Willow James, athletic trainer for the Miami Thunder football team, knows abandonment and hurt. A child of foster care, she’s been moved around and left behind more times than she cares to count. Just when she was starting to let her guard down with Braden Prescott, he left for a two year stint with Doctors Without Borders. Now he’s back.
Dr. Braden Prescott always felt like an outsider in his family of professional sports players. He’s traveled the world and is better for it, but now he’s home with a job for the Miami Thunder. When he comes face to face with the woman he left behind, their chemistry still smolders. She’ll give him her body again but not her heart.
He knows leaving her once was the biggest mistake of his life. Can Willow learn to trust him not to leave, especially when adventure comes calling again?
Release date: January 26, 2021
Publisher: CP Publishing
Print pages: 290
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Dare to Stay
Braden Prescott’s suit felt stiff and scratchy, a far cry from the loose scrubs he’d worn for the last two years with Doctors Without Borders. He pulled at the knot on his tie as he waited for the press conference to begin, announcing him as head team general doctor for the Miami Thunder. Beside him was his cousin and team owner, Ian Dare.
“Nervous?” Ian asked, an understanding look on his face.
“More like uncomfortable.” And stressed but Braden wasn’t about to admit as much. Instead he rolled his shoulders in a futile effort to unwind and believe this new phase would work out.
“Excuse me. I need to talk to someone before the press conference starts.” Ian placed a hand on Braden’s shoulder before walking away, leaving him to ponder his sudden life change.
It was ironic that he’d accepted this position considering sports medicine had never been on his list of career choices. And for good reason. He’d steered clear of anything that reminded him of the father who’d raised him, because Jesse Prescott had belittled him for his brain, wanting only sons capable of smashing into other men on a football field.
Four of his siblings had ended up in sports in one way or another, and Braden was proud of all they’d accomplished, but it had never been his calling. However, now that he was back in town, he needed a job as much as Ian needed a general practitioner physician he could trust. The last man who’d held the job had betrayed his oath and the people he was supposed to care for.
From the wings, Braden glanced out into the audience of reporters in the front seats and team members filing into the chairs in the back. He caught sight of Hudson Northfield, his best friend, whose idea it had been to join Doctors Without Borders. He’d returned to the States with Braden and come to Florida instead of heading home to New York, where his high-pressured family resided. At Braden’s recommendation, Ian had hired Hudson as a team physician, meaning he’d be staying in Florida and not moving home.
But Braden wasn’t looking for Hudson when he scanned the crowd. He was searching for a certain blonde-haired, blue-eyed siren he’d left behind. He and Willow James, now head of the Athletic Training Department for the Thunder, had been a couple before Hudson had approached him about joining Doctors Without Border, or MSF as it was known, Médicins Sans Frontières.
He’d been the odd man out at home, the only Prescott brother who hadn’t been into sports, and the opportunity to travel and help people in need, while carving out his own niche in life, had been too much of a lure to turn down. At the time, he’d thought Willow, with whom he’d been in an exclusive but not overly serious relationship, would accept the notion that he’d be gone for two years. That they’d see one another when possible. He’d been wrong.
She’d listened, nodded, told him to have a nice life, and walked out, stunning him with how easily she’d dismissed him. Although looking back and knowing her foster care background, he should have dug deeper into her reaction. Instead he’d left despite knowing he’d hurt her with his sudden pronouncement, not taking into consideration the fact that she probably felt abandoned and had thrown up her walls. And though he didn’t regret the time he’d spent abroad, he knew he’d done irreparable damage to their relationship.
When Ian had offered him the job, he’d done his research on who he’d be working with, already knowing she’d been with the Thunder when he left. And maybe he’d scanned her social media. A little. The glimpses being the equivalent of a punch in the gut as he realized how much he’d given up when he’d left.
He hadn’t realized the depth of his feelings for her until he’d been gone. Hadn’t thought he’d miss her as much as he had. And considering her silence in response to his early texts and the calls she’d let go unanswered, she hadn’t forgiven him for his last-minute decision to leave.
As the head of the Thunder’s Athletic Training Department, she’d be answering to him as lead team physician, something he doubted would make her happy. But they were both adults and professionals. They’d make things work.
And if he had his way, he’d win back her trust. Somehow.
* * *
Willow James walked down the hall of the Miami Thunder Football Stadium, headed to the area reserved for press conferences. Ian Dare would be announcing the new head physician. Normally the information would be revealed via press release to the public and in a private team meeting, but given the fact that the former doctor, Peter Jonas, was currently doing time in prison for defrauding the IRS, taking a bribe to pay gambling debts, and injecting the Thunder’s star quarterback with banned substances in return for money to pay off his loans, the team needed to make a statement.
As she turned a corner toward the press room, she passed life-size photographs of the Thunder’s star players, a tribute that followed them from the old stadium. Because this one was new, the smell of paint still permeated the air around her.
She’d been around the organization for a while, had done two summers and a full-year internship with the team prior to working as one of the trainers for years before being promoted to lead last month. She knew how fortunate she was to have found a place for herself with the Thunder. There were many trainers like her with a stellar academic record, but it had been her relationship with Dr. Peter Jonas, her one-time foster father, that had given her an in. Having known him for years, she’d never suspected he was capable of such betrayal.
His wife, Bella, was destroyed, and since the Jonases were the last of five foster homes Willow had been in, and by then she’d been near to adulthood, she had an ongoing relationship with them, unlike the other families who’d taken her in and easily let her go. She kept in close touch with Bella and spoke to her often. If there was anyone in her life Willow trusted, it was Bella Jonas, and she’d look out for her any way she had to.
Peter was another person who’d let her down. Life taught her that it was in her best interest to keep people at a distance, and every time she broke that rule, she’d been hurt in the end.
Given Damon Prescott’s status, the news about Doc had spread fast, hitting the team hard. Ian had withheld the name of the new doctor until announcement time, and she’d find out along with everyone else in a few minutes.
She stepped into the room, the crowd of reporters buzzing with anticipation over the upcoming news. Scanning the seats in the back, she walked toward the closest person to her in the Athletic Training Department, Steffy Hughes, a petite brunette who was a few years younger than Willow’s thirty-one. But they’d been friends for almost two years, shared drinks after work, attended exercise classes together, and bonded over their love of sports. As the only two women in the training department, they’d gravitated toward each other, and Willow had let Steffy in more than she did most people.
“Glad I’m not late. I was doing paperwork and lost track of time,” Willow said as she slid in beside her friend.
Steffy shook her head. “Not at all. Any ideas who they’re bringing on?”
“Not a clue. I haven’t heard of any shake-ups at other teams, so they’re not grabbing anyone we’d know of that way. I just know that Mr. Dare wants to make a statement that we’re starting fresh and with someone who has no possibility of being corrupted in any way. He hated the scandal that hit us.”
“Didn’t we all,” Steffy said. “Everyone has been tiptoeing around here. I’m ready for a change in atmosphere. I know Doc’s second in charge has been holding down the fort, but everyone knows he’s looking to move west with his family. We’re mid-season and need a qualified doctor in charge.”
“Amen,” Willow said, just as Ian Dare strode into the room and stood at the podium.
An imposing man in a black suit with a white shirt, top button opened, Ian was also extremely good-looking. He exuded power by virtue of his attitude and backed up his controlling demeanor with a solid work ethic, so everyone respected him. With his dark brown hair and very familiar indigo eyes, every time she saw Ian, she was reminded of the man she wanted to forget.
The man she’d dubbed he who shall not be named. The well-known words fit the guy who’d easily dumped her and taken off for parts unknown. Ironically, he was also related to Ian, information that had come to light after he’d left for a stint with Doctors Without Borders. A decision he’d made seemingly out of nowhere.
Not that they’d been looking toward the future, but she’d had strong feelings for him that had been growing by the day. She’d let herself start to fall for him despite knowing better, and she’d thought she knew what his plans were and had foolishly let herself believe they’d included her. Just another time in her life she’d been let down and left behind. Something she would not let happen again.
“Welcome and thank you for joining me here today along with Coach Carson.” Ian gestured to the man beside him who ran the team before going into a long speech about the integrity of the Miami Thunder organization and everyone who worked for and was associated with them.
She’d zoned out for a few minutes when clapping around her alerted her to the fact that she’d missed something important.
Shaking her head, she looked up and watched in shock as he strode onto the stage. Dr. Braden Prescott. The man who’d walked out on her two years ago and apparently the new head physician for the Miami Thunder.
Her heart pounded so hard in her chest she heard the sound in her ears. He looked scrumptious in his dark suit and the short scruff of beard he hadn’t had last time she saw him. As if no time had passed, her traitorous body responded to his presence.
“Oh my God, he’s hot,” Steffy said, waving her hand in front of her face at the same time Willow spoke. “Oh, shit, that’s my ex.”
“What?” Steffy asked too loudly, then lowered her voice. “You were with that gorgeous guy?” Steffy had been hired not long after Braden left, and Willow had already locked up her feelings and closed them in a box in her mind, never to be opened again.
Willow nodded. “We were together for a year, but I haven't seen him in two.”
“Well, you’ll be working with him now. Oh no! What will Cole think?” Steffy asked of the doctor on staff Willow was currently dating.
Her stomach twisted at the thought. She and Cole Walsh had just started going out. She was keeping things casual, and he respected her need to go slow. She hadn’t slept with anyone since Braden because she hadn’t met any man who made her want to allow him that close. She thought Cole had potential. Now she had Braden to contend with, although given how easily he’d taken off, she doubted he’d be interested in her now. And she wasn’t into second chances after being left.
“Your life suddenly got complicated,” Steffy muttered.
No shit, she thought.
“Can you handle it?” her friend asked.
“Doesn’t look like I have a choice.” Willow glanced at the podium once more and realized Braden was staring directly at her.
As he stood next to his cousin, the family resemblance was clear. Dark hair, strong jaw, full lips... She even remembered how good he smelled, the scent of his woodsy cologne, and the feel of his body against hers. She closed her eyes and wondered how in the fresh hell this had happened. The man she’d spent two years trying to forget would now be permanently in her orbit?
She grabbed her phone and whispered, “I’m going to get ready for my next patient.” It was a lie. She didn’t have anyone on schedule, and Steffy probably knew it.
But she needed to get out of this room full of people and hole up in her office, where she could catch her breath and shore up her defenses against Braden Prescott, MD.
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