False Start

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When Sacramento Vipers tight end Brock Remington goes home to take care of his deceased father’s affairs, he doesn’t expect to run into Ainsley Hunter, his former neighbor and the younger sister of his old high school buddy. The last time he saw her, she was a gangly fourteen-year-old. Now she’s all grown up and drop-dead gorgeous. Too bad she wants to keep him in the friend zone.

When Ainsley sees Brock, she doesn’t want to admit that she’s watched every NFL game he’s ever played in, but after spending hours helping him pack up his father’s belongings, her attraction to him becomes harder to suppress.

As sparks fly between them, will Ainsley give in to her attraction, or will her fear of a broken heart keep her sitting on the sidelines for good?

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Chapter 1

Brock Remington parked in the driveway of his childhood home, a kaleidoscope of emotions crashing over him. He hadn’t been expecting to come to Rosebridge, Idaho, but a phone call the night before telling him that his father had died of a massive heart attack had changed his plans.

Why had he waited so long to come home for a visit? It was true that he’d been extremely busy playing for the Sacramento Vipers, but was that really an excuse? His father had always been there for him—teaching him how to catch his first football, supporting him as football became his passion, all the way through being there when Brock was drafted into the NFL. It had never occurred to Brock that his father could be taken from him without warning.

Now though, as he shut off the engine of his rental car and stared at the house where he’d spent so many happy years, he frowned deeply as regret washed over him. After losing his mother to cancer when he was a child, Brock should have known that life could—and would—take unexpected turns, that he should never take his loved ones for granted.

His gaze slid to the neighboring house where his old high school buddy, Wes Hunter, had lived. Brock had lost touch with Wes and had no idea what he was up to, but he remembered spending many happy hours at the Hunter’s home. 

Then an image of Wes’s little sister, Ainsley, popped into his mind. She was four years younger than Brock and Wes, and whenever the two boys had gotten together, she’d always tried to include herself in their fun. Shaking his head at the memory of the gangly girl who they’d teased until she’d cried with frustration, Brock longed for those simpler days.

Then again, he loved his life now. Being one of the best tight ends in the NFL was pretty amazing. He’d worked hard to get where he was and he loved every minute of it. He just wished his father was still around to enjoy it with him.

Exhaling a breath of regret, Brock opened the car door, the heat of the July afternoon pressing down on him, then he went inside the house.

* * *

Ainsley Hunter heard the car pull into the Remington’s driveway and peered out the front window of her house. Curious who it was, she stared hard, but the tinted car windows made it impossible for her to see who was inside. She had seen the ambulance at the house the day before and had learned that Dan Remington had passed away. Saddened by the news, she wondered if Brock would be coming home for the funeral.

Except for watching Sacramento Vipers football games, Ainsley hadn’t seen Brock in ages. Ten years earlier, when she was just fourteen, he’d left for college. And though he’d come home for school breaks, she’d been busy with her own life, and with her brother Wes away at college, Brock had never come over to their house. And then when she’d turned eighteen, she’d moved out of her parents’ house. 

Now though, her parents had moved out of state for her dad’s job and they’d let Ainsley rent their house while they were gone. When they’d offered her a killer deal, she’d agreed without a second thought. Her job as a dental hygienist paid reasonably well, and she planned on saving for a down payment on a place of her own.

Watching the car in the Remington’s driveway, when the driver’s door swung open and a tall man stepped out, Ainsley gasped. It was Brock, and he looked even better in person than he did on the football field. That was saying a lot, because on the football field he looked mighty fine.

Six four with a powerful build, Brock was an imposing presence. Add to that his chiseled cheekbones, neatly trimmed beard, full lips, and soulful brown eyes, and Ainsley thought it was a shame to hide those good looks under a helmet.

Watching him as he climbed out of the car and walked toward the front door of his childhood home, Ainsley softly chuckled at the memory of trying to insinuate herself into the middle of whatever it was he and Wes had been doing—playing video games, shooting hoops in the driveway, or just hanging out. She shook her head, her long hair softly moving against her shoulders. Those boys had put up with her to a point, but had always quickly tired of her insistence that they should let her join in their games.

Appraising Brock’s broad shoulders as he stepped onto the porch before disappearing from view, Ainsley decided she should go over and offer her condolences. Both of his parents were gone now, and with him being an only child, who would he turn to for comfort? Ainsley knew he dated lots of women—yes, sometimes she Internet-stalked him—but she didn’t know if he had a steady girlfriend. Anyway, if he did, wouldn’t she have come with him?

It was early afternoon on a Sunday. Ainsley would give him a chance to settle in, but then she would go over and see how he was doing.

* * *

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