C1 Chapter 1
My boss was a world-class dick.
Monday afternoon mandatory meetings consisted of three hours of Charles Ulysses Macy the Third telling the mostly men in the sports programs division about his latest conquest. I stared blankly out the window as he droned on, wondering if any of his male ancestors had gotten their pillowcases monogrammed with their initials. Imagine how much character some bright red throw pillows would add to a guest room—flaunting the initials the Macy men saw fit to pass down through their lineage—CUM.
I smirked and stood.
“Ms. Maddox?” Mr. CUM called out from the head of the conference table. The table seated twenty, and the chairs were three rows deep. Sixty pairs of eyes turned to look in my direction.
“Yes, Mr. Macy?”
“Did you have something to say?”
“No. I was actually hoping to slip out quietly. There’s a game tonight, and I need to get down to wardrobe.”
“Well, run along. Don’t let a little thing like a team meeting keep you from playing dress-up.”
There were a few snickers as I headed for the door, but I didn’t really care. Most of them were just jealous anyway. Tonight I would cover the New York Steel playing the Cowboys live while they watched the game on TV with a beer in one hand and the other tucked into the waistband of their sweatpants.
More than thirty journalists had interviewed for my new position as World Media Broadcasting’s staff football sportscaster. But it was me who was going to talk to the players tonight after the game—not them. That didn’t make me very popular around the proverbial water cooler. Even though I’d worked eighty hours a week the last few years to get where I was, the men who worked thirty were the first ones to blame my success on my magical vagina. Screw them.
Instead of heading straight to wardrobe, I detoured to my office. Indie wasted no time following me inside. She flicked her ankles and sent her heels sailing into the air before perching on the arm of a guest chair, her bare feet on the seat.
“Thought you could use that.” Her eyes pointed to a bar of Irish Spring sitting in the middle of my messy desk.
“Do I smell?”
“It’s for the locker room after the game. It’s been a while for you. Figured you could use a little I dropped the soap doggy-style slam.”
“You’re worse than Mr. CUM.” I packed files of research into my leather briefcase while we chatted. I knew every statistic by heart, but I planned to review it all again on the train anyway. “No soap for me. I have another month on my cleanse.”
“Cleanses are for colons, not vaginas.”
“It’s only been five months, but it’s been good for the soul.”
Indie snickered. “And for Duracell.”
“You should try it. Six months date-free is a great detox.”
“I’ll stick to juice cleanses, thanks.” Indie opened her bag and took out a bottle of hot pink nail polish. She proceeded to begin to paint her toenails, which were already hot pink, right there in my office.
“What are you doing?”
She stopped and looked up at me as if I were a moron. “Painting my toes. I put a first coat on this morning, but this color really needs a second. One-coat polish, my ass.”
“Do you have to paint your nails in my office?”
“It’ll smell up mine.”
“But it’s okay to smell up mine?”
“You’re always smelling shit anyway. Books, food . . . don’t think I didn’t see you take a whiff of the new tennis ball you took out of the canister when we played a few weeks ago.”
“That’s different. I choose to smell those.” It wasn’t the time to admit that two days ago I’d ordered L’Oreal Perfumeries nail polish. Why hadn’t someone invented scented nail polish sooner?
“You’re leaving anyway.” She shrugged. “You get to go interview sweaty half-naked men. I should have gone into journalism instead of marketing.”
“But you’re so good at selling people a line of crap.”
“You’re right. I am.” She sighed. “Hey . . . Easton is back today.”
“I know. Two weeks sooner than originally thought.”
“Did you know his nickname is Subway?”
I squinted. “No one calls him Subway in the press.”
“Ahh. It’s not the press’s nickname.”
I was skeptical, but I bit the hook she’d baited anyway. “Who calls him Subway, then?”
“Women.” Indie wiggled her eyebrows. Her bright red lipstick was a shade lighter than her flame-colored hair. The look totally worked for her, although it was hard to focus on anything but her colorful lips set against her pale skin.
“Because he’s originally from Brooklyn and rode the subway to visit women?”
“Nope. But that’s not a bad guess.”
“Enlighten me.” I slung my leather bag over my shoulder. “I need to get down to wardrobe and get going.”
“It’s way more fun to make you guess.”
I exited my office, and Indie followed me to the elevator, walking on the balls of her feet to avoid smudging her nails. “Because he can ride all day?”
“No. But I bet he can. Did you see that last touchdown dance he did? That man can swivel his narrow hips like a pro stripper.”
The elevator dinged, and she followed me in. I pushed two for wardrobe. “Because he packs in the ladies like the morning commute?”
“That one sucked.”
“Unless you’re going to help me get dressed and follow me to the stadium, I think our game is just about over anyway.”
The elevator stopped three floors down. Indie held the doors open, shouting at me as I walked down the long hall toward wardrobe, “Wrong subway. Not the commuting vehicle, the sandwich shops. You know . . . where you can get a delicious twelve-inch hero.”
I shook my head, yelling back without turning around. “Good-bye, Indie.”
“Wear red, it’s your best color. And a cinch belt. Something that shows off your little waist and curvy hips. I’m sure last year’s Super Bowl hero will appreciate the extra effort!”
It was my second coverage of the New York Steel, but my first time in the locker room. I stood outside with a dozen other reporters and tried to look as nonchalant as they did. The big blue door was heavily dented, likely the victim of player frustration. Multiple championship wins framed the oversized door, last year's Super Bowl victory sign proudly displayed in the middle under the team’s logo.
After a few minutes, a security guard opened the door and motioned everyone to enter. Some reporters held up their badges as they passed; others apparently needed no introduction. Henry, as the worn tag on his guard uniform indicated, greeted those by their first names. A few reporters asked how his daughter was feeling. Apparently, Larissa had recently broken her arm playing basketball. This was a tight-knit group.
I was anxious to get inside, but certainly in no hurry. The crowd thinned quickly, leaving just four of us in the hall. I took a deep breath and marched to the door, trying not to let my fear show. I smiled and held up my badge, pointing to his. Henry Inez. “Hi.”
“Hi.” He nodded.
“Your initials. They spell Hi.”
Great job not letting my fear show. I tended to ramble when I was nervous.
Hi looked down at me, his brows furrowed. Then he took my badge, patted his chest as if looking for reading glasses, then sighed and held my card out at a distance to read it. “Got a middle name, Delilah Maddox?”
He grinned. “Dam.”
The silly exchange did something to calm me, and I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.
Hi offered me back my badge. “You’re Tom’s daughter, right?”
“Worked here thirty years. They don’t make ’em like him anymore. One of the finest athletes to ever walk into this room. No ego. A true gentleman. I’m sorry for your loss. It was a loss to the entire sport.”
He pointed inside the locker room. “These boys? Nothing but ego. Don’t let ’em get to you. Okay, Dam?”
I took my credentials back from him with a nod and a hopeful smile. “I won’t.”
The first thing that surprised me as I made my way into the inner sanctum was its sheer size. I’d seen enough pictures to know locker rooms were large, but taking it all in from inside, the vast expanse had me instantly awestruck. Wide lockers lined the perimeter; the center was mostly open, with a few seating areas set up. Each seating area had four wide leather chairs and a glass table between them. Everything was just so pristine and organized. Lighting showcased the names above each locker, and players were chatting away with reporters all over the place. The mood was light and easy, most likely due to the score at the end of the game. The Steel had won twenty-eight to nothing. Nobody seemed to notice me—the lone woman standing in the center of the room. Or if they noticed, they didn’t seem bothered at all. My stiffened shoulders relaxed a little.
I found Nick, my cameraman, who was already inside, and saw that the Steel’s kicker wasn’t busy, so I headed over to ask him a few questions. He was still in his uniform, but he removed the rest of his padding as we spoke. It was an easy first interview to get under my belt, and the exchange made me confident.
“Thank you for your time, Aaron,” I said when the camera switched off.
“Anytime. And welcome. You replaced Frank Munnard, right?”
“Guy was awful. Glad he retired. He got half our names wrong even though they’re printed right above our heads.” His tilted his chin up to the large lettering above his locker. “And thanks for that last question about coaching my son’s football team. He’ll be excited I had the opportunity to mention his name on the air.”
I smiled, remembering when I was a little girl and my dad mentioned my name on the air. It made me feel like a celebrity. I hadn’t thought of it, but those memories may have had a lot to do with why I always made my last interview question a personal one. Watching my father week after week, the statistics talk got old quick. But the small glimpses into a player’s personal life always held my attention. It made them seem more like real people and less like hotshot athletes.
Moving on, I scanned the room. One area of the giant rotunda was packed, reporters lined up so deep I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the player. But I knew who they were waiting for without having to look up at the name above the locker.
Everywhere the man went the media followed, mostly because he was an arrogant showman who gave them something to report. It didn’t hurt that the camera loved his handsome face and body, as did the women who frequently surrounded him in photos.
I hit a few other players, skipping the ones who were in various states of undress. A lot of skin was flashing around, but most of it was bare chest and ass. Almost all of the men turned and faced their lockers as they changed. My eyes might have feasted a second or two on Darryl Smith’s tight ass—damn, that’s some muscular rear—but I quickly caught myself. I needed to act like a professional, especially if I expected the players to do the same.
When the crowd circling Easton finally dwindled, I made my way over. He had a towel wrapped around his waist and no shirt on. Holy shit. Maybe this cleanse wasn’t so smart after all. It was like going to the supermarket when you hadn’t eaten in days. And since I had a penchant for athletes, this supermarket trip was filled with all of my favorite foods. I need to get my shit together.
The cameraman in front of me raised his lighting up into position to film, dragging my attention from Brody’s titanesque shoulders to the face that had been splashed across so many Monday morning newspapers. His jaw was rugged and chiseled, with just a hint of a five o’clock shadow on his sun-kissed skin. I followed the carved line of his cheekbones up, passing sinfully full lips and an imperious Roman nose before rising to the most incredible eyes I’d ever seen. Jesus. He’s even sexier in person.
Pale green, almond-shaped eyes sparkled beneath luscious thick, dark lashes. His eyes were captivating in a way that startled me. I shook my head in an attempt to disconnect from the magnetic vision in front of me. Luckily, Nick forced my attention back to reality.
“Easton’s been vocal about thinking women shouldn’t be allowed in the locker room. Don’t count on him being as cordial to you as he is to the good ol’ boys.” Nick had been filming the team for more than ten years; his warning was from experience rather than rumor.
I also knew about the feud between Brody Easton and Susan Metzinger, a reporter from a rival station. She’d publicly slammed him for using foul language in the locker room, and the incident had turned into a month-long tabloid war. He suggested she didn’t belong in the locker room anyway and that none of the male reporters seemed to mind. She did a full-page write-up dedicated to Easton quotes in which he used language she found degrading to women. The quotes were pretty much all taken out of context, but the article was accompanied by a half-dozen video stills that caught his eyes looking in the direction of a woman’s ass or cleavage. Things only escalated from there. It had happened more than a year ago, but I mentally prepared myself for attitude from the famed quarterback.
“You ready?” Nick slung his bag over his shoulder and lifted his camera. The reporter in front of us wrapped up his interview and shook hands with Easton.
As I’ll ever be. “Sure.”
I stepped forward and extended my hand. “I’m Delilah Maddox with WMBC Sports News.”
A slow grin spread across Easton’s face. He surprised me by leaning in and kissing me on the cheek. “Pleasure to meet you.”
I wasn’t sure if he was baiting me into an argument—expecting me to lash out at him for kissing me when he’d just shaken the last male reporter’s hand—or if he was trying to use his blatant sexuality to throw me off. Either way, I wasn’t playing his game. I cleared my throat and stood straighter, even though my knees felt a little wobbly.
“Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”
“Why else would you be in here?”
I ignored his sarcasm. He was still smiling at me. Actually, it was more like a smirk, and it made me feel like a toy he was about to play with. “You ready, Nick?” My cameraman finished setting up the lighting, then lifted the camera into position and gave me a hand signal.
“Congratulations on the win today, Brody. How is your knee feeling after your first game back?” I lifted my microphone high, knowing Nick was filming in close.
“I feel . . . ” He nonchalantly reached to the towel wrapped around his waist and tugged at the corner. The towel fell to the ground. “Great. I feel great. And how about you? It’s your first trip into the locker room, isn’t it? Do you like what you see so far?” His lips curled up into a full-blown wicked smile.
Before I could catch myself, my eyes dropped to his naked lower half. Shit. He was dangling in the wind. I totally got distracted by just how low the thing dangled. Subway. The nickname was damn well suited. It was probably a full minute before I responded to his question. A full minute of dead air time. Great. “Yes. Umm . . . the locker room is . . . ummm . . . nice.”
I sounded like a total ditz. On air.
The jackass continued interviewing me. “Is it as big as you thought it would be?”
“Ummm . . . it’s much bigger than I imagined.”
His smile grew even wider.
I needed to get back on track or my first locker room interview would become a laughingstock blooper. Viewers had no idea he was naked from the waist down. “Do you think you were at one hundred percent today?”
His eyebrows jumped. “If you’re referring to today’s game, definitely. I had one hundred percent out there on the field. There’re some other areas where I have a lot of growth potential, but my knee felt one hundred percent today.”
His pale green eyes darkened, and I watched his long lashes lower. I followed his line of sight, and suddenly I was staring at his naked package. Again. Damn it. My eyes darted back up, but I felt my cheeks heating. I had to end this, or I was going to be beet red on air.
“Well, welcome back. And congratulations on today’s win.”
I waited until Nick lowered his camera and turned off the light. Then I looked right at Brody Easton’s smug face. “You’re an asshole, you know that?”
His eyes sparkled. “I do.”
I heard the chuckles and high fives at my back as I stormed out of the locker room.