Excerpt - Making a Splash
Book 8: Once Upon A Romance Series
Annabelle O’Connor sucked in a sharp breath as the icy-cold water drenched her back. She sputtered. “What the hey!”
She twirled around on the sidewalk and heard the offending car screech to a halt in the crowded street. Another spray of muddy puddle water sloshed from her head to her toes.
Male voices shouted from rolled down windows. In shock, she couldn’t understand a word they said. Glunk. Glunk. Were they underwater?
Shaking her head, she hoped she’d get the water out of her ears.
Taking quick stock, she realized that her newly styled hair was now plastered to her head, the long strands clinging to her face and neck. With a trembling hand, she brushed aside the heavy wet mess, clearing her vision.
“I can’t go into the grand opening like this,” she muttered, still clinging to the football tucked in her left hand and against her side.
Gazing down the block, she spotted the long line swelling with more people waiting for the new Whitfield’s Sports Bar to open. Many held memorabilia to have signed by the ex-NFL player and now owner Jay Whitfield.
“They’d never let me in looking like this, never mind sign anything. That’s even if I could be one of the first fifty like the ad said.” Her heart tugged. “Joey!” Her little boy had been let down so much in life; she couldn’t do it again.
“Miss, I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you there.” He raced to her from the driver’s side of the cream-colored SUV.
Tall, Annabelle assessed as she tipped her head back to look up at him. Sandy brown hair. Wide shoulders, broad chest, she noted glimpsing the charcoal gray suit with black shirt underneath. Strength radiated from him. His furrowed brow did nothing to mar his handsome features and light brown eyes. The pained look in them struck a chord in her.
Shaking her head again, this time to dispel the instantaneous womanly thoughts blaring through her mind and body, she held up her hand to ward him off. “You? Stay back. You’ve done enough damage already. And I’m late.”
He smiled and it sucked the air out of her lungs. “Forgive me. I’m late, too.” He nodded to the vehicle. “My brothers and I are.”
“Hurry up, Max,” one of the men called out. Horns honked. Drivers yelled not so nice things.
“We’re holding up traffic,” the other one yelled.
“Go then.” She backed away a step. The downpour ended ten minutes ago, thus creating the massive puddles. Now the drizzle began. It didn’t matter; she was soaked to the bone.
That’s when those hypnotic caramel eyes scanned her. He swallowed hard. “You can’t. Ah…your dress…”
It was the one decent dress she owned. New, light, frothy green. Joey told her it made her look like a fairy with her red hair and her green eyes to match. So she’d bought it on a whim and to keep that smile on his face. Now it appeared ruined, drenched. The dirty water dripped over her cold, shivering body and down her legs.
“It’s…I can see through it.” He waved a hand over her, obviously uncomfortable and embarrassed for them both.
Annabelle jerked her gaze to her dress. “Eek!” The tiny cry escaped her mouth. She shifted the football to shield her top. But she didn’t have anything else to cover the rest of her.
The guy named Max shrugged off his suit jacket and wrapped it around her, and then gingerly extracted the long, wet strands of her hair. “Stick your arms through.” His gentle voice was a balm to her.
And the warmth from his body trapped in the fabric bathed her in heat.
“Max,” the young man hollered. “Now, bro!”
He waved them off. “Go on without me. I’ll catch up.”
The long line in front of the sports bar moved now as the doors opened and the crowd surged forward. Annabelle brushed him off. “Thanks,” she muttered. “Gotta run.”
Without another thought, she dashed down the sidewalk, dodging people. A smile tugged up the corner of her lip; she could hear Joey say she could be one of those football players—in heels, no less—scrambling for the end zone. She had enough mud and grime on her to earn her a ready grin from him, too.
Her son needed a hero. A living one to look up to. If only she could bring home the autographed football from his favorite player. That would be the first step. He deserved the chance to hope again. .
The goal was in sight. If only she could get there in time.
“Yo, wait up!” the guy they called Max hollered.
She ignored his shouts and picked up speed when the big glass doors began to close. “Nooooo!” Joey needs this. I need to do this for him.
There were dozens of people in line, complaining when they were shut out. She slowed her pace as she neared and came to a sudden stop, bumping into the barricade. The metal pole wobbled, and then hit the ground. The loud clank rang in the air.
“Miss, step back. You can’t go in there.” The big, burly guy looked as if he’d played defense in his day.
“Just let me slip in and I’ll be forever grateful.”
“No can do.”
Beside her, Max halted. “Good sprinter,” he murmured. His warm breath feathered over her cheek. “Even drenching wet.”
A shiver went through her. She glanced away. “Come on. Just this one time.”
“Max, my man,” the guard said. They did the man shake/half hug. “Good to see you.”
“You, too. Long time.” He seemed to size up the situation. He glimpsed at her, and then reached out to untangle the long strands of her soaking hair off her face. His warm fingertips brushed her cheek and tucked the hair behind her ear. “She’s with me.”
“Why didn’t you say that in the first place?” He shook his head. He shifted the other metal pole out of the way and escorted them through.
“Really?” Annabelle asked under her breath. “You have special powers.”
He chuckled. The sensation it created tingled over and through her. “Just call me Super Max.”
She gulped hard. When she asked for a hero for her son—a living one—to not replace his late dad, but to show him there were great male role models out there for him to appreciate and maybe even emulate, Annabelle did not have a guy like Max in mind.
Nope, not at all.
But he’d shown her chivalry.
Deep down, the crusty barnacles she’d erected crackled and she could feel something stirring awake after all these years.
Her son and his needs and his dreams came first and foremost. Above all else.
Not going to let my guard down. No way would she even jump off that cliff again.
One best friend. One marriage. One burying the love of your life. Once was more than enough for Annabelle in a lifetime.
Loving someone always ended up with her being hurt!
Max Whitfield’s heart tugged the moment he came upon her, drenched and soaked to the bone. Those big green eyes hadn’t helped, either.
Why couldn’t he think straight?
The moment she hit the door to Whitfield’s Sports Bar, she raced through and out of his reach. “Hey, wait up! I don’t even know your name!”
She didn’t even hesitate; she hurried away.
“My jacket.” He groaned, realizing his wallet was inside the top front pocket.
He scanned the sleek, modern sports bar, smiling at the amazing transformation his brother and his partners had created in such a short time frame. The warehouse look was a thing of the past. Big screens littered the walls, sections for private parties sat near the back, the bar—glass and gray slate—took up a large portion of the other side, and tonight fans and celebrities crammed the place.
People milled about, talking and drinking. Excitement rippled through the atmosphere. There, near the back, he saw Jay smiling and signing a—chest! He groaned. Some dude shaved his hairy self and allowed Jay to scribble his John Hancock. No doubt the guy would get it tattooed there; they’d seen some pretty ridiculous things before, signature tattoos being one.
Max headed in that direction, hoping he’d find the wet mystery woman. In the back of his mind, he wondered if she were just a groupie. That disturbed him.
Back in the day when Jay played, there were a lot of fans trying to get a piece of his brother. Max understood it, but didn’t like the invasion of privacy many thought they had the right to breach.
Had he made a mistake in allowing her in the place?
How far would she go to get Jay to sign the football?
He hit the floor running…