By Liz Crowe
I have never played a sport.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m active. I danced (ballet and tap) for nearly ten years from time I was six years old. I exercise (not as much as I should anymore) on a fairly regular basis still.
But I have always been an avid sports spectator, mainly because it was foisted on me having grown up in Kentucky (basketball country) and then from playing in the marching band in high school back in the day when the band existed essentially to support the football team. I was “stuck” watching football games and found myself really enjoying them.
Figures that I would end up with a couple of super athletic kids and no daughters interested in dancing….but I make a pretty good Lacrosse, football, track and soccer mom I guess.
As a spectator, I have come to appreciate the sheer beauty of the fit, athletic body. I value how hard these folks have worked to get to that point too. I have seen, first hand, and miled up my car as a result, how much work is required to achieve the sort of fitness that allows one to play at the highest levels.
And once a man or woman takes their goal of playing as a career to that point, well, you can rest assured that they are easily the most fit human specimens on the planet. Among them all, it has long been my contention that soccer players are the cream of the crop when it comes to fitness level. They are required to play for 45 minutes non stop, running up and down a huge field, coming into direct and aggressive contact with each other time and again, with just a 15 minute break before embarking on another 45 minutes of play. They train for this by doing everything: speed, agility and quickness and weights all are utilized daily, in order to maintain and to keep up with the newest crop of yet more in-shape players behind them.
I am a huge admirer of the male soccer playing body (this is no secret). And for a while they had a lovely habit of ripping off their uniform shirts and heaving them into the crowd when they would score. That is now, technically, a yellow-card-able offense. Which is truly the foul, in my opinion.
When I first concocted the concept of the Black Jack Gentlemen series it was, first and foremost, about these sorts of men—driven, athletic, competitive to a fault. Hard trainers, hard players and, in many cases, hard partiers.
The first book of the series (currently a trilogy, but with at least 2 more books in plotting stages) is called “Man On” (a term of the game, as all the titles are and will be). It is about an older player who is ousted from his spot at the pinnacle of the game in Spain (where my personal favorite players are) because his ex-wife decided to “out” him as gay. Although, technically bi-sexual, he has lost someone dear to him and feels as though he might as well head to America to a drastically risky expansion team in Detroit. Nicco Garza gives “hard partier” a good name—and right away is embroiled in several incidents that give the Black Jacks’ PR and legal department their own good work out.
Parker Rollings has just graduated from college, fresh off his team’s victory in the NCAA Men’s Championship. He is, if his parents have any say in it, leaving soccer behind and headed for medical school, and, if his girlfriend has any say in it, will be engaged to her very soon.
However, when the temporary manager of the Black Jacks comes to him after his college team’s dramatic victory, he decides to make the leap—to leave behind all he knows and pay soccer. And in the process finally come to terms with the fact that he is also bi-sexual.
These two meet on the pitch (a.k.a. the field) when they are forced to compete against each other for the position they both play. And once that is sorted out, they must work together to make the Black Jacks’ inaugural season a winning one while struggling with feelings neither want to own up to—until fate tosses them together on a vacation and things get pretty darn hot.
However, being a “gay athlete,” especially a “gay soccer player” is not something either of them take lightly and it remains to be seen if they will choose their love, or their sport.
Man On (Black Jack Gentlemen: Book One)
Bad boy of European football, Nicolas Garza is about to hit American shores with a vengeance. Signed by the Detroit Black Jack Gentlemen as lynch pin for their expansion club, Nicco only half believes he’s making the right move. But with a past full of ghosts and rotten behavior chasing him from his homeland, he has no real choice.
Parker Rollings is a college soccer superstar, but his parents’ plans for their only son do not include professional athletics. When the Black Jacks approach him to finalize their roster, Parker leaps at the chance to keep playing, leaving behind medical school, stability and his first and only college sweetheart.
Nicco and Parker face off as bitter rivals for a coveted starting spot at midfield and are forced to channel their negative energy into something positive for the sake of the group—and themselves.
All eyes are on the fledgling team in its debut season. It’s crucial that the Black Jacks prove all the doubters wrong. They must make a good showing in the league and with new fans. But player drama, club dynamics, and misplaced priorities may tear it apart before it even begins.
Official Excerpt-MAN ON:
His fingertips grazed a small card in his pocket making him wince at the memory of his first encounter with the team psychologist. He’d set it up one morning after booting Terry out the door, along with a couple of girls he’d convinced to come by for some playtime. His head had been pounding, not so much from a hangover but shame.
When he had flipped through his expensive-looking orientation packet the words “team psychologist” had leapt out at him as if connected to a hand that gripped him by the short hairs. Not a new thing, all teams had one. But, sick of his bizarre need for constant physical contact—for fucking, he’d corrected, tired of even glossing over it in his own stupid head—he had been desperate for someone to simply listen. So, he made the call. And in the meantime, had enjoyed the workouts with the trainers, the few times he’d scrimmaged around with some of the other players. They’d all been contracted but not obligated to do anything for a month but “acclimate to their new surroundings.”
Part of that acclimation came with the requisite social networking and attendance at a some high visibility fundraisers—which is where Nicco had hooked up with Terrance who’d been attending as personal assistant to some politician. He’d also been encouraged to look around for a place to live with the assistance of an eager young real estate agent, an adorable, sexy, woman whose name he had forgotten within minutes of banging her brains out in an empty mini-mansion. Par for his course, really. But behavior that made him angrier than ever.
His first session with the psychologist, an earnest, nerdy-looking guy with square glasses and a cleft chin, had been brutal. But Nicco had deflected, and to his credit, the shrink had let him front, and show off like a dumb ass for a full hour.
Then, just as he was getting up to leave, convinced the whole thing had been a total waste, the guy looked up at him, pinning him with eyes so sharp and clear they made Nicco gasp in spite of himself. “Nicco,” he’d said. “When you’re ready to face up to your addiction, I’m here to listen. I know you have a problem with sex. You know you have a problem with sex. I’m glad you made this appointment. Next time, let’s make it more useful, shall we? And for your information, I did not support the concept of putting you out there as poster boy for gay rights or gay athletes.”
The man had removed his glasses, staring Nicco down as if he could see into his very soul. “I am gay. I have been with the same partner, a man I love dearly for six years. I understand, on a certain level, what you’re dealing with. So,” he’d put the glasses back on and glanced down at his tablet computer. “When will I see you next?”
Now, Nicco pulled the card from his pocket and stared at the therapist’s name and phone number. Then ripped it into small pieces as the rest of the new team filed into the room. He noted two German players he’d had run-ins with in World Cup play, a South African player who must have cost the casino owners a pretty penny, at least three Brits, a Welsh guy or maybe Irish, and two South Americans whose dark, intense good looks made him shiver with memory.
A handful of fresh-faced young Americans interspersed in the group made him feel old. And that pissed him off. What was Inez thinking anyway? There were two per position in the room, two strong players for each spot—except his. He sipped his water bottle and glared at the Germans. Nervous tension gnawed at his gut but he kept his face calm. Finally when their temporary coach showed up and flipped the blinds closed, he relaxed.
So everyone in the room has to fight for their spot except me? That works. He dropped his feet to the floor at Rafe’s pointed glance and propped his elbows on the table prepared to ignore the forthcoming pep talk.
He’d already made plans for the night and wanted to rest up before hand. This goofy welcome pep talk would be as good a time as any. Letting his thoughts wander to the nightclub catering to gay men and promising full discretion, he made himself stop obsessing over the failed therapy session.
The door clicked open and all eyes landed on the tall, blond man who walked in, backpack on his shoulder, dressed to play. Nicco’s scalp tingled at the sight of him—strong torso, long legs, firm jaw covered with several days’ worth of fuzz. Good Christ but he was a perfect specimen. Nicco kept his casual stance but startled when the kid’s bright blue eyes and huge white smile landed on him.
He resisted the urge to smile back. Something about the man made Nicco distinctly uncomfortable but horny at the same time. He suddenly wished he’d held onto the shrink’s business card.
“And Parker will be working with you, Nicco.”
Nicco sat up, knocking his water to the floor as Rafe’s words got his immediate attention. What the fuck? He stared at the polite hand the kid stuck in his face then over at Rafe. His throat closed up between the proximity of the impossibly handsome man and realization of the fact that the vision of masculine perfection he’d lusted after for the last few seconds wanted to take his spot on the field.
Oh hell no. He leaned back again and ignored his brain that clamored for him to be nice, to take the kid’s hand. To smile and act like an adult.
Instead, he smirked, ignored him, and turned to face their coach as if suddenly fascinated by what the guy had to say. Parker stood a minute, and Nicco watched his face turn red before he sat in the one empty chair nearest the door.
Rafe passed out new phones, instructed them that they were obliged to “tweet” and “post profile updates” on Facebook at least three times a day. All shit that Nicco already knew. Rafe’s hot young lady assistant issued key cards to the ones who’d just arrived, including the kid Nicco studiously ignored but whose very presence was making the front of his jeans uncomfortable.
He shifted in his seat, trying to get control of himself, a bizarre combination of anger and lust spinning around his brain. The room rose, and Nicco joined them making their way out into the hallway.
A gaggle of kids and parents awaited them, and the team spent about an hour signing soccer balls, slips of paper, jerseys, getting photos for camera phones. Nicco joined in to prove his ability to schmooze like a pro. At one point he caught sight of his new young coach with his arm around a tall, attractive, pregnant woman with coal black hair. Rafe caught his eye and beckoned him over.
“Nicolas Garza, this is Maureen, my wife and her son, Adam.” A dark-skinned teenager next to the stunning woman stuck out a hand. Nicco took it, noting the kid’s own club kit and backpack. He took Maureen’s hand, kissed it, and eyeballed Rafe.
“Well done, young Rafe. What a vision. How did a loser like yourself rate such beauty?”
Maureen frowned but her eyes sparkled. “Spare me, Nicco. I’ve heard all about you.”
“I have no doubt of that lovely lady.” He gave a short bow. “But may I also say, congratulations on the coming joy.”
She smiled at him, and he mirrored her liking her already. He valued women who took no shit from him. He winked at Rafe and made his way back into the teeming throng after nodding at the woman’s son who didn’t look that much younger than his mother’s new husband. But when he turned he immediately locked gazes with the blond American usurper and his throat closed up. The man stared at him wide-eyed and innocent, and Nicco had to grip the back of a chair to keep from saying something utterly stupid.
He’d wager his left nut that young Parker had never been with a man, but the sheer sexual energy that poured off him was intoxicating. His fresh, clean good looks spoke of a typical American, upper class upbringing, expensive soccer clubs and college scholarships. Shit that Nicco usually despised and denigrated.
He broke the eye contact and set his jaw. The kid had another think coming if he honestly believed he’d be taking Nicolas Garza’s place on the team. Pure and simple, no matter how fevered his sudden fantasy over popping the kid’s cherry. He ran a hand down his face and swallowed hard. Things had certainly gotten complicated and then some. But he knew that he had a focus now—keeping his starting spot ahead of the delectable Parker.
Microbrewery owner, best-selling author, beer blogger and journalist, mom of three, and soccer fan, Liz lives in the great Midwest, in a major college town. She has decades of experience in sales and fund raising, plus an eight-year stint as a three-continent, ex-pat trailing spouse. While working as a successful Realtor, Liz made the leap into writing novels about the same time she agreed to take on marketing and sales for the Wolverine State Brewing Company.
Most days find her sweating inventory and sales figures for the brewery, unless she’s writing, editing or sweating promotional efforts for her latest publications.
Her early forays into the publishing world led to a groundbreaking fiction subgenre, “Romance for Real Life,” which has gained thousands of fans and followers interested less in the “HEA” and more in the “WHA” (“What Happens After?”). More recently she is garnering even more fans across genres with her latest novels, which are more character-driven fiction,” while remaining very much “real life.”
With stories set in the not-so-common worlds of breweries, on the soccer pitch, in successful real estate offices and many times in exotic locales like Istanbul, Turkey, her books are unique and told with a fresh voice. The Liz Crowe backlist has something for any reader seeking complex storylines with humor and complete casts of characters that will delight, frustrate, and linger in the imagination long after the book is finished.
If you are in the Ann Arbor area, be sure and stop into the Wolverine State Brewing Co. Tap Room—but don’t ask her for anything “like” a Bud Light, or risk serious injury.
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