The clock’s ticking down, and Estelle Harris and Lumberjacks quarterback Brett Gunnels are about to enter crunch time.
Supposedly undersized for the NFL, Brett Gunnels went off to do a stint in the US Army right out of high school. Returning damaged yet stronger and more determined than ever to prove himself, he was picked last in the draft. Mr. Irrelevant, they called him. The last few years as a backup quarterback have given him no opportunity to compete for the starting job. That’s why he has a chip on his shoulder the size of Puget Sound.
Estelle Harris is engaged to a man she doesn't love, working a job she hates, and fooling everyone including herself in the process. Her love of animals is the only thing that gives her purpose—a love she shares the Lumberjacks’ reclusive quarterback. And then their mutual friendship turns a hot, dark, forbidden corner and there's no going back.
True love is like football. It’s not always how long you have the ball. It’s what you do when you get it.
Chapter 1—Mr. Irrelevant
Brett Gunnels had fostered an intimate relationship with his clipboard over the past several football seasons.
After all, as the backup quarterback, he played his game on that clipboard, not out on the football field. Every Sunday during the season he stood on the sidelines making endless notes. One day he’d get his chance, a chance to prove that Mr. Irrelevant—the title bestowed on the last player picked each year in the NFL draft—was anything but.
Today, like any game day, Brett roamed the sidelines, clipboard in hand. Every once in a while, he stopped, cupped his hands to his mouth, and called out warnings or advice to the Seattle Lumberjacks’ starting quarterback. Not that Tyler Harris heard him or would listen even if he did. Harris did his own thing, and to hell with anyone else, even his teammates and coaches.
A couple penalties set the Jacks back to San Francisco’s forty yard line, and the offense was looking at third and twenty-five with fifteen seconds on the clock.
Harris took the ball from center and stepped back, staying in the pocket with the coolness and finesse of the elite quarterback he was. A second later, the pocket collapsed around him and he scrambled, running for his life while looking for an open receiver. Every one of them was covered.
Harris never saw the streak of pure muscle and brawn coming from his blindside. Brett cringed as the linebacker slammed into Harris with a vicious hit, falling on him in the process. Harris was known for his toughness, but from Brett’s point of view, knees didn’t bend like that.
As the offense returned to the huddle, a couple of them looked toward Harris, as if expecting him to bounce to his feet. He always did. But not this time.
Sprawled on his back, the two-time championship quarterback didn’t move. Not even an eyelash.
A hush came over the crowd, eerie in its silence, while a cold wind of fear blew through the stadium. Harris’s cousin and the Jacks’ top wide receiver, Derek Ramsey, knelt beside the immobile quarterback, as the coaches and trainers hurried onto the field. The offensive line huddled nearby, pretending not to stare but doing so anyway, worry etched on the big guys’ beefy faces.
Brett might not like Harris much—not many guys did—but his grudging respect for the guy’s talent and work ethic overrode any personal issues he might have. Besides, no one wanted to see a teammate laid out on the field like that, or anyone else for that matter.
An icy shiver radiated up Brett’s spine as his brain transported him to another time where sand stretched as far as the eye could see, another body down and not moving. Nothing. Just like Harris was now.
A cold sweat trickled down Brett’s forehead, and he dropped his clipboard and scrubbed his face with his hands, forcing those memories back into the compartment where he kept them tightly locked up.
This wasn’t a war zone—well, not exactly—and his teammate was known for his dramatics. He was probably taking a two-minute siesta at the expense of everyone’s nerves. Any second, he’d hop to his feet and chastise them for being such pansy-asses.
Only Harris didn’t move. Brett couldn’t stay on the sidelines and do nothing. He ran onto the field to join his teammates standing in concerned clusters. Harris’s chalky face looked like death. Brett swallowed back the fear and bolstered his courage. He’d be okay. He had to be. He was too mean and too tough to be seriously injured.
After several tense minutes, Harris sat up and shook his head. The team breathed a collective sigh of relief. Groggily, he accepted assistance to his feet, only to have his knee buckle. He went down again, clutching his leg, pain carved into his usually stoic face as he rolled back and forth on the turf. A few seconds later, two linemen helped him onto a cart, and they zipped him off the field and down the tunnel.
Only then did Brett realize the coach was yelling at him.
“Gun, get your helmet on and get your ass out there on that field.”
Standing on the fifty yard line, the guys in the huddle gawked at him, waiting for him to assume control. Frantic, he looked for his helmet but couldn’t find it. Zach Murphy, their All-Pro linebacker, shoved it in his hands. Strapping it on as he ran, Brett got to the huddle, only to find the mic in his helmet wasn’t working. After tapping on the helmet a few times, he took several deep breaths and squelched the growing panic inside him. He could do this. He would do this. He had to do this. The team was counting on him.
Brett turned to the guys gathered around him, his gaze determined. He knew exactly what play to call in this situation, having rehearsed it over and over in his mind and on the practice field. He called for a quick out-pass to Derek, hoping to catch the defense expecting a run because of the quarterback change. He took the snap from center, pedaled backwards, and tossed an easy lob to Derek, who collided with a defensive end as they both went for the ball. The end batted the ball into the air, and a San Francisco linebacker in the right place at the right time scooped it up before it hit the ground and ran it back for a touchdown.
At first his stunned teammates stared at the end zone as if they couldn’t believe their bad luck. Then one by one, guys patted him on the back amid murmurs of “good try,” “tough break,” and “we did the best we could.” Regardless, Brett blamed himself because that’s what a good quarterback did. A great one carried the whole team on his shoulders and found a way to win. Just not today.
An advocate of happy endings, Jami Davenport writes sexy romantic comedy, sports hero romances, and equestrian fiction. Jami lives on a small farm near Puget Sound with her Green Beret-turned-plumber husband, a Newfoundland cross with a tennis ball fetish, a prince disguised as an orange tabby cat, and an opinionated Hanoverian mare.
Jami works in IT for her day job and is a former high school business teacher and dressage rider. In her spare time, she maintains her small farm and socializes whenever the opportunity presents itself. An avid boater, Jami has spent countless hours in the San Juan Islands, a common setting in her books. In her opinion, it is the most beautiful place on earth.
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