Sunday Spotlight is a feature we’re running in 2016. Each week, we will spotlight a release we’re excited about. We’ll be posting excerpts and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂
Downed is the third book in the Gridiron series by Jen Frederick. It features the asshole best friend of the hero from Book 2, Jock Blocked who transferred to another college to be the superstar Quarterback. Ace Anderson is the guy that everyone hates but when he meets the girl that everyone loves at his new school, shit starts looking up.
Downed by Jen Frederick
Series: Gridiron Series #3
Also in this Series: Sacked, Jock Blocked
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance
Release Date: December 1, 2016
Publisher: Self Published, Jen Frederick
He’s the guy no one likes…
Despite winning two national championships, JR “Ace” Anderson was sent packing from his old school after losing the trust of his coach. At Southern U, he has a second chance to prove that his college legacy isn’t endless debauchery and selfishness. But his reputation precedes him, and his teammates offer a chilly welcome in the locker room. The one person who is willing to accept him is the very woman he should stay away from—his new coach’s daughter.
She’s the girl everyone loves…
Bryant Johnson’s only goal in life is to make others happy, even at her own expense. One look at her father’s new star quarterback, and she knows that Ace is her next project. With a reputation for being a “jerk whisperer”, Bryant has spent her last three years at college reforming sorry behavior and turning bad boys into the best boyfriends ever. In Ace, though, she’s met with surly resistance and a sizzling attraction she doesn’t expect. Fixing this wounded warrior will be her biggest challenge yet. Not falling for him will be even harder.
Between her big heart and his damaged one, a battle is ensuing. In this game of love, every defense will crumble.
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Ace comes storming into the diner at ten-thirty. It’s amazing to me that after summer camp and then four weeks of pre-season, he hasn’t learned that my father operates under the ol’ if you’re on-time, you’re late proverb, but since he’s performed admirably in other ways, I guess he’ll figure it out soon enough.
“My date’s here so you have to skedaddle now.” I wave my hand toward the poor guy who’s slumped in the booth seat across me.
“But, Bryant, why won’t you give me a chance? I’m a good guy. I don’t cheat on girls. I open their doors. I pay for their dinner. I’m a feminist! Like, I believe women have rights!” Kent beats his fist against his chest, knocking a lock of his overly long bangs into his eyes. He looks like a sad puppy, which is probably the only thing that keeps me from introducing his uber-soft cheek to the hard plane of my palm. Women have rights? Of course, they do. That’s just a given like we need water and tea needs sugar. I shake my head at him as he leans earnestly across the table. “You should give the nice guys a chance. I’ll treat you like the queen you are. These jerks that you date aren’t good enough for you.”
“That’s sweet, honey, but I’m doing fine with my dating choices.”
He blinks dumbly at me. “Is it because they’re needy? Well, I need you, too. I haven’t had a date in, like, six months. It’s been a long dry spell.”
With considerable effort, I manage not to roll my eyes. So much for treating me like a queen. Lord, save me from the guy who thinks he’s a hero because he opens your car door. “I’m not a sex doctor.” I wiggle my fingers at him. “Now, seriously, you have got to go.”
Ace is nearly upon us, and his nostrils are flaring like he’s some bull that’s ready to charge. As much as Kent might need a good kick in the teeth, it’s best if I handle this.
“Your name is Bryant Johnson,” Ace accuses.
My lips part in surprise at the unexpected attack. “It is, indeed.”
He starts to say something else when he notices Kent. “Who are you?” Ace barks.
Kent wilts under the glare of Ace Anderson. Six feet, five inches of athletic grace, a chin that could be carved from rock, and blazing green eyes order Kent to move.
While I’m outwardly smiling lightly, inside I’m squirming with glee. Even though Ace is struggling with his emotional response toward me, his instincts tell him that Kent’s an opponent. For a competitor like Ace, that means Kent needs to be crushed. It’s such a good sign. Because a guy who thinks girls can be used and discarded like tissues isn’t going to get territorial.
“This is the guy?” Kent unwisely hisses at me. “The new quarterback your daddy brought in because he was so much trouble at his last school? Bryant, give up on these losers and give the nice guy a chance.”
I rise, slipping my hand through Ace’s arm, mostly because I want to touch him, but also so I have a handle on him in case he tries to punch Kent’s lights out for the insult. “Kent, honey, you’re already so close to perfect that you don’t need me. Ace, this is Kent Dayton. Kent, this is Ace Anderson. We’ve just started going out.” I smile and look up adoringly at Ace’s stern façade.
“We’re not—” He breaks off and shakes his head as if there’s something caught between his ears. “Look, Bryant, we need to talk.”
His glower sends exciting shivers down my spine. “I agree. Kent was leaving, weren’t you, Kent?”
“But what about everything we discussed? What about me?” he whines.
“Go home and write out a list of everything you want in a girl, and then we’ll talk.”
“You mean you’ll consider me?”
“I’ll take a look at your list for you,” I promise noncommittally. Maybe I can hook him up with someone.
Kent’s eyes light up. “All righty, then.” He finally slides out of the booth and gives Ace’s arm a slap. Ace stares at the spot on his arm and then at Kent, who backs away, peeking around Ace’s solid frame to offer one last plug. “I promise you, if you choose me, it’ll be awesome.”
He backs away, giving us the thumbs up.
Ace scowls at Kent’s departing back before whipping around and addressing me again. “What the hell was that all about?”
“Kent was here applying for your position, but I told him it was already full,” I answer airily. I contemplate giving him a kiss but decide against it. Instead, I take my seat again and gesture for him to take his.
The moment his butt hits the vinyl, he pins me with an accusatory look. “Why didn’t you tell me your dad was Coach Johnson?”
Is that what he’s mad about? I figured it was because I didn’t wake him up last night so he could have that second chance at rocking my world. Guys are awfully sensitive when it comes to performance in the bedroom. “I thought you knew. I told you what my name was. First and last.” An awful thought occurs to me. “Were you drunk last night?” Horrified, I press my fingers against my lips. “Did I take advantage of you?”
“No. Christ.” He digs a hand through his leaf-brown hair, his biceps flexing in a lovely, mouthwatering manner. “Your last name is Johnson. Do you know how many Johnsons there are in this country? Like eighty million of them.”
I relax and allow my hand to fall back to the table. With a lot more ease, I regain my smile and say, “Eighty million is a gross exaggeration, but even if that were true, how many of them are named after the winningest SEC coach in the history of football, Bobby Bowden aside?”
“That’s why you’re named Bryant?” he asks incredulously. “After Bear Bryant.”
“None other. Who else would I be named after?” I signal for Milly, the waitress, to let her know we’re ready to order. I need to get some food into this particular bear.
“I don’t know. Maybe it was your family name,” he says.
My hand itches to smooth away the lines of disgruntlement on his face. I’m confident that if Ace gains a more positive outlook on life, he’ll be less of a surly bastard.
“Speaking of names,” I interrupt, “Can I call you something other than Ace? What does JR stand for?”
“It’s my dad’s name and no. Back to your dad—”
“Ace isn’t very loving. It’s so abrupt and short.” I tap a finger against my lips. “Is it Jonathan? Jack? James?” None of those fit him. Maybe he is an Ace.
The creases in his forehead deepen. “Is that why you couldn’t get off last night? Because you don’t like my name?”
Heat floods my face. Ace is so…graphic all the time. I’m going to have to drum that out of him. “That’s not appropriate brunch conversation,” I scold, but when the thunderclouds darken over our heads, I hurriedly assure him. “No, that’s not it at all.”
To my relief, Milly hops over before I’m forced to explain more. “Milly, can I have an egg white frittata with whatever fresh vegetables you have today?”
“Asparagus and tomatoes okay, sugar?”
“That’d be perfect.”
“And your man here?”
“I’m not her—” Milly and I both stare at him. “You know what, whatever.” Ace surrenders in disgust, apparently not willing to embarrass me in front of the waitress.
“He’ll have steak and eggs,” I tell her.
“How does he like that cooked?”
“He would like it medium-rare,” Ace interjects loudly. Milly winks at me and takes both the unviewed menus off the table before going back to the kitchen to put the order in. The moment she’s out of earshot, Ace leans forward. “Bryant, you seem like a nice girl. You’re gorgeous, and I definitely want to fuck again, but I don’t do relationships. We are not dating. We’ll never date because I don’t date.”
“You have a reason for that?” I ask, unperturbed by his speechifying. I expected this. He thinks that he needs to be footless and fancy-free until his penis is shriveled like a raisin.
“Yeah, because women fuck up your game. I’ve seen it time and again. Why do you think I had to leave Western State after winning a national championship?”
“Well, it looked like your coach recruited your replacement before you were ready to leave.” The coach of Ace’s old team brought in a young gun and decided to start him over Ace. It surprised everyone in the sports world, including my daddy, who thought it was supremely disrespectful and bad for recruiting.
“Wrong,” Ace snaps. “I slept with the coach’s daughter. Coach got pissed. Kicked me off the team. He wanted to turn me into a tight end or a safety or something other than the quarterback.”
Ace wants me to be offended, both at him and his coach, but everyone knows—including Ace if he really looked deep enough—that he won’t see a down in the NFL as a quarterback. Something else? Absolutely. I can see that helping Ace come to grips with this will be part of the project.
I start right away. “I could see you at safety. Like Scott Frost from Nebraska. He ran that option offense just like you, and he turned out to be a great NFL player.”
“He played five years as safety. Besides, I’m not a safety; I’m a quarterback,” he says flatly.
He needs me so much. “Okay. I don’t make those decisions. While I attend most of the games, I admit I’m merely part of the cheering section.” I suck some water up the straw and watch with amusement as Ace’s eyes fall to my pursed lips. “But in the few practices I’ve caught, it appears you have great field vision, right?”
He nods, almost absently. He’s entertaining a naughty image about my lips being wrapped around something else right now, which allows me to press forward without interruption.
“Your situational awareness is the best in the game. The defense was caught offsides more than once.” At one practice a couple of days ago, the defensive players were slow getting off the field, and Ace hiked the ball. In a real game, that would’ve been an automatic five-yard gain for the offense. Coach Troyer, the defensive coordinator, almost had his head pop off in anger at his squad while Ace smirked in the middle of the field. “Your instincts are spot-on. You sense those defenders closing in on you without even looking at them.”
I ignore his question. “Plus, you know all about passing routes and would be able to read the quarterback’s eyes as well as his body language to figure out where the ball is going to be even before the receiver does.”
Ace gives himself a tiny shake and drags his attention away from my mouth back to the conversation. “Maybe I do have those skills, but I’m here to play quarterback.”
“’Course you are.” I’m planting seeds that won’t give fruit until after the season is over, but if you don’t sow while the field’s ripe, there won’t be a harvest. “You’re going to win a championship for all those men my daddy promised would get a ring before they graduate. I’m just saying that beyond this year, if that’s an option for you, you should look into it.”
Milly’s return prevents him from immediately disagreeing. Perfect timing that I didn’t even have to plan. I give Milly a dazzling smile. Across from me, I hear a swift inhale of breath when she sets his plate in front of him. “This looks amazing, Milly. Thank you.”
She grins back. “Anything else you two need?”
I shake my head. “No. We’re fine. Eat up, Ace.”
He’s back to frowning. “We’re getting way off track here.”
“Don’t worry, honey. I remember everything you said. You don’t do relationships, and you just want to sleep with me.” I eat a small piece of my frittata.
“Right.” He looks around and lowers his voice. “So we’re not dating, okay? I appreciate the breakfast sandwich, the almost sex last night, but I’m an asshole.”
“I’m—wait, you know?” He sets down his fork with a clatter.
“Yes. I’ve heard all the rumors about you sleeping around too much, you being a bad teammate. All of it.”
“And none of it matters?” he says skeptically.
“Not to me.” I take another bite. “Oh Milly, tell Helena this frittata is to die for.” I raise my voice enough so Milly can hear me across the diner.
She waves her hand in acknowledgment while Ace, already in the hole he dug for himself, tries to shovel dirt over his head. “I intentionally tried to break up my best friend’s relationship because I could see she was falling in love. I wasn’t ready to date her, but I wanted her available for when I was. I took her man out, got him drunk, took incriminating photos of him and showed them to her.”
The self-loathing in his voice almost makes me tear up. “Oh sugar, how long has it been since you talked to her?”
“Lucy? I haven’t since I left Western State.” He’s frowning again. He’s going to have a permanent problem if he keeps that up.
“That long?” I click my tongue against the roof of my mouth. No wonder he feels awful. That wound’s been festering far too long. “That’s like months. You gotta call her.”
He scowls. “She doesn’t want to hear from me.”
“Of course she does. You two were best friends?” I ask and wait for his abrupt nod of acknowledgment before repeating, “Of course she does.”
“How do you know?”
“Because friends are important in our lives. Just like you’re missing her, she’s missing you. Not all girl-boy interactions are sexual. It’s okay to miss her, but not want to sleep with her.”
He rubs a hand over his suddenly weary face. That man has so much pain inside of him, and it has nothing to do with this old girlfriend. I don’t know what the root cause of it is, but I’ll find out and then he’ll be free. I can’t wait to tell my sister about him. She’ll be so happy I’m doing this.
He sighs. “This isn’t going how I thought it would go.”
“That’s all right. No need to plan. Hey, would you cut me off a piece of your steak?”
“Why didn’t you order one?” he asks, but immediately starts sawing off a huge bite for me.
“Because red meat is so fattening, and I only need to look at something for me to gain five pounds.”
He holds a meat-laden fork out for me. “Your body is perfect.”
“Not too round?” I fish for a tiny compliment. I get a little down about my figure. It’s womanly, my momma says. I wish I was more like my sister—model thin.
“I don’t think there’s such a thing,” Ace grunts.
I tip my head toward my plate to hide my look of satisfaction. He’s absolutely delightful. Ace demolishes his steak and eggs in the next three minutes while I eat half of my frittata and drink my water. He kindly waits until I’m done before he starts in again.
“So here’s the deal, Bryant. I want to fuck you, but I can’t. I don’t do teammates’ girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, sisters, daughters, mothers. No girls even tangentially related to the football team. Not a team manager or a trainer or an intern. I’ve sworn off all of them, including, and especially, the coach’s daughter. I’m good at two things: sex and football, but I’ve still managed to screw both of them up, so I can only concentrate on the one now. You’re hot as sin, and I’m ashamed I didn’t get you off last night. I had every intention of returning today to make up for it, but now we just can’t. Got it?”
I pick up my purse and slide out of the booth. He watches warily as I saunter over to his side and lean down to give him a kiss.
“No other girls. That’s my only rule.” I press my mouth against his lips, slackened in surprise. He hesitates for about a second before wrapping one of those big hands around my hip and pulling me forward. Given the setting and the time of day, the kiss goes on a smidge too long, but he looks adorably dazed and befuddled when I draw back.
Shoot. I just want to lick him all over. With a smile, I whisper, “Call your friend.”
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About the Author
Jen Frederick is a lover of romances and happy endings.