Holding (Moving the Chains #5) - Kata Cuic

Mike Mitchell is a knight in tarnished armor.

Turf stains his gray and crimson jersey. Green splotches are all over his bare arms and his legs, too. His brown hair is wild—matted in some places from his helmet, sticking up in others, and all of it is soaked with sweat. None of that matters.

Mike’s smile is tentative as fans chant his name from where they refuse to clear out the stands after one of the best games the Wolves have played in years.

Albany has a new hero to worship.

This big teddy bear of a man has no idea what to do with all their adoration.

I stifle a laugh as the first reporter approaches him.

His eyes widen like he can’t believe this is his real life, and he gets to live it. In all fairness, statistics say he shouldn’t have made it this far. He’s come a long way from the twelve-year-old boy who first took me under his wing in our group therapy sessions for abused kids.

He cuts a quick glance at me. I gesture for him to focus. Sadly, I’ve had way more experience in the football limelight than he has.

Their conversation can barely be heard over the din of the stadium even though I’m only a few feet away, standing on the home team’s sideline.

“Mike Mitchell, you rushed for a hundred and fifty-three yards tonight. If that’s not an amazing debut, I don’t know what is.” The blonde with painted pink lips places a hand on his arm in a way that suggests she’s interested in more than just an interview.

Ever the gentleman, he shrugs out of her grasp. Gently. “Thank you. It’s easy to play my best when I’ve got a great team around me…”

The Bluetooth earbuds hidden beneath my mop of curls crackle with another update. “Falls is sacked at the forty for a loss of twenty yards. That’s the game for Sacramento. After that disappointing display, Rushers fans have to be asking themselves if blowing the salary cap on a single player in the first round of the draft is going to have any return on investment this season. It seems football royalty won’t be making an appearance any time soon.”

Fuck that stupid nickname. And fuck the stupid announcer, too.

Being the masochist that I am though, I don’t rip the earbuds out. Nope. I torture myself further by listening to people I don’t know tear down a man they don’t know at all.

Mike’s mom and sisters are waiting for him. I’m here. Who will be on the sideline waiting to comfort Sacramento’s new quarterback? I pray, beg, plead that someone—anyone—is waiting for Rob Falls. Even if that someone isn’t me.

“What’s the score?”

I startle and blink into reality to find Mike staring down at me with a grimace.

“Twenty-eight to three,” I blurt, still not quite free of my mental trip to a different sideline a lifetime away.

He arches a single eyebrow and conveys a load of disappointment. “I just asked that last reporter for an update on the Orlando game. She said the final score was thirty-five to fourteen.”

Shit. Busted.

He reaches beneath my hair to pull one of the earbuds from its hiding place. “Why are you doing this to yourself?”

The jig’s up, so I stuff both the earbuds into my jeans pocket then wrap my arms around Mike’s waist and squeeze for all I’m worth. This man—who is more a real brother to me than if he was my own blood—deserves nothing but praise and me being present in this triumphant moment with him. “You played such an amazing game. I’m so freaking proud of you. You’re everything I always knew you could be.”

He hugs me back and mumbles into the top of my hair, “I know what you’re doing. I’m not going to let you.”

I pull away but keep my smile firmly fixed in place. “I called the town car for your mom and sisters just like you asked. They’ll be waiting for you at home. Faith and Hope were kind of upset about not getting to stay longer, but your mom put her foot down.” My laugh sounds almost like the real thing. “I think she wants them hooking up with your teammates about as much as you do.”

Mike’s face puckers in an obvious show of disgust. “That is never going to happen. Not on my watch. Look what football did to you.”

“Me?” I plaster a hand against my chest. My heart thumps wildly beneath my fingers. “I’m fine! I’m happy to be here! Did