“I don’t like some of the things here,” I said. “The dating-a-celebrity game,” I clarified. “Like a sport with money being the sole motivator, not actual affection…”
He nodded, going slightly still under my touch.
“But?” he asked when I didn’t continue.
I shifted so I could meet his eyes. “But, I am starting to like Nixon Noble.”
The smile that shaped his lips was real and raw and open, and it sent a wave of warm chills over my skin.
“I’m starting to like you too, Liberty Jones.”
An hour later, when the party was done, and we were home, I laid in my separate bedroom, replaying those words over and over in my head and wished like hell they didn’t make my heart soar as high as they did.
Because it would only have that much farther to fall in the end.
There was something about the first home game of the regular season that always gave me goosebumps, and today was no different. There was a palpable energy in the air as we waited at the field’s entrance, anxious to be unleashed.
Ahead of us, the cheerleaders ran through the tunnel as smoke blew from the metal arches, and then the refs headed out.
It was time.
“And here they are, led by head coach Paul Goodman—” the announcers started.
“Let’s go, boys!” Coach yelled as he started to jog for the entrance.
We took off after him.
“Your! Raleigh! Raptors!” The speakers blared as we came through the tunnel. The crowd rose to a roar—the pyro flared from the arches, filling my nose with the acrid scent of fireworks—and my heart fucking soared like it had wings of its own. The sun beat down, shining off the gold stripes in our helmets, and the turf felt solid beneath my cleats. I loved playing at home.
There was no beating this moment—when the season was fresh, the possibilities were endless, and we were undefeated. Well, maybe a Super Bowl win would beat it…and maybe this was our year.
We ran to the fifty-yard line as the music blared, then turned for the sideline. The crowd didn’t die down until Roman, Hendrix, and I headed out for the coin toss. There were four gold stars under the C just below my right shoulder, two beneath Hendrix’s and three beneath Roman’s. We were the heartbeat of this team.
The cameras got out of our way as we stood across from Miami’s captains, and the ref started in on his pregame speech. Miami called heads, then the silver dollar spun in the air and landed on the green just in front of our feet.
“It is tails,” the ref determined.
“We’ll defer,” I told the ref. As much as I wanted the ball, Coach was all about making the smart play, which meant we’d get the ball at the second half, after we’d had a chance to see what the Miami defense was made of.
“Raleigh has chosen to defer,” the ref announced, then conferred with Miami. “Miami will receive in the first half,” he finished.
We made it back to the sidelines, and our first defensive string headed out.
This was the part of the game I hated—when I wasn’t in control. I turned around and looked up a few rows to the family section, and my entire mood lifted.
Liberty was here.
She’d never been to a game, and given the amount of work she had to do this weekend, I hadn’t been sure she was going to make this one either, but there she was. Her hair was down, curling around her breasts and framing the “09” on her chest.
Holy fucking shit, she was wearing my jersey.
My entire chest swelled with a possessiveness I didn’t even know I was capable of until that moment. She smiled at something Teagan said next to her, and my heart jumped.
I’d been wrong, thinking there was nothing better than the moment we ran out of the tunnel. There was nothing better than this moment right here, knowing that she’d sacrificed her study time to watch me play.
She turned slightly and caught me staring, and the smile that lit up her face was a whole other level of gorgeous. I grinned right back but doubted she could see it under my face mask. Instead, I waved as the crowd’s energy spiked in a roar.
“Hey, if you’re done making eyes at your girlfriend, we’ve got a game going on over here.” Hendrix smacked my shoulder pad.
“Not my girlfriend,” I countered as I turned back to watch the next play.
“She’s your something.”
Hell yeah, she was. And there was zero chance I was losing this game—after all, it wasn’t just her first game—it was my kid’s, too.
* * *
“I think our offensive line is strong,” I said into the microphone almost four hours later. Ten more hands shot up in the press briefing room, and I mentally cursed.
Usually, I didn’t mind the ten to twenty minutes this took after a game, but I didn’t usually have Liberty waiting for me, either. According to her text, she was sitting with Teagan in the post-game reception room with the other Raptor family members, and I could only hope the blonde was keeping my girl safe from some of the catty behavior known to happen in there. Liberty was mine, I’d made that pretty fucking clear, but that didn’t mean much when it came to some of the other women connected to the Raptors.