After All These Years (One Pass Away #2)

 

AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

 

 

ONE PASS AWAY BOOK TWO

 

 

MARY J. WILLIAMS

 

 

©2016 MARY J. WILLIAMS

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

Want to know how to motivate yourself to write a book? Have
your favorite football team lose the Super Bowl. On the last play. With an
interception. The next day I was so depressed I tuned out all media. No TV, no
internet, no newspapers—nothing. And I started to write. I’m still writing. As
you can see, a little motivation can do wonders. Happy reading everyone.

 

MORE BOOKS BY MARY J. WILLIAMS

 

 

Harper Falls Series

If I Loved You

If Tomorrow Never Comes

If You Only Knew

If I Had You (Christmas in Harper Falls)

 

Hollywood Legends Series

Dreaming With a Broken Heart

Dreaming With My Eyes Wide Open

Dreaming Of Your Love (Coming in May)

Dreaming Again (Coming in July)

Dreaming of a White Christmas (Coming in December)

 

One Pass Away

After The Rain

After The Fire (Coming in June)

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

SEAN McBRIDE WOKE up with a smile on his face. It happened a
lot lately. And he thoroughly approved.

He stretched his long, athletic body. Some mornings every
inch of him ached. Such was the life of a professional football player.
Everything was about preparing for the game. Focus. Concentration. The goal was
to be ready for game day.

He had to hold it together for sixty minutes. Pull out a win
any way possible. Sacrifice his body to the football Gods and pray he walked
away healthy enough to do it all again next week.

Sean dreaded the day after the game. The adrenaline had long
ago worn off and he felt all of his thirty years. There were degrees of bad.
Sometimes he shuffled to the shower, the aches and pains palpable, but
mercifully bearable.

Then there were the bad days. After a day of
three-hundred-pound defensive backs using him as their own personal punching
bag, he didn’t get out of bed—he crawled.

Bruised from top to bottom, his joints creaked and his
muscles protested like screeching banshees. Those were the times he wondered
why he did it. He could have been a doctor. Or a lawyer. He could have taken
his father’s advice and gone into the family business. No seventeen-year-old
with dreams of glory in the NFL wanted to think about becoming a butcher. But
damn. Cutting meat sounded good on those mornings.

This was a good Monday. His body felt lithe—limber. The
bruises were there. That was part of his life. However, yesterday had been one
of those rare games when every moment fell into place. From the kickoff to the
final whistle, the outcome of the game was never in question.

Sean caught every ball thrown his way. He evaded the
defense. Fast as the wind. Three touchdowns. One hundred and eighty-two total
yards. A damn good day for any wide receiver. He would have had more if Coach
Coleman hadn’t taken him out of the game in the fourth quarter. With a big
lead, there was no reason to risk injury when he wasn’t needed.

The after-game celebration moved from the locker room to one
of the team’s favorite hangouts. Naturally the atmosphere was raucous.
Cautiously so.

The Knights were having a stellar season. Ten wins, two
losses. Sean and his friends had enough games under their belts to understand
how quickly that could turn. Injuries tended to come in bunches. So far, they
were healthy. However, that was bound to change. The hope was to get to the
playoffs with all their major players on the roster.

After the game, they had a few drinks. Three was Sean’s
limit these days. A few years ago it was a different story. He would have
closed the place down after a win. He and his bed partner of the moment would
have moved on to someone’s apartment, partying until dawn before going back to
her place and fucking like demented rabbits. Then he would go home alone and
catch a few hours sleep until it was time to grab a quick shower before heading
to the Knights’ headquarters to review film from the game.

Those days were over. Sean wasn’t a kid anymore, high on his
own press clippings and more testosterone than brains. Not that he had settled
down completely. He could still party with the best of them. However, he chose
his moments—ones that never took place during the season.

Women were another matter. Sean liked sex. Always had. If
there were a God, he always would. While his bed partners weren’t as varied,
they were almost as frequent.

Sean knew players who abstained a few days before the game,
saving their
juice
. He wasn’t one of them. Sean had plenty of juice,
thank you very much. Sex was necessary for a happy and healthy mind. For
his
happy and healthy mind.

A big plus to having sex at night was sex the next morning.
It was one of his favorite things. A partner, warm and willing.

The perfect way to start the day.

Speaking of which. Smiling, Sean turned over. His hand
reached out, expecting to find a soft, sweet woman. Instead, he found cold
sheets. Sitting up, he looked around the room. Like the bed, empty. The
bathroom door was open and the light off.

Not bothering to cover up, Sean jumped out of bed. Buck
naked, he searched the house. She wasn’t in the kitchen. Why would she be? She
didn’t cook, not even coffee. She was on a first-name basis with half the
baristas in Seattle.

Was that it? Would she be back soon with two cups of
steaming black caffeine and his favorite muffins? Sean was talking himself into
that scenario when he saw the note.

He picked up the paper that had been propped against the
lamp by the front door.

Sean.

Thank you for the past few weeks. After years of building
it up in my mind, I was worried that it couldn’t live up to my expectations. I
should have known better. It was everything I had hoped for—and more.

We didn’t make any promises. No strings were attached that
need to be broken. After all these years, you can finally breathe easy. It’s
over. We are now friends without the expectation of benefits.

When we see each other, it will be as if it, we, never
happened.

Sean read the note. Then read it again.

What the fuck
? What was in those drinks?

Sean searched his memory for some kind of clue. The bar. His
teammates. Then she was there. They laughed. Everything was smooth and easy.
They seemed to be developing a rhythm. In his mind, they were together. Not a
man and a woman—a couple.

It sounded good to him. He would have sworn she felt the
same. He didn’t want another woman. He wanted her. In his arms. In his life.

No expectations? Hell. He woke up with plenty of them,
only to find out he was alone. Alone in bed. Alone. Period.

Sean scrubbed a hand over his face. He remembered the way
she tasted. The way she melted into his arms. The curves of her luscious body
pressed against his. Her sighs. His belief he would never get enough of her.

Crumpling the note into a ball, Sean tossed it across the
room. Suddenly he felt every ache. His legs felt like lead. Slowly, he shuffled
toward the bathroom. He needed a shower. Long and hot. Determined not to look
at the bed, Sean’s peripheral vision wouldn’t let him off the hook that easily.
It captured everything. The rumpled sheet. The pillow still holding the imprint
of her head. A slash of red on the floor.

Frowning, Sean picked up the scrap of silk. So small he
wondered why she had bothered. The image of her standing in nothing but her
heels and the panties popped into his head. Unconsciously, his body tightened
with desire.

Right, that was why.

Sean ran the smooth material over his cheek, feeling it
catch on his morning stubble. He breathed deeply. He smelled vanilla and spice.
Her essence. He would never forget it. As long as he lived, he would be able to
close his eyes and conjure up her scent. Her taste.

His eyes popped open.
Friends? Nothing more?
Bullshit
!

Keeping the panties in his hand, Sean headed for the shower.
This wasn’t over. Not by a long shot. It was just the beginning.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

EIGHT YEARS EARLIER

 

RILEY PRESTON KNEW football. It was in her blood. Part of her
DNA. When other girls her age were watching videos by their favorite boy band,
Riley was studying depth charts and draft projections. Her friends threw their
hands up in exasperation when she blew off trips to the mall. She preferred a
Saturday afternoon game between Ole Miss and Georgia Tech to giggling over the
latest fashions.

Her idea of the perfect outfit was jeans and a baggy Seattle
Knights football jersey. The shirt had seen better days. Multiple washings and
a run-in with the neighbor’s Pomeranian had left it faded and ripped. She had a
drawer full of brand new jerseys. Her father ran the team, which meant she had
access to all the team merchandise her heart desired.

However, the old one held sentimental value. Her grandfather
gave it to her on her twelfth birthday. It was the year after he bought the
Seattle Knights. And the year before he died of a massive heart attack.

Douglas Preston made his first million dollars with his
hands. He worked three jobs doing manual labor—anything and everything. He
cleaned up at construction sites. Shoveled shit at a horse farm. Washed cars on
the weekend. He saved every dime until he had enough to buy his first piece of
commercial real estate. Then another. Then another.

Douglas was a rich man by the time he turned thirty. He
married money. At fifty, his million had become a billion. His wife was a
stranger—his son an unbearable snob. He wasn’t an idiot. He recognized his
mistakes. Making money had taken precedence over everything else. His family
would never want for anything, but at what price?

Joy entered his life one spring morning. The birth of his
granddaughter, Riley April Preston. She was the light of his life. Every ounce
of love and affection he hadn’t given his wife and son was heaped on her. He
didn’t make the mistake of giving her material things. He gave her his time.
While her parents were following in his footsteps—ignoring their only
child—Douglas took her to the zoo. Or a museum. Or they would simply walk
around Pioneer Square. However, when it was football season, Sundays were
reserved for one thing. Seattle Knights football.

Douglas was a season ticket holder. When she was old enough,
he took Riley to every home game. Sometimes they would travel to Denver or San
Diego or Chicago. Depending on the Knights’ schedule.

Riley learned to read, sitting on her grandfather’s lap,
going over the roster and team stats. She skipped beside him, holding his hand
as he explained the difference between an inside linebacker and a defensive
end.

When the team came up for sale, Douglas purchased it, giving
Riley a small share of the team. It was always his intention to give her his
controlling interest. Someday. The dream was for her to learn at his side. When
he was ready to turn over the reins, she would be ready.

Neither Douglas nor Riley could have anticipated the heart
attack that ended his life much too soon. There was no warning. After his
yearly physical, his doctor had proclaimed Douglas to be as sound as a man in
his forties. A week later, he was dead.

Her grandfather’s passing was international news. World
leaders, business moguls, and the entire Seattle Knights football team attended
his funeral. That year they wore black armbands on their uniforms. A tribute on
opening day lauded the man who helped turn the franchise from middle of the
pack to elite. A perpetual contender.

Publicly, the Preston family mourned Douglas’ passing with
the proper show of respect. Riley’s parents said the right things. Gerald
Preston praised his father in one interview after another. Corrine Preston
cried daintily whenever Douglas’ name was mentioned.

Privately, they practically danced on his grave. All the
money and power was now theirs. Gerald no longer had to consult his father over
every little matter. Preston Enterprises was his company and he lost no time
sweeping out anyone who wasn’t on board with his plans.

Riley’s mother had never gotten along with her
father-in-law. She found him crude. He thought she was a cold fish. They were
both right. Corrine enjoyed two things. Shopping and showing off her wealth.
How better to do that than to throw the lavish parties Douglas had always
frowned upon. Gerald didn’t care what she did or with whom she did it as long
as she kept his home running smoothly.

Neither considered Riley’s feelings. To be honest, she
sometimes wondered if her parents remembered they had a child. Her grandfather
had been her rock. That foundation of love and support kept her going after he
was gone. She was strong because Douglas Preston made her that way. He praised
her intelligence—not her beauty.
The world is
filled with window
dressing
, he would tell her. Looks fade. Brains are forever.

When Douglas Preston died, he left her two things. A sense
of her own self-worth, and her love of football. More precisely, her love of
football, and the Seattle Knights.

Gerald called the Knights his father’s ridiculous vanity project.
If it had been up to him, he would have dumped the team as quickly as possible.
Douglas’ will made it impossible. Gerald was a reluctant placeholder. He
controlled the team—made the day to day decisions. But he couldn’t sell the
team.

Riley inherited a small share of the team. On her
twenty-fifth birthday, a few more came to her. When she turned thirty, she
would be the majority owner of the Seattle Knights.

It was one of the few times Riley saw her father lose his
temper.

“Why didn’t anyone tell me the old man was leaving you the
team?” Gerald demanded.

Riley wisely refrained from saying,
You were told. You
just didn’t care enough
to pay attention
. Wouldn’t that have gone
over like a lead balloon? Instead, she bided her time. She was twelve years old.
She was too young to have anything to do with the running of the team. However,
that didn’t mean she was powerless.

Riley watched and waited. Her first move came just after her
fifteenth birthday. The team was preparing for the yearly NFL draft. The Knights
desperately needed help at wide receiver. Their franchise quarterback, Gaige
Benson, was a magician. One of the best in the game. However, he needed help if
the team was going to get to the Super Bowl. Right now, Gaige’s pinpoint passes
were dropped more often than not. They needed someone with sure hands and quick
feet.

She didn’t think anyone turning pro was good enough. Riley
went to her father with the suggestion they trade their pick to a team with an
established wide receiver. She had graphs and charts to back her up. She
thought she had gotten through to him. Gerald smiled, took the information she
had spent hours compiling, and left the room.

Riley was crushed when she found out with the rest of the
world that the Knights decided to use their pick on a defensive lineman out of
Florida State. He turned out to be a bust. As did the tight end they drafted
the next year—against Riley’s advice.

Then it happened. The moment that would change her life.

Riley didn’t bother with college players until their senior
year. If someone caught her eye, she would look up their history, but until
they were a potential fit for the Knights, she didn’t waste her time.

Two years after their attempt to find a wide receiver, the
team was still looking. In October, a senior at Georgia Tech caught her eye.
Sean McBride was having the kind of season that had people talking Heisman
Trophy and number one draft pick.

Riley didn’t think McBride was destined for either accolade.
The QB for Ohio State was putting up gawky numbers that tended to get awards
glory. However, she was certain he would be an outstanding professional player.

College football was all right. However, for Riley, it was a
means to an end. There was no excitement. No passion. As her grandfather liked
to say, ‘you can’t get worked up when you have no horse in the race.’ Riley’s
horse was the Knights. Period. End of story. Until one fateful Saturday
afternoon.

Sean McBride was being interviewed after his game-winning
touchdown. He looked into the camera and smiled. Riley Preston fell in love for
the first time.

Tall, with pitch-black hair, his hazel eyes were filled with
laughter. Riley didn’t know what the joke was, but she desperately wanted to
find out.

It made no sense. She wasn’t a girl prone to foolish flights
of fancy. Football players were athletes. To be admired? Yes. To be worshiped?
Absolutely not. Yet, there it was. No matter how many times she tried to
convince herself that off the field, Sean McBride meant nothing to her, the
harder she tumbled.

Part of her was horrified. What would her grandfather think?
She had never met Sean. Never spoken a word to him. As she scoured the internet
for any scrap of information, she told herself it was a crush. Her
first—naturally it was hitting her hard.

What she found out about Sean should have sent her screaming
in the opposite direction. He was the definition of a manwhore. He played
hard—on and off the field. If he didn’t have a football in his hands, he had a
woman. Never the same one. Blond. Brunette. Redhead. The only things they
seemed to have in common were large boobs and beautiful faces.

For the first time in her life, Riley stood in front of the
mirror and looked herself over with a critical eye. Her build was average. Not
skinny. Not fat. A little above average in height with a good complexion and
straight teeth. Her face was…? How could she judge? No one had ever run
screaming from the room. Children didn’t cower in fear when she walked down the
street. As faces went, hers was fine.

Riley sighed. Next to Sean’s bevy of beauties, she faded
into nothingness. Pulling back the neckline of her shirt, she gave her chest a
brutal critique. Well-endowed she wasn’t.

What the hell?
Riley could almost hear her
grandfather.
Didn’t I teach you better than this? Brains. If you want that
boy, dazzle him with your smarts. False eyelashes. False boobs. You don’t want
someone who can’t see past all the smoke and mirrors.

“Yes, I do.”

Riley wasn’t proud of it. But facts were facts. She wanted
Sean McBride. It was unrealistic—and completely shallow. She chuckled.
See,
they already had something in common.

One thing was certain. For Sean to notice her, he had to be
nearby. The draft was only a few short months away. It was time to set the
groundwork. Over the past few years, she had learned something important. Her
father would never let the team pick Sean if he thought it was what she wanted.

Between now and May, she had to convince him that the last
thing the Seattle Knights needed was Sean McBride.

 

“WITH THE THIRD pick in the draft, the Seattle Knights choose
Sean McBride. Wide receiver. Georgia Tech.”

The applause filled the room. Riley didn’t join in. She sat
stoically while Gerald Preston and Patrick Kramer, the Knights’ general
manager, shook hands. Her father glanced her way. There was a gleam of
satisfaction in his eyes. She didn’t react. Inside she danced like a maniac.

This was her doing and no one would ever know.

Her plan had been simple. Get Sean’s name in her father’s
head and make sure he believed Riley didn’t want the Knights to have anything
to do with him. Subliminal messaging. Some people scoffed at the idea. Not
Riley. She was now a firm believer. In April, when she saw the team’s shorted
draft list, Sean McBride was one of three names.

Gaige Benson and head coach Harry Coleman pushed hard for
Sean. Riley wanted to kick them both in the butt.
Shut up. You’re going to
ruin everything
. Luckily, her opinion held more weight with her father.
Riley made her choice clear. Take one of the running backs. It was pathetically
easy.

A psychiatrist would have had a field day trying to figure
out the deep-seated resentment that brewed in her father. What had she done to
earn it? What might have fascinated the shrink even more was the fact that
Riley couldn’t have cared less. She didn’t need, nor want, the love and
affection of a man who had been nothing but a sperm donor. The father of her
heart was Douglas Preston.

Happy beyond measure, Riley rose. She was about to leave the
conference room when Gaige Benson stopped her.

“I don’t know how you did it, Riley, but thank you.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yes, you do.” Gaige smiled and kept on walking.

Riley didn’t know how Gaige had figured out her involvement.
Not that it mattered. He wanted Sean on the team almost as much as she did.

Riley stepped out of the team’s headquarters, breathing in
the wet, spring air. Sean McBride was coming to Seattle. Suddenly, the future
seemed impossibly bright and full of possibilities.

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