His Secretary's Surprise Fiancé

By: Joanne Rock

One

 Dempsey Reynaud would have his revenge.

 Leaving the football team’s locker room behind after losing the final preseason game, the New Orleans Hurricanes’ head coach charged toward the media reception room to give the mandatory press conference. Today’s score sheet was immaterial since he’d rested his most valuable players. Not that he’d say as much in his remarks to the media. But he would make damn sure the Hurricanes took their vengeance for today’s loss.

 They would win the conference title at worst. A Super Bowl championship at best.

 As a second-year head coach on a team owned by his half brother, Dempsey had a lot to prove. Being a Reynaud in this town came with a weight all its own. Being an illegitimate Reynaud meant he’d been on a mission to deserve the name long before he became obsessed with bringing home a Super Bowl title to the Big Easy. A championship season would effectively answer his detractors, especially the sports journalists who’d declared that hiring him was an obvious case of favoritism. The press didn’t understand his relatives at all if they didn’t know that his older brother, Gervais, would be the first one calling for his head if he didn’t deliver results. The Reynauds hadn’t gotten where they were by being soft on each other.

 More important, his hometown deserved a championship. Not for the billionaire family who’d claimed him as their own when he was thirteen. He wanted it for people who hungered for any kind of victory in life. For people who struggled every day in places like the Eighth Ward, where he’d been born.

 Just like his assistant, Adelaide Thibodeaux.

 She stood outside the media room about five yards ahead of him, smiling politely at a local sportswriter. When she spotted Dempsey, she excused herself and walked toward him, heels clicking on the tile floor like a time clock on overdrive. She wore a black pencil skirt with gold pinstripes and a sleeveless gold blouse that echoed the Hurricanes’ colors and showed off the tawny skin of her Creole heritage. Poised and efficient, she didn’t look like the half-starved ragamuffin who’d been raised in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. The one who used to stuff half her lunch in her book bag to share with him on the bus home since he wouldn’t eat again until the free breakfast at school the next morning. A lot had changed for both of them since those days.

 From her waist-length dark hair that she wore in a smooth ponytail to her wide hazel eyes, framed by dark brows and lashes, she was a pretty and incredibly competent woman. The only woman he considered a friend. She’d been his assistant through his rise in the coaching ranks, her salary paid by him personally. As a Reynaud, he wrote his own rules and brought all his resources to the table to make a success of coaching. He’d been only too glad to create the position for her as he’d moved from Atlanta to Tampa Bay and then—two years ago—back to their hometown after his older brother, Gervais, had purchased the New Orleans Hurricanes.

 There was a long, proud tradition of nepotism in football from the Harbaughs to the Grudens, and the Reynaud family was no different. They’d made billions in the global shipping industry, but their real passion was football. An obsession with the game ran in the blood, no matter how much some local pundits liked to say they were dilettantes.

 “Coach Reynaud?” Adelaide called to him down the narrow hallway draped in team banners. Her use of his title alerted him that she was annoyed, making him wonder if that sportswriter had been hassling her. “Do you have a moment to meet privately before you take the podium?”

 She handed him note cards, an old-fashioned preference at media events so he could leave his phone free for updates. He planned to brief the journalists on his regular-season roster, one of the few topics that would distract sports hounds from grilling him about today’s loss in a preseason contest that didn’t reflect his full team weaponry.

 “Any last-minute emergencies?” He frowned. Adelaide had been with him long enough to know he didn’t stick around longer than necessary after a loss.

 He needed to start preparing for their first regular-season game. A game that counted. But he recognized a certain stiffness in her shoulders, a tension that wouldn’t come from a defeat on the field even though she hated losing, too. She’d mastered hiding her emotions better than he had.

 “There is one thing.” She wore an earbud in one ear, the black cord disappearing in her dark hair; she was probably listening for messages from the public relations coordinator already in the media room. “It will just take a moment.”

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