Contains bad words and sex-y scenarios. Mature (18+) audiences only.
The Time Has Come
The coach extended a ball in Austin’s direction he barely registered. He’d probably had one of the best games of his career finish not even a half hour ago; it was amazing what rage could do for focus. Next, he would have to talk to the press after giving a quick, on-the-spot interview on the field. He’d had to give the interview with Matt standing right next to him since Matt had recorded a career record number of sacks.
Matt had placed his hand on Austin’s shoulder pad while he smiled and flirted with the reporter. He’d gripped and released the shoulder, lying about how they’d settled their off-the-field issues because they’d agreed to do what was best for the team.
But they hadn’t.
And, as the coach’s segued into a victory speech, Matt sat disengaged in the far corner of the locker room looking at something on his phone . . . and smiling . . . and adjusting himself.
Sommer asked me not to intervene.
Austin felt something sharp hit him in the back—a slap. He looked down into the coach’s face. “Hmm? Oh, right.”
He rattled off a quick, semi-rehearsed game-ball winning speech, cheers went up around the room, and the group disbanded in a cloud of musk to head for the showers.
Cold water did nothing to temper his rage. Warm, clean clothes had absolutely none of the calming effect they usually had. Today, there was no lingering pain and soreness that usually happened once the game time adrenaline abated, likely because it had been replaced with a different kind of adrenaline.
While he understood Sommer’s stance on wanting to do everything the legal way, she didn’t seem to understand his. Sometimes, men could be assholes in more ways than one.
There was the kind of asshole he could be at times, the type that reared its head in long relationships which could usually be dealt with while still loving that person. He sometimes didn’t unload the dishwasher. Or load it. Once, when Sommer was out of town, the kids ate fast food for a week straight and he pretended he didn’t know what they were talking about when they asked if he would be bringing home the “greasy bags” for dinner again. He was a hazard in the kitchen and kept trying to make dinner despite nearly losing fingers, toes, and causing fires in the process. Eli had learned to say “shit” because of him.
Then there were the Matts. The types that had entire movements created in order to seek and destroy their kind until they no longer had any power in public spaces. Matt wouldn’t be the first professional sports player to abuse his notoriety as if his celebrity gave him some kind of untouchable sheen, and he wouldn’t be the last. But there was no way, in hell, he was going to continue what he was doing to Sommer without physical intervention.
She wasn’t sleeping through the night.
She cringed whenever her phone went off.
She disengaged often, daydreaming or simply going somewhere far off, in her mind, where he was sure not even she knew.
It was trauma, and the only way Austin knew how to fight trauma was with more of it.
“Is there a reason Sommer asked me to keep an eye on you?” Lincoln Hayes, Sommer’s younger brother and one of the team’s starting wideouts, was standing over him.
Austin pulled a sweater over his head. “I don’t know. Did she say anything specific?”
“She said you guys have been going through it.” Lincoln rubbed a white towel over his face. The man had an entire skin care regimen that some of the players teased him about but had secretly copied. “And that you might not be acting like yourself.”
Cason walked up wearing a slim-fit dark green suit.
“Whoo.” Lincoln brushed his fingers over the blazer. “Casket sharp, brother. Where are you going?”
Cason fiddled with his tie, almost as if self-conscious. “I’m taking Amelia out to dinner. With the new baby pushing us into sleep deprivation, I feel like she hasn’t been feeling appreciated. I want to make sure she knows she’s still bae.”
Lincoln cringed. “Even I don’t say that . . . anymore. And I’m younger than you two ‘old heads.’”
Cason waved him off. Austin barely heard a word of the exchange. On the other side of the locker room, Matt was staring at his phone again.
“What are you watching that has you looking like that, Matt?” Jason Autry, a six-time Pro-Bowl defensive lineman, rushed over and slipped the phone from Matt’s hand. “Damn. Those are some nice tits. What is this, voyeur porn? She looks like she’s getting smashed in a broom closet.”
“Austin.” Cason grabbed Austin’s hand and used all his strength to pull back on the limb. “Come on, man!”
Blood spotted Austin’s undershirt and smeared his knuckles. Bells rang in his ears. He couldn’t recall leaving his spot in front of Cason or Lincoln, moving across the room, or slamming his fist into Matt’s face. Repeatedly.
“You want to try again, Matt?” His voice carried throughout the silenced locker room. “You want to try sending pictures of your dick to my wife again?”
Cason released Austin’s arm and stepped back. “Are you serious? Man, Austin . . . do your thing.”
“What the fuck?” Lincoln stepped forward. “You did what to my sister?”
Jason stepped between them. All the remaining players in the locker room had polarized in their direction, but no one offered to help Matt up from the floor. His nose was off center and bloodied, and his expression hovered between wanting to show anger but unable to because of pain.
“What’s going on here?” The coach came running toward the commotion. When he saw what had occurred, he ran his hand over his head. “Good Lord. Wilson, you have a press appearance in fifteen minutes.”
“Let him go bloody.” Austin clenched and unclenched his swelling hand. “And when they ask why, let him tell them the truth.”
Matt pushed to his feet and swiped the back of his hand across his face. “You act like you’re some kind of fuckin’ goody-two shoes, Riley, when you’re some hick from a small, backwards ass town in North Carolina. I’m from Georgia, so I know how to appreciate a corn-fed black woman with a body and ass . . . like your wife’s.”
Austin started forward but both the coach, Jason, and a few other players pressed him back, choruses of, “It’s not worth it” rising around him like steam.
Lincoln shook his head. “Austin’s got kids to think about. I don’t. And I’m used to causing trouble. Mess with my sister again and see what happens.”
The coach positioned himself next to Jason. “Cut this mess out. Wilson, Riley, the team’s canceling your appearances. Don’t be surprised if both your asses warm the bench these next few games too.”
“You think I care?” Austin asked. “You think I’m going to care about a damn suspension when it comes to protecting my wife?”
The coach pointed. “Austin, go!”
Austin grabbed his duffel bag and left the locker room. He didn’t see or care which direction Matt went in, as long as they didn’t run into each other at any point between the stadium doors and the parking lot.
He turned around just as he got to his car door. Jason was running his direction.
“Here. Before he realizes I still have it.”
Austin took Matt’s phone, a smirk on his face. “Thanks, man.”
“I’ve got daughters,” Jason said. “Sisters. Even if the owners don’t boot him, maybe he’ll get charged with something. We don’t need that kind of energy on the team.”
“Agreed.” Austin slipped the phone into his pocket and slapped hands with Jason. “Thanks again. Sommer really needed this.”
* * * * *
Sommer glanced up at the clock, sighed, and continued to pace the bedroom. Usually, Austin would be home by now, but she knew he was stalling and avoiding her calls because of what had been leaked on Twitter—him pummeling Matt Wilson in the Dallas locker room.
Dammit, baby. You promised.
The alarm system chimed, indicating the garage door opening, and she stared at the doorway until his tall frame appeared in the middle.
He leaned against the door jamb. “Hey.”
“Don’t ‘hey’ me. Let me see your hand.”
He held up what was supposed to be a hand but looked like an oversized baseball mitt.
“You couldn’t at least hit him with your left hand?” she asked. “That’s your throwing hand.”
“I won’t be using it for a couple games. Suspensions and all.” He shrugged. “Oh well.”
“Oh well? Austin, I asked you to keep your cool.”
“And I tried. I just failed.”
She let her head fall, released a breath, and relocated to sit at the edge of the bed. “I saw the video on Twitter. You straight ‘Falcon-punched’ Matt. What happened?”
“I snapped. He was looking at the video he took of you.”
“In the locker room?”
Austin eased up off the door jamb and came to sit next to her. “Yep. Autry grabbed his phone, joking about him looking at amateur porn, but then he said something about a woman in a broom closet.”
She shifted in his direction, bending a knee on the mattress. “It could have been amateur porn.”
“I saw the video.” His face shadowed. “It was you, and it wasn’t just your breasts. You can see your face, your torso. Clearly. These damn, good ass iPhone cameras.” He drew her into his side. “I’m sorry.”
“What are you sorry about? None of this is your fault.”
“I was the one who took you into that broom closet.”
“And we’ve had sex in there dozens of times without any sort of issues.” She pushed on his chest, looked up at him. “We’re married with two children under six. We pretty much have to get it in where we can.”
“Still. I’m sorry I didn’t handle it differently.”
“Is that why you were late? You didn’t want to face me?”
He smiled. “No. I stopped by Giselle’s office and then I had a couple beers at Lincoln’s place. Had to talk him out of calling some ‘goons.’”
She tittered a laugh. “Lincoln and his goons. It’s another reason why I wanted this kept under wraps. Lincoln has way less restraint than you do, and you barely have any.”
He slid his hand up and down her arm.
“Wait, Giselle’s office?”
“I saw the video on Matt’s phone,” he emphasized. “When Autry took his phone, he didn’t give it back. He brought it to me instead.”
The whites of her eyes burned. “And it can be verified it’s Matt’s phone?”
“It already has. That, and the fact that the video was recorded using that specific phone. He even still has the texts where he sent you his junk and you asked him to stop.”
She tossed her arms around his neck but eased back when she accidentally crushed his sore hand.
Sommer took the good hand and led him to the kitchen. Austin sat at one of the bar stools while she grabbed a bag of frozen peas, took the seat across from him, and held it on his knuckles.
“Giselle hasn’t said yet what’s going to happen,” he continued. “I’m guessing it’s going to be some kind of mediation. This is convenient timing because the state of Texas literally just banned unsolicited dick pics. I mean, it’s a meager punishment but Matt’s career is on the line. His notoriety is working against him in this instance.”
When Sommer realized she’d missed parts of the conversation and that he’d been calling her name for a while, she shook her head and fixed her gaze to his. “Sorry.”
“You’ve been doing that a lot.”
“Stress.” She shifted the bag of peas. “And because I don’t understand his motives. I may never understand them. There are so many other women who would give him the time of day.”
One of Austin’s shoulders lifted. “He wants you.”
“But I don’t want him. Shouldn’t that matter?”
“To some men, that makes you more appealing. I think it’s a combination of how you look, who you are, and men coming out of the woodwork to prove they can be better to you than ‘racist’ old Austin Riley.”
It had been nearly five years since the incident with his father, but it never ceased to stop plaguing them. Nearly every interview or conversation they had, a question would eventually pop up regarding their interracial relationship or if Austin’s “true nature” had reared its head yet. Once, she was even asked if he had a hard time accepting their brown children.
“Is Matt the first to approach you?” he asked. “Even if they weren’t serious.”
“No.” She lifted the bag, checked the swelling, and lowered it again. “I’m approached often, but most of the time, it’s like a fisherman testing bait. They want to see if I give them the time of day. If I bite.”
“And have you ever—”
“Don’t.” She shot him a look. “After all that mess with Carmen, if I haven’t asked if you’ve been cheating on me, don’t ask me if I’ve been fooling around on you. I’m satisfied with what I have. When I stop being satisfied—”
She smiled. “It wasn’t the best way to go about everything, but thank you, Austin. For caring and being my protector. I get it, that as a husband and father, you needed that.”
“We’re still leaving this house.”
“Okay.” She tossed the bag of peas on the counter, slipped from the bar stool, and reclaimed the uninjured hand. “But, for now, are you healthy enough for me to show my gratitude?”
Austin let himself be led. “I think I can manage.”
ONE Episode Left!