Chapter Nine & Epilogue
There were clumps of people six deep waiting for the elevators. Sunburnt and cranky, every one of them looked about as good as Angie felt. Puffy eyes, an ache in her bones and a heaviness that made lifting one foot in front of the other a monumental accomplishment, the heartbreak flu was no joke. There was a bottle of red wine in her apartment that she couldn’t wait to unscrew and down with her quart of double chocolate fudge. She was classy that way.
The elevator started to hum, lighting up the numbers of the floors above her deck as it traveled down to her level. Everyone straightened and grabbed the suitcases resting by their feet, no doubt ready to rush into the elevator and off the ship—except when the elevator doors whooshed open, no one moved.
Darius Washington and Mystie stood in the center of the elevator, their faces pointed down to the ground and microphones in their hands.
Angie’s breath caught. If something else had gone wrong with this cruise, she was going to throw herself overboard. She’s was probably already out of a job and had sworn to a life of celibacy, what else could possibly happen?
The public address system crackled to life.
“This is going out to Angie Keller.” Colt’s voice came through the speakers. “I’m not one for public declarations, but before you get off this ship, know that I’ll do whatever it takes to make up for being a total ass. So please, stop in the name of love.”
At that moment, Darius and Mystie lifted their heads. Mystie winked, but Darius was Motown smooth. The fans standing in line ahead and behind her counted to five out loud and dropped their suitcases.
What the hell? She blinked in confusion and looked at the serious faces staring back at her. It was like being transported to another planet where the alien race was all super intense.
Just when she thought it couldn’t get any more bizarre, Mystie and Darius broke into the beginning of The Supremes’ Stop! In the Name of Love.
Angie’s suitcase slipped through her grasp and hit the floor in front of her with a solid thunk. Then, on the chorus, the crowd of Thunder fans around her followed Darius’s and Mystie’s lead by hollering out the chorus, complete with a choreographed spin move and synchronized hand motions. Someone stood in the corner with their cellphone held up high, catching the whole singing flashmob as if it was the grand finale of a Bollywood movie.
Her lungs squeezed shut as she searched the crowd. Colt had to be here.
As they started the second verse, Darius and Mystie strolled out of the elevator, revealing Colt, who stood there with his own microphone. His face was beet red, no doubt from embarrassment, but he still brought the microphone up and started to sing.
“I promise I’ll be good to you.” He sang the altered lyrics in an off-key solo as he closed the distance between them. “I promise I’ll be sweet to you.”
Everyone started to sing the chorus and going through their dance routine, but Angie couldn’t hear them—the only voice making hit through was that of the man she swore to herself she’d never hear again. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to smack him or kiss him. Despite her best efforts, her bottom lip shook and tears gathered in her eyes.
Regret burned in his blue eyes, turning them as bright as a summer sky, and he tucked a stray hair behind her ear. “I’m hoping you’ll forgive me for being such an asshole on the boat and think of this as a new start.”
The hope growing inside her hurt her chest almost as much as a heartbreak. “A start for what?”
She searched his face for signs this was just a cruel joke, but all she found was the Colt who’d made her laugh, brought her to unbelievable highs and challenged her tightly controlled world. “You are completely deranged.” She half-laughed, half-sniffled back her tears.
“According to Darius, that’s a direct side effect of being a natural-born asshole whose falling in love and doesn’t know what in the hell to do about it.”
Her heart slammed against her rib cage. “Love?” She barely managed to get the single word out.
“You think I would voluntarily do this,” he gestured toward the Thunder fans watching them with rapt attention, “if it wasn’t?”
He brushed a kiss across her lips, stopping her protests. “It’s a lot and it’s happening real fast, I know. I don’t expect you to say you feel the same way too, but I’ve always known what I wanted and fought like hell to make it happen as fast as possible. It’s that stubbornness that helped me make my dream a reality when ninety-eight percent of players never get this far.”
He inhaled a ragged breath and shoved a hand through his short hair, watching her as though she’d disappear if he even so much as blinked. “And football was enough until I fell for a tiny little slip of a woman with an attitude bigger than the Thunder Dome. Being with you is the first thing I’ve ever wanted more in my life than to put on a pair of pads and tear it up on the football field. I’m ready to do whatever it takes—including, obviously, making a public spectacle of myself—to get you to give me another chance. It’s fourth and twenty here, I know that. But I’ve never given up even when the game clock was ticking down. I hope you won’t give up on us either.”
He took her hand and kissed the center of her palm, then placed it over his heart. “Angie, honey, say something.”
Fighting through the emotion squeezing her throat closed, she managed to get one word out. “Never.”
The hopeful expression on his face cracked like broken glass and his shoulders slumped in defeat. “Never?”
Angie stepped onto her suitcase, bringing herself eye to eye with him, and took his face between her hands. “I’ll never give up on us. I love you.”
She pressed her lips to his to seal the promise, feeling the all-too-familiar zing that nearly set her hair on fire. Kissing Colt was like coming home after a long trip away. Familiar and new at the same time, with enough promise of forever to make her never want to stop.
He wound an arm around her waist and pulled her to him, deepening the kiss and making plenty of promises of his own. He was hers. She was his. And together, they were something more. By the time he pulled away, she was lightheaded with lust and hope and anticipation of what was going to happen next.
The fans cheered around them and there were plenty of catcalls.
Colt turned another five shades of red at being the center of the crowd’s attention, but he didn’t let her go. “You get me to do the craziest things.”
“How did you even make this happen?” She looked around in awe. There had to be a hundred people who’d been in on the whole thing.
“I have Darius and Mystie to thank. They sent out a Thunder Dome Crew SOS and well,” he shrugged, “you see how it all turned out.”
He grabbed her suitcase with his good hand and led her to the elevator as everyone shouted their approval. The doors opened and they dashed inside, waving to Darius, Mystie and the fans as the doors closed. Finally alone, she turned and looked up at him. He was fabulous. A big public display like that couldn’t have been easy for a guy who hated groups of more the five people, but he’d done it—for her. If she hadn’t already fallen for Colt, she would have in that moment.
She trailed her fingers up the inseam of his jeans and raised herself up to her tiptoes to whisper in his ear, “So what do you do for an encore?”
Turning to face her, his delicious mouth only millimeters from hers, he flashed his best wicked grin. “How about we go back to my condo and I give you a private show—a command performance.”
Her hand rested on the growing bulge behind his zipper and she gave him a squeeze. “Big words.”
“You think I can’t?” He sucked her bottom lip into his mouth, making her skin sizzle, then followed the path of her jaw to her ear. “That sounds like a dare to me.”
“A hot dare.” And one she didn’t mind accepting today, tomorrow and forever.
Seven months later…
Angie couldn’t stop looking at her left ring finger with a mix of awe and surprise as she walked hand-in-hand with Colt up the brick sidewalk leading to her mom’s yellow adobe house with the bright blue door. They stopped just shy of the front porch and he pulled her close for a quick kiss.
“So how are you going to tell her?” he asked, toying with a long strand of her hair.
“I’m not.” She shook her head. “She’s my mom. I’d be surprised if she doesn’t know already.”
Angie had thought they were going out to celebrate him signing a long-term deal with the Thunder that had been in the works since a news crew had gotten ahold of the video showing Colt, the retired players and a cruise ship full of fans singing Stop! In the Name of Love with a choreographed dance finale. Local and national media had eaten it up and made Colt a household name, even outside of the Thunder fandom. That, along with Colt’s stellar season, gave Manny just the negotiating edge he needed for a fat contract that would take Colt into retirement from the game years from now and an option for a front-office job after that.
In addition, Dylan had stopped in her office and let her know that because of all the hard work she’d put in over the past seven months, they were again considering her for a promotion—this time a new position as a liaison between the players and the front office.
The news was huge for both of them, but when she’d found a three-carat diamond ring in her champagne glass, the day got even better.
“True.” He snuck in another kiss, brushing his lips across hers with enough promise to make her wish they’d postponed this ritual weekly dinner at her parents’ house for more practice honeymooning. “We are talking about your mom.”
Laughing, she pulled him up the steps to her parents’ door and rang the doorbell. “Are we betting on how long it takes her to notice?”
“Five minutes,” he said. “Tops.”
The front door swung open. Her mom stood on the other side, a glass of wine in one hand and a spatula in the other. “About time you got here, I—” Her scream was loud enough to set off car alarms. “Oh my God, when? How? Tell me everything.” She dropped the spatula and grabbed Angie by the left wrist, hauling her inside. “Ed! Ed!” She yelled up the steps leading to the house’s second floor. “Did you know about this?” She turned to Colt and narrowed her eyes. “Does he know about this? Because if he did and didn’t tell me, he is going to live to regret it. Ed!”
Eyes wide with a mix of fear and probably second thoughts about getting involved with her crazy family, Colt held up his hands in surrender. The man faced down three-hundred-pound men for a living, but her mom made him back up a step, not an unusual reaction, Angie admitted to herself.
“No, Mr. Keller didn’t know,” Colt said.
“Finally, I prayed for this and prayed for this, Angie, but,” Maria gave him the full-on evil eye “are you sure about this one?”
Squirming out of her mom’s grasp, she crossed to Colt’s side. In the past seven months, she’d realized he left the shower curtain open, usually had the TV turned up loud enough people in Texas had to hear it, and didn’t understand the purpose of a hamper. He also was the best man she’d ever met in her life and she loved him like no other.
She tucked her hand into his and gave him a reassuring squeeze. “I’ve never been so sure of anyone in my life.”
Maria gave her future son-in-law a hard up and down before she threw her arms around them both as best she could, considering how big Colt was, and squeezed tight. “So when?”
“This summer, before training camp,” Angie said.
A July wedding followed by a honeymoon cruise, this time without the Thunder Dome Crew cheering them on.
“Oh, there’s so much to do.” Maria hurried over to her tablet and brought up the Internet. “I have to cancel all of your dating site profiles. This is going to take forever.”
“Does that mean she approves?” Colt whispered in her ear.
She turned and lifted her face so their lips nearly touched. “Are you still breathing?”
His gaze dropped to her mouth, hunger turning his blue eyes dark, and he nodded.
Desire made her stomach dip. This was going to be the longest two-hour family dinner in history. “Then you’re going to be just fine.”
“Close one.” He gave an exaggerated sigh. “I love you, Angie Keller-soon-to-be-Butler.”
She rose to her tiptoes and kissed him with everything she had. “I love you too, Colt Butler, on and off the field.”
If you missed earlier chapters, you can find it here! Thank you so much for reading Hot Dare! Hope it gave you all of the happy sighs! xoxo, Avery