Twelve days until the season opener. Two days until the last preseason game. Instead of working with the defense on the last problem areas of our nickel package, I got banished.
It was bullshit.
It was punishment.
…But it wasn’t all bad.
I didn’t make it to the locker room. I slammed my helmet down. The crash startled the petite trespasser who happened to wander through the wrong hall.
What was she doing here?
Piper Madison was a beautiful little troublemaker who probably broke more hearts than doorbells. She made a better impression when she wasn’t intruding on my house, shivering and soaking wet on my porch.
I couldn’t forget her dark, pouty lips. Those curves. The wild curls of her hair.
She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Lovely. Graceful. The rain hadn’t even bothered me—every man liked his woman wet.
No woman had ever dared to face me as she had. No man either. I didn’t know anyone who was dumb enough to loiter on my front step and expect to be treated with gentlemanly courtesy.
But she was different. Lithe and petite. Natural and dark. Her skin had glistened in the rain, every inch of her a toasted hazelnut. Even now, her dress shrouded her in a perfect femininity, a softness that begged for a touch, a taste.
I ignored that particular fantasy. No matter how much protection my cup offered, I doubted it’d protect my boys if I pissed off a woman like Piper Madison.
“Are you lost, beautiful?”
Caught her. Piper flinched, spinning to face me. My voice still edged with that shadow of rage. She noticed, but she was too brave to let it scare her.
“Little far from home, aren’t you?” I asked.
She pretended like I didn’t intimidated her. “For your information, I’m here for a meeting.”
Sure, she was. I searched the hall. Not a soul to be found except the one woman clutching her visitor’s pass, searching for offices that were nowhere near the locker rooms.
I stepped closer. “This your first time in the practice facility?”
“If you must know—yes, it is. Why?”
I nodded toward the locker room. “Agents aren’t negotiating much in the showers…though I’d love to have you over the bargaining table.”
“I’m not interested in your low-ball offer, Mr. Hawthorne.”
“Not even if we go tit-for-tat?” I edged closer. “I’m sure my agent knows how to sweeten the deal.”
“You’ll have to ask him. My father represents you. I’m only here for a meeting.” Her expression cracked. A curl loosened from her ponytail. She smoothed it behind her ear with a delicate finger. “If I knew where the meeting was.”
“So you are all alone?”
She wasn’t willing to give me the satisfaction of being right. “You seem to be alone too, Mr. Hawthorne. Where’s your team? Last I checked there were another fifty…”
Her brow furrowed. Christ. She didn’t even know how many players were on the squad.
“Fifty-three,” I said.
“Fifty-three of you on the Monarchs.” She licked her bottom lip. Was she baiting me? “Where’s the rest of the team?”
It wasn’t smart to taunt me. My pads weighed more than her, my arms were thicker than her waist, and a single growl should have sent her running.
But she didn’t flinch. Maybe she didn’t understand who she was fucking with.
It was time for her to learn.
“I got kicked out of practice.”
Her beautiful, almond eyes widened. I edged closer. A dance, but Piper didn’t realize I was leading. She retreated, her back striking the wall.
“What did you do?” she asked.
“Got a little too aggressive.”
“I do like when you fantasize about me.”
“You’re not so threatening, Mr. Hawthorne.”
I towered over her, trapping her in my shadow. “How about now?”
She didn’t answer. I liked that, but I hated myself for it. When did I become a monster who couldn’t hold a civilized conversation?
Piper dared to hold my gaze, challenging me. Today was the wrong day to fuck around with my head—especially since I realized the true purpose of her morning meeting.
“Where’s your daddy, beautiful?”
Piper didn’t immediately answer. Her lips pouted like she thought better of saying something smart that would have sent me into a rage.
“We’re meeting with the Monarchs’ General Manager and Vice-President.”
Son of a bitch.
Fuck counting. Fuck focusing on my breaths.
“The trade?” I slammed a hand on the wall. “I told you. I’m not signing the waiver to get traded.”