jersey numbers. Would it have killed Nathan Scott to call Kirby by his name today, of all days? Harris and Nathan had played college ball together and they still occasionally called each other
twelve
and
eighty-five
— especially if they had a few beers in them.

“You doing all right, son?” Nathan did not look at Tolly but neither did he loosen his death grip on her arm. She tried to free herself without attracting attention, but he only clamped down harder. Too bad they were in a house of bereavement. She’d bet everything she owned that he would let go if she bit him. Her jaws ached to make him bleed all over his white polo shirt. She could do it too, provided she didn’t break her teeth on his arm — which was a real possibility since he was as muscular as he’d been in his college playing days, when she had first met him. And he was just as good looking as he’d been then, probably more so. His straight caramel blond hair was variegated with white sun streaks and, suddenly, she remembered how silky it had felt. She tried to jerk away again and, though he still did not look at her, his jaw tightened right along with his hand.

“I’m okay, Coach,” Kirby said. “Doing pretty good.” Did Kirby believe that? Did Nathan?

“Yeah? That’s good.” Apparently Nathan
did
believe him. Wasn’t that just like a man? Asked and answered, move on.

BOOK: Scrimmage Gone South (Crimson Romance)
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