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…
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?’
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.
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?’
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…
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.