A brand new second chance, sports romance is out this week from author Maggie Rawdon, and I have the whole first chapter for you.
I’ve just survived being 30,000 ft up in a tin can hurtling through the air with nothing but a few inches of metal between me and instant death. A trip that involved one seatmate who kept trying to use me as a headrest and another who thought manspreading in the sardine can was appropriate all while the air temperature lingered maniacally between Sahara desert and Arctic tundra. Don’t ask me how it’s possible, it’s the airline’s special brand of magic. The kind that comes with a side of ginger ale and cinnamon biscuits, which makes it marginally better somehow.
I’m currently being rewarded for my survival by having to navigate my way through a terminal full of people who also seem to be exploring that same oxymoronic liminal space because while half the crowd is hurtling past me, dodging and weaving like they’re running from zombies, the other half is stumbling around disoriented like they are the zombies.
I hate flying. Unfortunately, being a photographer frequently means shooting on-site, so I’m always on the run and airports are as much my home as anywhere else. I have so many frequent flyer miles I don’t know how to spend them faster than I accumulate them. In the last few months, I’ve seen the inside of almost every major European city’s airport lounge and sampled one too many overpriced airport sandwiches. It’s gotten to the point that I’ve given up keeping any sort of real home in favor of living out of my suitcase ninety percent of the time. But right now, I’m headed somewhere close to home, or at least to some people who feel like home: Ben and Violet.
They’d been my roommates in grad school after Violet got rid of her first mistake of a boyfriend, fell in love—in large part thanks to my meddling, or at least I like to claim the credit for it—and then moved to Seattle when Ben was drafted by the Seattle Phantom. Violet has flown out to meet me a few times when I’m traveling but somehow, I haven’t had the chance to visit her at home.
Truthfully it’s on purpose; as much as I love the two of them, seeing or staying with them for any period of time makes me miss them more than I can stand. Staying with them also would make seeing the biggest fuck up of my life an inevitability and that was something I could stand to avoid. Something I’m already confronting as I pause in front of a newsstand to let a family trail across the walkway to the gate on the other side, as that fuck up smiles at me from the cover of a sports magazine. Because my biggest mistake is Colton St. George—the quarterback for the Seattle Phantom and one of Ben’s closest friends. He’s a media darling. The gorgeous, all-American Midwestern boy with the panty-dropping smile and the charm to match. He’s also apparently, very fucking good at football. Or so I’m told because sports just really aren’t my thing.
I feel the turn in my gut as I stare at his face, pausing and wondering if I don’t need a $10 pack of gummy bears and an overpriced tabloid magazine for the road—because I’m not entirely sure if the grumbling is hunger or fear. It’s anyone’s guess at this point. But sugar and distractions might help either way.
“Phantom fan?” The guy next to me asks, apparently noting I’ve been staring at this magazine cover for entirely too long.
“Oh, no. Just knew him in college.”
“You knew St. George?” The stranger’s eyes light up and then flick over me because I’m pierced, tattooed, with jet black hair and a dark streak of red on one side, wearing an all-black outfit that ends in a pair of Doc Martens that have seen better days. Basically the visual opposite of everything their beloved QB stands for.
Knew probably isn’t exactly the right way to put it, but I’m not sure what is. Especially if I need to sum it up for a stranger. So knew is what I’m going with.
“Yes,” I answer, and then hurry off again because even though my plane landed early if I know Violet, she’s already downstairs waiting for me.
And sure enough, when I get to baggage claim she’s there, standing up and bouncing when she sees me because the two of us revert to acting like teenage girls at a boyband concert whenever we’re reunited, and I love it. I run the rest of the distance to her, wrapping her in a hug and jumping with her as we both greet each other with a cacophony of giggling and general amusement. Is it a spectacle? Maybe. Do I care? Definitely not.
“How was your flight?”
“Awful. All I can say is thank the plane gods for noise-canceling headphones, snacks, and wearing layers.”
“Did you eat something? Was the food terrible?”
“Passable. Honestly, not the worst I’ve had. Just glad I stashed snacks in my bag before I left. Oh, and I brought you some of the Swiss chocolate you love so much and some of the weird gummies that Ben likes.”
“You’re the best. I’m so lucky to have a bestie that gets to tour amazing places all the time.”
“You could come with me more often.”
“I might do that in the offseason. But for now Ben insists I’m his good luck charm at games.”
“Will his obsession with you ever cease?” I pretend to roll my eyes but end up smiling because I love the two of them together almost as much as I love them each individually. They deserve each other, and they make me think that true love, real love—the kind that lasts forever and a day—is actually possible. Maybe not for me, but it exists and that’s something worth admiring.
“I hope not.” She grins and then we walk to the carousel to wait for the rest of my baggage. “Have you decided how long you’re staying?”
“There’s another shoot I have to do in six weeks, so it’s just a matter of how long you want me really. But I don’t have to stay with you the whole time. I can look for a hotel or a short-term rental. I don’t want to crowd you. I know you said your other friend had to come stay unexpectedly.”
“Yes, Harper. I can’t wait for you to meet her. You’ll like her. Her ex-husband is being an epic dick though. That’s a long story. But we have plenty of rooms in the house. I don’t mind at all, and I know Ben won’t either.
“But what about stoic Midwestern farm boys who throw pigskin for a living?” I give her a look.
“Right… He’s gonna be at the party tonight, I think. I hope that’s okay. They’re just so close still, you know, and I wasn’t sure if you were gonna make it tonight or not.”
“Don’t worry. It’s Ben’s birthday. I’ll be on my best behavior.” I see my bag and grab it off the carousel as my thoughts drift back to him again. “He doesn’t have a girlfriend now?”
“No. It’s been a while.”
Violet’s eyebrow raises in suspicion at my curiosity.
“Just wondering.” I shrug defensively.
“Mmmhmm. I’m sure you are.” She eyes me.
“Don’t give me that look.”
“Oh, I will give you this look. And a few more looks. Probably a nudge or two. Then I might throw some meddling in for good measure.”
“Don’t,” I say, flicking her a look and grabbing the second bag that’s full of lights and prop equipment marked “FRAGILE” in bright blue ink.
“Do we need a cart?” She looks at the bags at my feet.
“Maybe…” I hedge. I’d mastered being able to wheel the two giant hard case bags and my backpack and carry-on, but I did look like a one-person circus doing it.
“Here, I’ll get one.” She nods to the wall where several of them are waiting to be checked out. I readjust my shoulder straps and take a deep breath.
I’m here to see my friends. Hang out with them like old times, laughing and taking a trip down memory lane and all the good things. I can just avoid the part where I stomped all over a guy’s already broken heart for no good reason. After all, he’s all grown up now, one of the most famous people in the country, and at this point, I’m probably nothing more than a blip on his radar. A smudge of a mistake that he learned from. No reason to think we can’t get along now—all these years later.
“All right. Here we go.” Violet rolls the luggage cart up to me and helps me load the bags onto it. “I need to get some luggage like this. Better than what I’ve got.”
“Yeah, it’s not cheap but it’s worth it. No shooting equipment damaged so far—knock on wood.”
“I’m so freaking excited you’re here though, Joss. We have so much catching up to do. And I can’t wait to show you the house and my studio.”
“Well let’s get going! Can we get a smoothie on the way though?”
“Obviously. I already know a place you’ll like. Had it all planned out.”
“And this is why I love you. Who needs men when I have a bestie like you?” I hug her from the side because in so many ways Violet really is my person.
“I mean, you do.” She laughs.
“Fair enough.” I laugh along with her because I don’t have the heart to tell her I’ve had my own little dry spell when it’s come to men lately.
She loves living vicariously through me. Hot Italian men taking me out for pasta and rides in their Ferraris. Climbing on a yacht on the Riviera with a guy who owns a vineyard. Hiking in the Alps with the Swiss mountain guide and eating fondue in an adorable hut at the top while he reads me dirty poems in German? That’s what I’m famous for. Being melancholy because none of it hits the way it used to, and I’m bored of the fun I used to have? Not the sexy adventure anyone wants to hear about.
I’ll have to tell her at some point. I need my best friend’s wisdom and sage advice. But I’d rather pretend for a while longer. Especially since the last person on earth I want to know I’m not at the top of my game anymore is both on the front of a magazine and going to be sitting across from me at dinner tonight.