Feed Your Readers: Three Female Athletes – Three Hot Happy Ever After Endings


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*One thing I need to decide for myself … am I playing to win, or playing for keeps? *

Angelica Bryant

Football is my passion. Right now, I have a chance to make my dream of being the best midfielder in the Women’s Aussie Rules competition a reality. And soon I’ll finish my studies and succeed in a role in sports management. For now, working in my dad’s bar pays the bills. Even if he used to be a world-famous soccer legend and can’t care less about Aussie Rules.
I won’t let anything get in my way. Not even the hot-as-hot one-night stand who, oh yes, just turned out to be Jaxon Flint, one of Australia’s most successful sports agents … and he’s offered me a job. We’ve agreed we have to forget about our attraction to both stay on the track we’ve laid out for ourselves. So why does the idea of being with Jaxon make me want to take the biggest risk of my life?

Jaxon Flint

I told her my name was Jack. She told me her name was Angel. But an angel she wasn’t when I took her home for the most amazing night of my life. I  picked her up in a sports bar … but I never expected her to turn out to be the rising star of the new Women’s Aussie Rules football competition. Or a natural at handling ego-fuelled sports superstars.  I knew Angie was someone I had to hire … and a star I would be lucky to represent. Those are both good reasons to stay away from her. And after the way I failed my sister, I know I should stay away from someone so driven to excel. So why can’t I get it out of my head that I want to be everything to my Angel?

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I’m following one of my dreams … but do I dare to follow my heart? 

Cress Kennedy

One thing everyone in Grong Grong knows about me: it’s always been my dream to play Aussie Rules Football. And now the Sydney Sirens are signing me for the new Women’s Aussie Rules competition. I’m headed to Sydney. To stay with my brother’s best friend. Quin. But here’s one thing no-one in Grong Grong knows about me: how much I want Quin to see me as a woman, and take him for myself…

Quin Fitzpatrick

I knew as soon as she got a chance to play in the Women’s Aussie Rules competition that Cress would be a star. I knew it made sense for her to come and stay with me, where I could protect her, show her the ropes—Watercress from Grong Grong, the little sister I never had. I never expected Cress—gorgeous, generous Cress—to shake me out of my rut. Now how am I ever going to go back to life without her around.

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Darcy

There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to play for the Brisbane Banshees in the new Women’s Aussie Rules league. I think I’ve proved that given that I’m willing to put up with the coach being my ex, Tony. He may have stomped over my heart, but I’ve moved on, and I’m focused on my team. I don’t need any men in my life—apart from Levi, of course, my roommate, and friend. And my saviour, now that I’ve corked my thigh in our first game, and need his sports massage skills to get me back on the field. What I feel when Levi touches me … is making things very complicated.

Levi

Darcy was always my best friend’s girl—Tony’s girl. Two years on and she still doesn’t know how I’ve felt all this time. There’s no way I’m leaving her in pain when I can fix her injury and get her back to playing the sport she loves. No matter how much touching her makes me want to make her mine at last. Finally, I’ve got a bit of hope—the last thing we need is Tony suddenly deciding he wants to take Darcy back after all…

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Friday Five: Elizabeth Dunk/Nicole Murphy

1502Author: Nicole Murphy/Elizabeth Dunk
First published with Escape:
As Elizabeth Dunk – 2013 (Arranged to Love)
As Nicole Murphy – 2014 (Loving the Prince)
Favourite romance trope: Forced proximity
Ideal hero: Compassionate, resourceful, understanding
Ideal heroine: Intelligent, daring, kick-arse
Latest book: The Making of Henri Higgins

What began your romance writing career? Why do you write romance?

I was working on my Dream of Asarlai trilogy (my original publication) and I was trying to write fantasy with a romance subplot and it occurred to me that I was being ridiculous – the romance was what I loved, so kick it up and write romance. I write romance because I love stories that focus on women – on their desires, needs, circumstances – and tells great stories about how they go out and make their dream life come true.

How do you write? What is your process like?

It actually is a little different depending upon whether I am writing contemporary romance or the science fiction/fantasy romances. For the contemporary romances, I do a lot of planning. I work out the beats of the story, the conflict (both external and internal) for heroine and hero and the inciting incidents and happily ever after, and then write. With the science fiction/fantasy romances, I work out the general rationale of the story, make sure I have the character development spot on and get a view of the end point and then I just write and see what will happen. This means that my contemporary romances don’t require anywhere near the re-writing that the science fiction/fantasy ones do. I think it’s because the world of the contemporary romances needs to remain real, whereas I can indulge flights of fancy with the other genres.

What was the best writing advice you ever received?

I did a course with fantasy master Jack Dann. We all had to put in a piece of writing and then it was critiqued, not only by Jack but by the rest of the class. Mine was the last one critiqued and it was pretty much clawed to pieces (and quite rightfully – it was early in my writing career and I had a lot to learn). One of the things Jack talked about was the importance of detail and not just that you have lots of it – but that you choose the RIGHT detail. The classic example is James Bond. His drink – a martini, shaken not stirred. The fact he drinks a martini versus say a beer already says a lot about his character – suave, debonair, not your normal guy in a pub. But then the fact that he likes it shaken (which is TOTALLY the wrong way to make a martini) says even more – that he doesn’t care what people think, that he wants things a certain way and he won’t accept anything else. All those instant messages about his character, just from the choice of what he chooses to drink. That is what great detail in a story does.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/familiar? Do you have one already?

I’ve always been very taken with eagles. When I was a young girl, my imaginary friend was a yellow canary called ‘Tweetie’. Yes, well, it took me a while to become original. Anyway, Tweetie ended up with a husband, who was a wedge tailed eagle (that’s original!). As I walked to school Tweetie would sit on my shoulder and her husband would soar above us, keeping us safe. Then they had kids – canary eaglets. Yes, even as a child, I was a romance writer. But that aspect of soaring high, free of bonds, able to see all, has always appealed to me.

Freddy and Pinky Elizabeth Dunk (2) (1)

I don’t have a pet eagle, but my husband and I have two beautiful budgies – Freddy and Pinkie. They are very funny and adorable, but they are not affectionate like budgies are supposed to be, which causes us no end of angst. But sitting at my desk, like I am now, I can hear them out in the dining room singing and it’s so peaceful and lovely. Plus, unlike a cat or dog, they don’t interrupt my writing time!

Freddy and Pinky Elizabeth Dunk (1) (1)

Out of all your protagonists, who do you relate to the most?

In terms of published protagonists, it would be Cassandra, the heroine of Loving the Prince. Cassandra is kind-of wish fulfillment – she’s the me I wish I could be. I first developed Cassandra as a character more than 30 years ago and she is still inspiring me. To be stronger, to be a risk taker, to be prepared to give it all. Otherwise, there’s a character in my next release who has been pulled right out of my psyche in terms of who she is, what she wants and her relationship with her family. Look out for Gwendolen.


30774 (1)He thought it was all a game…until he grew accustomed to her face.

Henri Higgins is bored by everything – his life, his work, even the models he regularly sees socially (and privately). So when a close friend suggests a high-stakes, friendly competition, a ‘fame’ game, Ree leaps at the opportunity for a little shake-up in his daily routine. The rules are simple: the competitors are to take the first person that they meet at a certain time and make them as famous as possible within two weeks.

But Ree doesn’t expect Elizabeta.

Elizabeta Flores del Fuego has a plan. An office manager by day, she moonlights at a number of creative Canberra businesses by night to learn all she can about the fashion industry and put her in the best place possible to help launch her beloved daughter, Angelina’s design career. Cleaning the office of Higgins Publishing is just one of those jobs, but when Henri Higgins offers her a week’s worth of work and a paycheque large enough to get Angelina Designs on its feet, it’s an offer she can’t refuse.

But Elizabeta doesn’t expect Ree, and neither expect the lessons in love they’re both about to learn.

Exclusive Excerpt 2: Bittersweet

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A vineyard, a family in pain, and the healing magic of cupcakes…

Tom dropped Amy home later that night. He walked her to the back door of Sugar Cakes and waited for her to open the lock and turn the inside light on.

She had a feeling he didn’t want the night to end. If she were to be honest, she’d admit she felt the exact same.

Thank you so much for today,’ she said as they lingered on the doorstep under the filmy light that spilled over them. ‘I really appreciate your help. And for tonight too. I had a great time.’ And she truly did. She enjoyed Tom’s company a great deal.

Even now, as she looked up into his face, she ignored the buzz of anticipation that tingled through her body.

I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.’

I did. I needed it.’ She had needed to do something just for the hell of it. Not out of obligation or duty, but just for fun. She had already dedicated so much to her career, she’d forgotten what that was like.

Tom looked into her eyes as he smiled; Amy melted just a little. How could she not. This man was incredible—warm, compassionate, and as sexy as sin. And he was completely respecting the boundaries she had delineated. No pressure.

But, the worst thing they could have done was sleep together because now that she had had a taste of him, she knew how great it could be, and she wanted more. So much more.

Could she take it there again? Would it really be so bad if they were to let this attraction play out physically for the duration they had left together?

There was no denying that Tom was becoming a huge part of her life.

There was no denying that she was developing real emotions for him.

Her breaths grew thinner, louder, as much as she tried to hide it. But there was nowhere to hide, for in this silence was only their breaths and beating hearts.

So, I guess I’ll see you later in the week?’ he asked, but his words were thin. He was obviously on the same train of thought she had stumbled onto. But how could he not be when all the space between them was becoming charged with their need to touch one another.

Before she could think of all the reasons why she shouldn’t, Amy reached for his hand. A warm current coursed through her arm. She needed his touch so much she ached.

His gaze met hers.

Her thumb moved over the back of his hand and that small gesture stole her breath. His eyelids dipped a little, and his next intake of air was rushed.

Still his eyes held hers.

She took a step closer. His warmth reached across the space between them and caressed her, urged her to come even closer. Could she?

Amidst all the pain and the uncertainty of the future, could she let Tom in? Even if only for a short while?

Her breaths were making her chest rise and fall. Her heart sped up pace.

Amy?’ asked Tom, a deep whisper.

For a long moment, she didn’t answer, still indecisive. No-one but themselves could get hurt here.

Was he worth that risk?

He reached for her, his hand cupping her jaw, thumb smoothing over her cheek. She nestled into his touch. ‘Amy?’

Was it really so wrong when everything inside her was screaming at her to take the leap, to fall into him.

Will you catch me?’ she whispered.

His gaze flickered from her eyes to her lips, then he nodded. ‘And I won’t let go.’

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Fair Game (Women of W.A.R.) Exclusive Excerpt 3

Part I

Part II

Levi knew the second he flipped the paper over a few days later and found himself staring into the face of his one-time best friend that Darcy’s buzz was going to be no match for this crappy piece of news.Tony’s shit-eating grin leapt from the back page and Levi’s heart sank as the headline jumped out at him.

Tony Cameron scores coveted Banshee coaching position.

Well… fuck! Darcy…

Fuck.

There’d been the tiniest niggle at the back of Levi’s brain for days. The knowledge that Tony could be a possibility as coach. No matter how outside. That’s what he did after all—coach. But last Levi had heard he was somewhere in Indonesia setting up coaching clinics there.

A long way away from here.

But apparently he wasn’t that outside after all.

Damn it! He should have listened to that niggle. Yoga had taught him to listen to his body and he did that without hesitation, but he wasn’t as good at listening to his gut. Trusting his intuition.

If he had, he could have prepared Darcy for it a little. Put it out there, given her time to get used to it. Just in case.

Christ. Tony—the life and soul of any party, the one who people gravitated towards—was going to be back in their lives. After leaving it so spectacularly two years ago. Turning his back on Darcy and gutting her in the process.

Levi had heard her crying in her bedroom late at night for months after Tony had left. He’d tried to be there for her during that time, be a shoulder for her, but she’d been so devastated. And then she’d woken one day and announced herself over him. He hadn’t heard her cry again. And they hadn’t ever really talked about him since.

But would Tony’s reappearance bring all that grief back again and was she really over him? Or did she, deep down, still love him. As far as he knew, she hadn’t been seeing anyone. So had she really moved on?

Or did she still lie in bed at night and pine for Tony as Levi lay in his bed next door and burned for her?

He sunk to the couch, reading the article without really taking anything in. He knew Darcy didn’t see him as anything other than her ex-boyfriend’s ex-bestie. A roommate. She’d firmly friend-zoned him and that had been enough to begin with because she’d needed a good guy to lean on.

But every day that passed it was harder to pretend he didn’t have deeper feelings for Darcy. Feelings he’d not looked at too deeply for the five years his best friend had shared Darcy’s bed. Feelings that had grown in the last two while he’d waited for his moment.

Waited. Prevaricated. Lost his nerve.

Too afraid to jump in case he fucked it up altogether. Got it wrong. Misread the occasional flare of heat in her weird, green cat’s eyes. Caused her to flee. Because being her friend, being near, sharing her life, was pretty damn good.

It sure as shit was better than nothing at all.

Christ. He was pathetic. And now this. Tony fucking Cameron smiling at him from the back page.

Her words from a few days ago came back to him. The coach can have whatever the hell he wants. Yeah. That’s what Levi was worried about.

‘Anything good in there?’ Levi almost went into cardiac arrest at the unexpected intrusion. He glanced at her lounging in the archway that separated the kitchen/dining area from the lounge room. She was in her regulation work clothes—roomy high-vis long-sleeved shirt, baggy King Gee shorts that reached her knees, thick protectors pulled over her socks and dusty steel-capped boots, her hair haphazardly tucked up in her Gerry’s Market Garden cap.

It was possibly the most shapeless, asexual uniform he’d ever seen. She shouldn’t look hot.

But she did. Fucking hot.

Trumped only by how she looked at the end of the day, her face all red and sweaty, her boots caked in mud, dirt under her fingernails and her hair clinging limply to her neck, happy and smiling and relaxed after a day doing what she loved.

Christ. What was wrong with him? Had Tony’s imminent reappearance tripped some kind of Cro-Magnon switch in his head?

Levi didn’t know. All he knew was he wanted to yank that hat off her head and kiss her. So damn hard.

Her spoon scraped along the bottom of her usual bowl of rice bubbles loaded up with Milo—poor man’s Coco Pops—before shovelling a spoonful in her mouth, spilling milk down her chin and swiping at it with the back of her hand.

‘Jesus.’ He grabbed his chest. ‘Sneak up on a guy why don’t you?’

‘Yeah. You look like you’re heart-attack material.’

She pushed off the archway, totally unconcerned for his cardiac health. Plonking herself down on the couch beside him, her arm warm against his, her thigh brushing his, she glanced at the paper. Levi angled it out of her line of sight.

‘Hey.’ She frowned at him. ‘I’m trying to read that.’

‘They’ve announced the coach.’

She gasped and her eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. ‘Who is it?’ She shoved the bowl on the coffee table in front of them, a bit of milk slopping over the side as she made a grab for the paper.

He held it just out of reach, wishing he didn’t have to tell her. Wishing it wasn’t so. She made another grab for it and he held it above his head.

Levi Phillips.’ It was said with a half-amused, half-frustrated growl and did very bad things to the muscles in his belly. They stirred and tightened. So did his dick.

She stared at him and frowned. ‘What?’

‘It’s… Tony.’

She blinked. Then she gasped again. ‘What?

She reached for the newspaper and this time he ceded it to her with a quiet, ‘I’m sorry.’

But she wasn’t paying him any attention. She had eyes only for the black and white print, the grip on the paper tightening as she read it half out loud, half to herself. ‘Cameron was the second choice after Doug McDonald reportedly turned it down.’

Levi suppressed a snort. Tony wasn’t going to like that one little bit. He had a huge chip on his shoulder about always being the bridesmaid, his whole life marked by being second best. Not quite making it to an elite level in footy due to injury and lack of that special X factor.

The one you either had or you didn’t.

Darcy had it. And Tony had known it. Hell, he’d resented her for it. And had spent the better part of their five years together undermining her confidence, trying to convince her she wasn’t quite good enough either. She hadn’t been able to see it but Levi had watched Tony’s subtle erosion with gritted teeth. And then he’d dumped her, citing her lack of commitment to their relationship, that it had run its course and he needed space.

It had really rattled her cage.

All because his fragile little ego hadn’t been able to cope seeing someone he loved be more successful than himself. It had been pathetic. Question was… would Tony continue his mind games or had he grown the fuck up?

Darcy threw the paper on the table. ‘Well shit. That killed my buzz.’

‘Yeah.’ Levi nodded slowly. ‘Thought it might.’

‘Can you believe this?’ she demanded, half turning to face him, incredulity twisting her features.

Levi shook his head. He couldn’t believe it. His gut burned with disbelief. And concern about how this would play out. How Darcy would handle it.

She groaned and buried her face in her hands. ‘God… Why him?’

Levi didn’t say anything. It was obviously a rhetorical question. He just sat there for a while and let her mutter away to herself for a bit.

‘What are you going to do?’

She dragged her head out of her hands. ‘What can I do?’

‘Nothing.’ It was the stark, honest truth. Players didn’t get a say in their coaches. Not at Darcy’s level anyway. And she wouldn’t want to rock the boat, not if she didn’t want to end up with a diva reputation before the comp even got off the ground.

‘Exactly.’

She sounded depressingly resigned and Levi cursed Tony silently. ‘It’ll be okay,’ he assured. ‘It’s been two years. And you’re over him, right?’

‘Right.’

It was followed by a nod. But neither the nod, nor her voice, rang with conviction. So Levi did the only thing he could think of, slipped his arm around her shoulder and gave it a brief squeeze.

‘He’s a good coach.’ It killed Levi to admit it. He didn’t want to say anything good about the guy at all but it was the truth and Darcy obviously needed something right now. He gave her another squeeze. ‘Don’t let him ruin your buzz.’

Tony fucking Cameron had already done too much of that in Darcy’s life.

Darcy nodded again, turning her face to look at him. ‘You’re right.’ A wan smile touched her lips. ‘I’m not going to give him that kind of power.’

‘Good for you.’

She stood then, slipping out of his light hold, tossing the paper onto the coffee table. ‘It’s been two years. We can have a professional relationship.’

Levi wasn’t sure if she was trying to convince him or herself. He gripped his thighs hard to stop himself pulling her down again, slipping his arm around her again, trying to convince her with the solid assurance of his body that she could do this.

She was incredibly strong and determined. She could do anything. He nodded instead. ‘Absolutely.’

She shot him another wan smile. ‘Thanks.’

‘You’ll be fine,’ he assured.

‘I am fine.’ Then she calmly scooped up her bowl and disappeared into the kitchen. Levi winced as the bowl crashed into the sink.

Maybe not so fine after all…

 


32511 (2)How to mend a broken heart…

Darcy Clarke would do anything to play for the new Women’s Aussie Rules league, even put up with her ex, Tony, who just happens to be the coach of the Brisbane Banshees. Tony stomped out of their apartment – and all over heart – two years ago, but she’s moved on, and she deserves her jersey.

As his best friend’s girl, Darcy has always been out of Levi’s reach, even after Tony dropped her and moved out of the apartment they all shared. Now, two years on and still sharing the same apartment, she should be fair game. But Levi is no closer to getting Darcy to think of him as anything but a roommate and a friend.

But when Darcy injures herself in play, Levi’s qualifications as a sports massage therapist are put to good use. Suddenly, their relationship becomes very hands on, and Darcy sees a whole new side of her old friend. A pity he seems immune to her charms. When Tony makes it clear he wants back into her life, she has a decision to make: between the man she once loved and the man who never left her side.

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Fair Game (Women of W.A.R.): Exclusive Excerpt 2

You met Darcy and her man-bun-wearing, yoga-doing, biggest supporter Levi in Part I yesterday. Not enough?

Well, we can help with that.

‘Unhand me, DC, you’re making a spectacle of yourself.’

Darcy laughed at the gruff humour and unlocked her legs, sliding to her feet. He handed her the balloon and grabbed for her bag.

She took a step back. ‘I can take it.’

He didn’t answer, just reached for it and slid it off her shoulder, slinging it over his own with quiet efficiency as they turned towards the exit. ‘Are you sure you’re female, DC? Most chicks’ make-up bags are this size.’

Darcy laughed to cover the sudden deflating realisation that after seven years of platonic cohabitation, Levi had probably never seen her as a female.

As a woman.

It’s true she wasn’t much of a girly girl. She was a sporty girl who worked a manual job, preferred loose comfortable clothes to anything fashionable, and lived for her Aussie Rules. But bloody hell, she had two C cups that pretty much put her femininity right out there.

They’d been squashed against his chest a moment ago.

Annoyed at her train of thought and why it seemed to matter so much suddenly, Darcy gave herself a mental shake. Since when had she given any fucks about this crap? ‘Not only female but a goddamn Brisbane Banshee, so watch out, Levi.’

He laughed and high-fived her before stepping around a toddler who was drunkenly navigating the airport corridor. ‘What did your parents say?’

Darcy sighed as she also took evasive action to avoid the toddler. ‘They said they were proud but could the name be changed to something less ghoulish.’ Levi laughed. ‘I explained the team names weren’t up to me.’

‘They mean well.’

‘Yeah.’

‘They going to go to your debut game?’

She shook her head. ‘Dad’s got a convention in Cambridge in February and Mum’s going with him to catch up with family.’

He didn’t say anything for a moment, then slid his hand onto her shoulder and gave her a squeeze as they walked companionably side by side. ‘Sorry.’ His hand fell from her shoulder as quickly as it had appeared.

‘It’s fine.’

Darcy didn’t mind. Her parents were proud of her, in their own way. It wasn’t their fault she’d strayed from the plan. That growing boobs and thighs at the age of fifteen had stymied her mother’s Royal Ballet ambitions for Darcy. And taking up soccer and football had added insult to injury.

They were the arts and academia. Darcy was dirty hands and football on Sunday. The two were hard to reconcile.

‘Well, I’ll be there.’

‘I should bloody hope so.’ It wasn’t strange that Levi’s presence at the game meant more to her than her own parents being there. He’d been her number one cheerleader for years. He got it. ‘

All of Brisbane’s going to be there, DC, just you wait and see.’

Darcy smiled at him. She hoped so. She really did. Everyone had such high hopes for the women’s game taking off and being supported by the same fans who’d been watching the blokes do it for decades. There were detractors, of course. The people who said nobody wanted to see chicks playing football and why didn’t they just stick to netball?

But, overwhelmingly, reaction had been positive. It was a gamble for the powers that be—no one was disputing that—hopefully one that paid dividends.

They’d all know in four months…

‘So, how’re you going to celebrate? Going out with the girls?’

‘No. Tomorrow night. Big night in Melbourne last night with the team.’ All the Banshee draft picks had painted the town red and Darcy grinned, remembering again, and gave herself a mental pinch. She was part of a national women’s team!

‘Can’t party too hard.’ She patted her stomach. ‘Gotta keep match fit.’ Levi threw back his head and laughed. The man knew the type of crap she usually shovelled into her mouth on a regular basis.

A woman coming towards them glanced at Levi, totally checking him out as she passed by. And why not? He may be just a friend but Darcy was still a woman and the man was very easy on the eyes. He didn’t seem to notice her appraisal, though.

He never seemed to notice how women looked at him. And they looked at him. A lot.

Not that he ever seemed to partake. Darcy couldn’t be absolutely sure—they weren’t the kind of friends who talked about their sex lives—but she did live with him and if she was a betting woman, she’d say Levi had been as celibate as she had these past couple of years.

He’d dated, in the past—she’d met a few of his women at the breakfast table when Tony still lived with them. But she hadn’t seen him with anyone in a long time. Not at their place anyway.

Which was a crying shame. The man practiced yoga every morning and taught it three nights a week—for damn sure he’d have some mad, crazy skills between the sheets.

Tune in tomorrow for Part III!


32511 (2)How to mend a broken heart…

Darcy Clarke would do anything to play for the new Women’s Aussie Rules league, even put up with her ex, Tony, who just happens to be the coach of the Brisbane Banshees. Tony stomped out of their apartment – and all over heart – two years ago, but she’s moved on, and she deserves her jersey.

As his best friend’s girl, Darcy has always been out of Levi’s reach, even after Tony dropped her and moved out of the apartment they all shared. Now, two years on and still sharing the same apartment, she should be fair game. But Levi is no closer to getting Darcy to think of him as anything but a roommate and a friend.

But when Darcy injures herself in play, Levi’s qualifications as a sports massage therapist are put to good use. Suddenly, their relationship becomes very hands on, and Darcy sees a whole new side of her old friend. A pity he seems immune to her charms. When Tony makes it clear he wants back into her life, she has a decision to make: between the man she once loved and the man who never left her side.

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Fair Game (Women of W.A.R.): Exclusive Excerpt

Our third and final launch title in the new Women of WAR series, releasing 20 February (pre-order now!) is Fair Game from award-winning, best-selling author Amy Andrews. 

If you haven’t, check out the excerpts from Nicola Marsh and Catherine Evans!

Darcy Clarke hadn’t felt this freaking fantastic in a very long time. Maybe not in her whole twenty-seven years. Not after a block of lime Lindt chocolate (which never failed to zing her straight to her happy place). Not after three scoops of pineapple gelato (which totally should be mandatory treatment for depression).

Not even after sex.

Not that sex counted, considering she hadn’t had any since douchebag Tony had dumped her just over two years ago. She’d had orgasms, for sure. By herself. And she didn’t think self-love counted.

But that didn’t matter right now. Hell, she doubted it would ever matter again because footy was better than sex—why hadn’t she always known this?—and she’d done it. She’d actually done it! Her name had come up in the draft and she was going to be playing professional Aussie Rules football in the inaugural national women’s competition for the Brisbane Banshees.

And she felt amazing.

She deserved it, for sure. But when had that ever made a difference? She’d busted her gut for this for years, but even twelve months ago she’d have never thought it possible. A national women’s comp had been mooted for years, but as time progressed it had become more mythical than the bloody unicorn. But suddenly, the planets had aligned and the glass ceiling had been smashed and she was going to be right there in the thick of it!

Darcy allowed the chants of an invisible crowd to swell inside her head. Not that having a crowd chant your name was what it was all about but she ran with it for a moment or two, giddy on life, footy and everything. She grinned so hard, the man sitting in the seat next to her shifted sideways a little as the plane made a smooth touchdown.

But Darcy couldn’t help it. She couldn’t stop smiling. She knew she looked maniacal—the flight attendant had eyed her suspiciously and handed her a plastic knife to cut her roll rather than a metal one like she’d given the guy next door—but she didn’t care.

Nothing and nobody was going to kill this buzz.

The plane taxied and finally docked and as soon as the seatbelt light went out, Darcy was up, dragging her small overnight bag out from under the seat in front. She was too damn excited to sit and she couldn’t wait to see Levi.

Sure, he’d rung yesterday afternoon to congratulate her, but just anticipating his I-knew-you-could-do-this grin was adding to her giddiness. She’d lived with Levi Phillips for seven years now and, in a lot of respects, he probably knew her better than any of her girlfriends.

He certainly knew more than anyone how freaking hard she worked for that Banshee jersey and had never doubted she’d make it. Never. Considering there were numerous times she’d doubted it, that was saying something.

Still, she was surprised to actually find Levi waiting at the gate for her. They often made trips to the airport for the other one, but always stopping at the drop-off/pick-up zones out front. He’d never come into the terminal. But there he was, standing right at the back, head and shoulders above the waiting crowd of kids and lovers and parents, a huge grin on his face, a metallic helium balloon with Congratulations emblazoned on its hide in his hand.

He looked like a crazy person, standing there with that grin and the stupid balloon with a few days’ worth of scruff on his face, but her heart gave a funny little giddy-up seeing him here for her. Of course, that could have something to do with his faded old T-shirt stretched across his shoulders, barely long enough to meet the waistband of his standard loose trackpants, of which he had about a hundred thanks to his obsession with yoga.

The top half of his long, riotous, dirty-blond hair was pulled back into its regular man bun, leaving the rest to curl and twist around his neck and shoulders in its usual disorder. Even the sight of his big, bare, size fourteen feet, sticking out of his open-toed slides, did funny things to her equilibrium. The man looked like some kind of Zen lumberjack but what she liked most was that he didn’t care one fucking jot what he looked like.

The crowd parted, as if especially for them and, before she knew it, she was grinning at him and running towards him, launching herself at him, crawling up him like a koala up a gum tree and wrapping her legs around his waist to hug him tight.

He laughed as he caught her, his body easily absorbing the impact as his arm anchored around her back. ‘Whoa!’ The low timbre of his voice licked into her ear as deliciously as the swipe of a hot, wet tongue. ‘I knew you’d get picked.’

Darcy grinned even bigger, hugged him even harder. ‘Yeah, yeah.’ She squirmed at his unashamed bias, but her heart swelled big in her chest at the pride underpinning his statement.

She wasn’t sure how long they stood like that, with her glued to him like an oyster on a rock, people eyeing them curiously as they stepped around them. But it felt good to be in this moment—the high point of her life—with the guy who’d been there for her during all her low points.

It felt really freaking good.

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32511 (2)How to mend a broken heart…

Darcy Clarke would do anything to play for the new Women’s Aussie Rules league, even put up with her ex, Tony, who just happens to be the coach of the Brisbane Banshees. Tony stomped out of their apartment – and all over heart – two years ago, but she’s moved on, and she deserves her jersey.

As his best friend’s girl, Darcy has always been out of Levi’s reach, even after Tony dropped her and moved out of the apartment they all shared. Now, two years on and still sharing the same apartment, she should be fair game. But Levi is no closer to getting Darcy to think of him as anything but a roommate and a friend.

But when Darcy injures herself in play, Levi’s qualifications as a sports massage therapist are put to good use. Suddenly, their relationship becomes very hands on, and Darcy sees a whole new side of her old friend. A pity he seems immune to her charms. When Tony makes it clear he wants back into her life, she has a decision to make: between the man she once loved and the man who never left her side.

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Feed Your Reader: A vineyard, three brothers, and the magic of cupcakes.

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A vineyard, a family in pain, and the healing magic of cupcakes…

Amy Jenkins, a talented and ambitious chef, is left humiliated and debt-ridden, after her city restaurant fails. When her best friend calls asking for help in her small town cupcake shop, Amy jumps at the chance to hide out in the small town of Alpine Ridge while her shattered ego mends.

The youngest Mathews brother, Tom feels over-looked and under-appreciated. His brothers remember every mistake, but never give him the responsibility or opportunity to take his place in the family business. So, he spends three weeks out of every month working at a mine in the back-end of nowhere. But then Amy moves to town to help run his pregnant sister-in-law’s bakery, and suddenly home seems to be where his heart is.

Amy’s move was only ever meant to be temporary, but when tragedy strikes the Mathews family, Amy finds herself unable to move on. As she and Tom get closer, Amy finds every excuse to stay: first, she claims it’s for the family, then she claims it’s for the shop. But maybe, it’s for her own heart…

” I loved the way the story was woven and all its twists and turns. A box of tissues is a must!”  – Jeanne, NetGalley

“a lovely story of love, healing, and new beginnings.” – NetGalley Reviewer

“just gives you a huge happy sigh” – Becky, NetGalley

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Long Game (Women of W.A.R.): Exclusive Excerpt 4

Cress has been in love with Quin since she was a girl. But he thinks of her as a little sister. And now they’re going to live together…

Part I here

Part II here

Part III here

‘Were you scared when you came to Sydney? You were a few years younger than me, and you didn’t have anyone to come to.’ She was being nosy, but knowing Quin, he’d tell her if she overstepped, or he’d ignore her if he didn’t want to answer.

‘I think I was too young and too excited to think about it.’ The car seemed to slow a little as he flicked her another glance. The traffic was slowing for the lights ahead. Cress hadn’t seen them at first glance. There were so many lights and signs and sights, it was a little bedazzling.

‘Aren’t you excited?’ he asked.

‘I haven’t really had the time to get too excited. I got off the header late yesterday, on the train today. Tomorrow I’ve got a team meeting and I’m sure I’ll start getting excited then.’

His eyebrows lifted but before he could turn his head, the lights changed and they were moving again. ‘Weren’t you excited when you signed that contract?’

She chewed her bottom lip and tried to remember how she felt. ‘It came on email, Quin. It wasn’t any big deal. Not like you with the agent coming to school and all the media you got.’

He stiffened for a moment and then said, ‘The contract came on email? Did you get an agent to negotiate it?’

Cress laughed. ‘There was no point. It was a flat offer across the board, take it or leave it, except for a few who went in the draft.’

He shook his head. ‘No agent? That’s crazy?’

She fought back a grin. ‘You don’t have a clue how much money I’m earning, do you?’

‘No. I didn’t ask.’

‘Eight grand.’

‘Oh right. Per week? Per match?’

Cress chuckled. ‘Total.’

‘Total for what?’ Quin didn’t seem to have any idea at all. He was genuinely puzzled, she could tell by that deep crinkling near his eye and the tugging of his jaw.

‘Total for the season. It’s only eight games. A short season. Kind of an experiment.’

While she spoke, his jaw dropped further and further. Then he snapped it shut, slid a look at her, before his jaw bunched tight. ‘You’re okay with this?’

Cress laughed. ‘Well …’ She’d explained this a lot but it was a bit difficult to explain it to someone who was her male counterpart. ‘Women’s sport has to start somewhere. I’m stoked that they’re recognising us and giving us a competition. I understand that they’re not sure how it’ll go, so they can’t offer big contracts.’ She took a breath. If it wasn’t someone who was like a brother, she wouldn’t add this bit. ‘But yeah, it was a bit like a slap in the face, paying us that. I don’t know why they offered us anything, really. I would have played for nicks.’

Quin swallowed and it was a pretty loud one. ‘I’m sorry. I thought Tris would have told you why I had to ask to stay with you. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find work to fit in around football, which meant I wasn’t sure I could afford to rent.’

He held up his hand. ‘There’s no rent. No problem, Watercress.’

‘No, it’s cool,’ she said quickly. ‘I’ve got a job. It starts tomorrow too.’

‘You got a job?’ He sounded incredulous.

‘I’m a pretty capable chick, Mr Fitzpatrick. Did you doubt my ability to be employed?’ She tried so hard to make it funny, but she could hear the defensiveness. She hoped Quin wouldn’t hear it.

‘No. It’s just …’ He hummed. ‘I … geez … I thought you might want to climb the bridge?’ His question quite swept the air from her lungs.

She nodded. Vigorously. ‘I do. I do.’

‘I thought we could do it this week.’

‘A weekday?’ Cress shook her head. ‘I’ll probably be working. I’ve got to fit that in around training.’

‘Oh. Will you have the weekends free?’

‘I think we train some Saturday mornings. Not sure if they’re scheduling trial games or not. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.’

A few more kilometres passed in silence.

Then Quin said, ‘Do you need to work?’

Cress snorted. ‘Pretty much. I don’t want Dad footing the bill. I want to try to make this work. They reckon I can fit the work around footy commitments.’

‘What are you doing?’

‘Labour for a landscaper. It’s local.’

‘I was hoping you’d see the sights with me.’ There was just a tiny bit of a young boy’s plea in his tone that made her heart soften.

‘If I can fit it in, you’re on.’

Quin’s head shook, then was still, then shook again. If she had to guess, she’d say he was having a great conversation with himself and answering himself in the negative all the time.

‘It’s going to work, Quin. I feel it in my soul. I can juggle farm and footy, been doing that for years, so this’ll be just the same. Don’t stress. If I can still manage to get to the Royal to catch up with people, I’m sure I’ll fit in a few trips with you.’ She leaned over and squeezed his forearm. ‘I’ll let you know tomorrow night what my schedule is and we’ll fit in the Bridge Climb. There’s no way I’m coming to Sydney for months and not getting on that thing.’

Quin chuckled. ‘Watercress, you’re going to set Sydney on fire.’

That, or it’d burn her completely.

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32510Does she dare pursue all her dreams?

Everyone in Grong Grong knows Cress Kennedy’s childhood dream is to play Aussie Rules Football, so when the Sydney Sirens sign her in the new Women’s Aussie Rules competition, she heads to the big city to pursue her dream. But no one in Grong Grong knows of Cress’s other dreams: the ones that revolve entirely around Quin Fitzpatrick.

Quin Fitzpatrick left Grong Grong as an eighteen-year-old to play Aussie Rules in Sydney, but after eight years the shine has gone from the lifestyle. When his best friend’s little sister follows in his country-to-city footsteps, he promises to look after her. She can stay with him and he’ll protect her as best he can. Besides, Watercress is the little sister he never had.

But Cress is all grown up now and playing Women’s Aussie Rules, and it’s about time that Quin sees her as a woman too…

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Long Game (Women of W.A.R.): Exclusive Excerpt 3

More Cress and Quin today!

Get caught up:

Part I here

Part II here

She dug her phone out of her pocket and took photos while they were stuck, even managing to get her hand and some of her head out the window to try to get a shot of the structure above them.

‘Quin, can I take one of both of us, please?’ She waved the phone in front of him. She wanted to get a shot, no matter how bad, so she’d always remember that he brought her here on her first night in the big smoke.

He finally looked at her, an exasperated grin lurking on his quite delicious lips. She blinked, and looked at his chest instead. Much safer. ‘If you must.’

She turned so she could be nearer to him, flipped the camera and then took a couple of shots. ‘Thanks,’ she murmured as she went back to looking out the window and craning her neck to see more.

‘We’ll be stopped here for a bit. There’s an accident up ahead.’ He waved to his GPS system, which must have real-time information. Another city thing she hadn’t realised. ‘You can probably stick your head out if it makes it easier. Just keep an ear out for motorcyclists who might knock your head off.’ His grin was evil, but she didn’t care because her head was out the window in a flash.

With her phone in front of her face, she snapped as many photos as she could. Mostly of the bridge structure, but she grabbed a few of the traffic and a train on the bridge, and the sun setting down the shining river way off in the distance. There was so much to see, her phone got shoved away while she soaked it all in. A tap on her thigh had her drawing back into the car.

‘Sorry to break the gawking, but the traffic’s on the move.’

Cress grinned as she seated herself properly inside again. ‘Thank you. This has been the best fun. I’ll have to send a few pics back home.’ But they’d wait until her trip across the bridge was over. She wasn’t missing a minute.

Words were hard to come by as she drank it in. She couldn’t see too much of the view of Sydney but she didn’t care. It was the structure that kept her gaze, and she wouldn’t be getting bored of that in a hurry.

Quin’s tapping against the steering wheel made her glance across. ‘You okay?’ ‘Traffic. I hate being at a standstill, or crawling along like this.’ Quin gave her a quick glance. ‘But I know, it’s the best thing ever in your whole life, and if there wasn’t traffic, you’d have missed it all.’

She grinned before chuckling. ‘Took the words right out of my mouth.’ Then she poked his arm. ‘But stop interrupting me. I’m having a moment with the coathanger, and you’re not rating as highly.’

His mutter of, ‘Well, excuse me,’ had her grinning but she didn’t glance back at him, no matter how many fidgets or agitated tics he displayed. She didn’t tune him out, she found that impossible, but she’d spent years perfecting the art of pretending he wasn’t affecting her.

When they got off the bridge, she let out a sigh and twisted around to see it for a last moment. Quin chuckled. ‘No hanky-waving goodbye?’

‘Oh, hush. Just because you don’t have a monument you love.’

They drove in silence for a little bit and then Cress looked at the signs for the suburbs. They didn’t make sense. Her geography of Sydney wasn’t good, but she was sure they were heading the wrong way. ‘Aren’t we meant to be going west, and this is North Sydney?’

Quin flashed her a glance. ‘Yes, Watercress. We can slide up here a bit, then cut across and get home. Don’t worry. I’m not going to get you lost on our first outing.’

She chuckled. ‘Didn’t you say you were lost when we ended up on the bridge?’ The tugging across his forehead and the slight colouring of his neck gave him away. ‘Quinlan Fitzpatrick, you did that just for me.’

He frowned deeper and shuffled in his seat, but didn’t admit to anything.

Not that she needed his admission. ‘If you weren’t driving, I’d throw my arms around you and give you the biggest kiss.’ If only. She’d give him a smacking cheek kiss like she’d give her brothers. Only in her head did it get any better than that. Making sure she slotted him back into the right place in her brain, she added, ‘You’ve just motored up to the number one brother spot.’

Quin’s grin was easy, quick to flash at her, and exceptionally satisfied. ‘Can you text Tris and let him know?’ As her eldest brother, and Quin’s best mate while growing up, Tris and Quin had always kept up a steady rivalry vying for top brother position. After Quin left town, when she was thirteen, Ollie, Damo and Gar tried to push Tris out of top brother at various times. It was a fun bit of sibling rivalry that she’d miss now she was in Sydney without them. But if she could do it via SMS, that would keep them all still in touch.

Cress laughed. ‘I should. I’ll send them all photos.’ She buried her head in the phone and shot a couple of photos to her brothers and Dad. When she was done, the phone went back in her pocket and once again she marvelled at the number of cars, the people, the lights, and all the shops.

The congestion seemed to ease with the traffic flowing more smoothly when Quin said, ‘The Sirens guernsey has the Opera House sails. Did you try to get them to change that?’

Cress sighed dramatically, then shot him a smile. ‘I was shattered they didn’t incorporate the bridge, but sadly, I’m so low down the pecking order, I had no say.’ She waited a beat before she said, ‘I did wonder if I could hang back from signing until they put it on there.’

‘When Tris said you were signed, I kept expecting them to announce they’d been remiss and were now incorporating the bridge into their design.’

‘I figured that sometimes not everything can be perfect.’ She swallowed her chuckles and became a little more serious. ‘I have a shot at my dream. Not everyone gets to do that. I have to just be glad to be playing, and not stress about everything else.’ She took a slow breath. She had to say this before she chickened out. ‘Do you reckon you can remind me of that when I’m freaking out about some little minor thing, probably tomorrow?’

Quin’s chuckle made her sharing worthwhile. ‘I’ll remind you, Watercress. If you need a kick up the bum, I’m the toughest brother you’ve got, so believe me, I’ll give it to you.’ She glanced across as he shot her a wink. All her insides went smooshy.

Part IV

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32510Does she dare pursue all her dreams?

Everyone in Grong Grong knows Cress Kennedy’s childhood dream is to play Aussie Rules Football, so when the Sydney Sirens sign her in the new Women’s Aussie Rules competition, she heads to the big city to pursue her dream. But no one in Grong Grong knows of Cress’s other dreams: the ones that revolve entirely around Quin Fitzpatrick.

Quin Fitzpatrick left Grong Grong as an eighteen-year-old to play Aussie Rules in Sydney, but after eight years the shine has gone from the lifestyle. When his best friend’s little sister follows in his country-to-city footsteps, he promises to look after her. She can stay with him and he’ll protect her as best he can. Besides, Watercress is the little sister he never had.

But Cress is all grown up now and playing Women’s Aussie Rules, and it’s about time that Quin sees her as a woman too…

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Long Game (Women of W.A.R.): Exclusive Excerpt 2

You met Cress and Quin in the first installment…what happens next?

Covering herself with a snort and smacking his shoulder, she said, ‘Hey, I didn’t copy you, promise. I applied for Melbourne teams.’

Quin covered his chest with his huge hands. ‘Wound me, right where it hurts.’

Cress groaned and did up her seatbelt. He started the car. ‘I wasn’t thinking about you when I tried out. Dad poked and prodded until I went down.’

‘You didn’t get in?’ Quin’s question held a touch of disbelief and she almost preened.

‘The Sydney Sirens rang before I heard.’

Quin laughed. ‘That doesn’t surprise me.’

A niggly thought chased through her mind. ‘Did you tell them to?’

‘No.’ Quin shook his head and the frown he gave her was genuine. ‘They have scouts down in the Riverina.’

Her lips itched as she held in a grin. ‘So you knew they were wanting to put together a girls’ team and you didn’t put my name forward?’ She faked a huff.

He muttered a curse under his breath and his fingers clenched on the wheel. She began to snigger because she couldn’t hold it in any longer. He was so like her brothers.

‘Sit there and shut up while I concentrate on getting us out of this place.’ His growl was just like her brothers’ too, however the depth of his seemed to have some accord with her body. When he growled, her body tingled. Like she was a freaking tuning fork. There was no defence to that. None that she’d found anyway. She sat quietly, while her entire body strummed to the echoes of his growl.

Focusing her attention outside the car helped her regain control. It looked like they were in the city. Big sandstone buildings, dazzling lights even though the sunset was an hour away, an incredible number of cars and trucks, buses and people swirled past and around them. When they stopped at a red light, she said, ‘Are we in the city?’

‘Right in the heart of it, Watercress.’ A little grin as he glanced at her made her heart speed up. ‘You going to survive this?’ He waved his fingers, then moved off as the light changed.

There was a question. She’d barely survived quick footy or family, trips to Sydney and now she was living here. At least for four months, or almost four months. If they made the finals, it would be four months. The whole of summer; mid-November to mid-March.

She’d stayed at home for as long as she could, working the harvest with Dad, but he still had weeks to go. She had a team meeting tomorrow and the start of a new gardening job. Her brothers promised to help Dad out, but knowing Tris, Ollie, Damo and Gar, she doubted they’d be much use, or even remember. They all had their lives to live.

Although they never broke promises, and they had promised.

She sighed. Dad would hire someone if things got tough. She hated leaving him in the lurch. No matter how many times he told her she was his employee and employees leave, especially when chasing their dreams, it didn’t make her feel any less guilty.

Quin snapped his fingers. ‘You here, Watercress, or sleeping?’

She spun towards him, wondering what she’d missed. He was still concentrating on the traffic. There were still cars everywhere. Who could imagine this much traffic after eight pm on a Sunday night? She looked beyond the cars, and up ahead loomed something familiar. Big stone pylons and steel. A multi-lane roadway they seemed to be driving on.

She glanced around faster, her stomach tightening and squeezing, sweat breaking out on her palms. She gasped. ‘Quin, is this the bridge?’ Her voice was so high-pitched it was hardly recognisable. ‘You’re taking me on the Sydney Harbour Bridge? On my first night.’ Her voice dropped. Her heart swelled to almost bursting. ‘Wow. You’re amazing, Quin.’

‘I’m lost, Watercress. Lost. Don’t go getting all starry-eyed.’ He sounded grumpy, but underneath she was sure he was gratified, and that he’d done this deliberately.

She’d raved about the bridge. It was the only thing she loved about Sydney. Sure, the harbour was beautiful, and the beaches, but there was water out of Sydney that had fewer people. There wasn’t another ‘coathanger’ and the beauty of the structure had always attracted her. Grey steel should never look beautiful but the construction of this was always mesmerising. The straight lines intersected by the zigzag-filled arches were exquisite. Those four huge sandstone pillars, plonked in pairs at either end, should look misplaced and awkward; it worked to be breathtaking.

She’d welded a rough imitation in high school and it was the farm mailbox now. But she hadn’t come close to the exquisite detail of the real thing.

Those huge steel arches were right there ahead of her. On the left and the right, across lanes of traffic, were the huge sandstone pillars. And she, she was on the most beautiful monument in the whole city. Words couldn’t describe how she felt right now.

She poked at buttons until the window came down and then she squished in her seat, angling her head so she could drink it all in. Her first glimpse of the bridge and she was on it. The lighting was enough so she could see the incredible crisscross of metal. Sun from the west illuminated the length of the bridge, and she wished she was a bird so she could fly around it, marvel at it. Heck, if she was a bird, she’d roost here, spend every day flying around her favourite place in all the world. Not that she’d seen the world. She’d only seen parts of Australia. Very few parts.

But the bridge. She wanted to hang her head and shoulders out of that window, stretch her arms wide, and feel the wind rush her face as they drove beneath the beautiful arches.

Except they weren’t moving.

And she was on the bridge.

Can’t wait to see what happens next?

Part III

Part IV

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32510Does she dare pursue all her dreams?

Everyone in Grong Grong knows Cress Kennedy’s childhood dream is to play Aussie Rules Football, so when the Sydney Sirens sign her in the new Women’s Aussie Rules competition, she heads to the big city to pursue her dream. But no one in Grong Grong knows of Cress’s other dreams: the ones that revolve entirely around Quin Fitzpatrick.

Quin Fitzpatrick left Grong Grong as an eighteen-year-old to play Aussie Rules in Sydney, but after eight years the shine has gone from the lifestyle. When his best friend’s little sister follows in his country-to-city footsteps, he promises to look after her. She can stay with him and he’ll protect her as best he can. Besides, Watercress is the little sister he never had.

But Cress is all grown up now and playing Women’s Aussie Rules, and it’s about time that Quin sees her as a woman too…

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