Cassie Brown is knee-deep in hay and hope, wrangling every ounce of grit she has to save her cherished family ranch. The word "distraction" isn't in her dictionary—until it shows up wearing cleats.
Enter Rhett Rockwell, the touchdown titan with a flashy smile and footballs flying off his boots. While the roar of the crowd fills his ears, there’s still a whisper of something...or someone...missing from his playbook.
When the rancher with a mission and the athlete with ambition lock eyes, sparks fly faster than a kicked ball sailing through goalposts. With love in the air, can Cassie and Rhett figure out what they both truly need from life?
Gallop into this playful romance from New York Times bestselling author Melissa Storm and prepare to catch some feels!
The football hit him right in the chest as he blew past the quarterback and down the field. They didn’t call Rhett “the Jet” for nothing. He could run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. That’s probably why he’d been offered a lucrative package to trade over to the San Antonio Bombers that season. Sure, he missed his former teammates back in California, but—as they say—everything’s bigger in Texas, and that included his compensation package, his local fame even the cheerleaders’ talents.
Fake left. Spin around the last defender. Follow the sideline… all the way. Boom! Touchdown!
Rhett spun the football in his hand like an old west gunslinger, blowing off imaginary smoke before tossing it back to the ref. He’d added that cowboy-like maneuver since joining the Bombers, and the fans ate it up.
He could just barely make out the announcer over the roaring sea of fans. “And there you have it, Rhett ‘the Jet’ Rockwell delivers the winning touchdown, ending this game with a 24-20 victory over Portland.”
When he’d paid his dues to the fans, Rhett made his way over to the locker room, getting clapped on the back and patted on the backside the whole way there. He smiled and exchanged good games, but somehow, he just couldn’t enjoy this latest victory fully.
Why did life feel so empty lately? He had everything he wanted—money, fame, a never-ending line of gorgeous women just lining up for a chance to win his heart. So, why wasn’t any of it enough?
Of course, he had the life he’d always dreamed of. He was just in a funk, that was all. Thank God, the funk hadn’t affected his game. And as for all this touchy-feely emotional crap…well, maybe a hot shower would do the trick. He cranked the dial up to max and let the scorching water pound his tired muscles. By the time he came out, his skin was red like a lobster and most of his teammates had packed up and headed home. But at least that nagging sadness was gone, too. At least for now.
Todd Johnson, one of the linemen and his closest friend on the team, sat waiting on one of the benches. “Good game, man,” he said, and tossed Rhett the game ball. “The guys wanted you to have this.”
“Thanks,” Rhett mumbled, jamming the ball into his locker and grabbing a loose button-up shirt and jeans from his bag. A single glossy photo shook loose from his jeans pocket and fluttered to the ground.
Todd nabbed it up before Rhett got the chance. His eyes lit up as he studied the woman in the frame. “Hot. Who is she?”
“She your girl?”
“Was. Is. I don’t know. We kind of left things open when I was traded to San Antonio.”
Tricia had made it clear that she wouldn’t be making the move without first getting an engagement ring. While Rhett hated to break her heart, he wasn’t ready to settle down with Tricia, or anyone else for that matter.
“She going to move out here for you?”
Rhett chuckled. “She probably would if I asked her, but I’m not so sure I want to do that.” Tricia loved him in her own way. Well, she loved the money, the fame, the opportunities their relationship provided for her budding career as an actress—all the things that felt so hollow now. Maybe there was something in the water down here in San Antonio, or maybe being away from all the glitz and glam of his former So Cal life had finally brought to light how superficial his life had become.
Tricia, of course, was a huge part of that, but as Todd had said, she was gorgeous and fun and good to keep around as long as she was willing to stay without demanding a commitment. She’d even given him an easy out—said they should try taking a break, seeing other people—until they were sure his trade was going to stick. Sure that they were going to stick.
“Keeping your options open is never a bad idea.” His friend winked as if the two of them shared some kind of secret as old as manhood itself. “They grow the girls hotter here in Texas. Try some of the local crops before someone tries to slap a ring on you and get you to settle down.”
Rhett laughed. “That might not be such a bad idea.” Maybe a change, maybe someone new to clear his head, get back in the dating game, shake things up.
Todd studied him for a moment, then quirked an eyebrow. “You been to the Alamo yet?”
“Back in my school days. Can’t say I was impressed.”
“Um, not that Alamo. Alamo the bar. You think I want to take you on a field trip? No, man, I want to get you focused on something other than football. Get you out there to mingle, meet people, have some fun for once in your miserable life.”
Todd certainty seemed happy enough. Maybe he knew something Rhett had been missing all along. Maybe he was right. “Okay, you’ve got me. Lead the way.”
* * *
The stick shift felt good beneath Cassie’s hand as she navigated her trusty, old pickup over the bumpy terrain of Saddleback Ranch—the truck she’d had since she’d turned eighteen and had taken over as lead hand. The ranch had been in her family for generations, a living, breathing reminder of all her great-grandfather had accomplished after coming to America with only a few bucks in his pocket.
Running the family ranch was hard work, but someone had to do it, so why not her? Only she and Jenny—the sister who was ten years her senior—remained. And Jenny had become a breeding factory immediately after turning eighteen and marrying her high school sweetheart. Not that Cassie could complain too much, since each summer Jenny lent her three oldest boys to help out with the heavy lifting on the ranch.
Cassie returned from mending a fence on the far end of the property only to find her “hardworking” farmhands huddled around an iPhone, hooting and hollering.
“Jeremy! Jake! Jonasss!” she hissed. And, yes, her sister had done that thing where all seven of her kids’ names started with the same letter. “I’m not paying you to stand around. Let’s finish up chores before family supper. Git!”
“But Auntie Cass,” Jeremy protested. “The Bombers just pulled out a win in the final seconds of the game.”
“The new guy, Rockwell, he ran so fast he was like a blur,” the youngest, Jonas, added enthusiastically.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Cassie said, crossing her arms. “Sun will be down soon. Finish up, then come inside and wash up. Your folks will be here any minute, and you know how your mom hates to wait.”
“Yes, Auntie Cass,” they mumbled, returning to their chores.
She hated being so strict with them, but if she didn’t teach them the value of hard work, who would? Besides Jenny counted on her to instill some discipline in the boys, and she didn’t want to let her sister down. As hard as she could be on both her children and her younger sister, Cassie had always looked up to Jenny, wanted to make her proud.
Sure enough, Jenny’s large van pulled into the drive a moment later, followed by her husband Jeff’s smaller, more practical sedan. Kids poured out of both vehicles and ran to wrap their arms around their favorite aunt.
She kissed the tops of their heads and grabbed up Jaden, a beautiful mess of blonde toddler curls, into her arms.
“Kids, go find your brothers. Auntie Cass and I need to talk.” Jenny hugged her sister, then pulled Jaden from her arms and set him down so he could run after his siblings. The look on Jenny’s face said volumes. Something was wrong, and Cassie was pretty sure she knew what.
“Cass…” her sister started.
Jeff walked up and slung an arm over his wife’s shoulders in support. There they stood a united front, while Cassie was all alone.
“This isn’t working. We owe more than we’re bringing in. Even with the reduction in staff, we can’t afford to keep the ranch afloat anymore.”
And there it was.
Cassie had run through this exact scenario in her brain dozens of times, but none of them had ended with her standing by too shocked to defend herself or the ranch from this onslaught.
Jeff rubbed Jenny’s shoulder. “We just found out we’re pregnant again, and we need to sell our share in order to meet the expenses.”
“And to start another college fund,” Jenny added softly.
Why would they do this? Why have another baby if things were already tight financially? Didn’t Jenny know she was the only thing Cass had besides the ranch itself? Didn’t she know that forcing Cass to give it up would forever ruin their relationship, too?
Jeff spoke next. “We know you can’t afford to buy us out, so we suggest you sell, too. Maybe the new owner will keep you on to manage things. It might not be so different.”
Might not be that different? Everything would change and for the worse. Her big sister was supposed to protect her, not be the one she needed protecting from. Maybe if she reasoned with her…
“And you agreed to this?” She glowered at her sister. Forget playing nice. She was far too angry for that.
Jenny nodded solemnly. “Some things are more important than tradition. Like family.”
“What about our great-grandfather, what about Pappy? Dad? They’re family, and it would kill them all over again to know that we just stood back and let some stranger destroy everything they built.”
“You know that’s not the way it is, Cass. We’ve really tried our best to make it work, but the world’s different than it was a hundred years ago. We can’t keep going like this, or we’ll lose it all. At least if we’re proactive, we have the opportunity to make some money out of the deal. Try to understand, we wouldn’t be suggesting this if there were any other way.”
“Your timing couldn’t be worse on this. Summer’s almost over. I’ll be losing the boys’ help, and since we can’t afford to hire anyone, I’ll be doing everything on my own. Then there’s Maybel who’s due to give birth any day now and needs an extra watchful eye.”
“Maybel? The cow?” Jeff said with a roll of the eyes. “What about Jenny? She’s going to have a baby, too, and we need to be able to feed that baby. Doesn't any of that matter to you?”
She pushed Jeff aside and spoke directly to her sister. “Please, Jenny. The ranch is all I have. Don’t make me give it up.”
Jenny broke away from Cassie’s gaze and murmured her response toward the ground. “Then maybe it’s time you find something else.”
Tears filled Cassie’s eyes but she refused to let them out, refused to appear weak when she most needed her strength. Instead, she stormed away and got back behind the wheel of her old pickup truck.
Her hair was a mess; her jeans and flannel ensemble were hardly nightlife-appropriate, but she didn’t care. She needed to find someplace warm and familiar, somewhere Jenny-less to drink her sorrows away. And the Alamo would do just the trick.