Ivy's League

Ivy's League

Heather MacAllister

August 2014 $12.95
ISBN: 9781611945195

Book 3 of The Hall Sisters

In the game of love, someone’s about to score.


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The bare fact is: Ivy Hall isn’t good at covering bare facts. Her dream job as a rookie sportswriter for the Austin Globe loses its glitter when a locker room fiasco gets her demoted from a major sports beat. Worse, senior sportswriter Rick Scott witnessed her humiliation.

When she regains her mojo by writing a popular sports column about coaching a girls’ soccer team, Rick starts coaching a girls’ team, too. Is this a challenge? Is he rubbing dirt in her wounds? Trying to make her look bad again and get her fired?

Rick’s definitely got a game plan, but it’s about winning her over. She likes to compete, and so does he. But falling in love is one sport they can both win.

USA Today bestselling author Heather MacAllister is a former music teacher whose nearly 50 romances have been translated into 26 languages and published in dozens of countries. When she's not writing, Heather collects vintage jewelry, watches fireworks displays, and avoids housework. You can visit her online at HeatherMacAllister.com.



"Funny, fabulous, fantastic! Heather MacAllister is at the top of my must-read list.” —RITA winner and USA TODAY Bestselling author Olivia Drake



Chapter One

"‘MEN IN GENERAL are but great children.’ Napoleon said that. Write it down.”

Ivy Hall dutifully scribbled the quote in her reporter’s notebook as Billie White, a local freelance photographer, continued. "Look at them.” Billie gestured at the practice field near the University of Texas campus where the Longhorns’ season-opening opponent scrimmaged. "The temperature’s 102 in the shade, if you could find any shade, and those boys are out there knocking themselves silly.” She rested her ankle on one knee and propped her elbow on the other. Billie worked hard to maintain her hard-bitten, I’ve-seen-it-all image.

Ivy shifted on the hot aluminum bench and squinted into the afternoon sun. "The Colts have to practice somewhere.” She grinned. "Not that practice will do them any good.” Ivy, like all true Texas Exes, had burnt-orange blood flowing through her veins, inspiring a fierce loyalty to her alma mater, the University of Texas.

"Sure it will,” Billie replied. "Male bonding. You know, ‘a mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one’? You gotta remember that.” Billie pointed to Ivy’s notebook. "Carlyle.” Ivy wrote because she didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the eccentric photographer, who was something of an institution at Austin-area football games.

"Underline it.”


"I’m serious.”

Ivy, with an exasperated look, underlined Carlyle’s quote. Twice.

"You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”

Maybe a little. "I don’t think men are engaged in a conspiracy against us,” Ivy said, sidestepping Billie’s question.

"No? What are you doing right now?”

"Sitting here watching the Colts practice.”

"That’s ’cause, besides me, nobody’s talking to you.” Billie nodded to the scattered groups of men clustered around the entrance to the locker room, the players’ bench, the first rows of the bleachers, and the assistant coaches. "We’re up here. The action’s down there. Now that’s not so bad for me”—Billie patted her telephoto lens—"but you’ve gotta hustle for your story.”

"I plan to interview the team after the scrimmage.”


"The locker room.”

Billie lifted one of the cameras slung around her neck and peered through the viewfinder. "You a cub reporter, honey?”

"I’ve been with the Austin Globe since June.” And was thrilled to be with the weekly sports newspaper. Ivy had wanted to be a sports reporter for as long as she could remember. Working for a weekly publication entirely devoted to sports was her idea of heaven.

"Two months. You’re a cub.”

"But I interned with the Lone Star.” And hadn’t liked it. Too much pressure on a daily paper.

Down came the camera. "Surprised you didn’t learn more.”

"What don’t I know?”

"Beans.” Billie shook her head. "You don’t know beans. Look at you.”

Involuntarily, Ivy looked down at herself, causing her sunglasses to slide to the end of her nose. Irritated, she shoved them back into place. "I’m wearing pants and a shirt. What’s wrong with that?”

"Miss Preppie of the Year. Your shirt has that little horseback rider on it, and it’s white.”

"What’s wrong with white?”

"You can see through white when it gets wet.”

"So I won’t get wet.”

Billie snorted. "I bet you even ironed your pants.”

Ivy had. "I was trying for a casual professionalism.” She tried not to imply that Billie’s clothes suggested she was a resistance fighter. For the losing side.

"And that hair.” Billie picked up a strand of Ivy’s long sable brown hair. "Cut it.”

"I will not!” Ivy tossed her head, sending the lock of hair rippling over her shoulders.

"You look too much like a girl.”

"I am a girl! Woman,” she amended.

"Girl. The hair goes—make a note of that. The name, too.”

Ivy wiped sweat from under her sunglasses. "What’s wrong with my name?”

"Gotta change it. Too feminine. If you want to get respect in this profession, you can’t be feminine.”

Ivy tried to curb her impatience. The idea that female sports reporters had to imitate men was such an outdated issue. "Male fashion reporters aren’t expected to wear heels and makeup.”

"Then how come so many of ’em do?”


"They’re not fooling anybody by calling it bronzing gel. Decide on a name yet?”

Ivy had no intention of changing anything about her appearance or her name. She was a full-time professional— finally. And she was going to act like one. "Too bad my parents didn’t name me Billie.”

Billie chuckled. "I wasn’t named Billie. Real name’s Wilma. What can we do with Ivy? Ivy... Ivy... Ivan? No, you don’t look Russian. Sissy name, anyway. What’s your middle name?”


"Chris! Perfect—an all-American name! From now on, you’re Chris.”

"Billie,” Ivy began, not wanting to insult the well-meaning photographer. The woman wore army fatigues and a shapeless jacket, with a baseball cap on her head. Her gray-streaked hair was cut about ear length, probably by Billie herself. Billie could have been a man or a woman. "I’d like to try it my way first. I know that when you started in sports twenty years ago—”


"Thirty years ago, there was a lot of resentment for female sports reporters—”

"Still is, honey.”

"But we’re all professionals now, and I think the coaches and players realize that. We’re just doing our jobs.”

"So why’re you stuck up here listening to my war stories when the other reporters are on the field interviewing the opposing team’s coach?”

Ivy glanced at the players’ bench. The opening game of the fall football season was this weekend. The other squad, Texas Central State, was a good-size school, but the University of Texas was favored to win, as usual.

"Bud and I are splitting the interviews and will pool our information later.”

"Is that what he told you?”

Ivy nodded.

"And you believed him?”

Ivy nodded again. "I’ve pooled information before.”

"With thatbunch? In sports?”

"Bud is new, too. And when we were in college—”

Billie was shaking her head as Ivy spoke. "You poor baby. Listen to Mama, honey.”

Ivy had a feeling she didn’t want to hear this. She suspected she’d once again been naive and gullible, and she hated that about herself. She wasn’t a child, didn’t think she acted like a child, but Holly and Laurel, her two older sisters, had always treated her like a child.

Ivy had been fourteen when her parents were killed in a plane crash. Since then, her sisters had left her out of all major discussions. They had protected her—for her own good, of course. She couldn’t help being the baby of the family, but she’d show them she’d finally grown up. And she’d show them by becoming a successful, financially independent, sportswriter.

"Chris, my child,” Billie began, and Ivy winced. "You are being scooped as we speak.” Billie pointed to Ivy’s former classmate, now a reporter for one of the Austin dailies. "Bud may be new, but he’s becoming chums with those coaches. Then tomorrow after the game, who are they going to talk to? You? Or their good pal Bud? Are they going to say, ‘Hey, Chris, how about a beer?’”

Ivy shook her head, never mind that her name wasn’t Chris. "I don’t like beer.”

"‘Eat, drink and be merry,’” quoted Billie.

"‘For tomorrow we shall—’”

Billie elbowed her. "You don’t need to write that last part.”

Ivy grinned. "I wasn’t going to write the first part.”

"Suit yourself. You’ll see. You’re too nice.”

"I know.”

"You need to be more aggressive.”

"I know.” Ivy sighed.

"If you aren’t aggressive, you’ll never get good stories.”

"I know.”

"In fact, you need to sashay right down to that locker room, and when the players come in from practice, nab the most promising one and ask him what he considers his team’s chances are for beating the Longhorns.”

"I thought you were a photographer.” But Billie wasn’t telling Ivy anything she hadn’t told herself. This was her first field assignment for the Globe. She was nervous. She had retreated to the bleachers to gather her thoughts, review her questions. "Anyway, I’ll be okay. Being female will work to my advantage. I’ll be noticed. Wouldn’t the players rather talk to me than to some out-of-shape ex-jock reliving past glories?”

She stood, preparing to find a place—preferably out of the merciless August sun—where she could wait and single out a player.

"Now where are you going?” Billie asked.

"To the locker room.” Ivy tossed off the information as if she hadn’t been dreading this moment ever since she’d accepted the assignment.

"Do you think they’re going to let you in the locker room?”

"After ten minutes, if they admit anyone else, they have to let me in. It’s the law.”

"Did you ever think they can make it so you won’t want to go in there?”

Of course she had. Constantly. "Harassment is illegal.”

Billie eyed her with an expression that told Ivy her naiveté was showing. "What are you going to do the first time a player drops his towel? Or doesn’t bother with one?”

"Maintain very good eye contact.”

"Uh-huh. I got a couple of stories I want you to hear.”

Ivy reluctantly sat on the bleachers again. Billie had better be quick because the players were running laps. Practice was nearly over.

"Remember, ‘We must laugh at man to avoid crying for him.’ Napoleon again. You gonna write that down?”

"Yes, Billie.”

Billie sprinkled her coarse tales with quotes and salty language. Ivy gritted her teeth and tried not to blush, tried to act as though she weren’t embarrassed and tried not to look around to see if they were being overheard.

"... and you know what it was?” Billie paused expectantly.

Ivy managed a small smile. "His”—she gestured vaguely with her hands—"you know.”

Billie chortled. "You can’t even say penis!”

"I don’t think I’ll need to!” Ivy, blushing furiously, decided she’d had enough. She gathered her notebook and stood.

Billie grabbed her arm. "Take it easy. I’m not making fun of you. You have brothers?”

"Two sisters,” Ivy mumbled.

"I could tell,” Billie said, releasing Ivy’s arm. "The guys are heading for the showers. Good luck, Chris.”

"Oh, no!” Ivy clambered over the bleachers and sprinted toward the locker room. She’d missed staking out a place because she’d been listening to stories about male body parts. If she didn’t watch it, she’d end up doing a human-interest article about Billie instead of her first hard sports story for the Globe.

She reached the locker room as the last of the football players retreated inside.

She waited with the other reporters until they were admitted and was immediately assailed by the pungent odor of male sweat. Water hissed and steamy fog rolled around the beige-tiled partition that divided the showers from the rest of the locker room.

Legally, she could walk right up to the showers, but Ivy chose to respect the players’ privacy by waiting in the dressing area. She hoped they would recognize her courtesy and reward her with some good quotes for her article.

She glanced at her notebook, filled with Billie’s bizarre quotations about men, and flipped to a clean page.

This wasn’t Ivy’s first locker-room trip, but it was the first time she’d approached college players.

They were much more intimidating than the middle school basketball teams.

"Hall!” Bud made his way through the crowded locker room. "Whatcha got?”

Ivy smiled nervously. "Nothing yet.”

"Hey, we’ve been here an hour.”

Ivy straightened, clutching her notebook to her chest. She’d noticed that Bud’s shirt was clinging damply to him and realized her white knit was clinging damply to her. "Wait a few minutes and I’ll have some info for you.”

He gestured dismissively. "Forget it. I’m on deadline. I’ll make do with the coaches’ interviews.”

"What about me?” Billie’s warning reverberated through Ivy’s mind.

Bud winked. "Better get busy.” He waved and whistled as he strode out of the damp, smelly locker room.

Bud had duped her. Ivy the gullible. Okay, so she’d made a mistake. She wouldn’t make the same one again.

She took a deep breath, regretting it instantly. The dressing area was deserted, but noisy. The reporters, coaches and players were behind the tiled wall. Ivy could hear the rumble of male laughter. Male bonding.

Males getting stories for their nine o’clock deadlines.

A few of the nonplayers trickled out into the dressing room. The men either ignored her or stared, then laughed among themselves.

She was limp with relief—and humidity—when the first towel-clad player strolled from the showers to the lockers.

"Ivy Hall, with the Globe,” she announced as she approached him. "What will be your strategy against the Longhorns on Saturday?”

The Colt player toweled his hair. "To win.”

"What do you consider the Longhorns’ greatest weakness?”

He threw the towel on the floor right next to her feet. "Nosy women reporters.”

Ivy didn’t waste time with a retort. Other players were returning from the showers, along with the reporters. She glanced around to see if there were any other women. There weren’t.

"Hi. You belong to anybody?” A male voice asked on her right.

Ivy whirled around, notebook at the ready. "The Globe.”

"A woman of the world. I like the sound of that.” The beefy player leaned closer.

"Hey!” barked an older man in a navy blue Colt shirt. "We don’t allow girlfriends in the locker room.”

"I’m Ivy Hall, with the Austin Globe. "She pointed to her press pass.

The man closed his eyes. "Lord save us from women’s lib.”

Ivy swallowed and asked, "What’s your strategy for Saturday?”

"On Saturday afternoon,” he spoke slowly, watching as Ivy scribbled, "we are going to beat the”—Ivy stopped writing—"out of the Longhorns.” He grinned.

"Can you be more specific?”

The question, phrased just that way, was a mistake. Ivy knew it as soon as she heard the words leave her mouth.

"Why, certainly.” With a grin, the man proceeded to detail in precise and blistering language exactly what his team intended to do to the University of Texas Longhorns.

Willing away any blushes, Ivy kept her expression blank. She and this moronic coach were the center of attention. She was surrounded by large, moist males in various stages of undress.

Not a pretty sight.

"Did you get all that, hon?”

"Just need your name.” Ivy’s lips curved upward. Inside, she trembled.

"You should know.”

She should, but the Colts had several coaches and trainers. Ivy scanned his shirt for a name embroidered anywhere on it.

"Hey, Coach Collin,” a voice hollered from the other side of the room.

"Be right there,” the man answered, and walked off without looking at Ivy.

The head coach. Wonderful. "Thank you for the quote, Coach Collin,” she called after him.

Then she pretended to jot down a few more notes. Strands of hair stuck to her damp face. She brushed them aside, glancing up to decide which group of players to approach next.

Those few who met her gaze hastily turned away.

Great. With their coach so obviously not considering her worth his time, none of the players would speak to her now. Ivy stared resentfully after the uncouth man and saw that he was arguing with a lone player.

"I don’t want to see you taking stupid chances like that on Saturday. You may be—” The coach broke off at Ivy’s approach. "Listen, lady, I said all I intend to say to you.” He glanced at the young man. "I call the plays. If you can’t handle that, we’ll start Brett Saturday afternoon.”

Ivy had started to protest, but instead, her reporter’s instinct alerted, took two steps back and hoped they’d forget she was there.

"You wouldn’t,” the Colt player thundered. "Not if you want a chance of winning!”

Ivy wrote surreptitiously. The Colt’s quarterback... Taylor Brown. Controversy with head coach Sonny Collin?

Coach Collin lowered his voice. Ivy strained to hear. "I know you need the stats and I know you need the numbers, but the team’s win-loss record is more important than your long-shot at the Heisman!”

"Not to me!” Taylor shouted. "I’m doing more for this two-bit school than it’s doing for me!”

Coach Collin jabbed Taylor’s shoulder with his index finger. "And that attitude is why Brett might start Saturday!” He stormed past Ivy, who immediately moved to confront the angry quarterback.

"How will this affect your already slim chances for the Heisman?”

Taylor’s bare chest heaved as he gazed at the retreating coach.

The knot of players that had gathered around drifted away now that the shouting was over. Some of the other reporters left, ready to write their stories and make their deadlines. Ivy was just about to get her story. If she could find a new angle... "How will this affect your chances for the Heisman?” she repeated.

"Huh?” The quarterback said absently. "He’s going to play me. He knows he has to.”

"He mentioned another player.” Ivy mentally ran through the team’s roster. "Brett Carson? He has some pretty impressive stats for a junior.” Sports statistics were Ivy’s specialty. The numbers always stuck with her until she needed them. "Six-two, 190, redshirted his freshman year, seven touchdown passes—”

"Hey, he had a couple of okay games while my shoulder healed. But I’m in great shape now. And I’m number one.”

"Are you?”

The Colts’ quarterback stared at her, as if noticing her for the first time. His gaze flicked over her body, lingering insultingly.

"Yeah. I’m the best.” Then he dropped his towel. "What do you think?”

Ivy maintained eye contact like crazy as a roaring filled her ears. It was the pounding of blood as her heart fueled the world’s most gigantic blush. But before the redness could seep into her cheeks, Ivy thought of Billie and her stories and decided to borrow one.

Slowly, she forced herself to look down Taylor Brown’s naked body, counted to five, then allowed her gaze to drift upward until her eyes met his. "Looks like a penis, only smaller.”

The room exploded into raucous laughter. The Colts’ quarterback blushed. With a furious glare at her, he grabbed his towel and bolted for the showers.

Ivy’s stomach had quivered, but her voice hadn’t. She could breathe again. What do you think? he’d asked. She thought he was a stupid clod. At this moment, she thought all men were stupid clods.

Sending a silent thanks to Billie, Ivy turned toward the door, her gaze meeting the amused brown eyes of a tall man leaning against the doorjamb, hands shoved in his pockets. He wore a jacket and tie, and unlike most of the other nonplayers she’d seen today, his stomach didn’t roll over his belt. In fact, even fully clothed, he was more compelling than the brawny half-naked men surrounding her.

Her breath caught as he lazily scanned her body, imitating her encounter with the quarterback. The blush she’d been able to suppress before now fired her cheeks.

The corner of his mouth tilted in a sardonic half smile as he shook his head slightly and withdrew to the outer dressing area.

All the self-confidence she’d felt at holding her own with the quarterback evaporated with the man’s obvious dismissal.

Something about him tweaked her memory. Ivy reached the doorway and watched as he sauntered through the room. He moved with the grace of an athlete—an injured one, she noted, as she saw the slight catch in his gait. Maybe he was a commenta­tor with a television station. He had the looks for it, but not the hair. The overly-long, choppy style looked as though he let the wind comb it. Golden highlights streaked through the light brown layers, and Ivy knew they’d been bleached by the sun, not chemicals.

Who was he? Ivy was certain she’d seen him before, but was she supposed to recognize him?

Actually, she didn’t care whether or not she was supposed to recognize him. No man was going to look at her the way he had and then just walk off. She scanned the room to see if Billie or someone else she knew was nearby. No one.

When she looked back, the man had been accosted by another reporter. Well, she was a reporter, too, wasn’t she? Why shouldn’t she do a little accosting of her own?

At that moment, his gaze caught hers and held it.


The last thing Rick Scott wanted to do was talk to his newest Globe colleague, especially after what he’d just witnessed.

He’d watched as she’d interviewed—or tried to interview—the Colts. She’d used a good line, one he’d heard before. It would’ve been more effective, though, if her knees hadn’t been shaking. He supposed she had potential, but she’d need a lot of seasoning before she could hold her own in a locker room.

Pity. He was too busy to play nursemaid to cub reporters.

Even slender, doe-eyed ones.

Rick made a slight movement, and the garrulous sports­caster with him grabbed his arm, preventing his escape.

Great. Now she was coming over, probably to whine and complain about how she was treated.

He didn’t want to hear it. And he shouldn’t have to hear it. She’d known exactly what she was getting into when she took this job. Laws or not, she’d entered a predominantly male domain, and she’d better learn to handle her own problems.

He scowled at her and turned his attention back to the sportscaster—a talking dog, as they were nicknamed. Cuffing the man on the shoulder, Rick smiled and moved away, hoping the Globe’s new reporter wouldn’t follow him.

"Excuse me.”

Rick winced. His back was to her. If he kept walking, maybe she’d go away.

"Excuse me.” Louder. Her voice was deep and soft, with a slight huskiness.

He felt himself weaken and sucked in a long breath. "Yeah? What is it?” He glanced over his shoulder, but kept walking.

Good grief, it was Bambi. With big brown... wounded eyes.

"I’m Ivy Hall, from the Globe.” She had to jog to keep up with him, but he didn’t feel like slowing down. Maybe she’d give up before they reached the stadium stairs. His throbbing knee was telling him he’d have to slow down then.

"Hey! I’m talking to you!”

Rick stopped. The stairs were a few yards ahead, anyway. "So?” He didn’t turn around.

"Ivy Hall—”

"I heard.” She walked around until she faced him. He wished she wouldn’t stare. He shouldn’t have stopped. "What do you want?” Since he was annoyed with himself, he spoke with an unintended harshness.

She blinked—a slow blink that wasn’t quick enough to hide the flash of hurt.

Rick groaned. "Look, don’t worry. I’ll give you enough information for a story. Just don’t make a big deal out of this.”

She gave him a puzzled glance and shook her head, sending a wave of brown rippling behind her. "I wasn’t going to ask you for a story. I’ve got one. But I would like to know—”

"You’re going to write about Taylor Brown?” Rick inter­rupted.

Her quick nod confirmed his guess. She was going to shred poor Taylor in print.

Rick shoved a hand into his pocket. "Hey, the kid is under a lot of pressure. You were kind of hard on him.”

"I was hard on him?” Her eyes glittered. "You saw what he did.”

"Yeah, I saw. He got chewed out by his coach, and there you were, moving right in. You caught some fallout, okay?”

"That’s no excuse.”

"No, but it’s a reason. Taylor is inexperienced, and I remember how I felt when reporters swarmed around me. Sometimes I just wanted—” Rick stopped, but he was too late.

What was the matter with him? He was a reporter now. He hadn’t played pro football in three years.

"Wanted to what?”

Rick looked down at her. She wasn’t a very big person. Rather slight, with those soft brown eyes that invited you to confide. He relaxed as his anger faded. Maybe she’d do okay as a reporter, after all.

"I just wanted to be left alone.” That wasn’t what he’d been about to say, and they both knew it.

"You look alone at the moment.”

He bent forward until her Bambi eyes were inches away. "And I like being alone!” As they’d talked, Rick had edged toward the stairs. Now he quickly turned away from her and started down them.

On the first step, his leg buckled and he collapsed against the handrail, the breath hissing between his teeth as pain ripped through his knee.

And then she was there, positioning herself ahead of him on the stairs, supporting him as he regained his balance. She was surprisingly strong, he discovered when he briefly leaned against her to straighten his burning knee. "Thanks.” He glanced at her as he spoke, dreading the pity he knew he’d see.

It wasn’t there.

"The wheelchair access ramp is one entrance down. Can you walk that far?” Her voice was calmly neutral. She was simply dealing with a problem that had been thrust upon her.

"In a minute.” He was grateful she didn’t say anything more. Moments later, the sharp pain in his knee subsided into a throbbing ache. "Gotta watch those turns” He tried putting weight on his leg, then grimaced.

He heard her soft gasp, then saw recognition on her face. "You used to be Rick Scott, didn’t you?”



Chapter Two

SOMETHING FLICKERED in his eyes, and a corner of his mouth lifted. "I guess I was.”

She was notmaking a good impression on this man. "I meant, you used to play football. You quarterbacked for the Wolves, right?”

He looked away as he tried his leg again. "You mean you just recognized me?”

"Yes.” Was he bothered that she hadn’t recognized him before?

"Then why did you follow me?”

"You seemed familiar.” And like someone with a story.

"I should. We both work for the Globe.”

"I know that, but I’ve never seen you there.” Just an empty desk beside hers for weeks.

It had been his grimace of pain that had helped her put a name to his face. She’d seen that expression before, splashed across the front of the sports section and replayed from endless camera angles as Rick Scott, quarterback for the Omaha Wolves and former University of Texas star, received his career-ending injury.

The Wolves had been bound for the playoffs when Rick dropped back to pass and, seeing none of his receivers open, ran with the ball. He nearly made it to the sideline and a first down before he was tackled in front of a nest of photographers.

But that had been several years ago. Ivy watched as he massaged the muscles around his knee. "Does it give you much trouble?”

"You mean other than the fact that I can’t play pro ball any­more?” He straightened, testing his leg.

Ivy straightened, too. "Do you miss playing pro ball?”

"Only at times like these.” He started walking away. Slowly.

She’d been dismissed. Again. And Ivy had been dismissed one too many times today. She caught up to him. "So you resent female sportswriters, too, is that it?”

He stopped, hands on lean hips. "Not usually.”

"Then why won’t you talk to me?”

Rick began walking again. Ivy kept pace with him. It was easier now.

"Because I don’t want to listen to you whine about discrimination.”

Very carefully Ivy asked, "Does that mean you think I might be entitled to a little whining?”

A look of horror passed over his face. Ivy knew exactly what he was thinking: that she was a militant feminist ready to file suit. "Hey, back there.” He jerked his thumb in the general direction of the Colts’ locker room. "That’s just guy stuff, you know? And a lot of women like to be noticed by men. They expect—”

"Men are such egotists!” Ivy gripped her notebook so hard it crackled.

"With good reason,” he shot back.

Ivy glared. "And football players are the most egotistical of all!”

Rick raised an eyebrow. "Bad day?” There was that half smile again.

"Couldn’t you tell?”

"I don’t know—some women enjoy locker-room visits.” Amusement flashed in his caramel brown eyes. Intelligent eyes. Mocking eyes. "I know I would.”

Ivy clenched her teeth. "Fortunately, women’s sports are much more civilized. The athletes actually show up in the interview rooms. Men won’t. That’s why female reporters were forced to demand access to locker rooms.”

"Lot of good it did you. It’s a good thing I came by.”

"What were you doing there, anyway? This was my assign­ment.”

Rick shrugged and walked on. "Talking to old friends.” His pace quickened.

Ivy followed him as he hobbled down the wheelchair ramp into the blessedly cool concrete shadow of the stadium entrance tunnel. "Were you spying on me?”

"You sure are paranoid.” His voice reverberated in the graffiti-coated walls.

"Well, were you?” They emerged from the tunnel into the heat-softened asphalt parking lot.

Rick whipped around to face her. "Yes. Okay?” He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, "I was spying on the Globe’s new woman reporter!” Faint echoes sounded in the tunnel they’d just left. He dropped his hands. "I just wanted to see you in action. So sue me.”

Ivy narrowed her eyes. "I might.”

Rick made a disgusted gesture and limped off.

"Where are you going?”

"To my car.”

Ivy scanned the deserted lot. A few school buses were all she could see. "Where’s your car?”

"On the other side.” Rick didn’t seem concerned.

Ivy was, though. Earlier his face had paled with pain. Now he was preparing to hike around the stadium. "What about your knee?”

"You’re determined to pry out all the gory details, aren’t you?”

"I was asking out of the natural concern one human being has for another.”

"You’re asking because you’re a nosy female,” he muttered, stopping to massage his knee.

"I heard that!”

"I’m not surprised.”

Ivy maintained a dignified silence as the August sun scorched the top of her head. Heat waves shimmered up from the asphalt. She’d learned that people often filled conversational silences, saying the first thing they thought of, sometimes telling her more than they would have in response to a direct question.

Silence made people uncomfortable.

"Look,” Rick said, straightening, "I had some scar tissue removed this summer. That’s why you haven’t seen me around. My knee still isn’t a hundred percent, and sometimes when I put weight on it the wrong way, it hurts. I can walk okay, but side-to-side movement gives me trouble.” He grinned disarmingly. "Sorry about giving you a rough time.”

Ivy responded to the grin, eager to forgive him. "No problem. Pain makes people grouchy.” She hesitated, then offered, "If you wait here, I’ll go to my car and drive back to pick you up. That way you won’t have to walk around to the other side of the stadium.”

Rick looked down at her with an expression that said he’d prefer to refuse but was thinking better of it. "Okay.”

Ivy ran in the oppressive heat to the other parking lot. She half expected Rick to use the opportunity to escape, then consoled herself with the thought that he couldn’t go anywhere very quickly.

A few minutes later, she drove her small Kia around the edge of the stadium. At first she couldn’t see him, but as she approached the wheelchair ramp, he emerged from the shadows.

He folded his lanky frame into the little car. "I see you’re another Texas grad who didn’t want to leave Austin.” He nodded to the burnt-orange Texas Exes decal displayed on the rear windshield.

"Yeah, but I’m lucky. I found a job.”

Rick chuckled. "Such as it is. Most people use the Globe as a stepping stone to fame and glory. You’re the third reporter I’ve had to break in.” He glanced at her. "So, where are you headed?”

"I just got the job.” Ivy gazed at him. Where was he headed?

"When did you graduate?”

Ivy suspected Rick really wanted to know if she’d attended the university when he’d been the Longhorn quarterback. "This past May,” she told him. "But I started late. I would have been a freshman the year you took the Longhorns to the Cotton Bowl.”

"Yeah.” He stared into space. "That was some year.”

She heard the wistfulness in his voice. "You were great,” she assured him impulsively.

"Were.” He pointed to a Jeep near the few remaining cars in the north parking lot. "That’s it.”

Ivy pulled up beside the modest vehicle. Not the type of car usually associated with quarterbacks. Even ex-quarterbacks. Nor was it the type of car associated with family men. Ivy noted his ringless fingers as he gripped the dashboard.

"Thanks, and listen,” Rick began, hesitating before continuing, "you seem like a nice girl...”

Ivy wanted to throw up. A nice girl. She was twenty-four years old, and the most adultman she’d seen all day was telling her he thought she was a nice girl.

Well, she wasnice. Occasionally, she’d tried being not nice, but nobody was fooled.

Not even herself.

"... pick sports reporting?”

Ivy hadn’t been paying attention, but she could guess that Rick had asked her why she’d chosen to be a sports reporter. "I love sports. I can write. They seemed to go together.”

He stared at her. "Locker rooms aren’t nice,” he com­mented finally.

"I know.”

"You can’t be nice in them.”

"But I can be decent and professional.”

He opened his mouth, then shut it and looked away. Ivy could see the muscles in his jaw working.

When he was ready to speak again, he obviously picked his words with great care. "You have to be aggressive and thick-skinned. Persistent and annoying. Come to think of it, you’re already pretty annoying.”

Ivy swallowed and felt tears. Why couldn’t she outgrow this habit of bursting into tears? She hated it. She could hardly ever win arguments, because all her energy went into suppressing her tears instead of thinking of a calm and logical response. She certainly couldn’t allow herself to cry now. She couldn’t even appear to be struggling to hold back tears. It would be disastrous. She blinked rapidly and held her breath.

"See?” Rick snapped his fingers and pointed at her. "You’re too sensitive for this job.”

Great. He’d noticed. Ivy released her breath. "It’s just been a long day and I’m tired.”

"Too bad!” Rick’s expression was unsympathetic. "You’ve still got a deadline to make. This is a high-pressure job, and if you want to keep it, you’ll have to toughen up.”

The tears weren’t going to fall. "Thanks for the advice.”

"That wasn’t advice, but this is—don’t write a ‘look how nasty the Colts were to little ole me’ piece. No player will talk to you if you do.”

Ivy scowled at him. "I wouldn’t have written that! Give me credit for some intelligence.”

"Sweetie—” She glared. Rick immediately held both hands up, palms out. "Sorry, sorry. Ms. Hall—”

"Ivy is just fine.”

He nodded. "I know you aren’t stupid, and I also know you came away pretty light on facts. Sonny Collin was my high school coach. Let me help you out.”

"Why?” Ivy shut off the ignition and turned to face him.


Ivy raised an eyebrow.

Rick raised his eyebrow right back. "Because I’m a nice guy?”

"You just lectured me on how being nice wasn’t an asset.”

Rick bit the inside of his cheek, and the corners of his eyes crinkled. "How about because you’re so cute?”

Ivy gave him her don’t-mess-with-me glare again. It did not seem to have an effect.

Rick laughed. "Hey, lighten up.”

Of course he was only testing her sense of humor, and Ivy didn’t mind that. What she minded was being called cute. Competent, professional, respected sportswriters weren’t cute.

But she laughed to show him she had a sense of humor. To show him she could be one of the guys, if given a chance. "Really, though, would you help me if I were a male reporter?”

To his credit, Rick considered her words before replying. "I see your point. You want to be treated like everyone else, right?”

He sounded as if he’d heard that before, but Ivy nodded anyway.

"You’re not going to have the same problems that a man has, but you are going to have the same problems any new reporter would have.”

"I know that. I just don’t want to be patronized.”

"Sure,” Rick agreed. "I’ll admit I do feel a little sorry for you—can’t help it—but on the other hand, I’m still on vacation. I don’t have a deadline. You do. The college issue hits the stands on Saturday morning. That means you’d better turn in something by tomorrow night, right?”

Ivy nodded. Actually, her editor had asked for her article by tomorrow morning—Friday. Fourteen hours and ticking.

Rick leaned back, extending his long legs as much as he could. "Besides, after this, you’ll owe me. If you were a guy, I’d offer you the same deal.”

They stared at each other, and Ivy grinned. "Now that sounds more like it.” She flipped open her notebook. "Okay, Rick, whatcha got?”

Confident Colts Predict Easy Win Over UT

by Ivy Hall

Her first sports byline with the Globe. Ivy smoothed the special college-football issue over her desk and smiled into the telephone receiver. "Are you sure you can get more copies?” asked her oldest sister, Holly.

"Yes,” Ivy assured her, laughing. "What are you going to do with them all?”

"I’m sending fifty to Laurel and Jack so they can casually display them in their agency’s reception area.”

Ivy rolled her eyes at the thought of her glamorous sister displaying the Austin Globe’s college issue in the equally glam­orous Hartman Agency in Hollywood.

She continued to admire her article as Holly outlined the rest of her distribution plans. There was nothing like seeing your byline in print. Staff reports weren’t the same. Ivy inhaled deeply, enjoying the sense of satisfaction that stole over her.

The story, laced with some of the cleaner locker-room quotes guaranteed to inflame any Longhorn player who read them, focused on Colts quarterback Taylor Brown and his quest for fame and glory at the expense of the Longhorn defense.

Ivy reveled in the power of the press.

"And I think it’s just as good as any of those stories they put on the cover,” Holly declared.

A little air leaked from Ivy’s bubble of happiness. "The cover usually goes to the senior writers,” she explained, trying very hard to keep all traces of defensiveness out of her voice.

"Well, you’re on your way!” her sister said bracingly.

She knew Holly meant to be encouraging, but sometimes her sister was a little tooencouraging. By the end of the call, Ivy had no doubt she was expected to be as spectacularly successful as her sisters.

She was even a bit depressed by the time Billie stopped by to drop off film.

"Nice work, Hall.” Billie cocked a hip against her desk. "Coach Collin had a lot to say to you.”

Ivy shrugged. "Quite honestly, anything of value he said to Rick Scott.”

"Ricky’s back?” Billie glanced around the newsroom.

"Not officially.” Ivy glanced around, too. Had Rick seen her article? What did he think? She hadn’t relied all that much on his information. In fact, she could have written the article without it, but including his comments had added depth.

"Heard about your interview with Taylor Brown.” Billie snickered and leaned across her desk. "Was the locker room everything you thought it would be?”

"And less.” Ivy pulled the newspaper out from under Billie’s hip.

"There she is—the Globe’s newest ace reporter!” Rick flashed Ivy a grin and collapsed into the chair behind the adjacent desk.

That grin tugged at something in Ivy, something she wasn’t quite sure she wanted tugged right now.

"Welcome back, Ricky.” Billie tipped an imaginary hat and scooted off Ivy’s desk. "Hot enough for you?”

"Go away, Billie,” Rick said.

"When I’m good and ready, Ricky.”

Billie remained standing, with her arms crossed over her chest and a smug make-me-leave expression on her face.

"Aw, c’mon, Billie. You don’t have to protect her from me. I’m not the enemy.”

"You’re a man, aren’t you?”

"Babycakes here can take care of herself, or haven’t you heard?”

Billie snorted. "’Course I heard. Everybody’s heard.”

"What?Ivy squeaked, ignoring the "babycakes” crack. She’d get him back some other time. "You didn’t tell anyone about... about what happened with Taylor, did you, Rick?”

"Well, maybe a few—”

"Are you kidding?” Billie interrupted. "You’re the topic in locker rooms everywhere.”

"Oh, swell.” Ivy groaned.

Rick laced his fingers behind his neck and propped his feet on the desk. "Yes, you’re practically a legend. You can thank me later. Or you can thank me now.”

Ivy wasn’t sure she wanted to thank him at all. "What do you want?” She tried to sound agreeable and not suspicious.

"Oh...” Rick looked at her consideringly. "How about writing the annual high school football statistics piece for me?”

Ivy swallowed. Statistics articles involved a lot of research and a lot of verification. Dry and tedious work. "My byline?”

"You got it,” Rick agreed immediately, then dropped his feet to the floor and yanked open a desk drawer. "Here’re last year’s files.” He pulled an armload of folders out of the drawer and heaved them across the aisle.

Ivy’s eyes widened at the pile of folders now gracing the top of her desk. "But—”

"Gosh, look at the time.” Rick stood and began walking backward. "Great working with you,” he called as he turned and made his escape.

Ivy stared at the files. "I think I’ve been bamboozled.”

"I knowyou’ve been bamboozled.” Billie guffawed. "But he’s got such a handsome mug no one’ll blame you.”

Heat seeped into Ivy’s cheeks. He was handsome, and she’d better be careful. Rick had done her a favor, but after this, she thought, gazing at the stack of files, they were even.

Billie slung her cameras over her shoulder. "Gotta go. See you at the game. Remember, a woman has to do twice the job a man does to be considered half as good. Luckily, that’s not hard.”

Ivy was still chuckling when her editor, Boyd Harris, came over to her desk. "Ivy, I heard about the other day. You handled yourself okay.” Mr. Harris looked down at her and absently smoothed his tie. "I’d like to tell you that sort of incident is unusual, but it isn’t. I don’t think any of the teams at UT will give you a problem, but the out-of-towners and the pros...” He ended his speech with a little shake of his head. "Your story is fine, especially considering the tight deadline, but more general than I prefer in my features. You’ll really have to dig in. One of the advantages of putting out a weekly sports newspaper is that we have the time to go into more depth. It’s essential that you get along with these people, or you won’t land a good interview.”

Ivy inhaled slowly. What would her editor have said if she’d written the article without Rick’s help? "I understand. This time I had difficulties acquiring printable quotes.” She didn’t want to complain, and she wasn’t about to tattle on the coach, but thought it only fair to keep her editor informed. Ignoring the problem wouldn’t solve it.

Mr. Harris’s watery blue eyes regarded her sternly. "You did ask for the assignment.”

"I know, and I’m asking for one on the game this afternoon.”

"Sure,” the editor answered immediately.

Ivy brightened. He trusted her! Now she could show Rick what she could do without his help.

"Rick’ll be there, too.”

Ivy slumped. Sure, she could cover the game. With Rick there, her editor knew he’d have a good story.

Mr. Harris’s hoarse chuckle told her he’d seen her disappointment. "You can solo in time. I will say this about your piece—I’d hate to be Taylor Brown when the Longhorn defense reads those comments.”

"Thanks.” Ivy was pleased, though she tried to hide it.

"Let me give you some advice.” Mr. Harris perched on the corner of her desk, a popular spot, she realized. "Don’t try to compete with Rick. He knows a lot of players and coaches. And, of course, he’s had game experience. I hired you because I thought you could add to my newspaper. Although I’m not supposed to notice, youare female. Try a different slant, concen­trate on the players.” He slid off the desk. "By the way, now that we’ve got the college issue out, it’s time to put together one on the high schools. I’d like you to write the statistics piece this year. Rick usually does, but he hates writing it, and this will familiarize you with the teams.” Mr. Harris knocked twice on her wooden desk and left.

She’d been given the statistics assignment? A smile stole over her face. Rick had tried to collect on the favor she owed him a little too soon. Served him right.

Rick Scott.

Ivy stared at the file folders he’d left on her desk and tapped her pen. There wasn’t enough time before this afternoon’s game to start researching. The newsroom was clearing out as the remaining half a dozen reporters and photographers left for their assignments.

Rick Scott. He was an intriguing, attractive man, but the pain that she’d seen on his face the other day haunted her. The end of a dream. The end of a career. How did he feel about it, really? And what had happened?

Ivy decided to pay a trip to the morgue, or rather, the newspaper’s editorial reference department—one of the first things she’d learned was that the term "morgue” wasn’t used anymore. There was a clipping file on Rick Scott, as there was on every major figure in the news. Seven or eight years ago, Rick Scott had been big news in Austin.

Ivy riffled through the clippings, pulling several photo­graphs out. There it was again—the close-up of Rick’s grimacing face as he lay on the sidelines, helmet off.

And there were a couple of "Poor Rick” stories, stories rehashing his injury-plagued career. He’d been drafted by the San Antonio Tigers and had sustained his first injury during training camp. He’d missed the rest of that camp and a chance at becoming a starter.

Two years later, he’d been traded to the Wolves. Another injury. Nearly every clipping Ivy found seemed to discuss Rick’s injuries or his recovery from them, whether he could play or whether it was too soon for him to play when he did. His pro career, such as it had been, was over by the time he was twenty-five. The announcement of his retirement, dated three years ago, was the last clipping in his file.

Ivy was saddened. He’d been a superstar at the University of Texas. The best in a huge state that lionized its football heroes. And now he was the senior sportswriter for a midsize weekly sports newspaper. Not even a national newspaper.

Rick had every right to be bitter. She would have been. But at least his sports career had left him some valuable contacts. Contacts she didn’t have and for which there was no substitute.

Her stomach rumbled and she glanced at her watch, noting with surprise that she’d spent more than an hour reading Rick’s file. She was late.

Luckily, both her small one-bedroom apartment and the Globe office were within walking distance of Memorial Stadium. Streams of people, dressed in burnt orange and white, were already heading across the sprawling University of Texas campus by the time Ivy got there. She joined them, her press pass saving her a wait in line.

She pushed her way to the crowded press box, searching for Rick.

He stood off to one side, apparently waiting to be interviewed by a local television station.

A man with moussed hair and bronzed face beckoned to him. Rick eased himself into a chair and turned his aw-shucks grin toward the camera. Thirty seconds later, he’d given a concise analysis of this year’s Longhorn team versus the team he’d once led to the Cotton Bowl.

He wasn’t camera shy at all, Ivy noticed. So why hadn’t he chosen to become a sports commentator? He was bright and articulate and certainly had the right looks. Cheekbones like his photographed well. His hair was thick, with no sign of thinning at his crown or forehead. No shoe polish on the scalp to fool the camera. Overall, Ivy was impressed.

He finally saw her. "Ivy!” He gestured for her to follow him. "You’re late.”

"Am I?” she asked, trying not to seem defensive. "The game hasn’t started yet.”

"Ivy, Ivy, Ivy.” He shook his head. "What am I going to do with you? I wanted to introduce you to some people.”

Ivy could have kicked herself. If she hadn’t been poking into his file, she would’ve arrived much earlier. "I’m sorry.”

"No problem. Stick with me and I’ll introduce you to the Longhorns later. It’ll be easier if I’m with you the first couple of times.”

Rick’s offer was tempting, but it was important to Ivy that she succeed on her own.

But wasn’t writing the story also important? Shouldn’t she use every advantage available to her? Rick had contacts, but she knew Rick. He was her contact. When she thought of his offer in that light, she was grateful.

She tilted her head. "Why are you doing this for me?”

Rick grinned. "’Cause you’re a nice girl.”

Nice. There was that word again. Ivy didn’t want to be nice.

She knew what happened to nice girls.



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