The beginning—and end—of the Invertary football league

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This short story takes place after Bad Boy, where we first met Flynn Boyle, a former professional soccer player. At this point, Lake’s plan for a Benson Security office in London is still a pipe dream. And Mitch, Logan, and Megan haven’t met their soulmates. Although Joe has met his in Julia. She just doesn’t know it yet! 

The first—and last—match of Invertary’s brand new, and minuscule, football league took place on a misty Saturday morning in October. For this auspicious occasion, Flynn Boyle had chosen the pitch nearest the pub, thinking he might need a stiff drink once the match was over. He’d been on the field five minutes, and already he was craving a double whisky.
“Where’s the rest of your team?” he asked his high school nemesis as they stood in the middle of the pitch. The man was flanked by his three younger brothers and a few of their friends.
Lachlan MacGregor folded his arms over a blue shirt printed with the words Invertary Invaders. There was a smirk on his face that Flynn wanted to wipe off with his fist. Even after all these years, Lachlan got on his very last nerve.
“They’re getting changed.” Lachlan nodded toward the concrete block that housed the changing rooms. “We need to talk about a handicap. It’s no’ fair that we’re up against a professional—even if he only played for Arsenal. We want a two-goal head start.”
Aye, Flynn’s fist had a burning desire to be buried in Lachlan’s face. “Not happening. Your team has its fair share of competent players. Hell, you could have gone professional if you’d wanted.” And didn’t those words just burn in his throat. “Everybody on your team grew up playing the game. Whereas I have a bunch of Americans, who call the game soccer and think football is basically rugby played wearing armor. Josh over there doesn’t know his arse from his elbow. He’s handicap enough to even things out.”
“I heard that,” Josh shouted as a ball flew through the air and hit his head.
“See what I mean?” Flynn said in disgust.
“Stop pissing around,” Lachlan said. “We both know you could be a team of one and still run rings around any other side. Plus, look at your goalie. If we get anything past him, it’ll be a miracle.”
Flynn glanced back at Grunt, who, at six and a half feet of pure muscle, bore a striking resemblance to the Hulk. “Don’t worry too much about him. He’s American an’ all.”
“He knows how to play the game, right?” Lachlan said, his eyes also on Grunt. “He’s no’ likely to lose the plot and run rampage through my team if a ball comes at him, is he?”
Flynn cocked his head in consideration. “I don’t think so.” Although he’d be the first to admit that he didn’t sound convinced.
“Three goal lead,” Lachlan amended. “And I’ll make sure nobody sues when the big guy goes nuts.”
“Not going to happen.”
“How about we only count every second goal you score?”
“Do I look like an idiot?”
Lachlan considered him. “Well, now that you mention it…”
Flynn’s fist clenched. Really, what harm would one wee punch do? Especially when the dickhead was clearly asking for it.
“Lachy!” a delighted female voice called.
A female voice Flynn knew only too well. He turned to see Abby rushing over to them. His Abby. His fiancée. Who was beaming at his nemesis. And the arse was beaming back.
“Abby,” Lachlan’s voice softened, sounding intimate. “You’re looking gorgeous as usual.”
“Flatterer,” Abby said but blushed anyway.
Blushed? For Lachlan? Flynn was ten seconds away from either vomiting or rearranging the opposing team captain’s features.
“I was looking for you,” Abby told the man.
“You’ve come to your senses then and realized you could do a whole lot better than this one?” Lachlan cocked his head at Flynn.
“That’s it!” Flynn launched himself at the cocky, woman-stealing, arrogant, smarmy… Two sets of arms suddenly held him back. His cousin Matt and his brother, Harry, had obviously been on standby just in case Flynn blew—traitors.
“Rein it in.” Matt’s voice was low and calm in Flynn’s ear. “Beat him on the pitch, where it counts.”
Aye, that advice might have worked when they were kids. Now Flynn thought it counted more to beat Lachlan in reality. And from the mocking laughter in Lachlan’s eyes, he knew exactly what Flynn was thinking.
“Behave yourself,” Abby scolded her fiancé instead of the bastard flirting with her. “I only want to talk to Lachy about the house extension.”
“He’s not working on our house.” Flynn glared at the builder.
“Don’t be such a baby,” Abby told him.
“Aye, away and grow up,” Lachlan said with a grin.
Flynn pointed a finger at his face. “No goal head start. No advantage going in whatsoever. We’re gonna wipe the pitch with your faces.”
“I don’t think so.” Lachlan’s pretty-boy features brimmed with amusement. “You’ve no’ met the rest of my team yet.” He glanced over at the changing block. “Here they come now.”
Dread pooling in Flynn’s stomach, he turned in the direction Lachlan pointed and exploded, “Hell, no! I don’t think so!”
Because, dressed in Invertary Invaders shirts, three women walked toward the pitch. Jena Donaldson, his cousin Matt’s wife and accident-prone DIYer. And Matt’s younger twin sisters: Claire and Megan. All grinned excitedly at them.
“Don’t I look cute?” Jena rushed to her husband’s side.
Matt seemed to be caught between drooling over his curvy wife and expressing his annoyance. Irritation finally won out. “What the hell are you doing playing for the opposition?”
Jena pouted. “Flynn wouldn’t let girls on your team, but Lachlan didn’t mind.”
“I bet he didn’t.” Matt took a step toward the smug-faced captain of the opposing team.
Flynn smacked a restraining hand in the middle of his cousin’s chest. “Beat him on the pitch, where it counts,” he said with heavy sarcasm.
“I’m beginning to see how annoying that advice is,” Matt muttered.
Matt’s sister Megan rolled her eyes. “You’re all just scared because you know the real sporting talent in this family lies with the women.”
Flynn was about to argue that point when a roar went up from the goal behind him, and the man-mountain that was Grunt came charging down the pitch toward them. Everyone, except Claire, took several steps back, away from the irate American. She skipped toward him.
“Don’t I look great?” She bounced in front of her frowning husband.
“Baby,” was all Grunt said, but Claire must have taken it as a compliment because she squealed with delight and wrapped her arms around him.
Grunt glared at the players on his team. “Anybody lays a finger on my wife, they get their head ripped off.”
A wail of outrage sounded from Flynn’s team as the opposing team’s captain laughed.
“How are we supposed to play properly if we can’t tackle Claire?” Josh demanded.
Grunt shrugged, making it clear it wasn’t his problem.
“You heard him, boys,” Lachlan called to his brothers, who lined up behind him, grinning like lemmings. “Our tactic is to get the ball to Claire.”
The opposing team cheered.
Flynn studied the sky, looking for strength from above. He never had these problems when he was in the Premier League.
“Are we getting this game started or what?” Archie McPherson, their referee, demanded. “I’ve got a game of dominoes over lunch.”
Flynn took his eyes off the sky to look at Archie and instantly regretted it. The old man was dressed in a luminous blue tracksuit, the legs of which were tucked into white socks that he wore with brown leather slippers. 
Archie caught Flynn staring at his slipper-clad feet. “What?” he demanded. “I’ve got bunions.”
“This whole thing is a farce,” Flynn muttered.
“Then let’s get it over with.” Archie stalked to the center of the pitch.
There was nothing to do but follow. A few minutes later, the game was underway.
And it was the longest ninety minutes of Flynn’s life.
Jena accidentally tripped Josh, which sent him limping out of the game and left the team a player down. Megan seemed to spend more time kicking her brother’s shins than actually aiming for the ball. Their referee abandoned running up and down the pitch to follow the game because it made him double over and wheeze. Instead, he blew his whistle from his position in a deckchair on the sideline while sipping coffee and eating cake.
And Claire scored seventeen goals.
Every time she took possession of the ball, she’d slowly dribble it up the pitch, unimpeded by Flynn’s team who cowered under the glaring eye of her husband. Then, when she reached the goal, Grunt smiled encouragingly and stepped out of the way. When she unsurprisingly scored, she threw herself into Grunt’s arms and basked in his praise.
For scoring in an open goal.
Once, Claire’s shot went wide and missed entirely. To Flynn’s utter disgust, Grunt just retrieved the ball, handed it to her, and told her to try again. When his team objected, he’d folded his arms and scowled at them, while Claire concentrated on hitting her target.
“This isn’t a game,” Matt said from beside Flynn as Claire scored again. “It’s a bloody travesty.”
He wasn’t wrong.
At long last, Archie blew the final whistle, and the opposition celebrated with hugs all round—except for Claire. None of the men dared touch her with Grunt glowering at them.
“So,” Lachlan said as he ambled over to Flynn, “I believe the deal was that the losing side bought lunch for the winners.” He rubbed his stomach. “Have to say, that game definitely worked up an appetite.”
“You’re an arsehole,” Flynn told him. “And we both know you couldn’t beat me in a fair game.”
Lachlan scoffed. “The game is irrelevant. I’ve been wiping the floor with you since we were kids.”
“Aye, in your dreams.” Flynn put his hands on his hips to keep from striking out. “Golf. Next Saturday. Loser buys the beer.”
“Good job you’re loaded. You’ll be needing the money to cover the bar tab I run up when I win.” With a smug smile, the bastard sauntered away.
Claire came bouncing up to Flynn. “I scored seventeen goals! Can you believe it?”
Before he could tell her exactly what he thought of those goals, Grunt appeared behind her.
“Aye,” Flynn said, his gaze on Grunt. “I can totally believe you scored seventeen bloody goals.” He pointed at his useless goalie. “You’re fired.”
Grunt grunted. Which Flynn took to mean he didn’t give a crap about anything other than his wife’s happy smile.
As Flynn watched his dejected team drag themselves off the pitch, his five-year-old soon-to-be adopted daughter came to stand beside him. Katy folded her arms and gave him a look of utter disappointment.
“I told you this would happen,” she said primly.
“No, you didn’t.”
“Did too.” She stuck her chin in the air.
“Did not. You said you should be the referee because Archie would probably die.”
“Aaaaaaand, I told you that not letting Auntie Jena and Auntie Megan and Auntie Claire on the team was a big mistake. Just because they’re girls doesn’t mean they can’t play football better than the boys.”
“I know. I’m the one who told you that. I’m also the one who told you that having those particular women on our team would cause chaos. I didn’t realize they’d sign up for the opposing side and ruin the damn match anyway.”
Katy shook her head in disgust. “If Auntie Claire had been on our side, Uncle Grunt would have made sure her goals got past the other team.”
“Which isn’t how this game’s played,” he pointed out. “That wasn’t football. It was twenty players being held hostage by an overgrown American so his wife wouldn’t break a nail while he pandered to her.”
Katy blinked at him. “I don’t know what that means.”
He heaved a sigh. “It means Grunt’s off the team, and we’re never playing the Invertary Invaders ever again.”
She slipped her hand into his. “Let’s go get ice cream. It always makes me feel better when I lose at games.”
“I didn’t lose.”
The look she gave him was filled with pity. “Okaaaaay. You didn’t lose.” She patted his arm. “Maybe next time, the other team will let you win.”
Flynn groaned. “If I buy you a double scoop cone, will you stop talking?”
“With a flake? And sprinkles?”
“Bloody extortionist,” Flynn grumbled as they headed to the high street, where he not only had to buy lunch for the opposition but also ice cream for The Terrorist.
The only thing he was thankful for was that David Beckham hadn’t been there to witness his humiliation.
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