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Authors: Rhonda Shaw

The Ace

BOOK: The Ace
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The Ace
By Rhonda Shaw

Book two of Men of the Show

“Love ’em and leave ’em” has been real estate agent Karen Bently’s motto for as long as she can remember. She doesn’t need a man, except to make her toes curl. Or so she thought, until her longtime crush, Ace pitcher Jerry Smutton, sets his sights on her.

After signing one of the largest baseball contracts in history with the Detroit Rockets, Jerry enlists Karen to help him find the house of his dreams. Their connection is instant and electric, but neither of them is the relationship type. When Jerry proposes a friends-with-benefits arrangement, that suits Karen just fine.

Passionate sleepovers soon turn into long, romantic evenings... Still, Karen and Jerry refuse to acknowledge they’re a couple. Karen insists that she’s immune to Jerry’s heart-melting charm. Jerry’s not ready to settle down. Denial is the name of the game, until one pitch changes everything...

Meet Jerry’s teammate Chase Patton in
The Changeup!

76,000 words

Dear Reader,

I’m jumping right into it this month because
New York Times
bestselling author Shannon Stacey’s next book in the Kowalski series is out in both digital and print at the end of April.
Taken with You
is the story of girlie-girl librarian, Hailey. She’s easy to get along with, is a small-town girl who loves where she lives, but she also loves nice clothes and fine dining and is looking for a guy who will be there when she comes home at night, and who will dress up and take her out to something a little more upscale than the local diner. It’s also the story of Matt, a hunky forest ranger who loves the outdoors, loves his dog, and is looking for a woman who doesn’t mind his erratic hours, will take a muddy ride on an ATV and won’t kick him out of the house when he walks in covered in dirt. Needless to say, these two opposites attract when Matt moves in next door to Hailey, and their story will take you on a wonderful romantic rollercoaster that will leave you with that happy-book sigh at the end.

If you love the TV show
Scandal
, have I got a new series for you. In Emma Barry’s Washington, D.C.-set, politically charged
Special Interests
, a shy labor organizer and an arrogant congressional aide clash over the federal budget but find love the more difficult negotiation.

April also brings a week of sports-related romance releases at Carina Press and we have six fantastic, very different contemporary sports romances being added to our already fantastic sports romance lineup. Allison Parr’s
Imaginary Lines
continues her new adult series. Tamar fell hopelessly in love with Abraham Krasner at age twelve, but knew he’d never see her as more than the girl next door—until years later, she gets a sports journalist position covering the NFL team Abe plays for...

Author Michele Mannon follows up
Knock Out
with
Tap Out
. Underwear model and playboy extraordinaire Caden Kelly will let nothing stop his come-back as an MMA fighter, especially a red-headed busy-bodied reporter hell bent on ruining his shot at a title. Meanwhile, Kat Latham writes the London Legends series about the world’s hottest rugby team. Book two,
Playing It Close
, features the team captain and a scandalous woman with whom he spent one passioate night and never thought he’d see again—until she turns out to be his team’s newest sponsor.

Kate Willoughby brings the on-the-ice action when a hunky hockey player falls helmet over skates for a nurse, but has to convince her he’s not the typical different-puck-bunny-every-day athlete in
On the Surface
. In a much warmer-weather sport, professional tennis player Regan Hunter’s temper is as notorious as her unstoppable serve, but love and ambition will go head-to-head when she meets former player-turned-coach Ben Percy. Check out
Love in Straight Sets
by Rebecca Crowley.

And because we can’t leave out America’s favorite sport, Rhonda Shaw’s
The Ace
brings us a sexy baseball romance in a follow-up to her debut,
The Changeup
. “Love ’em and leave ’em” is real estate agent Karen Bently’s motto—that is until her longtime crush, ace pitcher Jerry Smutton, sets her in his sights and offers her a proposal she can’t resist.

But it’s not all contemporary romance all the time in April. We have an eclectic selection of books from a lineup of talented authors (as always, right?). R.L. Naquin is back with her popular Monster Haven series. If you haven’t checked out this fun, sometimes zany, but always adorable series, look for book one,
Monster in My Closet
, at all of our retail digital partners. This month’s installment,
Golem in My Glovebox
, finds crazy shenanigans mixed with a gruesome, cross-country trail of clues, as Zoey and Riley attempt to save the rest of the country’s Aegises—and ultimately, Zoey’s lost mother.

PJ Schnyder is wrapping up her London Undead trilogy with
Survive to Dawn
, in which werewolf and pack medic, Danny, must choose between his Alpha’s orders and the human witch who might have the cure to the zombie plague. And in the second installment of the Once Upon a Red World science fiction romance saga from Jael Wye, the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk unfolds on a devastated Earth 300 years in the future in
Ladder to the Red Star
.

A.J. Larrieu debuts with her first full-length paranormal romance novel,
Twisted Miracles
. A reluctant telekinetic is drawn back to New Orleans’ supernatural underworld when her friend goes missing, but once she’s there, she finds her powers—and her attraction to the sexy ex-boyfriend who trained her—are stronger than ever. Talented fantasy author Angela Highland is back with Rebels of Adalonia book two in her epic fantasy
Vengeance of the Hunter
. As rebellion ignites across Adalonia, the healer Faanshi must save both the Hawk Kestar Vaarsen and the assassin Julian—the one from magical annihilation at the hands of his Church, and the other from a path of revenge.

For mystery fans, we welcome author Delynn Royer to Carina Press with her book,
It Had to Be You
. An ambitious tabloid reporter stumbles upon the story of her career when she joins up with a jaded homicide detective to solve the Central Park murder of a notorious bootlegger in 1920s Manhattan.

Rounding out the April lineup is a book for all Regency historical romance fans. Wendy Soliman’s Forsters series wraps up with
Romancing the Runaway
. When Miranda and Gabe discover her childhood home has been stripped of all its valuables, Gabe uncovers more to the old house than either of them had imagined. And with Gabe’s safety hanging in the balance, Miranda is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice...

I’m confident you’ll find something to love among these books and I hope we provide you with many hours of reading enjoyment and escape from the neverending dishes!

Coming next month: Fan favorite male/male author Josh Lanyon, an amazing science fiction lineup, more sexy cowboys and hot moments from Leah Braemel and so much more!

Here’s wishing you a wonderful month of books you love, remember and recommend.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Editorial Director, Carina Press

Dedication

“A friend is one with whom you are comfortable, to whom you are loyal, through whom you are blessed, and for whom you are grateful.”

—William Arthur Ward

To my friend of more than thirty years—Melanie.
I am blessed and eternally grateful.

Chapter One

This was getting ridiculous. No, it was beyond ridiculous, it was insane. This was the third time she’d shown him the same house and he was still hemming and hawing. Karen Bently was about to scream.

Careful to stay out of her client’s way, Karen bit the inside of her cheek in order to stop herself from saying what was really on her mind. She didn’t have any problems finding the perfect houses to show her clients, getting them to make an offer or even sign on the dotted line, despite the tough economy. No, what was hardest for her was to keep her big mouth shut and her thoughts to herself, especially when dealing with idiots like the one in front of her. Honestly, if after looking at the same house a third time you still didn’t think it was the right one for you, for the love of God, move on.

“I know you think it’s silly that I keep asking to see this place,” he said with a quiet titter as he slowly walked from room to room.

Karen smiled tightly. “No, no. Don’t worry about it. We can come back here fifty times if that’s what it takes, Mr. Schnell.” There were plenty of other houses on the market available for him to look at, but he insisted on returning over and over again to this small bungalow, even though he never had anything positive to say about the quaint home.

“Well, I hope it doesn’t take that many!” He giggled.

She rolled her blue eyes at the back of his balding head and watched his short, chubby body disappear around the corner. If he asked to come back a fourth time, she might have to hurt the man.

She could tell him he needed to find another agent, but she wasn’t going to do that. Karen knew in her gut he wasn’t a lookie loo, he was going to buy a place and when he did, she would receive her cut of the selling price—more than sufficient payback for the annoyance of having to deal with him. Since the market was painfully slow in the Detroit area and its surrounding suburbs—flush with homes but with buyers nearly nonexistent—she needed every bite she could get.

Stopping in front of the arched mirror hanging over a wooden entry table in the hallway, Karen checked her reflection. She tucked a few errant strands of tawny blond hair back into the French twist she’d set that morning and tugged on her conservative plum suit jacket. She’d selected the dark blazer, worn over a shell-colored silk tank, because it brought out the golden tones of her skin. She pressed up on her breasts and arched an eyebrow. Maybe if she showed more cleavage she could close the deal and be through with the creep. Something to think about at least.

There were times when she hated her job. Even with the flexible schedule and the rare big payout, she still sometimes wished she did something else—like cooking. She was an excellent cook, if she did say so herself, and loved nothing more than letting her creativity run free in the kitchen.

But fate had rudely shown that path wasn’t for her and since she wasn’t one to dwell, she’d moved on and found a different course. She was good at what she did, made it as enjoyable as possible, accepting that cooking was only a hobby for her, something she did for close friends and family. She was fine with that, really; she probably just needed an attitude adjustment, as Maddie insisted all the time.

Karen smiled as she thought about her best friend. Maddie was on cloud nine with her new fiancé, Chase Patton, a starting pitcher for the Detroit Rockets. They’d fallen in love despite a significant age difference...which turned out not to be their biggest obstacle. When Maddie’s custody of her daughter, Bree, had been threatened because of the relationship, she’d tried to break things off with Chase, but he hadn’t been willing to let her throw in the towel so easily. They’d traveled a rough road to get to where they were now—many tears shed and harsh words uttered—but it had all been worth it. Of course, Karen couldn’t give Chase
all
the credit, not when she’d done her share of manipulations behind the scenes in order to help Maddie get her act together and stop being a fool.

Now that Maddie had found her “one,” however, she was determined to find someone for Karen to settle down with. But Karen wasn’t going down that road. Oh, no. She was plenty happy with her life—no strings, no attachments, no commitments. She could come and go as she pleased, and be with whom she pleased when she pleased.

Right now, unfortunately, that was no one. Danny, her ex, had started to get too comfortable, staying at her place all of the time, practically living with her, becoming a leech, and that only meant one thing—it was time to show him the door, which she’d promptly done. Once Maddie found out that Danny was out of the picture, Karen knew she was going to hear how she was avoiding a committed relationship—again. It was her life, not Maddie’s, and just because her friend saw love everywhere, she sometimes forgot that not everyone else had on heart-shaped, rose-colored glasses.

When she couldn’t hear Mr. Schnell walking around anymore, she decided she should find him. They needed to have a little chat—was he going to buy the frickin’ place or not?

Karen walked down the hallway that ran the short length of the house, her footsteps muffled by the plush, navy carpeting. She glanced through the bathroom doorway and stopped short when she spotted her client closely inspecting the inside of the toilet. What the...seriously?

“Everything all right in here?”

He jumped, startled by her approach, and dropped the hard seat with a loud clang. “Oh, yes! Just making sure everything’s working like it should.”

Chuckling uncomfortably, he avoided eye contact as he sidestepped past her, shoving his thick, black-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose. As he strolled down the hallway toward the front door, he called over his shoulder, “I think I’m ready to head out.”

Karen frowned and gave a wary glance back at the toilet. What in the hell was he looking at? The man was obviously sick.

She sighed as she leaned against the door frame. What had her life come to? Thirty-four years old and she had to make her living following around old, disgusting men who examined the inside of a stranger’s toilet.

Thank God she carried a can of pepper spray. She would gladly pull that sucker out if needed. She took another deep breath and pushed herself away from the wall, following Mr. Schnell out the door. Perhaps she should try to get her hands on a Taser now that they were legal in Michigan. She had a feeling she would need it one day, the way her luck was going.

* * *

“What? Why the hell would he be looking in the toilet? That’s disgusting!”

“Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe he has some sort of bizarre, repulsive fetish,” Karen said as she studied the dark red wine in her glass. “The man obviously has something wrong with him.”

She’d stopped at Maddie’s after dropping off Mr. Creep and they sat in her living room enjoying a glass of their favorite merlot.

“Ewww,” Maddie said with a shudder, her black hair brushing against her shoulders. “That’s disgusting,” she repeated.

“You’re telling me. At least you didn’t have to witness it with your own eyes. I’m pretty sure I’m scarred for life after seeing that,” Karen said dryly.

“I’m sure of it. I would be.” She set her wineglass down on the wood coffee table and tucked her feet under her on the leather couch. “Do you think he’s going to buy the house?”

“I don’t friggin’ know,” Karen said on a long-suffering breath. “It’s the third time he’s looked at it and he still isn’t committing.”

“And yet he won’t look at anything else, how bizarre. Oh!” Maddie bounced in her seat as she remembered her surprise. “I got you two tickets for Opening Day. They’re not with Bree and me, unfortunately, but you and Danny should have a good view of things.”

Here we go
, Karen thought as she wiggled her red toenails on the edge of the table and took a sip of her wine.

“Awesome about the game. You know I love going to any Rockets game that I can. But...I broke up with Danny.”

“What?” Maddie turned quickly, looking shocked. “Why? I thought you liked him.”

Karen leaned back and focused on the ceiling. “He was fun for a while, but that fun has run its course. Time to move on.”

“Jesus, Karen.” She chuckled as she shook her head. “You sound like a guy.”

“Maybe I am one.”

“Are you now packing a salami and didn’t tell me?” Maddie joked, reaching for her wine before turning to study her friend’s profile. “What are you afraid of?”

And right on cue
, Karen thought with an internal eye roll.

“I’m not afraid of anything, Maddie. We’ve been through this before.”

“It just seems that every time things start to get serious between you and some guy, you call it off.”

“Nope, not ever serious.”

“Huh,” Maddie said, her disbelief clear as day.

“Fuck your ‘huh.’ I know what you’re thinking. I’m sorry we can’t all be Maddie and Chase, the world’s greatest love story ever told.”

Maddie laughed. “We’re far from that, but we are pretty awesome,” she said smugly.

“I know and I know you’re happy, and I know...no, wait, let me finish.” Karen raised her voice when Maddie tried to interrupt. “I know you just want me to be happy and I love you for that, but Danny’s not it and you’ve got to trust me on this one.”

Maddie stared at her for a moment before shrugging. “If you say so.”

“I say so.”

“Okay, then we need to find you the one who
is
it.”

“No, we don’t,” she said with a groan.

“Why not?”

“Stop, Maddie.” Karen sat up and slouched forward on her knees. “Stop trying to find Mr. Right and stop trying to get me to settle down.”

“I want you to be happy!”

“I know you do, but you can’t force it.” She swung around and laid her head in her friend’s lap. “Just let me be me. You know the whole commitment thing isn’t in my blood.”

“It was...when you were with Brian,” she said quietly.

Karen narrowed her eyes at her. “I’m not a settle-down-and-get-married type of gal. Anymore,” she added with emphasis before her friend brought up the past again.

“Fine,” said Maddie, groaning in frustration. “You’ll never know what you’re missing then. I know there’s a man out there who’s perfect for you and you’re going to walk right by him because you’re too stupidly stubborn and thick-headed to know what’s right for you.”

Karen ignored her and steered their conversation toward a topic she knew Maddie couldn’t resist. “Speaking of perfect, how’s Chase?”

The mention of her fiancé never failed to make Maddie flush a pretty shade of pink. “He’s wonderful. They come home in a few days before Opening Day early next week.”

“I’m sure he was eager to get back to things after the way last season ended.” The Rockets had made it into the playoffs only to lose in the first round. During the last game of a best-of-five series, an opposing player had taken Chase deep into the stands for a home run late in the game. The Rockets hadn’t been able to recover and had lost by that one measly run.

“Yeah, he was. All winter he blamed himself and I think he really wants to prove to everyone he has what it takes to be a starting pitcher again. I told him that’s ridiculous, that everyone knows what a great pitcher he is. Even Jerry told him the same thing, it was only one game and no one is going to think he doesn’t deserve to be in the starting rotation because of it, but of course, Chase thinks he has to continue to justify himself.”

Jerry Smutton, the Ace pitcher of the squad, was Karen’s favorite Rockets player and a fabulous model of the male species, in her humble opinion. She stopped herself from pouncing on the mention of his name and turned her mind back to Chase and Maddie. “It’s the competitor in them. Athletes always want to redeem themselves.”

“I know, I know. It just gets heavy sometimes.” Maddie looked around the place with longing, her eyes falling on the traces of Chase that remained in his absence, like the pair of size twelve flip-flops sitting by the front door. “But now it’s just lonely around here without him. Like something’s missing.” She stopped and cocked her head, considering. “It’s funny that it feels this way since it was only Bree and me for so long. You’d think I’d be used to it.”

Hearing the sadness in her voice, Karen squeezed her hand. “He’ll be back before you know it.”

“I just miss him so much.” She sighed as she glanced at the picture of the two of them with Bree, smiling back at her from the top shelf of the entertainment center. “Bree doesn’t know how to play by herself anymore, he’s spoiled her rotten.”

Karen sat up, determined to shake off the sudden gloom that had overcome her friend. “Then let’s get your mind off of it. Let’s talk about your wedding. When are we going to shop for your dress?”

Maddie’s green eyes brightened and excitement lit up her face as she told Karen about the perfect sleeveless gown she’d seen in a photo. Karen smiled as her friend got up to go looking for the magazine in the kitchen.

As much as Karen didn’t want to admit it, Maddie was right. She had once been
exactly
that type of girl who wanted to experience the thrill of true love, of planning the wedding of her dreams, and of marrying her prince in shining armor.

Senior year of college, she had just about marched down the aisle with Brian until he turned out to be a class-A jerk. Karen knew she’d let Brian get the best of her, but no matter how hard she tried to move past all of the hurt and anger, for some reason, she couldn’t. It irritated her, sometimes made her angry, especially when she thought about everything she was missing, but she refused to experience that level of pain ever again. If she took it out on other men, oh, well, it was their fault for being born with penises.

Brian’s deceit, combined with her father’s desertion of her mother when Karen was young, didn’t paint a particularly stellar picture of men, and Karen was a changed person because of it. Gone was the weak woman who let men walk all over her. Nope, she didn’t play that game anymore. Now she did the walking and she didn’t feel even a little bit guilty about it. She’d made her choices and she was sticking with them.

BOOK: The Ace
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