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ALWAYS YOU Chapter One

 

ALWAYS YOU
(The Bachelor Brotherhood #3)
November 28, 2018

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Standing at the edge of a grass soccer field, Matt stared into the sea of parents’ faces and resisted the urge to groan. Obviously, word had spread after last season that Coach Matt was relatively good looking, somewhat successful, loved kids, and most important, was single.

Maybe he should rethink his decision to coach his five- year-old nephew’s soccer team. But when he looked down into Ethan’s adoring face, he knew he’d never quit. He’d swim through shark-infested waters for the kid—what were a few single moms? Well, more like a half a dozen . . .

“This is the five- and six-year-old peewee division,” Matt said, continuing with his introduction while the kids fidgeted behind him, “and we don’t keep official score. The goal is to learn the rules and have fun. Any questions?”

A redheaded woman with a toddler at her feet shot her hand into the air. “Is it true that you’re single?”

Matt forced a laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. “Any questions about soccer?”

A few of the women giggled, and some of the others looked downright sheepish. He noticed there was one lone man in the group. He stood at the back and seemed to be ogling the women’s asses. Matt planned to keep an eye on the creeper.

A familiar brunette lifted her hand and Matt relaxed. Phyllis, thank God, was very happily married. “I’d be more than willing to coordinate the snack schedule, Matt.”

“Thanks.” He held her gaze, trying to convey how much he meant it.

Her grin told him she knew exactly what she was doing. He spun around to face nine excited faces. “Okay. Who’s ready to play soccer?”

“We are!” the children shouted, jumping up and down with excitement.

Nine faces. There were supposed to be ten. He pulled the folded printout of the team roster from his back pocket and studied the list. Sure enough, he was missing one. He started calling out the names he didn’t recognize, trying to figure out which kid was missing.

“Trevor Millhouse. Billy Houser.” Both kids raised their hands. “Toby Robins.” No answer.

He scanned the group. “Toby Robins?”

Ethan’s hand shot into the air. “He was at school today, Uncle Matt. He said he was coming. But he’s never played soccer before, and he’s scared.”

Matt squatted in front of his nephew. “Scared enough to miss his first practice?”

“Nah,” Ethan said as though Matt had said the most ridiculous thing in the world. “I told him that you’d teach him everything.” The boy beamed up at him with a grin showing his missing front tooth.

“Then maybe Toby’s just running late,” Matt said. “We’ll get started and catch him up to speed when he gets here.”

Ethan nodded. “I’ll help him.”

He rubbed the boy’s head. “I’m sure you will.”

Matt lined up the kids and passed out a miniature soccer ball to each of them, keeping one for himself. He rested his foot on the top of the ball. “Now, the important thing to remember is that you can’t touch the ball with your hands. If you touch it with your hands, you lose it to the other team. But,” he said with an exaggerated grin, “you can touch it with any other part of your body.” He scooped up the ball with his toe and tossed it into the air, bounced it from his knee to the top of his head, back to his knee, and then down to the top of his foot before letting it fall to the ground.

The kids released excited oohs and ahhs. He tried to ignore the appreciative murmurs from the women behind him. “You probably can’t do that now,” Matt said, “but if you keep practicing, you can learn how. Some soccer players can even make goals with the tops of their heads.” He tossed the ball up with his foot again and then bounced it off his head, this time aiming it toward the goal behind the kids.

“Your uncle’s so cool . . . ” Becca said to Ethan with awe in her voice.

Ethan’s grin stretched from ear to ear. “I know.”

“Okay,” Matt said as he jogged over to pick up the ball, but one of the mothers, Miranda Houser, had already run over to pick it up and toss it to him.

“Here you go, Coach Matt,” she said with a grin. “Thanks,” he said, catching it with his hands.

“You’re out!” one of the boys shouted. “You touched the ball with your hands.”

“Good job, George,” Matt said. “You were listening.”

“Look at me, Coach,” Remy, one of the new boys, called out. “I can kick the ball just like you!” Then the ball at his feet flew through the air and slammed into the nose of one of the new mothers.

“Oh, shit,” Matt muttered as the woman screamed.

“Coach Matt said a bad word!” a girl shouted.

The injured mother covered her face with her hands, then looked at the blood covering her fingers and started to wail.

He dashed for his bag and grabbed a clean hand towel and a bottle of water before running over to the still screaming woman.

The other mothers had circled her, offering sympathy and telling her to lean her head back and pinch her nose. Matt pushed between them as he glanced at Phyllis and mouthed, Do you know her name?

“Amy,” she whispered in his ear. Phyllis’s daughter Becca had been on his team last fall, and he’d come to rely on Phyllis more than once for advice on handling the little ones. And for running interference with the overeager single mothers. After his last serious girlfriend had turned out to be a bank robber using an alias, he was in no hurry to start a relationship.

“Okay, Amy,” Matt said, guiding her to a folding chair. “Let’s have you sit down, and I’ll take a look.”

She quieted and sat down, watching Matt with rounded eyes. “I think my nose is broken.” Her words were muffled by her hands.

He offered her a reassuring smile. “I suspect it’s fine. Kids this age don’t have enough power to cause that much damage.” He pulled her hands down and examined her face. A slow trickle was dripping from her left nostril, but just as he suspected, it didn’t look broken. He grabbed her hand and guided it up to pinch her nose. “Just give it a bit of pressure and it will let up in a minute.”

She did as he instructed, the fear in her eyes fading Her face and hands were still covered in blood, so he opened the water bottle and poured some onto the clean towel.

As he gently washed the blood off her chin, the look in her eyes changed again.

The women around him began to murmur among themselves.

Oh, shit. He’d treated her like he would have any kid on his team, but he could see how the women might misconstrue his intentions. There was a wedding band on her left hand, but he wasn’t sure whether he should find that reassuring.

Shit.

He tossed the towel to her as he got to his feet.

“You should be fine,” he said, then hurried over to the kids, who were watching with open mouths and wide eyes.

“I want to learn to kick a ball like that,” one of the boys said. “I want to give my brother a bloody nose.”

“Not me,” one of the girls said with a lot of attitude, putting her hands on her hips. “I want to hit Mitchell Blevins in the balls!”

Matt lifted his hands. “Okay! We don’t kick the ball to hurt anyone. We only kick the ball to make a goal.”

“But that’s not what Uncle Kevin said last week at your house,” Ethan said, tilting his head back to look at him. “He said he was going to kick Uncle Tyler in his balls, and he wasn’t even playing soccer.”

He was going to kill his best friend. “Then Uncle Kevin needs a time-out, and I’ll ask Aunt Holly to give him one.”

“Your uncle has balls?” Becca asked. “You’re so lucky. My uncles only have cell phones.”

“Not those kind of balls,” the feisty girl who wanted to kick Mitchell Blevins in his private parts said in a condescending tone. “Those balls.” Then she pointed at the crotch of the boy next to her.

What the hell was happening?

Matt grabbed her arm and pushed it down. “No more talk about balls.”

One of the little girls started to cry. “I wanted to learn how to kick a ball hard enough to give someone a bloody nose.”

“But Uncle Matt,” Ethan asked insistently. “How can we play soccer without balls?”

Matt shot an exasperated look at Phyllis, but she was too busy laughing to offer help.

“Everybody listen up!” Matt shouted, and the children gave him their attention. “There are lots of different kinds of balls, but we’re just going to talk about soccer balls today. Okay?”

The kids nodded, looking eager to please him, probably so they, too, could learn self-defense with a soccer ball.

“Oh!” Becca said in excitement. “I get it now. Boys have golf balls.”

Matt leaned back his head and groaned.

“There he is!” Ethan shouted. “There’s Toby!” He took off running toward the street, where the parents had parked their cars.

“Ethan!” Matt shouted. “Come back!” He liked to think Ethan was smart enough not to run into the street, but he’d learned over the last six months that five-year-olds sometimes did stupid things for no good reason.

The boy ignored him, but Matt felt better when he saw a small boy running toward his nephew. The woman standing at the car looked like she’d come straight from work. The skirt she wore hugged her curves, and from what he could see of her as she turned to fish in the backseat of the car for something, she wasn’t at all dressed for the field.

“Toby!” she called after him. “Wait for me!”

Thankfully, Ethan had changed directions. He was running back toward Matt with Toby on his heels.

Ethan stopped in front of Matt, panting with excitement. “He’s here, Uncle Matt! He’s here!”

Ethan’s excitement was infectious, and after glancing back at the other kids—they were happily kicking their soccer balls in a dozen different directions—Matt grinned at the boy standing behind his nephew. He was a cute kid, with dark blond hair and bright blue eyes. Matt noticed his pale complexion and made a mental note to make sure he was slathered with sunscreen when they played their soccer games under the midday sun.

“Hi, Toby. I’m Matt. Glad to have you on the team.” Matt held out a hand to shake with the boy.

Toby giggled as he shook his hand.

Matt glanced up at the woman making her way toward them. Something about her felt . . . familiar. Or maybe it was the stirring he felt down deep that was familiar.

“Is that your mom?” he asked the boy, trying not to sound too interested.

“Yeah,” Toby said with a scowl. “She was late. Again.

Was that a British accent? Ethan had mentioned that Toby “talked funny,” but Matt had figured the kid probably had   a lisp. Ethan had one, too, after his front tooth fell out the weekend before.

“That’s okay. You haven’t missed much.”

“I don’t know how to play football,” the boy said with a frown.

Ethan chortled. “I told you it’s not football. It’s soccer. Uncle Matt says I’m too little to play football, isn’t that right, Uncle Matt? But he played in high school, and I’m gonna play, too, when I’m big like him.”

Toby’s frown increased, and Matt wanted to put him at ease. “Ethan says you’re new. Where did you live before?”

“London.”

Matt squatted in front of him, balancing on the balls of his feet. “Well, there you go,” he said with a grin. “We call it soccer here, but you call it football in the UK.”

The woman was closer now. She was pulling her heels out of the ground like she was doing leg lifts, and he couldn’t help noticing that her legs were sexy as hell. And the way her golden blond hair fell across her face as she stared down at her shoes sinking deeper with each step made him think of after-sex bed head. Focus.

“Toby,” she said. “I told you to wait. We don’t know if it’s your team or not.”

Her voice sounded familiar, too. That stirring feeling inside him turned a bit uneasy. Surely he was just hearing things . . .

“Mum,” Toby groaned. “Ethan’s on my team! I had to hurry or I was going to miss practice.” His worried gaze met Matt’s.

“Don’t worry.” Matt patted Toby’s shoulder as he stood to get a good look at the woman’s face. He smiled down at the boy. “We’re all learning the basics right now. Ethan, get Toby a ball and we’ll get star—”

A ball walloped Matt on the back of his head with enough force to make him lose his balance. Before he could right himself, he fell forward. Ethan and Toby scrambled out of his way as he landed in the damp grass, his hands breaking his fall.

“Coach Matt!” the kids shouted.

“You killed him!” one of the girls cried out. Another girl screamed.

Matt tried to sit up, but another ball hit the back of his head with enough force to make his teeth rattle.

“Remy! Stop that!” one of the mothers shouted. “Quit kicking balls at your coach!”

“It’s just like Angry Birds!” the boy said as another ball sailed over Matt’s head.

“If you don’t stop,” Becca snarled, “I’m gonna kick your balls.”

Remy screamed.

Matt rolled onto his back, wondering how practice had gotten so out of control. Maybe he should just call it and start again on Thursday night.

The kids huddled around him, looking down with curious glances.

“Uncle Matt?” Ethan asked, sounding worried. “Are you still gonna teach Toby how to play soccer?”

Matt closed his eyes and groaned, and when he opened them, Toby’s mother was leaning over him. Her hair had fallen into her face again, but she tucked it behind her ear. While it promptly fell back, he had seen her face for a few brief seconds. Sucking in a breath, he told himself he’d been wrong to think these kids didn’t have enough force to do serious damage.

He must have a traumatic head injury that included hallucinations, because he was staring up into the face of the only woman who had ever broken his heart.

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8 Comments on "ALWAYS YOU Chapter One"

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Sharon
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Great start!! I can hardly wait to read the rest….

Heather
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I can’t wait to read this! I have 2 nephews who could cause that much trouble that quickly!

Jana Brannon
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Sounds great! I probably won’t be able to put it down.

Carolyn
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I’m so excited to read this! Really looking forward to it! Great start.

Sue Marshall
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So funny. Looking forward to reading the whole book.

melanie hodges
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Fantastic first chapter, but now I’m itching to read what happens next!

Barb Sallee
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Thank you. Looking forward to the rest

Constance Fox
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I love it, but I’m going to have a hard time waiting to read the rest.

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