Currently in the United States, we are in the football playoff season. Lots of women don’t care for sports, but I love them. I’m not sure why I love sports when so many women don’t. Maybe it’s because I grew up with three brothers who all played numerous sports, but then I was the oldest and my brothers tell me I was a sports fan before they were.
I often wonder what sport I might have played if there had been more opportunities for girls in sports when I was growing up, as there are now. My high school didn’t have any girls teams. Now I’m an avid tennis player, but I doubt that tennis would have been my go-to sport back then because I lived in a cold climate. I don’t remember even seeing a tennis court near my home when I was in high school. Even though I’m short, I did enjoy basketball in PE class. Back then, the women’s game was different than the men’s. There were six players, three guards and three forwards. The guards and forwards had to stay on their own side of the court. My senior year, they introduced the roving guard and roving forward who could cross the center line. Much different from the women’s game today.
My love of sports prompted me to write a sports story when I was writing for Love Inspired. I sent in a proposal for a story about a basketball coach. The story idea was rejected, and my editor told me that their readers didn’t like sports. I was so sad because I loved the story idea about a men’s basketball coach who had good reason not to like reporters, but he had to deal with a reporter, a beautiful young woman, who had been assigned to follow his team through the national college basketball tournament. The story sits unfinished to this day. As an indie author, I could publish the story, but I’ve had other story ideas on my plate as well as reissuing all my old Love Inspired books, and I haven’t gone back to that story.
However, one of my newer releases, Hometown Hero, fifth book in my Kellersburg series, features a former football player, whose career ended because of a horrific injury. So basically, the reader doesn’t encounter the hero playing football. So I figured I could still have my sports hero and hopefully not turn off readers.
Here’s a short excerpt from the book.
“What’s Zach doing now that he’s not playing football?” Maisey walked a fine line between too much interest in Zach and not enough.
Wes shook his head. “Don’t know that either. Haven’t heard much about Zach since he had that terrible injury in the football game right after Christmas last year.”
Maisey tried to block the vision of Zach sandwiched between two monstrous defensive linemen and how his seemingly lifeless body had lain there while medical people rushed onto the field. Even a year later, a sick feeling sat in the pit of her stomach as the images stuck in her mind like a piece of gum on her shoe.
She’d followed his football career along with her parents and most of Kellersburg. High school. College. The pros. She’d watched every game he’d ever played.
And she’d loved him that whole time.
Maisey busied herself by untangling cords and flipping through her sheet music. It wouldn’t do to let on to Wes that Zach interested her. “Yeah, he just kind of fell off the radar.”
But not Maisey’s radar. She hated to admit she cyberstalked him. And now she would share Sunday dinner with the man she’d had a crush on forever. Did Wes even have a clue about her obsession? Hopefully not. Wes had been twelve when Zach went away to college. Slim chance her brother would know about her bad case of puppy love.
Maisey was Zach’s superfan, sometimes an overexuberant one. What would he say if he knew she had saved video clips of his most memorable moments on the field or that she had a scrapbook of articles clipped from newspapers and magazines? What would Wes say?
Wes grinned. “Cool that we’re having dinner with a celebrity.”
“Not cool if you gush over him.” She’d remind herself not to do just that.
“Yeah, I suppose, but I have no idea how to act around someone who’s famous.”
Maisey chuckled. “He used to babysit you. Think of that.”
“I barely remember.” Wes shook his head. “I just remember him playing football. Mom and Dad would take us to the high school games to watch him play, and we would sit with the Dawsons.”
Maisey remembered that, too. She also remembered how her heart almost beat out of her chest when their families spent time together and when Zach smiled at her. Sometimes she’d thought she might melt into a puddle right there in front of him.
And mostly she remembered the day he had rescued her from the class bully.
That day would be forever etched on her mind, the day he’d become not only her crush, but her hero. On a spring afternoon at the end of her second-grade year, as she walked home from school, a boy in her class followed her. She’d ignored him when he called her the teacher’s pet. She’d just prayed she would get home before he carried out his threat to steal her backpack.
She had walked faster and faster, hoping to outdistance him, but her short legs were no competition for the biggest kid in class. Tears stung her eyes, but she blinked them away. As she hurried down the sidewalk just a block and a half from her house, she tripped on a crack and sprawled face first on the hard concrete, scraping her hands and knees. The mean kid snatched the backpack that lay beside her and raced away.
Pain radiated through her body as she sat up. Tears stained her cheeks, and she sniffled. She scrambled to her feet, determined to retrieve the backpack. Blood dripping down her legs, she charged after the horrible boy who was only half a block ahead of her.
She ignored the pain as she raced down the sidewalk. “Stop, stop, you meanie! Give me my backpack!”
Just as the boy reached the end of the block, someone sprinted across the street and grabbed the kid by the arm and jerked him to a stop, then grabbed the backpack. Panting and out of breath, Maisey slowed her pace as she squinted and tried to figure out who had rescued her backpack.
“Don’t you ever let me catch you doing that to anyone, especially Maisey. Now get out of here.” The words of the raised voice carried all the way down the block.
Maisey’s heart jumped into her throat as she recognized Zach Dawson, who lived across the street and three doors down from her house. She watched him approach with her backpack slung over his shoulder. Her heart pounded in her chest, like the thundering herd of unicorns that graced her backpack.
“I believe this is yours.” Zach held the pink-and-purple backpack out to her.
Maisey couldn’t find her voice. She merely nodded as she took the backpack and held it close, all the time thinking that Zach had touched it. She would never get a new one.
“Whoa. Are you okay? Looks like you took quite a tumble.” He glanced down at her legs where blood still formed little red rivers.
She nodded again, still unable to speak. Why had she chosen a dress today instead of pants? Pants would’ve given some protection for her knees and hidden her skinny legs from Zach’s eyes.
“You don’t look okay. Let’s get you home.” Zach picked her up and cradled her in his arms, as if she weighed next to nothing. “You let me know if that kid ever bothers you again.”
Maisey still hadn’t found her voice, and she nodded for the third time. Was she dreaming? The pain in her knees told her no.
When Zach reached Maisey’s front porch, he rang the bell with his elbow, then turned the doorknob with the hand of the arm he had under her knees. The door swung open. “Mrs. Norberg, it’s Zach. Maisey’s been hurt.”
In seconds her mom, Annette, hurried into the living room. “Maisey, what happened?”
As Zach set Maisey on the couch and sat beside her, he explained about the bully. After he finished, her mother cleaned and bandaged the wounds. The whole time Zach didn’t move from his spot, and Maisey had relished every moment. Every day for weeks she remembered how it felt to have him hold her.
A grown-up now, Maisey knew her romantic thoughts were the stuff of puppy love and crushes, but that didn’t keep her from thinking about Zach. Today he would grace one of the pews in this church. Could she find her voice to sing with him sitting there? She had to, even though Zach was certainly more famous today than he was all those years ago. She wasn’t a starstruck little girl anymore.
Hometown Hero is now on sale for 99 cents. You can find the book at the retailers listed below.
What do you think about sports in a romance story?
I will give away an ebook copy of Hometown Promise, the first book in my Kellersburg series, to one person who leaves a comment. I will draw the winning name on January 27, 2023 at 9PM MST.
“Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.”