one of the best!
It was a good read. Romantic, and warming. Looking forward to the 2nd Book in the series.
Traded: Brody and Kara
“Tess Thompson writes interesting, full-bodied romances, and Traded is no exception. In this book, she introduces you to the charming seaside town of Cliffside, the world of football, and a cast of interesting characters you're sure to love...” —Judith Keim, bestselling author of the Salty Key Inn series.
She’s in hiding. He’s focused on football. When giving in to desire is risky, will they choose to play for love?
Nurse Kara Boggs lost everything because she stood up for what’s right. After turning state’s evidence against her mobster father, she’s forced to go underground with an assumed name. But taking a job for a handsome celebrity quarterback could shine a very dangerous public spotlight.
After leading his team to a Super Bowl win, Brody Mullen should be on top of the world. But he’s shocked when his quiet seaside homecoming reveals his mother in a cast, and her housekeeper dying from a brain tumor. Frantic to get the best care for the women he adores, he hires a gorgeous nurse… despite her strange request to stay publicly invisible.
As Kara’s attraction to the charming jock grows, she becomes trapped by her own high-stakes secrets and the constant threat of exposure. And Brody’s famously strict “no women” rule means falling hard for the beautiful woman could ruin his career.
Will they be sidelined by their own rules, or will they complete a pass to passion?
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“This story has so much going on, but it intertwines within itself. You get second chance, lost loves, and new love. I could not put this book down! I am excited to start this series and have love for this little Bayside town that I am now fond of!” —Crystal's Book World
“A fabulous start to this new series, with characters and a storyline that sunk their claws in and quite simply refused to let go.” —Books Laid Bare
“This was a sweet love story that was filled with a bit of suspense and the sexual tension between Brody and Kara was off the charts…This book was way more than a sports romance. It was a book about family and belonging despite having to trade your life… You felt what the characters were going through. It's one of those ‘I got to know what happens next’ books. So intriguing you won't want to put it down.” —Lena Loves Books
Tess Thompson is the USA Today Bestselling and award-winning author of contemporary and historical Romantic Women’s Fiction with nearly 40 published titles. When asked to describe her books, she could never figure out what to say that would perfectly sum them up until she landed on, Hometowns and Heartstrings.
Chapter 1: Kara
They came for her on a Sunday. It was third quarter with two minutes left on the clock in a savage battle between football rivals San Francisco Sharks and Kansas City Rockets when the sounds that would change her life forever broke through the ordinary chirps of the television announcers. The three hard knocks followed by two taps on the front door yanked her attention away from quarterback Brody Mullen’s Houdini-like antics on the field. This was the code. Her scalp tingled. Heat surged through her body and out to her numb limbs. The pulse at her neck hammered. Her clock had run out of time.
Kara Boggs jerked to her feet. The popcorn bowl flew from her lap and rained the white, buttery clouds onto her rug. Minnie mewed and sprang from her position in the crack between the couch cushions to the coffee table and watched the door with wide, frightened eyes.
Sweat dampened the back of her neck. Black dots danced before her eyes, blinding her. She spoke silent instructions to herself, like she had when she’d first started her nursing career in the trauma unit. Think. Be calm. Breathe.
Kara flipped on an extra lamp. Shadows of the oak tree outside her front window moved in ghostlike shudders. She was ready. Like expectant travelers, her suitcases and Minnie’s carrier waited in the entryway. She stumbled to the front door and opened it a crack. Two United States Marshals, dressed in khakis and shiny black jackets, stood at attention. Shotguns strapped to their massive chests gleamed under the hallway light. She opened the door. Without a sound, she stepped aside and gestured for them to enter. They filed in, making no eye contact until she had shut the door behind them. The taller of the two marshals spoke first, his voice deep and without emotion. They showed badges as they introduced themselves. Inspector Green. U.S. Marshal Hill.
Perspiration dampened her back as she envisioned her home from their perspective. Located in a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia, it was furnished like the display window of the finest department store in shades of cream with splashes of red and blue accents. Every detail had been planned with care, including the arrangements of vases and bowls, books and magazines. Walnut tables and chests gleamed under the soft lighting. Prints of landscapes framed in black hung in attractive clusters on the eggshell walls. She wondered if the deputies assumed her beautiful home had been financed by her father. Silly as it was, she fought the urge to tell them how hard she’d worked to become a nurse practitioner. Yes, it was true that her father had helped with the down payment for the condo and her college tuition, but the rest she’d earned.
Yet, it all came back to one thing. She could not have gone to school without her father’s help, and she would never have been able to go to graduate school without accruing massive amounts of debt. Her father had financed her expensive education at Penn State. After graduation, he had not pleaded with her to come home to Upstate New York but had happily written her a check for a down payment on her condo. None of that had surprised her. The moment her mother had died when she was ten, he’d sent her away to boarding school. He didn’t want her.
She’d always assumed his generosity was rooted in guilt. Now, she knew the truth. It was not guilt that fueled him, but self-protection. He was a criminal. Her life had been financed with blood money.
None of it mattered now. These were the last minutes of what would be a former life. The next life, whatever it was, would be her penance. Her retribution for living with contented blinders to the truth.
“Nice to meet you.” Her voice cracked. Be brave. She tried to conjure her mother’s face, but no image came tonight.
“It’s time. The car’s waiting.” Cold blue eyes bored through her, carving out what was left of her heart. He’s on my side. Don’t be afraid. “Are these your bags?”
“Yes. Yes.” She looked down at her loose jeans and sweatshirt, suddenly humiliated. These were her “stay at home and watch football” clothes. With her long brown hair in a ponytail and her face scrubbed of makeup, she probably looked younger than her twenty-nine years.
The game. Playoff season. San Francisco versus Kansas City. She’d forgotten football was playing on the television. The soothing sound of the announcers’ voices drifted into her consciousness. “Brody Mullen, inarguably, is the best quarterback in the league.”
“That’s right,” said the other announcer. “Looking at statistics alone—without even bringing up his stellar character and leadership of his San Francisco Sharks, this young man is the AFL’s greatest quarterback. And, regardless of how you dissect it, he’s had the best season of his career.”
Football would remain, regardless of where they sent her. She could watch her Philadelphia Raptors from wherever she lived. She could still mock handsome, arrogant Brody Mullen—one of her favorite past times. He was the best quarterback in the league. The bastard. She disliked him immensely. More accurately, she hated him. It wasn’t because her Raptor’s quarterback was not the best in the league or because they hadn’t made the playoffs since the eighties. No, it was just him. Him and his stupid dimple in the middle of his stupid chin. Brody Mullen and his insufferable San Francisco Sharks were most likely headed to the Super Bowl this year, and it made her mad.
Why did good things always happen to the wrong people? Sure, Mullen made a good show of being the quintessential all-American boy next door with his weekly visits to the children’s hospital and all that money he donated to underprivileged communities. But that’s all he was—a show. His appearance and supposed good deeds deceived and distracted from his true character. That chiseled jaw, high cheekbones, and honey-blond hair kissed by the California sun gave the impression of a wholesome boy you would want to bring home to your mother. However, Kara could see beyond his beauty, unlike the rest of the women of America. The guy was obviously full of himself, born into football royalty with every privilege, and advised by a team of public relations phonies into appearing otherwise.
What was she doing? Concentrate on the task at hand. Football could distract her when she was all alone in a hotel room, not now when she needed to pull every ounce of her honed focusing ability to the surface. Get through one task at a time, like she’d done for months now. Collapse when it’s all over.
She scurried to the coffee table and found the remote. Her hands shook so violently, she mistakenly turned up the volume.
The smaller of the two deputies took the controller from her. “We understand you have a cat. Go get her. The faster we get you out of here, the better.”
The cat. Her sweet Minnie. Where was she? The hammering at the door must have scared her. She would be under the bed, with green eyes wide and frightened. Kara sprinted to the bedroom. Minnie was on the bed, staring at her. Instead of frightened, she looked angry. Kara scooped her up and held her close. “It’s all right now, baby. We’re just going for a little ride.” A sob escaped. She buried her face into the tuxedo cat’s fur. Minnie purred.
She caught sight of herself in the mirror. Was this really her with the frightened brown eyes and blotched skin? The months of strain had damaged her appearance. Dark smudges under her eyes paired with hollow cheekbones hinted at countless sleepless nights and a lack of appetite. She was tall and muscular from years of dance and cheerleading when she was younger, but her shoulders curled forward like a person embarrassed by her mere existence. This was new. She’d always been so proud, so sure of herself.
Was this the right choice? To leave everyone and everything she loved? To give up her position at the hospital? To abandon her beautiful home and all the possessions? The answer was the same as it had been for months. She must. Justice was more important than her own comfort. When she chose to testify against her father, the Witness Protection Program became her only option—her only chance to live. Despite the shock of the truth about her father, she wanted to live. She would begin again.
Kara squared her shoulders and took in a deep breath. Her mother had not taught her to cower or hide.
Yes, she must go. They offered her a new life. She would take it.
Behind her, she sensed one of the marshals in the doorway of the bedroom. With Minnie still in her arms, she turned. He had the carrier in his hand. “Don’t lose courage now, Miss Boggs. You’ve come this far.” He set the carrier on the bed where she would no longer sleep under a downy comforter and memory foam pillows. Would her pillow still remember her when she was no longer Kara Boggs?
“This is Minnie.” The tears almost escaped. She swallowed and gave herself a direct order. Do not break down until you’re alone. “I can still bring her, right?”
“Yes, of course. Do you need help getting her in the carrier?” Sympathy flickered in the marshal’s eyes.
“No, I’ll do it.” She coaxed Minnie into the carrier with treats she’d kept in a bag on the bureau for just this purpose.
She took one more look at her bedroom. How naïve she’d been two years ago when she’d chosen fabrics and paint colors. My starter home, she’d smugly called it. My bachelorette pad.
It was time.
She followed the marshal to the front door. “Where to now?”
“We have you booked in a hotel near the courthouse. You’ll have twenty-four-hour protection during the trial. We’ll escort you to and from the courtroom.”
“We’ll send you to your new location.”
“Where is it?” she asked.
“We don’t know,” Green said. “But, it’ll be somewhere nice. The boss has a soft spot for you. It’s not every day we get someone willing to give up their life to do the right thing.”
“Someone innocent,” Hill added.
Most in the Witness Protection Program were criminals. They’d told her this during the first interviews when they’d still suspected she might be privy to the dirty underworld of her father’s life. After a time, however, they’d come to understand she knew nothing. She was not a criminal, merely a participant in a plush life. A princess, protected from the dangerous life of a money launderer.
“Please try and remember during your adjustment period that you’re bringing down an entire branch of the Colombian drug cartel. Most people never have the chance to do something this important. If they do, they shy away.”
“Like cowards. You didn’t,” Green said, his voice gruff. “Our boss thinks you’re the bravest person he’s ever met.”
That was kind. But she knew the truth. Her complacency made her guilty. How many clues were there over the years that she’d dismissed, made excuses for, refused to see? At night when she could not sleep she remembered, and remembered, and remembered until the pieces of the puzzle collided with the force of magnets. The completed puzzle broke her heart. Daddy, say it isn’t so.
But it was.
Despite her naïve complicity in a life of privilege, she had stepped forward to do the just thing. Perhaps too late? How many lives had been ruined? She was a nurse! A nurse who witnessed the ravages of drugs every single day in the emergency room where she worked. Drugs were cunning. They ruined families and damaged babies and snuffed out lives.
Too late or not, she had done it. She had colluded with her father’s enemy. As if she’d channeled the finest actress on Broadway, she’d slipped into her role of whistleblower. She’d planted wiretaps and bugs in his office. She’d played to his ego, his desire for her to know how powerful he was, how influential—the trust these dangerous men had in him.
“I came from nothing, Kara, and look at the life I’ve made for us.”
“Have another drink, Dad. Tell me more. Who are these people you work for? How did you become involved?”
Her alliance with the FBI had brought their family crashing to the ground like a house made of the finest sand. With the tapes and her testimony, her father would be sentenced to prison for the rest his life, as would several of the most dangerous Colombian drug lords in organized crime. From prison, they would order her death. Unless she disappeared.
She grabbed the photograph of her mother from the bedside table and stuffed it into her purse.
Chapter 2: Brody
With three seconds left on the clock, the American Football League’s San Francisco quarterback, Brody Mullen, huddled with his offense for the last play of the Super Bowl. His San Francisco Sharks were down by five. One touchdown against the New England Rebels could make them Super Bowl champions. But they were sixty yards from the end zone. It was a long, high pass or nothing. They had to go for broke. Brody locked eyes with his wide receiver, Trevor Beeson, and called the play. Beeson’s long arms were their only chance. If Brody could throw the pass just right, and Beeson caught it, they would go home winners.
Please God, don’t let me blow this.
The center snapped the football. Brody caught it and scanned downfield for Beeson. Around him, his offensive line secured him with the force of their bodies. Brody hurled the football toward the end zone. Beeson, anticipating the location of the ball, sprinted into the far-left corner.
Beeson had one of New England’s defense in front of him and another behind him. Three sets of arms reached for the ball, but Beeson’s were the longest. He plucked the football from the air like a frog’s tongue snatched a fly.
Brody fell to his knees. I did it. Finally. This is for you, Dad. Memories flooded his consciousness: hours in the backyard throwing the football with his dad; the day his high school team won the state championship; the news that he’d been awarded the Heisman Trophy when he was at USC; the day of the AFL draft. Every moment, he’d shared with his dad. If only he could see this moment.
When he stood, blinded by tears, his teammates pounced on him. Beeson almost knocked him over with the force of his hug. “Enough sacks for today, Frog,” he said.
“You’re the boss, man,” Beeson said.
“No, Frog. You’re the boss.”
Brody searched the crowd for his family and friends. They’d watched from a box above. He knew they’d waste no time getting down here.
Moments later, he saw his mother plowing through the crowds to get to him. Following her were his brother and their three best friends. His assistant, Honor, trailed behind the pack. Where was Flora?
Brody didn’t have time to ask because everyone hugged him at once. His friends pounded his back. Lance lingered just beyond the fringe of their group. They locked eyes. His baby brother had tears in his eyes. He knew his thoughts as well as his own—if only Dad were here for this.
Along with his brother, Zane, Jackson, and Kyle were his pack. His tribe. They’d all been friends since their days at USC. Lance had nicknamed them the Dogs after the famous painting of dogs playing poker.
“Brody.” A high-pitched shout rose above the chaos. Honor had been lost amid the crowd, her petite stature enveloped in the throngs of people. He knelt to hug her, but she pushed him away with her hands. “I don’t want your stinky sweat all over my clothes.” She shouted this but followed with a softer proclamation in his ear. “You did good.”
“Don’t start mentioning anything about endorsements until tomorrow,” he said. “I want to enjoy myself for the rest of the night.”
Honor tossed her long blond hair behind her shoulders. “Lance already made me promise.” Her heart-shaped face and big brown eyes belied her sharp intelligence. She ran his business affairs with precision and merciless attention to details. He loved and trusted her, like the sister he never had. Which, in his opinion, was a blessing. To fall for Honor Sullivan was the first step to a broken heart. “No time for whiny or needy men,” she always said—right before she kicked another one to the proverbial curb.
“Where’s Flora?” Brody asked. Flora, his family’s longtime housekeeper, was a second mother to him and his brother.
“She had to stay home. She’s a little under the weather,” Lance said.
“We didn’t want to tell you before the game.” His mother, Janet Mullen, brushed blond hair from her cheeks and looked up at him with her penetrating eyes.
Brody’s stomach dropped. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing to worry about,” his mother said. “Just enjoy your moment.”
He wasn’t sure she was telling the truth, but for now, he chose to take her advice. He’d been waiting for this his entire life.
Chapter 3: Kara
Kara watched the Super Bowl alone in her room at the hotel. She’d given the last of her testimony Friday afternoon. Tomorrow they would tell her where she was to start her new life. For now, there was football, at least, to keep her from careening into the madness of uncertainty.
On fourth down, with seconds left on the clock, Brody Mullen threw a perfect fifty-eight-yard pass to his wide receiver, Beeson, in the end zone. The ball might have been a few inches too high for almost any other player, but the tall and lanky Beeson caught it in his giant hands with seemingly little effort. The referee called it a touchdown. Mullen fell to his knees.
Minnie jumped onto the bed and curled up beside her. As much as Kara loved the feline beauty, Minnie was a poor substitute for the Super Bowl party she’d thrown last year. Twenty people had crammed into the living room of her two-thousand-square-foot condo. They’d spilled chips and screamed at the television and laughed at commercials. Her best friend, Jessica, had collected bets on the winner and the scores. Kara won.
Now, the sound of the game and the announcers, Roger King and Tom Coleman, softened the sharp edges of her sorrow. Wherever she went, she’d still have football to watch.
“Brody Mullen turned thirty last month. There’s continued speculation that he will retire after this season, but in an interview last week he assured fans that he had no plans to give up any time soon.”
“Given the way he played tonight, Tom, he’s nowhere near done with what has been a spectacular career.”
Brody Mullen. Her football nemesis. She was sick to death of hearing about him the past few weeks. All the sports channels could talk about was his wonderful character and leadership and his football royalty family. If she saw one more advertisement with him hawking that new luxury car, she might vomit. What a jerk, on and off the field. Obviously, women found him attractive, but he reminded her of a hawk with intense, angry green eyes, sharp cheekbones, and a hard mouth. He had this way of running his hands through his cropped hair during interviews that was so obviously meant to make him look vulnerable and approachable, nervous even. So ridiculous. Men like Brody Mullen were never nervous.
Seriously, off the field, he was everywhere: print ads, television spots, charity functions. He had recently pledged a million dollars to build a center for underprivileged youth in one of the Bay Area’s poorest communities. She had to give him some points for that, although she was disgusted by how often he posted his picture on Instagram with a sick child. Her mother had told her that good deeds only counted if no one knew about them. Brody Mullen made sure the world knew about everything he did. She focused her attention back on the television.
The camera stayed on Mullen as the field flooded with people. He stood and tore his helmet off. His teammates mobbed him. Seconds later, he held out his arms and an older woman embraced him.
Roger King and Tom Coleman continued to commentate.
“Brody Mullen hugging his mother there. What an emotional night it must be for them. His father, our colleague here at NCS Sports, was his biggest supporter.”
“That’s right, Tom. Just last week he broke down when he spoke about his father and how much he wanted this win for him. It’s a shame Simon isn’t here to share this great night with him.”
“Hard to believe it’s been two years since we lost him,” Roger said.
“One of football’s greats, no doubt about it.”
Kara shut off the television. She didn’t want to hear anyone else’s sad story tonight.
Kara’s love of football came from her mother. Before she died when Kara was ten, they’d watched every Philadelphia game together. If they’d won or lost, her mother had reveled in the pure joy of the sport. Over the years, Kara had calmly defended her love of football to friends who thought the game was either boring or a waste of time—and quite possibly misogynistic and dangerous. No, she argued, look beneath the surface. Football was the human story. Football, with all the twists and turns, was like life. One never knew what would happen next. Sometimes the clock brought unexpected triumphs. Other times, it brought disaster. Often, and this was the best part, the clock brought an upset, a last minute play so surprising and heroic that no one in their wildest imagination would have thought it possible. That was the magic of the game and the human experience. Just when one thought all was lost—redemption.
God knew, Kara had not seen this twist in her life coming. At last year’s Super Bowl party, she was still naïve, never questioning the surface story of her family. But now, she knew the truth, and there was no looking back. She would pay for her father’s sins for the rest of her life.
Today, she could not imagine redemption. Today, she was a reluctant hero.
one of the best!
It was a good read. Romantic, and warming. Looking forward to the 2nd Book in the series.