League of Love Volume 3 (League of Love)
by Donna Gallagher
♥ Emily’s Cowboy ♥
When love is not enough to heal the scars, both physical and mental, of the one you thought you would spend your life with…what else is there?
It’s such a cliché—country boy moves to the big city to follow his dreams, leaving his girl and everything he loves behind—but that’s exactly what Gareth Andrews has done. Playing rugby league is Gareth’s dream, and he’s signed with one of the best teams in the competition, the Sydney Jets.
Of course, that has meant a move to the big city and leaving Emily Mackenzie and everything he loves behind. Not that Gareth hasn’t begged her to join him in the city—he has, on bended knee—but Emily needs to stay in Gunnedah and help her father on the family farm until her brother’s stint in the armed forces is over. But Gareth knows it’s more than that. Emily is hiding away, embarrassed by the scars that mar her body in a constant reminder of the bushfire that nearly took her life.
Can love give Emily the courage to face strangers again when her father is badly injured and Gareth shows up at the hospital to support her? Or will she let her fear and shame get the better of her, and break her one true love’s heart for a second time?
They were going to kill him. The collective look in the men’s eyes was one of pure animosity. Emily could see it clearly defined in their faces, could see the intent as they charged towards the man she loved—three huge men, covered in mud and perhaps even blood, judging by the russet-coloured liquid leaking from one of the men’s bandaged head—and there was nothing she could do about it. She couldn’t look away and sat frozen in the moment as she watched the horror unfold before her, silently praying that Gareth would survive the next few brutal seconds.
Then they were on him, two around his upper body, one knocking his legs out from beneath him as they picked him up and slammed him, back first, onto the hard ground. The four men wrestled together. He was caught beneath the onslaught from the three above him—she could see him struggling to get to his feet. It really only took a matter of seconds, but for Emily it was a lifetime. Her heart raced, her palms moistened and she could not get the air into her lungs to take her next breath, the fear he would be hurt was so overwhelming.
Just when Emily thought she could bear it no longer, the men stopped struggling. They broke away, stood and faced each other. Gareth reached down, put the ball under his foot and rolled it behind him. Emily drew a breath down deep into her oxygen-deprived lungs… The tackle was over.
Every game was the same for Emily. It didn’t matter that for all intents and purposes Gareth was no longer hers, by her own choice. It would always be like that for her—the same fear, the same panic that overwhelmed her as she watched him play his beloved rugby league. It had started way back in the days of their childhood when she and Gareth had been joined at the hip, back when she would accompany his family to those junior rugby league matches. Emily always had the same reaction—horror and fear as she watched every tackle in a hypnotic trance, a panicked state, her breath trapped in her lungs until the moment she saw him back on his feet, healthy and unharmed despite the brutality of the sport he loved. She had never loved the game the way he did. Her only reason for watching was for reassurance that he remained uninjured, and had survived his time on the field without harm. She didn’t care if the team won or lost. For Emily, it was just about Gareth.
Of course, her family—and even Gareth himself—had no idea her interest was so limited. They believed her a true fan of the sport. Why wouldn’t they? She had been with Gareth for every local game he’d ever played. Well, apart from that time she had been in the hospital, but she would have been there watching if she could have.
As Emily tuned out, uninterested in the commentator’s wrap up of the televised game, she absentmindedly rubbed at her scars, the puckering skin of her deformity, the unkind reminder of the day her world had changed. She was hardly aware of her unconscious movement—her focus was on her relief that the final siren had sounded, concluding yet another game her precious Gareth had remained unscathed.
“Chin up, Em. This is what you decided. No point second guessing or reminiscing. Gareth has moved on, his life is in the big city and you have chores to do.” She spoke the words in an attempt to quell the usual sadness she felt, as her only link to Gareth ended with the conclusion of the television broadcast. Emily turned the seldom used television off, waited till the black screen was all that was left to see and walked from the room. Her posture was hunched, her gait slow as she headed to the barn to feed the horses and clean the stalls. The routine, mundane tasks would fill her mind enough that the pain that lanced her heart would eventually fade.
“Game finished? How’d he go? Did they win?”
Her father’s deep voice breached her thoughts, bringing her back to the here and now, preventing any further painful memories from surfacing.
“Yep, they won. Gareth came through okay.” Emily didn’t want to discuss Gareth any more. It was better to push him from her mind for now, knowing full well that it would only be a week before once again she would sit white-knuckled in front of the television, riding every moment with him, feeling every knock he took as if it was her on the field. Why she could not just keep herself from this anguish week after week, she could not explain. It was just something she had to do.
She had sent him away, destroyed every plan they had ever made for their future—and they had planned and dreamt about what a perfect life they would have together, had talked of such things late into the night on many occasions. That was before she’d pushed him from her life, but she could not stop loving him, worrying for him. Emily knew this like she knew she would take another breath, and until that last breath she would love Gareth like no other.
♥ Sarah’s Soldier ♥
It’s what they have in common that drives a wedge between them—childhoods tormented by loss and heartbreak that have hardened their hearts.
When Sarah, digital and social media coordinator—or ‘digi-chick’, as she’s been called—is asked to babysit the special guest at the Jets Rugby League Club’s annual Anzac Day clash, she’s hesitant. What will the returning war hero, wounded from battle, think when he lays eyes on her dyed, flaming red hair and her face full of metal piercings? More than likely, the rule-following, uniform-wearing conformist will take one look at her and double-time it away from her feral-looking behind.
But the sexual attraction that sizzles between Sarah and Dylan is evident from their first touch, and despite both having built walls around their hearts, as protection from childhood loss and pain, they are keen to take advantage of the sheet-scorching, orgasm-exploding sexual tension that is simmering between them.
Of course, falling in love was never part of the plan.
“So how goes the twittering?”
Sarah couldn’t hide the smile that formed as Brodie James again used the wrong terminology. No matter how many times she had tried to explain what she did as digital media coordinator to the Jets rugby league team, Brodie—the coach, and for all intents and purposes her boss—still had no idea what she was talking about.
“That would be ‘tweeting’, Brodie. It goes well. We’ve just reached twenty thousand followers on Twitter and our fan page membership is still rising steadily. You really need to open up your own Twitter account—that way you can see the impact social media is having on the game for yourself.”
Sarah had had the same conversation with Brodie before, more than once, so she was a little startled when his response was more positive than ever before.
“Yeah, I know. Cate keeps saying the same thing. She loves the whole tweet phenomenon, always has her nose stuck in her phone reading or clucking away at those tweeties.”
“Twitter and tweets, Brodie,” Sarah corrected again
“Yeah, but I don’t like her idea of names for me. Cate reckons ‘at dinosaur’ or something. That’s one of the reasons I called you in, Sarah. I was hoping you could give me a lesson on using this Twitter thing and maybe help me get a more flattering name. My modern wife needs to learn that her husband is no dinosaur.”
Sarah pushed away the laugh that threatened as she imagined Brodie’s beautiful wife teasing her sombre husband. Not that Sarah could imagine Caitlin James would be serious—it only took one look at the couple together to realise that they were deeply in love. Brodie’s affection for his wife was about the only emotion easy to read on the usually taciturn man’s face. Brodie was known for his calm, disciplined ways. He could be relied upon to keep a clear head and act accordingly—it was one of the reasons he had made such a successful transition from player to coach. The players respected him and treated his words almost like gospel, which explained the Jets’ winning streak over the past few seasons, in many people’s opinions.
Sarah decided that she would jump all over this request. While many of the younger players in the competition tweeted regularly, Sarah could only think of a couple of coaches who used Twitter. Having Brodie join the ranks would certainly boost the Jets’ followers.
“It would be my pleasure, Brodie. Glad to see you’re joining the modern age, no matter what Caitlin may think.” Winking, Sarah pulled her chair around to sit beside him at his desk. “Right—first things first, a name that’s more befitting of you.”
Sarah’s fingers flew across Brodie’s computer keyboard. @CoachBJames—yes, this is perfect, she thought as she created Brodie James’ Twitter account. Simple and straight to the point, just like Brodie James.
Sarah spent half an hour going over the basics with Brodie, suggesting a few people he might like to follow and reminding him that what he tweeted would be available to the public. She knew Brodie wasn’t an idiot, but Sarah wanted to make sure he understood everything that needed to be learnt
about Twitter. By the end of the lesson, Brodie had followed his wife, @CaitlinJ10, and some of the players from the Jets. Sarah had used the Jets’ Twitter account to welcome Brodie to Twitter.
JetsRugbyLeague: ‘Hey, Jets fans! I have special news. I would like to welcome our illustrious leader to Twitter—@CoachBJames. Follow now, everyone.’
Sarah was pleased to see that within moments Brodie’s account had reached over one hundred followers. She laughed at Brodie’s shock over the immediate response and helped him create a few tweets about upcoming games and the latest developments at the club. She was pleasantly surprised to see that @CoachBJames was taking to Twitter like a duck to water.
“Think I’ve created a monster.” She giggled as she watched him send a private message to his wife that was just a little suggestive, and fell into a fit of full-scale laughter as he waggled his eyebrows at her, the adorable smile on his face an expression she wasn’t usually privy to.
“Enough of this, Sarah. There was another reason I called you in.” Brodie pushed his keyboard away, his voice becoming more businesslike, more Brodie-ish. “Have you been filled in on the Anzac weekend game against the Hawks?”
Sarah opened her iPad and brought up her calendar. She had the information Brodie was talking about stored away in her digital lifeline. The Jets and Hawks were dedicating their game to honour Anzacs past and present. The day was going to be filled with entertainment and ceremony befitting the event, with the culmination and highlight of the day being just before kick-off when, by Black Hawk helicopter, a soldier would deliver the game day trophy and ball to the opposing teams’ captains.
Sarah had already offered her assistance, in any way needed, to the Jets’ publicity team. She had pieced together a few videos of the players talking about what Anzac Day meant to them, and had also received a tape from a few serving soldiers, wearing their Jets supporters gear and wishing the Jets success on their upcoming match. So she was uncertain why Brodie had asked to see her specifically.
“Yep, I’ve been given all the relevant info. Why, is there something you need me to do?”
“Well, Sarah, as a matter of fact, there is. This is still somewhat confidential, although not for much longer, I’m guessing.” Brodie’s comment caused Sarah’s interest to spike. “As of this morning, Steve Clark has been sacked by the Jets’ board of directors. Steve has been leaking confidential information to the media. This has left us in quite a mess, considering the amount of work involved in pulling together the Anzac Day game. We were wondering if you could step up and take over his role for the short term, until we can find a replacement for Clark.”
Sarah’s breath hitched as the implications of Brodie’s words began to sink in. She was horrified to think that Steve Clark had been so disloyal to the Jets club, players and fans, but in all honesty found that she was not at all surprised. Sarah had always thought Steve Clark was a bit of a jerk. He had tried, on more than one occasion, to undermine her role, telling anyone within earshot what a waste of time it was to have a dedicated social media person at the Jets, and that he was capable of coordinating all media, publicity and promotions. His opinion that Twitter and Facebook were just a fleeting fancy had been proven more wrong every day by her success.
Could she do this, though? Sarah was not really a people person—well, not face to face. She was bold and courageous towards life from the keyboard of her computer, but in reality, out in the real world, Sarah was shy and reserved. Not that it showed in her appearance.
“What we need from you, Sarah, is to oversee the day, to keep an eye on the various corporate rooms, make sure the hosts are doing their jobs, co-ordinate the television and print reporters’ needs. You will also be responsible for looking after our guest of honour—make him feel welcome and show Soldier Boy around the ground. Introduce him to a few of the team members. Maybe take him up to the sponsor boxes and corporate dining rooms. Look, I know this is a big ask, but I’m confident that you can help us pull this day together. It’s a bit short notice, but what do you say, Sarah? Will you help us out with this?”
What is Brodie thinking?
Sarah had decided that the coach had lost his mind. Did he not see her? She was the exact opposite of what would make a soldier feel welcome. Yes—some condescending, staid and disciplined soldier would take one look at her watermelon-coloured hair, the metal piercings on her face and through her nose, and dismiss her immediately. But how could she let Brodie down? He had been so accommodating. Even if he didn’t understand much about what she actually did, Sarah owed it to him to at least try. It was one day, a few hours—surely she could pull it off.
Sarah could handle the media and reporters. She knew most of them through Twitter anyway. Trevor Hughes would probably be the television presenter and she had met him on many occasions, Trevor being married to the Jets’ captain’s mother, Laura. The hosts for the corporate rooms had been doing their jobs all season, so probably wouldn’t need much help.
“I will do the best I can, Brodie. I just hope I can live up to your expectations.”
“Great—thank you, Sarah. You are doing me a great favour and I won’t forget it. I owe you big time. Let me know if you need anything. Don’t hesitate…”
The relief on Brodie’s face was clear. Sarah knew the man had enough on his plate already. Expectations were high for him and his team of rugby league players to keep reproducing their winning form of late. She just hoped she wouldn’t let him down. It had been a long, long time since anyone had shown faith in Sarah, relied on her. Fear of failure created pterodactyl-like creatures that flapped and swooped in her gut. She excused herself from Brodie’s office and hurried back to her little cubicle in the main office area.
Already the talk amongst the office staff was full of Clark’s termination. News sure did travel fast, she thought as she sank into her swivel chair, logged into her email account and found the reason for the chatter. Brodie sure hadn’t wasted any time confirming her new duties, Sarah mused as she read the email he’d sent to all the Jets’ staff and team. It outlined what he expected of everyone in their support of her, and briefly touched on Clark’s employment termination as well.
“Think I need to make a running sheet of what I’ll need to do on the day,” Sarah mumbled to her computer screen. “It’s all in the preparation,” she added, quoting one of the coaching staff’s favourite lines. She busily opened half a dozen different screens, then began to familiarise herself with the outlined plans for the day.
♥ Book Links ♥
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/1O03o8s
Born and bred in the inner western suburbs of Sydney – Donna Gallagher decided at an early age that life needed be tackled head on. Leaving home at 15 she supported herself through her teen years.
In her twenties she married a professional sportsman, her love of sport — especially rugby league — probably overriding her good sense.
The seven-year marriage was an adventure. There were the emotional ups and downs of having a husband with a public profile in a sometimes glamorous but always high-pressure field.
There were always interesting characters to meet and observe and even the opportunity to live for a time in the UK.
Eventually Donna returned home a single woman, but she never lost her passion for watching sport, as well as the people in and around it.
Now happily re-married and with three sons Donna loves coffee mornings with her female friends, sorting through problems from the personal to the international. But she’s on even footing with the keenest man when it comes to watching and talking rugby league.
Donna considers herself something of a black sheep in a family of high achievers. Her brother has a doctorate in mathematics and her sister is a well-known sports journalist.
An avid reader, especially of romance, Donna finally found she couldn’t stop the characters residing in her imagination from spilling onto paper. Naturally rugby league is the backdrop to her spicy ‘League of
Love Series’ available through UK publisher Totally Bound, tales of hunky heroes and spunky heroines overcoming adversity to eventually find true love.
In 2015 Donna is spreading her genre wings with the release of her new romantic suspense Haven Security series and a contemporary erotic novella A Fruitful Intimacy.
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