The Protective Patriot
Georgia Patriots Romance
When Miles Moore, the new left tackle for the Georgia Patriots, enters the downtown Atlanta City Library one Friday evening, he doesn’t expect to experience love at first sight with the children’s librarian, save a woman’s life, or chase down her shooter. The night gets even more interesting when the woman he saves wakes in the hospital and tells him that if she dies, she wants Miles and the librarian to raise her child together. The catch: they need to get married, and quick, to gain custody of little girl or she risks being funneled into the government foster care system.
Tessa Stevens longs for a family she knows she’ll never have, but when she’s swept off her feet by Miles Moore, the handsome new football player in town with an impromptu kiss, she starts to wonder if she might get her own fairytale love story, after all. When her friend is mortally injured by her estranged husband, Miles sprints into action, becoming the ultimate protector. But who will protect Tessa’s heart when Miles finds out she’s been keeping secrets from him? Secrets that would change how he sees her. Will she live the fairytale and not tell him? Or will she live true to herself and risk everything she’s ever wanted?
Miles Moore stepped out of his rental car and into the balmy spring evening air. He handed his keys to the valet, stretching his legs as he walked. At six feet, five inches, he’d learned that his legs didn’t do well, even on the ten-minute drive from his rented condo to the mansion.
Atlanta’s weather was similar to Dallas’s, only slightly cooler and rainier. It would be an easy transition. If he kept telling himself how awesome it would be to move here, then maybe he’d believe it.
He stepped around the car and whistled at the sight of the Buchanan mansion. He’d heard that the owner of the Georgia Patriots, Bucky Buchanan, appreciated everything that screamed Southern. Bucky’s plantation-style home was no exception, with its stereotypical white columns and a wraparound deck with red rocking chairs.
Miles adjusted his tux’s coattail. A tux seemed like overkill tonight, but Mack Quinn, his buddy and fellow offensive lineman from Texas A&M, had told him he’d be wearing tails and convinced Miles to wear a tux as well. Miles would’ve preferred blue jeans, a T-shirt, and an evening at home with his brothers watching a game, but this party would usher in this chapter of his life with the Patriots. Tonight, he’d celebrate his new teammates’ recent win over San Francisco.
As the Patriots’ recently acquired left tackle, everyone would know who he was mighty quick, but he hadn’t practiced with the team yet and they were headed into their off-season. He’d told himself he needed to hit this change head-on, and that’s what he planned to do.
He strode up the stone path, which was lit with garden lights that resembled the lily of the valley flowers they surrounded. The fragrant flowers lined the walkway, and their scent lingered in his nostrils as he crossed the wooden deck to the massive front door. As a kid, he would’ve been blown away by this house, but considering that his identical twin brother’s house in Dallas—where he currently lived—was basically a stone castle, Bucky’s house wasn’t jaw-dropping.
Before he opened the door, he took a minute to glance in through the windows. Mack had been smart to recommend that Miles wear a tux. The women all dressed in formal evening gowns, and every man wore either a tuxedo or a tailored suit.
Miles pressed his hand against the grainy wooden door but didn’t push. This was the first party he would attend without Max, ever. He’d never admit it to anyone else, but separating from his identical twin after spending every day together for twenty-five years was indescribable.
He’d talked Mason, their triplet brother, into moving to Atlanta with him and their sisters, but Max was the Titans’ secret weapon. No one got by him as left tackle, and the Titans weren’t about to give him up.
Miles had been not only an offensive lineman alongside Mason, but also second-string backup for Max as left tackle. He’d now be starting left tackle for the Georgia Patriots. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse if he wanted to continue his NFL career. He had to either cut the metaphorical umbilical cord to his brother, or never play pro ball again.
Cutting the umbilical cord he shared with Max would be like trying to slice titanium with a butter knife. Only people who had an identical twin could really understand their bond. Even Mason, their triplet brother, didn’t quite get it. Miles explained it to people like a science fiction novel. He’d tell people the bond between identicals was like being cloned. When they looked at their twin, or talked with them, it was as if they were communicating with themselves, working something out in their own minds. And if anyone were to threaten their twin, it was as if they threatened them personally.
People understood it to a degree, after staring off into space and thinking for a few minutes, which also gave Miles an opportunity to escape before the inevitable question: “What was it like growing up as a triplet?”
The only good that could come of his physical separation from Max, other than the substantial salary increase, was that he’d have more incentive to find someone special and settle down, maybe have a kid, or seven. He wanted to fill his home with laughter and boisterous noise like their home had been when he and his brothers were young and rambunctious. And who knew how much longer his career would last? He’d already played professional ball for four seasons, surpassing the average career span of an NFL player by half a season.
With a deep sigh, Miles turned the door handle and entered his new life. Dang, his new life was loud, but it sure felt like home, like he’d never left the hollering jokesters at the Texas Titan parties. He had only taken a few steps into the open room off the front entrance before the house quieted to almost a whisper. When he realized he was the shiny new buckle in the room that commanded everyone’s attention, he nodded to no one in particular and stood straighter. This must’ve been how the young wizard with the lightning scar felt his first day in the wizarding world.
“Miles Moore!” Bucky’s voice boomed as he stepped away from his entourage toward Miles.
Miles instantly took to the burly, weathered man. Bucky’s deep-set blue eyes bored into Miles. The guy had presence.
“Pleased to finally meet you, Mr. Buchanan.” Miles extended his hand to the team owner.
Mr. Buchanan threw his hand into Miles’s with a slap that reverberated throughout the room. Miles grasped Bucky’s hand and gave it a firm shake while holding his steady gaze. There was no backing down with a man like Bucky Buchanan. Miles would show Bucky his respect but with an edge that said he expected to be taken seriously. A good three-second handshake and steady eye contact was all it took.
“Welcome to the family, Miles,” Bucky said with a genuine smile.
“Thank you, sir. I’m gonna make you proud.” For reasons that Miles was sure had everything to do with his parents dying when he was ten years old, he’d always tried to find a father figure in his coaches. Unfortunately, most coaches didn’t want to get too close to their players because they’d inevitably be required to cut them someday, but Bucky seemed different. Miles felt like this guy really did see his players as family members.
Bucky said, “Good, because I’m counting on you to get us to the Super Bowl next year.” He patted Miles on his back. “In the meantime, I have your first assignment.”
Miles attempted to hide his surprise. “Yes, sir?”
“I started a charter high school a few years back.” Bucky cast his eyes to the ground and pulled Miles aside and out of earshot. “It just hasn’t worked out as planned. Not academic enough with our focus on sports. This fall, we’re bringing in a STEM program and expanding our outreach. Have you heard of STEM?”
Miles perked up. “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. My sisters would love that.”
“And I’m anticipating Mason will as well,” Bucky said with raised brows. “I need someone smart who also understands the game. They need to know how to deal with jocks but also lead our STEM program.”
“That sounds like the perfect fit for Mason,” Miles agreed, tamping down his surprise. Mason was being offered a job his first day in Atlanta? Their move was happening at lightning speed. The purpose of this weekend trip was to let Miles meet his teammates and get a feel for the housing market before they moved to Atlanta from Dallas in three or four months.
“After you’re finished here, will you please stop by our local library?” Bucky handed him a business card with an address written on the back. “The school administrators are giving a presentation there for prospective students.” Bucky lifted his arm and squinted at his watch. “You’ll miss the presentation, but I’d like the administrators to present you as a Georgia Patriot who will be helping out, and Mason as the future school president.”
Miles froze. When he regained his voice, he said, “Wouldn’t you like to speak with Mason about this first?” Miles knew Mason would jump at the opportunity, and considering he’d just been cut from the Titans, he was anxious to start a new career.
Bucky threw his head back in laughter. “We don’t move forward by talking, son. We push. And I know everything about you boys, down to what you ate for breakfast when you were eight.”
That sounded about right. The NFL did more extensive background checks on their players than the federal government did on their own spies.
Bucky patted Miles on the back. “I only wish I could have picked up Max as well. You boys are what men ought to be. I know you’ll help lead this team and my school with integrity.”
The business card Bucky had given him had an address on one side. Miles flipped it over, expecting to find Bucky’s name, title, and contact info. Instead, it had the name Bear Clawson and a phone number.
“Bear is the head of security for the Patriots.” Bucky rubbed his chin and paused before continuing. “If something ain’t right, you call him.”
What qualified as something not being right? wondered Miles.
Bucky motioned to the buffet tables. “Now, get you a plate of food. There’s a beautiful redhead over there who hasn’t taken her eyes off you since you walked in the room.”
Increased blood pumped through Miles’s veins when he locked eyes with the pretty woman who stood between the two long buffet tables. His excitement dipped when he recognized the woman as Scarlett Lily, the pretty actress who’d emceed a benefit where she’d auctioned his twin off for a date about three weeks ago, the week before Valentine’s Day. Miles and Mason should have been on the auction block that night with Max, but Miles had been traded from the Titans to the Patriots before the night of the benefit auction and Mason had been cut from the team.
While Scarlett was approaching, Miles pulled his phone out and sent a quick text to Mason with the library’s address, asking him to take Millie and Mazy there in thirty minutes. He couldn’t wait to see his sisters’ surprised expressions.
“Miles Moore,” Scarlett said with her million-dollar smile. “It was a shame we didn’t see you at the benefit auction. We could have raised a lot more money if you’d been there.”
“Yeah. Sorry about that,” he said, loading his plate as quickly as possible with fingerling potatoes and some type of barbeque pork that smelled like a picnic on a summer’s day. “Not really my choice.”
“How did Max’s Valentine’s date go with …” She tapped her teeth with her fingernails.
“Rosemary,” Miles said, finishing her thought. He didn’t tell Scarlett that Rosemary had become his sisters’ temporary nanny until the move, or that he’d left Max at home in Dallas all weekend with Rosemary in hopes that they’d work through a few challenges and realize they were perfect for each other.
“Yes. Rosemary. Wow!” She snapped her fingers. “They had more zing than I’ve seen in a couple in a long time.” Scarlett reached the end of the buffet table and stared at a silver bowl of fresh strawberries with a faraway look in her eye. “Have you seen Mack Quinn tonight? You played together at Texas A&M, right? I missed the awards ceremony and was hoping to speak with him.”
If Scarlett had missed the awards ceremony, that meant Miles had arrived at the party later than he’d thought. Miles downed his food as he scanned the crowd to locate Mack. One advantage of being one of the biggest guys on the team was that he could see over other NFL players’ heads. “There he is. I’ll take you to him.” Miles took one last bite of his pork and set his plate down on a table that a waiter was bussing.
He tilted his head and smiled at how Scarlett delicately patted her lips with her napkin. She was a beautiful woman, but Miles never looked twice at redheads. It was a known fact that two redheads couldn’t marry, unless they wanted to doom their offspring to have zero resistance to the sun, and he couldn’t have seven burnt kiddos. Fortunately for Miles’s descendants, he preferred brunettes.
“You know,” Scarlett said, her eyes smiling up at him, “you could pass as my brother.”
Good thing Miles didn’t have the hots for Scarlett, or that comment would have sent him skittering away with his tail between his legs. He held his elbow out to her, which she graciously looped her arm through. “Okay, little sis. You let me know if you need any protecting, and I got your back. And since we’re family now, maybe you can introduce me to some of your friends.” He knew nothing would happen with Scarlett, but now that he’d witnessed how much happier Max was with Rosemary at his side, Miles craved that connection with someone too. It was time he seriously thought about settling down.
They approached Mack and his friends, who were standing in a small circle and chatting. Miles nodded to his buddy and grinned. “Mack, I come bearing gifts.”
Scarlett laughed nervously and elbowed Miles in the gut. “I’m not a gift, you dork. I’m Scarlett Lily.” She held her hand out to Mack.
“Oh.” Mack shook her hand. “You’re the actress.”
“Yes. I wanted to say hello. I knew your brother in college.” She glanced back at Miles.
Miles caught Scarlett’s unspoken meaning: she wanted him to leave her alone with Mack. Slowly, he stepped back and turned. He wasn’t upset at being dismissed. He had limited time before he needed to leave for the library, and he still wanted to meet two people before he left.
As he made his way through the boisterous crowd, he reflected on what Max had said to him when he’d told him he’d be playing left tackle for the Patriots. And considering Max had protected the quarterback from his blindside as left tackle for a few years now, Miles listened to his twin. Max had told Miles that the most important thing to do was establish a relationship with the quarterback. If he didn’t like the guy, he couldn’t effectively protect him.
Miles said a silent prayer that Rigby “Rocket” Breeland, the Patriots’ quarterback, wouldn’t be a complete jerk like their quarterback in college had been. Somehow Max had learned to understand and appreciate their Texas A&M quarterback, which helped his NFL prospects, but Miles had steered clear of the guy, never opting to play left tackle when given the chance.
“Miles Moore,” said a player a few inches shorter and much thinner than Miles. “I’m Tate Campbell.” Tate’s hand shot out in greeting.
“You’re just the man I was looking for,” said Miles with a wide smile and a firm handshake. “A fellow Texan.”
Tate’s dark eyes sparkled in the low light of the hanging wrought-iron chandelier directly above their heads with its hundreds of teardrop crystals.
Miles had read up on Tate. He was the second-string quarterback. He’d grown up in a town about a hundred miles east of Dallas on a horse ranch. His mother had died when he was young, and he now lived in an Airstream trailer and traveled around during off-season. The only unsettling thing was that he’d heard Tate was a ladies’ man, and Miles didn’t like it when a man disrespected a woman.
“Welcome to the team,” said Tate with an honest smile as his fingers pushed through his dark curly hair.
“Thanks. You here with someone?”
“Nah. But Rigby’s here with his wife. He’s the best.”
Miles had hoped to get Tate’s view on women, but Tate wasn’t giving up anything there. At least Miles could find out more about Rigby. After all, he was the starting quarterback and the man Miles would be protecting. “You get along with Rigby?” asked Miles.
Tate nodded. “Don’t worry about the suspension he got. His first wife cheated on him, and the guy he pummeled was a piece of work who hassled Rigby.” Tate laughed. “So, Rigby took him out.”
Miles raised his brows with concern and a touch of admiration. He’d read about the suspension, but there hadn’t been any details in the article. “He did what?”
“The guy deserved more beating than he got, but Rigby’s happily remarried now to his childhood crush.”
“And Rigby’s good to his wife?”
Tate gave Miles a curious stare before answering. “Yeah. He treats her like gold. You wanna meet him? He’s around here somewhere.”
“Lead the way.” If Rigby was anything like Tate, Miles would never allow anything to touch him—on or off the field.