The Final Score
Book 13 in the Play-by-Play Series
September 12, 2017
The Final Score
Book 13 in the Play-by-Play Series
A star quarterback is torn between his love of the game—and the woman who may be the love of his life.
Nathan Riley is ready to follow in the footsteps of his famous football player father. He’s been drafted as quarterback for his dad’s former team, and his sports future is bright. When his friend Mia Cassidy moves to the same city, their years-long friendship suddenly sparks hot, reminding him of the one night they had together in college that he can never forget.
Like Nathan, Mia is from a sports dynasty family and embarking on an incredible new career—as founder of her own sports management company. Her friendship with Nathan means everything to her, and tossing sex into the mix again could jeopardize it all. But the chemistry between them has always sizzled, and it isn’t long before Mia realizes she wants more with Nathan than just late-night talks and pizza.
Passion has a funny way of changing the rules, and soon Nathan and Mia realize that to win it all, they’ll have to make an unexpected play for love.
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The Final Score: Book 13 in the Play-by-Play Series
“So, here we are, once again living in the same city.” Mia Cassidy took a sip of her green tea and looked over at Nathan Riley. “How did that happen?”
Nathan, the epitome of tall, dark, well-muscled and absolutely hot, leaned back in his chair and grinned at her. “Easy. You’re obsessed with me so you followed me.”
She laughed. “I don’t think so. You knew I was thinking of starting a business here so you decided you had to get drafted by the San Francisco Sabers.”
Nathan took a swallow of his iced tea and set the glass down. Mia tracked the movement of his hands. He had really big hands. She remembered that night several years ago in college when he’d used his hands to touch her—all over. They’d only had that one night together, but it sure had been memorable.
Yeah, the guy had magnificent hands.
“I’ve been here a year already, Mia. You just got here. So like I said, you followed me.”
Her lips quirked. “And aren’t you happy to have me here?”
“Actually, I am. Although who would have thought this kind of major shit would go down for both of us? You were going to get your PhD and instead, you’ve got a start-up sports management company. I thought I’d end up in Cleveland or maybe in LA, but not here in San Francisco, taking over as the Sabers quarterback now that my dad has retired.”
Mia clutched her glass, feeling the cloud of anxiety rain down over her. Which was why she’d asked Nathan to have lunch. His charm and humor had always been a distraction for her, and oh how she needed it today. “Big changes for both of us for sure. How is your dad? Is he okay with the decision he made to retire?”
“He seems fine with it. The Sabers won the championship last year, and he had the knee issue that plagued him at the tail end of the season. He’s thirty-seven, so he felt like it was the right time for him to step away.”
“And you don’t think he did that for you, to give you a chance to play?”
“I asked him that—more than once. He said no. Knowing my dad, he’d never walk away from football if he wasn’t ready. He loves the game too much.”
Mia nodded. “Since I have three brothers who play football, I believe that. You should believe him, too.”
She knew Nathan had been worried when his dad announced his retirement at the end of last season. She also knew it added some pressure for Nathan, because he’d take over as starting quarterback this season for the Sabers. He’d had all last season to learn from him, but succeeding someone as high profile as Mick Riley wasn’t going to be easy. Plus, Mick was his dad.
Now she was doubly happy she’d made the decision to launch her company here in San Francisco. Besides being a prime location for her, she and Nathan had always been close in college. Despite their one night together—which had definitely been a mistake—they’d remained friends. It was a bonus that now they would be in the same city.
“How’s your company coming along?” Nathan asked.
“Just getting things rolling. I told you Monique Parker came on board as my executive manager, didn’t I?”
He grinned. “Yeah. She’ll make sure nothing falls through the cracks.”
“I know. She’s incredibly organized, even more than me.”
“If that’s possible. I’ve never known anyone as anal as you.”
“Hey, I’m good at everything I do.”
He waggled his brows at her. “Don’t I know it.”
She laughed. “We promised we wouldn’t bring up that mistaken, drunken night ever again.”
“No, you made me promise it wouldn’t happen again. I thought it was amazing.”
Her body heated at his words. “It was amazing. But we’re friends, Nathan.”
“And friends can’t have sex?”
“I don’t know. Do you have sex with your friends?”
He cocked his head to the side. “You know what I mean, Mia.”
“I do. But we agreed after that night it wouldn’t happen again.”
“You made me agree. I wanted to keep you in bed with me the next day.”
She laughed. “We were drunk. It was a mistake. And I’d much rather have you as a friend than a lover.”
“Oh, so now you’re implying the sex wasn’t good enough?” He leaned over and grasped her hand, the contact instantly electrifying. “Because if that’s the case, I’m calling you out for faulty drunken memory loss. If I recall, you came three times that night.”
At least he whispered that last part. And if he kept talking that way she was going to have an orgasm right there in her chair. So much for pushing those memories aside. She snatched her hand away. “That is not what I meant and you know it.”
“Fine. We’re friends.”
“You need me as your friend, Nathan. Who will get you past all your training camp anxiety?”
He frowned. “Who says I have training camp anxiety?”
She twirled the stirrer around in her tea glass. “Don’t you?”
He leaned back in his chair again. “Maybe. Don’t you have a little anxiety, too, miss big shot business owner?”
“Yes, I have anxiety. Like you would not believe. Which is why I’m glad we’re friends. I need you, Nathan. As my friend.”
He glared at her. “Shit. Fine. You know I’m always going to be here for you.”
He had no idea how much his friendship and counsel meant to her. “Good. Now let’s order lunch because I have to get back to work.”
“You’re a tough woman, Mia Cassidy.”
“But I’m also your best friend, Nathan Riley. And don’t ever forget it.”
These next few months were going to be critical—for both of them. They were going to need each other more than ever.
As friends. And nothing else.
After having lunch with Mia, Nathan drove to the Sabers stadium. He felt calmer after spending some time with her.
In many ways, Mia was right. Having her as his friend was one of the best things that had ever happened to him. They both came from sports families, so when they met in college in Texas they’d formed an instant bond. It had been a little weird for Nathan to have a female friend at first, but Mia was smart, funny and absolutely beautiful. And since she hadn’t seemed at all attracted to him, she was the one he’d gone to with girlfriend issues.
She’d always been straightforward with her advice, and it had always been helpful. When his girlfriend Sonja had broken up with him his junior year, he’d been a wreck. It was Mia who’d been there to help him pick up the pieces and move on. She’d kept him focused on football while soothing his ego about the breakup, reminding him that college romances rarely lasted anyway. After that he’d played the field without getting emotionally attached.
Until that one night he and Mia had been at his apartment, drinking and watching one of her brothers and his dad play a game against each other on TV. They’d ordered pizza and drank a lot. After the game they’d talked sports and family and careers and what they wanted to do with their futures. It was a heavy conversation. He didn’t know how it happened, but suddenly they were on the couch making out.
Damn it had been good. He was pretty sure it had surprised both of them, but neither of them stopped once they’d started.
Mia had been soft and pliant and the sounds she’d made had driven him crazy. She’d been receptive to his touch, and they’d moved things into the bedroom.
They’d spent all night together, and it had been a damn good night.
Until the next morning when Mia had told him it couldn’t happen again because she valued his friendship more than anything.
He could still remember the way her body had moved under his, could still feel the softness of her lips when they kissed, could still hear the sounds of her breathing as he moved inside of her. And now goddammit he had a hard-on as he sat in his car in the stadium parking lot.
He cranked the music up loud and focused on the playbook to get Mia out of his head. When he finally got his shit together, he got out of the car.
He bypassed the locker room and stepped onto the Sabers field. It felt like the first time. Hell, he’d been there countless times before with his dad, the famous Mick Riley. He’d watched him play the game, learned under his tutelage, picked his brain after every play, good and bad.
Now his dad was retired and the Sabers was his team to lead. It wasn’t his first time on the field as a Sabers player, of course, since he’d been drafted by the team last year. Back then he’d been nothing more than a benchwarmer. This was the first time Nathan walked the field as the Sabers starting quarterback.
Christ, how had all this happened? It had been a goddamned whirlwind starting with his dad announcing his retirement. These past several months had been some kind of otherworldly dream, like he’d been asleep all this time and it wasn’t real.
But as his feet crunched into the turf, it all felt solid. Real. As if he belonged here, like he’d always belonged here.
He could still remember the first time he’d walked out onto the field, after seeing his dad play. His mom and dad had just gotten together. Nathan had been fifteen at the time, and being around professional football had been new to him. This stadium seemed enormous, out of reach to a scrawny kid who had only dreamed of someday walking in shoes as big as Mick Riley’s.
And then his mom had fallen in love with and married Mick, and Mick had adopted him. He’d been one lucky sonofabitch to end up with a father who loved him as much as his dad did. He’d taught Nathan everything he knew about football. How to love and respect the game, and how to respect himself in the process.
Nathan couldn’t have asked for a better role model. And he was going to do everything he could to make his father proud of him.
He sucked in a deep breath and walked from one end of the field to the other, cognizant of the weight that now lay on his shoulders. When the Sabers had drafted him, he’d been excited to learn the game under Mick Riley. But he didn’t think he would play right away.
In college, he had worked hard, played hard, and he’d been a damn good quarterback.
Now he was going to have to be better.
He turned to see the coach walking onto the field. He cracked a smile and reached out to shake Tom Butterfield’s hand. Tom had been hired on as head coach three years ago, and had been doing a kickass job. Nathan couldn’t wait to work with him as the starting quarterback.
“Getting a feel for your turf?”
His turf. The crush of expectation already weighed on him. “Yeah. Feels good.”
“We expect great things from you this season.”
Nathan felt that squeeze of pressure in his chest. He shook it off. This was what he’d waited his whole life for. “I’ll give you everything I’ve got.”
Coach slapped him on the back. “You sound just like your dad. We’re going to miss him around here.” Dad had retired. He understood the reasons for it. The Sabers had won the championship last season. His dad was thirty-seven and he wanted to go out on top, plus he had the knee issue that had cropped up. He’d fought through it all season, and the docs said he needed surgery.
Sure, he could have rehabbed and come back. Mom and Dad had discussed it. Dad had even talked to Nathan about it, but in the end, it was his father’s decision to make. Man, Nathan was going to miss watching him play.
And now to step into his shoes, for this team, on this field?
Yeah, that was the reason for the tight knot in his chest.
One of many.
“Let’s go talk over the new season,” coach said.
Nathan pushed all those pressures aside and tried to remember to breathe. He plastered on his signature grin, the one that said “I’ve got this,” even when he didn’t.
“Yeah, Coach. Let’s do that.”
Mia lived for her planner and her checklists. At this moment she needed them more than anything, because she had a million things to do. The movers were supposed to be here an hour ago and they were late, she had a separate furniture delivery that was supposed to be here this morning and it was almost noon and so far no one had showed up. She had a client coming in at three. If stuff didn’t show up soon, she and her client were going to be sitting on the damn floor.
Not good. Not good at all. Her heart beat like a jackhammer in her chest.
She stopped and remembered her breathing. Falling to pieces wasn’t going to do anyone any good. She pivoted and headed down the hall of her very spacious and very empty offices.
“Monique, are you in here?”
Monique, her best friend from college and her absolute lifesaver, was on the phone, so she held up a finger to silence Mia.
“You need to be here yesterday,” Monique said, obvious impatience in her voice. “We had a guaranteed eight a.m. delivery time and it’s now eleven thirty and no one is here. So get it done and if you can’t, then transfer me to the manager.”
Monique listened for a few seconds, then smiled, shooting Mia that look, the one that said she had it all under control. And when she nodded at Mia, Mia exhaled.
This was why she’d begged and cajoled and pushed Monique into moving from Texas to San Francisco to be her executive manager. No one had better organizational skills or the take-no-shit demeanor that Monique did. When Mia had decided to start up her company, she knew she wouldn’t be able to do this without having Monique on board.
Monique finally hung up. “The movers are on the way. They got hung up in traffic, then thought they could stop for lunch. I made sure to let them know their movers could have lunch after they delivered our furniture.”
Mia exhaled. “That’s why you’re the best.”
“Now I’m about to crawl up the ass of the supply delivery people.”
“Monique Parker, will you marry me?”
Monique laughed. “You are pretty and all, but I like dick. Thanks for the offer, though.”
Mia laughed. “Fine, then. Don’t marry me. Just continue to be awesome.”
“Girl, I’m always awesome. Now go away and let me work my magic.”
Mia walked away and wandered through the new offices, still unable to believe she’d managed to get all this up and running just as she’d envisioned. She had her brothers and her parents to thank for a lot of it, especially her brother, Flynn. She’d been so hesitant at first to set up her company in the same city as one of her brothers, but Flynn had been instrumental in helping her. He had contacts everywhere, and he’d hooked her up with an amazing real estate agent who’d found the perfect office space in the Embarcadero Center, right in the heart of the Financial District.
The location and the space were ideal. They’d had the office re-carpeted and painted and it looked fresh and new. Now all she needed was furniture.
Her phone buzzed with a text. She smiled when she saw Nathan’s name come up.
How’s it going?
She typed back: Insanity here. How about you?
He replied with: Intense. But cool.
She could well imagine. She was as excited for Nathan’s new beginnings as she was for her own.
She typed back. Let’s decompress together. Dinner tonight?
She grinned. How does 7 work? Going to be crazy here.
It took him a few minutes to reply: Sounds good. Later.
She was still thinking about their lunch yesterday, and her response to his touch. It had been brief, but she had been surprised by the intensity of it. It was probably just her heightened nerves. She’d been wired lately because of all of... this. That had to be it.
Because good friends were hard to come by, so she didn’t want to screw it up with sex. Sex could ruin a great friendship, and she never wanted to lose Nathan.
And if that hot spark of attraction still remained between them, they were adults and they could handle it.
She shook it off and went in search of Monique to check on the status of those deliveries.
End of Excerpt
The Final Score
September 12, 2017
The Final Score
Book 13 in the Play-by-Play Series
Book 1: The Perfect Play
Book 2: Changing the Game
Book 3: Taking a Shot
Book 4: Playing to Win
Book 5: Thrown by a Curve
Book 6: One Sweet Ride
Book 6.5: Holiday Games
Book 7: Melting the Ice
Book 8: Straddling the Line
Book 8.5: Holiday on Ice
Book 9: Quarterback Draw
Book 10: All Wound Up
Book 10.5: Hot Holiday Nights
Book 11: Unexpected Rush
Book 12: Rules of Contact
Book 13: The Final Score
Book 14: Shot On Gold
Anthology: Mistletoe Games