The Ghost Groom by Jennifer Youngblood
A tough football player, a devoted sister, and the most difficult choice of all …
After a long, painful search that involved legions of duds, Ariana Sanchez, fitness guru and gym owner, finally meets the perfect guy when she least expects it. Not only can Rennen tear up the dance floor, but he has these adorable blonde curls and compelling green eyes, specked with gold. When Ariana’s around him she feels oh, so alive! And the best part is that he’s a perfect gentleman and easy to talk to. Their first encounter leaves Ariana floating on air, thinking there’s hope for her love life after all … until she learns that Rennen is the celebrated rookie who’s taking her brother’s position as starting running back for the Titans. Too bad she’s totally loyal to her brother and has to hate him now! Rennen Bradley, the Ghost, has worked long and hard to get the opportunity to shine as the starting running back. Sure, he feels bad that Ace Sanchez was injured and that he’s taking his place on the team, but that’s how the game rolls. Rennen never expects to fall for Ariana, and it throws him for a loop when he realizes she’s Ace’s sister. But Rennen’s not going to let a simple complication like that come between him and the woman of his dreams. He understands Ariana’s reservations—heck, even admires her loyalty to her brother. But Rennen’s used to waging uphill battles. Abandoned as a child, Rennen learned a long time ago that you have to fight tooth and nail for anything you want in this life. And he wants Ariana, heart, body, and soul! Caught between loyalty and love, will Ariana choose her family or her heart?
This was getting ridiculous. Justin was more handsy than an octopus. “Stop touching me,” Ariana warned.
He laughed. “Come on, babe. Don’t be so stiff. You know you like it.”
“No, I don’t like it,” she countered. “No one likes being pawed.” Revulsion churned in her gut as his eyes went to her chest. An incredulous laugh bubbled in her throat. Was he really ogling her chest, right here in front of her? What a jerk! As soon as she got home, she was going to contact Heart to Heart and put in a complaint. They really should be more diligent in making sure people were truthful in their profiles. Justin was nothing like he’d pretended to be, and it was obvious he was only after one thing … and it wasn’t a long-term relationship. She tensed, clenching her fists. “Hey, buddy. My face is up here.”
He snorted out a chortle. “Yeah, but you’ve got something else going on down there. For a little girl, you’ve got a nice rack.”
She froze amidst the dancing couples surrounding them. “What did you just say to me?”
He laughed. “You heard me. Lighten up.” He grabbed her waist with an iron grip. “I thought Latin girls were supposed to be loose.”
Her hand balled into a fist, and she thought about how it would feel to knock him across the floor. “I’m going to give you a half a second to let go of me.”
He grunted in amusement. “Make me.”
Heat splintered up her neck, making her feel like her head would split in two. Then cool precision took over as she calculated Justin’s height and weight. The bigger they are … the harder they fall. From the corner of her eye, she saw the blonde guy from earlier approach. “Is everything okay here?” he asked, his body taut, like he was ready to pounce.
“Buzz off,” Justin grumbled. Letting loose a string of curse words.
“Strike three,” Ariana muttered. She shot her arm straight up in a swift motion where it connected with Justin’s neck, right under his jaw line. Then she brought her arm back down, using her weight to knock him off his feet where he landed on his back with a heavy thud. Murmurs rippled through the couples surrounding them as they backed away. Justin gurgled, clutching his neck, a dazed look in his eyes.
Ariana’s hands flew to her hips. “Just because I’m Latin does not make me easy!”
Claps broke out around her. “That’s right,” a few of the women agreed. “Dirt bag,” one woman muttered, shooting Justin a death glare.
As Justin stumbled to his feet, Ariana planted herself in a battle stance, ready to do more damage if necessary. Her adrenaline was going, and she’d make short work of him, putting her training to good use. But luckily for Justin, he ducked his head and scuttled away.
“That has got to be the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen.”
She turned to the blonde guy who was looking at her in astonishment, admiration shining in his eyes. “Thanks. I appreciate you trying to help.”
He shoved his hands in his pockets, rocking forward on the balls of his feet. “Yeah, I was trying to rescue you from that creep … not that you needed my help.”
Ariana’s blood was pumping so ferociously that she felt dizzy.
He gave her a concerned look. “Are you okay?”
A wan smile tipped her lips as she ran a hand through her hair. “Yeah, I guess that date didn’t go as planned.”
He chuckled. “Life rarely does.” He held her gaze, and she felt the same buzz she’d experienced earlier. Everything around them slowed, and it was just the two of them. His voice was deeper than she imagined, with a husky edge. Her eyes traced the definition of the muscles underneath his form-fitting t-shirt. Heat fanned her face when she saw the flicker of amusement that turned his hazel-green eyes a honey-gold. He’d caught her checking him out. She jerked her eyes to his face, making a mental note to keep her focus there. He had a fine layer of scruff, emphasizing the lean line of his jaw. She swallowed, feeling she was staring at the real-life version of Thor and Captain America, all rolled into one. Captain Thor. Or Goldie Locks because of his thick tangles of beautiful curls.
People around them resumed dancing, but the two of them just stood there. Ariana knew she should start dancing … or do something to break the tension, but she couldn’t get her body to cooperate.
He cleared his throat, a grin washing over his face. “Um, maybe we should get off the dance floor.”
“Oh, yeah.” She propelled her feet into action. Her mind whirled, going through all that had just happened. She could hardly believe he’d been the one to offer help. When they got to the side, he motioned to an empty table.
“Would you like to sit down?”
Her voice sounded unnaturally high and screechy in her ears. “Sure.”
He pulled out a chair for her and helped her get seated. Wow. Captain Thor was a gentleman to the nth degree. A startling contrast to Justin.
As they sat there, staring across the table at each other, Ariana scrambled for something halfway intelligent to say. “Thanks again. You’re a great dancer,” she blurted. Sheesh. She was making an idiot out of herself. Normally she was calm and cool around men, always knowing the right thing to say. But it seemed her mouth had disconnected from her brain.
His lips curved into a radiant smile, causing the edges of his eyes to crease. “Thanks. You’re pretty good yourself.”
The compliment caught her off guard, sending warm ripples cascading through her. He’d been watching her too. It was good to know the attraction went both ways.
He leaned forward. “Was that guy your boyfriend?”
She wrinkled her nose. “Heck no!” She laughed. “We’d never met in person before tonight. We were matched on a dating app.”
His eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Really?”
She felt foolish and a little desperate for resorting to a dating app. Her explanation gushed out. “It’s an app where people in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area can connect. You know, people with similar interests.” She shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea … in theory.” She scowled, darkness gathering inside her. “Of course, I should’ve known better than to go out with a football coach. Note to self … don’t date anymore coaches or football players. Their egos are the size of a whale, their brains the size of a pea, from one too many hits on the field.”
He laughed. “That’s a bit of a blanket statement.”
Her face fell. “Don’t tell me, you’re a football player.” Of course he was. That would be just her luck.
An easy grin stole over his lips. “Well, if I were, I certainly wouldn’t admit it now.”
She pursed her lips together, assessing him. He didn’t seem bothered by her scrutiny. He just sat there, patiently enduring it. “No, you’re not a football player,” she finally said. “I don’t know what you are, but you’re far too intelligent to play football.”
He cocked his head. “So, all football players are stupid? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Nope. Not all of them. Just about ninety percent.”
“So only ten percent are intelligent.” He grinned. “See, I can do math.”
The teasing tone of his voice caused her to smile. “That’s good to know.”
He tsked his tongue. “What turned you against football players?”
“Aside from Justin?” She lifted an eyebrow, waiting for him to respond.
“Yep, aside from him. I mean, he was a douche bag, but the bite in your voice tells me there’s more.”
When her brother Ace first started playing pro ball, Ariana went out with a few players on the team. After about the sixth disaster, she swore off football players altogether. “Experience,” she finally said.
Interest lit his eyes. “Care to elaborate?”
“Not really,” she said loudly, then felt like she was yelling when the music suddenly stopped.
They turned their attention to the guy on stage holding the microphone. “Folks, we’ve got a fun evening lined up, it’s karaoke night!” He pumped a fist in the air as the crowd cheered.
Ariana’s heart dropped. Oh, no!
The emcee looked down at the sheet of paper in his hand. “To start, we have a duet by Ariana and Justin.”
Captain Thor looked at her. “Is everything okay?”
“Not really.” She groaned. “I’m Ariana.”
Alternate Ending - After reading The Ghost Groom be sure to download and read the FREE alternate ending written by Cami Checketts & Taylor Hart.
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