Authors: Rhonda Shaw
By Rhonda Shaw
Book three of Men of the Show
Copyright © 2015 by Rhonda Shaw
Edited by Deborah Nemeth
Cover design by Lily Smith / coversbylily.com
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
By Rhonda Shaw
Book three of Men of the Show
Shannon Morrison’s dreams of becoming a lawyer are finally coming true. After landing a job at a prestigious law firm in Chicago, she’s willing to sacrifice everything, including putting her personal life on hold, as nothing will stand in her way of making partner. Nothing except perhaps the gorgeous Detroit Rockets’ All-Star catcher, Matt Buck.
Just when he didn’t think his luck would turn around, life finally throws Matt a fastball right down the middle, reconnecting him with the one girl who has always intrigued him. As before, the timing isn’t right, but Matt refuses to let this opportunity pass him by again. He knows Shannon’s career leaves little room for anything else in her life, but he’s unwilling to give in and will do whatever he can to make them work.
Together, Matt and Shannon struggle through one hurdle after another, determined to find a way to have everything they want. Just when they’ve finally figured it out, someone from Matt’s past shatters everything, and leaves them both grappling to pick up the pieces…
Many thanks to Mr. Greg Hoelscher and Dr. Steven Korotkin for their patience and tolerance as I hounded them with incessant questions about the law and medical fields. Their willingness to explain and clarify helped ensure my accuracy.
Matt Buck strolled up to home plate and dug in, trying to look as though he didn’t have a care in the world. The crowd was going wild. The game was down to the wire and the Detroit Rockets’ fans knew he was the last chance to save the season. Failure would mean the end, which was unacceptable. They refused to give up hope. If anyone could provide the much-needed lift, it was the All-Star catcher.
He’d been in this position before, was used to the pressure, but the sheer volume of the people yelling from the stands never failed to astound him. He ignored the frenzy, however. If he didn’t, he’d be a hot mess at the plate.
Behind by two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Cleveland Buffaloes, a loss today meant the Rockets would miss their chances of continuing into the playoffs and instead would be heading home for the winter. Matt couldn’t think about what was at stake, though. He needed to stick to the basics and let natural instinct take over. He had to focus on seeing the ball leave the pitcher’s hand, and once that occurred, everything else was routine, a deep-rooted reaction he’d honed over the years. He hadn’t won four Silver Slugger awards for nothing. As one of the best hitters in the game, he’d led the league in home runs multiple times and was clutch in situations such as this. He lived for these moments and thrived on the pressure.
Settling in his stance, he held the bat quietly over his right shoulder and waited patiently as the crowd noise faded away into the background. He had an inkling they were going to pitch him down and away, and he had to make certain not to chase. Sure enough, the throw came in outside the far left corner of the plate and the umpire called ball one.
He placed one foot outside the batter’s box, adjusted his bright red batting helmet with a white block
in the middle, and tugged on his white jersey with lettering in the same shade as his helmet, trying to keep the fit loose on his shoulders. Taking a deep breath through his nose, he stepped back into the small box next to home plate outlined in powdery chalk, awaiting the next pitch. The fastball caught the left corner of the plate for a strike, but patience was the name of the game. If he waited, he would get the perfect pitch.
Down the third-base line, the coach signaled to Matt he still had the green light to swing away and put the ball in play any way possible. Matt kicked at the dirt with his cleats and tapped his helmet in acknowledgement before stepping back in. He eyed the pitcher, and as the ball came hurtling toward home plate, it broke again and Matt laid off. No matter how hard they tried, he wasn’t going to swing at a bad pitch. He was determined and they could keep pitching him low and outside as much as they wanted.
The crowd grew louder with the count now two balls and one strike. At this point, they’d be happy with anything, even a walk. Anything other than an out.
The Cleveland pitcher wouldn’t purposefully dig himself into a hole any more than he needed to, however, so one of the next pitches was going to be the one. Even with first base open, the Buffaloes didn’t want to chance loading them up, especially since they only needed one more out. They could have gone with the pitch out on four straight pitches, walking Matt on purpose, but since the Rockets were an offensive threat throughout their entire lineup, they were taking a gamble with him.
Matt cleared his throat and returned to his stance. Again, all noise and commotion faded into the background, and his tunnel vision included only the pitcher and the ball. The pitcher went through his motion and Matt swore the ball was the size of a grapefruit as it came racing toward him.
This is it.
Instinct took over and he reacted, swinging with everything he had.
The ball soared through the air as everyone in the stadium stood up to will it out of the park. It had the height, but the distance was questionable. Matt made the turn at first base and continued to track the ball. The Cleveland center fielder gave chase and almost had the fence at his back. He put out his left hand to feel for the wall while he held up his glove.
“Damn it,” Matt muttered. The ball wasn’t going to make it. The center field at Rockets stadium was extremely deep at over four hundred and twenty feet, and he’d missed by mere inches.
With his back against the wall, the outfielder reached up and snagged the ball, closing the door on the Detroit Rockets’ season. The Buffaloes all ran out onto the field to celebrate as Matt, struggling to ignore them, stopped when he reached second base and took off his helmet. He hung his head and kicked the bag. A chorus of boos rang out from the crowd, and he tried not to notice, but it was hard. The ball should have been out of here.
Walking slowly toward the dugout, he shrugged off the pats on his back and ignored his teammates’ encouraging words. Instead, all he heard was the berating voice in his head lecturing that his approach should have been different. What or how, he had no idea, but surely he could have done something to ensure the ball left the stadium, cementing the win for the Rockets. But it hadn’t, and now it didn’t matter.
The season was over and he was heading home for the winter. Like it or not, he’d failed.
Returning home that night, Matt tossed his gym bag on the floor in the laundry room and stepped into the kitchen, hitting the light switch as he walked over to the fridge. As he poked through his slim options for dinner, a noise sounded from the other room like someone was opening the front door.
He straightened and frowned, listening. He was grouchy and this person was entering at his or her own risk, as far as he was concerned. Tough losses were part of the game, that was how it rolled, but for whatever reason, this time nagged at him. His teammate and good friend, Ace pitcher, Jerry Smutton, tried to remind him that their season hadn’t ended with his at-bat, but Matt was tired of this “close enough” bullshit. He wanted them to win the pennant and he was willing to give all he had in order to make it happen.
When the deadbolt clicked, he ground his teeth and hissed in a breath, so not in the mood to deal with whatever was going on. He should be worried someone was entering his home, or at the very least uneasy, but anger consumed him instead and he threw the refrigerator door shut, his long legs quickly eating up the space between the kitchen and the front of the house. Matt entered the entryway at the same time the door opened revealing Natalie, his ex-girlfriend. He stopped in shock, a few choice words on the tip of his tongue, but unable to articulate any of them, when she glanced up.
“Oh, you poor thing,” she said with a pout. “I came as soon as I saw what happened.”
She walked over and wrapped her arms around his waist, giving him a squeeze.
He was so stunned that he had no idea what to do, what to say. It was as if nothing had changed and she was here playing the comforting role of the supportive girlfriend. Unbelievable.
A few months back, he’d ended things with her, tired of her possessiveness and incessant accusations of him cheating on her while he was on the road. According to her, he kept a different woman in each city, a ludicrous statement because he was nothing but loyal and he never, ever considered straying. The breakup hadn’t been amicable and it had taken some work to get her to stop contacting him, but he’d believed she’d finally gotten the hint. Apparently not.
She hugged him a little tighter, which kicked him into gear. Grabbing her shoulders, he wrenched her away and stepped back, putting some distance between them.
“What are you doing?” he asked. “Why are you here?”
“I’m here for you,” she said with earnest big brown eyes. “I knew you’d be upset after the game and I wanted to be here to support you.”
“No, no.” He shook his head, not understanding how she was not getting this. “No. This is not how this works. We are done. Over. Through. As in, you don’t come here anymore. We don’t see each other anymore.”
He glanced at the front door. “How the fuck did you get another key?”
“Seriously, Matt, come on,” she said with a smile as she started to walk past him to the kitchen. “I’ll fix you something to eat and we can talk—”
He grabbed her arm, stopping her in her tracks. “You need to leave.”
She tugged, but he wouldn’t loosen his grip. “Knock it off. This isn’t funny.”
Matt gave her a cold stare, letting her know he was serious. He refused to go through this again. He’d already changed his cell phone and home numbers twice. “No, this isn’t funny. Not at all.”
He pulled her back to the front door, paying no attention to her struggles as she dragged her feet and attempted to twist out of his tight hold. “Don’t come here again, Natalie. I’m serious. We’re through.”
Ignoring the look of shock on her face, he pushed her outside and slammed the door shut, engaged the lock, and took a deep breath as he leaned against the hard wood, running his fingers through his short hair. He couldn’t believe she actually showed up…at his house. He’d demanded she hand over her copy of his house key before, but apparently, she’d had additional ones made.
What wasn’t she getting?
Why was she continuing to act as if everything was the same?
She drove him mad and he had no clue what else to do to get it through her head. If she refused to believe him or hoped she could convince him otherwise, he wasn’t sure there
anything else he could say. He didn’t love her, he didn’t want to be with her, and he didn’t know any other way to tell her things were over.
Nothing from the get-go with her had triggered any alarms. Everything had been fun in the beginning and they’d really enjoyed each other. They liked the same things, never finding it difficult to talk about anything, which led to him wanting to progress to the next level. Natalie was ecstatic when he asked her to move in with him. And not long afterward, the problems started.
Eventually, Matt reached his breaking point, pretty much around the time he started acting like a hermit simply in order to avoid the drama, and threw her out, thankful that was the end of it. Little did he know he’d still be dealing with her all this time later. He wasn’t comfortable with the control being out of his hands, but he’d deal with it somehow.