Obsession. Conspiracy. Attempted murder. One small-town sheriff just landed in the middle of a deadly mess.
As the first female sheriff of Steele Ridge, Maggie Kingston is prepared for all kinds of trouble… just not the mess that invades her town when a superstar quarterback moves in, bringing his big-city problems with him. Jayson Tucker hasn’t been a resident for one day before Maggie is struggling with crowd control, deranged fans, and dozens of reporters camped outside her station, ready to record the latest scandal for primetime TV.
When Jayson reveals startling evidence about a charity he’s been supporting, Maggie suspects there’s more to his story than what the media circus around him is leading everyone to believe. Is there a coordinated smear campaign against Jayson? If so, how far will his enemies go to make sure he stays benched permanently?
While things heat up between Maggie and Jay, they must work together to separate truth from fiction. Time is running out to identify the threat to Jay’s life—and to catch a foe who will stop at nothing to settle the score in their favor.
Jayson slid a sideways glance at his agent and his rare use of a condescending tone. During negotiations, Grif generally voiced his opinions in a direct, unquestioning manner. Something Jay admired in the man. Never a runaround. Only truth. Reality as seen by Grif Steele.
Sitting across from Jay at the oversized conference table, Drew Chandler wouldn’t—or couldn’t—meet his eye. The hand-painted Knights logo on the wall behind Jay monopolized his attention.
The guy always was a spineless weasel and this episode proved it. When wrecking a man’s life, the least he could do was look that man in the eye.
“I assure you,” Drew said, “we’re very serious.”
Not I. We. As in an entire organization. One that Jayson had spent the whole of his professional football career representing.
All those years and this is what he got?
Beside Drew, Eli Paskins, the team’s major shareholder, held up both hands.
The Knights held the distinction of being the United States Football Federation’s only publicly owned team and being the major shareholder, Eli participated in potentially high-impact decisions.
Like releasing a franchise player.
One Paskins himself had recruited. His word was rule, but he also took the unenviable heat from shareholders when profits were down.
Over the years, Jay had assisted Eli in any number of team-related activities. Everything from player issues to press briefings to charity events, Jayson Tucker, superstar quarterback, had been right there, stumping for his team, letting everyone know the Knights were theteam to watch.
“Gentlemen, please,” Eli said.
Grif huffed out a breath, his frustration with the proceedings evident.
“Grif,” Drew said, “you’ve put the screws to me for years. Don’t play like you’re horrified.”
“I may have put the screws to you, but I’m not playing. I amhorrified.”
At certain times, Jay didn’t mind his agent speaking for him. Right now? No way. He’d spent years leading this team, on and off the field, getting his head beat in and maintaining a cool under fireimage under a brutal spotlight, and the front office wanted him gone. Fast.
A knife slice ripped at him. His career.
Everything. Gone, gone, gone.
Before he’d experienced a championship.
And that pissed Jay off.
Grif leaned in, ready to launch into an argument, but Jay gave him a backhanded flick on the arm. “Don’t bother.” He faced Drew and Paskins again, his direct glare leveled on Drew. He’d deal with Paskins, his friend,in a minute. “You’re releasing me after everything I’ve done for this team—all the dog and pony shows, keeping your locker room in check, which hell, that’s no picnic, and oh, right, grooming that pain in the assrookie quarterback for myjob. And you’re not asking for my side of this thing. What the fuck does that say?”
“Tuck,” Paskins said, “take it easy.”
Tuck, my ass.
From the second Jay had walked in here, it had been all formal use of his name. Now, with him getting, as Paskins liked to say, a little hot, his boss wanted to knock the edge off things by using Jay’s nickname.
Jay wasn’t having it. Not for a second. Not for the tiniest fucking tenth of a second.
“You’re destroying my career and reputation. We’re not talking just football. There are endorsements, too. This is my goddamned livelihood. Why the hell would I take it easy?”
Paskins’s dark eyebrows hitched up and his mouth hung open, expressing the fake revulsion he wanted Jay to buy.
Finally, he forced a choppy breath. “I’mdestroying your career. Igave you your first big-league contract. And when that contract was up, I made you the highest-paid quarterback in the league. When have I not supported you?”
Uh, how about now? “Check your calendar. It’s Tuesday. The press has been dogging me since Sunday night and management has shown zero support. Aside from long-standing teammates, there’s been radio silence from an organization I’ve spent fifteen years pimping myself out for. Am I the highest-paid quarterback? You bet. I earn every cent.”
“He’s right,” Grif said, “you know this is crap. If you release him, I’ll find a way to sue you. Count on it.”
Drew ignored Grif’s threat, and for the first time, looked at Jayson. Dead on. “You attackeda player. In a locker room full of reporters. He’s a first-round draft pick. How do I defend that?”
Fighting to keep his temper in check—and avoid saying something stupid—Jay drove his heel into the carpet. After two days of his superiors failing him, he was smart enough to not take a chance on them leaking the events of this meeting to the press. Lifting one hip, he reached into his pocket for his phone and retrieved the video he’d watched at least a hundred times. “You tell the truth,” he said. “Say you benched Eric Webb, your golden boy rookie quarterback, and he retaliated by nearly having my head knocked off.” He tossed the phone on the table. “Take a look. Real close. That’s Rajae Evans and his illegal hit that could have paralyzed me, and all the guy gets is a one-game suspension. And Golden Boy, a guy I’ve put more man-hours into than I can count, set me up.”
“You don’t know that,” Drew said.
“The hell I don’t. Evans was Golden Boy’s college roommate. You think that’s a coincidence?”
Jay pulled air through his nose, forced himself to breathe and settle his thumping heart. Retreating to the logo behind Jay, Drew broke eye contact. Of course he did.
Time to deal with his friend. Jay shifted to Paskins. “We’ve shared meals. You’ve asked me for favors. Did you even look into it? Maybe do an investigation to see if the Golden Boy and Rajae had a phone conversation on Saturday? Before they tried to end my career. Or don’t you care?”