Holiday Games


Page 4





Author: Jaci Burton






"None of us want to miss this game," Alicia said. "The cousins playing each other is always a big deal to the Rileys."


"And speaking of you and Cole, when are the two of you going to be planning your wedding?" Liz asked.


Savannah grinned. "I know, our schedules have been ridiculous, and I've been lucky to have so much work to do lately. But we've set a date for next May."


Alicia grinned. "That's fabulous. And it's about time."


"Hey, it's time for you and Garrett, too."


"I know. We're getting there. Talking about it. Taking things slowly. Finding a house and discussing all things marriage-related. We're considering a late fall wedding next year, maybe after baseball season."


Liz smiled. "I love that everyone's in love. Getting married. Talking about getting married. Shacking up."


Alicia laughed. "I guess we'll get through Jenna and Ty's wedding first."


"Yes."


"I heard my name mentioned. Are you saying bad things about me?"


Jenna sat with them.


"Awful things about you," Liz said. "Mainly about your hair, and your butt."


Jenna cracked a smile. "Yeah, well, speaking of my butt, you can kiss it."


"No, we were talking about who's married, who's engaged, and who's house shopping. And Savannah set a wedding date."


"I heard about that. So Savannah's next. And then Alicia."


"Apparently. And I'm the old married woman."


"No, that's Tara because she and Mick got married first."


"Where is Tara?" Alicia asked.


"She texted me a little while ago and said she had a brunch event to do this morning, but that she'd be here," Jenna said.


"Good. I know she wouldn't want to miss the game," Liz said. "Who has Sam?"


"The babysitter," Jenna said, "Since everyone in the family is here today, she figured Sam would get too tired to spend all day at the game. Not a good venue for a little one."


"That makes sense."


After Liz finished her plate, they all grabbed their seats and watched the pregame festivities, cheering loudly for both Mick and Cole as the teams were announced and took the field. Kathleen and Jimmy wore their Sabers jerseys, and of course since Cara and Jack were Cole's and Alicia's parents, they countered by wearing their Traders jerseys. The rest of the family interspersed, some wearing Traders colors, some Sabers.


It was quite the mix.


Tara showed up just as they were doing the coin toss.


"Sorry I'm late. Did I miss the kickoff?"


"No," Liz said. "Not yet."


"Ugh. The event went a little long and I couldn't leave. And I'm starving. I'm going to wolf down some food and settle in."


Liz rubbed her back. "Relax so you don't get indigestion."


Tara laughed. "I know. I know. It's just been that kind of week. Sam's had a cold, and Mick of course had his head in the game. Plus, I had this party to plan. It's always everything at once. And Nathan will be home next week and I'm so excited about that, too."


"You have a lot going on."


"I do. But right now I have these mozzarella cheese sticks calling my name."


Liz laughed. "I hear you. Priorities, honey."


Tara finally settled and relaxed, and then it was game time. Liz felt the electricity in the filled-to-capacity stadium. Both teams were doing well in the standings, so this game meant something to both the Traders and the Sabers. The Traders were in first place in their division, and the Sabers were one game behind in theirs. And as the Traders kicked off to the Sabers, Liz held her breath. Even though she had no loyalty to either team, she felt for both Mick and Cole, knew what it was like to have a game that meant so much.


Grant Cassidy, the quarterback, took the ball for the Traders and Cole lined up on the left side of the field. Liz took a glance at the row in front of her and saw Savannah leaning forward, her gaze glued to Cole. Liz knew what it was like to watch her man. When Gavin was playing, her heart was in her throat, willing him to play well. Next to her, Tara was just as intent on the game even though Mick wasn't out on the field.


It was a post pattern, and Cole made a perfect catch from Cassidy, gaining twenty-four yards, a big first play for the Traders that had everyone on their feet cheering.


In typical Riley fashion, everyone cheered, even Tara, though she muttered "dammit" under her breath.


Liz laughed. "Going to be a tough game, isn't it?"


"I love Cole. He's family. He's Savannah's fiancé. But right now he's my husband's opponent. So while I want him to do well . . . I don't want him to do well. It's a dilemma."


Savannah turned around in her seat. "You can go ahead and boo and curse, honey. It won't hurt my feelings because I'll likely do the same thing every time your husband hits a completion for the Sabers."


Tara laughed. "You're on."


And so it went, and by the end of the first half Mick's team was up by a touchdown. Everyone got up to stretch, mingle, and refill their drinks.


"That was intense," Tara said. "But Mick's doing well."


"He is. Damn him," Savannah said. "But Cole had that awesome touchdown catch."


"He did," Tara said with a smile. "Damn him."


"I might have to sit between the two of you during the second half," Jenna said. "If it's close, you might start emptying your purses and throwing your cell phones at each other."


Tara laughed. "I don't think we'll come to blows over a football game."


"Doubtful," Savannah said. "We just want our guys to win. But they've both lost before, so I think we can take it no matter what happens."


"What? There's not going to be a girl fight in the suite?" Gavin asked, coming over to put his arm around Liz's shoulders .


"I'm afraid not," Tara said.


"I'm so disappointed. And I have my camera phone ready to take pictures and video."


Savannah rolled her eyes and shot Tara a look. "Men."


"Agreed," Tara said, moving away with Savannah to get a drink.


Liz poked him in the ribs with her elbow.


"Ow. What did I say?"


She laughed and put her arms around him. "Enjoying the game and family time?"


"Yeah. It's a pretty good game, too. I honestly don't have any idea how it's going to turn out. The Traders have a tough defense, but Mick is strong in the pocket and the Sabers have got offensive weapons that just can't be beat. And then there's Grant Cassidy, who has a wicked accurate arm and lots of choices on who to throw it to. The Traders' receiver corps is stout this season, which makes it hard for the defense to cover."


"I think the key to this game is going to be who has the strongest defense, and which of the quarterbacks has the best arm."


Gavin squinted at her. "Care to lay some money on the outcome?"


She laughed. "Not on your life. I have players on both teams and I'm not betting on the outcome of this game."


"Wuss. I'm going to hit up the guys. I know they'll get in on the action."


"You do that."


After halftime, Liz settled in her seat for the game. The Traders got the ball to score the second half, and Cole took a pass from Cassidy on a key third-down play and ran it in for a touchdown.


The family went crazy celebrating. With the game tied, Liz felt the tension and excitement in the suite. And when the Sabers kicked a field goal near the end of the third quarter, it was crunch time. The game was so close, the teams so evenly matched, she had no idea how the fourth quarter was going to play out.


The first eight minutes of the fourth quarter was a nail biter, totally defensive on both sides. No points were scored, and neither team could make any headway.


On a critical third down, Mick had the ball and did a rollout, looking for receivers. The Sabers defenders pushed hard. Liz cringed when the defensive back came around past the offensive lineman, making a beeline for Mick.


Tara stood. "Oh, shit," she whispered.


Liz had heard her, though, and thought much the same thing. Mick was going to get sacked.


But Mick must have seen him, because he tucked the ball in and made a run for it, the offensive line turning to block for him. Since they hadn't expected the run, and especially not from Mick, he had an open field and ran for fifteen yards and a first down.


Tara jumped up and threw her arms in the air and roared out a warrior-worthy yell. The guys all clapped and Mick's dad, who sat next to Gavin, grinned broadly as he slapped Gavin on the back.


"Did ya see that?"


Gavin grinned back. "I did, Dad. Pretty damned good for an old guy like Mick."


"Old guy my butt. That kid still has a lot of years of football left in him."


"I agree with your dad," Liz said. "He might be a little over thirty, but Mick is still a champion."


And he proved it by throwing three completions on the next three plays, one to Kip Meecham, their hotshot young rookie tight end for a touchdown, which put the Sabers ahead with three minutes left to go.


But the Traders weren't the kind of team to give up. Cassidy took the ball after the kickoff and they drove down the field to the thirty-five yard line. There were twenty-five seconds to go and the Traders had one time-out left. The tension was so thick in the stadium it seemed as if no one was even breathing.


And when Cassidy handed it off to the running back, who ran for twelve yards, they called a time-out and brought in the kicker to try for a field goal.


"I can't even breathe," Savannah said, clutching Liz's hand tight.


The field goal was good. The game was tied.


They were going to overtime.


"This is intense," Tara said, heading to the bar. "I need a damn drink."


"I'm going with you," Savannah said.


They all took a few minutes to relax. Liz leaned back in her chair and took it all in, watching the family mingle and talk.


"Having fun?" Gavin asked as he hopped into the seat next to her.


"I'm having a great time, but I'm also a wreck. What a game."


"I know. We couldn't ask for a better game for Mick and Cole to play against each other." He took a sip of water and pressed a kiss to her lips. "Your guys are doing well on both sides, too."


She grinned, knowing he was talking about the players she represented. "They are, aren't they? Overall, a perfect day. But someone's going to have to win."


"Definitely."


Overtime was a whole different animal and that fifteen minutes seemed like the longest fifteen minutes of the entire family's life. Liz couldn't sit anymore. Most of the family was standing and pacing back and forth as the Traders won the toss and marched down the field. Cole took a slant pass and ran for eighteen yards, then another for twelve, setting up a field goal, putting the Traders ahead.


When the Sabers got the ball, Mick threw a long pass that just tipped off the hands of the receiver. The groans in the suite were loud. He missed another pass, then got sacked. It was looking like the Traders were going to win.


But on third down he threw a bullet to the wide receiver who swerved and missed the tackle and rocketed down the sidelines to the end zone.


Liz cheered for Mick and for the Sabers. It was a great comeback on what she had feared was going to be a bitter defeat. She felt awful for Savannah, though, and went over to her and hugged her.






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