“You don’t know anything about me,” I said.
“Don’t care either.”
His lingering gaze said otherwise. I crossed my arms a little tighter. “I’m trying to help you.”
“I’ve never asked anyone for help. Never needed it.”
I could believe that. “Sign the waiver so you can be traded before the season starts. You’ll be glad you did it now instead of later.”
“Sorry, princess. You’re wasting this rescue. My career isn’t in any danger.”
“Look, let me make this perfectly clear, beautiful—”
“—Miss Madison, thank you very much.”
Cole narrowed his eyes. “Has no one ever called you beautiful before?”
“No!” I shook my head. “I mean…yes, but…that’s not—”
“It’s a shame you had to hear it from me first, Miss Madison.” Cole didn’t let me speak. His voice lowered to a shadowed growl. “My gate closes at six-thirty every night, and it won’t open again until morning.”
“Ask yourself, beautiful. Which side of the gate do you want to be on when it locks?”
He wouldn’t dare.
No man was that animalistic. That much of a bastard.
But Cole didn’t flinch. Didn’t avert his gaze. Didn’t smile.
He didn’t back down from my challenge.
And one moment of weakness crept within my thoughts. One moment where I heard the clanging lock of a wrought-iron gate as the darkness thickened around us.
One moment where I stared at his muscles, his arms, the curl of his lip twisting into that sinister smirk.
It was a good moment. A soul-quaking moment. A warming, pulsing moment.
But I had my fill of weak moments. The last time I indulged in that particular fantasy, I had to drop out of grad school and exchange my books and degrees for a precious baby girl.
I pushed the folder of paperwork at Cole’s chest. He was solid muscle. Trouble. Danger.
“This isn’t over,” I said as he flipped through the folder. “Take the trade. I’ll return to collect the waiver with your signature.”
“Let me save you the trouble.”
Finally. I got through to him. I pulled a pen from my purse and clicked the top.
“I just need a signature, and I’ll come back later with the hard copies for your files—”
Cole ripped the folder in two. He dropped the pieces onto the porch for the wind and rain to destroy.
His voice deepened, a virile, hungry sound. “Come back later if you want, beautiful, but we won’t be doing anything…professional.”
Absolutely not. I resisted the urge to slap him—I didn’t think I could reach his face.
“I hope you realize that you’re missing an opportunity to change your life, Mr. Hawthorne,” I said.
“You’re missing an equally large opportunity, Miss Madison.”
I ignored him. “What happens when the Monarchs finally refuse to defend The Beast to the league?”
“I’m tougher than I look.”
“Sometimes we all need a little help. A little compassion.”
“And you think a trade to another team will protect me?”
“No, Mr. Hawthorne. I think trading you to another team will protect the rest of the league.”
Cole clenched his jaw. “Better hurry, beautiful. Night’s falling. My gate will be closing soon.”
“Believe me, I have no intention of staying here.”
I cursed him six ways from Sunday, and I still didn’t have enough words to silently spit at that bastard. I stormed to my car, not caring that the rain soaked my clothes and displayed my curves. Cole slammed his door without watching me go.
And I should have been relieved. I should have turned the key in my ignition and sped from his damn mansion-castle.
Except that one moment of weakness under his gaze had extended into a few too many heartbeats.
I drove away, but I hated that I glanced in the rear-view mirror as I left, hoping to see him one more time.
Dangerous, dangerous. I wasn’t about to let temptation cast that spell over me. I had a job to do, a daughter to care for, and a life to get on track. I wouldn’t waste another second thinking about the bastard, Cole Hawthorne.
No wonder he lived alone.
Who could ever love a beast like him?
Some men prayed when they began their morning. Most read the paper and ate breakfast. The lucky few spent time with their families.
My day didn’t begin until my fist curled around grass, my cleats dug into dirt, and a ball snapped.
My signal to work.
The whistle’s metallic trill echoed over the field, and a surge of adrenaline and testosterone consumed me. Even during practice, I charged at my teammates with a break-neck burst of speed. We collided—grunting, sweating, churning. That frantic bash of bone and body was the reason I was alive.