Eye on the Ball: A Playing for Glory Romance
What would prove to be stronger? Love, or loyalty?
“Focus! Keep your eye on the ball. And no women.” Jakes du Plessis’ mantra has always held him in good stead as a professional rugby player. However, a meeting with artist Angie Summers in Denver, Colorado, hinders his well-laid plans. Past demons remind him why he’s not relationship material, and he flees back to South Africa.
When Angie encounters Jakes du Plessis, she’s surprised by the stir of emotions the brawny player elicits, especially since she’s wearing another man’s ring.
Fate has other plans. Fleeing didn’t help as Angie arrives in South Africa to help her brother and, hopefully, change Jakes’ mind.
Will Jakes overcome his demons to give Angie a second chance? Will she be able to show Jakes that love can conquer all?
Release date: April 24, 2018
Publisher: Francine Beaton
Print pages: 367
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Eye on the Ball: A Playing for Glory Romance
Jakes grunted when he slid into the booth. At last he managed to stretch his injured leg on the bench and his back against the wall. He tried to breathe through the pain, but it wasn’t easy to do when he bit on his teeth at the same time. The compression sleeve chaffed against the bruise on his leg, making it worse. He wouldn’t complain about it though, as it was for his own benefit, but it would be a relief to remove it.
“You should’ve taken the painkillers.”
“No,” Jakes scowled, “I need to tough it out. I’ll take it when I go to bed.”
“You know that’s stupid. That’s why you got them. You just came off a ten-hour flight. It’s not to say you’re weak to take the bloody painkillers.”
Jakes shook his head, “Believe me, Michael. I used enough of the stuff in the last couple of days. I took some before the flight.”
“I’m just saying. You could’ve taken one earlier to ease the pain. Let’s get you something to eat and go back to the apartment.”
Jakes learned in the last year not to argue with Michael. “Sorry. I just feel sorry for myself. If it hadn’t been for this injury, I would’ve been preparing for tomorrow’s test match.”
Michael nodded. He almost sounded sympathetic. “As I understand from the Bok training camp, you would’ve started this week. It would’ve been your first full Cap starting for the Springboks.”
He was disappointed. He would’ve loved to play in the rest of the test matches, but it wouldn’t help to grumble about it now. He mumbled, “ I’m not done. I would do anything to get back on the pitch again.”
“Anything?” Michael asked with a sly smile.
Jakes didn’t return his smile and nodded. Michael grinned, most likely in gleeful anticipation of what he would put Jakes through in the upcoming weeks. He proved Jakes right when he warned, “The therapy is intense, Jakes.”
“I don’t care. I’m not afraid to work hard. I’d do anything you asked.”
Michael smiled, “I know. At least you didn’t need an operation. That would’ve been a bummer. Let’s wait until Monday and see what the new scans show. It might be better news than we first thought.”
“I hope you’re right,” Jakes mumbled as he picked up a menu. He knew he was stubborn in not drinking more painkillers, but he was too scared to take that chance. One of his former teammates got addicted to the stuff. It could happen so quickly, and he didn’t need addiction as well. His life was already too complicated.
Jakes wasn’t hungry, but he needed to eat before he could take the medication. He scanned through the menu, finding a few options he might like. Michael’s attention was still with the menu long after Jakes made his choice. Jakes leaned back, closing his eyes.
His thoughts drifted to his injury. When Tom Brady, the Buffaloes’ head coach and Michael’s father, suggested that Jakes joined Michael at the rehab centre here in Denver, Jakes didn't think twice. He wanted to be fit and ready for next season when they played in an exciting new competition. It was also a World Cup year.
The cheery voice of a server interrupted his thoughts. Cheeriness was the last thing he needed. He listened to Michael giving his order. When Michael finished, Jakes took a deep breath and opened his eyes.
Luckily, he had because the woman nearly knocked the breath straight back out of his lungs. Her blue eyes, as bright as the Free State sky in winter, first caught his attention and then her wide, welcoming smile. Those blue eyes looked directly back into his. Time stood still. A strange calmness took hold of him and for the first time since his injury on Wednesday, Jakes forgot about the pain in his leg.
Nice. Really nice.
Surprised, and somewhat unwillingly, Jakes pulled his gaze from the waitress to Michael, who had jumped up and was scowling at the waitress, “What are you doing? Can’t you see the glass is already full?”
Michael grabbed a serviette and dabbed haphazardly at the water tumbling over the rim of the too-full glass. Jakes had to suppress his sudden bout of humour when he witnessed Michael’s futile attempt. That serviette didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to mop up the water. Fascinated, he followed the water’s progress as it spread over the surface. It trickled closer to the edge, then over and onto his lap.
When the waitress tried to dry the water from his lap, Jakes galvanised into action. He grabbed her hand in the nick of time before it came too close to a part of his anatomy Jakes had sworn no woman would touch. Well, not anytime soon.
“For heaven’s sake, woman, stop!” Flustered, he grabbed the cloth from her hand. He couldn’t even look at her. Maybe she could read minds and then she would know where his thoughts went.
The waitress didn’t say a word. She turned and walked away to fetch another cloth and more serviettes. After she returned, she dried the rest of the table without saying a word. When everything was as dry as it could be, Jakes pushed the wet serviettes and cloth to the side. Only then did he glance at the waitress again. She didn’t even look in his direction. She busied herself, picking up the damp cloth and the soaking mess of serviettes. She left to dump them in the kitchen. When she returned, she appeared calm, but she didn't fool Jakes. He could swear her eyes were shooting daggers in his direction as she waited impatiently for him to give his order.
Without even realising it, Jakes stared at her. Maybe he did for too long as she suddenly looked uncomfortable. Jakes followed the movement of her tongue as it slid over her bottom lip long before straight, even teeth started to nibble the one corner of his mouth. Jakes’ jeans suddenly felt too tight but he kept on staring.
Oh, man, if it wasn’t that he…
No, no, no.
No way was he thinking about a woman like that. Not now, nor for the next six months. He wouldn’t have done anything about it, but this woman was far too tempting.
Focus, Jakes, focus. Eye on the ball, and all that.
When she looked up again, waiting for his order, Jakes scowled without even realising he did it because he was so busy concentrating on his mantra when he mumbled his order.
Her face scrunched in confusion. If Jakes hadn’t been so uncomfortable, he would’ve thought it was cute.
Michael chuckled, “In English, Jakes.”
Had he not spoken English? Geez, the jetlag must affect him more than he thought. His English wasn’t that bad. Sometimes, when he was nervous, he might have a stronger accent, but he didn’t usually make mistakes like that.
When he caught Michael’s amused expression, Jakes growled, “What’s so funny?”
Michael said in Afrikaans, “Stop frowning at the poor woman and repeat your order, but this time in English.”
Jakes grunted, “A cheeseburger and hot chocolate.”
“Tell the lady, not me,” Michael grinned.
Jakes turned back to the waitress. Had the effect of the painkiller he took before the flight still not worked out of his system? Why else would it feel as if his tongue stuck in his mouth and his brain hadn’t caught up with his surroundings?
He shook his head to get rid of the feeling and repeated his order. This time he ignored her face. He focused on her notebook instead.
When she walked away with their order, Jakes let out his breath. He took a deep gulp of the remaining water, still irritated with himself. It wasn’t as if he and Michael were speaking Afrikaans to each other. That was an easy way to get confused but no, they spoke English. They always did. His last years with the Blitzbokke gave him enough opportunity to speak English. He wasn’t that bad.
Jakes blamed it on the waitress. She had this effect on him. He had been avoiding women for the last eighteen months, and he was getting good at it. He knew the warning signs. When he felt the sudden rush of heat when she bit her bottom lip? That was a warning in big red and bold letters. He should do well to heed it.
Jakes saw through Michael when he asked with fake concern, “Are you okay?” Michael still tried to hide his amusement.
“I wondered. Your face is flushed. I hope you didn’t catch a nasty bug on the plane.”
Jakes wondered the same thing. He knew his excuses were lame. It was the best he could come up with at such short notice, “It must be the altitude or something.”
“Or something, yes,” Michael laughed.
Jakes ignored Michael and took in his surroundings, something he didn’t do when they arrived. It was a sports pub and restaurant with a few big-screen televisions scattered throughout. Several showed highlights of previous rugby test matches.
“I didn’t expect them to show rugby here,” Jakes said, breaking the awkward silence.
Michael grinned, “You’ll be surprised. Rugby is getting more popular in the US. There are quite a few clubs in Denver. The rehab centre where you’ll be getting your therapy is associated with one club, the Denver Black Bears. The rehabilitation facilities are on the same grounds and state-of-the-art.”
Jakes still didn’t dare look at the waitress when she delivered a new container with cutlery and serviettes.
The waitress returned with their drinks order shortly after that, but Jakes’ was coffee instead of the hot chocolate he’d ordered. Maybe he should've told her nicely she brought him the wrong drink. Even better, Jakes should've kept his mouth shut, but his irritation level was already high. He still blamed it on the fact that she rattled him so much.
Jakes shoved the cup rather clumsily back to her, splashing coffee all over the side. He mumbled, this time at least in English, “I ordered hot chocolate.”
Only after she picked up the cup and disappeared in the kitchen's direction, he dared to look up. His eyes followed her until she reached the hatch and picked up the drink he ordered.
Jakes had felt cooped up on the plane. He thought it was a good idea to get out of the apartment but now he was regretting it. When she reappeared with the drink he ordered, Jakes accepted he made a mistake. He should’ve stayed at the apartment. If he had to judge the service they received from the waitress so far tonight, it would be a long night.
The waitress put the hot chocolate on the table in front of him with a flourish. Jakes could almost see the sarcasm in the gesture. He looked up and saw the spark in her eyes, but it wasn’t the cheery one as it was before. Jakes couldn’t blame her. Uncomfortable, he dropped his head.
Michael continued to enthuse about the rehab facilities but kept on searching for the waitress. He didn’t want to speculate about his reasons for doing so. When Jakes noticed she was on her way to their table with their food. He lowered his eyes and played with his teaspoon.
Disappointment enveloped him when she put the plates in front of them, and he noticed the contents. “What’s this?”
The look she gave him spoke volumes as if he was stupid. Her answer was nonchalant, “Your order.”
Jakes shook his head. “I didn’t order this.”
The waitress took out her notebook and studied it. She glanced at their plates and flushed. She grabbed the dishes in a hurry and delivered it to the right table. As soon as she finished, she came back to their table.
Maybe he should've let Michael handle the situation. Better yet, he should've allowed her to apologise. Jakes did neither. He frowned at her, “You wrote it down. Couldn’t you at least check?”
Michael cleared his throat and stared at his phone, suddenly very busy. “You got a problem?” Jakes glared at him.
Michael shook his head, but Jakes saw the grin. It made him even madder.
When the waitress walked away, Jakes mumbled, maybe louder than necessary, “How the hell does she still keep a job?”
It could be the pain in his leg that made him act like a bear with a sore head, but Jakes knew that wasn’t the truth. Those blue eyes were unnerving, making him feel things he shouldn't even contemplate. He had two options: fight or flight. Fleeing was out, so he opted for the first.
Fight? That surprised him. It was something he hadn’t done in years. Panic suddenly got hold of him when he realised it. He put his hands under the table, his fingers finding the rubber band with ease. With his eyes still on the waitress, Jakes tugged.
She stopped at the hatch where she took out her notebook and spoke to the person on the other side. She sighed then looked nervous as she glanced at the manager, then at Jakes before she disappeared.
Time dragged on and on without the woman reappearing with their food. Jakes had calmed to such an extent that he had stopped playing with the rubber band. He tried to shift to a more comfortable position, but it didn’t help. Each movement made him realise he should’ve taken the medication. His leg was hurting like hell and his body drooped from fatigue. He needed a painkiller soon before he passed out. He now agreed with Michael that it was stupid not to take the medication. He needed a painkiller before he passed out.
When at last he couldn’t hide it anymore, Jakes knew he had to do something drastic. He glanced around one more time hoping to find their waitress, but she’d done a vanishing act. Since she’d disappeared, she hadn’t come back and it didn’t look as if she was planning to return soon.
He grunted to Michael through clenched teeth, “You don’t have to tell me I told you so, but you’re right. I should’ve taken the meds, but I can’t go on much longer without it. Where’s that woman with our food?”
Michael glanced around and shook his head. He turned to Jakes, taking in Jake’s white face and clenched jaw. His expression clearly said, “I told you so,” but at least he didn’t say it.
Michael sighed, lifting his hand to signal for another waitress. An older man appeared. He introduced himself as Bob, the owner, and asked, “Is there something wrong, gentlemen?”
Again, Jakes should have let Michael handle it. Before Michael could open his mouth though, Jakes glared at the man, “What wasn’t the problem, you mean?” and rattled off the mistakes the waitress made. “Can you send someone who knows what they are doing, please?”
Jakes only listened with half an ear to the man’s apologies before he called another waitress. “Clara, could you please check these gentlemen’s order?”
The waitress disappeared to the hatch, spoke to the chef, and held up one finger to the older man. It might mean it would be only a minute and Jakes sincerely hoped so. He could deal with a minute, but not much longer. The food might have been ready for some time and might now be cold, Jakes sighed. It wouldn’t matter. He would eat it and get out of this place as soon as possible.
Clara arrived almost immediately with their food. Both Jakes and Michael accepted it and didn’t take long to finish eating. While Michael signalled for the bill, Jakes glanced up. Their waitress had at last re-appeared.
Angie splashed her face with cold water. What had just happened with that foreigner? Getting lost in his eyes was the weirdest experience.
She looked up at the mirror, noticing her reflection as if for the first time. She knew she didn’t look her best tonight. She had dark circles under her eyes, which even her best efforts couldn’t camouflage. That was what lack of sleep could do to you, she surmised, but it was all for a good cause.
Even her eyes looked tired tonight. Most people complimented her on her eyes, but Angie wasn’t sure it was her best feature. It wasn’t tonight. She was so used to them, as both her brothers and father had the same blue eyes. Electric blue, as one of Jesse’s ex-girlfriends, called it. Tonight, she felt as if they were on dim.
She grimaced at the ponytail. It made her feel like a schoolgirl. She preferred to keep her long, dark, curly hair hanging loose so it could frame her face. She always thought it formed a nice contrast with the paleness of her skin and the blue of her eyes. Those contrasts appealed to her artist’s eye.
Angie felt her smile was her best feature. Well, it had been when she smiled often enough for people to notice. She loved the way it softened her face. Recently she hadn’t had many reasons to smile and tonight was no exception.
She sighed and glanced down at her uniform. She knew this job and this uniform were two of the biggest reasons she didn’t smile anymore. It was killing her soul. The clothes looked dreary, and so unlike her usual style of flowing skirts and bright colours.
She lifted her hand to brush the hair that had escaped her ponytail back from her face. Her engagement ring caught the bathroom light, and she sighed again.
That might be the most significant reason she’d lost her smile. She knew she had to decide soon. She needed to be happy again.
She glanced back at her reflection and smiled, just for the hell of it. Yes, definitely her smile. Angie vowed she would do anything in her power to get it back.
To her relief, Angie saw the two men had finished eating when she returned to the restaurant. One of them signalled for the bill. She didn’t realise she had been in the bathroom so long and lost track of time—again.
She picked up the check and went across to their table, trying to avoid eye contact with the enormous man.
Jakes put on his jacket before he slid his injured leg out in front of him. He managed to push himself upright with the help of the table and the back of the bench. A jolt shot through his injured leg when someone walked into it. Curses rolled off his tongue, but he couldn’t stop it at first. He only managed when he breathed in a mixture of flower and apple. His heartrate accelerated as he tried to push away the woman before she injured him any further. When he could breathe through the worst of his pain, he took another deep breath before he opened his eyes.
He should’ve known. It could only be the waitress who got him in such a flat spin. For several seconds their eyes held. Heat shot through his body when she nibbled her bottom lip, a blush spreading over her face. He had to breathe deep before he could push her away. His voice sounded low and husky when he mumbled, “You’re a danger, woman.”
Angie thought the man was enormous earlier, but now that he was standing, she noticed how massive he was. He was well over six-feet-three or four, with muscles in all the right places. Under her hands, the Henley shirt underneath his jacket clung to well-defined muscles. His voice sounded husky, sending ripples down her spine.
When he pushed her away, she realised what she was doing. She almost let out a groan but managed to stop it in time. What more can go wrong tonight, with this customer?
The man turned away to accept crutches from his companion. Without looking at her, he pushed it under his arms.
Oops! Crutches! How embarrassing! No wonder he didn’t get up when she spilled the water all over him.
He turned back to her. His eyes dropped to her mouth, and then they narrowed. Angie suddenly felt warm but then the man frowned and swung around abruptly. Without saying goodnight, he turned and hobbled out of the restaurant.
Well, that was it. That man was the rudest, most obnoxious man she had ever met. This time she couldn’t stop herself from calling at his back, “Thank you and good night to you too.”
He didn’t react. Not that Angie expected him to. When the door closed behind him, Angie turned away muttering “Creep,” even though he couldn’t hear her anymore.
As soon as she turned around, Angie caught Bob’s signal to join him in his office. She didn’t have to guess to know what was coming. She should be used to it by now, as the elderly owner had regular talks with her in the month since she started.
When she entered the office, Angie knew this time was different. Bob wasn’t smiling tonight as he usually did. His face was grim when he motioned for her to sit. His next words confirmed her fears, “Angie, my dear, I’m sorry. You and I must agree—this job is not for you. After tonight’s fiasco, and the two gentlemen’s complaints, I have no other choice.”
“You’re letting me go?” Angie whispered.
Bob grimaced. “No, not yet, but this is your last warning.”
Angie sighed and closed her eyes. She just had to try harder. It’s only a few more weeks. She looked up at the kind old man and mumbled, “I’m sorry, Uncle Bob. I’ll try, I promise.”
“I know you will, my dear. I know why you’re doing this, but I have a business to run. I can’t afford you chasing away my customers.”
“I understand, Uncle Bob. Is there anything else I can do?” Angie knew she sounded desperate.
“Let me think about it. Clara told me Thomas was sick and you stayed up with him. It is admirable that you are so loyal to your friend and take care of her son, but you can’t carry on like this. Take the weekend off to catch up on your sleep, and we’ll talk on Monday.”
“Thank you, Uncle Bob. I appreciate it,” Angie smiled relieved. She hugged him goodbye and rushed out to get her bag and jacket from the staffroom.
The rest of the staff all knew she wasn’t a good waitress and gave her sympathetic glances. She didn’t have to say anything to Clara. Her best friend already knew something happened as her encouraging wave said it all.
Angie tried to think about the positives as she strolled to her car. At least she would be home earlier and could relieve the babysitter. She still had her job. How she kept it for so long, she didn’t know. She was sure Bob kept her on because of his friendship with her father. Bob had always been a softie.
She was so tired. After spending the previous night looking after Clara’s sick toddler, she’d only had a few hours of sleep. She could blame her lack of concentration on that, but she knew it wasn’t the whole truth.
If she could keep her mind on her job, she wasn’t a bad worker. Unfortunately, her brain didn’t work that way. She always got lost in a new project, a painting, or just her over-productive imagination. She didn’t even feel comfortable in a kitchen, so being a waitress in a busy restaurant was ten times worse.
Angie realised soon after she started that waitressing wasn’t one of her better ideas, but she wasn’t prepared to admit it to anyone, but she didn’t have to. Her family knew her well enough.
She would never admit it to Chris. She would not give him a chance to make nasty comments or blame Clara as he usually did.
Maybe she should teach again.
Angie shuddered, remembering her first teaching job. She didn’t mind the teaching, but not all the kids wanted to be in the class. Some made her life a nightmare. If she could teach kids who liked art, it might have been different.
When Clara came in from her shift, they cuddled under blankets with a mug of hot chocolate each. Clara didn't wait long before she asked, “So, what happened tonight? I know you can sometimes get lost in your own world, and it’s kind of cute, but tonight you didn't concentrate at all.”
Could she tell Clara about her argument with Chris before her shift started? Clara already knew how Angie’s fiancé felt about her and Angie’s insistence on helping her, but she didn’t want Clara to feel guilty.
Angie couldn’t understand Chris’ attitude about her helping Clara. Why could he not see it as she had? It was only for another few weeks. Chris criticised her for her soft-heartedness and said Clara was abusing their friendship. It couldn’t be taking advantage of your friendship when you offered, could it? She couldn’t convince Chris, and he didn’t want Angie to help Clara. The strange animosity between her fiancé and her best friend bothered her.
“I had an argument with Chris earlier,” she admitted but didn’t elaborate.
Clara raised her eyebrow. They had this discussion several times since Angie moved in with Clara. Clara urged Angie to speak to Chris, but Angie always postponed it.
“I know how you feel about Chris, and I know you wouldn’t say anything. Since I came back from Boulder, things are deteriorating between us. The rift I felt is getting worse but after today’s argument…”
Clara frowned, then showed how well she knew Angie when she said shrewdly, “But that’s not all. What happened? Why did Uncle Bob let you come home early?”
Angie didn’t answer but she didn’t have to. “Why are you blushing?” Clara asked, sitting up straight.
Angie hadn’t even realised she blushed, but she did react this time, “Did you see the enormous man with the crutches?”
Clara gave her a saucy grin. “Yeah, me and all the other women in the pub. You could almost hear how all the ovaries in the pub stood to attention when he walked in.”
Angie’s mouth dropped open. “Clara!” was all she managed.
“Oh, come on, Angie. Don’t tell me you were immune? You had to admit, that is one of the most gorgeous men you’ve ever seen,” Clara argued.
“That might be true, but he was rude. And he was the reason Bob gave me my last warning,” Angie snorted.
Clara’s eyes widened, “Him? Why?”
With a sigh, Angie told Clara everything that happened. Thinking about it now, she was getting angry again. It wasn’t such a big deal for Bob to almost fire her!
She looked up at Clara’s concerned face and reassured her friend. “Don’t worry about anything, Clara. Uncle Bob said he would find something else for me to do. He told me to take the weekend off so I can babysit Thomas.”
Clara shook her head. “I’m not worried about Thomas or myself, Angie. I’m worried about you.”
Angie blurted, “You need not worry about me. I still have my job.”
“That’s not what I meant, Angie and you know it.”
Angie knew what Clara meant, and she couldn’t postpone it for much longer. Her reaction when she looked into the stranger’s green eyes, Angie knew that her engagement no longer worked. Had it ever?
On the way to her father’s consulting rooms the following Monday, Angie stopped at the notice board outside the Community Centre. She went through the vacant positions with the vague hope that there would be something suitable for her between the vacant positions advertised.
It might be fate because hidden between the others was one position listed for a temporary art facilitator. It was only until the Holidays, but it was better than nothing. That was the kind of job she was looking for. She hoped that, as it was in her field of study, she could keep it. The less than a hundred hours wouldn’t be enough to get her certification, but at least she could still help Clara. She could also tell her family and Chris she had a job in her line of study. It would mean even less time for painting, but she could work harder on her own art when Clara was self-sufficient again.
She hadn’t been as nervous in a long time and, to settle her nerves before her interview the next morning, Angie first stopped for coffee at the restaurant at the centre. To divert her attention away from the meeting, she used the time to catch up on her text messages. She first thought it was her imagination when she felt as if someone was watching her. She shrugged it off and finished reading the message from her sister-in-law.
When she still got an uncomfortable feeling, Angie glanced around. There were a few people in the coffee shop, but Angie didn’t have to look far to find the watcher. She recognised him as the man from Friday night. He had a curious look on his face while he studied her, but when their eyes met, Angie knew he recognised her.
In horror, she noticed he was preparing to get up, his eyes still fixed on her. Oh no, that was not going to happen. She grabbed her bag and waved to the surprised waitress on her way out. At least she had settled her bill when she ordered, so she didn’t have to wait. She heard a man’s voice calling “Wait!”, but there was no way she would confront that man again. Definitely not now. She wanted to be in a good mood when she arrived for her interview, and he would be enough to spoil her day.
Angie crossed her fingers while she made her way to the part of the community centre, where she had to report for her interview. It had to go well today and she took extra care with her appearance. She chose her favourite blue skirt and peacock blue top, which brought out the blue of her eyes. She complemented it with boots, jacket, and scarf. Her hair was hanging loose, held away from her face with a hairband to match her skirt. She even wore makeup, something she rarely did.
When she arrived at the interview, she put all thoughts of the man out of her head. She needed to concentrate and didn’t need him to distract her. When she left the premises an hour later, she grinned with relief. She’d worried unnecessarily. She could start immediately, and Angie guessed it counted in her favour.
Tomorrow, she was starting her new job.
Jakes shifted to get more comfortable, but it wasn’t easy on a bar stool. It was the Wednesday after he arrived in Denver and he could feel how hard Michael had worked him in the last three days. He still had to rely on the crutches for a few more days, but soon he wouldn’t need them anymore.
He didn’t complain about the toughness of the rehab, as he could feel the difference already. He could now manage most of the time without the painkillers. He wouldn’t say his leg didn’t still hurt, but he hadn’t expected to be doing what he did today.
Apart from the stretching exercises he did in the High-Altitude room, he also had daily massages and Electro-Therapy. The rest of the time, he did upper-body strength in the gymnasium. Today he also managed water therapy. He was eager to get back into his usual exercise routine, though.
No, he should clarify that. He was keen to get back on the pitch with the ball in hand.
Jakes came in every night since the previous Friday hoping to see the server he had mistreated. He had had no luck so far. He thought he saw her at the coffee shop yesterday, but it might not have been her.
A group of men came in, which interrupted his thoughts. Their Bears tracksuits gave away that they were all members of the local rugby team. He’d watched part of their training tonight and envied them. He wished he could’ve been on the pitch with them. If he hadn’t sustained this injury, he would still have had a full month of training and test matches with the Springboks.
Jakes signalled to the barman and settled his bill before he hobbled towards the men’s room. Turning into the narrow alley leading to the bathrooms, one player blocked his way. He must’ve noticed Jakes, even though he was deep in conversation. He moved out of the way without lifting his eyes from his shoes. The man ended his call, but his phone rang again. Jakes heard his sigh, but he answered the call anyway.
Jakes thought he was mistaken when the man said, “Hallo Ma, hoe gaan dit?” and almost stopped. It sounded like Afrikaans, translated as, “Hello Mum, how are you?”
He didn’t want to listen to the man’s conversation and as soon as the man confirmed he indeed spoke Afrikaans, Jakes continued to the bathroom. When he came out later, he was in time to see the man sigh. He rolled his eyes and promised his mother he would behave, leave the girls alone, and eat properly.
Jakes couldn’t stop the chuckle that escaped. The man frowned in Jakes’ direction. He glanced down at his phone to end his call but then pulled his head back sharply to look at Jakes, the surprise evident on his face. Jakes apologised in Afrikaans, “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to listen to your conversation. I didn’t expect to hear Afrikaans here. I’m…”
The man shook his head and with a laugh exclaimed, “Jakes du Plessis!”
He grinned and continued in Afrikaans, “I know who you are, but what are you doing here? Oh, sorry, I’m Rayno Botha,” and immediately held out his hand to Jakes.
Jakes was surprised that someone recognised him here in Denver, but Rayno just laughed, “I may have lived here for a while, but I still follow South African rugby. Don’t tell me you’re coming to play here?”
Jakes shook his head in denial and lifted his leg, still in the brace, “No, I’m here for therapy. I’m going back to Pretoria before the season kicks off.”
They drifted back to the restaurant, chatting in Afrikaans. When Rayno established Jakes was alone, he invited him to join them, “Come, I bet it will thrill these guys to meet a Springbok.”
When Jakes corrected him, “Only a one-time Springbok,” Rayno shook his head, “It doesn’t matter. You’re a Springbok.”
Jakes followed Rayno to a table where his friends gathered. None of them had taken their seats yet, as they were talking to the group that came in before them.
Jakes stopped behind Rayno. He stood upright, balancing himself on one crutch. His tall and muscled body towered over the other men, even his fellow South African. He took the chance to study them while they continued their conversation. He judged them all to be about three or four years younger than him.
When Rayno said he wanted to introduce them to a fellow South African, they turned towards him and studied him with the same interest. One of them looked Jakes up and down and muttered, “What the hell do they feed you guys in South Africa?”
Jakes and Rayno looked at each other and said at the same time, “Pap en vleis.”
The other man frowned, “What’s that?”
Their frowns clearly meant that they didn’t know what it was, so Rayno explained with a laugh, “If you translate it into English, it is porridge and meat. Lots of meat.”
One of the men grimaced, “Can’t you guys eat junk food like everyone else?”
Rayno replied with a smirk, “Mike, you’re so skinny, you should maybe try it.”
The others turned on Mike, “Yeah, Mike, you should.”
Mike was probably used to their abuse and showed them a rude sign.
When the other group disappeared to their table, Rayno turned to his friends. As he made the introductions, Jakes concentrated on remembering their names. Mike Cutt was the man who first spoke. The second man, Jesse Summers, looked familiar. The last member of the group was Chris Johnson.
They settled at the table and Clara came to take their orders. When she returned with their drinks, Jakes glanced up to thank her. He noticed the dirty look she gave him. Jakes frowned, not sure what he’d done wrong to deserve such treatment but he pushed it to the back of his mind when Mike asked, “So Jakes, what brings you to Colorado in the middle of the winter? I don’t think it’s a South African’s first choice as a holiday spot .”
Jakes grimaced, “It wouldn’t have been my first choice either. It’s freezing here. I can hardly feel my toes.” He rubbed his hand over his leg and admitted, “I’m here for therapy at the rehab centre.”
Jesse turned his head and frowned at Jakes, “I should’ve known. You’re a rugby player, aren’t you?”
Jakes nodded but didn’t elaborate, and Jesse probed again, “So what happened?”
“Hamstring strain. Our physio is here learning new techniques, so my club sent me here.”
Jesse ignored Jakes’ short answers and asked, interested, “Is it working?”
Jakes pondered over the question before he admitted, “Ask me next week. I’ll wait for the MRI on Monday and the doctor’s decision, but it looks promising.”
Jesse grinned, “My father wouldn’t take any chances. He would give you the go-ahead only when he’s convinced you’re ready.”
Jakes had a light-bulb moment. No wonder Jesse looked familiar. He nodded, surprised that he hadn’t recognised it earlier.
Jesse wasn’t shy with his questions and asked again, “So, apart from playing rugby, what do you do?”
Jakes flushed, “I have little time for anything other than rugby at the moment.”
Mike frowned, “Are you a professional? Who do you play for?”
“Yes, the Buffaloes, a team from Pretoria.”
Before Jakes could stop him, Rayno announced, “Jakes is too modest. He’s a Springbok in both Sevens and Rugby Union.”
Jakes shook his head, “You don’t get Springbok colours playing for the A-side. I only played from the bench against Australia. I don’t feel as if I can call myself a Springbok yet.”
“It’s still good to become a Springbok after one season back in Rugby Union,” Rayno argued. “And anyway, everyone speculated you would’ve started the first test if you hadn’t suffered an injury. I still can’t figure out why they let you play the midweek game if you were in the test squad,” Rayno grumbled.
Jakes agreed. He wasn’t happy about this injury happening now when he had realised his dream to play a full test for the Springboks. He shrugged, “Too many injuries in the squad.”
Rayno smiled, “You had a dream debut. I mean, you scored a try within minutes of arriving on the pitch.” Rayno congratulated him.
Jakes flushed, mumbling, “Thank you.”
Chris contributed for the first time to the conversation when he asked Jakes, “Sorry that I ask, but how old are you?”
Chris frowned, “Aren’t you old to make your debut for the national squad?”
“Maybe,” Jakes admitted. “Some people may think that, but if you’re good enough, it doesn’t matter how old you are. I have three teammates between thirty-two and thirty-eight. They’re fitter than many of the younger guys.”
“Rayno mentioned you played Sevens too. Did you enjoy it?” Jesse asked.
Jakes nodded. “Yeah, I did. I played all my senior rugby for the Blitzbokke in the World Sevens Series. I only returned to Rugby Union at the beginning of this year. I had a good run with the Sevens. The only reason I left was that I still had a dream to become a Springbok in the Fifteen Man game.”
Jesse asked, “Is this why you came here for therapy?”
“I don’t want to be a one-time Springbok,” Jakes admitted. “I want to be fit and ready for next season. It’s a World Cup year and might be my last chance. With our Head Physio here, the club suggested I join him. I jumped at the chance.”
Clara returned with the food, saving Jakes from a further inquisition. When Clara had left, the conversation changed to other subjects.
When Chris realised no one was listening to their conversation, he asked Jakes, “Was it difficult to change between the two codes?”
Jakes shook his head, “Not difficult. There are things to adapt to, like numbers of set pieces, and pace, for example.”
Chris glanced at his friends. When their attention was still elsewhere, he asked, “Could I pick your brain sometime? I need to decide.”
Jakes studied Chris. He was cautious. There was something about Chris he didn’t like. It might be his abrupt way of speaking. Not wanting to cause a scene, he agreed, “Yeah, that’s fine.”
He hoped it would never come to it though. Chris Johnson might be the type of person Jakes usually avoided.
He turned his head towards the other occupants of the table, making it clear the private conversation was over. Although he didn’t contribute much, he listened to the easy banter between them.
Jakes surprised himself by enjoying the time with Rayno and his friends. Maybe it was because he felt the same camaraderie he experienced with his own teammates and friends. For the first time since he arrived in Denver, he relaxed and realised how much he had needed it.
When they got ready to leave, he even exchanged numbers with Rayno and Jesse. Outside, while Jakes waited for his cab, Jesse asked, “What are you doing Friday night?”
Jakes shook his head and grimaced, “Not really. I usually have dinner here and then go home to watch television until I’m too tired to stay awake,” Jakes muttered. “Not much different from what I do at home.”
Jesse laughed, “Well, come and join us at our clubhouse. We have a pizza and beer night. You can play pool or darts or whatever tickles your fancy.”
“And maybe you can meet a nice girl,” Mike added when he and the others joined Jakes and Jesse.
The others groaned dramatically. Jesse pointed out to Mike, “You need to find fresh blood, man. You know the only women who would be there will be the staff and the other boys’ partners. Find your own.”
Jakes wanted to laugh at the consternation on Mike’s face, but he didn’t need to think too long or hard about the invitation before he agreed. It would be good to go out to get out of his head. He had too much time on his own to think, and he accepted Jesse’s invitation. He didn’t need one more night thinking about things that should stay buried...
Angie checked the time. She was running late. She’d made it to the clubhouse with only a minute to spare before her shift began but she could only blame herself. She needed time after her last patient left to recollect herself. Neither Angie nor the psychologist expected the young boy to open so soon about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepfather. Luckily they recorded the sessions. If they hadn’t, they could've missed this unexpected development.
No amount of training could've prepared her for the things she heard today. She had to put it to the back of her mind. Angie knew that. She couldn’t dwell on it the whole night. One of her professors at college ingrained that rule into them. You couldn’t take your work home.
Angie stacked the plates and cutlery onto the trolley in the storeroom so she could set the tables while the players were still training. If she hurried, she could be finished before them.
Luckily Uncle Bob had found her something else to do. It might not be the most glamorous job, setting tables here and at the restaurant, but she didn't care. It meant she didn’t have to deal with the players. Since Uncle Bob took over the clubhouse, some boys ate dinner here. Others preferred to go back to The Whistleblower, their usual hangout.
She bumped the storeroom door open with her hip and pulled the trolley through, muttering under her breath. It didn't matter which way you steered it, it often went its own way. The wheels were sliding in a different direction than you pushed.
All her concentration and attention were on the trolley. She didn't see the other person turning into the corridor ahead of her until it was too late. The cart crashed into the man’s leg before Angie could control it, and she heard soft swearing.
Angie didn't have to look. When she heard the voice muttering in a foreign language, she knew who it was. She still turned her head to confirm her suspicion but then she had a second look, then a third.
Wow, if she wasn’t panicking right now, she would've drooled over the sight in front of her. Nobody would’ve blamed her. She thought the stranger had a fabulous body when she saw him in the Henley shirt, but this? Just wow!
He only wore a tank top and training shorts with his trainers. A thin layer of sweat glinted over his smooth, tanned skin. Angie could do nothing other than admiring the well-developed muscles of his arms, legs and the tight backside, but then she noticed a brace covering his upper left leg. It was the same leg he was clutching while he sank down on the carpet.
She stepped around the trolley and would have stepped even closer if he hadn’t looked up at her, scowling. He was so angry he didn’t even realise he wasn’t speaking English. Although she didn't understand a word, his body language and facial expressions said it all. No, the safest way to avoid his anger was to step away and get help. She noticed with concern he had closed his eyes and was taking deep breaths.
When she heard voices, Angie realised help was on its way. She panicked, grabbed the trolley, and rushed into the clubhouse's direction. She should’ve stayed and made sure he was okay, but today she wouldn't have been able to cope with his rudeness. She still felt too vulnerable. She might have burst into tears at the first harsh word.
She snorted rather unfemininely. He probably had already uttered several. It might be better she couldn't understand him.
Why did she always have to appear clumsy when that man was around? First, it was the water accident, and now, not yet a week later, this. It would be better to avoid him. If she couldn’t see him, she couldn’t do any damage. The sudden flash of humour surprised Angie, but it evaporated when she remembered the man’s anger. She might have deserved it, but she should focus on her work instead.
Five more weeks. That was all she needed to help Clara through her apprenticeship.
In the clubhouse, she set the tables in a hurry. Preparing the last table, she glanced through the window with a view on the training pitch. The players were leaving the pitch. That was the sign for her to do a disappearing act into the background.
Angie promised herself to speak to Uncle Bob about the stupid trolley when she struggled to push it back to the storeroom. They needed to get the thing fixed before she did any more damage with it.
Jakes believed that his unsuccessful attempt to apologise to the blue-eyed waitress should’ve been a sign. He was far better off avoiding her. He had too many moments when he thought about her and it made him uncomfortable. He couldn’t afford that.
He now wished he could’ve avoided her for longer. Much, much longer. Hell, he warned her on the first day she was a danger, and now she’d done what he feared most. He could only hope and pray that she hadn’t done serious damage, but the pain wasn’t a good omen.
He tried to bite back the swear words rolling off his tongue. The woman should be thankful she didn't understand him. He scowled at the woman who now stepped closer to him with a look of concern.
He closed his eyes and sank down on the carpet, clutching his leg in both hands. Before he could add anything nasty, he heard voices behind him. The woman might have heard it too, as she grabbed the trolley and disappeared in a hurry. If he wasn’t in so much pain, he might’ve admired the speed with which she’d done it.
Michael and one of the other physios knelt concerned next to Jakes. He accepted their support to stand, but when he tried to put weight on his leg, a sudden shot of pain made him feel dizzy.
Jakes needed no one to tell him she had done damage. He could only hope it wasn’t as bad as it felt.
“I need the Doc, Michael,” Jakes managed through shallow breathing.
Michael shook his head in dismay and asked, “What happened?”
In deference to the other physio, Michael spoke English, but Jakes reverted to Afrikaans when he mumbled, “That woman who spilled the water on me in the restaurant? She’s a danger with a trolley. This doesn’t feel good.”
The physio studied him and sighed, “Let’s get you to the medical rooms before we jump to conclusions. Do not put weight on it,” Michael warned.
Jakes grimaced. There was no need for Michael to warn him. There was no way he would put any weight on it. He would not do any more damage to it if he could help it.
He swore again at the woman while he hobbled with Michael’s support to the doctor’s rooms. He had been so confident. His rehab had gone well, and Doc said he might start light training in the next week. He had been so relieved his injury wasn’t as severe as they’d first suspected in London, and now this. He could wring the woman’s neck.
Hours later, his mood hadn’t improved. He was still angry with the woman. When Doc Summers gave Jakes the verdict, it was better news than expected, but Jakes was disappointed. He had put his heart on playing again soon. There were no fractures or sprained muscles at least although the bump had resulted in more inflammation of his already battered leg. The fact she hit him at the same place as his previous injury didn't help.
When he’d arrived from London, his leg had been bruised and swollen. That had caused more discomfort than the strain itself. It was understandable considering that a prop weighing over two-hundred-and-sixty pounds lands on him. The strain was borderline grade two, but Doc Summers didn't want to take any chances. He treated it as a full grade two tear until the swelling disappeared. With the inflammation clearing up within a few days, Jakes healed quicker than expected.
Jakes had enough experience dealing with injuries and pain to last him a lifetime. He also had enough experience with self-doubt to know how to deal with it. The sooner he got back on the field, the better.
Since he’d met the Bears players last week, Jakes spent most of his time with them. He realised he could help the squad while he was here. He spoke to Jesse, their captain and when Jakes mentioned that he might start training again, Jesse invited him to train with them.
Jakes had thought it would be an excellent test. Both Michael and Michael’s father, the Buffaloes’ head coach, had agreed. Jakes wouldn't have done it without the doctor's approval, but even Doc Summers agreed.
Now he had to wait another couple of weeks before he could return to full training.
Angie avoided the giant foreigner in the week since she hit him with the trolley like he had the pest. She heard he became friends with her twin brother. She now knew his name was Jakes and that he was South African. Apparently, he was also helping Jesse's team.
Angie tried so hard to avoid any social situations where she could bump into the man that Jesse was getting upset. At least Angie was busy enough to justify her excuses. Between her two jobs and helping Clara with Thomas, Angie didn’t have much free time anyway.
Since nobody had confronted her about Jakes’ injury, Angie relaxed. Jakes apparently told everyone that his injury was due to a freak accident.
The team played a friendly match against one of the local clubs on Saturday afternoon. Angie was busy in the storeroom stacking the trolley. She looked up when she heard Chris’ voice behind her, “Hey Babe, what are you doing?”
Angie frowned as she turned around. Chris never called her Babe. He should know by now she hated it. Angie realised that Chris wasn't talking to her. He didn't stop at the storeroom and she listened as his voice faded away. Angie leaned out of the doorway. She caught a glimpse of him before he disappeared around the corner, talking on his phone.
Who was Babe?
Angie pondered about this development. She suspected that Chris was cheating on her the past few weeks, but she had been so busy that she hadn't even had time to think about it.
No, that wasn’t the truth. She had, as usual, did everything to avoid confrontation but Angie now didn’t have any choice. She had to confront Chris, but today wasn’t the time or place.
When Angie finished her duties, she went to sit above the tunnel leading to the locker rooms. She sat there at every home game, so Chris and Jesse knew where to find her. Her eyes drifted to where the team stood in a circle on the pitch with the coach.
Her eyes widened in surprise because it was Jakes talking to the squad, not the coach. Her gaze slid over him in appreciation. Geez, but the man had a body to die for. He was tall and had a powerful physique with all muscles in proportion. The shirt he wore clung to his chest and arms, and the blue jeans moulded his thigh muscles. He most certainly did not carry an ounce of extra fat.
She heard he was causing a stir amongst the local women supporters. It wasn’t a surprise considering his physique and attractive looks.
Angie remembered the bright moss-green eyes, strong face and the full mouth which didn’t look as if he could smile. And his voice? Oh yes, his tone was rich and deep with a guttural accent…
Angie shook her head, disgusted with herself and turned her eyes to her fiancé, where he stood next to Jakes. There couldn’t be a more significant contrast between the two men. Chris looked almost like a boy compared to the South African. Where Jakes had a tan with dark hair and stubble, Chris was far shorter and slimmer with blond hair, blue eyes, and a clean-shaven face.
The game finally kicked off, and Angie had to concentrate on following the game. The first half flew by and at the end of it, the Bears was in the lead. The players all went off the pitch and disappeared into the tunnel. Jesse grinned up at her and Angie smiled back at her twin brother before he followed the squad. Chris was just behind Jesse, but he didn’t even make an effort to glance at her.
All thoughts of Chris’ behaviour disappeared when Jakes followed the team down the tunnel. For one, or two, maybe three, brief moments, he glanced up and held her eyes without a smile. Angie couldn’t look away. They broke eye contact as he disappeared in the tunnel, and Angie blew out her breath.
“Wow, now that was a potent look,” Clara observed when she sat down next to Angie.
“Hah, rather a dirty look if you asked me,” Angie snorted.
Clara gave her an inquisitive look and Angie realised she might have to come clean. Although still reluctant, Angie told Clara about the trolley incident. She regretted it when Clara couldn’t stifle her giggle.
“It’s not funny,” she glared at Clara. “If you heard how much the guys complained about his ‘freak accident’, you wouldn’t think it’s funny. I wanted to apologise, but he was so angry I’d rather avoid him. I’m now glad that I work in the back instead of serving them.”
Clara grimaced, “Hm, I have my own ideas about that. I thought Chris upset you, but I’m sorry, Sweetie, tonight you have little choice.”
“What do you mean?” Angie asked, confused.
Clara frowned, “Didn’t you look at the schedule? You’re supposed to work with me in the clubhouse tonight.”
“U-ugh,” Angie groaned. “You serious?”
Clara nodded, “I know you don’t like it, we’re two waiters short.”
Angie slumped back in her seat. She knew she wasn’t a good waitress. The only reason she did this was to help Clara. For Clara’s sake, she would grin and bear it tonight.
After the game, Angie tried every trick in the book to avoid Jakes. Not all of them worked. He stood deep in conversation with Jakes when she delivered Jesse’s beer. Jesse grabbed her arm and said, “Angie, may I introduce you to…”
Angie ignored Jakes as she told Jesse abruptly, “I have to go. Speak to you later.”
Angie saw Jesse’s confused expression and she didn’t blame him. She couldn’t be friendly to the man when he had been so rude, but she can’t explain that to Jesse now.
She heard Jesse’s apology to his companion, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what it is with Angie. She’s not usually so offhand.”
Two hours later, Uncle Bob beckoned Angie. She felt wary when she followed him into the office behind the bar. As far as she knew, she had made no mistakes. Bob didn’t hesitate, and as soon as he closed the door behind him, he started speaking. Shocked, Angie could only stare at him when he finished, “You’re firing me? Why?” she asked, confused, “What did I do?”
Bob looked uncomfortable, “I’m sorry, Angie, but I already gave you your last warning. Management heard you hurt someone. The man is both a patient at the rehab centre and helping the club. They asked that I replace you. As I have nothing else for you… I have to let you go.”
“Did he…?” Angie stopped. Of course, the big brute complained. He probably told everyone now what happened.
The… the… Angie couldn’t think of a word to describe the man and what he did to justify what she was feeling now.
She took the envelope from Uncle Bob in silence. She wouldn’t grovel for this job. She had to make another plan. She grimaced, “I guess you want me to leave now?” she asked.
Bob nodded, “Yes, I’m sorry, Angie.”
Angie didn’t reply. She left to pick up her bag in the staff room next to the kitchen. She didn’t leave, though.
Maybe she should’ve thought about it more carefully, but she was too angry. On the way to the door, Angie picked up a pitcher with ice water and stalked to where Jakes was sitting with Jesse, Chris and a few others.
Angie heard Jesse asking his companions if they wanted more beer, and they all turned to her to order. Even Jakes lifted his head to look at her. Angie couldn’t place the look he gave her. Was it guilt or embarrassment? Well, it didn’t matter anymore. He got what he wanted.
His voice sounded completely different from the other times he spoke to her. If she hadn’t been so angry, her mouth would’ve dropped open, but he would not fool her. She hissed, “You can fetch your own beer. I have something else for you.”
Angie lifted the jug and poured the ice-cold water over his head. Her brother and his friends protested in shock as Jakes inhaled in shock. Angie dumped the pitcher on the table, turned and left the clubhouse, suddenly calm. The place was quiet apart from the South African’s muttering and her brother’s protests. Angie didn’t care what they thought. She felt so much better for it.
It might not have been fair to Jakes. He wasn’t the only one who caused this rebellion. She should’ve saved some of the water for Chris. He might need it to cool down another part of his anatomy.
Jakes didn’t know what he’d done to make the woman so angry, but he didn’t care anymore. She’d caused him enough damage already.
“What did you do to my sister to make her so angry?” Jesse asked as he pulled a clean towel from his sports bag and handed it to Jakes.
Confused about Jesse’s comment, Jakes rubbed his head and shirt as dry as he could. He had no idea who Jesse was referring to. “Your sister?”
“Angie?” Jesse explained. “The one who poured a jug of water over your head?”
Jakes stared at Jesse. “She’s your sister?”
He didn’t expect that, but now that he thought about it, Jesse had looked familiar the first time they met. When Jesse nodded, Jakes sighed, “Hell, I had done nothing. I should be angry. She was the one who damaged my leg again last week. The first time I saw her, she spilled water on me in the restaurant. I don’t know why she’s angry.”
The other men at the table glanced at each other. To Jakes’ shock, they burst out laughing.
“What the hell?” he exclaimed, standing up. “I can’t see what’s so funny,” he grunted while he threw money on the table.
“Just keep your sister away from me,” he said to Jesse before he hobbled away as fast as he could.
It was freezing cold. He was away from home, and somehow, he got on the wrong side of the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was engaged to the biggest asshole on the team. That gave Jakes enough warning signals.
Even though he tried his best, Jakes still couldn’t understand why Angie was so angry with him. Was it because he was so rude that first night? He would’ve apologised a long time ago if he had an opportunity. The only time he saw him was the time she bumped into him with the trolley and again last night. When must he have apologised?
Getting into bed, Jakes realised his pep talk didn’t help. He still thought the blue-eyed woman was beautiful, but the fact that she had a fiancé was enough reason for Jakes to stay away. That, together with the list of other reasons, told him why he shouldn’t even think about her.
It didn’t help, though. He still dreamed of Angie, as he had every night the past week.
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