work unintentionally ruffles the wrong feathers at her new job, she joins her
co-workers’ fantasy football league to prove she can hang with the guys. Only
problem: she doesn’t know a sleeper from a keeper (or any of the other lingo
thrown her way). Embroiled in a world of lineups, stats, and trades, Harper’s quest to make nice topples
when her competitive streak emerges. And her promise to herself that she’ll be
a strong, independent woman and leave the drama and heartache behind is
seriously tested when she catches the attention of her two biggest competitors:
J.J., a local celebrity determined to win a fantasy championship, and Brook, the
mild-mannered coach who seems too good to be true. Both threaten her resolve to
remain single… and, more importantly, her chances at winning the prize pool. With a slew of conflicting advice in her real and fantasy worlds, Harper must figure
out how to play the game and come out a winner.
A Clip From First & Goal…
“I don’t get how it works,” Kelsey says. “I mean, I’ve heard about fantasy football, but what do you even do?”
Fantasy football, hmm? Both of my brothers are in leagues. They basically live and breathe by their fake teams for months on end each fall. I’ve never paid enough attention to fully comprehend what’s happening, but I still give them crap for becoming emotionally invested in something that doesn’t matter. My ex used to call it “Dungeons and Dragons for sports fans.”
“It’s pretty basic,” Wade says. “Before the season starts, you draft a team of professional football players. Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, a kicker, and a defense. They can be from any NFL team.”
“You can pull from anyone—the Packers, the Broncos, the Patriots,” J.J. chimes in. “You can even take someone from the Jets, if you’re willing to risk it.”
“Not funny,” Gio says. “You know they’re my team.”
“Of course I do. Just like I realize nobody’s perfect. Except for me.” He winks at Kelsey.
She giggles. “But what do you do with those players?”
“During the season, you’ll set a lineup every week.”
“What’s a lineup?”
“It’s the list of players you’re making active.” When she stares at J.J. blankly, he lets out a huge sigh. “About half of your roster sits on the bench each week. Only the players on your lineup earn you points.”
“How do you get points?”
“Every player earns points based on how he performs during his real game.” Wade grabs a piece of paper and a pen. I angle my neck but can’t quite make out his scratchings. “Like, a quarterback earns six points if he throws to a wide receiver who makes a touchdown or if he runs the ball in himself. A wide receiver gets points for making the catch, running the yards, and getting the touchdown. When you sign up for your account you can check out all the different ways you can earn points.”
“But how do you win or lose?”
“Each week you play against another person in the league. The person who finishes the series of games with the most points wins.”
“And the one with the least loses.” Her eyes narrow. “I bet you guys want me in your league because you want me to lose.”
“No, we don’t.” J.J. leans across the counter. “C’mon, it’ll be fun. I’ll help you.”
“No. You won’t,” Wade says. “You’ll give her bad advice so you can beat her.”
“I will not.”
“Boys, boys,” Gio interrupts, wielding the full power of seventeen years of fatherhood. “It doesn’t matter whether or not J.J. helps Kelsey draft a team or leads her astray. Brook is still going to kick our asses all season.”
J.J. frowns. “Why do you assume MacLaughlin will win again?”
“He does every year.”
“Settle down,” Gio interrupts before J.J.’s face turns bright crimson. “You can puff up your chest and rant all you want. He’s a shoo-in for the playoffs. He gets there every year.”
“We’ve only had five seasons.”
“And he’s won three of them and finished second the other two.” Gio lets out a short laugh and shakes his head. “I’d quit the league if it wasn’t fun and didn’t get me out of the estrogen den at home. Brook is too good; we’ll never beat him.”
“He gets lucky,” J.J. mutters.
“He has skills.”
“Every winning streak has to end sometime.”
Gio rubs his forehead. I can’t blame him. J.J. is giving me a headache, too.
“His streak isn’t about superstition or anything,” Gio says. “He has an eye for talent. The guy could do this for a living.”
“Technically he does.” Wade flinches under J.J.’s heated glare. “He does. He coaches football.”
“At a high school.” J.J. rolls his eyes. “He’s working with amateurs, not a team of highly trained, well-paid athletes.”
“They’re kids,” Gio says.
“And talented ones,” Wade adds. “They’re already front-runners for State this year.”
J.J.’s frown settles deeper into his face. “Ratings, rankings, and projections don’t count for anything unless you take the title in the end.”
“I’m still not sure about this fantasy football business,” Kelsey says, trying to regain control of the conversation. She’s also likely trying to prevent J.J. from slugging the other salesmen. “I guess I don’t understand football.”
“Young lady, you were born and raised in Nebraska.” Gio grins and offers her a comforting pat on the shoulder. “You’d be surprised how much you probably know about the game without even trying.”
“It’s in the blood,” Wade agrees. “We Nebraskans are born with the football gene in our DNA. Sometimes it doesn’t present itself until later in life.”
“A dormant gene?”
Kelsey purses her lips. “I still don’t—”
“Here’s the deal,” J.J. interrupts. “One of our league-mates dropped out at the last-minute. His wife had a baby a couple of months ago, and he’s under the impression he can’t manage a fantasy league and be a father at the same time.”
The men exchange pained glances, and Gio rolls his eyes. “First-time fathers always overdo it. He’ll be begging to rejoin next season.”
“In the meantime, we need a twelfth player,” J.J. says. “Please, Kelsey. It’s only for one season.”
“The league dues are kind of expensive. A hundred dollars is a lot of money.”
“Which you’ll get back if you make it to the playoffs.”
Kelsey taps her fingers on the desk while chewing on the inside of her cheek. “Only four teams make it to the playoffs though, right?”
“We actually send six,” Wade corrects. “But only the final four team managers get money.”
She shakes her head. “I can’t. I need to save my money for rent.”
“We need you.” J.J. takes Kelsey’s hand, and her eyes go dewy. “Most of the other guys in the league work here. It’s not like you’re dealing with strangers.”
“You’d be our favorite person,” Wade says.
“We’ll be indebted to you forever,” Gio adds.
“I’m sorry, but—”
“Well, I guess we’re screwed.” J.J. drops her hand and swears under his breath. “Our draft is tonight. Where else can we find someone willing to pay the dues and play the game?”
“I’ll do it.” The words are out of my mouth before I’ve even had a chance to consider what I’m saying.
Four pairs of eyes fall on me. The expressions on their faces display a mix of emotions ranging from shock and intrigue to annoyance. Kelsey in particular looks like she might want to smack me for my unsolicited interruption.
Right now, I don’t care, because this is my chance. This is the way I can prove I’m a team player. That I’m not a completely uptight rule enforcer, and I can have fun. They’ll realize I’m not “Harper the harper.” I’m just me.
Wade is first to break his silence. “You like football?”
“I’m from Wisconsin,” I reply, hoping it’s enough of an explanation.
“Packers fan?” Gio asks.
I nod. “Go Pack Go.”
“Same as Brook.” Wade watches me closely, tapping a finger on the counter. “Who’s your favorite player?”
“Chad Baker. But I like Dickson and Mathena,” I add. “They were big playmakers last season.”
I overheard my brothers say something like that during Christmas dinner. I’ve admittedly fallen behind on my football watching during the past few years. And, okay, maybe I’m exaggerating my enthusiasm for football a little bit, but I am a fan. When I have time to watch.
“Have you ever played fantasy football before?”
“No.” I face J.J., who apparently is ready to speak again. “But I’ve followed both of my brothers’ teams for years. I’ve always wanted to join a league.”
I mentally cross my fingers, hoping the little fib doesn’t cost me too many karma points.
“You’d be ready to draft tonight?”
“And you’re willing to pay the dues?”
“Definitely.” My cheeks ache from forcing the smile. “This sounds like a lot of fun. If you’ll have me, I’d love to be your twelfth league member.”
The men trade a few more glances, while the still-silent Kelsey’s chest rises up and down. Gio and Wade nod, and J.J. pushes away from the counter to offer his hand. “As the league commissioner, let me be the first to welcome you to the Mega Ballerz. We have a lot to discuss.”
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November19 – CDyess Writes – Excerpt
Goal, The Marrying Type, and Hard Hats and Doormats. Her work
also appears in Merry & Bright, A Kind of Mad Courage, and All I Want For Christmas. A native
Nebraskan, she loves Huskers and Packers football, Netflix marathons, and her
cats, Jane and Bingley. Laura is currently in pursuit of a fantasy football
championship while penning her next novel.