It was official. Collier Channing "CiCi" Hurst (formerly
Tank-ersley) was slowly but surely losing her mind. And what
was her first clue? Could it be that she was seriously
thinking about asking Daddy for a job?
CiCi had had a bad year and a half starting with
finding her scum-sucking, low-life ex-husband studying the
Kama Sutra with Marian the Librarian. Did William
"Tank" Tankersley even know how to read?
CiCi gazed at the frilly pink canopy above her head. She was
thirty-two years old and sleeping in her teenage bedroom
under a faded Pearl Jam poster. It had been almost a year
since she'd signed the final divorce decree and she was
Talk about pitiful!
There were so many things she could blame Tank for. He
didn't want children, so CiCi put her dream of a big family
on the back burner. Tank didn't want her to work outside the
home, so her Stanford degree in adolescent psychology went
unused. Tank didn't wantâ€”
The doormat phase of her life was over. It was time to move on.
Fortunately money wasn't a problem. Tank was a Pro Bowl
right tackle for the National Football League's Green Bay
Packers, and as a result of his lucrative contracts and a
wise investment counselor, he was set for life. And since
they were divorced in Wisconsin, which was a community
property state, CiCi was financially secure, too.
But Tank's adultery and the subsequent divorce had taken a
machete to CiCi's self-esteem, and that was probably why she
was so indecisive. Meaningful jobs in her field generally
required an advanced degree but she wasn't ready to delve
into a master's program.
Back to the problem at handâ€”despite a college degree and six
years of volunteer work, the only serious employment CiCi
had been able to find was as a substitute teacher.
Considering the way some kids tested subs, that wasn't her
dream job. And now that summer had arrived, even that
opportunity had gone by the wayside.
Her divorced high school buddies had rebounded by snagging
new husbands, always richer than the original. CiCi, on the
other hand, wasn't about to risk tying the knot with another
loser like Tank.
Just the thought of dating or having anything to do with the
opposite sex was enough to give her a raging headache, so
CiCi mentally segued to an easier problemâ€”finding a place of
her own. Retreating to Mama and Daddy's had given her a
chance to regroup, but she couldn't stay there forever. The
question was should she rent, buy or pitch a tent in the
Galleria parking lot. Scratch that last one. Houston summers
were as hot as the tropics on steroids.
This whole situation was making her crazy. It was day three
hundred and forty of her self-imposed exile and it was time
for a change. On that note, CiCi rolled out of bed and
headed to the kitchen for breakfast. If she was really going
to hit Daddy up for employment, it was now or never. What
did she have to lose besides her prideâ€¦and dignityâ€¦andâ€”
"Good morning, sleepyhead." Marianne Hurst, aka Mama, was at
the stove, making breakfast. She was petite, blonde and
beautiful. CiCi's sistersâ€”Mackenzie and Minerva (Mac and
Mia)â€”were carbon copies of their mother, whereas CiCi was
tall with olive skin and dark hair. Mama claimed she must
have come from a long-lost Gypsy bloodline.
"It's only six-thirty." CiCi plopped down at the long
trestle table that had seen many Hurst family meals. "Is
Daddy still here or has he already left for work?"
"Whatcha need, baby doll?" CiCi hadn't noticed her father
rummaging in the industrial-size Sub-Zero refrigerator.
Daddy was a business mogul with a Harvard education, but he
also had the ability to magically morph into Texas Bob
Hurst, owner of half the Cadillac/Hummer/GMC dealerships in
the Lone Star State.
"Spit it out, kiddo," Daddy said, pulling a pitcher of
orange juice from the fridge. "Would you like some?" He held
up the carafe.
"Sure." CiCi handed him her glass. "I was, uh, I was
thinking that maybe you might have a job for me at one of
your dealerships." There, she'd done it and the sun was
"Oh, dear," Mama muttered, exchanging a glance with her
husband. They'd been married so long they were able to
communicate without words.
Winston "Texas Bob" Hurst chomped into his piece of toast.
He paused, chewed some more, then shook his head. "The
dealerships aren't hiring right nowâ€”we've been lucky not to
lay anyone off. But let me think." Texas Bob took one bite
and then another.
Things weren't looking good.
"What about doing something with the Road Runners?"
"The Road Runners?" Was he kidding? Daddy's National
Football League team was the last place she wanted to work.
He might not have noticed, but CiCi hated jocks. Abhorred,
detested, loathed and despisedâ€” Oh, never mind.
"I don't think so."
"Seriously, everyone else in the family is involved in the
organization. Your mother oversees our charitable work.
Mia's doing a great job as our director of public relations
and Mac's having a ball working with the Road Runner
"What do you suggest?"
Before Texas Bob could respond, a tiny blond dynamo dressed
in Bratz pajamas whirled in, followed by her equally perky
mom. CiCi wasn't the only sister who had retreated to the
sanctuary of the family home. When Mackenzie and her
quarterback husband split, she'd also made the move back to
"Mac, what do you think?" Mama asked. Darn it, she was
"About what?" CiCi's sister asked. A veteran multi-tasker,
she was simultaneously filling her coffee mug, picking up
her six-year-old daughter, Molly, and making toast.
"We're trying to talk CiCi into working for the Road
Runners," Daddy answered.
Mac squealed but then she must have had second thoughts.
"Uh, doing what?"
"That's what I'd like to know," CiCi grumbled.
"Could she help you with the cheerleaders?" Mama asked.
"Well, hmm." Mac looked as if she was working on a
complicated mathematical equation.
"Don't stress yourself," CiCi snapped. God, she hated
sounding so testy.
Mac blew her a raspberry. "Do you know how to dance?"
"Of course not." It was a standing joke that CiCi was the
only Hurst to ever drop out of ballet class.
"Perhaps she could work in the accounting department," Mac
That one really got a chuckle. Math was not CiCi's strong
suitâ€”in fact, she wasn't sure she'd even been dealt a hand.
"Tell you what, baby doll," Daddy said. "Why don't you come
down to the football minicamp this afternoon? We'll see what
we can find."
CiCi hated to admit it but she was fascinated by the energy
and glamour of the Road Runners. She didn't want anything to
do with football players, but she could still admire the way
they filled out their uniforms. Just because they were
off-limits to her didn't mean she couldn't look.
The Road Runner cheerleaders were also beautiful, sexy and
well endowed. Add it all together and it was quite a heady
CiCi stood in the tunnel leading to the locker rooms. Al
though there wasn't an audience, there was the residual
energy left by 65,000 screaming fans. The skill positionsâ€”
the quarterbacks, the wide receivers and the tight endsâ€”were
practicing the expertise that made the game so thrilling,
and the cheerleaders were going through their first full day
of rehearsal. All in all, it was an exciting place.
CiCi strolled across the artificial turf, watching as the
athletes warmed up. These guys weren't the
three-hundred-plus-pound behemoths who'd play on the
defensive line, but they were fine specimens. Bulging
biceps, muscled legs, broad chestsâ€” Whoa! Stop right there.
CiCi had sworn off men. That was her story and she was
sticking to it.
"Hey, sis!" Mac yelled. It was the only way she could be
heard over the noise from the field. "Come here."
Mac was wearing a pair of low-slung shorts, a midriff top
and a ponytail. She was in her midthirties but could easily
pass for a teenager.
"I've got it," she squealed when CiCi strolled over. "I know
the perfect job for you."
Sometimes Mac could be such a blonde, CiCi thought.
"You can be the chicken." She clapped her hands in glee. Her
enthusiasm was almost catching. Almost.
"The chicken? Do you mean that thing?" CiCi pointed at Tex,
the team mascot, who was standing on the sidelines watching
the cheerleaders. The costume was supposed to be a road
runnerâ€”otherwise known as a prairie chickenâ€”but swear to
goodness, it was a dead ringer for Foghorn Leghorn from the
"Why would I want to do that? And what about the guy who's
"It's not a problem. Dwayne Scruggs has been trying to find
someone to take over for him. I think he's in trouble with
his probation officer and he wants to beat feet. He has a
record, you know." Mac whispered the last sentence, not that
Dwayne could hear her.
"Daddy hired an ex-con?" That was astonishing.
"I think he's only done county jail time. He got the job be
cause he's Jake Culpepper's cousin."
"Who's Jake Culpepper?"
"Oh, sweetie, you are so out of the loop. Jake's our star
tight end." Mac fanned herself. "And, man, are his buns tight."
As usual, her sister ignored her. "Hey, Dwayne! Get yourself
over here," she shouted.
CiCi grabbed her arm. "Wait! I don't know if I want to do this."
"Sure you do. This is exactly what you need." Mac was so
proud of herself she was almost dancing in place.
Tex nodded his head and waddled over.
"Dwayne, my sister wants to take over the chicken gig."
"I don'tâ€”" CiCi started to object but didn't get very far.
"No foolin'? Babes, it's all yours." Dwayne shucked out of
the chicken suit so fast it looked as if he had a load of
hot briquettes in his britches.
"Here." He tossed her a two-foot chicken head with a crest
of glossy feathers that Sally Rand would have envied.
"They're practicing the sideline show now." He waved toward
the field at the bevy of buxom dancers in short skirts and
tight midriff tops. "Check with the head honcho and see what
she wants you to do." Following that suggestion, the former
chicken raced off.
"What was that all about?" CiCi asked.
"Beats me. He's nuts." Then Mackenzie broke into a big
smile. "But think of it this way. You have a job."
Yep, she did. However, jumping into a giant feathered
costume in the middle of a Houston summer was almost as
appealing as snorting Jell-O. It would be hot, sticky
workâ€”and bad hair was inevitable, but sometimes a girl had
to gut up. If she could make this chicken shtick work, she'd
be a part of the team and she'd have a job. All
things considered, any position was better than unemployment.
The only thing that kept CiCi from breaking into a happy
dance was her pesky inner voice that sounded like a rerun of
Lost in Space.
Warning! Warning! Warning!
Her last experience with an athlete had ended in disaster,
Would this be any different? Oh, boy, it sure better be.
CiCi glanced at the chicken head (okay, it was a road
runner) and then studied the rest of the suit. She could
flap her feathers with the best of them. The feet might be a
bit tricky, but the wings would be a piece of cake. Now, if
she could shut up that niggle of doubt, everything would be
Jake Culpepper was going to freakin' throttle his
lily-livered, dirtbag cousin Dwayne. That jerk had committed
grand theft auto and was the reason Jake's prize Porsche was
in auto intensive care. Thanks to him, Jake was reduced to
driving a rusty, manure-covered pickup. It was the only
vehicle available at his ranch that morning.
There was no need to get his blood pressure upâ€”it was just a
car, not the end of the world. Yeah, and comparing his sleek
beauty to a common vehicle was like comparing the F-22
Raptor to the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk.
To add insult to injury, after Dwayne hit a telephone pole
in the "borrowed" car, he'd abandoned it on the highway. But
since the dweeb was already on probation, calling the cops
on him wasn't an option.
And Dwayne was only the tip of the bad-news iceberg. On the
family front, Jake's mom had hooked up with another loser.
He loved her like crazy, but her taste in men sucked. Every
time she got involved with a new guy, it cost Jake an
enormous amount of time, money and heartburn.
The "biggie" was that Jake's contract was up for renewal. If
the Road Runners didn't sign him, he'd become a free agent,
and that would mean a move. And considering the trouble his
relatives regularly indulged in, Jake really didn't want to
leave Texas. He'd spent most of his life taking care of his
family, and that was a hard habit to break.
In most professions a guy was just getting started at
thirty. Not so for athletes. Thirty was pushing it, and
although Jake had a great agentâ€”who worked hard to earn his
fifteen percentâ€”the contract situation was still unresolved.
But on the bright side, Jake had plenty of money in the bank
and his social life was, to say the least, hot. He'd been
voted Houston's most-eligible bachelor two years in a row.
And best of all, he'd bought the ranch of his dreamsâ€”
hundreds of acres of coastal plains grazing land. Overall,
life was sweet. As long as he could keep cousins Dwayne and
Darrell out of trouble. He'd never be able to change his
mother's taste in men, but he did what he could to provide
her with everything she'd ever want or need.
Oh, well, exercise-induced endorphins were the best
pick-me-up known to man, and the field was the only place
Jake could butt heads without getting arrested.
If Dwayne was smart, he wouldn't show his face at the
stadium for at least the next decade. But that dude wasn't
Einstein. In fact, Big Bird was probably smarter than his
Jake pulled the filthy pickup into the parking lot, hesitat
ing a moment before claiming his reserved parking spot. If
his luck held, he could sneak in and then gripe about the
gardener taking his space. The truck let out a giant belch
of smoke when Jake cut the engine.
"Cool wheels." That comment came from Cole Benavides, the
Road Runners' quarterback and Jake's best friend. Jake had
been so busy trying to see through the smoke he hadn't no
ticed Cole pull into the adjacent spot.
Anonymity was impossible. "Up yours," Jake mumbled as he
grabbed his duffel bag from the bed of the truck.
Cole acknowledged the wisecrack with a chuckle. "Good
In spite of himself, Jake grinned. "I'll show you junior
high." He poked Cole in the ribs, initiating the ritual of
goosing and grabbing they'd perfected during their four
years at Texas A&M .
"Seriously, what happened to your wheels?"