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The Billion Dollar Player

By:Mandy Baxter



Chapter One


“How’s the groin, Jason? You gonna be one hundred percent for Sunday, son?”

Steve McNealy, the offensive coordinator, always talked to Jase like he was still in Pee-Wee football instead of a twenty-seven-year-old man with a college career and four years of pro ball under his belt. Though, in relation to the years with the NFL that Steve could claim, Jase guessed he was sort of a pup.

“I’m good to go, Coach. I’ll be tearin’ it up next week.”

Steve gave him a pat on the shoulder. “That’s good, son. Glad to hear it.”

It had been one bitch of a week: ice, physical therapy, and more ice. He was surprised his dick hadn’t sustained frostbite by now. And with the playoffs just around the corner, Jase couldn’t afford to show any signs of weakness. Especially when Malcolm Willis, second-round draft pick and hotshot prospect out of Stanford was waiting in the wings to take his place on the field.

He had a hard enough time maintaining his position on the team without the added pressure, thank you very much.

Tonight’s party was a kickoff for the post-season. One of many get-togethers aimed at boosting morale and ensuring that they’d be an even more cohesive team in the playoffs. Truth be told, Jase didn’t see these functions as anything more than an excuse to get shitfaced and blow off some steam away from the prying eyes of the press. And from the looks of some of the women parading around, someone had dug deep to provide more than alcohol for tonight’s entertainment.

“Hey, man. ’Sup? You feelin’ all right?”

If one more person asked him how the fuck he was feeling, he was going to go off. “Yup. Right as rain.” Jase turned toward Carson Rader, the starting quarterback and gave him a nudge with his shoulder. “You’re not getting rid of me yet, dude.”

“Nah, man, you got it wrong. I’d throw a first-class bitch fit if McNealy put anyone else on my line. Especially that little shit, Willis. His ego’s still too big to be on my field.”

“That’s because there’s no room,” Jase said with a laugh. “Your ego’s already too big for the field.”

“Truth.” Carson flashed him the million-dollar grin that had earned him the title of Prince Charming and grabbed a glass of champagne from a tray as the waitress walked by. “I’m not about sharing the spotlight.”

It was spoken in good humor, but as the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL, Carson Rader knew his worth and wasn’t afraid to own his ego. Thanks to him, the Cowboys might be getting a bid to the Super Bowl this year. Jase wanted that ring so damned badly he could practically taste the gold on the tip of his tongue and he’d ride the wave of Carson’s ego all the way to the playoffs. “You can have all the spotlight you want, buddy.”

Carson wasn’t the only guy in the league with a nickname. Being known as Billion Dollar Blackwell wasn’t exactly an honor and it sure as shit didn’t have anything to do with Jase’s paycheck or his talent. Rather, he’d earned the nickname after an ESPN anchor commented that the Cowboys had drafted him not because of his talent, but because he had the money to buy a spot on the team. It hadn’t helped that his brother Ryder owned one of the most expensive boxes in Cowboys Stadium.

Jase was firmly of the belief that money didn’t solve everything. In his case, his family’s money had done him more harm than good. His reputation, his value as a player had taken a hit and it meant that he had to work three times harder than the hardest-working player just to prove himself. Those were the breaks though, and if he’d let that sort of shit get under his skin, he would have quit his freshman year of college.

A companionable silence settled, each of them taking in the sights. Carson didn’t make eye contact, just sipped from his glass. “But really, Jase. How are you feeling?”

He never could get anything over on Carson. Jase stretched his neck from side to side in an effort to banish some of the tension pulling his shoulders tight. “I’m feeling like if I don’t get my shit together, I’m going to be riding the bench for the duration. I’m sore, my game is shit, and I’m stressed the hell out.” He gave a rueful laugh. “That about cover it for you?”

Carson didn’t seem in the least bit fazed. At least one of them was keeping a level head. Jase could feel his place on the field slipping through his fingers. He needed something—anything—to pull him out of the damned slump he’d been in for the past few months.

“You need something to take the edge off, that’s all,” Carson replied. “There’s plenty of talent here tonight.” He gave Jase a pointed look. “Fuck this shit out of your system, blow off some steam. A piece of ass will do wonders for your attitude.”

A lot of guys used sex to take the edge off during the playoffs. They called them “good-luck fucks” or “playoff poontang.” Crude, sure. But athletes were superstitious creatures by nature and more players than not swore by the power of some good ol’-fashioned sex magic for luck.

“I don’t want the typical ‘talent.’” Jase was a red-blooded American man, but even he had standards. He could have dragged any number of the women here tonight into the bathroom and gone to town. But pounding into some honey up against a bathroom wall wasn’t going to get his mojo back.

“Just get it done, Jase.” Carson spoke as though he needed to get in to have his teeth cleaned or car serviced or some shit. “I need you on the field to keep my ass from getting sacked. You do that, and I’ll keep putting the ball in your hands, brother. You’re the best tight end on the field, Jase, and I don’t give a flying fuck what anyone has to say about it.”

Jase thought about making a joke about Carson’s balls, but thought better of it. He never could out-snark Prince Charming. Another server passed with a tray of drinks and Jase snatched one up in his palm. He loved Carson like the pain-in-the-ass brother he never wanted, and it meant a lot that he wanted him on the field, but Jase would never give him the satisfaction of knowing it. Dude’s ego was too big as it was.

The sound of shattering glass and metal clanging on the marble floor interrupted any further conversation and Jase turned with the collective body of players and guests toward the source of the commotion.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!”

Jase rose up on his tiptoes and scanned the crowd until his gaze landed on the woman frantically scooping up bits of broken glass with a dripping wet rag. One of the girls for hire looked like she’d taken a champagne bath—probably not the first time—and was spluttering and glaring daggers down on the flustered waitress. “You ruined my dress, you stupid little skank!”

Classy.

Jase had been an underdog for most of his life, so watching as someone was bullied dug under his skin like a chigger, irritating him past the point of reason. The waitress obviously felt bad; her face was as red as the Texas state flag and she was stuttering out apology after apology as she tried without success to clean the floor with the soaking wet rag.

“She’s the one,” Carson asserted as though he’d found a ruby in a sack of rocks. “If you hook up with her, I guarantee you’ll be right as rain for the playoffs.”

Jase hiked a casual shoulder. It was the only part of his body that hadn’t gone rigid. Christ, even his gut was coiled up tight as a fist. “Could be.” Short, coffee-brown hair brushed her chin as she brushed the locks behind her ear. Her cheeks were flushed with embarrassment, but it just as easily could have been passion. She licked her full lips, biting down on the bottom one as though using the pain to distract her from the moment. And her eyes… bright emerald gems that shone from behind dark lashes. Like a full-body tackle, the sight of her stole the air from his lungs. “There’s a lot of tail walking around tonight, though.” He didn’t want to seem too anxious but there was something about her that damned near had him bouncing with excitement.

“Yeah.” Carson snorted. “But you said yourself, you don’t want typical. She’s far from it if you ask me.”

Jase could agree with Carson on that point. “She looks like she could use some help.”

Carson chuckled. “And you’re just the man to give her a hand.”

He pushed his way through the crowd, shaking his head at the fools who didn’t have the good sense to turn away from the scene as the girl continued to mop up her mess. Didn’t they know they were just helping to turn a simple mistake into a spectacle? His wide strides and sweeping arms cleared the crowd and he crossed the fifty or so feet between them in a couple of seconds.

“You might want to wring that rag out before you go to mopping stuff up again,” he said with a smile. “Here, let me help you.”

∗∗∗

Avery Lockhart looked up from the pool of champagne she was currently stranded in, jaw slack and eyes wide. As if she wasn’t already mortified to the point of speechlessness, now she was face-to-face with the one and only Billion Dollar Blackwell. Holy cats, he was even better looking up close than he was from a distance.

“No!” You’d think that champagne was acid the way she screeched at him, but if he got down on all fours to help her sweep up broken glass, she’d die of embarrassment for sure. His slacks looked like they cost more than her entire wardrobe. “R-really, please, I can clean this up. I’m the one who made the mess, and you’re going to ruin your pants.”

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