Game For Love(9)

By: Mara Jacobs

His focus became solely football. He spent his off-seasons at his parents’ farm in Ohio, getting up at the crack of dawn, working out, throwing footballs through hung tires for hours on end, working side by side with his father in the fields, and going to bed at dusk. Alone.

He shunned the nightlife that went along with being an NFL star. He turned down all endorsements, thinking they’d take away from his focus of the game. He steered clear of the fast women, preferring to date quietly, never getting serious with any one woman.

They were always available, and they weren’t all as trampy-looking as the women who were presently at his house. But the majority of women Declan met, he met through some facet of the game. The hangers-on, the cheerleaders—though that was a league no-no that never stopped Declan—the friends of teammates’ wives, looking to become a player’s wife themselves.

His desire for women hadn’t waned, and he had more than his fair share, but it wasn’t as decadent and debauched as it had been his first few seasons. No more twins. Or triplets.

Eight years later he was traded again, this time to Boston. And this time it was an incredible trade, because Declan had indeed become one of the all-time great quarterbacks of the game. It was $180 million/five-year deal that, at the time, had broken all records.

Now his five years were up, and though the franchise begged him to stay on, he wanted to go out while he could still run off the field, not limp. His body was thirty-nine years old—prime for most other professions, but over the hill for the NFL. The hits he took would wake him at night, keeping him from any real rest. Bruises would just begin to fade by the next game, only to be re-administered.

And he didn’t even want to think about any damage concussions might have done.

He also didn’t want to stick around just to be some Yoda-like guru to an up-and-comer that would take his place. He’d pass on his knowledge and wisdom, all right, but hopefully to a son, not some son-of-a-bitch who was waiting for Declan to break a leg.

They rode in silence and Marlee squirmed a bit against Declan, but he didn’t want to take his arm from around her. He was afraid she’d slide back into the corner of the SUV and face the window again. And damn, he just liked keeping a hold on her. Most of the women he was with were petite things. Marlee had some size on her. Tall and sturdy, something substantial to hold. Or hold on to, as he was now doing.

They arrived at the restaurant and got out so the valet could take the car, and Marlee, pushing her glasses up her nose, looked up to see they were at one of Boston’s famed steakhouses. Anna noticed at the same time.

“Cole, Marlee is a vegetarian,” Anna said quietly. “Maybe we could walk down the block and find someplace else?”

“No, that’s okay. I’m sure I can get a salad here, it’s no problem,” Marlee said.

Declan figured Marlee assumed he would be downing the largest, rarest steak at the restaurant. Possibly with his bare hands.

“They have a great house salad here. That’s how I know about this place. Declan is a vegetarian too,” Cole explained.

Marlee swung her head at Declan, stunned.

Declan immediately deciphered Marlee’s look. “What’s the matter, being a vegetarian doesn’t fit in the pigeonhole you’ve put me in?” Declan knew he was being overly snide, but he’d been stung by Marlee’s obvious dismissal of him.

“You’re right, I did assume you were a carnivore, but then so is ninety percent of the U.S. population.” Marlee was gracious in her apology, if just a little smug. She had rambled the statistic out with so much authority that no one would question it.

He would question it. Question her.

“Actually, ninety-seven percent are carnivore. The remaining three percent are a combination of vegetarians and vegans. Shall we go in?”

He took her elbow and guided her through the door, not giving her a chance to respond to his rebuttal. He cast a sideways glance at her and was happy to see she seemed flustered. Declan couldn’t be sure if that was from his unexpected vegetarian status, his knowledge on the subject, or from him simply touching her.

Damn, but touching her sure made him flustered. Even her frickin’ elbow felt sexy.

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