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Happily Ever All-Star 1(4)

By´╝ÜSosie Frost

“Or should I call you Doc now?”

“You can call me whenever—uh, whatever you want.” My tongue twisted as I greedily licked my lips. “How…how are you?”

Jude smiled once more. “Feeling good. Ready to play.”

No lie. Jude looked better than he had in years—proud, refined, and he’d dressed in a suit. A handsome man in formal dress had always been my Achilles’ heel—just the place for Cupid’s arrow to strike. Men in pads and jerseys didn’t do it for me anymore, probably because my step-brother played defensive end for the Atwood Monarchs. But a suit?

Jude filled out the material with solid muscle, not shoulder pads. The jacket obscured his broad shoulders and thick arms, but the fine silk still bulged and stretched where he flexed. He’d never been bulky, preferring lean muscle, agility, and speed to mark him as one of the best running backs in the league. He only appeared stronger now, even taller. But maybe that was because I lost myself in the gun-metal grey of his eyes.

The old league veteran hadn’t changed a bit. Even his dark hair, the waves that fell to his shoulders, hadn’t grayed. It gave him a youthful appearance, especially tucked into a neat, low ponytail.

At least when I swallowed my tongue, I’d have a pretty good chance of throwing it back up.

“So. Jude.” Even his name seemed like a naughty secret. “I didn’t know you were signing with the Rivets. I…didn’t know you were coming back to play at all, after what happened.”

“I’m fully recovered.” Jude had the decency to keep his eyes upwards, unlike Coach Thompson.

Cool air brushed my skin. It felt good over the embarrassed heat that suffocated me. Good thing I shared my father’s dark complexion. At least I couldn’t humiliate myself by turning pink.

I crossed my arms—tight, tight, tight.

Coach Thompson nodded and flashed me a smile. As usual, it made my skin crawl, but apparently that was common sentiment around the league. His reputation as a cheater preceded him, but I didn’t care how he planned to steal his victories. I only wanted to protect the players from concussions and head trauma.

“I’m glad you know each other,” he said. “This should go nice and easy. Doctor Merriweather, we need Jude cleared to play. Call my office once the exam is done. And Jude…” They shook hands. “Tomorrow morning, come in early to sign the contract. We’ll have you on the field with the team for AM Drills.”

“Excellent,” Jude said. “Thank you, Coach. I look forward to it.”

I stiffened, but the prickle of dread wasn’t the metal claw of my bra digging into my skin.

Jude wanted to play football again? After his last concussion? Was he insane?

Coach Thompson left us, closing the door behind him. Just me and Jude now, with nothing but a broken, unlatched bra separating me from absolute mortification.

“So…” I said. “You’re here?”

Jude took off his suit jacket and wrapped it over his arm. The white dress shirt tucked into the trim waist of his perfectly creased trousers. Too bad I was only looking at the shadow of a particularly interesting bulge.

“I’m here.”

My eyes darted up. “It’s great to see you.”

“Gonna give me a hug? It’s been what? A year?”

I forced a smile, but my eyebrows danced a far more panicked twitch. “Felt like an eternity without you.”

I leaned in close, shrugging as I attempted to fix the bra pinching off circulation to one very important nipple.

Why did he have to smell so good? A blending of earth and grass and spice.

“You look great,” I said. “How are you feeling—?”

I tried to pull back but couldn’t move. Jude twisted, and the jagged bit of underwire poking from my bra latched onto him like the material was made of superglue, magnets, and the endless criticism of a disappointed step-mother.

Why haven’t you found a man yet, Aurora? Why are you specializing in neurology? I wouldn’t waste a year of my career on this fellowship.

I couldn’t find a man because I was a ridiculous, pregnant disaster, and hopefully studying neurology with this fellowship would eventually find a cure for terminal awkwardness. None of this helped me dislodge myself from Jude’s arms.

“Hold still—” He grimaced.

“Oh, wait. Hold on—”

“I think we’re attached.”

If only. “I’ve always had a special bond with you.”

“Your…uh, bra is…”

Going to be an effective noose for later? Yep. “One sec…”

I turned. He ducked closer. The wire slipped.