Unexpected Rush (A Play-by-Play Novel)

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9780425276815: Unexpected Rush (A Play-by-Play Novel)

In the new Play-By-Play novel by the New York Times bestselling author of All Wound Up, a football hot shot and his best friend’s sister are breaking all the rules.

All the Right Moves

 
For Barrett Cassidy, playing defense for the Tampa Hawks is a dream come true. And now he may have discovered his dream woman. Harmony Evans, once the sweet, gawky teenage sister of his best friend and teammate has grown into a smart, gorgeous woman with moves he finds hard to resist. But he knows he can’t get involved with his best friend’s sister—it’s guy code.
 
Harmony has always gone after what she wants with single-minded determination, from her independence to her education to her career in interior design. She never expected her youthful crush on Barrett to develop into something deeper. And she’s not about to let some ridiculous man rules or her brother stand in her way.
 
When the chemistry is this combustible, lines tend to get crossed. And when Barrett and Harmony’s secret gets out, it just might be game over...

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About the Author:

Jaci Burton is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Play-by-Play series including All Wound Up, Quarterback Draw, Straddling the Line, Melting the Ice, One Sweet Ride, Thrown by a Curve, Playing to Win, and Taking a Shot, and the Hope series, including Hope Flames, Hope Ignites, Hope Burns, Love After All, and Make Me Stay.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One


“Men suck.”

Harmony Evans tossed her purse on the kitchen table of her mother’s house and pulled up a chair next to her best friend, Alyssa. It was Thursday night—family dinner night at Mama’s house. Everyone was coming over, as it always was at Mama’s. Right now she’d prefer to be sitting in the corner of a dark bar, nursing a dirty martini. She was going to have to settle for sweet tea because, short of death, you did not miss Thursday night dinner at Mama’s.

She’d already come in and kissed her mother, who was holding court in the living room with Harmony’s brother Drake and several of his friends, giving her time to catch up with Alyssa.

Alyssa laid her hand over Harmony’s and cast a look of concern. “Oh, no. Is it Levon?”

Harmony wrinkled her nose, preferring never to hear the name of her now ex boyfriend again. “Yes.”

“Did you dump him?”

“I did not break up with him. He gave me the classic, ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ speech. He’s doing so much international travel with the law firm, and he just can’t devote enough time to the relationship, so it wouldn’t be fair to lead me on when he knows he can’t commit. He went on with more excuses but it was all blah blah blah after that.” She waved her hand back and forth.

Alyssa’s gaze narrowed. “What a prick. Why is it so damn hard to find a man of value, one who will respect a woman and give her honesty?”

"I have no idea.” Harmony pulled one of the empty glasses forward and poured from the pitcher that sat in the middle of the table, already filled with tea and ice and loaded with so much sugar she’d likely be awake all night. At this point, she didn’t care. She’d work it off in a gym session tomorrow. “All I know is I’m glad to be rid of him. It was bad enough his bathroom counter had more product on it than mine did.”

Alyssa laughed. “It’s for the best, Harmony. What does a man need on his counter besides a toothbrush, soap, deodorant and a razor?”

“According to Levon, there was stuff for his beard, trimming devices, facial scrub, moisturizer—separate ones for his face and his body. An entire manicure set for his nails, to use when he wasn’t off getting mani-pedis of course.”

“Of course,” Alyssa said, then giggled.

“Oh, and the scents. Let’s not forget his entire rack of colognes.”

Alyssa nodded. “The man did reek, honey.”

“I think he owned more perfume than I do.”

“Never a good sign. See? You dodged a bullet.”

“I did.”

Alyssa lifted her glass. “Let’s toast to that.”

They clinked glasses. “To men we’re lucky to have not ended up with,” Harmony said.

“What are we toasting to?”

Harmony looked up to find Barrett Cassidy standing at the kitchen table. He was her brother Drake’s best friend and teammate, and since the guys both played for the Tampa Hawks football team, and Barrett also lived in Tampa, it meant she’d often see Barrett at Mama’s house for dinner. Along with several other members of the Hawks football team.

One of the nicest things about living in Tampa, as a matter of fact. She’d often thought it fortuitous that her brother had been drafted by the hometown team. It had kept him close to home all these years, and of course, one couldn’t complain about the awesome eye candy her brother brought home now and then.

Especially Barrett. Most especially Barrett.

“We’re toasting the end of Harmony’s relationship with a man who was absolutely not right for her,” Alyssa said.

Barrett arched a brow, then gave Harmony a sympathetic look. “Really. Sorry about that.”

Harmony shrugged. “Nothing to be sorry about. Alyssa’s right. He wasn’t the man for me.”

“Then I guess I’m . . . happy for you?”

She could tell this was uncomfortable for him. “Come on. Sit down and have a glass of iced tea with us.”

“I’m not sure I want to wade into these waters. Breakups are not my territory.”

“Oh, come on, Barrett. Surely you’ve dumped a woman before,” Harmony said, pouring him a glass. When he didn’t answer, she added, “Or you’ve been dumped.”

He pulled out a chair and sat. She’d never realized before how utterly . . . big he was. He’d always kept his distance from her, preferring to hang with Drake, so this was the closest she’d ever been to him. Both he and Drake played defense for the Hawks. Like her brother, Barrett was absolutely pure muscle. But she never paid attention to Drake. Barrett, though? Oh, yes. Just watching the way his muscles flexed as he moved was like watching liquid art. She could stare at his arms for hours, but she tried not to ogle. Too much, anyway.

“I’ve been dumped before, sure,” Barrett said. “And maybe I’ve broken up with a woman or two.”

Alyssa leaned close to Harmony. “He’s downplaying being the one who dumped the woman.”

“I heard that, Alyssa.”

“I meant for you to hear me, Barrett. You’re just trying to be the good guy right now because we’re roasting the not so good guys.”

Barrett narrowed his gaze. “I told you I shouldn’t be sitting here. If you both want to bad-mouth my species—which you have a right to since some asshole broke up with you, Harmony—then I should leave. Also, I’d suggest something stronger than iced tea. It helps.”

So maybe he had been dumped before. It sounded like he knew how to get through it.

“It’s okay, Barrett,” Harmony said. “Me getting dumped is definitely not your fault. I’m not as broken up about it as I should be, all things considered. So you’re safe here.”

Besides, looking at Barrett could definitely make her forget all about Levon and his prissy bathroom counter. She wondered how many items Barrett kept on his bathroom counter? She’d just bet not many.

She turned her chair toward him, determined to find out. “Actually, I have a ridiculous question for you, Barrett.”

He turned his gorgeous blue eyes on her and smiled. “Shoot.”

“How many items currently reside on your bathroom counter?”

Barrett cocked a brow. “Huh?”

Alyssa laughed. “Very good question.”

“I don’t get it,” Barrett said.

“We’re conducting a poll about men and their bathrooms,” Alyssa said. “Indulge us.”

Barrett finally shrugged. “Okay, fine. Uh . . . soap, of course. Toothpaste and toothbrush. Deodorant. Maybe a comb?”

Harmony smiled when Barrett struggled to come up with anything else. She knew he was an absolute male of the not-so-fussy-about-his-grooming variety.

He finally cast her a helpless look. “I don’t know. I’ve got nothin’ else. Did I fail?”

“Oh, no,” Harmony said. “You most definitely passed.”

“You should go out with Barrett,” Alyssa suggested, nudging Harmony. “He’s a nice guy, and he obviously doesn’t keep thirty-seven things on his bathroom counter.”

Barrett laughed. “Yeah, and Drake would kill us both. Well, he’d definitely kill me.”

The idea of it appealed, though. She’d had such a crush on Barrett when Drake had first introduced them all those years ago. And now? Hmm. Yeah, definitely appealing.

“What my brother doesn’t know won’t hurt him—or you. What do you say, Barrett? Care to take me out?”

Barrett was at a loss for words. Harmony was his best friend’s little sister.

Only she wasn’t so little anymore.

He and Drake had been friends since sophomore year of college and had bonded then. They’d celebrated when they’d both been drafted by Tampa. Both of them played defense, they’d been roommates in college, and they’d become friends. It had been that way ever since.

He’d been coming to Drake’s mom’s house ever since college. Harmony had been just getting out of high school back then. She’d only been a kid. Now she was a woman, with a career of her own, and she’d just been dumped by some guy obviously too stupid to know what a treasure he’d had.

She was beautiful, with dark brown skin, straight dark hair that teased her perfect shoulders and those amazing amber eyes. She had the kind of body any man would want to get his hands on, curves in all the right places, and that sweet, kissable mouth . . .

And he had no business thinking about Harmony at all because there was a code—no messing with your best friend’s sister.

Absolutely not. No. Wasn’t going to happen.

He pushed back his chair and stood, looking down at Harmony as if she was Eve in the garden and she’d just offered him the forbidden apple. “I know the rule, Harmony, and so do you. I think I’ll go check out what your mom made for dinner tonight.”

He might be tempted, but there was too much at stake. He was going to step away from the sweet fruit laid out in front of him before he decided to do something really stupid and take a taste.

Because going down that road would spell nothing but doom.



Chapter Two

After Barrett walked away, Harmony stared at his retreating form, confused as hell by what he’d
just said.

“What was that all about?” Alyssa asked, pulling Harmony’s gaze away from Barrett’s fine ass.

“I have no idea.” She pushed back from the table. “But I’m going to find out.”

Mama’s house was much bigger than the one they’d grown up in. First thing Drake had done when he’d gotten his initial pro paycheck was buy their mother a new house. She’d objected, saying she liked her old one just fine, but Drake had insisted her old house was crumbling down around her. He hadn’t felt right about her staying in it, and she had finally relented.

Mama was a proud woman. She didn’t need anyone to take care of her. And for years, she’d been the one taking care of both Drake and Harmony. But their old house had been a wreck, so Harmony had been so glad Mama agreed to the new one.

There was a crowd around her brother and Barrett right now, and the last thing she wanted was to nudge herself in the middle of Barrett and Drake. Drake was overprotective and had been since their dad died when Harmony and Drake were young. Mama had raised them alone, but Drake, being two years older, had put himself in some sort of parental role which had been ridiculous at the time, but after Dad passed, Harmony had felt lost and leaned on Drake for support. He’d been her closest ally and her best friend.

Until she’d turned fifteen and had fallen madly in love with Kellan Smith. Drake had done everything in his power to squash that romance.

In hindsight, a good move, but at the time she’d hated her brother for getting in the way of the love of her life.

Fifteen-year-olds often didn’t make the best decisions. Kellan had been fine looking, and had moves a young Harmony had never before been subjected to.

Nor should she have been, since Kellan had been nineteen at the time.

Drake had cornered Kellan and threatened to not only kick his ass, but have him arrested. When Kellan had dumped her, she’d been devastated.

She hadn’t found out about Drake’s threats until later. And she’d been pissed.

Her brother had always been up in her business. Which she supposed had been fine when she was a teenager, but she was twenty-five years old now. Way too old to have him monitoring who she saw and who she didn’t.

And she still needed to know what Barrett had been talking about, so she waited until Barrett wandered into the backyard by himself with a beer in his hand.

She followed him, one eye on her brother, who was preoccupied with the television, laughing with some of the other guys from the team.

Satisfied Drake didn’t have his eyes trained on her, she slipped out the back door.

Barrett stared out over the garden.

She stepped up next to him. “A little too noisy in there for you?”

He frowned at her. “What are you doing out here, Harmony?”

“Trying to get you alone so I can ask you what you meant by the rule.”

He took a long swallow of his beer. “The rule. The guy rule.”

Somehow she knew she wasn’t going to like this rule. “What guy rule?”

He turned to face her, his body so imposing. She imagined he was quite threatening on the football field. But to her, he was just Barrett. Sexy, incredibly hot Barrett.

“The unspoken rule about not messing with your best friend’s little sister.”

She gave him an incredulous stare. “You can’t be serious.”

“I am.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I’m not a child, Barrett. I’m a grown woman who can make her own decisions. And you’re a grown man capable of making your own decisions as well.”

He looked unmoved by her statement. “You’re Drake’s sister. That makes you off-limits.”

“Unbelievable. What is this, medieval times? Who comes up with this shit? Do you guys get out a notebook in the locker room and make lists?”

He didn’t smile. “This is serious business, Harmony. And no, we don’t make lists. It’s an unwritten, unspoken rule. Every guy knows it.”

If her eyes rolled any harder, they’d roll clear out the back of her head.

“It’s a stupid rule.”

“Nevertheless, it’s there. And I’ll honor it.”

Before she gave herself a headache, she walked off, back inside.

Alyssa joined her. “What did he say?”

She poured herself another glass of iced tea, still wishing it was that dirty martini, because this day was getting more bizarre by the minute. She took several sips of tea and leaned against the kitchen island. “It’s some moronic man code about not getting involved with your best friend’s sister.”

Alyssa gaped at her. “What? That’s dumb as hell.”

“Which is what I told him.”

“Did you also tell him you’ve had a crush on him since the first time Drake dragged him into the house, back when they were in college?”

“I most certainly did not.” She’d never told anyone—other than her best friend—about her years-long crush on Barrett.

“You should tell him. Maybe that would change his mind.”

“I don’t think so. And don’t you tell him, either.”

Alyssa made crisscross motions over her heart. “Your secret goes to the grave with me, sister. You know that.”

Said crush had ebbed and flowed over the years. She’d been nineteen the first time she’d laid eyes on Barrett. She’d taken one look at tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed Barrett and had fallen instantly in lust.

Even though he’d been a few years older than she was, she hadn’t cared. No other guy had existed for her after that. Barrett had been nice to her, though he had largely ignored her, as older guys did to nearly invisible teens.

Still, her crush had endured.

During her college years she’d found other guys who actually noticed her. Then she’d replaced her fantasy of Barrett with real men.

Like Levon.

She snorted.

“What?” Alyssa asked.

“Just thinking about my journey in the man department over the years.”

“Oh. Yeah. You’ve chosen some true keepers, Harmony.”

Harmony pursed her lips. “It’s not my fault. I’m smart, I’m kind, I’m generous, I’m funny, I’d like to think I’m a proud, damn fine-looking woman, and I’m hot as hell.”

“Hell yes,” Alyssa said.

“And yet for some reason I keep attracting these losers.”

Alyssa gave her a look of commiseration. “It’s not like I’m dating winners of the year, either. It’s hard to find a good man.”

They looked at each other and grinned.

“And good to find a hard one,” they said si...

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