Scroll down to read your exclusive bonus epilogue!
Want to download the bonus epilogue to your device instead? Click the button below to access the Bookfunnel download page.
THREE YEARS LATER…
I hold my baby to my chest, bouncing him up and down as he sleeps calmly amidst the chaos around us. I glance from the clock to the huddle of men on the field. My heart is hammering.
Max is talking to his teammates and with a yell, they break apart and get into formation. He stands behind the ball, looking back and forth to the lineup of team members and nodding to his wide receiver. I look back at the scoreboard, squeezing my eyes shut for a moment as I hear him start to call out the play.
The Thunder, Max’s recreational football team, are down by five points with a few seconds to go. They’re within range of a touchdown, but it’ll have to be a big play.
Meg stamps her feet beside me, keeping her eyes on the field. Our breath is wispy as we exhale in the cold October air.
“Come on,” I whisper to myself.
“Hut, hut, hut!” Max finally yells. He gets the ball and everyone explodes into action.
“This is supposed to be a non-contact league?” Meg asks with a frown.
I just shake my head. My son shifts in my arms, but his little eyes stay closed and he continues to sleep.
My heart thunders. The wide receivers are running full-speed down the sides of the field. The offensive linemen are doing their best to block the huge, lumbering hunks of meat that form the other team’s defensive line. With a yelp, I see one of the linesmen break free, running in a wide arc towards Max.
He still has the ball, with his back turned down the field. He hasn’t seen the other team’s player sprinting towards him.
Max reaches back, ready to launch the ball towards Connor who’s still sprinting down the field. I freeze, holding my breath as his arm reaches back, back, back. The other team’s player is only a couple feet away.
Finally, he rockets the ball down the field.
The defensive player sprints towards him and I scream.
His knee can’t take another hit. Not from a man that size. If he gets hit from behind, the months—no, the years of physio that he’s done so far might be undone.
At the last moment, the man changes his course and rips the flags that are hanging off Max’s waist. Max doesn’t even look at him.
Max’s eyes are glued down field, where the ball has started its downward arc towards Connor’s outstretched hands.
Joel is running beside him, and he shoulder-checks an opponent out of the way. Connor has a few feet of room.
In one smooth motion, Connor leaps. He catches the ball, landing in a tumble as he crosses into the end zone. I get up to my feet, cradling Max. Jr. to my chest as the little crowd around us erupts. Meg is screaming. Everyone around us is leaping and yelling and hooting as Connor gets up, soon to be dogpiled by the rest of his team. Max jogs with the rest of them, looking back towards me with a huge grin on his face.
I give him a big thumbs-up. I can’t stop smiling. Meg throws her arm around my shoulders, still laughing and shouting with the rest of the crowd.
“I can’t believe I’m so excited about a rec league final,” she laughs. “I’m not even dating any of them, so I don’t even have that excuse.”
“It was a good game,” I reply, grinning. She’s right. My heart is thumping, and I can’t stop looking down the field at Max as he hugs his teammates, laughing and smiling the whole time. They arrange themselves into a messy line and walk down the field to shake hands with the other team.
The trophy presentation is simple, but exciting. The league organizers bring out a surprisingly impressive trophy, presenting it to Max and his team. He lifts it up overhead amidst more cheers and congratulations.
Meg pulls out a bottle of champagne from her bag, and I just shake my head.
She just laughs and pops the cork. It doesn’t take long for Max, Connor, Joel, and the rest of the team to head our way. Meg extends the bottle and they all drink from it, going over every detail of the game as we walk back towards our cars. I respectfully decline, kissing my baby’s head as a sort of explanation.
Max’s eyes shine as he wraps his arm around my shoulders. He glances down at our baby as a soft smile stretches his lips.
“Now, I have everything I could ever want. A wife, a baby, and a championship—even if it’s only flag football.”
I laugh, tilting my head up toward him. He kisses my lips softly, letting out a low groan. Meg passes the bottle around to the whole team. The mood in the air is so happy and excited, it’s electric.
“There’s a wind-up party at the Hog & Boar Bar, just down the street,” Joel says. “You guys coming?”
Max looks at me with hopeful eyes. “You think the baby will be okay?”
“I wouldn’t rob your right to celebrate your win,” I grin. “If he starts fussing, we can leave. Meg and I will meet you guys there.”
The guys head back towards the locker rooms, and Meg and I go to the bar. We find a table big enough for the team, and I settle my baby in his car seat next to me. Meg orders more champagne, and I just grab a soda water. When the guys arrive, they’re freshly showered with the glow of the win still on their cheek. They’ve got the trophy lifted up overhead and are singing ‘We Are the Champions’.
I laugh. Max comes over to me and lays a kiss on my cheek, squeezing my shoulders before sliding into the chair beside me. He strokes Max Jr.’s cheek with a finger, his eyes softening.
My husband keeps his hand on my thigh as we celebrate. After a drink or two, he turns towards me and stares into my eyes.
“I love you,” he says.
I smile. “I love you more.”
“Thanks for coming tonight. I know it’s just a silly competition, but—”
“Stop, Max. You worked hard all season to get that trophy.”
“It’s hardly the NFL.”
“Stop putting yourself down. You earned it. I won’t hear anything else.”
He smiles, laying a soft kiss on my lips. The soft kiss turns harder as he cups my cheek, parting his lips. Fire burns in the pit of my stomach.
“Alright you guys!” Joel exclaims. “You already have one kid. This isn’t the place to make another.”
Max pulls away from me as we both start laughing. “Shut up, Joel. Just wait till you get a girl you love, and then we’ll see who’s giving who shit.”
Joel just laughs and raises his glass towards me. “Aren’t you glad you’re part of this family?”
I’ve heard that before—being part of the family—but somehow this time, it feels more real. When his parents welcomed me to the family, it was all lies and deceit and underhanded investigations. This time, Joel and Connor and Graham have spent time with me. They know Max as well as anyone, and they’ve accepted me as part of their friend group.
Not only that, we have a family of our own. Our child is the light of my life, and I can’t imagine living any other way.
I watch Meg with Connor. She’s got her hand on his bicep and is laughing in that special kind of way that girls laugh around guys they like.
I grin, elbowing Max.
“Look at those two,” I say.
“They should just hook up already,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s like a high school dance, watching the two of them.”
I swat his shoulder, laughing. “I think it’s cute.”
“Not as cute as you,” he replies, leaning in for another kiss.
“Always,” he grins. When his lips touch mine, I melt. I wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him harder.
The baby wakes up and starts fussing, and Max and I exchange a glance.
“That’s our cue to leave,” Max says. He leans closer to me. “Fine by me. I’d rather be at home alone with you than anywhere else in the world.”
I didn’t think it was possible for me to fall more in love, but I do. Every day, Max brings out the best in me. I hold the baby in my arms to stop him crying, and Max slings his arm around my shoulders, and we go home together. Our perfect family, exactly the way it should be.