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Happily Ever All-Star 1(9)

By´╝ÜSosie Frost



Jude set his jaw. “Do you need help, Rory?”

Yes. “Me? You’re joking, right? I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

I checked my watch. “Oh, look at the time. Our session is up.”

“No. We just got started.”

“Jude, we really need to talk about you.”

“Me?”

I pointed him to the chair. “You can’t honestly expect to play again this year.”

“I will be playing this year.”

“You’ve had five concussions over your career. Documented. Who knows how many more you suffered that went unnoticed. The last one put you in physical therapy for four months. You can’t put your body through this again.”

Jude stood, casting his jacket over his shoulders. I didn’t like his frown, and I hated even more than I’d caused it.

“I’m not just talking as a doctor,” I said. “I’m your friend, Jude. I care about you.”

More than I should have.

“I’m taking you out for dinner tonight.”

I blinked. “What?”

“There’s a little bar the guys were talking about around the corner. McCrees. They said the food was good, and a couple of them are going to harass the rookies there tonight. Meet me there at eight o’clock.”

“W—why?”

“Because you need to eat, and we need to talk.” Jude stalked to the door. “I won’t take no for an answer, Doc.”

“Jude, I’m not going to sway my professional opinion—”

“Then I’ll appeal to you personally. I’m fine, Rory. No five-minute test will prove a damn thing about my head. We’ll meet for dinner, eat, and you’ll see that I’m good to play.” He paused. “And then we’re gonna figure out what to do with you.”

“I don’t need anything done with me. I can handle myself.”

“That makes two of us. Don’t keep me waiting.”

The door closed behind him.

My body shut down. Exhaustion. Nausea. Muscle aches. A headache that wouldn’t quit.

None of it compared to the simple thrill that coursed through my veins.

Jude Owens asked me out to dinner.

…Where was he sixteen weeks ago?





2





Jude





My memory wasn’t great anymore, but I couldn’t afford to forget about Rory.

I’d set two alerts on my phone to remind me.

8:00 – Rory @ McCrees

Still seemed weird to see her name flash on my screen though. Not that her contact information wasn’t in my list, but I usually called Eric when I needed something. Seeing her tonight shouldn’t have excited me as much as it did, but it wasn’t like I had a thriving social life in my new home.

I reached for the TV remote, but the Sports Nation broadcast shifted topics to something more familiar.

Me.

Ainsley Ruport’s smug grin filled the screen. Tonight’s top story—the rumors about my return to the league.

For eleven years, reporters had discussed my talent, my skill, and my amazing play on the field. Once, they all said the same thing—no defense can stop running back Jude Owens.

Now?

Ainsley chortled into the camera, his brow somehow sweaty while sitting behind a desk. “The rumor around the league is that free-agent Jude Owens is looking to sign a one-year contract with the Ironfield Rivets. It’s no secret the Rivets need firepower. After last season’s photo-gate scandal, Ironfield was stripped of their first and second round draft choices. But are they desperate enough to sign Jude Owens?”

Desperate? What the hell?

I toyed with the television remote in my left hand, the vibrating cell in my right. Time to go to McCrees…but Ainsley wasn’t finished.

“Owens might have the legs, but he’s rushing from the line of scrimmage directly into another concussion.” Ainsley grinned at his co-hosts. “The Rivets are wasting space in the salary cap if they sign Owens, a man who probably won’t even last a full season with his history of injuries and medical—”

The rage seethed within me. Blinding. Churning.

Inescapable.

Terrifying.

I pitched the remote across the room. At least, I thought it was the remote. I accidentally tossed my cell-phone instead. I swallowed a vulgar profanity and the quick bite of anger. The wires in my head must have shorted, and my left hand moved instead of my right.

Fuck. I hoped I hadn’t destroyed my phone.

Again.

I turned off the television and forced a breath through my lungs. The raging fog cleared.

What was happening to me? I never once had anger issues. Never had the impulse to break a remote or argue with a second-rate sports reporter.

I blamed it on frustration, not the concussion. I needed to get back on the field. Soon. I’d sat around for a year, only working out and running my own conditioning drills with a private trainer. No real contact. No pads. No football. That sort of inactivity didn’t do a man any good.

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