Chapter One

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The goddess wore a rugby shirt with the wrong number on it.

John Sheldon watched the woman walk through the door of the stadium's hospitality suite, where he and his London Legends teammates would soon be auctioned off for charity. Outside, snow blanketed the rugby pitch while green and white Christmas lights strung around the stadium blazed with the team's colors. Inside, rich people were getting pissed on mulled wine and whisky he'd never be able to afford under normal circumstances. John had been trying not to yawn when the woman entered the room.

Her height drew his notice first. How could it not, when the next-tallest woman in the room came to her shoulders? She was the only woman here who wouldn't make him feel like a towering giant. Her face was angled away from him, and her wheat-blond locks of hair had been twisted and clamped behind her head in one of those casually elegant styles that begged to be undone, mussed up by big, clumsy fingers. Her neck was slender, her shoulders broad, and her rugby shirt had the number ten on it. His captain's number.

An elbow jabbed him between the ribs, jostling the tumbler of Islay whisky he held and splashing the amber liquid across his hand. "I count three for me, a dozen for the skipper and nil for you, Shelly. What do you make of that?"

John set his tumbler on a table, tempted to lick the alcohol off his hand so it didn't go to waste. Opting instead for a classiness he usually failed to achieve, he wiped his wet hand on a cloth serviette and looked down—a good eight inches down—at Matt Ogden, who'd recently become the team's starting fullback. "Nil what?"

"Bidders." Oggie raised his brows and nodded at the crowd gathered in the suite.

John scanned the people who'd paid five-hundred quid each to be here tonight. They'd come to raise money for several charities by bidding on a player to do pretty much whatever they wanted for a day. Last year John had been "won" to teach a kid rugby skills. That was a lot better than the year before, when he'd had to show up at a stockbroker's office and pretend to be his best mate. How he'd got through it without lamping the arsehole was a mystery.

And Oggie was right—not a single person wore his number. At the start of the evening, guests received a replica Legends rugby shirt, and they pinned on it the number of the player they intended to bid for. It was an ice-breaker that gave the players a chance to change people's minds before bidding started. A good dozen guests, including the goddess, wore the number ten—not surprising, since his captain Liam Callaghan was one of the best-known rugby players in the world. But why in God's green England would three people want to bid for Oggie when he'd barely played until last month, while John had started every match?

Okay, so Oggie was a little above average height, while John was six-nine. He could see how that might intimidate people. And Oggie was apparently good looking—if you asked him—so that explained why all of his bidders were female.

"Fucking hell," John muttered, the potential for humiliation sinking in. "I'm not standing up there and having no one bid on me."

"Looks like that's exactly what you're doing. Meanwhile, I'll have to let those three ladies down gently," Oggie said, his voice betraying the fact that he might be here physically but mentally he was back home, shagging his best friend Libby.

The specter of a crushing defeat loomed over John, and his determination to come out on top finally kicked in. "I may not get as many bidders as you, mate, but I bet I can raise more money."

"Really?" Oggie laughed and stretched out his hand. "You're on. What does the winner get?"

"Pride. Bragging rights." He held up his tumbler. "And a bottle of this whisky."

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