Protected by the Quarterback

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Hiding from her ex, Shay takes refuge in an unoccupied cabin. Too bad the owner, NFL quarterback Josh, thinks she’s a groupie.

When Shay Campbell flees her abusive boyfriend and ends up in the middle of nowhere, she stumbles upon an unoccupied cabin. At least she thinks it’s unoccupied. That is, until NFL Quarterback Josh Wisner shows up. Too bad he thinks she’s a groupie.

After kicking her out, Josh has second thoughts, but with her ex hunting her, Shay will have to decide if she’s safer with Josh or out on her own.

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Chapter 1

“Thanks for nothing!” Shay Campbell yelled at the fading tail lights that belonged to the man she’d hitched a ride with—the man who had dumped her in the middle of nowhere. He hadn’t even had the decency to let her get her one small suitcase out of his trunk. Now all she had was the pitiful contents in the purse slung over her shoulder. That, and the clothes on her back.

Slowly turning in a circle, she looked around. No one was in sight. The only thing she saw were pine trees. Lots and lots of pine trees. She was on a road in the Sierra-Nevada mountains of California, on her way to a new life—or at least what she hoped was a new life.

“Great,” she muttered. “What else can go wrong?”

That morning she’d had the last fight with her boyfriend that she was ever going to have. How did she know this? Because after he’d punched her in the gut, knocking the wind out of her, she’d finally had enough. After he’d stormed out of their tiny apartment, she’d packed her few belongings into her suitcase, walked to the nearby grocery store and bought a pack of gum. While paying for her gum she’d gotten forty-five dollars cash back, which had emptied her bank account. Then, with resolve pushing her forward, she’d caught a bus to the Greyhound station and bought a one-way ticket from Fresno to Sacramento. She would have preferred to travel farther, but that was all she could afford. 

Reno was the vague destination she had in mind, although she really just wanted a place to start over.  She’d visited Reno once, a long time ago, and when she thought about the bright lights she’d seen on that visit, they seemed like a beacon of hope.

Once she’d reached Sacramento, and with her cash gone, she’d been kind of stumped about what to do next. Although she’d known it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, she’d hitched a ride with a man who said he was on his way to Reno, which was well over a hundred miles from Sacramento. He’d told her he wasn’t going straight there, but he was the only one who’d offered her a ride, so she’d taken it. Everything had been going fine until he’d decided to hit on her, and when she told him to shove it, he’d pulled over and shoved her right out of his car.

Now, as Shay sighed in frustration that things never seemed to go her way, she unzipped her purse and dug around until she found her phone. Even as she wrapped her fingers around it, she wondered what the point was. There was no one she could call, except maybe an Uber. Although since her money was nearly gone, that would be pointless.

Despite that, she took her phone out, almost tempted to call Will, her boyfriend. Scratch that. Ex-boyfriend. Okay, she wasn’t really tempted. She wasn’t that desperate yet. In the end it didn’t matter because when she looked at the screen she saw that she had no service.

What did she expect? She was in the middle of freaking nowhere.

Sighing loudly, she knew her only option would be to try to grab a ride with the next car that came along. Maybe a nice woman this time. Or a family. She would even settle for a man who looked nice.

Then she heard the voice of reason in her head—or maybe it was her older sister Megan’s voice. “Shay, don’t be foolish. Do you want to end up dead?”

Of course she didn’t want to end up dead, but she also didn’t want to walk fifty miles—or however far it was to the nearest town. At least it was June so she wouldn’t freeze to death.

With one positive in mind, she started walking as she waited for a car to come along. There hadn’t been much traffic as she and the creep had been driving, so she knew it could be a while before her ride appeared on the horizon.

Glancing at the clothes she’d put on before racing out the door—a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops—she knew that when the sun went down in a few hours, the comfortable temperature she was feeling at that moment would rapidly drop. 

She kept on walking, her purse slung across her body, her ears attuned to the sound of an approaching car or truck or motorcycle. Basically anything with at least two wheels that could carry her away. And as time went on she became less picky about who she would take a ride with.

She walked and walked and walked, but no one came. Not one single person. Millions of people lived in California, so why wasn’t even one of them driving on this road?

A breeze whispered through the pine trees, and for a moment she forgot her predicament as she enjoyed the simple peace of solitude. Lifting her face to the gentle wind, she closed her eyes and flung her arms outward as she listened to the trill of a bird. But like an idiot she didn’t stop walking, and after taking a few steps in her bliss, she tripped on a rock and went down on the asphalt. Hard.

“Dang it,” she said through clenched teeth. Her eyes were definitely open by then, and when she saw the drops of blood seeping out of the scrapes on her knees and palms of her hands, she nearly screamed in frustration. 

Daring the universe to send a car down the road at just that moment, she sat down right in the middle of the road. Of course no one came. Still.

If she could at least wash the blood off of her hands…

That’s when it hit her.

She didn’t have any water. Or food. Or anything.

Trying to quell the panic that swam into her head, she turned toward the sun, which hung low in the sky, and guessed she had less than two hours before that ginormous ball of fire would sink behind the mountains, extinguishing all light. Trudging onward, she focused on the road ahead.

Her inner voice taunted her with the reality that no one was going to come looking for her. Her mother was too busy with her new boyfriend to realize she’d left town, and her sister Megan hadn’t spoken to her ever since Shay had told her to mind her own business when Megan had tried to tell her how to live her life. 

Then she thought about her girlfriends. Will had pretty much scared all of them away, so basically she had no one to turn to. Besides, Fresno was nearly two hundred miles in the other direction. Not exactly a quick trip to come pick her up, even if she had cell service.

She had no one to turn to. No one except Will. 

She didn’t want to think about his reaction when he realized she’d bolted.

Holding back a soul-deep sense of regret at her choice in men, when Shay turned her thoughts away from Will, her mind went to how thirsty she was and how much her hands and knees had begun to throb. And then she noticed that the soles of her flip flops were much thinner than she’d thought they were, and that the ground under her feet was pretty dang hard.

The heat from the sun poured over her like hot molten lava—which she knew she would wish for once the sun set. But at that moment she desperately wished the road provided some shade.

Well, genius, you could always walk under the trees, you know.

Her gaze slid to her right where a thick forest lined the road. Thick with shade, yes, but also possibly thick with creatures she couldn’t see. Like bears. Or maybe mountain lions. Then she looked at the carpet of pine needles under the trees and knew it would be easier on her feet to walk there rather than on the asphalt—assuming her flip flops didn’t fall apart or fall off.

Moving off of the road and onto the pine needle carpet, she listened extra hard for cars since she would have to dash back to the road if someone came along. Turned out she didn’t need to worry about that. No one came. Not a soul.

She’d been walking for nearly an hour when she felt the first blister forming on the big toe of her left foot. Anger at Will and at the man who had dumped her there grew inside her like a geyser getting ready to erupt. What kind of person dropped a woman off in the middle of nowhere just because she wasn’t interested in him?

Clenching her jaw in fury, she was so focused on her anger that she didn’t hear the car coming until it had flown right by her.

“Hey,” she yelled as she ran onto the road, her arms waving in a frantic attempt to get the driver’s attention. “Hey! Come back!”

Moments later, the car disappeared over a rise.

Wanting to scream in frustration, she trudged on, this time staying on the shoulder so she wouldn’t miss her chance to hitch a ride if another car came along.

Fifteen minutes later, when she came upon a rutted dirt road and saw a nearly-concealed cabin, a smile lit her face.

* * *

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