Some of you know that in addition to my historical romances, I also write contemporary romance with my hubby under the pen name of VK Sykes. We have a new book just out. Bigger Than Beckham is book three in our Philadelphia Patriots series of sports romances.
The heroine, Martha Winston, finds herself the new owner of professional soccer team, left to her by her recently deceased father. It’s the last thing she needs in her busy life, but her father extracted a deathbed promise that she’d do everything she could to keep his beloved team in the family. Unfortunately, The Thunder is on the skids and deep in debt, with the bank about to bring down the hammer. As Martha ponders her next move, she receives call from Tony Branch, former English soccer star and sports maven, and a man she’s been secretly dreaming about for quite some time.
In truth, it would be hell convincing her skeptical backers that her plan to turn the team around was working since there was scant evidence to back up the claim. The Thunder had been sinking fast when she arrived in June, and they’d fallen ever deeper down the rabbit hole since.
Sadly, her team sucked. It needed a full overhaul, requiring both time and money. A lot of money. Meanwhile, the fans would have to be patient.
Jane Corrigan, her personal assistant and long-time friend, tapped lightly on her open door. Ever-cheery, she gave Martha a grin as she stepped into the spacious but sparsely furnished office. “There’s a guy named Tony Branch on the line. He’s calling from London, and that’s London as in England,” she said, her thin brows lifting in a question.
Martha’s pen fell from her fingers. Tony Branch? With his ruggedly handsome face, toned body, and penetrating gaze, he’d made an impression she’d never forgotten, even two years later.
Suddenly flushed, she brushed a hand carelessly across her heated forehead. It was exactly the same physical reaction she’d experienced when their paths had crossed in England.
“Are you all right, girl?” Jane asked. Her friend knew every one of Martha’s arsenal of looks and gestures, having spent five years working alongside her in the sports department of the Philadelphia Post.
“Right as rain,” Martha said with forced cheeriness as she fanned a hand in front of her face. “It’s just a little warm in here. As for Mr. Branch, please tell him I’m just finishing up another call, and I’ll be with him in a minute.” She needed a few seconds to regain her equilibrium.
Tony frigging Branch. The way-too-sexy Brit had wasted no time undressing her with his smoking hot gaze after that Wimbledon charity dinner. Though the encounter had been short, Martha had no trouble remembering all the relevant details about the man. Tall, with longish dark and wavy hair. Deep-set, dark eyes. Square jaw. On the lean side, but with a soccer player’s well-toned, well-muscled body. A British sports hero, a man worshipped by rabid fans since he was a teenager.
And a total lady-killer, if the gossip rags held even a hint of truth.
She couldn’t deny that his roguish, arrogant smile had almost knocked her off her pins. She’d been instantly attracted both to his looks and his can-do reputation, and had thought the attraction was shared. But, sadly, she’d let that twit from the tennis magazine hustle her off so quickly. The event had practically bored the silk stockings off her, and she’d been happy to leave early. Until she met Tony Branch, that is. Then the evening had ended all too soon.
When she got home, she’d even pitched a feature about him to her editor at the Post. But he’d told her that nobody in the States wanted to read about a British soccer personality unless his name was David Beckham.
But why would Tony Branch call her now? They’d just met the once, and that had been over two years ago.
Flutters danced below her ribcage. She pressed her hand against her stomach, trying to ignore them.
She picked up the phone and punched the flashing light. “Good morning, Mr. Branch. Oh, but I guess it’s already afternoon for y’all over there, isn’t it? You’re way ahead of us colonials, at least in that regard.”
People had always told her she sounded naturally perky, but she ladled an extra measure of southern sass into the mix to try to cover her twitchy nerves.
“Yes, it’s well into afternoon here,” Branch said with a deep chuckle. God, his voice sounded like whiskey poured through dark chocolate. “And please call me Tony. I’m not calling too early, am I?”
Martha remembered the way she’d been instantly drawn to his deep, throaty rasp when they met. There was no trace of poncey schooling in Branch’s voice. A working class lad all the way, and she’d found that enormously appealing.
“Oh, heavens, no,” she said. “It’s nine o’clock here. I’ve already put in two hours’ work.”
“That’s the stuff. Got to get up with the roosters if we want to stay ahead of the pack, don’t we?” Branch said, with a spectacular mixing of metaphors.
“Indeed we do.” She thought she’d enjoy a bit of banter with him, but her nerves made her impatient to discover the purpose of his call. Still, that didn’t stop her from firing a little salvo. “I have to say how glad I am you called. Maybe you could give a rookie owner some tips,” she said in a playful voice. “Lord knows I could use a few. My team’s five and nineteen, and I can’t find a fan these days with a GPS and a bloodhound.”
Branch let out a rumbly chuckle. “Ouch. I can feel your pain. But look, Martha—may I call you Martha?” When he purred her name, her knees actually went weak.
You can call me intrigued. “Why, sure you can, Tony.”
“Excellent. Martha, believe me, I’ve been there. My first year after taking over Blackhampton, we managed one miserable win and two draws in our first fifteen matches. The fans wanted my bollocks on a plate.” He paused. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be using coarse language speaking with a lady. But in any case, after that we only lost six of the final twenty-one, and suddenly I’d become a savior instead of an incompetent, washed-up football player, as one columnist called me.”
Martha smiled. She knew Branch had performed miracles with his top tier club, getting them promoted to the Premier League in only a couple of years. And now they were more or less competitive for the league championship. “How did y’all turn it around, Tony? I’ll pay real good money for any of your secrets.”
Okay, I don’t have any money, but that’s beside the point.
Branch laughed again. Martha liked the throaty sound of it. Low and sexy as, well, sex on a stick.
“I had to kick a few backsides and get rid of some deadwood,” he said. “But the key was that I was able to convince the lads that I’d do whatever it took to turn the side a winner. I promised them that the next season we’d pick up a couple of top-flight midfielders no matter what the cost. The lads trusted me because they knew I’d been one of them. A player who’d gone through all the negative garbage they were going through, both on the field and off. Pretty soon they started acting like winners. Playing hard every minute of every match. Gutting it out.”
Martha sighed. No matter what the cost. It must be a sweet feeling to have deep pockets. Right now, hers were about as deep as a coat of paint. Hell, at this rate she’d be lucky to make payroll until the end of the season.
“You’ve certainly made a success of it,” she said, forcing a cheery voice. “Sixth place last year. Maybe fifth this season.”
“You follow the Premier League that closely, Martha?”
She frowned at the obvious note of surprise in his voice, hoping he wasn’t like some of the team owners and players who considered her little better than a dumb blonde.
“Of course,” she said as a flush of resentment swept over her. But she tamped down the spike and kept her tone light. “Some of us over here on the frontier still manage to keep track of what’s going on in the soccer motherland.”
Branch laughed again, and the rumble sent hot pinpricks dancing across her skin. The charming Brit seemed to appreciate her quirky sense of humor, something she’d found many men didn’t. “I’m glad to hear it. I think I’ll sleep better at night now knowing that.”
She picked up her fountain pen and tapped it against the leather trim of her desk blotter. Why wasn’t he getting to the point? She rather liked chatting away with him, but her stomach kept rolling around and perspiration was beginning to trickle down her spine. “Well, then, sweet dreams,” she said, hoping he’d get on with it.
He seemed to pick up her change in tone. “All joking aside, Martha, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m contacting you.”
“Can’t say the thought didn’t flicker through my mind. But we southern folk would never be so impolite as to ask straight out.”
He cleared his throat. “I’ll come straight to the point, then. I know you’re in a bit of a pickle over there, and I’d like to find a way to help you out of it.”
You can read another excerpt of Bigger Than Beckham on our website, along with excerpts from our other books in the Philadelphia Patriots series. Bigger Than Beckham is on sale for $3.49 at Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo, and will soon be available on the Nook.
Happy Sunday, everyone!