Playing by the Rules: A Playing for Glory Romance
Ulrich Fölscher wants to play rugby for the Buffaloes and the Springboks and eventually become the best chef in town. In that order. There is no place for romance in his life. Obeying Coach Brady’s command is easy until he meets his daughter Samantha. She is everything he needs – warm, bubbly – and possibly, the missing ingredient he lacks to spice up his life.
Sammy is a professional athlete, and she too knows the rules. But it is hard to resist Ulrich’s quiet strength, focused determination and, most of all, his delectable kisses.
Both know how to fight for what they want. But as their desire for each other intensifies, so does the pressure to make a choice. Can Ulrich and Sammy continue to play by the rules or risk it all for love?
Release date: May 13, 2019
Publisher: Francine Beaton
Print pages: 133
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Playing by the Rules: A Playing for Glory Romance
Ulrich glanced at his wristwatch for the umpteenth time while he trotted back to his car. If he hurried, he might make it in time for afternoon practice. Getting near the spot where he left the vehicle three hours ago, he raised his hand to press the remote control to open it, but stopped in his tracks. He cursed under his breath as he observed the woman who leaned against his car.
Damn! It was the third time it happened in the two weeks since he joined the Buffaloes. He appreciated the sponsored car, but hell, if this happens frequently, he had to bite the bullet and buy another vehicle. To hell with the sponsors.
It was a magnet to desperate women who assumed he might fall for their skimpy clothes and come-hither eyes. They didn’t know him. He’s the last guy in the squad who would fall for their feminine guiles.
Not that he had anything against women. He liked them. They are lovely and delicate and charming, but they didn’t form part of his plans yet.
He had three dreams for his future: One, become a Springbok. That’s why he signed with the Buffaloes, Pretoria’s second-biggest professional rugby team.
Number two to be the finest Italian chef in the country and open his restaurant. Only then would he consider falling in love, getting married and start a family. That’s it, not before that.
If he wished to accomplish the first goal, he had to get his ass back to training. Coach Brady hate latecomers, and so did Ulrich. If he were late, it would be this woman’s fault.
He scowled at the girl who had an identical expression. A sudden heat surged through his body when he looked closer to evaluate her appearance. She didn’t look like the usual sideline groupies with too much makeup and not enough imagination.
This one was different. She looked fresh and athletic if he had to judge those endlessly long legs. His gaze travelled down the length, taking in the expensive trainers and up again to admire the golden tanned and toned legs.
Unlike the groupies, she wore a dark green tank top and training shorts and a jacket with gold piping. Her golden-blonde hair hangs in a plait over her left shoulder, allowing him a clear view of her face, sporting a similar golden tan as her legs.
She raised her wrist to peer at her watch and fumbled with her phone. Her shoulders fell the same time as she breathed a huge sigh, eliciting a grin from him.
That was, until she pulled in her bottom lip, nibbling it with even white teeth.
Holy crap. That heat he felt a minute ago? That was nothing against the inferno burning like wildfire through his body now. It scared the hell out of him. Never in his life had he experienced something like that.
His imagination ran overtime, thinking about what he would love to do to that bottom lip. It was so real he could feel his tongue moving over her lip, discovering the seam, sucking it between his teeth, and…
Geez, Fölscher. Get your mind out of the gutter!
She peered up and noticed him. His pulse picked up a notch when she slew him with a wide, welcoming smile, “Oh, thank goodness. I thought you’re never coming to fetch your car and then I would’ve been in a pickle.”
Gold. That’s the first impression flying through his mind when he gawked at her like an idiot. He couldn’t get a sound out. His brain instructed him to wander across to where she waited, his key fob still clutched in one fist while he grasped his phone in the other, but his legs were sluggish to follow the order.
The impression of gold increased as he went closer. Golden hair, golden skin, and eyes he guessed were brown, revealed tiny golden specks playing hide and seek, catching the sun. She sparkled with vivacity, enthusiasm and something the French called joie de vivre. Yes, that’s an apt description.
She dazzled him, scaring the crap out of him. That might be why he simply stared at her. It might also be possible that the harsh sunlight was frying his brain, stopping him from getting into his car and drive away. That would be the wise thing to do. But no, he stopped in front of her, so close he inhaled in the pure, sweet fragrance of her perfume. If he closed his eyes, he imagined strolling into a fragrant garden, bursting with life and vitality.
Her sculpted eyebrows, like the ridiculously long lashes, were a deeper brown than her hair. Small upturned nose above a laughing mouth, exposing even white teeth and a little dimple on each side, completed the picture.
The smile and dimples disappeared. Ulrich returned his gaze to her eyes. Surprise, curiosity and interest flitted over her features as her eyes roamed over him. Another heatwave surged through him.
Geez, he was in so much trouble. Or he would be if he didn’t get into his car this minute and get the hell out of Dodge.
The trouble wouldn’t be because he was late for training. No, if this woman could wake up his dormant libido with one smile, she could just as easily mess up his plans for the future. He shouldn’t give in to the urge to get to know her better.
He crossed his arms across his chest and steeled his features. Hell, he was turning into a pro doing that since he arrived in Pretoria. He never expected women to hunt him when he signed for the Buffaloes. When he played in London, rugby players were a dime a dozen and anyway not the attraction. The sports groupies hunted the higher-paid footballers. He didn’t have an issue with it. It meant they left him alone.
Today it took more effort because his thoughts strayed. He glared at her. At last, he managed, “Can I help you?”
Sammy’s heart fluttered as she appreciated the fine specimen standing in front of her. Fine? Hah, that was way too lame a term to describe him. He was gorgeous from the top of his short, spiky black hair to the designer sneakers. The charcoal grey t-shirt looked too tight to contain the expansive chest and muscled arms. The jeans suffered an identical dilemma as the t-shirt.
She swallowed the drool as her gaze returned to his unsmiling face, only to get lost in his eyes as blue as the ocean. He sounded annoyed, but his eyes remained as calm as the sea on a windless day. He couldn’t hide his grumpiness, but it didn’t matter. He was still one of the most attractive men she’d ever seen. How would he look when he smiled?
His harsh words interrupted those thoughts. “Can I help you?”
She babbled. Obviously! Sammy did that when she was nervous, and this man made her feel uneasy. Not nervous as when you’re scared. No, it was more like when you know something exciting was about to happen, and you didn’t have a clue how it would turn out.
“Yes, please. My phone’s battery is dead, and so is my car’s. I must have left the lights on.”
Heat spread across her cheeks as she went on without drawing a breath, “I do it often. I know, don’t say it. My dad says I’m scatterbrained, and if my brothers want to irritate me, they say it is my blonde genes coming out strongly. Anyway, I need to contact my dad to get the recovery people, unless you have jumper cables. I should’ve invested in some since I’m constantly doing that.”
She finally got to the reason she accosted him, “May I use your phone to contact my father, please?”
His mouth fell open as he gawked at her. It wouldn’t surprise her if he thought she was a madwoman. She sounded like one. When she finished, he took a deep breath, most probably on her behalf as he waved his palm in a gesture for her to slow down. The embarrassment disappeared when he spoke, but Sammy didn’t hear half of it. How could she focus on words when the sound was so distracting?
“Okay, okay, slow down. I’m sorry. I don’t have jumper cables.”
Oh, my word!
That was all flitting through Sammy’s lustful mind. If she thought he was attractive before, his voice added that something extra. She wouldn’t mind listening to that smooth baritones the whole time.
This time he sounded embarrassed when he conceded, “Well, I don’t think so. I picked up the car recently.”
He frowned, stared at the phone in his hand and with a resigned expression, he unlocked it before he handed it over.
Sammy was so relieved she could’ve kissed him. She squashed the desire and instead grinned at him.
He looked at her as if he was stunned, but he spun away to unlock his car. What went through his mind? What was he thinking?
Sammy studied his profile, noting the firm jawline accentuated by his five-o’clock shadow before she pulled her eyes from the strong face. She peered down at the state-of-the-art phone and dialled her father’s number, praying that he had his phone with him. She was cutting it fine. Her dad’s rapid breathing when he answered was an indication he was on his way somewhere, which might be the training pitch.
When he grunted, “Fölscher, I expect you have a good excuse for being late,” Sammy smiled relieved that she caught him before he became too busy. He couldn’t see her smile, but it made her feel more confident. “Hi Daddy, it’s me, Sammy.”
Her father remained silent for a minute before he demanded, “What are you doing with Fölscher’s phone? How many times have I told you not to speak to strangers? For goodness’ sake, Samantha, you are twenty-three. You should know better by now.”
Sammy flashed a flustered smile to Ulrich who was listening to the one-sided conversation before she answered, “Yes, Daddy, but he’s not a stranger. I know I haven’t met him, but his name was on his car, and you know…”
“Why are you using his phone?” her father muttered.
“I’m sorry, Daddy. I had to use his phone because mine’s dead. And my car’s battery too,” she stammered. She knew what was coming—another lecture.
She heard her father’s heartfelt sigh as he scolded, “Not again, Samantha! You need to be more attentive.”
Sammy mumbled, “Yes, Daddy, I know. I’m sorry. I’ll try, I promise, Daddy.”
She gave Ulrich an ashamed grin as she recited the address to her father. He muttered, “I’ll contact the garage now. Tell Fölscher to wait until the garage arrives. He has to make certain you get home safely if he knows what’s good for him.”
“Thanks, Daddy, you’re the best,” Sammy mumbled. “I’ll tell him. Love you, Daddy.”
She handed Ulrich’s phone back to him with a grin, “Thank you, I appreciate it. My dad says you must stay here with me until the garage arrives and to make sure I get home safely.”
Ulrich gaped at her as he reached for his phone. What the hell? Who the hell does her dad think he was to give him orders like this? Geez, he did her a favour by lending her his phone, but he had a life too. And it was a life not worth living if he was late. He glanced at his watch, knowing he was late. He glowered, “Pardon? Your dad says?! Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like leaving you stranded, but I’m late for training.”
She blinked at him, confused. She was a beautiful woman, and probably not used to people saying no to her. Hell, he listened to that discussion. She had her father wrapped around her little finger, but Ulrich needed to be firm.
She shook her head, “But I told you that my dad said you must wait. It will be okay if you’re late.”
Ulrich suddenly had an uneasy feeling. He peered down at his phone and pressed the call log. Yes, just as he feared. His last outgoing call was to coach Brady and he sure as hell never contacted his new coach. That meant one thing. The woman facing him, the one who had tempted him to beg her for a date, was coach Tom Brady’s only daughter. Hell, he heard about her. Coach gave him and the other new players the same lecture on their arrival at the Buffaloes Stadium: If you know what’s good for you and your career, stay away from my daughter.
To confirm there was no way in hell he could ask her now, he urged, “Your father is coach Brady?”
She grinned broadly, and the effect hit him in the solar plexus. Her expression changed in a matter of seconds. Consternation flitted over her face as she exclaimed, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t introduce myself, and you wouldn’t know who I am. I haven’t been to the stadium this season yet. I’m Samantha Brady or Sammy as my friends call me.”
She held out her hand and Ulrich had no choice but to return the courtesy, “Ulrich Fölscher, but you know that already.”
His eyes narrowed, “Your dad has a picture of you on his desk, but you look much younger.”
She smiled impishly, “Yeah. It’s an old photo, taken when I was at school. We always nag my dad to get a new one, but he maintains he loves that one because we were still young and innocent and didn’t give him such a hard time. According to him, I’m the source of all his grey hair.”
Ulrich realised he was still gripping her hand and released it in a flash. A flush spread over his cheekbones. “Your dad tells us we’re the reason he had so many grey hairs, so don’t let him deceive you.”
She laughed at that, “I know, but my Dad is a sweetheart. He pretends to be tough.”
Ulrich snorted. That wasn’t exactly how he would describe the head coach of the Buffaloes. He still had to see the charming side of the man. A stern taskmaster, yes, but that didn’t bother Ulrich. He wasn’t scared of hard work. He was only scared of failure.
Ulrich didn’t know Pretoria well, and he didn’t have to drive much apart from going to the supermarket, but he could imagine that the traffic would soon hit its peak. It might take a while for the garage to show up. The sun was still baking down, and it would be much cooler in the car.
He had made peace with the fact he would not make it to training now. They might as well wait in comfort. He turned to Sammy and offered, “Would you like to wait in the car? I have a phone charger so you can charge your phone.”
“Yes, that would be awesome, thank you,” she grinned. “If I can charge my phone I’ll be forever grateful. I need to go to training, and if the repair shop can’t jumpstart my car, I may have to order a taxi. That may be a possibility because this is the third time since I came back that I pulled the dizzy blond trick on myself.”
Ulrich opened the door for her. While he waited for her to get in, he admired the firmness of her legs and backside. His body stirred, and he turned to stroll to the driver’s side. He took his time, breathing in and out to cool his sudden out-of-control libido. That was unexpected although… He’d always been a leg, and ass man and Sammy’s were incredibly tempting. Not only that, she was stunning, charming and he had a suspicion that if it wasn’t for one teensy, tiny obstacle, she could be a woman that would tick all the boxes for him.
If he had to tell the truth, the obstacle wasn’t as insignificant as he chose to make it. It was enormous, and Ulrich couldn’t ignore the fact. She was his coach’s daughter, and he should stay the hell away from her. He knew the rules.
An hour later, Ulrich accepted he made a mistake. Sitting in the close confinement of the car hadn’t been his best idea. That secret garden he thought he smelled earlier when he inhaled the soft fragrance of her perfume, now surrounded him.
Though he knew there was no future, she did with him precisely what she had with her dad. She had wrapped him around her finger, and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. Every word, every smile, every slight nuance in her voice further enslaved him.
The longer he listened to her monologue, the further he fell under her spell. Because yes, a monologue was the only way to describe the conversation they had. After an initial question or two, which he answered, and thanking him for plugging her phone in the charger, she talked. Non-stop. He thought it would irritate him, as he was so used to silence when he was growing up, but somehow she captivated him even more.
When she spoke, he could observe her, and he appreciated what he saw. Her face lit up, and you could swear she was Italian in the manner she used her hands, gesturing wildly as she made her point. He loved the dimples appearing every time she smiled, which happened often.
He must’ve stared too closely because she paused abruptly and stared at him in consternation. Her hands flew up to cover her now flushed cheeks as she exclaimed, “Oh no! I’ve been talking non-stop, haven’t I?”
Ulrich nodded, amused at her embarrassment.
She mumbled, “I’m very sorry.”
Ulrich reassured her, “Don’t fret. I prefer listening to you. I’m not much of a talker, so it’s great you are. It could’ve been uncomfortable if we had to sit here in silence, waiting for the tow-truck.”
Sammy grinned, “My brothers may disagree, but I can be silent too. And I’m a great listener.”
Ulrich laughed. He doubted that, but he wasn’t telling her. He simply replied, “That’s great to know.”
“I’ll prove it,” she responded, raising her chin slightly. “Tell me more about yourself. I presume you’re still studying as you were here at the enrolment office.”
“I am. I require two more subjects to complete my degree in Business Studies. And you?”
“I have a degree in sports coaching and officiating. This year I’m studying for a teaching diploma. It helps when you wish to coach at junior levels.”
“You said earlier you still have training. What sports do you participate in?”
The way she watched him, Ulrich wondered if he made a faux pas. Was he expected to know? Satisfied that he didn’t know, she answered, “Netball.”
Ulrich nodded as if he knew what they were talking about, “Whom are you playing for?”
This time she did stare at him. She raised her tracksuit jacket with a slow movement. Ulrich flushed when he recognised the logo of the national team on it.
Nice going, Fölscher. If that wasn’t making an idiot of yourself, nothing was.
Ulrich must admit that the jacket had simply been an accessory to him. He had been too absorbed taking in her beauty and those golden legs to notice her jacket.
“O-o-okay,” he grinned. “That was making an ass of myself, wasn’t it?”
Sammy laughed, obviously enjoying his embarrassment. Ulrich splayed his palms, “You can’t blame a guy not looking at your jacket if he can watch your le…”
Ulrich stopped. He thrust his hand in his hair and stared out of the window. Geez, what was he doing? Coach’s daughter, remember? The last woman he should consider flirting with.
And that was flirting. Even he recognised that.
Sammy’s laugh filled the truck. Ulrich looked back at her, catching the merriment twinkling in her eyes. She managed to say, “You’re cute when you’re embarrassed, but you don’t have to be. I take it as a compliment.”
Ulrich acknowledged that and ruefully smiled when Sammy queried, “I take it you don’t know much about netball?”
Ulrich shook his head, “No, I was in an all-boys’ school, and I don’t have any sisters. I left the country when I was eighteen. I never had an opportunity to meet any netball players.”
“Well, even if you had lived here, you might not have recognised me. Netball is not as high-profile as rugby and cricket.”
“I may make another fool of myself, but what position are you playing?”
“Centre,” she replied and pointed out with a laugh, “Hey, aren’t you also playing centre?”
Ulrich nodded, “I am.”
“So we’re playing the same position, just in different sports.”
He grinned, “Yes, we are,” which surprised him.
“But my dad mentioned you also play winger, don’t you? Which one is your favourite position?”
“Definitely centre, but I’ll play anywhere they select me, even fullback or fly-half. Okay, not scrum-half or in the scrum. I realise it will not be easy to get into my favourite position because the competition is fierce between the centres, but I’m going to give it my best.”
Before she could respond, the tow truck arrived in the parking lot. Ulrich turned towards her, regretting that the time he spent with her will be ending soon. It was a foolish thought. She was still Coach’s daughter. It’s a universal rule that you never date your coach’s daughter unless you wish to find yourself in rugby hell.
No, he can’t consider thinking about this woman. He had worked too hard to get where he wanted to be.
Ulrich opened the door. “The tow truck is here,” he said, getting out as soon as he could. The coach said to stick around until the tow truck arrives and that is what he would do. When Sammy leaves, he was out of here. He couldn’t risk spending much longer with this woman. It would be easy to fall for Sammy. Hell, he spoke more to her than he had to any woman for the last four years.
Before Ulrich could open the door for her, she jumped out and strode towards the tow-truck. Maybe that was for the best.
When the driver noticed her, he shook his head, “Miss, you again?”
Sammy flushed, “Yeah, I’m sorry.”
Ulrich smiled. She didn’t lie about her absent-mindedness if the tow-truck driver recognised her.
“Let us see if we can jumpstart your car. By the rate you’re going, Miss, you may need to put my number on speed-dial.”
The driver connected the jumper cables to Sammy’s car, but after several minutes, he admitted defeat. “Sorry, Miss, your battery is a goner. I don’t have a spare and will have to take it in. You need a ride?”
“I…” Sammy started, but before she could go on, Ulrich replied, “No, that’s fine. I’ll drive you, Sammy.”
The driver glanced at him curiously, noticing his car and back to Sammy, his eyebrows raised. Sammy flushed, “Are you sure, Ulrich? I don’t want to take up more of your time.”
He snorted. “Do you expect me to leave Coach’s daughter stranded? No way! I’m too young to die.”
Amusement lit her face. “We don’t want you to die yet, so I’ll accept your offer. I’ll tell my dad you were an absolute gentleman.”
Ulrich blushed, recalling the very ungentlemanly thoughts he had earlier.
The driver told Sammy to collect her belongings while he turned his truck. Ulrich took her bag when she removed it from the trunk of her car. Before he could say more, his phone rang, and when he saw it was his coach, he answered promptly. Sammy was, as he had earlier, listening to the conversation while Ulrich dealt with Coach’s queries and orders. “Yes, Coach. Just now, Coach. No, Coach, of course not. Yes, Coach. I promise, Coach. Okay, Coach.”
Tom Brady didn’t give him a chance to say goodbye. Ulrich stared at his phone before he glanced at Sammy. His face flushed with embarrassment but also with resentment. He stared at Sammy and muttered, “Geez, I knew your dad was difficult, but he’s like a steamroller. I could barely get a word in. I now know where you get it from.”
Sammy laughed, “So, what did he say? I didn’t pick much up from your brief answers.”
Ulrich rubbed his hand through his hair, “You sure you want to hear?”
She nodded, and Ulrich relayed the brief conversation he had with her father. His anger simmered when he relayed the phone call. “Apart from mentioning that the tow-truck showed up, he warned me that I should under no circumstances touch you or flirt with you. I had to ensure you get to training and home. I had to promise I won’t do anything I’ll regret. He added he’d find out.”
Sammy sounded annoyed when she muttered, “He didn’t!”
Ulrich scowled, “I promise you he did. Hell, he didn’t have to remind me. I wouldn’t have done it, but…”
As Sammy listened to his words, disappointment washed through her. She had to admit that she would’ve loved to get to know Ulrich better. Not only was he good looking, but he had this quiet strength that made him more attractive. And his voice? She could listen to him the whole day. She would remain silent just to listen to him.
Consternation flashed over his face when he realised what he said. He immediately apologised, “Sorry, Sammy, that’s not what I meant. Hell, I…”
He looked away briefly before he looked at her. Sammy understood the words, saw the sincerity in his eyes, and she knew it would not happen. He looked like a man with too much integrity. He would play by the rules even if it hurts him. Sammy also knew her father, but she didn’t like the finality in Ulrich’s speech. “Don’t get me wrong. It is… Every player knows you can’t become involved with your coach’s daughter. Not if you value your career.”
Ulrich rubbed his palms over his glowing cheeks. “Sammy, you’re a wonderful woman. If you were not Coach’s daughter, I would’ve liked… Damn, ignore it.”
He pivoted and stalked back to his truck. Sammy watched as he put her bag on the rear seat. He inhaled deeply before he got into the truck, leaning his head against the headrest in such a way that Sammy felt sorry for him.
She signed the documents for her car’s removal and slowly walked back to Ulrich’s car. She didn’t like it, but it was what it was. Whatever they decided now, she hoped they’d never regret it.
With a sigh, she opened the door and got in. She closed her eyes briefly before she turned to him. She put her hand on his arm, “Ulrich, I like you, and I would’ve liked to get to know you better, but I know my Dad, and I don’t want to cause problems for you.”
He looked up to meet her eyes. For a few moments, they stared at each other before he turned the key in the ignition. Sammy didn’t have to speculate how he felt. She could see the same regret in his eyes.
“Where do you have to be?” he inquired on a sigh.
“The University sports grounds. Do you know where it is?”
“No, I’ll need directions.”
They didn’t speak apart from Sammy’s directions. When he parked outside the Rautenbach Hall, Sammy got out before Ulrich did. He grabbed her bag from behind his seat and walked around to hand it over to her.
Sammy stood before him, clutching her bag in front of her before she did something foolish like grabbing him. It was incredibly tempting.
She exhaled once before she answered, “Thank you for sticking around and bringing me here. I appreciate it.”
He frowned but before he could reply, Sammy said quickly, “I’ll tell my Dad you were incredibly helpful and you behaved yourself. Thank you again. I’ll see you around.”
Sammy turned, now keen to get away, but Ulrich stopped her, “I’ll wait.”
“You don’t have to. I’ll catch a ride or a taxi.”
He shook his head.
“Ulrich, it’s a two-hour training session. I can’t expect you to wait for me.”
His eyes narrowed, and his jaw tensed noticeably. “Sammy, I promised your dad I’ll make certain you get home safely. I’ll stick around.”
She opened her mouth to argue, but his set face warned her it wouldn’t help to argue. Sammy’s shoulders slumped. His lips twitched, but he remained quiet, waiting for her to say something, but all the fight had left her. If she had to tell the truth, she was thrilled that she could spend more time with him.
She grinned, “Don’t say I haven’t warned you. Come inside. You can watch us train. Who knows, you may pick up something.”
Ulrich smiled fully for the first time, and Sammy caught her breath. Wow, if she thought he was attractive before, he was now devastating. If he could bottle that smile and sell it, he would make millions.
That’s it, she concluded. There was no doubt that Ulrich was the most handsome man she’d ever seen.
“Don’t let your father hear you say that,” he suggested. He opened the rear door to rummage in his gear bag to grab his tablet. Sammy turned away before he could see the drool dripping down her chin. Inside she waved to the benches next to the netball court, “Make yourself at home. We’ll be out in a short while.”
Before she disappeared into the changing rooms, she glanced to where Ulrich had selected a seat in the back row. Although he had the tablet in his hand, he didn’t study it. He was still watching her.
Ulrich stretched his back against the wall while he followed Sammy’s progress. Before she disappeared through the door leading to the changing rooms, she turned to glance at him. For several seconds they stared at each other before she swung away. Ulrich closed his eyes and released the breath he’d been holding. This was too intense. Also, it was too soon.
He took a couple of deep breaths before he opened his eyes. He looked down at his tablet, willing his mind to concentrate on anything other than Sammy Brady. With sheer willpower, he turned on his tablet and opened the blog post he started to revise earlier. He might as well take the opportunity.
He never expected creating a blog would be such hard work. Sometimes he wondered why he created it in the first place, but his mentor in London advised him that if you wanted to get ahead in the game, you need to use all the tools at your disposal. His tested techniques were starting to pay off. Now, scarcely two months after he created it, he had more than two thousand followers. People asked questions and advice. He was getting his name out there, and one day, when he was ready for dream two, he would have established a following.
Female voices suddenly filled the air. Ulrich looked up and noticed the players had appeared. Soon he forgot about his tablet and the blog as he watched the coach put them through their warm-ups. When they huddled in the middle of the court, greedily accepting the bottles of water from an assistant, an hour had gone by without him noticing it.
When the group broke up to take their positions on the court, Sammy glanced up at Ulrich and smiled.
Ulrich smiled back, and suddenly his heart plunged. The realisation struck him like a brick. He was in trouble. He’d known Sammy Brady only a few hours, but she captivated him.
He had one night. No, not even a night. An hour or two at the most, then he had to say goodbye and forget about the long-legged beauty with the golden-brown eyes. He dreaded it but had no alternative. He had to treasure this one opportunity.
How did she manage to draw him out of his shell in just a few hours?
Ulrich observed the interaction with her teammates. She had an easy manner with people. It was the same way she was with him. Sweet. Spontaneous. Funny, if he had to judge by the way she had her teammates in stitches.
He hadn’t a clue what they were doing, but that she was good was very obvious. She was fit, agile and energetic. With an effort, he pulled his gaze from her and focused on his blog, but it didn’t help. He couldn’t concentrate as he was still thinking of Sammy. Ulrich didn’t notice when the players finished training.
He flushed when he heard someone call his name to find Sammy standing in front of him, waving her hand. She had showered and was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Her hair was still damp and now hanging loosely over her shoulders.
He swallowed hard.
Hell, she was stunning as her eyes crinkled, and the dimples make their appearance.
He gripped the tablet tighter in his hands before he rose to meet her. He held out his hand for her bag, missing the curious glances of her friends. He was too aware of the pure, sweet smell emanating from her, now more noticeable than earlier. Grateful for the cover of darkness, he led her to his truck.
Sammy had ample time to think during her shower. Maybe she should’ve thought about it more or had a cold shower to revive all her brain cells, but she had made a decision.
One chance. One evening. That’s all she wanted. She needed to know if the spark they felt earlier was real and not a figment of her imagination.
One night. Her dad wouldn’t begrudge her that, would he? He didn’t have to know. She wouldn’t tell him, and Sammy was convinced Ulrich wouldn’t volunteer that information.
That was if he agreed. Sammy folded her hands in her lap to stop them from shivering. It was nerves, but when he asked, “Could you give me directions to your apartment?” she had her chance.
“I could, but I wondered… I’m hungry, and you also haven’t had supper yet. I don’t have much in my fridge. Would you like to have dinner before you take me home?”
All she desired was a chance to spend a little more time with him.
When the relief flitted over his features, she knew he felt the same. Did he also want to prolong the time they had together? The expressions flitting across his face showed concern about the wisdom of taking the chance, but to her relief, he nodded, “Yes, I’d like that.”
Sammy exhaled a bit louder than she should’ve. Luckily Ulrich didn’t remark on it. His hand reached for the ignition as he muttered, “Point me in the right direction.”
There was a small Italian restaurant between LC de Villiers and her apartment. It was one of her favourite places and it, being a Monday evening, wouldn’t be busy. It was not long before they parked in front of the restaurant. This time Sammy waited for Ulrich to open the door for her.
The proprietor greeted Sammy like family. Well, she was like family. She’d been to school with his daughter and had served here while she studied. The last couple of years, however, she didn’t have enough time as studies and netball consumed her life.
When asked where she wished to sit, Sammy chose the courtyard. It always seemed romantic to her. Not that she would tell Ulrich that, but she loved the fairy lights in the trees and the old-fashioned oil lamps on the tables. The tables were far enough from each other so your neighbour couldn’t overhear your conversation.
When they were seated, Sammy saw that Ulrich was studying the décor intensely. When she called his name, he practically jumped and gave her a flustered grin, “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“It looks like the décor fascinates you,” Sammy grinned.
“Yeah, it reminds me of the restaurant my hosts had in Italy.”
“Do you miss Italy?” she asked.
“I do. That’s where I discovered my passion for food and where I learned… It doesn’t matter.”
His body language gave away that he realised he spoke more than he wished. Sammy was now curious and probed, “I’m curious now. What did you pick up in Italy?”
The waiter served their drinks order, interrupting their discussion. When he disappeared, Ulrich still hadn’t answered her and Sammy reassured him, “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
He shook his head slowly before he conceded, “It’s not that I don’t want to answer. I’ve never discussed it with many people apart from my parents. It might someday come out but not yet.”
“What is it?”
Ulrich had a gulp of the sparkling water he ordered before he stared back at her. “I mentioned earlier I left South Africa when I was eighteen?”
When Sammy nodded, Ulrich continued, “I moved to Treviso to play rugby. I lived with a host family who had a restaurant. I picked up so much living with them. That was when I fell in love with food and cooking. I played there for two years before I moved to France. At that stage, I thought I’ll do something with languages when I hang up my boots as I always had a knack for it. I had German at school, and I can also speak Italian and French, apart from English and Afrikaans. I never dreamed that just being in Italy would plant the seeds of a different career. While I studied French, I picked up their style of cooking. I never looked back. After my two years in France, I signed a contract to play in London so I could attend the London Chef Academy. I’m a trained chef.”
Geez, what couldn’t he do? A guy who could cook was like a dream come true for someone like Sammy. She was hopeless in the kitchen. She promised herself that one day she would learn. That one day had never arrived. Or not yet anyway
“Wow! I’m impressed. It must’ve been tough to study and play rugby?” Sammy suggested.
“It wasn’t easy, but then, nothing in life is. If you want it enough, you’re prepared to make sacrifices,” he agreed.
“So, what are your plans for the future?” she asked, curious to find out as much about him as she could. It’s not as if she would have another opportunity.
Ulrich flushed, “You mean after I become a Springbok? Or do you mean after I quit rugby?”
“A man with dreams. I like that,” and clarified, “After you quit rugby.”
“You won’t laugh?”
He looked so embarrassed that Sammy hastened to reassure him, “No, why should I?”
Ulrich glanced away quickly before he explained, “When I mentioned it before, some people laughed at me, telling me I’m dreaming too big. That’s why I don’t talk about it. My teammates don’t know, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“I won’t share your secrets, Ulrich. Remember, tonight never took place.”
He exhaled as regret reflected in his eyes, “You’re right. Tonight had never taken place.”
Without them ordering their dinner, food appeared at the table. Sammy explained that every time she came here, the chef selected a variety of dishes for her to try out. “I hope you don’t mind. If you wanted something else…”
“No, of course not. This is a good idea. I can never choose what I want to eat first. Now I don’t have to choose,” Ulrich chuckled.
The rich tone of his laugh was as seductive as his voice. Sammy shivered. Yeah, seductive he was. She pulled herself together to concentrate on what he was saying.
It was amazing. Throughout the meal they chatted, hopping from one subject to another. Not once was there an awkward silence, which surprised Sammy.
When Sammy met Ulrich earlier today, she thought he was an introvert. You wouldn’t say that if you listen to him now. Without thought, she blurted that out.
Ulrich waited before he answered, “Yeah, that’s true. I’m an introvert but with you... I’ve never spoken to anyone like this. You make me relax. I should be careful. You make me spill all my secrets,” he added with a wry smile.
“Oh, I’m sure there’s more you haven’t told me. I may be nosy, but why do you think you’re an introvert?”
“Not think, Sammy. I know I am. I’ve always been. There’s nothing tragic or sinister about it. If you need to analyse it, you might connect it to my childhood, but I don’t think that is it. I suppose I take after my dad. Circumstances might’ve further established it, but that’s it.”
“What do you mean? What circumstances?”
“You won’t let go, will you?” Ulrich smiled.
Sammy shook her head with an unrepentant grin, “I warned you I’m inquisitive.”
“Okay,” he relented. “As I’ve mentioned, I’m the only child of two only children. I have no siblings or cousins. My parents were in their thirties when I showed up, which came as a complete shock to them. To complicate matters, my mum is deaf, and my dad a workaholic. When he was at work, the house was silent. I learned to speak when needed. I never worried about it. That was the way it is.”
“Wow. I can’t imagine that. I have three brothers, and they are noisy as hell. They always had their friends over. It was crazy in our home,” Sammy laughed. “I often fled to our neighbours to find peace.”
She said thoughtfully, “But you know, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My brothers can be a pain sometimes, being as over-protective as my dad.”
“I can imagine,” Ulrich admitted. When he glanced down at his watch, Sammy did the same. It was almost time for the restaurant to close for the night.
Sammy gasped, “Oh my goodness. I’m very sorry. I thought it would be a quick dinner, and now I took over your whole evening.”
Sammy felt the warmth as his fingers skimmed over her wrist. It was so fleeting she thought she imagined it, but she knew it was there. Sammy appreciated his simple gesture to reassure her, accompanied by the words, “I’m not complaining, Sammy. I had a wonderful evening, but I don’t need your father to show up searching for me when you’re not at home.”
Sammy harrumphed. Talking about her dad was a reminder that this was the only occasion she could spend with Ulrich. She didn’t want to think about it.
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