Today I am so pleased to welcome R.L. Merrill to Joyfully Jay. R.L. has come to talk to us about her latest release, Everything’s Better with You. She has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Greetings and thank you for joining me to learn more about my small-town, seasoned, MM sports romance, Everything’s Better With You. I’m Ro and usually, you can find me writing Rock ‘n’ Romance or supernatural tales to make you swoon and shiver. This book marks the first time I’ve delved into my love/hate relationship with football, but not the first time I’ve written about a dancer/cheerleader. In my books Teacher and The Heart Knows I wrote about cheer and dance as a way to reminisce about those periods of my life.
In regards to football…I’ve spent many a weekend cheering at games. I absolutely LOVE football movies, but I loathe all the negativity around the NFL. I am terrified of the damage being done to young players’ bodies that they will pay for the rest of their lives. And don’t get me started about toxic masculinity… So I wrote this book, and I put it all out there. Here’s an excerpt for you:
Leslie is in Dallas after his last appearance on the Post-Game Wrap Up show and, like they’ve done for fifteen years, they’re cussing and discussing life over the phone with thousands of miles between them. Joe has just been at the bar with Leslie’s younger brothers after he’s led an epic practice for the football players.
I hope you’ll give my first sports romance a read and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. These two still make me smile every time I touch this manuscript! Thanks again and Stay Tuned for more…
“You need to get some rest,” Joe said. “You’ve got a big job when you get back. Your players, man…” He rolled his eyes and whistled, shaking his head. “Out of shape. They need work.”
Leslie barked out a laugh. “I’ve only had the whole team for a couple of practices. Don’t worry. They’ll be in tip-top shape for our first game Friday. Question is, will your team be ready to cheer them on to victory?”
“Oh we’ll be ready. We’ve got tryouts Wednesday. We’ll likely just be in t-shirts for Friday’s game, but we’ll be ready to bring it.”
“And soon we’ll gallivant.”
Joe grinned. “Soon we’ll gallivant. A for real date. I can’t wait.”
“Me neither. You need to get home before some wayward tractor runs you over or something random like that.”
Joe looked around. “It’s beyond dead out here. I think maybe four cars have passed the whole time we’ve been talking. Fine, I’ll start walking. Stay on the phone with me, though. You know, in case I get lost.”
They both laughed at that. Ayre Valley was tiny. A main street with one stoplight and a population of approximately three thousand five hundred people, not including the students living on campus, which made up another thousand. Joe had to cross the main road and walk about a half mile through houses before he’d be on campus, and then it was about a quarter mile to his apartment in the dorm. They traded jabs about each other’s teams and Joe filled him in further on practice that afternoon.
“Your players reached out to Terrell, but I really hope they cut him some slack about his choice to focus on dance rather than football. It’s a sensitive subject for him.”
“I get it. I will nip it in the bud if I hear anything. I’m not going to tolerate any homophobic bullshit, you know that.”
“Yeah, and Randy made that clear. Some of the players changed their tune after hearing they would be off the team. I’m so glad. I hoped it wouldn’t be a big thing, you know? That they’d just shut up and work, and they did. But for Terrell…he had some incidents in the past. Kids trying to rough him up, you know…”
“No, I didn’t. I can’t believe his teammates—”
“They never came right out and beat him up, but they got physical. To test him. Some fucking guys just have to push.”
Joe was holding the phone out in front of him and watching where he was going, but Leslie could see the set of his jaw in the streetlight.
“You talk like you know from experience.”
Joe groaned. “Old news. I told you I hated football players when you met me, remember?”
“I do,” Leslie said. “I remember you saying we were all ‘homophobic misogynists playing a homoerotic sport with homo erectus brains and homogenous stupidity.’ Am I leaving anything out?”
Joe snorted. “No. I think that was about right. And yeah, you changed my mind about certain football players, but Les, you have to admit many of your brethren are notorious for bad behavior.”
“I cannot argue with that,” Leslie said, picking up an edge in Joe’s voice.
“You can’t because it’s true. I can tell you…well, it’s true.”
“Since we’re being open and honest while thousands of miles stand between us,” Leslie said, hoping he wasn’t pushing his luck. “Did someone hurt you, Joe? I’ve always wondered.”
Joe blew out a harsh breath as he came to a stop, looked both ways, and continued to walk, this time a little more forcefully it seemed.
“Yeah, Leslie, I’ve had to fight off the unwanted advances and tests of my manhood by more than one professional athlete. And before you ask, yes, I was successful in evading them. But how many guys like me aren’t? How many gay men have been bullied and abused by other men who are so frightened someone will discover they’re not as masculine as they purport themselves to be? It fucking pisses me off to no end. You know, that’s part of the reason I took this damn job. Marti reminded me of the shit Terrell had been through and was worried about him starting college and having to go through the same shit.”
Leslie cursed and pressed his fingers into his forehead just above the eyebrows. “It’s gotta stop. I’m not going to let anyone get hurt like that, not on my watch.”
“You can’t be everywhere, though. All you can do is lead by example and when someone fucks up, show them no mercy. If more of these assholes had limits set for them when they were younger, who knows? Maybe things would be better.”
Their beautiful conversation had turned dark, but Leslie counted it as a win that Joe was finally opening up to him. He just wished he was there before him, beside him, to walk with him and show him how serious this was to him. All of it.
“You know, talking with you all of these years changed me in a lot of ways, but probably the most important was that you gave me the motivation to confront toxic masculinity and stop letting it get past me. There’s gotta be a way to change this terrible dynamic in our corner of society or at least make a dent.”
Joe sighed and smiled, still not looking at the phone. “If anyone can do it, it’s you. Dammit Leslie, you’ve changed my mind from thinking it will never get better to having hope. Why do you do this to me? Before I met you, I was content being this pessimistic ogre and you make me see things can be better. Why, dammit, why?”
Leslie burst out laughing, which made Joe laugh, and the tension was gone.
“You make it to campus yet?”
“Almost. I’m near Jacket Pond. Man, that little house was going to be fun,” Joe said. “I love that you had it all ready for me.”
“I hate that it was ruined. I heard from Brother Barry that they’re going to have to rebuild all three cottages from the ground up. Too much structural damage.”
“Oh. Man. Oh well. The dorm isn’t so bad. I don’t have to set an alarm, I have the shortest commute ever, and I don’t even have to cook if I don’t want to continue eating clean.”
“Look at you, all positive and shit,” Leslie said with a laugh. “We’ll figure something out if you want to get off campus. Maybe there’s a house for rent—”
“It’s fine,” Joe said. “At least I can sneak off campus, right? And gallivant.”
Leslie flushed and his slacks were real tight now. He thought about Joe’s last visit to his house, and he thought about what might happen if he actually came inside next time. What if he spent the night? What if he…moved in?
But he was getting ahead of himself and he needed to slow down.
Slow and steady wins the race, Payton.
Everything’s Better With You is a TED LASSO-inspired sports-themed funny romance featuring two guys who’ve pined for each other for 15 years while their careers soared and their bodies fell apart.
Retired quarterback and “nicest guy in the NFL” Leslie Payton met former college cheerleader-turned-reality-show darling Joe Judd fifteen years ago. They spent one magical night…talking. They’ve been pining for each other via text and phone calls ever since while their careers kept them geographically apart. When their alma mater recruits them to reinvigorate a flagging athletic program, Leslie sees his opportunity to finally have Joe close enough to see if their “what if” can become a reality. And the sooner the better before Leslie’s history of Traumatic Brain Injury catches up to him and he’s unable to be a true partner.
Joe has spent their years apart dancing in every gig offered to him, knowing full well the clock is ticking on his body’s ability to continue taking the abuse. Leslie wants forever to start now, and Joe doesn’t have that luxury, though Leslie makes him want things he’s never allowed himself to dream of with anyone else. But a lifetime of only feeling worthwhile for his performance ability makes him doubt whether he could ever be a good coach or enough of a partner for the best man he’s ever known.
As football and cheer coaches, they’re forced to be rivals in public, but behind closed doors, their chemistry is unstoppable. A wager triggers their competitive sides, but the secrets they keep come to light and present them with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Can they finally meet on the relationship 50-yard line and move forward as a team?
Warnings: discussion of past domestic violence that happens off page, not graphic
Whether she’s writing contemporary romance featuring quirky, queer, and relatable characters or diving deep into the supernatural to give readers a shiver, R.L. Merrill loves creating compelling stories that will stay with readers long after closing the book.
Ro writes inclusive romance for the Happily Ever After collective, contributes paranormal hilarity to Robyn Peterman’s Magic and Mayhem Universe, and pens horror-inspired tales and music reviews for HorrorAddicts.net.
A mom, wife, daughter, and former educator, you can find her rocking out in her Bronco with Great Dane pup Velma, being terrorized by feline twins Dracula and Frankenstein, or headbanging at a rock show near her home in the San Francisco Bay Area! Stay Tuned for more…
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R.L. is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card with this tour:
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