Challenging the Center (Santa Fe Bobcats #6) - Jeanette Murray

Chapter 1

Michael Lambert parked in his apartment complex’s lot and got out of the car. Beside him, rookie Dante Willis did the same and looked at him over the hood of his car. “Thanks for the pep talk, man. It’s been rough, being out here. You know?”

Michael walked with him to the lobby of the complex and toward the elevators. “I definitely do. I didn’t grow up around here. Most of us didn’t. We all know the homesick feeling from time to time. No shame in it.”

Dante gave him a look that said yeah, fucking right. “Homesickness is for five-year-olds at sleepaway camp.”

“And for grown-ass men who love their families,” Michael countered quickly, giving him a benign smile. “Take it from someone who’s seen a lot of this league. You don’t get to be my age and still be in this game without having seen some stuff. People go through it. They just don’t admit it… or they attempt to hire a hooker to compensate.”

Dante’s cheeks flushed under his light brown skin tone. “Yeah, well… that was a stupid move.”

“Stupid’s one word for it,” Michael said mildly. “You’re just lucky you got caught by a teammate and not the cops.” The elevator pinged, and he waited for the doors to open. As they did, Josh Leeman stepped out. Michael waved a hand in greeting. “Hey, man.”

Dante nodded, then got on the elevator. “You coming?” Dante lived four floors below Michael in the building.

“Nah, go ahead. And hey,” Michael called out as the doors began to close. “Call me if you need to talk next time. Don’t go cruising.”

Dante nodded fast just as the doors closed on him.

“Babysitting again?” Josh asked him with a smile.

“Mentoring,” Michael corrected, but he grinned. They went through this all the time. Josh never understood why Michael said yes every time the coaching staff asked him to take a younger player under his wing and keep them from doing something insane… or keep them from doing something else insane. But Michael had had enough mentors growing up—starting with his father and his older brother—that he knew sometimes a guy just needed someone else’s footsteps to walk in. Despite being a legal adult, sometimes a man wasn’t quite ready to make the trek alone.

Plus it earned him brownie points with the coaching staff. He wasn’t above brownie points. Only an idiot turned those down, especially in his line of work. Michael collected IOUs like some kids collected baseball cards.

“Where are you off to?” Michael asked.

“Meeting with my real estate agent about the house I just bought.” When Michael raised a brow, Josh shrugged. “It’s time. I know the area. I know I’m not leaving regardless, so it’s about time to get things rolling with living like an adult.”

“I happen to think my apartment is very adultlike, thank you.” Michael nudged him. “Maybe you’re just not having the right company over.”

Josh rolled his eyes. “My company is perfectly fine, thanks. In fact, I’m meeting her later at the house.”

“So that’s how it is. Well, have fun and good luck.”

“We’ll need it. This place is a dump.” Seeming in a much more cheerful mood than a man who had mentioned his newest large-sum purchase was a wreck, Josh saluted him and took off.

The moment Michael stepped off the elevator, his phone pinged with a text. His agent, Sawyer Grade, wanted to chat. He called back as he flipped his keys around his fingers.

“Michael, my savior,” Sawyer said emphatically the instant he answered the phone. “You’re the only one who can save me.”

“If you’re going to quote Star Wars, don’t butcher