Cover art provided by Reece Notley

Cover art provided by Reece Notley


Blurb

After leading his team to two Super Bowl wins, being cut leaves quarterback Levi Brody reeling. Betrayed, scared, and picking up the pieces from a failed love affair, he abandons New Orleans for the speck-on-the-map Alabama town he left behind. He wants nothing more than to hide out and lick his wounds, but an interfering brother thrusts him back into sports—coaching high school football. Where once he’d ruled the field as star player, now he’s taking orders from a very young, very attractive head coach. A coach with a deep-rooted hatred for all things Levi Brody.

Head coach of the newly formed East County High, Tracy Wright has his work cut out for him. Forming three former rival teams into one working unit is all that he can handle. The last thing he needs is an interfering golden boy. He has no use for Levi Brody, until discovering how much Levi has to offer both the team and Tracy.

Small town jealousy plus big city secrets converge, and just might leave both men Sidelined.


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Chapter One

“The fuck? Oh hell no, you can’t do this to me?” He sat across from the brand new, still wet behind the ears athletic director at East County High. The urge to smash his smiling face was growing stronger with each tooth the prick displayed.

“You need assistants. You’ve begged me for new assistants since the day I walked into this office, and Coach Wright, pardon me for saying so, but he’d be an asset. He knows the game. He can offer—“

Tracy stood up, placing one hand on each end of the desk, and leaned over, effectively shutting the thin-necked, pencil-pushing asshole up. God, he missed McCord, at least the man knew which end of a football was which. This guy just knew numbers.
“Not fucking Levi Brody.”

“Why not? He’s an alumnus. He’s more than qualified to—“

“Not Brody. I won’t have his prima donna ass on my field. Let him find another team to play God on. I don’t want him here. We can’t afford to pay him anything close to what he thinks he’s worth—“
The pencil-neck geek slammed his hand down on the desktop, surprising Tracy into shutting his mouth. He stood up and stuck his face in Tracy’s—well damn, the guy had some balls after all.

“I don’t know what your problem is with Mr. Brody. And frankly, I don’t care. You asked for qualified coaching assistants, and I found you probably the best one on the planet. And he volunteered. This is a win-win situation, Coach. A win-win. You get one of the best offensive players in the NFL to mentor your boys, and we don’t have to pay him. Plus we’ll reap the benefit with ticket sales when the season starts. Everyone in the county will want to come out to see Mr. Brody up close. From what I understand, it’s been twelve years since he’s come home. Should be a stellar year.”

“Well, la-de-fucking-da.” Tracy snapped back. Fucking asshole, of course that’s what this was about. Brody couldn’t be a star anymore, so he’d come home and have everyone here kiss his ass. That’s how Brody operated. That’s how he'd always operated. Nothing changes with guys like him. Nothing.

“It’s a done deal. You have two new assistants, one defensive just like you asked, and Mr. Brody for the offense. The only thing that he requested was not to have to throw due to his injury.” Clancy Richmond sat down and leafed through the stack of papers he’d pulled from under his blotter. “This year’s schedules, roster, staff, everything should be final or as close to final as we can get it right now. Buses chartered. The painters are finishing up the new weight room today. Everything is coming together smoothly, Coach.”
Last year, he had to do all of this himself when Mike fell ill, which made his life a living hell. Tracy took the stack of papers and sat back in the chair to flip through. Most of this was his paperwork, the kids on the roster, training camp forms, physicals, everything he’d turned in last week coming back to him. He glanced at the schedule; so much had changed when they’d consolidated three small high schools and jumped divisions. 6A was the big boys. And this was their second year playing kids from bigger organizations who could bench press a Volkswagen.

“This looks good. Not too many long hauls this year. More closer to home.” They still played their rivals, what was left of their rivals after the consolidation. They couldn’t drop the school in the next county over just because they were still 4A; no one would stand for that. The second biggest game for the Pirates. The first biggest game no longer existed. “Thanks for taking over on this. I appreciate it.”
“Least I could do. You don’t give me much…” Richmond shrugged and looked away. Tracy could tell there was something else. He could also tell he was going to hate it. “Listen, you know we’ve been trying like hell to get this program on the same level as the bigger schools. We’re never going to match what Hoover up in North Alabama has; we’re just not financially equipped. The new weight room accounted for most of our discretionary spending. Last year, it was uniforms. Thank God the boosters stepped in on that one. All the kids have new uniforms. We have a new weight room. We can charter buses instead of taking regular school buses.”

“But?” Tracy knew it was coming. He could hear the unspoken words. “Updating the field house and maybe getting a new practice field closer to the school is not in the cards.” He knew this was true. He didn’t have to be told. The field house was in good repair. New paint on the lockers. The showers were updated over the summer when the whole school went through a plumbing overhaul.

“Well, yes, and no. Sort of.”

“Which is it?” He sighed, waiting for the bomb to drop. There was one coming. “Yes or no?”

“See the thing is, Levi Brody’s brother hinted that Mr. Brody might donate a new indoor field. State of the art…if we let him coach this year. And if his name is on it.”

Tracy tapped the papers on his knee. He fought hard not to ball the stack up and throw them across the room. The Levi Brody field house. He’d be coaching out of the fucking Levi Brody stadium next. If the boosters had their way. If Brody and his egomaniacal self had his way.
“I see.”

“No, I don’t think you do see. The school board won’t allow it. Okay, the board will allow the money but not the naming. They say it isn’t fair to the other schools even if it is from private donations, and they rejected the deal.”

“The deal that Brody’s brother really only hinted at in the first place? Because we all know that Jude Brody loves to throw his brother’s name around if he thinks he can get his way.” The Brody brothers. Just alike. Both pricks.

“Well, yeah.”

“So what’s the issue? The board won’t approve it, and Brody won’t give if his name isn’t on it. I see no reason to worry about it. We’ll start on another fundraising drive. Whatever.”

And that’s when the long bomb fell. “We want you to talk to him. Get him to change his mind about the dedication. See if you can…I don’t know, just use your influence with him, from back in the day when you played together or something.”

“Dude, I didn’t play for Summerville High. I’m from Hillsborough. I’m a Panther not a Pirate.” And with that he left the younger man sitting at his desk with his mouth open and walked out into the blazing lower Alabama sun.


* * * * *


Two things happened at one time. The house shook, and his phone beeped out a text message alert. Then lightning flashed, bringing another thunder clap to shake the house again.

“Fuck. Fuck.” Levi rolled over onto his side, the wrong side and lightning streaked inside his body, from his shoulder down his arm and back. “Fuck.” He reached for the pill bottle before he reached for the phone.

Just ibuprofen, the big daddy pain killers were in the kitchen, and he sure as fuck didn’t want to walk all the way in there just to take something that didn’t do shit for the pain except knock him out. He found a half empty bottle of beer on the nightstand and downed the pills, four of them. Because he needed that many just to get up in the…afternoon. Shit. Nearly two. He swiped his hand over his face and carefully lowered his feet to the floor. The rumble of thunder made the old place vibrate, but at least it wasn’t shaking now.

Phone in hand he called up the text. Texts, there was a couple from Jude that he’d missed this morning and a new one from Slayer. He thumbed up Slayer’s first. Jude could wait.

Hey, 501, let’s go tee up. Then you can treat me to a couple rounds at Rascals.

So Slayer was back in New Orleans but hadn’t gotten the memo that Levi wasn’t.

Sure, it’ll take me about four hours to get there. Go ahead and start without me. He texted back. William Slater was probably one of his best friends. They called him Slayer because he was also one of the best left guards playing the game. He slayed defensive linemen for a living. He’d saved Levi’s ass more than once.

Shit, man, hurry up and get here. Cephus is already on the field with some rookie. He’s looking good this year. Better than last.

Levi laid the phone down and leaned over his thighs. They didn’t know yet. None of them. Management took the god damned cowards way out and cut him on the quiet. And no one knew. Yet. He was still getting a paycheck. He was still under contract. He was fucked. Just seriously fucked. Arm fucked up, life fucked, everything fucked up. When the doctor said he’d never play again, that was all they heard and he was gone. He had one year left on his contract before he became a free agent. Management considered it a fitting severance, and he did the only thing he knew to do. He loaded up his car and came home.

Rain slammed against the metal roof, drowning out the sounds of gurgling plumbing and an ancient air conditioning unit that worked overtime to keep this fucking tin can cool. Levi rubbed his face again, hoping to find something to feel happy about. He looked around the house he’d grown up in, and it was as if the last thirteen years had never happened. He picked up the phone and shot off another text.
Yeah, man, I’m sort of not coming back this year. That rook is your new QB. He’s got a cannon for an arm. He’ll get the job done.

Two seconds after he hit send, his phone rang. And despite the noise of rain hitting the roof, he answered. “What the fuck you mean you ain’t coming back?”

“It’s good to hear your voice,” he said like a stupid lovesick cow. But the dulcet tones of the big ass left guard made him want to pack up and head back to New Orleans and fight the damned early retirement. Brett Favre did it. Except Levi was pretty sure that Brett didn’t have his shoulder separated for him by a monster linebacker last November.

“You sound like Murphy when he talks to his boyfriend on the phone, man; shut that shit up.” Slayer laughed on the other end, and Levi winced. Yeah, he probably did sound like Bo. Maybe. “Why aren’t you coming back? The arm is good, right? You didn’t tear it again? You did everything the doctors told you to do, right?”

“It’s not healing, Slayer. The damage was too extensive. They…” he remembered the therapist working with him to regain even a little flexibility. Never mind range of motion. Even just a little bit of lift and he’d be lying on the floor writhing in pain. “I’m done.”
“No, man. No. That’s bullshit. Why didn’t you tell me? Where the hell are you anyway? I’ll come get you, and we’ll talk to management. They can’t just cut you. You got us two rings, man.”

“Bowen got you those rings. I just got the ball into his hands. Don’t forget that. I’m taking retirement. It hurts. But it’ll be worse if I completely fuck my arm up. You know this.”

“I know, man, I hate it. Medicine is supposed to be so good now. It’s supposed to fix it all.”

“It doesn’t. I’m not a rag doll; some stitching isn’t going to fix it. Only time will. I hope.” He flexed the fingers, letting the now familiar tingling course down his arm.

“This sucks.” He heard the man on the other end blow out a frustrated breath. “They hired Bo’s Marine to the offensive coaching team. He looks better than he did at the end of the season. Bo does too. He looks happy.”

Slayer sounded upset about that little predicament. Dale Shannon championed Bowen Murphy when everyone else turned their backs on him. Shannon would hire the Marine. The man could have been his replacement. He’d seen that much after their first Super Bowl win. He had an arm on him. There was some talk of giving him a tryout when he got home. Too bad what happened to him.

“Back him up, Will. He’s a good man. He’s a good player. Two years of making him pay dues is too much. He’s already earned everything, man. Just do that for me. They’re both good men. They don’t deserve shit like we heaped on Bo that first year. Just take care of him. And the new kid. Like you did me.”

“Come on, man, you’re talking like it’s the end.” There was a long pause. “You have people with you, right? Someone to take care of you? Don’t want to hear that you decided to eat your gun or something over this.”

“I don’t have a gun. And yeah, I got people here. Jude is around here somewhere.”

“So you’re back in Alabama, man, not good for you. You need to go somewhere tropical, with women in bikinis, find a beach to lie on and heal. Some Tahitian miss to take care of what ails you. Anything but fucking 'Bama.”

Levi pinched the bridge of his nose. Yeah, anywhere but fucking 'Bama. “I’m okay here. It’s not like it was. I’m okay.”
“Yeah, well, you don’t sound like it.”

“I just woke up. Give me a break. I slept off a couple of four am pain pills. I haven’t even taken a piss yet.”

“Then go piss. And Levi, when I get a break, I’m coming to check on you.”

“I’ll see you then.”

Levi disconnected and tossed the phone onto the nightstand just as another text message came through. He ignored the phone and went to do exactly what he’d just told Slayer he needed to do. Jude could leave him the fuck alone. He paid him enough to keep his shit away from him. What more did he want? A god damned monument down in the city park? Probably. Who the hell knew with Jude?