Six weeks ago, I knew nothing about football. Six weeks ago, I had never sat through a full game. Six weeks ago, I was Madison Harte, failed founder of a tech startup living in crazy-expensive San Francisco.
Football never played a role in my life at all. In fact, I downright hated it.
That was six weeks ago.
Today, I was Madison Harte, owner of the Yellowhammers in Birmingham, Alabama.
And I still knew jack shit about football.
“What the hell is a ‘pooch punt?’” I muttered as I flipped through my flashcards of football terms that Yellowhammer linebacker Clancy Drew had created for me, so I could learn some vocabulary.
“That’s an actual football term?” my best friend and roommate Ashley asked as she drove our moving truck down a deserted highway somewhere in New Mexico. We had packed up our tiny apartment in San Francisco and were moving into an apartment in a Birmingham suburb.
Driving this distance, especially with a moving truck, made me realize just how big the United States was. It felt like we’d been driving forever, and we still had a long way to go.
I frowned as I stared at Clancy’s neat handwriting. “Apparently? It says, ‘pooch punt.’”
In answer, my dog Winston looked up from his spot in the middle of our three-seater U-Haul and gave me the side eye, which, on a basset hound like him, looked like the most mournful expression ever.
I gave him a scratch between the ears. “I’d never kick you, buddy.” I flipped the card over, hoping it didn’t mean my boyfriend Andre Williamson was out on the field kicking dogs. Or that Clancy Drew or Rodney Nguyen, two other players I was attracted to, might be out pup-punting.
Animal abuse was a huge turn-off for me.
To my relief, the term wasn’t that.
“‘A short punt, designed to avoid kick returners,’” I read, cheerful despite the fact that I would have to look up “kick returner” later. Usually, me learning a football term meant that I had to look up five more.
“I swear, Clancy made that shit up,” Ashley grumbled.
I quirked an eyebrow at her. “I thought you were the one who watched football regularly.”
“Yeah, to look at their asses in tight spandex, not to talk about kicking dogs,” she countered. Driving always made her a little cranky. Then again, it made me cranky too, and we were going to have to get a car in Birmingham.
We hadn’t needed a car in San Francisco, given the excellent public transportation. Birmingham’s public transport...wasn’t excellent.
“But it’s not kicking dogs,” I replied, feeling the need to defend Clancy. “Isn’t that right, Winston?”
My dog just gave a gruff huff and laid his head back down on his paws. I could have left him with one of the teammates back in Birmingham, but I didn’t want to be apart from Winston for a week. I’d already been away from him too long when I first went to Birmingham, and, besides, he made this trip more interesting.
“He probably needs to pee,” Ashley said. “Hell, I need to pee. When’s the next gas station?”
I took her phone and searched for a place. “About twenty more miles?”
“Crap.” Ashley squirmed in her seat. “Maybe I should pull over to the side of the highway and pop a squat.”
“Isn’t that how horror movies start?” I asked. “Stopping on the side of a deserted highway? We’ll come back, and all our tires will be slashed, and we’ll be kidnapped by an inbred family that’s been living in the desert for years, and—”
“I think if I don’t pull over soon, it’s going to be a horror movie in here.” I felt the truck decelerate as Ashley directed the truck over to the side of the road. “We’ll be fine.”
Admittedly, I wasn’t so sure. I’d seen enough horror movies to be wary of stopping like this.
Apparently, my imagination could run away with me. After living most of my life in the big city, being in wide-open spaces like this always unnerved me. Birmingham was the biggest city in Alabama, and it was still too small for me.
That was one of my biggest worries about moving there.
The other three worries were Andre, Clancy, and Rodney.
Oh. And the whole owning a football team thing. That still made me a little nervous.
“Are you coming?” Ashley asked as she unbuckled her seatbelt.
“Nah, I’m fine.” Really, I was. At least, I could convince myself of that.
Ashley rolled her eyes. “Suit yourself. I’ll take Prince Charming for his potty break.” She latched Winston’s leash to his collar. “Be right back.”
She opened the door, dropped down from the truck onto the pavement, and helped Winston down since his legs were short and not meant for hopping out of large trucks. “Oh, you’re getting heavy, buddy,” she told him as she shut the door.
Leaving me alone in the car.
I lasted for all of ten seconds before I took out my phone and dialed the very top number. The phone rang three times before Andre’s calming baritone voice filled the speaker.
“Hey, babe,” he said, and just hearing him made my panties get wet. He sounded breathless, and I glanced at the clock on the dash, doing the math in my head. They were probably in the middle of practice. The Hammers’ first regular-season game was this weekend, giving Ashley and me five days to get back and unpacked before I had to play owner for the team.
I combed a hand through my mousey brown hair. “Hey,” I said, glad that he was taking a moment from practice to talk to me.
There was a reason why I really, really liked him. And it wasn’t because his cock was huge. But that didn’t hurt, either.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, immediately picking up on my distress. “Did something happen?”
He was concerned about two twenty-something women driving a U-Haul across the country. A concern that I was now realizing might have been warranted.
“No, no, nothing happened.” I looked out the window and got a full view of Ash’s ass as she squatted in the shade of the truck. Winston was as far away from her as his leash would allow, sniffing at some sort of desert bush. “We’re just...out in the middle of nowhere, and it’s making me feel...”
“Anxious?” Andre finished for me. He was born and bred in Pittsburgh, so he was as used to the city life as I was. I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. “Why didn’t you just hire movers, Madison?”
“Because I didn’t have the money,” I answered. Seriously, it was something like fifteen thousand dollars for cross-country movers. After being unemployed for six months, I didn’t exactly have the funds for that.
It wasn’t like I had any savings left.
“You could have used some of that sponsorship money,” Andre reasoned.
I sighed. It was a conversation that I’d had with him a few times—he wanted me to use some of the money that we had received from our first sponsor, Alabama Proud Laundry. “That money is meant for the team.”
“You are the team, Madison.” Damn, my heart melted at that. “And I’m sure none of the guys would fault you for taking care of yourself.”
“We’re good,” I told him.
“You’re calling me right now because you’re on the side of the road and freaked out. That doesn’t fit my definition of good.”
“I’m calling you because Ashley is taking a piss.”
Andre snickered softly. “Can’t wait until you’re back. I want to christen your new apartment properly.”
My cheeks warmed. “You made a religious pun. I think you’ve been in the Deep South too long.”
“Well, when you’re back, I plan on going further south,” he said. “All the way to bush country.”
I let out a low laugh. “I just shaved.”
He let out a groan. “Even better.”
Movement outside the window drew my eye over to Ashley who had just finished with her business, walking around the truck to get into the driver’s side.
“I’ve gotta go,” I said. “See you in a few days.”
“I’ll be ready.” I could almost hear the wink in his voice as he hung up.
Just as Ashley opened the truck door. “You were talking to Andre, weren’t you?” she asked with her uncanny ability to read my mind.
“Yep.” I couldn’t keep my grin under control.
“You guys are going to give me diabetes with your sickly-sweet stuff.” She shook her head as she bent down to pick up Winston, who let out a low whine as she struggled to get the seventy-pound basset hound into the truck. I leaned over and helped drag in my dog. When we decided to bring Winston along for a long car ride, we hadn’t planned on our truck being a huge step up.
Consider that a lesson learned.
I buckled Winston into his harness as Ashley pulled herself up into the driver’s seat and put the key in the ignition. Winston sneezed just as the truck turned on.
“Aw, are your allergies bothering you, buddy?” I baby-talked to Winston.
“Probably,” Ashley said. “He was sniffing some sort of bush for a long time.”
I burst out laughing. I think she realized what I thought was so funny, because she only shook her head and pulled away from the shoulder.
And we were back on the road. Thousands of miles ahead of us.
And no horror movie just yet.