Wrecking Ball: A Playing for Glory Romance
When Richie Campbell arrives in Pretoria, he has a reputation a mile long. After yet another brawl with a member of the British press, the Flying Scotsman has no choice but to leave — there's no longer a place for him in the national team. Richie hopes to find peace and the ability to enjoy his rugby again on the other side of the world. What he did not expect was to meet and fall hard for his Scottish teammate's `sister. Not that it matters. Sarah Mackay appears immune to his best efforts.
Sarah has two rules. One: never date a client. Two: never date a professional sportsman. They have way too much testosterone. She should know; she's been on the receiving end twice. Sarah adds one more nickname to Richie's repertoire: Wrecking Ball. Getting involved with him spells disaster. But for how long can Sarah resist his charm, especially when she discovers his secret? And was Richie's Nan right? Do things happen for a reason?
Release date: October 29, 2020
Publisher: Francine Beaton
Print pages: 324
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Behind the book
Playing for Glory is where Rugby and Romance meet. Rugby players are strong and tough - both mentally and physically. Or are they? Wrecking Ball is the 6th book in the series.
Wrecking Ball: A Playing for Glory Romance
Richie glared at the paper lying on the table in front of him. His instinct was to grab it, bunch it up or tear it apart, whichever was the quickest to get rid of it. Maybe it was irrational, but to him, it was the enemy, representing everything he hated and tried to avoid most of his life.
He only looked up when Christopher Brooke, the Director for Communication for the Buffaloes, cleared his throat and introduced himself. Richie’s hands suddenly felt sweaty, and he wiped them on his pants under the table. His heart palpitated, and he had to take a deep breath while he waited for Christopher to introduce him to the press.
The press. How he hated them. They were like vermin, having made his life hell the last two years.
He might’ve escaped Scotland and the wrath of one particular journalist, but it seems they were everywhere. And they all wanted a piece of him.
They could forget that.
He slid his gaze over the assembled journalists who attended the first press conference of the Buffaloes Rugby Union at the beginning of a new and exciting season. When he signed the contract on a whim after the Scottish Rugby Union released him after one too many incidents involving a journalist, Richie thought he could escape the nightmare of the past two years by playing his rugby in the southern hemisphere. The offer from the Buffaloes was heaven-sent. He had been to Pretoria a few times, and he had friends here, so it had been an easy choice.
Next to him sat Matthew Kemp, or Matt, the vice-captain of the Buffaloes, and one of the rare people Richie could call a best friend. They bonded when they shared a room while playing for the Barbarians five years ago and had stayed firm friends ever since. Through Matt, he met the captain, Daniel Cooper and Mark Bailey, and Richie guessed it was the three friends who did a good word for him when he found him thrown off the Scottish squad.
He would do everything in his power to show his friends he was worthy of their trust.
Except for dealing with the press.
He had kept his secret for most of his life. He would take this risk to reveal it to them. His best option was to make their life hell so they could leave him alone.
It was payback time.
Sarah only just managed not to scream when the glass shattered in front of her. She stared at the shards in shock before her eyes followed the rugby ball’s slow progress as it rolled off the table and hopped twice until it finally came to a standstill next to her feet. She reached down to pick it up before she gazed in the direction where the three men were until a few seconds ago practising their kicking. All three now stared in her direction.
She didn’t have to wonder who the culprit was. One man punched the one in the middle on his shoulder and gestured with his hand towards Sarah. The culprit turned his head to the man who hit him, but then his shoulders dropped and he turned to jog in her direction.
Sarah watched his clearly reluctant progress. She guessed he was on his way to either apologise or to pick up the ball or both. She stifled the laugh as she watched him. There was no doubt. The man that was now approaching her looked guilty as sin.
Maybe he did it on purpose! That was a possibility because she knew he could kick. She had been watching him for the last hour, careful not to let the drool drip on the table.
If he apologised, should she just accept it?
When he got close, Sarah inhaled in shock when she recognised him. Richie Campbell, star winger of the Scottish national team. The Flying Scotsman. Hot-headed. Short-tempered. Oh, there were so many other names attached to this man that Sarah forgot most of them.
What was he doing here, training with the Buffaloes? As far as she knew, he was one of her brother’s teammates in the Scottish national team. Shouldn’t he had been preparing for the Six Nations in Edinburgh by now?
Richie was close now, and Sarah studied the opportunity to study him.
She judged him around six feet. He might therefore not be as tall as her brother, Dan, or Dan’s best friend, Daniel Cooper, but Richie’s muscles were perfectly toned and in proportion.
There was only one way to describe him. Richard Campbell was beautiful. The man rather looked like a model than a rugby player.
He had to have been in South Africa at least a couple of weeks or more for him to have already gained such a healthy tan. It might be because most of them were training shirtless. Unfortunately, most of the hunky shirtless guys left too soon for her liking, but Richie stayed behind with two other guys, practising kicks. He was one of the few who still wears a tank top but, even then, he left enough exposed skin for her to admire.
Although it was already late afternoon, the heat of an early February summer’s day in Pretoria was still hot enough to create a sheen of sweat on his chest and arms that enhanced his drool-worthiness.
Sarah caught her breath. Richie pulled the tank top up to wipe the sweat from his face, revealing what had to be an eight-pack. She drooled too much to count how many there were, though. She felt disappointed when he dropped the top and let it fall to hide all that magnificence.
Just below the railing, Richie lifted his head to look straight at Sarah with such soulful brown eyes they almost looked black. He sent her a wide, disarming smile that couldn’t hide the devilish glint in his eyes.
Sarah didn’t know where to look. At all that muscle or that smile? She couldn’t even react because it felt as if her heart stopped beating as she took in all of Richie Campbell. Somehow her mind worked enough to note the dark reddish-brown hair curled around his head. It was a little longer in his neck and now damp with sweat. Equally dark lashes that would be the envy of any woman framed his eyes, but thick and bushy eyebrows ensured the long lashes didn’t make him look feminine.
Sarah snorted under her breath. There was no way he could look feminine with the facial hair accentuating his strong jawbone and cheeks. He kept his beard and moustache closely cropped, still allowing cute dimples to appear on each side of his mouth: a very kissable-looking mouth and very tempting, even from what Sarah could see from her vantage point.
No, Richie Campbell wasn’t beautiful. That was way too an effeminate description for the man who was studying her with his own look of appreciation.
Another description that description the press used to favour jumped to mind—Sex on Legs. Sarah couldn’t agree more. That was an accurate description. Richie had sex appeal, and Sarah suspected he was not afraid to use it.
Sarah didn’t know any other rugby players apart from her brother and Daniel to compare him to, and she preferred it that way. After her last experience with one of them, professional athletes were a specie she avoided as far as possible.
Whatever Richie made her feel then made Sarah realise if she didn’t put a stop to it immediately, she could be in serious trouble. Sarah exhaled slowly.
Keep it cool, or rather, play it cool. She was already too hot to keep it cool because images involving his sweaty body and hers kept on interrupting her rational thoughts.
Sarah stood up in one swift movement, lifting her chin to look at him. It surprised Sarah that she could keep her voice even and modulated enough to say to him coolly, “If you can’t play the game, stay off the pitch.”
Sarah flung the ball in his direction, flicked her hair over her shoulder and disappeared so fast into the open doors of the restaurant she almost bumped the server over who came to clean up the mess caused by Richie’s wrecking ball.
It wasn’t fast enough. Richie’s low chuckle, sending ripples down her spine, followed her. She stopped briefly when he called out to her, his Glasgow accent unmistakable, but then, with a glare over one shoulder, she stormed into the restaurant.
Richie first noticed the red hair of the woman on the veranda of The Final Whistle. You couldn’t miss that fiery colour in the late afternoon sun. It was as if that hair drew him like a magnet. He was curious how the woman looked like and on purpose kicked the ball to close to where she sat so he could pick it up.
“Fuck,” he muttered when the ball hit the glass in front of her, and it shattered into pieces.
Yer a real numpty, Campbell. That was a freaking schoolboy error!
He wanted to get closer to the redhead, but not that close.
Matthew and Lawrence came to stand next to him and joined Richie in staring in the woman’s direction. Matthew suddenly chuckled and punched Richie on the shoulder. “I reckon you have to apologise, Scotsman.”
Richie glared at Matthew, but he knew his friend was right. Where he had been eager only minutes ago to get up close, he now was reluctant to approach her, but he had no choice. He had to get the ball, and he had to apologise.
He suddenly felt nervous. Geez, he wasn’t a schoolboy approaching his crush! He was a grown man, but it didn’t matter. He felt apprehensive when he reluctantly jogged to pick up the ball.
Richie didn’t even want to contemplate what she was going to do. He was a Scot, and he knew that what they said about red hair and tempers were true. He feverishly hoped that the glass had been empty, and he hadn’t done more damage with that stunt.
Maybe he had for the last five minutes built up his expectations of how she looked like. Perhaps she was butt-ugly.
Richie kept his head bent as long as possible, causing sweat to drip into his eyes. Without a thought, he lifted the hem of the tank top to wipe the sweat from his brows. As Richie dropped the hem, he found the guts to look up. The first he noticed was clear green eyes staring back at him. Somehow they reminded him of home, but Richie couldn’t think at that moment of what they reminded him the most. Was it the green hills in the Scottish spring or the young ferns in the forest behind his parent’s home?
Not that it mattered. Richie was sure they might change colour often. All Richie knew was that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
He snorted, remembering his earlier thoughts. She was definitely not butt-ugly.
Beautiful felt such an inadequate word to describe her. Richie could think of many others. Ethereal, Irish beauty and other regular clichés, all sprung to mind, but the way the lassie boldly returned his gaze belied the ethereal air. She might appear vulnerable, but Richie instinctively felt she was stronger and fiercer than she looked. He couldn’t wait to discover all those sides of her.
She intrigued Richie, and if he was intrigued, he needed to act on it. But not this time, however. Irritated with himself, he couldn’t get a word out. It felt as if the cat got his tongue. Why couldn’t he speak to her, or ask for her number or something? He might not have flirted with a woman for a while, but he was not usually this clueless.
First apologise, Campbell.
Richie gave her one of his most disarming smiles, hoping she wouldn’t be too angry. She, however, stared back at him without even the faintest hint of a smile.
Richie never got his chance to utter an apology.
In one fluent movement, the woman got up. She lifted her chin, still regarding him coolly. Her voice was modulated, sounding like a princess speaking to her underlings. All haughty and airs.
When she flung the ball at him, Richie missed it by a mile because she then flicked her hair over her shoulder. Richie stared in awe. She was freaking unbelievably awesome. Suddenly his sense of humour got the better of him, and he chuckled.
He got his voice back just in time to call out to her, “Ye wantae show me how, Princess?”
She stopped, looked disdainfully at him over her one shoulder and then stalked into the restaurant with her chin lifted and her shoulders back, just like a princess.
Richie stared at her retreating back in awe, grinning like a fool.
Sarah took deep breaths as she made her way to the bathroom. She needed to cool down, and that was not because of the heat. Geez, she needed to pull herself together before Jaylin arrived. Her best friend was way too perceptive. She would pick up in seconds how flustered Sarah was, and then she had to explain. Sarah didn’t know what to tell her.
She was flustered, yes. All because of a man who stared at her with such admiration it had woken up feelings she had buried the last four years.
Could she dare run into him again? No, not yet. One meeting was enough for now. She had to leave, and soon.
Nibbling her bottom lip, Sarah frantically thought about what to do. What could she tell Jaylin? She might already be on her way here. Or maybe they could leave again? Soon?
It might be telepathy, as her phone beeped with an incoming message and Jaylin Cooper’s name flashed on the screen. Sarah sighed with relief when she read the message: I’m bushed. I swear I can’t move a muscle! I need wine. And company. Can we instead meet here?
Sarah remembered how tired she was when a few days ago, and that was after only having to spring-clean the apartment her parents had bought in a secure complex when her dad retired. Her parents had fallen in love with Pretoria and South Africa during the time her father represented the Scottish whisky industry in Southern Africa. They often returned for holidays and visited friends and decided they needed a base.
Sarah and her brother, Dan, both had their rooms in the apartment, so Sarah at least didn’t have to find a place to rent.
Although Jaylin stayed with her parents for a few days on the family farm near Cullinan, she called herself a townie now and wanted to move to the city. She was also lucky that she didn’t have to hunt for an apartment. Her brother Daniel had bought apartments since he started playing professional rugby. He now had quite an extensive portfolio, and Jaylin secured one on short notice as Daniel only recently finished renovating it. Jaylin had to start from scratch, buying furniture and other household necessities, since she had been living in Paris for almost ten years.
Sarah’s fingers flew over the keys as she agreed, “I’m on my way. I’m bringing pizza and wine.”
She hightailed it out of the restaurant, grateful that she hadn’t run into Daniel or Richie Campbell again.
A ball hitting his head pulled Richie out of the trance. He cursed and glared at Matthew, who was the culprit. It had to be him. Only Matt could kick with such accuracy.
With an embarrassed flush, Richie picked up both balls and jogged back to where Matthew was still practising his kicking.
For the first time in almost eighteen months, Richie felt the urge to get to know a woman. That was one reason he wanted a change of scenery, but he hadn’t met many women since his arrival just over a week ago apart from those working for the Buffaloes or the ones he had noticed hanging around The Final Whistle. None of those he had met had intrigued him as the woman on the veranda, though, and none of them made him think of things he had buried for so long.
Richie frowned, his thoughts drifting to the woman.
He never realised he could be such a sucker for red hair. He only once had a girlfriend with red hair, but hers had definitely not been as fiery and beautiful as the woman he saw earlier, and they were only five years old. It didn’t count, or did it?
Richie kicked the grass in front of him in frustration. He sighed in dismay when he looked up as he heard Matthew’s chuckle. The flyhalf could barely hide his amusement. Richie should’ve known that Matthew hadn’t missed his distraction.
When Matthew shouted to Lawrence that they could pack up for the day, Richie automatically gathered the balls and threw it in the bag Lawrence held before the three of them headed back to the locker room for a shower. Richie and Matthew were meeting and Mark at The Final Whistle for a beer.
Maybe the woman would still be there when they arrived. This time, nothing would stop him from meeting her, even if he had to get Matthew to translate if she didn’t understand him.
Richie knew Matthew was going to tease him about his distraction because the first words his friend directed at him were, “So how does she look like?”
Richie flushed. He at first wanted to pretend he didn’t know whom Matthew was talking about, but he knew Matthew would see through his ruse. “Stunnin’,” he muttered, still feeling that the description wasn’t doing her justice.
“So, did you speak to her?”
“Nah,” Richie managed.
“Why didn’t you?” Matthew asked, surprised. “I told you apologise. When you stayed away for so long, I thought you made a move. Now you may have missed your chance.”
Richie shrugged, even though he wanted to agree with Matthew. He grimaced, wondering if he should believe his own words, “My Nana used to say, ‘Whit's fur ye'll no go past ye’.”
“What does that mean?” Matthew asked, confused.
“It means that whatever is meant tae happen tae ye, will happen tae ye. So, if I’m meant tae meet her, I will.”
Matthew shook his head when they walked into the locker room, but he was still laughing at Richie.
Richie was glad he could escape from the conversation. He rushed into the shower and made sure it was a cold one. He couldn’t wait to see if the woman was still there.
Richie accepted Mark’s invitation for a boys’ night at his house the following evening, followed by a round of golf on Sunday before they were going to a barbeque at one of the assistant coaches’ house. It was their last free weekend before they were to play a warm-up game the following weekend. The weekend after that, they had a sponsor’s function at the stadium before the season kicked off. That’s why they crammed it all in this one weekend.
The close camaraderie in the squad still amazed Richie. That, and that some coaches and management socialised with the players. That rarely happened, especially in this professional era.
The group of men assembled here tonight consisted mostly of senior squad players, amongst them Daniel, Matthew, their host, Mark, Jakes du Plessis, André Botha, Rick Walters, the fullback and Christopher.
Earlier they played a couple of games of pool, but now they relaxed on the veranda, nursing a beer each. Richie frowned at Daniel when the captain suddenly asked, “Okay, anyone of you broke your pledge yet?”
“What pledge?” Richie asked, confused.
All seven men turned to stare at Richie aghast, their faces a picture of surprise and then something close to horror spread over their features. The other men turned to Daniel as if he had to fix it. Daniel exhaled loudly and then turned to Richie, staring at him sternly, “Promise what I tell you now will stay with the team and us.”
Richie laughed at Daniel, although he didn’t feel like laughing. He had an inkling that he would not like what they were going to tell him, “Yer joking, right?”
When Daniel shook his head and denied that it is a joke, Richie flitted his gaze between the friends. They were all watching him with the same solemn expressions. Fuck. This seemed to be serious. He glared at them and muttered, “I dinnae like it, but I promise tae do whatever I’m supposed tae do.”
All of them nodded in satisfaction and waited for Daniel to explain. Richie listened to Daniel in horror when Daniel explained about the pledge they signed last year. The commitment came as a result of an article Mark had read about footballers who refrained from sex before the World Cup and management’s ultimatum that the squad need to change their behaviour and the image of rugby.
When Daniel finished, Richie shook his head, still stunned, “Yer fucking serious!” and frowned. “What does the pledge say?”
Daniel shook his head. “You must read it for yourself, because we expect you and Ulrich, and all the other newcomers, also to sign it. The essence of the pledge is that we must behave like professionals. We had to follow management’s orders, even if we don’t like it—and that includes Chloe’s rules. We, as players, need to take responsibility for the team. Those of us who are single must abstain from sex and a new relationship until the final. Those who were in a committed relationship or married are to abstain from sex, at least the day before a match.”
Richie cursed when he realised it wasn’t a joke. Daniel stopped Richie’s tirade to warn, “Sorry, Scotsman, swearing is out. We also promised to limit any swearing as part of our new image. We have a swear jar in the locker room, and you have to donate a five-rand coin for every swear word,” then admitted with a laugh, “We filled the third jar this week.”
Richie stared at them, aghast. “Had anyone broken their vow yet?”
By the sudden uncomfortable silence, Richie wondered about their innocence. Jakes du Plessis, the big number eight, flushed uncomfortably, and then he asked hesitantly, “Does kissing count?”
The group stared at Jakes, so surprised, Richie guessed it must be a rare occurrence. He had wondered if the man could speak because Jakes was usually so quiet. Daniel asked suspiciously, “You want to tell us something?”
Jakes glanced at André Botha before he turned to Daniel. Jakes spoke quietly, telling them not only about the woman he met while he was in Denver for physical therapy but about his past and the reasons he suffered from panic attacks.
Richie had been right then. He suspected that the man had a story, but he could never even have imagined the things Jakes told them. It seemed he was not the only one with a secret he wanted to hide from the rest of the world.
Everyone listened without interrupting Jakes once. When he finished, the group was each lost in their own thoughts for a while.
Mark sounded almost morose as he told Jakes, “Bro, let me tell you something. Don’t wait too long before you act on it. Don’t be too scared to say or do something. Sometimes you must take the risk. If you wait too long, you may lose the chance. Then, before you know it, five, or even ten years have gone, and the one you love got away.”
Richie stared at the men gathered on Mark Bailey’s veranda as if they were from another planet, not only another country. He was not used to guys speaking so openly about their emotions as these guys were. Richie never opened to anyone apart from his family and Matt since he learned of Siobhan and Alex Paterson’s affair.
That was not it, however, but he let everyone believed it now. He had other secrets, and he was not ready to share those yet. Maybe never.
Christopher, the only non-player present, snorted, “You wish. Sometimes even seven years is not long enough to forget, even if you try.”
“Aye, I ken,” Richie agreed with Christopher, “Love sucks.”
Daniel grinned at André, who had been a psychology major, “You are having a field day with us, don’t you? What about you—and you Rick? Neither of you has anything to say.”
André smiled his quiet smile and glanced between his friends. “I listen to you all, and I observe, and I wait. One day I’ll meet The One, but I’m in no hurry.”
“Hell no,” Rick exclaimed. “There are way too many beautiful women to settle with only one. I’ll never settle down.”
“Bro’, I am waiting for the day when you will fall,” Jakes said to Rick. “I hope I’m there to witness it.”
Rick shook his head. “You will wait for a very long time.”
Richie grinned at Jakes, “Aye, I’m with Rick. One girl tae fuck up yer life is enough. I dinnae want anither. I leave that tae ye.”
He noticed Matthew’s amused glance. Richie now regretted that he had admitted last night to Matthew that he was still wondering about the redhead. She could’ve been the one woman who might tempt him, but now he would never know. By the time he arrived with Daniel at The Final Whistle, she had left.
Sarah disconnected the call, still frowning. She then directed that scowl to the two people watching her anxiously to mutter, “You know I don’t like working with sportspeople, especially football and rugby players. You guys have too much testosterone,” she accused the man.
It still upset her that they had roped her into this.
Daniel Cooper laughed at Sarah’s indignant face. The captain of the Buffaloes had known Sarah since she was ten years old, when he became friends with her brother Dan. Sarah had become best friends with Daniel’s sister, Jaylin, the woman who was sitting next to him and looking at Sarah imploringly.
Jaylin, also Sarah’s very new business partner, begged, “Come on, Sarah. You heard what Dan just said. You saw Richie’s interviews. Richie really needs your help. As a fellow Scot and a fantastic elocution and media coach, you are in the best position to help him.”
“Why? What is it to you?” Sarah asked suspiciously.
Jaylin smiled, looking so innocent as if butter couldn’t melt in her mouth when she begged, “Richie is our friend. The Buffaloes’ management said if he is not improving, they are sending him back to Scotland. You heard what your brother just told you. Richie had a bad public breakup, and he struggles. You know how it feels when your partner cheats on you. We just want to help our friend. Please, please, please?”
Daniel added his baritone voice to his sister’s pleas, “Please, Sarah. Richie really needs your help.”
Sarah glanced between the siblings, then at the laptop where they had watched the recordings of the recent press interviews. Richard Campbell’s attractive face was still on the screen. Sarah admitted she was fighting a losing battle. She could never resist Jaylin’s pleas. She took a deep breath and sighed, “Okay, but only because you asked me.”
“Thank you!” Daniel said, now sober. “I’ll speak to Christopher, who will get in touch with you as soon as the CEO agreed, which I think he will.”
Sarah’s gaze flitted back to the screen, still feeling uneasy. Had she made a big mistake in agreeing to help Richie? How was she going to work with that man? Since that incident on the veranda two weeks ago, Sarah couldn’t get him out of her head.
Richie Campbell and his notoriously charming personality would already have been difficult to deal with. Richie Campbell without a shirt was devastating.
Sarah had an awful feeling about Richie. He could wreck a woman’s life as quickly as he had broken her glass with his flying rugby ball.
It was too late to change her mind as Daniel was already speaking to Christopher. She had no choice now. She made a promise to her friends and brother. Sarah also admitted that it was not only her pleas that made her agree to do it. She had empathy with Richie.
His strong Glaswegian accent was not the only problem. That was something Richie could quickly rectify by speaking slower. The problem was that Richie was uncooperative when dealing with the press. After having studied his interviews since he arrived in South Africa, Sarah could understand the Buffaloes’ concerns, but she had her own experience coming to South Africa with such a distinctive Scottish accent.
She had been in a similar situation when her family came to South Africa when she was ten, and nobody understood her. Her accent was not as difficult to understand now as Richie’s accent, but she had not forgotten the difficulties she had then.
Richie pummelled his fingers on the table until Matthew bumped his hand. He glared at Matthew as if all this was his fault, but he knew he was unfair. He was grumpy, and he didn’t even care. How many times had he told the guys: He didn’t do interviews!
Didn’t they know yet? He hated journos with a passion, and he would do anything to make their lives difficult as they made his during the last two years. How would they feel being publicly humiliated and haunted when you were trying to pick up the pieces of your life?
Richie had hoped that he had escaped them when he signed up with the Buffaloes, but now it was even worse. The local press didn’t understand his Glaswegian accent unless he spoke slow. Richie felt like a moron doing that, but in secret, he enjoyed making them suffer.
He turned to grumble to Matthew about being here, although he knew it wouldn’t help. He had tried the entire morning to get out of the press conference, but it was no use.
He caught a flash of red out of the corner of his eye, and Richie turned his head. He inhaled as he recognised the woman who was leaning casually against the wall.
He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was even more beautiful than he remembered from two weeks ago. This time, she looked even more serene as she had that day, her green eyes studying him.
Richie grinned, letting his gaze glide over her features, the gloriously red curls, and the lean body in a simple shift dress covered with a light jacket. She wore flat pumps and…
Something registered in his mind. His eyes jerked back to the object which had caught his attention, and he groaned when he recognised what it was. She was wearing a lanyard around her neck.
Fuck! She was a journo. A beautiful one, but still a journo.
Richie frowned, feasting his gaze one more time over her face, now marred by a frown creasing her forehead. He narrowed his eyes and forced himself to look away.
He didn’t like the sudden rush of disappointment that flooded his system. If she hadn’t been a journalist, Richie would’ve wanted to get to know her better. Because she was, Richie was angry and more abrupt than usual when the press hammered him with questions.
Daniel and Christopher tried to intervene, but it was no use. That the beautiful redhead was studying him the entire time didn’t help either. She caused his body to react in ways that Richie couldn’t even fathom. He should be grateful that she didn’t ask questions because he probably would’ve lost it then.
After the conference concluded, Richie stood up, only to see the woman walking straight towards him. She held out her hand and asked in that soft melodious voice with a trace of an accent Richie remembered too well, “Hi there, Richie, I’m…”
Richie couldn’t let her finish. He dared not let her finish because her voice made him react in a way that didn’t forebode well. He ignored her hand and grunted, “I dinnae care who ye are. I dinnae talk tae the fucking press. Just get off my case.”
He heard Daniel’s shocked, “Richie, that’s enough. Let me introduce you…”
Richie took a deep breath, “Sorry, Cappie, I dinnae care. I told ye afore. I dinnae speak tae the press.”
“But…,” Daniel tried again.
“I dinnae care!” Richie hissed, and then he took off before another journo could stop him. He might pay for his behaviour later, but he didn’t care at this moment. He just needed to get away and do it soon before he did something stupid as he had in Scotland. His altercation with a journalist had cost him his place in the Scotland squad for the Six Nations. He didn’t want to do that again, so to be on the safe side, he had to leave.
Sarah was seething. She glared at Daniel, “I told you it was a bad idea. If you think I’m going to work with that rude son-of-a-bitch, you’re making a big mistake, Daniel Cooper. I don’t care if you’re my friend or not. I don’t care if you or Jay or Dan beg me to do it, I refuse.”
Sarah turned to the good-looking man who had joined them. Christopher was young, but he surprised her with his maturity in handling the press. She wished he could’ve done the same with Richard Campbell.
He immediately apologised, “I’m sorry for putting you in this situation. We should’ve warned Richie. Please, won’t you reconsider? That is after Richie apologised to you.”
“Why would I do that? That man is rude, and he would be difficult to work with.”
“I understand it, but you are Richie’s last hope. He desperately needs help; otherwise, he could kiss his career goodbye. He already lost his place in the Scotland squad because of his altercations with the press. If Nicholas ends his contract… I don’t know what Richie will do. He is a talented player, and it would be a shame if his career ends because of this. We all know why Richie hates the press. I have sympathy with him, and I guess you too, otherwise you wouldn’t have agreed.”
Sarah’s heart wanted to soften and give in, but as she already had doubts, she couldn’t give in so easily. If she did, they might think they can walk all over her. That was the last thing that would happen.
She lifted her chin and muttered, “I’ll think about it.”
She didn’t wait for their response and stormed out of the room before they could stop her.
Richie thought he had escaped Daniel’s wrath when the captain did nothing during the day. It might only have been because the backs and the forwards trained separately or because Daniel seemed preoccupied when he saw him. Apart from having to do another interview, Daniel spent a lot of his time on his phone, frantically sending messages by the looks of it.
Richie would not take a chance. As soon as he arrived in the locker room after afternoon training, he disappeared in the shower. There was still no sign of Daniel when Richie had finished and dressed in a hurry.
His luck ran out though, just as he shoved his boots back in his locker. He sighed under his breath when Daniel stormed in. He was ahead of the rest of the forwards who trailed behind him, and Richie didn’t blame them. The ominous look on Daniel’s face was not a good sign.
The captain took off his boots and flung them in the locker, slamming the door hard. Richie, as most of the other players, tried to shuffle behind the captain’s back to escape Daniel’s wrath. He just thought he was safe, but just when he reached the door to the locker room, Daniel bellowed, “Scotsman!”
Richie’s shoulders slumped, and he sighed. Resigned, he turned to face the captain, “Aye, Cappie?”
Daniel grunted, “Meet me in the meeting room at The Final Whistle before you join the others,” Daniel instructed before he turned to speak to Matthew. Daniel didn’t expect a reply.
Richie didn’t need to wonder what he did to warrant a private discussion. Richie knew Daniel long enough, however. He suspected that his behaviour this morning was not the only reason Daniel was in such a mood.
Richie’s mind worked overtime as he picked up a bottle of water and strolled towards the restaurant. There was no one there yet, and he slumped in a chair, opening the water and took deep gulps.
A short while later, Daniel, Matthew, and Christopher walked into the room and closed the door behind them. This didn’t look good. If the captain, vice-captain and the Director of Communication wanted to see him privately, it confirmed his suspicion that this talk had to do with this morning’s episode. Richie watched them warily as he took another sip of the water.
“Richie,” Daniel started without preamble. “Nicholas had given us a chance to speak to you before he takes further steps. This morning’s episode was just the last straw, although Nicholas already decided last week. You had four media interviews so far, and you botched all of them. The journalists are complaining about your interviews, and management had no choice.”
Richie knew Daniel was right, but still asked reluctantly, “What are they complaining about?”
“The media complain they don’t understand you,” Christopher informed him.
Richie swore angrily, “I talk like I talk.”
Daniel took a deep breath and said, “Richie, we understand where you’re coming from regarding the press and interviews. We understand you have an accent…”
Richie slammed the bottle on the table as he jumped up. His face was red when he stormed to the door, “Accent my arse!”
At the door, he glared at the three men to grunt, “I dinnae have an accent. Ye have.”
He pulled the door open at the same time Daniel shouted his name, “Richie!”
Richie ignored Daniel’s stern command, “It’s not a request. Get your ass back in here immediately.”
He glanced over his shoulder at Daniel, his face stormy. Not looking where he was going, he bumped straight into a woman who had her hand in the air to knock on the door. Richie only knew it was a woman, as an overwhelming aroma of citrus surrounded him. He put both arms around her to prevent her falling, feeling the softness of her body against his. He heard her muffled curse since she buried her face below his shoulder, “Freaking wrecking ball.”
Richie couldn’t help it. He chuckled, but then something else hit him. He suddenly became intensely aware of her body against his, and his arms tightened voluntarily around her. Then he looked down, and his breath hitched, taking in the tousled red hair and forest-green eyes.
Up close, she was even more beautiful and tempting.
One of her hands had grabbed his biceps, and the other rubbed her forehead where she bumped it against his shoulder, but Richie hardly noticed. His eyes roamed her face. Her skin would’ve been flawless, if not for the faint layer of freckles spread over the upturned nose and the flush creeping up her cheeks. His eyes, however, stopped when it stuck on the full, pink lips. Richie had an overwhelming urge to kiss those lips. How would it feel to have them move underneath his own? How would she taste?
Her voice did things to him that Richie could barely fathom. And of course, he was stubborn. And stupid. He prolonged the agony of holding her and not doing anything else, even though she tried to command him to do so.
He was unaware of his friends, watching them amused or that Matthew bumped Daniel’s arm and whispered, “I told you so.”
When Richie realised where his thoughts were going, he jerked his eyes back to those green eyes.
What the hell was he doing? Journo remember?
He pushed her harshly away from him. He dared not think about this woman like this.
Unfortunately, bumping into her had ensured that he couldn’t get away fast enough. When he came back to earth, Daniel clamped his hand on Richie’s shoulder.
Sarah lifted her hand to knock but hesitated when she heard the heated voices coming from inside. She still had doubts about whether she should do this, and Richie Campbell had the same opinion.
It had cost Daniel several messages, and another pleading session from Jaylin, and a couple of calls from Christopher before Sarah had agreed to this second meeting. She vowed, though: If Richie was rude to her again, the deal was off.
The noises coming from the room were not a good sign.
A few minutes ago she met Daniel, Christopher and Matthew Kemp outside the restaurant, as agreed. Although Matthew had also been at the press conference this morning, they hadn’t met before. Sarah had been too angry anyway this morning to take in anyone else. Only when Daniel introduced them, Sarah recognised him. He was one of the players who kicked the ball with Richie the first time they met.
Matthew could barely hide his amusement when he acknowledged the introduction. Why? Sarah guessed it might have to do with Richie and that wrecking ball of his. She couldn’t ponder about it as Daniel cleared his throat to draw her attention. “Sarah, give us a couple of minutes to speak to Richie alone. He will not be happy about it, but he won’t have much choice. He just had to do it. If he gives you a hard time, speak to one of us. Again, as his friend, I beg you to give him a chance.”
Sarah nodded, “Don’t worry. I don’t have red hair for nothing. I can be stubborn too.”
Daniel grinned, “Ooh, I can’t wait for the sparks to fly between the two of you.”
Matthew chuckled and studied Sarah, “Oh, I think they are already flying, but not the way you mean, Cappie.”
Sarah frowned at Matthew. What did he mean?
She still wondered about it as the door suddenly opened, and it felt as if a brick hit Sarah on the head.
“Shit,” she muttered, trying to stabilise herself with one hand and the other rubbed the bump on her head. When the pain subsided, Sarah realised she didn’t walk into the door or a brick wall as she suspected, although it could’ve been. The shoulder belonging to the six feet of muscled man was as hard as a brick wall.
The man was a freaking wrecking ball. Sarah was unaware that she had expressed her thoughts loud enough for him to hear. His sudden low chuckle brought her back to her senses, and her eyes flew up to meet his.
That was when Sarah realised something else. What she held onto was not the doorjamb but the biceps she admired that day on the veranda. Sarah dropped her hand quickly before she gave in to the urge to rub those muscles as she suddenly wanted to do.
She glanced away from those mesmerising dark eyes and took a deep breath. Part of her training involved roleplay so Sarah had to dig deep before she could say, with as cold a voice as she could muster, “You can let me go now.”
She almost gaped at him when he said, his Glaswegian accent so intense she had to train her ear to understand him, “I dinnae want tae.”
What did he mean he didn’t want to? Okay, she also didn’t want him to let her go, because she felt quite cosy the way he held her in his arms, which felt to her like a perfect fit. She had to try again, albeit reluctant to do so, “Mr Campbell, let me go.”
Sarah couldn’t believe it when the stubborn man shook his head again. She could feel how flushed her face was already.
Why did he do this to her? And what was she going to do with him?
Richie suddenly frowned and pushed her away.
Still dazed about the feelings the man evoked, Sarah realised that Daniel was standing behind Richie, his hand firmly clamped on Richie’s shoulder. If Daniel hadn’t done it, Richie would’ve disappeared by now.
Richie reluctantly turned to Daniel when Daniel spoke up behind him, “Richie, can you please come and sit down? I know you… uhm bumped into each other, but before you run away again, let me introduce you and explain the situation.”
His gaze flitted between the three men. Although Daniel had been angry earlier, both Matthew and Daniel now looked amused. Richie still didn’t know with Christopher, though. He couldn’t judge the man’s facial expressions.
He hadn’t much choice than to obey. He stepped away and let the woman enter the room. He avoided looking at her but had no choice when Daniel introduced them, “Sarah, as you know, this is Richie Campbell. Richie, this is Sarah Mackay, Dan’s sister.”
Richie’s head jerked back towards the woman. Looking more closely, he could see the faint resemblance between this woman and his Scottish teammate. This woman was far more beautiful than Dan, though. Her eyes green instead of Dan’s blue, and she was feminine, and soft, and…
Hell, Richie, concentrate!
Richie frowned when Daniel said, “Before you get on your high horse again, Scotsman, Sarah is not a journalist so you can apologise for being rude to her this morning. I’ll explain to you after your apology.”
Richie flushed, “Sorry, Cappie.”
“Not to me. To Sarah.”
Richie turned to the woman, who was watching him thoughtfully. Although still reluctant to touch her again, knowing what it did to him, Richie held out his hand to her as it was the right thing to do.
He had been right. When Sarah lay her hand in his, Richie felt the zing shooting through his body. Sarah’s eyes widened, and her breath hitched.
Did she feel it too?
No, don’t even think about it. Not now.
Richie pulled himself together to mumble, “I’m sorry fur being an arse. Nice tae meet ye,” but he didn’t wait for her reply. He dropped her hand as quickly as he could and stepped away to pick up the discarded bottle of water.
Daniel patiently asked, “Okay, now that you know each other, can we please sit?”
The captain’s smile had disappeared, and he was now more serious. Richie took the chair he vacated earlier, suddenly feeling at a disadvantage.
Richie glared at Daniel and muttered, “Why is she here then?”, jerking his head towards Sarah.
Daniel ignored Richie’s glare and said calmly, “Sarah is an elocution coach. Management hired her to help you prepare for your interviews.”
“Fuck, no! I gaunae no dae that,” Richie immediately felt agitated again, more at himself when he noticed how Sarah rolled her eyes at his reply. He guessed it might be more to do with the now-famous Glasgow expression he used and one she would recognise being a fellow Scot.
He glared at Sarah as if it was her fault, but then Daniel’s words jerked his attention back to him, “Richie! Language mate! There’s a lady present.”
Richie flushed and glanced briefly at Sarah. Her hand rested on her chin while she watched him with a curious expression.
“Sorry,” he mumbled and took another sip of his water. He turned back to Daniel, “I still gaunae no dae that,” using the same phrase just to annoy Sarah. It worked because she snapped, “Have you been watching BBC One too many times?”
Richie suppressed a grin, feeling much better about the situation. It wouldn’t be difficult to wind her up. Who knew what could happen?
Daniel sounded patient, but Richie knew that tone already. He wouldn’t be able to argue with his captain, and Daniel’s next words made it clear, “Richie, this is not a request. Nicholas instructed that if you don’t do it, you don’t play. It’s your choice.”
“For fu…” He stopped when he saw Daniel’s glare. “I dinnae understand.”
Christopher spoke for the first time, “Nicholas felt he paid a lot of money for you to represent the franchise. Your interviews are not helping to project the image the franchise requires. They will give you time to work with Sarah here. If you refuse, you are off the team, and you have to return to Scotland.”
The curse words and rage battled for supremacy.
He couldn’t go back to Scotland yet. For the first time in a long time, he enjoyed his rugby and felt more comfortable in his own skin. Only the media interviews were still a nightmare, but he had hoped to avoid them.
Richie glanced at Sarah. It might be his imagination, but he almost believed he read sympathy in her eyes before she glanced away.
And then he had a lightbulb moment. Sarah was not a journo. She was beautiful, and he already felt attracted to her. It might not be such a bad idea to spend more time with this woman. Maybe his Nana was not that far wrong when she said that things happened for a reason. He just had to use it to his advantage. Who knows what can then happen?
“Ah dinnae ken what tae say,” he managed with a pleading glance to Daniel. “I ken my talking suck, but ye cannae take me off the team fur that.”
Daniel eyed him sympathetically, “I know it sucks, Richie, but that is management’s ultimatum. Sarah is qualified to help you. She can help you build up your confidence again to do the interviews. She can help you prepare for those questions that always make you nervous. Just give her a chance.”
“I dinnae like sitting in a class,” Richie muttered.
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