Tempting the Player(4)

By: Kat Latham

This time, the crowd’s roar vibrated through Matt’s whole body. A Legends winger ran along the touchline to Matt’s left, there for support in case Matt couldn’t work his way around the defenders. Fifteen meters to the try line. He sidestepped an opponent and kept going. Ten meters. The only thing between him and the try line was Leinster’s fullback. The man waited, light on his toes, reading Matt’s body.

Matt might be able to get around him and score. Or he could be tackled and get a bollocking from the team for being selfish when his winger was wide open.

Matt would never sacrifice his team for personal glory. He fizzed the ball to his winger—

A blur of blue flashed past him. The Leinster fullback ran into the gap between Matt and his intended target, nudging the ball off course with his fingertips. He stumbled forward and barely managed to tip the ball into his own palms, snatching it out of the air before Matt’s teammate could catch it.

Adrenaline jolted through Matt like lightning. He spun and ran after the fullback, tackling him just as the man offloaded the ball to the Leinster fly-half, who caught it and passed it out wide. Matt tried not to choke on mud and misery as a Leinster winger evaded every Legends player and sprinted eighty meters to the opposite try line, leaped over the line Superman-style, and grounded the ball to the home crowd’s earsplitting cheers.

The man who’d intercepted Matt’s throw lay in the grass next to him and slapped Matt’s bum. “Cheers, mate. I think we’ll nominate you our man of the match.”

* * *

Silence seethed in the visitors’ changing room. When they won matches, they sang filthy songs and danced around the changing room naked. When they lost, they each retreated into a deep, dark space in their own minds, trying to figure out what went wrong.

Judging by his teammates’ narrow-eyed glares, they found Matt in that darkness.

Darkness pretty much described the place where Matt found himself. The stale air was so thick with censure that he could’ve choked on it.

Choking’s what you do best.

The voice didn’t belong to Matt, or even one of his teammates. His dad might have passed on a couple of years ago, but his final words to Matt would never die. They were etched into the vulnerable meat of Matt’s brain.

You’re the biggest bloody disappointment of my life.

Matt didn’t take a shower before leaving the changing room. No need, since he’d barely broken a sweat. He strode down the hall, clueless where he was going and barely aware of his surroundings until a door opened and he nearly plowed into a woman. She gasped, and he reached out to steady her, recognizing her almost immediately. Hardy’s wife.

“Jill. Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”

“That’s all right.” She gave him a reassuring smile that made a tiny dent in Matt’s heartsickness. Gesturing at the door, she said, “Alfie’s still being patched up in there. I just came down to say goodbye.”

“You’re not sticking around for dinner?”

She shook her head. “No, I’ve got to get back to London. I’ve got a standing date with Chloe. Every Saturday night, we watch Dance the Night Away together.”

Matt laughed, some of his anxiety lifting. “Sounds like a raucous Saturday night.”

“Oh, it is. It’s the one night of the week Chloe gets to eat sugar. Have you ever seen a five-year-old on a sugar rush?” Jill shivered theatrically. “Believe me, by the end of the program there’s more dancing in our living room than on the TV screen.”

“Fun times. I won’t delay you. I was just—” Just what? Just going absolutely nowhere.

Jill’s smile dimmed a little, and she laid her hand on Matt’s arm. “I know it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s only a game. There are more important things.”

Bullshit. “Yeah, I know. I’m all right. But cheers.”

She squeezed his arm and walked down the hall before disappearing around a corner. Matt stood outside the treatment room, trying to figure out what to do. Go back and face your teammates. Apologize. It would take bollocks the size of rugby balls, but he needed to do it.

He’d just turned to head back when a feminine shout of alarm echoed down the hall.

“Jill!” He sprinted down the corridor.

Behind him, a door slammed and Hardy’s voice called out his wife’s name. Matt rounded the corner, his feet slipping on the slick flooring. About twenty meters in front of him, a man in a black hoodie was trying to tear her handbag from her as she clung on to it and kicked him.

“Let her go!” Matt rushed down the hall toward the struggle. The thief glanced back at him, yanked the bag out of Jill’s grasp and shoved her against the wall. He ran through a door at the end of the corridor.

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