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Practice Run (The Bancrofts Book 5)

Practice Run (The Bancrofts Book 5)

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I just can't get you out of my head. I should start charging you rent... Rising track star Marcus Bancroft had many reasons to avoid Mount Faith. However, returning to his old home was now a compulsion because he had developed an instant attraction to the beautiful Deidra Durkheim. Unfortunately, home became a dangerous place. He was the victim of a deliberate hit and run that could potentially end his career and bring disastrous changes to his life.
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Chapter One

Marcus! Marcus! The crowd in Miami Stadium was cheering wildly as he mugged for the camera. It was the beginning of the 400m race, and he was the favorite to win. He had already won the 800m and was eager to see if he could double his medal count. If he won this race, he would be at the top of the American League points standing. He wanted this win to end the season in style.
He didn't know what it was about her that caught his eye, but she was standing beside his manager, at trackside, and was talking animatedly to him. The cameras moved off him as the other runners were introduced; he took the opportunity to drink her in. She must have felt his eyes on her because she turned around and looked at him.
She waved to him cheerfully and gave him a thumbs-up. He nodded and refocused his mind. He needed to put his mind back in the game; single-minded focus won races, not thinking about the pretty girls at trackside.
On your mark, set, and the gun went off. He ran the first one hundred meters on par with the rest of the field. He paced himself for the next hundred meters, and held his form around the last corner, coming into the home stretch. At the three-hundred-meter mark, he was ahead and found the extra energy to blast past the finished line—he had won again.
Adrenalin pumping and sweat pouring down his face unchecked, he grabbed the bouquet of flowers that was handed to him by the meet usher and gave his victory wave.
Race over; he had conquered another one and was happy, but his mood improved a notch when he saw her on the television waving and jumping up beside his manager. Who was she? He needed to know.
"Oh, Shugs, you did it again!" His girlfriend, Tiffany, hugged him when he finally entered the general area near the changing rooms after giving several interviews.
"Hey," he grinned at Tiffany, "thanks."
"Good job." His manager came over to him. Beside his manager was the girl: tall, naturally curly hair tumbling below her shoulders, dark brown eyes, and a come-hither smile.
He nodded to her.
She nodded back. "I am Deidra Durkheim." She smiled at him, showing off her perfect teeth. "I was dying to meet you in person."
"Well, I am Marcus Bancroft," he said, holding out his hand. "It's nice to meet you."
The first contact between their fingers was electric. He almost dragged his hand from hers to see if she had some kind of shocking device in her hand. Was this a trick?
She was looking at him, puzzled. She felt the surge of electricity as well, he could tell. She had the same remnants of shock in her eyes as he did.
The silence thickened as they both stared at each other.
"Finally," Tiffany pouted. "Let's get out of here, Marcus. You promised that we could hang out after the race."
Marcus frowned. He had made no such promise, but Tiffany wanted him away from Deidra. He savored her name in his mind—Deidra.
"Want to come hang out with us?" He asked the question generally, looking at both Deidra and Kirk his manager. He didn't care if Kirk said yes. He wanted Deidra to say yes.
"Nah," Kirk said, "I have to make some calls; I need to sort out your travel schedule for the Diamond League events that you are supposed to participate in. And remember we take off for Brussels tomorrow, so no late night." He wagged his eyebrows at both him and Tiffany.
"See ya later." He walked off leaving Deidra.
Marcus nodded and looked at Deidra, his eyebrows raised.
She shook her head. "Don't want to be a third wheel. It was nice meeting you Marcus. I live with your family at Mount Faith, so I hear about you all the time. Of course, I was curious to meet the missing Bancroft. I am staying here in Miami for the summer, so I came by to see the race."
Tiffany cleared her throat impatiently, and Deidra looked at her. This girl was possessive and distrusting about any females that could get close to her precious Marcus. She was a tall girl, almost as tall as Marcus, and had an athletic build; she looked like she worked out. She had a smooth caramel complexion; her perfectly shaped eyebrows were scrunched up in a frown. She had them dyed a reddish brown as she did her hair, which was shaved off to less than an inch. The style fitted her perfectly shaped head.
She was very pretty in a bold kind of way, the sort of girl you could not fail to notice when she stepped into a room, especially as she was dressed in a skin-tight capri pants and a yellow and green midriff blouse with the name Marcus emblazoned across the front.
Marcus inclined his head and folded his arms. "Mount Faith huh?"
He turned to Tiffany and tried to moderate his voice so that he didn't sound too eager for her to leave. "Tiff, you are coming to Europe with me, aren't you?"
"Yes, of course," Tiffany said brightly, giving Deidra a smug smile that clearly translated, ‘see, he is mine, I go everywhere with him.’
"So, go pack. We leave early tomorrow," Marcus said, wanting to hurry her out of the stadium and away from him and Deidra. He wanted to satisfy his curiosity about Deidra and get to know her better. She lived with his family? How did that happen? With her jealousy, Tiffany would make his quest to get to know Deidra a next to impossible task.
Tiffany pouted, "But you promised to take me to that Khaled concert. It's near the hotel, and we can leave early enough to get some sleep before we leave for Brussels."
Marcus sighed. He had forgotten that he was a stickler about keeping promises, and as much as he wanted to shrug off Tiffany, he was a man of his word.
"Oh, that's canceled," Deidra said lightly. "They pushed down the dates to later this week. My aunt was quite happy with the date shift."
"What, how could they?" Tiffany glanced between her and Marcus and then gave Deidra the don't try anything with my man look.
"Well, meet me back at the hotel." She kissed Marcus in a long passionate drawn out kiss, which he didn't seem to enjoy, while Deidra stood looking at them. Tiffany had a patina of desperation clinging to her, not attractive in a woman. She should know. She laughed to herself silently. She had been just like that with Micah.
"Bye," Tiffany said to Marcus breathily and walked toward the exit sign.
"Wow," Deidra said, grinning. "What a show."
Marcus rolled his eyes. "That's Tiffy for you. I am going to shower, please wait for me."
"Sure," Deidra shrugged. "I am going to be sitting over there." She pointed to a bank of chairs near the exit and watched him as he walked off.
So, this was Marcus Bancroft in person? He was taller than he seemed on TV and more muscular than he appeared in the Bancroft family albums, but there was no mistaking that he was handsome, in a rugged sort of way.
He didn't resemble either of his brothers, Adrian nor Micah, except for the nose. He looked a little bit like, she scoured her head trying to remember any singers, movie stars or athletes she could compare him to as she walked toward the chairs.
She was so involved in sifting one or the other from her mind that she did not realize that the time had run by and Marcus was walking toward her, grinning; he had white, straight teeth. She remembered seeing him in braces in one of his teenage pictures. Then it hit her. With that smile and his leanly muscled physique, he resembled Lenny Kravitz; no, not really, she found Marcus better looking.
"Sorry, I took so long," Marcus said, approaching her.
"Oh no, not at all." Deidra stood up, "Did you drive?"
"Tiffy drove," Marcus said sheepishly. "I wasn't thinking; now we have to take the bus."
"Well, I drove," Deidra said grinning. "Where should we go now?"
"Miami Zoo," Marcus said, with a smile. "I had said the next time that I come to Miami I would go to the zoo, and it is pretty close to here."
"Are you serious?" Deidra laughed. "The macho quarter-miler, Marcus Bancroft, loves the zoo?"
"Yup," Marcus said. "I am an animal lover."
They headed out to the parking lot.
"When I was little, I wanted to be a vet. I used to bring home all the stray animals in the neighborhood and try to doctor them; because of that, I got a couple of dog bites and cat scratches. The poor animals were having none of my doctoring."
He laughed when he saw the car that she drove. "Really? A pink Cadillac."
Deidra giggled. "It's my great aunt's baby."
"So how come you are living with my family at Mount Faith?" Marcus asked the question that was burning at the back of his mind as they paid for their tickets and entered the zoo.
Deidra glanced at him sheepishly, "I did something pretty awful to Micah and was kicked out of my house by my father, and then Micah took pity on me, and your parents allowed me to stay at the house."
Marcus frowned and then chuckled. "You are the girl that sent him to jail? Are you serious? You are so gorgeous? Why do pretty girls like Micah?
Deidra giggled. "Not sure. Maybe it was madness."
"I heard the story some time ago." Marcus sighed. "Of course, I would have known that it was you if I visited home more often."
"So why don't you?" Deidra asked as they slowly walked toward the monkey habitat.
"When I think of home," Marcus frowned, "I think rules, stifling rules… church… Christianity. I can't bother with all of that. The last straw was when my Dad and I fought me piercing my ears." He touched his right ear and the loop within it. "He laid down the law. I can still remember him bellowing in the hallway, 'It's either my way or the highway!' So, I left. I had gotten a scholarship to study at The University of Technology and train with one of the top trainers in Jamaica, so I took it… left home at seventeen. It has been what? Six years? I am happy."
"Rules can be bothersome," Deidra said, contemplating Marcus. "For someone like me who didn't grow up with any, I have grown to appreciate them now, especially when it relates to Christianity. Even God has rules for us: ten of them."
"I know," Marcus said, "I pretty much broke every single one of them when I left home, and nothing has happened to me. In fact, I think I am doing much better without God and the religious mumbo-jumbo. I graduated school with honors, even though I train like it's going out of style."
Deidra stopped in the pathway. "Marcus please, don't talk like that! You know, I had the same attitude just a year ago; things can change pretty quickly… don't spit in the face of God so to speak."
Marcus shrugged. "I am not. I believe that Christians should not ram their Christianity down the throats of their children. Let them make up their own minds, make their own mistakes, and live their own lives."
Deidra smirked, "I don't agree. I grew up like that, free as a bird, and got to be as obnoxious and as bad as I wanted to be. It was not all that it is cut out to be. Having no rules and free reign can backfire. See, I am still trying to recover from my incredibly free childhood. Besides, because your parents rammed all of those nice values down your throat, you are a better person than you would have been if you didn't have them."
Marcus grinned. "You just delivered that lecture like a prissy school teacher. Quite unlike the girl that I would imagine sent Micah to jail. So why did you do it?"
"I was immature, and I made up my mind that I wanted Micah, and he made up his mind that he didn't want me. So, in the battle, I hatched a plan."
They sat on a bench, under a tree. Marcus was chuckling. "So are you two still together?"
"We were never together," Deidra said, looking at him appreciatively, "except in my mind."
"That's kind of hard to believe." Marcus looked at her. "You are beautiful and intelligent, and extremely sexy."
Deidra batted her eyelids in an exaggerated flutter. "I know, that's what I said."
"And modest," Marcus guffawed. "I wish we could get to know each other better. I like you."
Deidra shrugged. "I like you too, but I may be just a bit star struck. I can't believe I am sitting here and talking to the Marcus Bancroft. Besides, there is the whole issue of you having a possessive girlfriend; any female company around you might just get burned."
"Tiffany is quite a girl." Marcus chuckled. "We've been together now for three years."
"Since you started making headlines?" Deidra asked snidely. The thought of him and Tiffany made her jealous; the green-eyed monster was attacking her out of nowhere.
"About that time," Marcus relaxed onto the bench. "We started living together in my Kingston apartment last year. For the last two years, she has been going everywhere with me."
Deidra mumbled, "How sweet. When are you two getting married?"
"I don't know." Marcus shrugged. "My mom thinks we should as soon as possible. She harangues me about it every single time she calls."
"So what do you want?" Deidra asked, looking at him. His upturned face had the shadow of leaves from the tree overhead. He licked his lips, which were unnaturally red for a guy.
She restrained herself from touching him right there. He was talking about his girlfriend and their marriage.
"I want..." Marcus' eyes turned smoldering and sultry. "You."
Then he shifted his gaze. "But I was talking about my girlfriend, wasn't I?"
"Cheater," Deidra said softly.
"Never been tempted to cheat until now," Marcus said. "There is this chemistry thing between us. I felt it when we first touched."
"I felt it too," Deidra said, surprised he would talk about it so openly. She had been ready to dismiss it as one of those things.
Marcus took up her hand in his and interlaced their fingers. Her smaller palm fit in his comfortably. He examined her slender fingers. They were painted a pale lavender to match her blouse.
"Your sister, Kylie, keeps harping on about a perfect pair," Deidra said hoarsely, "and of course I rubbished her theory because I have never found somebody who makes my pulse beats in the same rhythm as mine."
Marcus looked down at their joined hands then brought her hand up to his and kissed it slowly. Deidra could feel the kiss all the way up her arms, and the impact from it traveled up her tingling spine.
Marcus released her fingers. "Our pulses are beating in tandem, isn't that rare?"
He turned fully and looked into Deidra's eyes. "I can't believe that today is the only day I'll have with you. I feel strange like suddenly I have found the missing puzzle piece from a jigsaw."
Deidra felt her ear getting hot. He had just poetically pinpointed what she felt as well.
"But," Marcus continued, "I am not a cheater." He brushed her cheek with his finger. "I am a man of my word. I hate disloyalty, so I don't dish it out."
Deidra inhaled until his finger trailed away from her skin, leaving it feverish in the wake of his touch. She cleared her throat, "I agree."
"Give me your number though," Marcus said, taking out his phone, "I'll call you from Europe. I have to finish out the rest of the season there, but, in September, I will be back in Kingston. After that, I have a couple of endorsement appearances in Africa."
Deidra raised her eyebrows. "Africa?"
Marcus nodded. "Apparently, I am big there. I will be back in Jamaica in December. I might," he stressed the might, "visit my folks in Mount Faith at that time."
Deidra nodded. "So I will see you then?"
"Most def'." Marcus ran his eyes all over her. "I am committing your face to memory until then."