|Your cart is currently empty|
Normally, Luke is a really nice guy but things have been tough for him. Not only did his wife divorce him, he just lost his job as the starting linebacker in the NFL. He needs to find a job and other teams are interested in him but he doesn't want to move. He starts to feel badly about the way he has treated TJ and Mel and goes about to correct it. When he learns he has his old job back, he wants to give Mel and TJ a chance of being a real family.
Mel is thrilled at first, but then she meets up with the wives and baby mamas of the players. She realizes that maybe she won't fit in with their diva personalities and their Reality Housewives lifestyle. How can Luke convince her she'll be fine in his world?
Mel sighed in happiness as she looked around her new luxury condo located outside of Scottsdale, AZ. It was everything she had ever wanted and more. As a working, single mother, she had always dreamed of living in a neighborhood like this and now with her promotion and inheritance, it had all come true. As a very sought after computer programmer and app developer, she would only have to commute to the Phoenix area maybe once a month, but all work could be done at home. Mel looked at her six-year-old son, TJ, lovingly as he ran around the empty condo, his excitement apparent. TJ was a mirror image of his father; tall for his age with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. Unfortunately, his father was not around; his choice.
“Mom, this place is huge! Can I get a dog? Can I get a horse? No, wait. It is too small for a horse.” He looked at Mel. “Okay. I’ll settle for a dog, but a really big one. Maybe it can be a wolf and scare all the monsters away.”
“Let’s settle in first before we think about it. We need to get all of our furniture in just the right spot. Are you going to help me?”
“That is so boring.” TJ rolled his eyes. “Can I go to the park and play?”
“Not without me, you’re not,” Mel warned. The moving truck pulled up in front of the condo and stopped, the driver checking the directions.
“You’re at the right place,” Mel yelled and turned to TJ. “You just stay right here and don’t move.” She ran out to greet the movers. “Hi, I’m Melissa Chalmers. I’m in this unit right over here.” She pointed to her condo and cringed when she didn’t see TJ. Where did he go? Mel frantically looked at the man in charge of unloading of the truck and then back to the condo. “My son has disappeared. I need to find him!”
“Go ahead,” he assured her. “Besides, I’m missing a man. Said he’d be here shortly.”
“Thanks!” Mel raced back into the condo and out of the corner of her eye, she saw TJ slink back into the house from the driveway. She stopped short when she saw the guilty look on his face. “Where were you? You scared me to death!”
“Mom! Mr. Football lives right next door. I saw him.” TJ jumped up and down in excitement.
“Slow down, young man.” Mel looked at him closely. “Now, where did you get this idea?” Mel knew there were some pretty well-to-do people in the area and had been prepared for it, but not someone with a football payroll. Maybe this guy looked like a Mr. Football type. However, TJ looked so cute and vulnerable, she didn’t know how to let him down easy. “Tell you what.” Mel stooped down so she faced TJ eye to eye. “You help Mom by making sure the movers put the furniture in all the right places. When we’re done, we can order a pizza.”
“Really? Can I watch a movie?” Once again, TJ jumped up and down with excitement.
“I wish we could, but we don’t have cable set up yet. They’re coming tomorrow, so you and I will just have to tell scary stories, okay?” Mel’s heart broke at the disappointed look on TJ’s face. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” TJ looked back at the condo next door. “Can we invite Mr. Football over for dinner?”
“Not tonight. Let’s make it our night; our first night in our new house. Just the two of us.”
“Maybe tomorrow night?”
“We’ll see.” Mel hoped to get more out of TJ over dinner tonight about Mr. Football, whoever he was. She had a house to get settled and turned her attention back to the movers. Granted she didn’t have much coming from a two-bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom condo. Fortunately, her company had paid for the move, probably because it had been so cheap. She liked to think it was because her programming services were in such high demand. Well, maybe.
“No, Mr. Man.” TJ pointed his small index finger at the mover. “That’s my bed, and I want it right in here.”
“TJ, that’s going to be Mommy’s office. Your bedroom is right over here, see? It’s bigger and look at the nice closet you have.” Mel tried to thwart a full-blown TJ temper tantrum as she saw his face get red and his eyes filled with tears.
“But, Mom. I can see Mr. Football from here. I won’t be able to see him from the other room.”
“Um, sorry.” Mel flinched at the mover who had started to lose his patience. “Just a minute and I’ll get this resolved.” She turned back to TJ. “Look. You can come in here and see Mr. Football any time you want if Mommy isn’t busy, but wouldn’t it be nicer if you could sleep in the bigger room in a big boy bed?”
“I guess so,” TJ mumbled, looking down at his feet.
“Hey, that’s Luke Allen with the Cardinals,” the mover announced. “I didn’t know he lived here.”
“See, Mommy? I told you it was Mr. Football.” TJ stomped his feet.
“Who is he?” she asked and looked out the window. Oh yeah, he most definitely was a fine specimen of a man. Mel’s heart stopped for a moment just by looking at him. Luke stood about six foot six with long blonde hair and muscles so big, Mel wondered how he got any clothes to fit him. Right now, he stood in his driveway, shirtless, glaring at the moving truck which blocked his driveway. This was not a good start for her first day in this neighborhood. She watched helplessly as Luke strode over to the truck to confront the driver. She turned to the mover. “Can you move the truck?”
“Yeah, I better. I don’t want to be on his bad side. I’d lose.” He dropped TJ’s bed in the bedroom and went out to confront Luke.
TJ started to follow but Mel’s hand shot out and caught him in the nick of time. “Not so fast. You stay here and let them work it out. Here, help me put your bed together.”
“NO! I want to watch.” TJ took off running and Mel caught him again, just as he reached Luke and screeched to a halt as he looked up at Luke. “You’re HUGE!”
Out of breath, Mel stumbled as she finally got a hold of TJ. “I am so sorry.” She looked to face him and her heart almost jumped out of her chest. He reminded her of an Indian Warrior; the hawk like features and the bluest eyes she had ever seen. However, they were cold and menacing with anger. No wonder he won at football games. Hell, here she wasn’t even in the game and she was afraid of him.
“Listen lady. I know it’s not your fault, but these morons should’ve known not to block my driveway. I want this truck moved and I want it done right now!”
“Please don’t be mad at my mommy. She’s sorry, right, Mom?” TJ’s innocent face turned to Mel’s face then back to Luke’s.
“I have to go somewhere and I can’t because of this stupid truck.” He glared at Mel.
“I’m moving it. Jeez!” The men closed up the open doors and watched as the truck inched forward, freeing the driveway. “Is that good enough for you?”
“Yes.” Luke turned to Mel. “Listen. Just so we get this upfront. I’m not the neighborly type. I mind my business and you mind yours, got it?”
“Oh yeah. I hear you loud and clear.” Mel stood up to him defiantly. “Same goes for me and by the way, your personality needs major work!” She turned on her heel, with TJ’s hand in hers and stomped off into her condo. “Of all the nerve!” Dear Lord, she was so angry, she had literally dragged poor TJ along with her. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Mr. Football is not a nice man at all.” She made sure she had TJ’s sole attention. “I don’t want you going anywhere near that man or his house, got it?”
“Why is he so mean?” TJ blinked back tears.
“Could be because he just got cut from the team’s roster. I think we caught him on a bad day,” the mover commented as he resumed carrying in her furniture and had caught the tail end of the conversation.
“Ouch. I guess I’d be a little upset too,” Mel agreed. “But I’d try not to take it out on anybody.
“Not to mention, his ex-wife really took him to the cleaners. That explains why he’s living here. He had a really nice mansion in Paradise Valley. Heard she got it all.”
“Bitter, is he?” Mel scoffed. “What did he do, cheat on her?”
“That’s what they’re saying. I never did like her, though. Always thought she was a gold digger. Where do you want your desk?”
“In here.” Mel’s mind started to wander, thinking about Mr. Football and then stopped herself. She had more important things to worry about. “Where’s the best pizza around here?”
“Oreganos, of course.”
“Is it close by?” She smiled in relief about the news of her favorite pizza place. Maybe things would be okay after all. Maybe even better when cranky Mr. Football moved on with his life and moved out and somebody nice would move in. Smiling, she took TJ’s hand again. “Everything will work out. I promise.”
* * * * *
Luke still seethed as he got behind the wheel of his custom made Ferrari and backed up, careful not to hit the truck. What had he done to anger the gods as of late? First, he got cut from the Cardinal’s roster by being bested by some hot-shot punk who had outplayed him. Jared Jennings had had the audacity to tell him to ‘hang it up, old man’. It took every ounce of dignity that Luke could muster to ignore him. Oh. Let’s not forget his divorce with Nanette. Luke still shuddered when he thought of her. What the hell had he seen in the first place? He knew what she had seen in him. Money and all that implies. With the judge in her pocket, with some grainy photos depicting him of having an affair, which by the way never happened, he had lost his house and now lived in small condo. The only good thing is she didn’t get half of his money nor the dog, Brutus, a beautiful tan and black, two year old German Shepard. Thank goodness for small favors. The condo had worked out just fine at first. No nosy neighbors and people just left him alone. Now, a woman with a nosy kid had moved in next door and already he had seen the boy peering into his windows. Hopefully, he had put his scary ‘game day’ face on and the kid would leave him alone. He sighed as he made the turn into the fitness center. The woman appeared to be a knock out; about five-foot eight with long blonde hair. Did she have green eyes or hazel? Luke couldn’t remember but he didn’t forget the body. Curves in all the right places. Nope. She was totally off limits. Hell, he didn’t even ask her what her name was. Didn’t matter.
Luke parked the car; got out and locked it. As he strolled into the gym, he was greeted by the staff who seemed to know of his mood and stayed out of his way. His phone chirped with an incoming text and he stopped to read it. Troy DeLuca, his best friend and the team’s quarterback, said he was running late and would be there as soon as he could. Luke sighed again as he went to his locker. He needed to speak with Troy, his rock. He didn’t know what he would do without him these last couple of weeks. Luke sat on the bench, waiting for Troy to show up. He put his head in his hands and fought back the anxieties. Here he was thirty-one years old, not too old to be linebacker but who would draft him? His agent, Pete, had told him to be confident but the phone wasn’t ringing. Not a good sign.
“Having a pity party?” Troy came up and sat down next to him.
“Nope. I’m good.” Luke stood up and started some stretching exercises. “Thanks for meeting me here.”
“Yeah. Not a problem. I miss working out with you. Tell me, what’s going on? Any news?” Troy patted Luke on his back.
“Only person who called is Nanette but I won’t answer her calls.”
“The guys really miss you and think you got the shaft. Granted, Jared looks really good but he’s not really a team player. I guess he’ll have to learn.”
“He’s still a jerk. I hope he gets his due. Treating me like I’m a dried up old player. I’m not old.”
“No, you’re not. Come on, man? Let’s think positive.” Troy gave Luke’s shoulder a shake. “Pete is looking out for you. Just keep in shape. You’ll never know when you’ll get the call.”
“Thanks, buddy. I appreciate it.” Luke put his concentration on his routine. For a linebacker, it’s not your back, it’s your hips. He learned early in his career, the hips are always exposed being in a crunched down position for the majority of the game. He and Troy worked in comfortable silence until a certain brunette bombshell walked into the room. Damn! Nanette? What was she doing here?
“Well, well, well,” Nanette said as she loomed over Luke. “Why won’t you return any of my calls? Just because you’re my ex doesn’t mean we can’t talk.”
“I have nothing to say to you. We’re done and I really don’t appreciate you tracking me down like this. If you have anything to say, go see your lawyer.” Luke purposely ignored her and walked over to the mat to do some pushups. Nanette followed him.
“I’m having a little money problem.” Nanette stared down at her shoes.
“I can see why.” Luke’s eyes followed hers to the shoes. “Didn’t those set you back about two grand? Nanette, if you’re going to be spending money like that, of course the well is gonna dry up. I think I left you enough money to survive on while you’re looking for work. Oh, I forgot. You don’t do work.”
“Stop being so sarcastic.” Nanette’s lips trembled. “Look, Luke. I need about twenty grand. I promise I’ll pay you back when I get the money.”
“Nope.” Luke continued with his exercises. Twenty grand? What the hell had she been up to?
“Just this once. I promise.”
“Did it ever occur to you I’m out of a job? I’m no longer Bank of Luke. Either get a job or a rich boyfriend.” Then it hit him. Boyfriend. She’d been seeing someone she had met in Vegas. He stopped dead in his tracks. “The guy from Vegas?”
“Well, you see.” Nanette looked around before she continued. “Rick has a slight gambling debt he needs paid off real soon. We thought you could, you know, help us out?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Troy interjected. “You just shit all over my best friend; making up lies he cheated on you; then you find a loser boyfriend in a blink of an eye. Luke just lost his job and you have the audacity to ask him for money? You are incredible! What rock did you crawl under from? Sleaze rock?”
“How dare you!” Nanette stomped her foot. “Luke, are you going to let him speak to me that way?”
“Sure will. You’re not my responsibility anymore.” Luke smiled, enjoying Troy’s assistance. “Go find someone else.”
“Well, I never!” Nanette started to walk away but then turned back, her face red with anger. “You haven’t heard the last from me, Luke Allen.”
“Yeah, I have.”
“Why don’t you make like a tree and leave?” Troy taunted, then laughed.
“See? Welcome to my world.” Luke shook his head.
“Come on. Let’s stop for the day, and I’ll buy you a beer.”
“Why don’t you come over for a beer instead? Right now, I don’t feel like hanging around in a bar.”
“Fine with me. No autographs; no press, no pretty women�”
“Get over it,” Luke said as he wiped the sweat off of his face with his towel. “I’ll buy the first round.”
“I don’t know, it might cost you.”
“Twenty grand? You, I’d lend the money to because I know I’ll get it back. Not Nanette.”
“Why won’t she get a job?” Troy asked as he walked next to Luke.
“She feels it’s beneath her to work. She feels she was put on this earth to be coddled and waited on. Her life consists of eating out, drinking and shopping. I don’t know what her Vegas lover sees in her after the way she treated me.” Luke reached for his car keys and unlocked the car.
“I think he sees your bank account.” He laughed. “I’ll follow you.” Troy slid into his car.
Luke made it back to the condo and felt relieved to see the moving truck had left. He felt badly how he had treated the new neighbors the way he had. He remembered the hurt look on the kid’s face and now felt like a big jerk. He loved kids, really. Mostly when they were well behaved. Maybe later he’d apologize to the kid the next time he saw him. He should apologize to the woman too. Just say he’s sorry and didn’t mean to come across as an ass, but he wanted his privacy. He opened the garage door and parked his car. Troy had parked right behind him and Luke waited for him to get out so they could enter through the garage door. Troy seemed to be talking to�who? His new neighbor? Curiosity won him over and Luke went over to see what was going on.
“You just moved in?” Troy asked the woman.
“Yes, we did. Things are a little chaotic at the moment.” She smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
“I’m Troy, Luke’s friend.” He extended his hand. “Welcome to the hood.”
“I know.” She seemed to falter. “I hate to go, but Luke made it very clear to us that he’s not the neighborly type. I don’t want to impose�”
“I want to apologize for this morning,” Luke interrupted. “It’s been a bad day for me and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you and your son.”
“Apology accepted.” She seemed to relax a bit, but not much. “I have to go.” She turned and walked away quickly.
“Wait!” Troy ran up to her. “At least you could tell us your name?”
“Um.” She seemed unable to look at Luke. “Mel and my son’s name is TJ.” This time she ran into her condo, slamming the door.
“What the hell did you do to her?” Troy asked in astonishment.
“Like I said, it’s been a really bad day. Come on in, man.” Luke led them inside and greeted Brutus.
“She’s a knock out. You better be nice or I’ll sic myself on you.”
“You’re supposed to cheer me up, not dump on me. Come on.”
“Right. Where’s my beer and let’s start from the beginning.” Troy sat down on the couch.
“Here it is in a nutshell.” Luke poured out his heart to Troy about how worried he was about his future. “What do I do if no one wants me?”
“You can always try broadcasting. You’re good with a microphone and analyzing the game. Maybe you can ask Pete to look down that avenue.”
“But I want to play. I’m still young. I have a lot of good years left of my game,” Luke insisted.
“I think everyone knows that, but remember your injuries from years’ past? Personally, I think that’s what is holding everyone back. They’re all saying, ‘remember when he blew out his knee two years ago?’”
“But I haven’t had a problem since then.” Luke got up and started to pace. He peered out the window to see Mel and TJ get into her car, a silver Mercedes S550 coupe. “Damn, nice car.”
“What?” Troy asked as he got up off the couch and joined him at the window. ”You spying on your neighbor already?”
“Wonder what she does to afford such a car. She’s probably divorced and took her ex to the cleaners.” Luke wished he could take back the words the minute they left his mouth. It was a horrible thing to say. “Sorry.” He turned to Troy. “Not everyone is like Nanette.”
“No, they’re not. I’ve got good vibes about your Mel. Whatever you did, you really scared her off. If she was like Nanette, she would be over here introducing herself to you; you know, like bringing dinner.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Luke looked back out the window; Mel was gone. “Let’s talk some football. What’s your take on the Chargers? We, I mean the team, should easily beat those guys.”
“So far, we look good,” Troy admitted. “Everyone is healthy and there are no injuries. The Chargers have lost their best wide receiver due to a broken ankle. His replacement doesn’t look very good. Seems like he and the quarterback can’t seem to make the connection.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve seen the tapes.” Luke really felt frustrated. “God, I miss the game.” His phone rang and he reached for it. “Pete,” he announced and took the call. “Hey, what’s up?”
“You have an interview with the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday. Your flight leaves out of Sky Harbor at nine in the morning. You’re meeting with Tom Parker. You know their linebacker went down in the last preseason game. Tom wants to see if you could fit in as a backup.”
“Backup?” Luke’s ego fell to the ground. All the hard work he had put in only to be reduced to a backup? He had to swallow his pride. “Cool. Thanks, Pete.” He disconnected the call and turned to Troy.
“For who?” Troy asked.
“I heard.” Troy shook his head. “Look at it this way. It’s better than nothing and who says you won’t be backup for long?”
“You’re right.” Luke felt his optimism returning. He could do this.
* * * * *
“Mom?” TJ sat at the table, swinging his legs since they didn’t reach the ground. He munched thoughtfully on his pizza.
“What?” Mel’s attention span with TJ was at an all-time low. There was so much to do yet with the move. She wished she could just snap her fingers and every piece of furniture would fall into place. Her laptop and office; her bedroom, the kitchen and the list went on.
“That other football guy was really nice.”
“Yes, he was but don’t forget Mr. Football did apologize.” Mel couldn’t figure out if he really meant it, but she would give him the benefit of the doubt. Everyone was entitled to one bad day here and there.
“What is his name?” TJ persisted as he took another slice of pizza.
“Hey young man. That is enough. Last time you ate too much pizza you made yourself sick.”
“Last one, I promise. What is his name?”
“Troy DeLuca.” Mel started to pack the pizza away to avoid any more confrontations with TJ. She did not want him to get ill on their first night in the house.
“I wish he were our neighbor instead of Mr. Football.”
“His name is Luke Allen. You are to call him Mr. Allen, do you understand?” Mel shifted her attention back to TJ. “Ready for your shower? Mom needs for you to go to bed early tonight because we have a lot of work to do tomorrow to get the house settled in.”
“I’m not tired.” TJ got up from the table and started to run around the condo.
“Trey James Chalmers, there will be none of that,” Mel sternly advised him. “You go into your room and get your clothes for after your shower. Remember we packed them in your Spider-Man backpack along with your toothbrush? I put towels out in your bathroom for you to use.”
“Aw, Mom?” TJ whined.
“Now!” Mel pointed a finger towards the bathroom and watched as TJ slowly made his way there. God, she could use a drink. She yanked open the refrigerator door and found the bottle of Chardonnay she had chilled. Reaching in, she brought it out thinking quickly where had she packed the wine opener? Panic! No clue. She started to rustle through the boxes when the doorbell rang. Not knowing who it would be, Mel slowly opened the door and almost fainted. Calvin Tucker, aka, Cal her boss and best friend, stood on the porch with a huge basket of wine, cheese and crackers.
“I figured you could use some of this by now.” Cal made his way inside and looked around, his eyes wide with surprise. “Nice digs, sweetheart.”
“Did you drive up here from Gilbert just for this?” Mel couldn’t believe it. He was such a good friend.
“I figured my best friend needed some help, so I said why not?” Cal set the basket down on the kitchen counter and picked up Mel’s unopened bottle of wine. “What’s the problem?”
“I can’t find my wine opener.” Mel pointed to all of the boxes she had gone through.
“Hate to break this to you, sweetheart. This is a twist open.” He deftly gave the bottle a hearty twist and the top came off. “See?”
“You can be such a smart ass, you know?” Mel took the bottle from him and poured it into two red solo cups. “Haven’t unpacked the kitchen yet. Come sit down at the table and let’s chat.”
“Remind me again; how long did you take off?” Cal sat down opposite Mel.
“Two weeks. I figure I need TJ’s help getting it all unpacked and then it will be time to register him for school.” She held up her hand. “I do not want to know what’s going on around the office.”
“You’re missing out.” Cal looked around, satisfied TJ was nowhere in sight. “I have a new boyfriend. This is really serious.”
“Please.” Mel waved her hand and shook her head. “How many times have I heard this before? No new boyfriends until I meet them.”
“You will. Tomorrow. I’m taking you out to lunch.” Cal smiled.
“It’s really bad timing for tomorrow. What am I going to do with TJ? He can’t come along.”
“Yes he can. Roger, it’s his name, is a dad. He has one son who is six years old too.”
“Is he coming as well?” Mel inquired. She looked at Cal, concerned. The man went through men like water. He was so good looking, he could easily be Rock Hudson’s twin brother and attracted both women and men like flies. But she knew how sensitive he was and hurt easily.
“No. Mom has him this month.” Cal made a face but then seemed to brighten. “Roger and I rented a condo from one of his friends for the weekend. We’re going to explore the area.”
“How are you at putting beds together? I could really use your help. We had a big distraction while we were moving in and the guys left without putting things together for us. I’m talking beds, office furniture, television, stereo; you name it.”
“Seems like Mr. Football, as TJ calls him, lives right next door. He wasn’t really very nice to us because the moving van accidentally blocked his driveway. He also told us he’s not the neighborly type either.”
“I give. Who is Mr. Football?” Cal raised his hands in surrender.
“Luke Allen.” Mel noticed her glass was empty so she poured some more wine. Cal had barely touched his. “Don’t you like it?”
“It’s good,” he answered distractedly. “You mean the most gorgeous creature on earth, Luke Allen?” He swooned. “I could move in with you and stare at him all day long.”
“Uh, I don’t think he’s your type.”
“Who cares? I can still look, right? You know he was cut from the r