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X's and O's (A SECOND CHANCE SPORTS ROMANCE) by Nikki Wild (1)

Prologue

“Just one more night and then we’re free!” Haley said, smiling up at Toby.

He peered down at her with pure love in his piercing blue eyes, the kind of love that one can only find in the beginning of those first young romances — electric, explosive, heart-bursting-with-joy kind of love.

“I can’t believe it,” he said, kissing her firmly. “The rest of our lives starts now, Haley.”

“I know,” she said, staring up at him, love pulsing through her like a rushing river.

“As long as I’m with you, Haley Louise Harrison, my life will be wonderful.”

“We’ll just be a few hours apart,” she whispered, biting her lip as she let herself drown in his loving gaze. Haley was headed to Cleveland State University on a photography scholarship and Toby was staying in Columbus to play for the Ohio State Buckeyes. They’d be two hours away from each other. They’d both turned eighteen and were ready to venture off on their own, away from the protective hovering of their parents.

“I’ll come visit you every chance I get,” he promised. His fingers caressed her cheek, the passion in his touch sending shocks of pleasure directly to her fluttering stomach.

She knew he would do as he promised. That was who he was.

Honest. Strong. Steady.

He called when he said he would, he was always ten minutes early and he never failed to use his manners.

Toby Russell Jenkins was the kind of guy you took home to Mom.

But he was also the kind of guy you let take off your panties in the front of his pick up truck and make love to you every chance you got.

They clung to each other, splayed out on the bench seat of his beat up blue Ford, their hands flying wildly over each other. They only had a few minutes, but they’d spent their entire Senior year at Franklin High School figuring out ways to make the most of the little bits of stolen time they had together. Within seconds, they were both naked, their limbs tangled together in a frenzied dance, their hungry lips seeking the familiar connection and finding it easily.

Haley’s thighs fell open, her body welcoming the warm slide of his smooth hardness as he kissed her deeply. Wrapping his strong arms around her, he held her close to his chest, his heart pounding against her soft breasts as they slid sensuously against his bare skin.

She threw her head back, her long blonde hair fanning out over the seat of the truck as his lips slid down to her exposed neck, sending shivers of electricity rippling through her body as he nibbled at her sensitive skin. Her moans floated out the window, mingling with the calls of distant birds.

“Haley!” he cried out her name, his body rocking against hers in a rhythmic ritual as ancient as the dusk falling around them.

Harder, faster, he dove into her with abandon, his body melting into hers as waves of pleasure washed over them, sending them crashing into the light together, their love like a shimmering heat that bathed them in bliss.

They lay panting and spent afterwards, cocooned in the warmth and safety of each other’s arms as the world lay waiting for them outside like a sparkling jewel, their future shining with promise and prosperity and happiness.

Nothing would ever keep them from loving each other.

“We’re so lucky,” Haley whispered, her head resting on Toby’s warm chest.

“We really are,” he agreed, bending his head and kissing her hair, the sweet smell of her shampoo as familiar to him now as his own. He inhaled again, hungry for her once again.

“We should go,” she said, dashing his hopes of taking her again. “You’ll be late. Coach will yell at you.”

“Who cares? It’s my last game at Franklin. Technically, we’ve already graduated. What’s he going to do? Suspend me?”

Haley giggled as he kissed her again. She resisted the urge to snuggle deeper into his arms and pushed him away.

“Still. It’s not good to be late. Remember? You’re the responsible one.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Do you know how boring that sounds?”

“There’s nothing boring about you,” she said, kissing him again. His lips were warm and so inviting. “I should know.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” he said, shaking his head as they dressed. “But someday, I’m going to do something crazy and shock the hell out of everyone.”

“If you say so, wild man,” she teased. He laughed and reached for her, pulling her half-dressed body into his lap. He stared up at her beauty, overwhelmed by his feelings for her. His tone grew serious as he pushed an errant strand of hair behind her ear.

“I’ll show you wild. You have no idea what you’re in for,” he said, his eyes flashing with hunger, as he thought about all the thing he had planned for her. “Tonight. At the hotel.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” she replied, arching an eyebrow, as anticipation raced through her veins.

They’d planned this night for months, making the reservation weeks in advance, desperately looking forward to an entire night alone without having to worry about whether their parents we’re going to come home and bust them.

He squeezed her denim covered ass and kissed her again before letting her go. They finished dressing in silence, stealing coy glances at each other and giggling together.

Driving back to town, Haley sat close to him, watching the street lights flash over his handsome face and counting her blessings that for some unknown reason, Toby Jenkins had picked her to love.

He intertwined his fingers with hers and firmly held her hand.

He was warm, solid, strong.

Steady and kind.

If she hadn’t already taken him home to meet her mother dozens of times already, she’d gladly do it again.

He was that kind of man.

And he was hers.

* * *

Six hours later, the game was over.

The Franklin Falcons had beat their rivals, the South High Bulldogs, in a last exhibition game and the school year was now officially over.

Haley sat on the empty bleachers next to her best friend, Billy Parsons. Next to Toby, Billy was the most handsome guy in school. Depending on what circles you ran in, you might even say Billy won that particular competition.

But they were as different as two guys could be.

While Toby was the star jock of the school, Billy was the star of the theater, the artistic one, and he had no interest in sports.

That didn’t stop the girls from fawning over him like a bunch of hungry wolves, though. His long, flowing locks and long, dark lashes made all the girl jealous and his long, lean body made them want a piece of him.

And while Toby had spent the last year completely wrapped up in Haley, Billy had gone through girl after girl.

He rarely made it past a second date.

And only Haley knew the reason for that.

She was sworn to secrecy and had kept his secret faithfully, of course.

They’d been friends since Freshman year when they were forced to sit together in French class. Instead of learning much of anything past bon jour and au revoir, they spent the year gossiping in the corner and making fun of the teacher’s nasally voice.

Haley’s relationship with Toby had put a slight strain on her friendship but mostly because Toby wasn’t as friendly with Billy as he could have been. Toby insisted Billy had a secret attraction to Haley, but she knew better — they were just friends.

As perfect as her relationship with Toby was, that was the only thing that needed improving. She wasn’t about to give up her friendship with Billy just because Toby was uncomfortable with it. He would just have to trust her and she hoped that time would eliminate Toby’s jealousy.

In the meantime, she juggled her time with the two of them. Just like now.

The sounds of the crowd leaving the field lingered in the distance as she sat next to her friend.

He was devastated tonight and it killed her to see him like this.

“So, that’s it? He just told you to leave?” she asked.

“Yep,” Billy said, running a hand through his hair and shaking his head in disbelief. “Can you believe it? That he would be so cruel? It’s as if the fact that I’m his son doesn’t mean a thing to him.”

“And your Mom?”

He scoffed and turned away from her, not wanting her to see the pain in his eyes. He shook his head again.

“She just sat there.”

“Damn. Billy, I’m so sorry,” she said, reaching for his hand. “Look at me.”

He turned to her, the storm brewing in his eyes impossible to hide.

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” he replied, “maybe it’s for the best. I’ll just leave. Find my own place. I have some savings. I knew this day would probably come. I’ll just go and live my life without them. I don’t need them.”

She ignored the fact that his voice cracked as he said that. She knew how much this meant to Billy. Her heart was breaking for him, but there wasn’t anything she could do to make things better, no matter how much she wanted to.

His eyes met hers and he tried to muster a smile.

“I’ll be okay,” he said.

“Yes, you will!” she agreed. “And you know I’m here for you, whatever you need, anything at all.”

He paused, staring at her thoughtfully, before squeezing her hand in his.

Neither of them heard Toby walking up the stairs behind them.

When Toby heard their voices, he slowed, listening quietly.

“You’re amazing, Haley, do you know that?” Billy asked.

“You’re the amazing one, Billy! You’re so strong and so brave.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without you, Haley,” he said, pulling her into his arms.

“Well, you’ll never have to find out. I’m not going anywhere, ever.”

“I love you so much, Haley.”

“Oh, Billy, I love you, too,” she said, wrapping her arms around him and hugging him tightly. Toby watched from the shadows, his heart skipping a beat.

“I think its time we told Toby the truth now, don’t you?” Billy asked.

“Are you sure?” she asked, pulling back and looking into his eyes.

“I’m sure,” he said, smiling down at her. “It’s time.”

Toby bristled as their words, his heart breaking into a million pieces as he backed away in disbelief. They’d not seen him, but he’d heard enough to tell him everything he needed to know.

He ran to his truck, not looking back. He roared out of the parking lot, overwhelmed by the raw pain ripping through his chest.

Everything he’d suspected had proven true.

In an instant, his entire life changed.

Haley was gone — with Billy — and with her, Toby’s future was shattered right along with his heart.

He drove for hours, knowing Haley would be waiting for him in the hotel lobby, but he didn’t care. He roared through the city in his truck all night, the pain turning to rage and indignation. His tears dried as the sun rose in the distance, leaving him awash in anger and distrust.

He’d wear those emotions for years, a suit of armor to protect his wounded heart, as tools to keep others from getting too close.

It worked.

For a good long while, it worked.

But fate has a funny way of taking over sometimes.

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