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Authors: Michelle Betham

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BOOK: Striker
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‘Listen, sweetheart, scribble down your number, okay? Leave it there on the bedside table.’ Ryan indicated to a scrap of paper lying beside the empty condom packet before sliding out of bed and walking naked to the en-suite. Why the hell should
be shy? If you had it, flaunt it. And Ryan Fisher certainly had it. In spades. ‘You can see yourself out, can’t you?’ In Ryan’s eyes the fun was over, and in his world
called the shots.

Chapter Two



‘Have you done something to your hair?’ Kevin asked, cocking his head as he stood at the side of Amber’s desk.

‘I’ve dyed it,’ she replied, without looking away from her computer screen.

‘I thought it looked different. It suits you.’

This time Amber looked at her producer, frowning slightly. ‘Are you alright?’

‘Of course I’m alright. Why the hell wouldn’t I be alright?’

‘Since when have you cared about the state of anyone’s hair? Come to think of it, I’ve had God knows how many changes of hair colour, and styles, since I’ve worked here and you’ve never noticed any of them. What’s the matter with you?’

Kevin shrugged, throwing a press pass down on her desk. ‘It’s pretty hard to miss
hair colour to be honest.’

Amber ran a hand through her newly-coloured, dark red hair, smiling at her producer. For some reason she’d felt like a change – of what, she hadn’t been entirely sure, but dying her hair had seemed like the easiest option. And she liked it. A lot. So much, in fact, that she was considering keeping it that colour. ‘You said it suits me,’ she smiled, chewing on the end of her pen, a habit she’d never been able to break in all of her years working on News North East.

‘It does. It matches your frigging temper. You’re off-site again today, kiddo.’

Amber groaned, throwing her head back, her pen still stuck in her mouth. ‘I’ve got so much stuff to catch up on, Kevin. I could have done with a day at my desk.’

‘Tough. You’re off to Red Star’s training ground. We’re covering Ryan Fisher’s first day with his new club. Oh, and let’s not forget the double whammy Red Star have just thrown up by signing Jim Allen as their new manager. That’s being made official today. You could maybe try grabbing a word with him, too, while you’re at it. If he’s there, that is.’

Amber sat up straight, taking the pen out of her mouth. ‘That’s definite, then?’

definite?’ Kevin asked, looking through a pile of newspapers he was holding.

‘Jim Allen, coming back to Red Star as manager.’ She’d heard the rumours concerning ex-Newcastle Red Star player Jim Allen joining the club as their new manager, but she hadn’t thought anything would come of it. He’d been in charge of a huge and extremely successful
club for some time now and as far as she’d been aware they were trying to hold onto him with some eye-watering new contract negotiations, so determined were they to keep him where he was. So she hadn’t thought coming back to the North East was an option for him, despite Red Star desperately wanting a successful, big name manager to help them with their league-winning efforts this season. And who better than a man who’d been one of their most popular players back in the day?

Jim Allen was also a good friend of her dad’s. He’d joined Newcastle Red Star just as her father was ending his professional playing days, but Freddie Sullivan had taken Jim under his wing, become his mentor, almost. They’d stayed close ever since. So she’d have thought Freddie would’ve said something to her about this, if he’d known what was going on. She wasn’t sure how often they talked these days, but it really would have been nice, if he did know something, to have let her know. For a number of reasons. None of which he would actually have been aware of.

Kevin looked at her through slightly narrowed eyes. ‘Remind me, what job do you do again? Jesus Christ, Amber, come on. Isn’t Jim Allen a family friend or something? Surely you of all people should be keeping up with all of this. He signed the contract this morning. They’re holding a press conference at Tynebridge later today so it’s possible he won’t be at the training ground when you’re there, but if he is… Anyway, I’m sending Phil to the press conference, if you don’t mind. I’d rather you concentrated on Ryan Fisher, for now.’

Amber stuck the end of her pen back in her mouth, looking briefly out of the window. ‘That’s fine with me.’ Another meeting with the charming Mr. Fisher. She couldn’t wait. ‘Anything in particular we’re looking for here?’

‘Not really,’ Kevin said, flicking through a copy of one the local newspapers. ‘I suspect the place’ll be swarming with press and TV so we’ll just be one of many trying to get a glimpse of the returning hero in action.’

‘He’s hardly a hero,’ Amber muttered, throwing her phone and press pass into her bag. She suddenly had a headache forming right behind her eyes.

Kevin arched an eyebrow. ‘Well, whatever he is – and I’ve heard him called plenty – keep an eye on him, and just try and get a word with him after training, okay? See how his first session’s gone, find out how he’s feeling about making his debut for the club on Saturday, what he thinks of Jim Allen as a manager; you know the kind of thing. You don’t need
to tell you.’

‘Gonna be difficult to get a one-to-one if everyone else is going to be there. And didn’t we cover most of that in yesterday’s interview?’

‘You know how this works, Amber; you’ve done it enough times. And
shouldn’t have any trouble getting his attention, anyway. Not with that hair colour.’

Amber contemplated wearing a hat, because she wasn’t all that keen on attracting the attention of Ryan Fisher. She hadn’t liked him on sight yesterday, and she didn’t think she was going to feel any different today. But, this was her job so she was just going to have to suck it up and get on with it.

‘Okay,’ she sighed, throwing Kevin a look that told him she wasn’t happy, but she’d do it anyway. ‘I’m on my way.’

‘You’re such a trooper, Amber,’ Kevin said with his usual dose of dry wit. ‘I’ve already sent Alec over to the ground to do camera and sound, so, when you’re ready you might like to get over there and join him.’ He made a point of looking at his watch before walking back towards his office. ‘Any time in the next five minutes would be ideal,’ he shouted over his shoulder. ‘Come and…’

‘… see you when I get back, I know.’ She sighed again, shutting down her computer.

‘Whoa! What’s happened to your hair?’

‘Ronnie!’ Amber squealed, jumping out of her chair and throwing herself into her best friend’s arms.

She’d known Ronnie White for almost ten years now. An ex-professional, North-East-born footballer – and a pretty famous one at that – he was now a popular TV football pundit and commentator after his career had been ended due to injury five years ago, at the age of thirty. He now split his time between his home in Northumberland, and
, but Amber never saw enough of him. He was the only footballer who’d caused her to break her
‘no relationships of any kind with any footballers’
rule, and she loved him. Like a brother. Despite that very brief and very physical relationship during his time as a top-flight player. But that was all over now. She was just glad their friendship had survived the post-sex period. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I thought I’d come and surprise you,’ Ronnie grinned, swinging her round before putting her back down, holding her out at arm’s length. ‘I’m back up north to cover Ryan Fisher’s first game with Newcastle Red Star at the weekend.’

‘I didn’t know that match was being televised,’ Amber said, ridiculously excited to see him. It’d been a while, and she hadn’t realised how much she’d missed him, until now.

‘You know how they change these things. With the arrival of both Jim Allen
Fisher at Red Star, suddenly this game looks like the more exciting option. And it gives
the perfect excuse to come home for a few days. You did
about Jim Allen signing as Red Star’s new manager, didn’t you?’

‘Yeah. Of course I knew,’ Amber said, pushing a hand through her newly-dyed hair before giving Ronnie another big hug.

‘Put him down, Amber, and get your arse out of here and over to Red Star’s training ground,’ Kevin said, reappearing beside her desk again. ‘Hello, Ronnie.’

‘Kevin… Look, I’m at a bit of a loose end right now, so, why don’t I go with Amber this morning? I’m dying to get a look at Fisher in action.’

‘I don’t need your help, Ronnie,’ Amber said, leaning back against her desk and folding her arms, that headache showing no signs of dissipating.

‘Hey, Miss Defensive. That’s not the reason I want to go with you, alright?’

‘Yeah, but having him around might help you get closer to Fisher,’ Kevin pointed out.

‘What? Because
famous, too?’ Amber asked.

‘Err, yeah,’ Kevin replied, looking at Amber as though she’d just made a really stupid comment. ‘He might feel more inclined to come over and speak to somebody he used to share a dressing room with.’

‘To be fair, Kevin,’ Ronnie started, ‘… me and Ryan Fisher only played for the same club for about three months. And we were never what you’d call the best of friends. He was just a kid… Anyway, I don’t want to go with Amber to help her get an interview. She’s more than capable of doing that all by herself.’

‘Thank you,’ Amber smiled, sticking her tongue out at Kevin, who responded by giving her a rather rude finger gesture.

‘I want to go with her because she’s my best mate, and I haven’t seen her for far too long. I just want to spend some time with her.’

‘Aaah, isn’t he lovely?’ Amber said, still smiling, squeezing Ronnie’s arm and poking her tongue out at Kevin again.

‘Do that too many times and your face’ll stay that way,’ Kevin smirked. ‘And then you won’t stand a chance of luring
players over for an interview, never mind the really famous ones.’

‘I’m sure I could do you for some kind of sexual harassment with that comment, Mr. Russell,’ Amber said in a mock-shocked tone.

‘Just get your arse out of here, now. Go on. And take him with you,’ Kevin smiled, indicating Ronnie. ‘Fancy a drink later, Ron? Usual place? Around eight-thirty?’

‘Sure. Make mine a pint. See you there.’

Amber glanced over at her best friend. He looked tanned and handsome with his messed-up, dark brown hair and hazel eyes; he also looked happier than she’d seen him in a long while. That long-overdue holiday to
must have done him the world of good, and he’d needed it. The recent divorce from his wife, Karen – who’d left him for a big-name goalkeeper after seven years of marriage – had knocked him for six and Amber still wished she could have been there for him more than she had been.

‘Everything okay with you?’ she asked, linking her arm through his as they made their way to the underground car park.

‘If you mean am I getting over Karen, then yes. Slowly. I’ve stopped blaming myself, anyway.’

Amber squeezed his arm, stopping briefly to plant a quick kiss on his cheek. ‘It never
your fault, Ronnie.’

He shrugged, sliding his arm round her waist and giving it a quick squeeze. ‘Maybe I just wasn’t there for her enough.’

‘That’s not an excuse to go shagging about though, is it? She knew what she was getting into when she married a footballer. I mean, that’s half the reason I steer well clear of relationships with you lot.’

They stepped into the lift and Ronnie leaned back against the wall, his hands in his pockets,
slight smile on his face. ‘That’s the reason, huh? You don’t like to be alone too much, is that it?’

Amber smiled back. ‘On the contrary. I
being alone.’

‘Bollocks! Come on, Amber. You’ve been on your own for far too long now. Isn’t it about time you found yourself a nice young man to share your life with?’

She looked at him out the corner of her eye as the lift finally reached the underground car park. ‘Who are you? My father? And, for your information, I don’t want a “nice young man” to share my life with.’

‘Whatever you say,’ Ronnie sighed, following her out into the strip-lit car park. ‘I just hope it wasn’t me who put you off relationships with footballers.’

Amber said nothing for a few seconds, continuing to walk with her head down before she fixed a smile on her face and turned to look at him. ‘You flatter yourself, Mr. White.’

They finally reached Amber’s car, Ronnie resting his arms on the roof of her pale blue Fiat 500 as he smiled at her. ‘So, what do you think of Ryan Fisher?’

‘Not much,’ Amber replied, climbing into the driver’s side, relieved he’d changed the subject.

‘He didn’t win you over with the famous Fisher charm, then?’ Ronnie slid into the passenger seat, immediately fiddling with the radio to try and find the talk sports station he occasionally did some work for.

‘No. He didn’t.’ Amber backed out of the parking space and drove slowly out into the late-August sunshine, sliding her sunglasses down over her eyes the second they hit daylight. ‘Has he always been such a cocky bastard?’

BOOK: Striker
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