Authors: Bella Andre
Bad Boys of Football 3
copyright 2010 Bella Andre
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places,
events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author's
imagination and used fictitiously.
"All I've ever wanted for you is true love, Cole. And family. The family you should have had all along. But most of all, I wish I could leave this earth knowing someone special is looking after you."
Eugenia Taylor's hand was small and cold in Cole Taylor's large palm. The pale, fragile woman lying in the hospital bed was so much more than just his grandmother. She'd been his mother and father too, after his parents had died when he was five.
He couldn't believe she was dying. Refused to believe it, even after a long--and painful
--talk with her doctor.
Stage four melanoma. There was nothing they could do.
. Cole gently stroked the soft skin on the back of his grandmother's hand.
had to be something
. He'd spent the past ten years as a middle linebacker for the San Francisco Outlaws fighting like hell for his team, taking any and every hit that came his way. Now, he wanted to fight for his grandmother, wanted to take the hits dragging her under, wanted to protect her the way she'd always protected him. He would have traded places with his grandmother in a heartbeat.
Wanting to comfort her, he said, "Don't worry about me, Grandma. I can look after myself."
"You're a good boy, Cole. You've always been a good boy, even though I know you're no saint."
Jesus, if his grandmother knew what he did with the groupies when he was on the road with the team....
"I've been waiting for you to finish sowing your wild oats. I've been waiting for you to find a woman who will give your life true meaning." She shook her head. "Promise me you'll find her, honey. Promise me you'll find her soon."
The lump in his throat was so big he could barely swallow past it. Without thinking it through, without even really knowing what he was about to declare, he said, "I've already found her, Grandma."
His grandmother's face lit up and for a moment she actually looked like she used to.
Before she got sick. If only he'd had more time to deal with his grandmother's illness--if only she'd been to the doctor before last week.
If only he'd spent more time with his grandmother and less time with whatever woman he'd been screwing, then maybe he would have seen the signs earlier. Back when there was still something the doctors could do to cure her.
"Oh honey, that's wonderful. Why didn't you tell me about her before now?"
He should back out now, admit that he was kidding, say that he was freaking out about losing her and had told the lie because he didn't want her to be disappointed in him.
Instead, channeling the last chick flick he'd been forced to sit through, he said, "She wanted to take it slow, even though she knows how much I love her."
He waited for his grandmother to call his bluff. She'd always seen through him. There was no way she wouldn't see through him now.
"Bring her here, Cole. I want to meet the woman who has stolen my baby's heart."
Cole lied when he needed to, but not to his grandmother. Never to her. All he'd wanted was to make her feel better. Clearly, she wanted a wife and children for him so badly that she was willing to believe anything at this point.
Now what could he say? He sure as hell wasn't going to bring one of the women he'd slept with recently to meet his grandmother. Not when none of them qualified as "nice" girls.
Still, somehow the words, "Tomorrow, Grandma. I'll bring her tomorrow," came out of his mouth, if only because he knew how happy they would make her.
She couldn't stop beaming at him. "I can't wait." She closed her eyes and relaxed back against the pillows.
Forcing himself to get up before she realized that he hadn't given her a name or any other pertinent information about "the woman he loved," Cole leaned over to give her a kiss on the cheek, then walked out into the hospital corridor.
Somehow, somewhere, he needed to find a nice girl. Stat.
Where the hell was a guy like him going to find a nice girl in Las Vegas?
* * *
Anna Davis smiled at her Aunt Lena. "It was beautiful. They're obviously very much in love."
How was it that her cheeks actually hurt? Sure, all weekend she'd been smiling, but she'd been through this three times already, having planned all four of her sisters' weddings in the past two years.
"You know, dear, we all thought you'd be the first to get married. Do you remember how you used to dress up as a bride when you were a little girl?"
It wasn't easy to keep smiling while she was gritting her teeth, but somehow Anna managed it. "You know how little girls are. They love to play dress-up."
As a first-grade teacher, Anna was reminded of this every day. There was nothing children liked more than using their imaginations. At what point were they taught to stop doing that?
But Aunt Lena was shaking her head. "Actually, if I remember correctly, your sisters never played dress-up. They were too busy with sports and winning academic prizes. You were the only one focused on wearing white and walking down an aisle. How strange that you're the only one still waiting for your Prince Charming."
"Maybe I should grab the nearest available guy and pop into one of those quickie wedding parlors."
Anna didn't know who was more shocked by her response--her aunt or herself.
Finally, her aunt said, "Oh Anna, you would never do something like that."
Anna was about to agree, when she suddenly realized what was behind her aunt's--completely true--statement.
She doesn't think I have any guts.
Taking a glass of champagne off the tray of a circulating waiter, Anna shrugged. "You never know. There is something about weddings, after all. And this is Las Vegas. Anything can happen here."
But she got small satisfaction out of walking away from her aunt's open mouth. Because at the end of the day, Anna was still not only the only Davis girl who hadn't dressed in white and said "I do," she was also the only one without someone to love.
* * *
Cole looked up into the paps' flashbulbs. What kind of crazy was he, looking in the Wynn Las Vegas hotel and casino for a nice girl? But he'd just wasted an entire day looking in the places he'd assumed she'd be--the library, an animal shelter, even a knitting store, for fuck's sake--and had come up empty.
The chicks in the library wouldn't let him talk long enough to try to ask them out.
The animal shelter had been full of nauseatingly happy couples and kids. Not to mention the fact that one of the mutts had taken a strange--and overpowering--liking to him. The shelter manager had shoved fifteen pounds of squirming, licking, sniffing black and brown fur into his arms. Cole didn't do pets--too much responsibility, knowing something would be waiting for him every day at home, depending on him. Still, those big brown eyes had almost done their job on him and he'd barely gotten out of the building mutt-free.
Strangely, the knitting shop was where he'd felt the most comfortable. His grandmother had always been knitting something during her breaks at the casino when he was a kid and the clickety-clack of her needles was the backdrop to his childhood. Which was why he hadn't had it in him to pick a girl up in the yarn store. It would have felt like he was betraying his grandmother...even though he was already a lying son of a bitch.
Daylight had come and gone and Cole wasn't any closer to bringing his "true love" to his grandmother's hospital room than he had been that morning.
He'd gone up to his suite at the Wynn to wash away the stink of failure. He was good at two things: football and one-night stands with women who didn't expect anything more. Not
If anyone was a magnet for huge tits in low-cut tops and skirts so short they should be illegal, it was Cole. Not that he'd ever thought to complain about that, of course. Not until now.
Not until his grandmother had told him her dying wish.
A wish that he was going to grant, even if it killed him.
Getting out of the shower, Cole wrapped a towel around his waist and walked to the floor-to-ceiling windows of his wraparound suite. Looking out at the flat stretch of casinos, he didn't see flashing lights and tourists walking the strip. He saw home.
His grandmother had been one of the greatest poker dealers on the circuit. He'd learned so much from her. How to deal straight--and crooked. How to work hard. And most of all, how to stick with something.
Giving up had never been an option. Not for her, not even after her son and daughter-in-law died in a private plane crash, leaving her with a five-year-old who had more energy than sense. And not for Cole.
Sure, he was athletic, but his grandmother was the reason he'd made it into the pros, when it would have been easier to quit and get a "real" job at least a hundred times.
He dropped his towel to the floor and yanked open the closet. It was time to stop crying like a baby over his day. He was going to get dressed and find himself a good girl, damn it.
If there was someone looking down on him from up above--and Cole had more reasons than most people to think that there was, after some of the pileups he'd walked away from on the field--he was pretty damn sure that He was laughing right now, saying to anyone who would listen, "Do you believe that dick wad actually thinks he's going to find a good girl to bring to his grandmother in the next eight hours? I've saved his ass too many times before. This time, I think I'll let him fry."
But Cole didn't care. He'd made a promise to his grandmother, and by God he was going to keep it.
* * *
And she had only herself to blame.
After Jeannie and Dave had left for their honeymoon, Anna's three remaining sisters and spouses decided they weren't ready for the party to end.
"You've been so busy that you probably want to go back to your room and soak in the tub, don't you?" Jane said when they told her their plans to go out dancing at the Wynn Las Vegas.
Her sister was right. She was dying to kick off her shoes and veg out in front of some brainless TV. But, again, Anna was struck by the inadvertent subtext of her sister's sentence:
all know how boring you are. The whirlpool tub is going to be the highlight of your day, isn't it?
For the second time in one day, Anna bristled at what her family thought about her.
Evidently she was not only gutless, but boring, too.
And here all this time, she'd thought she was perfectly normal.
But as she looked at her sisters and brothers-in-law happily paired off all around her while she stood solo, Anna made a split-second decision. "Actually, I'm in the mood to dance."
Six sets of eyebrows went up. Finally, her oldest sister, Jill, said, "But you didn't even dance at Jeannie's reception."
Of course she hadn't. She didn't dance. Ever. But the pity in her siblings' eyes cracked something inside Anna's chest wide open.
She was sick and tired of always standing on the sidelines, watching everyone else have fun. Especially when all it had ever gotten her was the prospect of a quiet night in her hotel room.
"You know we'd love to spend more time with you," Joanne said with gentle understanding in her eyes, "but we understand if you're tired."
"I was saving my energy for tonight," she'd told her stupefied siblings as she'd swept out of the reception hall, her head held high, her shoulders thrown back in what she hoped was a confident, ready-to-have-lots-of-fun way.
She'd show her family. Not only was she going to dance, but she was going to find the most dangerously sexy man in the room to be her partner.
Oh yes, she'd have them all gaping at her as she did the bump and grind--or whatever it was called--with a hot hunk.
The only thing was, she thought as she all but gulped down another glass of Chardonnay the cute bartender at the Tryst nightclub in Wynn Las Vegas had handed her, it was one thing to make a silent vow in the heat of the moment ... and it was another entirely to actually make good on it.
Thirty minutes after her reckless declaration at Jeannie's reception, Anna had to admit that she was way beyond her comfort zone. She wasn't used to such loud music, or being around half-naked people who all seemed to like being smashed against each other like sweaty, drunk sardines.