Tempting the Player(5)

By: Kat Latham

Hardy shouted behind Matt. “Get him! Get the bastard!”

Matt ran past Jill, squashing his instinct to check she was all right. She’d crumpled against the floor, but Hardy was right behind him, and the medics wouldn’t be far away. He shoved through the door and out into the Dublin drizzle. Fans were everywhere, but only one person was running away from the stadium, one person with a generous head start. Matt ran like he’d never run before, chasing the arsehole into a car park and motioning when he saw a copper. “Thief!”

The cop joined the chase, but he didn’t have to run far. Matt caught up with the man easily, closing the last couple of meters in a flying tackle and landing hard, smashing the fucker into the pavement. When Matt rolled away, the man was out cold.

Matt grabbed Jill’s bag and explained to the cop what happened. Blood welled up from the long, rough scrapes on his knees, but he hardly felt them. His chest heaved, his lungs desperate for air. He forced himself to his feet and raised his arms above his head. His dad’s voice rang in his head. If you can breathe at the end of a match, you didn’t play hard enough.

Matt had been breathing plenty fine at the end of today’s match. Now he was winded. Suddenly, only having played a few minutes seemed perfectly all right, if it meant he’d had the energy to help Jill out.

He made his way back into the bowels of the stadium. His teammates had crowded the hall, and they patted his back, muttering, “Good on ya, mate,” as he passed them on his way to the treatment room, where Jill sat on a bed with Hardy and one of their team doctors, Daphne, facing her with concern.

“I’m fine,” Jill said, her fingers pressed against her temple and pain etched across her face. “Really, fine. Oh, Matt! My bag!”

He handed it over to her, avoiding looking at Hardy. “The cops have him. I told them what happened. They might need to talk to you or something.”

Jill turned a pleading glance to her husband. “Could you give them my contact details? I need to catch my flight.”

“Jill, you need a scan.” The anger vibrating in Hardy’s voice would’ve made a grown man piss himself.

Jill simply waved away his concern. “I gave birth to an eight-pound baby with no pain meds. A little bump on the head won’t kill me.”

“A little—for fuck’s sake, you hit your head and passed out. Your pupils are so dilated I can’t see the color of your eyes. You’re probably concussed. Chloe can wait. She always records the shows anyway. Watch it with her tomorrow.”

Jill laid her palm to her husband’s cheek in a gesture so sweet, yet so manipulative, that Matt bit back a smile and glanced away. The winner of this match was obvious. “I’m going to watch it with her tonight. It’s our tradition.”

She kissed her husband gently and slid off the table. Lifting onto her toes, she gestured for Matt to lean down. He did, and she kissed his cheek. “Matt, you’re my hero. Thank you.”

He actually felt blood rush to his cheeks. What was he supposed to say? My pleasure? No problem? “Anytime.”

Yeah, that made no sense. As if he’d be there any time she got mugged.

“How the hell did someone get down here?” Hardy ran his hands through his hair until it stuck up in sweaty spikes. He let out a shaky breath, threw his arm around Matt’s shoulders and slapped his chest. Hard. “I don’t know what to say. I can’t—”

“It’s all right, mate. Just glad I could help.”

Hardy took a taxi to the airport so he could spend an extra half hour trying to convince her to go to hospital. Matt and the rest of the team mingled with the subdued friends, family and fans who’d flown over only to watch them lose in the last minute. When the team had sufficiently drowned their sorrows, they met Hardy at the airport for their chartered flight across the Irish Sea.

Matt boarded dead last, so he didn’t spend a single second longer than necessary in the flying torture chamber. He forced himself down the aisle to his usual seat at the back—near the toilet, in case he completely lost control of himself. Hardy sat across the aisle from him, a white bandage plastered across his swollen, purple nose.

Matt fastened the seat belt with shaky hands. He usually took a pill to help him stay calm as the cabin door sealed shut any chance of escape, but tonight he’d been so wrapped up in mentally replaying his bonehead move and Jill’s attack that he’d forgotten. So he kept his eyes squeezed shut as the flight attendant secured the door, and he gripped his armrests during the bumpy takeoff into Dublin’s inclement autumn weather. Surely this flight wouldn’t be as bad as others. God couldn’t be that cruel.

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