R.L. Merrill has a new TED LASSO-inspired MM sports romance out: Everything’s Better With You.
Everything’s Better With You is a TED LASSO-inspired sports-themed funny romance featuring two guys who’ve pined for each other for 15 years while their careers soared and their bodies fell apart.
Retired quarterback and “nicest guy in the NFL” Leslie Payton met former college cheerleader-turned-reality-show darling Joe Judd fifteen years ago. They spent one magical night…talking. They’ve been pining for each other via text and phone calls ever since while their careers kept them geographically apart. When their alma mater recruits them to reinvigorate a flagging athletic program, Leslie sees his opportunity to finally have Joe close enough to see if their “what if” can become a reality. And the sooner the better before Leslie’s history of Traumatic Brain Injury catches up to him and he’s unable to be a true partner.
Joe has spent their years apart dancing in every gig offered to him, knowing full well the clock is ticking on his body’s ability to continue taking the abuse. Leslie wants forever to start now, and Joe doesn’t have that luxury, though Leslie makes him want things he’s never allowed himself to dream of with anyone else. But a lifetime of only feeling worthwhile for his performance ability makes him doubt whether he could ever be a good coach or enough of a partner for the best man he’s ever known.
As football and cheer coaches, they’re forced to be rivals in public, but behind closed doors, their chemistry is unstoppable. A wager triggers their competitive sides, but the secrets they keep come to light and present them with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Can they finally meet on the relationship 50-yard line and move forward as a team?
Warnings: discussion of past domestic violence that happens off page, not graphic
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Joe Judd pulled his cigarette-smoke infested rental minivan into a spot in front of the imposing brick building that represented an important slice of his formative years. His ties to the place ran deep; his liberal arts education, his adult education, his physical education, all happened in this very place, and the building before him was a symbol of the chapter in his life that paved the way for where he was now.
Where am I?
Right. Spring Fling weekend. Greenvale College. Go Jackets!
This was the first year he’d returned to his alma mater for this momentous occasion since graduating in 2005. Joe left Ayre Valley, Iowa in his rear view mirror fifteen years ago and his life had been all glitz and glamour ever since. Okay, the minivan he was currently sitting in wasn’t glamorous. He couldn’t even pretend to be an old Hollywood starlet whose leading man lit his cigarettes for him. He’d quit smoking a long time ago, and the way this car reeked, it was a damn good thing he had. Everything else in Joe’s life was glitz and glamour, though.
Ugh, the pain.
He turned off the ignition of the Chrysler and listened for the clunk clunk of the engine shutting down. The airport car rental place had given him their last available vehicle and charged him a premium since he’d wrongly assumed Kansas City, Missouri wouldn’t be so packed that he couldn’t land a nice Mustang for the two-hour drive up to Ayre Valley. The woman working the register let him know in no uncertain terms that his thinking was wrong.
The engine clunked once more and a grinding sound emanated from the other side of the dash as if the thing had given up the ghost.
He could relate. His body felt like that when he stopped moving these days.
At 36 years old, Joe had the appearance of a fit man in his twenties. He liked to think he resembled his beloved Porsche at home in West Hollywood rather than this current hunk of junk. Gleaming chrome and a flashy paint job on the outside gave people the impression that he was all power and sleek lines, when in reality, his engine needed an overhaul under the hood, and his shocks and struts had seen better days. He pushed his Porsche to the same limits he pushed his body and both protested loudly. Just like the minivan.
“Time to move before you freeze up like this piece of shit.”
He gritted his teeth and opened the door, feeling his lower back protest. He had to get his feet planted under him just right and push himself to standing, putting the least amount of pressure on his knees. Once he was upright, he arched his back and felt the L5 bulging disc, the torn tendon in his hip, and the stubborn rib that would not stay in place no matter how hard his chiropractor back in Hollywood pounded on it.
He let out a harsh exhale as everything settled into place and then he swung the door closed. It was a chilly April morning and he was glad he’d brought his wool coat and worn his fleece-lined jeans. He was just about to head up the walkway when he heard the rumble of tailpipes and the screeching of…heavy metal?
A ginormous four-by-four truck complete with a rack of lights and a winch mounted on the front grill kicked up gravel as it pulled into the spot next to Joe’s rental. The windows were tinted but he had a feeling he knew exactly who the monstrosity belonged to.
“Well, if it isn’t fancy-pants, twinkle-toes, Dance Machine’s own Joe Judd! I’ll be damned.”
The six-foot-five, long and not-quite-as-lean these days, blond-mulleted, monster-truck madman currently lowering himself gingerly out of the gas-guzzling giant was none other than Leslie Payton. Three-time Super Bowl-winning—now retired—NFL quarterback, championship university football coach, and fellow alum of Greenvale College.
The tremors running through Joe’s body had nothing to do with the temperature. No, this was a reunion long in the making, and now that he was here, he struggled to keep his snarky demeanor front and center.
“You always did know how to make an entrance,” Joe said, shaking his head. He strolled toward the back of his car to greet Les, who already had his hand out, seemingly just as eager.
“And you’re a sight for sore eyes,” Les said, taking Joe’s hand and pulling him in for a back-pounding bro-hug that made Joe’s teeth smack together. “I can’t believe you’re really here.”
Joe couldn’t either, honestly. He’d told himself he’d never come back here after graduation. The fact that he’d returned to the site of the best and most difficult years of his life was due entirely to the sheer amount of respect he held for Barry Payton—Leslie’s older brother and the new president of Greenvale College—and the complicated feelings he had for the man standing before him.
“I’m glad you could make it out. Barry was thrilled when you agreed to arrive early and meet with him.”
Joe raised an eyebrow. “I agreed to come for Spring Fling and the recognition of the cheer squad…am I missing something? Was there another part to the invitation?”
Les stepped back but didn’t let go of Joe’s hand, nor did he remove his other hand from Joe’s shoulder.
“I’ll let him explain it all to you. I’m just glad you’re here. Man, you look good.”
Joe did not miss the fact that Les’s gaze traveled hungrily over Joe’s body. Joe stood a little taller under the appraisal, glad he wasn’t the only one struggling with propriety.
“You just off a show?”
“Uh, yeah. Just finished choreography for the next season of Dance Machine and I’m headed from here to New York for a limited run of West Side Story.”
“When you’re a jet…doo doo doo doo doo,” Les sang, snapping his fingers. He laughed and pounded on Joe’s shoulder again, hard enough to make him stagger. “Oh, sorry, man. That’s great. I loved watching you on that live broadcast. You’ve still got those moves.”
Les’s smile held more wattage than all the lights in Levi Stadium, and Joe felt a blast of heat being the recipient of one of those smiles.
He had a flash of the first time he’d been the recipient of a Leslie Payton smile and how that night changed his life.
He watched my show. Joe fought to hide a triumphant smile.
Whether she’s writing contemporary romance featuring quirky, queer, and relatable characters or diving deep into the supernatural to give readers a shiver, R.L. Merrill loves creating compelling stories that will stay with readers long after closing the book.
Ro writes inclusive romance for the Happily Ever After collective, contributes paranormal hilarity to Robyn Peterman’s Magic and Mayhem Universe, and pens horror-inspired tales and music reviews for HorrorAddicts.net.
A mom, wife, daughter, and former educator, you can find her rocking out in her Bronco with Great Dane pup Velma, being terrorized by feline twins Dracula and Frankenstein, or headbanging at a rock show near her home in the San Francisco Bay Area! Stay Tuned for more…
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