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The next day at work, Raelyn had a hard time concentrating on the show and not the handsome quarterback she had wound up spending most of the previous day with. Even as gorgeous as he was, Raelyn knew she’d be better off if she stayed as far away as possible from J.T. Young.
“Rae? Raelyn Ballard?”
Raelyn suddenly looked up from her microphone into the staring face of her partner of three years. Bradley was looking at her over bar that separated her mike from his area in the center of the bar. “What?’ she murmured.
“Darlin’,” he drawled, a slow smile crossing his face. “Where are you today?”
“No where,” she said, shaking her head as she realized she had been daydreaming for the past five minutes. “I’m here,” she said, a little guiltily.
“Bullshit!” he laughed, his hand covering his microphone. “I do believe you’re still at Ranger stadium with J.T. Young.”
“Uh . . .” Raelyn snorted, reaching for her cup of coffee. “That’s the furtherest thing from my mind.” She brought the cup to her lips, hoping that she was more convincing than she sounded. She hadn’t been able to think of anything else but the day before and J.T.
Bradley laughed as he turned his microphone off during the commercial break. “Rae . . .” he began, reaching for one of the phone lines that were blinking. “The only person you’re foolin’ is yourself, because it’s written all over your face. KISS fm . . .” he said, speaking into his microphone as the call came through his headphones.
And then the next minute, he was signaling over at Raelyn as he turned on her mike, a smile on his face. “It’s for you.”
Raelyn placed her headphones back onto her head as she gave Bradley the best ‘eat shit’ look she could muster. “This is Raelyn Ballard . . .”
“Raelyn, this is J.T.” Despite herself, Raelyn couldn’t help but smile, unconsciously cradling the headphones closer in to her ears. “I’m sorry to bother you at work.”
“No, its okay,” she said, shaking her head.
“I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed spending the afternoon with you and your daughter yesterday. I’m glad you decided to come to the game.”
“Me too,” she answered.
“Listen, I know its last minute and everything . . . but this Saturday is our Annual Kick-off Party at the stadium, hosted by our Player’s Wives Association. If you don’t have anything planned, I was hoping that maybe you could bring Summer and come. It’s a lot of fun . . .”
“I don’t know, J.T.,” she said, not sure she could turn him down. It wasn’t going to be easy to turn down another opportunity to see this handsome quarterback once more.
“I completely understand if you already have plans,” he said, trying to hide the disappointment he felt.
“No, it’s not that,” she began, wondering exactly how to say what she needed to say.
“Then what?” he prompted.
“I just don’t think I’m ready to start dating anyone right now.”
“Don’t think of it as a date,” he said, desperate to say anything to convince her to come. He had already gotten the feeling that she wasn’t too sure about seeing him again, but something kept drawing him to her. “Just come and have fun. Summer will love it!”
“Summer’s spending the next couple of weeks with her grandparents,” Raelyn explained.
“Oh,” J.T. replied, realizing that excuse was blown away with the wind. “So, you’ll love it. Besides,” he added, grasping at one last straw. “Jewel would love to see you again. I think you made a real friend yesterday.”
“Well,” she began, wondering why she was suddenly wanting to go. “I would love to see Jewel again . . .”
“Then it’s settled,” he said, smiling to himself. “I’ll come by and pick you up before the party starts and we’ll go together.”
Looking across the table at Bradley smiling at her, Raelyn knew she wouldn’t turn him down. Something inside her told her to go, despite her reservations. “Only as friends?” she asked, needing that reassurance.
“Whatever you want,” he said. There would be plenty of time to convince her otherwise. He just wanted her there.
Raelyn answered the door to find J.T. decked out in well-worn jeans and a cobalt blue shirt, a color that made his intriguing indigo eyes seem all the more mesmerizing. Despite herself, Raelyn had to admit that he was appealing, more appealing than she had wanted. Getting involved with anyone, especially another football player was the last thing she needed, yet here he stood with his shaggy blonde hair that simply begged her to run her fingers through it. This man was tempting beyond belief, and Raelyn knew that if she wasn’t careful, she would be one step away from another possible disaster.
“Good morning!” J.T.’s pleasant greeting instantly put a smile on Raelyn’s face. “You look great!” She was wearing blue jeans herself with a silk white tank top, belted with a brown roped belt. Her long blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail, loosely caught Escort Bayan up at her neck.
“I could say the same about you,” she said, her eyes lingering on the way his jeans tightened across his thighs. Damn it! This was going to be harder than she had first thought.
“Is that a compliment I just heard come out of your mouth?” he teased her.
“Why?” she laughed. “You act shocked that I would say something nice.”
“Well, after we met the first time, I thought I would never hear anything nice come out of you,” he reminded her.
She laughed for a moment and then admitted, “Well, I wasn’t too sure about you at first.” And then realizing he was still standing at the door, “Come on in.”
He followed her into her apartment, saying, “Why’s that? I still don’t know what I ever did to piss you off that first day.”
She led him into the kitchen as she grabbed her purse and then turned to face him. “It wasn’t anything you did,” she admitted. “It was me.”
“Are you going to tell me about it or what?” he prodded her, a smile on his handsome face.
“Maybe some time,” she said. “Not now.”
“Okay,” he answered, looking around the pretty kitchen. It was light and airy and decorated in sunflowers. “Your kitchen makes mine look like a dark closet,” he commented.
“Do you ever go into your kitchen?” she asked.
“No, not really,” he laughed. “I’m never home long enough to do anything in my kitchen.”
“Are you trying to tell me you actually know how to do something in your kitchen?”
“Sure,” he said, smiling at her. “You act surprised.”
“I am,” she said. “Most guys . . . and I don’t mean to stereotype here, but . . . most jocks don’t know how to find the kitchen, much less do anything but eat once they get there.”
J.T. laughed at the portrait she had painted for him and then knew she was right. “You pretty much hit the nail on the head,” he said, shaking his head at her as he gently laughed. “I’ll tell you what. One night I’ll show you just what I can do in one of these. How does that sound?”
“It sounds like an offer I can’t refuse!” she replied as she led him outside.
Raelyn was surprised when they reached Ranger Stadium. The player’s wives association had really transformed the huge dome into a huge party, geared mostly for their youngest fans. The football team, of course, was there, along with some live music, games, lots of fans, local radio personalities, and autograph sessions. Some of the games included a Velcro wall, the bungee run, the human gyroscope, and a bounce house.
The Player’s Wives Association was geared more towards charity so even though the Annual Kick-off Party itself was free, the tickets for the autograph sessions were for sale. The proceeds from the ticket sales went to the charity of the association’s choice.
“This is amazing,” Raelyn commented, as she and J.T. strolled through the set-up. The party didn’t start for another half hour and each player was getting their assignment for the autograph sessions.
“Yeah,” he agreed, steering her over towards the information booth. “The girls really go all out for this event. It’s our first one of the session. The plan is for it to come at the end of August, after our first game.”
They stopped at the information booth so J.T. could pick up his assignment for the day. “Good morning Shannon,” he replied, smiling at the pretty blonde sitting at the booth. “Where’s Chad?”
“He’s already at his station,” she said, handing J.T. a slip of paper and a laminated name tag. “You’re at station sixteen this year,” she said, smiling up at him. Then catching Raelyn’s eyes on her, she smiled, offering a perfectly manicured hand. “Hi, I’m Shannon Coakley. My husband is Chad Coakley, offensive guard for the Rangers.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Raelyn answered, taking the outstretched hand.
“God, I’m sorry,” J.T. offered, smiling weakly over at Raelyn. “I’ve forgotten my manners.”
“It’s just nice to see that you’ve got some,” Raelyn said, smiling to herself. She couldn’t help it ~ he just begged to be teased unmercifully.
Shannon laughed; covering her mouth at Raelyn’s teasing remark. “Oh girl, if you only knew . . .”
“Let’s keep some of my secrets for just a little longer,” he said to Shannon. “We don’t want to overwhelm Raelyn on our first date.”
“It’s not a date . . . remember?” she was quick to point out.
Shannon watched the two of them bicker back and forth for a while before interrupting them, a smile on her face. “J.T., put a sock in it and get over to your station. They’ll be opening the flood gates pretty soon.”
“Okay, okay,” he said, turning to Raelyn. “You coming?”
“No, not yet,” she replied. “I’d like to find Jewel.”
“Oh, she’s working at the concession stand set up on the north goal,” Shannon offered. “She could use some help, if you’re interested?”
“Oh Escort sure,” Raelyn said, looking over at J.T. “Come find me when you’re done.”
“Oh, he’s not going anywhere,” Shannon laughed. “J.T.’s session has been sold out from the first day tickets went on sale. He’ll be signing autographs until we shut the doors this evening.” At J.T.’s despairing look, she added, “Sorry.”
“How ’bout you finding me when you’re done?” he replied, turning to Raelyn. “It sounds like I won’t be going anywhere.”
“Okay,” she said, smiling up at him. “Tell me what your fancy is and I’ll bring you something when I come,” she offered.
“By the time you find me,” he said, shaking his head, “I may need a pistol.”
Raelyn laughed as she turned to walk away. “How about a coke instead?”
“Make it a Dr. Pepper,” he said, watching her as she made her way to the goal line.
“She’s great, J.T.,” Shannon said, smiling up at him. “You’d be wise to hang onto her.”
“I’ve got to get her first,” he said, winking at her as he turned on his heel.
The Rangers had their third home game that next Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. They had barely pulled off a victory last week against the Seattle Seahawks. Jewelicia Williams must have been watching for her, because the minute Raelyn saw her, she was waving for her to join her up top, in the last section on the fifty yard line.
“Hi! I saved you a seat,” Jewel told her, then laughed. “Last year it wouldn’t have been a problem with seats, but this year we’ve picked up some new fans.” Raelyn looked around her to see that almost every single seat was filled. “These are reserved for us.” “Us” being the wives, children, and significant others of the players.
“Thanks,” Raelyn said with a smile.
“No Summer today?” Jewel asked, peering around Raelyn.
“Not today,” she replied. “She’s spending a couple of weeks with her grandparents near Dallas.”
“That sounds like free time to me,” Jewel said, laughing.
The Seahawks made the first touchdown and the Ranger crowd booed their disappointment of the referee’s call. It wasn’t until the final minutes of the half that the Rangers’ offense caught fire. They marched steadily down the field, down by down. Then, from the Seattle forty-yard line, J.T. aired a bomb. Terrell Williams made a spectacular diving catch, landing in the end zone. With the others, Raelyn and Jewel leapt to their feet, cheering madly. The point-after was good, and once again the quarter ended on a tie.
At half-time, Jewel turned to her and asked, “So, are you and J.T. officially a couple?”
“Officially . . . no,” she replied, digging in her purse for some money, never looking up at Jewel.
“What?!” she replied, somewhat shocked at her friend’s reply. Raelyn looked up to see the surprise etched across Jewel’s beautiful brow. “You’re kidding! You and J.T. aren’t a couple?”
“No,” she answered her. “You sound surprised . . .”
“I am,” she replied, looking back onto the field. “The way J.T. talks about you to Terrell made me think . . .”
“What does he say?” she suddenly wanted to know.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied, wondering if she should say anything at all. She was really surprised at Raelyn’s response. “I guess I just assumed that you two were together. It’s so unlike J.T. to bring a woman he’s not involved with to a football function.”
“You mean, like the Kick-off party?”
“Yeah, exactly,” she said, turning back to face Raelyn.
“Well, trust me when I say that we are not a couple. I’m not interested in getting involved with anyone right now . . . especially another professional football player.”
“When are you going to tell me that story?” Jewel asked, hoping to pry it out of her. “It must have been something to turn you off all players like that.”
“Oh, it’s something all right,” she said, rolling her eyes heavenward. “I just don’t want to talk about it yet.” She looked over at her and covered her hand with her own. “Nothing personal against you. I just don’t like to think about it.”
“No offense taken,” she replied, squeezing her new friend’s hand. “I just want you to give J.T. a chance. He’s really a great guy.”
“I’m sure he is,” she agreed. “But all I’m interested in right now are friends and friends only.”
“Maybe you’ll change your mind,” she suggested, her eyes twinkling.
“I doubt it,” she replied as the team ran back onto the field for the second half. The Seahawks were all revved up now, and out for blood. They scored another two touchdowns adding fourteen points, in quick succession. Try as they might, the Rangers still couldn’t get their act together. J.T. was sacked twice and when he did connect with a receiver, his teammate either dropped the ball or was hit for a loss. Finally, with one minute and forty-three seconds left in the game, J.T. threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to put the team ahead Bayan Escort 20 -17. The crowd was going crazy, all but for Raelyn and the women who sat around her, their hands quickly coming up to cover their mouths as Raelyn jumped to her feet. Terrell was still celebrating in the end zone as Jewel put her arm around her friend’s shoulder.
J.T. had still not risen from the hit he had taken from the defenders trying to block his pass. Raelyn watched in growing concern as the team doctor rushed out onto the field along with a couple of coaches. An official time-out was called as they men bent over J.T.’s still form.
“He’ll be okay,” she suddenly heard Jewel say into her ear. And then she squeezed her shoulder affectionately.
“How do you know?” she wanted to know, nervously chewing on her lower lip.
“Because it happens to all of them, sooner or later,” she tried to explain.
“What happens?’ Raelyn wanted to know.
“It’s probably a concussion,” she said reassuringly. “He’ll be okay.”
“A concussion?” she repeated. “That sounds pretty serious to me.” Eight minutes later, J.T. was helped off the field as Raelyn watched. She tried not to show too much concern as they put him on a golf cart and headed for the locker rooms.
A minute later the announcer told the concerned crowd that he had indeed suffered a concussion and was going to the hospital to check it out. At Raelyn’s concerned look, Jewel gathered her things quietly but quickly. “Come on,” she offered, taking her arm. “You’re not going to be okay until you see him.”
“But he’s going to the hospital, right?” she asked in a daze as she grabbed her stuff quickly.
“So are we . . .”
When J.T. finally awoke from his hospital bed, he turned his head to find Raelyn sitting on the hospital bed, holding his limp hand . . . and she breathed a sigh a relief when she saw his blue eyes shining up at her . . . those gorgeous blue eyes! “Hi,” she said, softly squeezing his fingers. “I’ve been waiting for you to come around.”
She smiled as her hand reached out instinctively to touch his cheek. “I’ll tell you this, J.T. Young; you sure know how to end a football game dramatically.”
“Yeah, that’s talent. Real talent,” he said, reaching up to grasp her hand, holding it to his cheek where she would’ve pulled it away. His eyes searched for a moment before he said, “I’m surprised to find you here.”
“Why?’ she wanted to know.
“I don’t know,” he admitted, but then smiled at her. “But I’m glad you’re here.”
She smiled at him then, wondering herself why she was suddenly so drawn to him. “It scared the shit out of me when you didn’t get up from that hit.” She pulled her hand from his and gently slapped at his arm, which had an I.V. in it. “Don’t ever do that again, you big jerk,” she said softly.
“I’m glad to see that you’re concerned about me,” he said, grabbing a hold of her hand once more. “It was worth it just to see you looking at me that way.”
Raelyn shut her eyes at his words, a slow smile crossing her face. But inwardly, she cringed at his words. The last thing she wanted was to get involved with him, but in her heart she could feel her resolve softening towards the handsome guy lying before her.
J.T. was released from the hospital the next morning and Raelyn drove him home. There, she hovered over him like a mother hen with one lone chick. “Are you hungry? I could fix a sandwich? Or a nice hot bowl of chicken soup?”
“What I really want you’re not going to give me,” he teased her good-naturedly.
“J.T., will you give it a rest? How about some orange juice?”
“Sure. Why not,” he finally relented.
“Shouldn’t you be lying down?”
“Shouldn’t you be heading off to work?” he countered. “I’m a big boy.”
Raelyn smiled at him then, realizing she was hovering over him like a mother. “I’m sorry,” she said, crossing over to sit on the couch across the table from him. “I just can’t help it,” she admitted, looking over at him.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, smiling at her. “I don’t mind. It’s just . . . well, I can’t stand to watch you running all over the place trying to make me comfortable. I’m okay.”
“You just scared the shit out of me yesterday,” she said, frowning at him.
“It’s okay,” he assured her once again. “It’s not like it’s never happened before.”
“What?!” she retorted, surprised at his words. “You’ve been knocked unconscious more than once?”
“No, not unconscious,” he said, shrugging his broad shoulders. “But I’ve had my share of concussions.”
“J.T., that’s barbaric! Maybe it’s time to get out,” she suggested.
“Get out?” he repeated, his turn to be surprised. “Why would you suggest something like that?”
She stopped then, suddenly afraid to say too much. She quickly shut her mouth at what wanted to come out and just looked at him. Then dropping her eyes to her lap, she quietly said, “I’m sorry. It’s not my place . . .”
J.T. watched her for a moment, suddenly curious to what was really going on with this girl. “Does this have anything to do with your ex-husband?” At the look she gave him, he knew it did.
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