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Pass Interference (Ebook)

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NFL all-star Jax is intrigued by young widow Autumn, but when she finally dips her toe in the dating pool, disturbing things start happening to her. Too bad the police won’t take the incidents seriously.

Jax Cordova, Defensive End for the NFL’s Sacramento Vipers, isn’t looking for love, but when a woman crashes into him at the mall, he’s intrigued. Too bad she won’t tell him her name.

Widowed at 24, Autumn Foster is ready to move on, but when she finally dips her toe in the dating pool, disturbing things start happening to her. When the police don’t take the incidents seriously–and even Jax starts to doubt her–she fears for her safety and she fears she’ll never find true love again.

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Chapter 1

Taking the day off had been a mistake. Autumn saw that now. She’d thought working today would be difficult, but having nothing to distract her from her memories was worse.

Today was April fourth. It would have been—was—her fourth wedding anniversary. Except that she was no longer married because her husband had been killed ten months earlier. Mitch had only been twenty-six and she’d been twenty-four. Much too young to become a widow. Much too young to lose the love of her life.

Mitch had been taking their dog—a yellow lab named Sasha—for a walk along a road near their house when a distracted driver named Glenn Richmond had run him down. Mitch had died instantly. At least that’s what the coroner had told Autumn. She hoped it was true. The thought of him suffering for even a second made her heart wrench with unspeakable anguish. 

At least Sasha had been untouched. Small mercy.

Now, as Autumn used the flat iron to straighten her long, auburn hair, she studied her reflection in the mirror. A twenty-five year old widow. It just wasn’t right. She knew she wasn’t the first young woman to be widowed, and she certainly wouldn’t be the last, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with.

Glancing at her bare left finger, Autumn felt her stomach tighten. It had been two months since she’d removed her wedding ring. At the time she’d felt ready, but today of all days she wasn’t sure if she really was. Still, she knew it was time to move forward with her life. Mitch would want her to. She would leave her finger bare. As a compromise, she would wear the earrings he’d given her on their honeymoon—amethyst teardrops with silver inlays.

Smiling in remembrance of that idyllic week they’d spent driving up the coast of California—stopping in Carmel and staying at a bed and breakfast, shopping in the adorable boutiques in town—Autumn put the earrings in her ears and let the warmth of her memories wash over her.

Retail therapy. That’s what she needed. She would go to the mall and browse her favorite shoe store. Maybe even buy a new pair of boots. But they had to be comfortable. That was the most important thing. As a hairdresser, she was on her feet for hours at a time. Comfortable shoes were a must.

She stepped from the bathroom into her bedroom and found Sasha lying on the carpet. At Autumn’s approach, Sasha stood. “There’s my sweet girl,” Autumn said as she stroked Sasha’s head. The yellow lab’s tongue lolled out and her tail wagged with enthusiasm. “I’ll be back in a few hours, okay?”

Autumn grabbed her purse from the dresser, then walked through the living room and out the front door. Fifteen minutes later, she pulled into a parking space and made her way into the mall. It felt strange to be shopping when she should be working, but Cassie and Haylie—her employees at the Cutting Edge Salon—had encouraged her to take the day off, and they’d been happy to cover for her. 

As she picked out several pairs of boots to try on, she realized she wasn’t feeling as melancholy as she’d feared. Relieved, she carried the boxes to a bench and tried on each pair, admiring them in a mirror.

On impulse, she bought two pairs of shoes—cute low-heeled black boots and a strappy pair of heels—then left the store. An hour later, she’d added three new blouses—they were on clearance!—and a new pair of jeans. Strolling down the mall as she balanced all of the bags in her arms, Autumn smelled the heavenly scent of cinnamon rolls. A sweet treat would be just the thing to top off her retail therapy. She looked toward the food court, searching for the cinnamon roll shop.

And then she walked right into a massive barrier. 

The impact knocked her onto her rear end and her bags scattered on the floor. Looking up, she realized she hadn’t run into a barrier at all. No. She’d run into a huge man. A mountain of a man. A man whose back had been turned. But a man who was now staring at her, his eyes wide with surprise.

Mortified, Autumn felt blood rush to her face as she sat on the polished wood floor. But at the same time, she felt an unexpected spark of attraction to this man. An attraction that scared her senseless.

She couldn’t be attracted to someone else. Not yet. Not on this day.

Struggling to slow her suddenly pounding heart, she appraised the man. Tall and well built, he had short brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard. And his eyes… they were the most striking shade of blue she had ever seen.

No, she shouldn’t be noticing those things. It wasn’t right.

* * *

Jax stared at the woman sitting on the ground. She was looking up at him, and he could see embarrassment written in her green eyes—eyes filled with such depth that they completely captured his attention. Her long hair—a beautiful shade of reddish brown—hung down her back, and the blush on her cheeks emphasized the soft curve of her jaw, the fullness of her lips, and the slender shape of her nose.

She was nothing like the women he was usually drawn to, but there was something about her, something vulnerable and innocent, something sad, something that made him want to take her in his arms and tell her everything was going to be all right. But it was more than that. The way she stared at him, like she was a doe and he was a big, bad wolf. It filled him with the overwhelming desire to convince her that he was a good guy, that she had nothing to fear from him. Something about her brought out a tender side of himself that he didn’t even know he had.

As a pass-rusher for the NFL’s Sacramento Vipers, Jax was paid to be aggressive. And he was. Both on the field and off. But something about this woman made him put that aggressiveness on hold.

When she turned away from him to gather her bags, he knelt beside her and scooped up the bags before she had a chance to, then he stood and held out his hand to her.

“I am so sorry,” she said, her face flushed and her voice barely above a whisper. But she took his hand and let him help her to her feet.

Her skin was soft and her hand was swallowed up in his.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I get hit much worse all the time.” He waited for her to ask him to explain so he could tell her he played in the NFL—in case she didn’t recognize him, which she didn’t seem to. But she didn’t take the bait. Slightly disappointed, he kept a smile on his face—the smile that made women swoon. But she didn’t swoon. In fact, she barely seemed to notice him. What was up with that? Kind of desperate for her to pay attention to him, he asked, “Do you need help carrying your bags?”

She barely met his eyes, instead looking to the side like she was eager to escape. Finally, she faced him, her smile appearing forced—although it made her no less stunning. “No. I’ve got it.” She hefted the bags into her arms as if to prove she didn’t need his help. “Again, I’m sorry I ran into you.”

She was about to leave. He couldn’t let her walk away without at least getting her name. “You can make it up to me,” he said, putting on his most charming smile.

Her forehead puckered.

“By letting me buy you lunch,” he added.

She immediately shook her head as if the idea of spending one more second with him would be the worst torture in the world. “No,” she added as if to emphasize her refusal.

Stung, Jax couldn’t stop himself from pushing a little harder. “Do you already have lunch plans?” 

She glanced away, her gaze shooting in all directions like she didn’t know the right answer. Then she turned back to him. “Um… no.” Her tone was hesitant.

Maybe she was married. He glanced at her left ring finger but there was nothing there. Okay. Not married. Then why did she seem conflicted? Maybe she had a boyfriend. A woman as pretty as she was? That had to be it. Jax had to know. “Are you single?”

A pained expression crossed her face and she nibbled on her lower lip as she looked at the smooth wood floor.

* * *

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