First Down Darling by Tabatha Kiss

CHAPTER1

JOHN

September

“Hike!”

The center snaps the ball to our quarterback, the great Junior Morgan. He spins to hand it off to me, the even greater John Kirby. I grip hold of that tight pigskin and smile.

Time to go deep.

I sprint to the right, dodging the extended hands of the defensive linemen, each one of them missing me by a wide margin.

Because I’m John fucking Kirby.

I throw one foot in front of the other, speeding down the field quicker than anyone else until my toes meet the end zone.

Touchdown!

I spike the ball and throw up my hands, listening to the screams and shouts of the crowd as they echo in my head.

It’s easy to imagine them now. We heard them shake the earth last season when Cary Pierce (yeah, the Cary Pierce — four-time professional football champion, Cary Pierce) nearly coached us to a college football championship. Unfortunately, a little family matter took our star quarterback out of commission and we crumbled to bits under the pressure. But there’s no way I’m going to let that happen again.

This year, I own this field. I own this season. And I’m bringing home a damn championship.

I dance in the end zone, shimmying my hips and twerking while the rest of the team watches from sidelines.

“John!” someone shouts. “It’s just a scrimmage!”

They laugh at me, but I keep dancing. Sure, the stadium is empty. Yeah, it’s only noon on a Sunday.

But none of that stops John Kirby from being his best.

“Life ain’t no scrimmage, boys!” I say, waving my helmet over my head like a cowboy hat. “Make every moment count!”

Coach Bob shakes his head, but I see that crooked smile on his old face. “Hit the showers, guys. And John…”

I pause. “Yes, sir?”

“You do you, son.”

“Thank you, Coach!”

I follow them down the ramp, dancing to myself like everyone is watching — because they will be watching.

Might as well show them what I got.

* * *

“It’s called the trifecta.”

I walk along the bench in the locker room wearing nothing but a towel and wet skin, speaking to the team while they dry off from their showers.

“This challenge is for seniors only,” I say, pointing a finger. “Sorry, juniors, your challenge is next year.”

I’ve been preparing for this for three years. Three years of learning the moves. Three years of studying the art of seduction. Dozens of ladies have come (and come again) and gone. I’ve been slapped. I’ve been teased. I’ve been tested and cleared. All to prepare for this challenge.

The trifecta has been a staple among athletes at Chicago North University for decades. My father did it. My father’s father did it. Hell, even old man Coach Bob did it when he was an undergraduate.

“You have until the end of the season to sleep with these three…” I count on my fingers as I list them off. “A freshman, an alumnus, and a teacher.”

The room erupts with hoots and hollers. They echo back at me through the steam-filled air. I breathe in that satisfying, sinful aroma of manly body spray.

“Show of hands, boys,” I say, raising mine. “Who’s in?”

I wait, scanning the room, expecting a little more than… crickets.

“Oh, come on, guys!” I point at Junior’s handsome mug. “Morgan, you’re in, right?”

“Uh…” He slides his deodorant under his armpit. “No.”

My finger goes limp. “Why the fuck not?”

“I don’t think my fiancée would approve,” he says, running a comb through his short, dark hair. “I’ll sit this one out.”

I roll my eyes. I almost forgot how off-the-market Junior Morgan was. Last year, he was a fucking sex god. He even had a damn sex van, lovingly dubbed the Junior-mobile. Then, he went all domestic on us. Oh, well.

More ladies for me.

“Fisher.” I point at Ty and his trimmed black hair peeks out from behind his open locker door. “Fisher. Come on.”

“No,” he says. “I’ll pass.”

I deflate. “You know, you’ve become super boring since you started kissing men, dude.”

He winks at me. “Duly noted, Johnny.”

“Don’t call me Johnny. Only girls can call me that.” I hop down from the bench. “No one else is in? It’s just gonna be me?”

I take in the team’s faces. Each man looks away as I pass them by. They’re all too jaded or too scared or too taken to facethe trifecta. I don’t get it. I really don’t. College isn’t about finding your true love and settling down. College is a numbers game and during your senior year, that number is three.

“I’ll accept the challenge.”

I spin around to the voice. I grit my teeth the second I realize where it came from.

Douglas Floyd. The cornerback.

My nemesis.

He’s got that sinister look about him, leaning against the far lockers with his arms crossed over his bare chest as if he’s just been waiting there all day to deliver that line at just the right moment.

I’ve lost track of how many times this guy has cockblocked me since freshman year. Just when I’m about to seal the deal with some lucky gal, Douglas Floyd swooped in with his blond hair and blue eyes like goddamn Prince Charming on his valiant steed. He’s been training for the trifecta for as long and as hard as I have, and this year, he’s pulled out all the stops.

He definitely upped his protein intake over the summer. His biceps weren’t as jacked last season. I spot several brand-new tattoos scattered along his torso next to his Alpha Delta Xi tattoo. Little symbols that mean absolutely nothing, but that makes them the perfect conversational bait for unsuspecting mates.

“Oh, hey…” she giggles, “what’s this one mean?”

And last, but not least, his damn hair. He’s sporting a man bun. A motherfucking man bun. Trendy son-of-a-bitch must have started growing it months ago.

I throw on a smile and walk over to him. “Douglas! My man!”

He shrugs his wide shoulders. “Doesn’t seem like it’ll be too difficult.”

“Don’t get too cocky,” I warn. “This challenge has overwhelmed the best of men.”

His eyes twinkle. “Not this one.”

I smirk to conceal the contempt.

What a douche.

“Anyone else?” I ask the room.

Half of the team has taken off already. The rest of them shake their heads at me, smiling widely with amusement.

“Okay, then.” I extend my hand to Douglas. “Looks like it’s just you and me.”

He glances at my hand, but he doesn’t take it. “We should make this more interesting first.”

“Oh?” I raise a brow. “What do you have in mind?”

“Well, if it’s just the two of us, how about we race?” he asks, his lips curling. “First man across the finish line wins.”

“Wins what?”

“Victory would be its own reward in this case, wouldn’t it?”

I pause, admiring his tenacity, but also screaming inside. “I like that. You’re on.”

We shake hands, and I look around at the rest of our team.

“You all witnessed this!” My voice echoes off the walls. “You will hold us accountable.”

They nod, laughing silently to themselves.

“May the best man win, Kirby,” Douglas says to me.

“May the best man win,” I repeat.

He pushes off the lockers and throws a shirt over his head. It knocks a few strands loose from his bun, but he still looks like he’s about to sweep me off my feet for a blissfully erotic happily ever after.

Jerk.

For a second, I feel a twist of doubt deep within my gut. Achieving the trifecta was always going to be a challenge, but now it’s a full-blown competition between gentlemen. That wouldn’t be a problem, usually, but now that Douglas Floyd is involved, I’m nervous.

But I shouldn’t be. I’m John fucking Kirby. I’m the fastest halfback in college football.

I got this.

I return to my locker and gather my clothes, feeling a little more confident with each wink I give myself in the mirror.

Classes start tomorrow morning.

Time to hunt.