Authors: Melanie Scott
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For Melissa, sister-in-law extraordinaire, who took me to my first U.S. baseball game AND feeds my yarn habit
I’d like to thank my awesome agent, Miriam Kriss, and my fabulous editor, Jennifer Enderlin, for having lunch. Which led to this book. Also for being generally fantastic at their respective jobs. And double thanks to Jennifer for letting an Aussie take a swing at a book involving baseball. The St. Martin’s Press cover people also designed a swoon-worthy cover and deserve a round of applause.
I’d also like to thank Jenny Crusie. Way back when I was just starting to write romance,
Welcome to Temptation
was one of the books that made me say, “I want to write THAT!” I’ve learned a lot from Jenny’s generosity in sharing her writing-fu on blogs and loops and in classes over the years and from every single one of her books, and I’m a better writer for it. And last, but never least, much love to all my friends and family who cheer me on and make life good.
His glove was creaking. Should’ve worn the old one. Alex Winters flexed his hand irritably. The glove was new, but he thought he’d worn it in enough. The old one was barely holding together. His hand had ached more than usual at the end of the last game.
So new glove it was. But he hated it when his gear wasn’t exactly right. When he made it to the bigs he’d make sure it never happened.
Head in the game, Winters
He settled back into position, studying the field, squinting against the sun. It was a perfect day to play ball. Sunshine. A light breeze. And a batter who had no hope in hell of meeting the demands of Lucas’s sneaky fastball. Alex had studied the guy’s form. He studied all of them. The guy was good when he managed to connect, but that was a rarity when he was put up against a pitcher like Lucas.
God only knew how the dude had ended up with a scholarship in the first place. Good old Kansas State must’ve been seriously light on talent. Or budget.
Alex smiled, good mood restored. Nothing like grinding the opposition into defeat to make a guy’s day improve. And afterward, he and Lucas and Mal had a date with a dozen beers and one of Vinny’s best pepperoni pizzas. The pizza here in Texas wasn’t as good as back home in Queens but, hell, it was still pizza. It went with the beer.
Their usual postgame blowout. Man, he could taste the Shiner already. Cool. Agreeably bitter.
No beer for losers
. Time to get this done. In front of him, the batter shifted his stance, hands moving impatiently on the grip of his bat. Nervous. Alex’s smile widened. He nodded at Lucas, waiting patiently up there on the mound, and flicked his fingers between his legs. Once, twice, three times.
Lucas nodded back, his “right, time to die, batter” expression warming Alex’s heart.
Man, he loved this. Loved working with his team. Loved making it all come together with wiles and strategy and sweat.
Lucas’s pitch came smoking over the plate as the batter, predictably, swung and missed. Alex caught it, hands moving instinctively, the weight of the ball thumping into his glove with just enough sting.
Damn, Lucas was getting faster and faster. They called him the Ice Man but if he wasn’t careful, he was going to set his own hair on fire.
Grinning again, Alex tossed the ball back to Lucas.
“And we’re just gettin’ started,” he said, just loud enough for the batter to hear him. The dude did his best not to react but Alex noticed the way his hands tightened just a fraction around the bat.
Oh yeah, this was going to be fun.
He settled back on his heels, flicked another set of signals to Lucas and waited.
Then the world exploded.
* * *
The hospital room was clean but for some reason all he could smell was smoke. Mal had dozed off in the chair beside his bed but Alex, despite the painkillers they were pumping him full of, couldn’t sleep. Instead, he just lay there, Coach’s words ringing in his head.
“We have to see how it heals, son.” The words were kind but Alex knew they were bullshit. His hand had steel sticking out of it, holding the bones together. His right hand. His catching hand. Shattered, though he couldn’t quite remember how.
The whole thing was a blur, apart from the stink of the smoke. They’d been told to get off the field, him and Lucas and Mal. Instead they’d run back to the stands. Run into the burning rubble, to see if they could help. Apparently they had. They’d gotten people to safety. But not unscathed. Lucas was in another room somewhere nearby, recovering from surgery on his shoulder.
Alex stared down at his hand and gritted his teeth, trying to tell himself that maybe Coach was right, that he’d heal. But all he could smell was smoke and he knew it wasn’t true.
Shit. He needed his hand. Couldn’t be a catcher with a dicey hand, any more than Lucas could pitch with a blown-out shoulder. Stupid thing to think when people had died. But there it was.
They’d gotten out. They’d saved people’s lives. But things were never going to be the same.
God, she hated tequila. Maggie Jameson squinted at the bottle in the bartender’s hand. The little red devil on the label leered back at her. Perfect. Tequila was the devil’s drink. Which was fitting because her life had just gone to hell. She lifted the shot glass before her, tilted it and slammed the tequila back. It burned all the way down and she sucked lemon desperately. She really hated tequila but it was the fastest way she knew to get drunk.
And tonight she really, really needed to be drunk.
One more shot and she was getting into a cab and going home. Where she would hopefully pass out and wake up in the morning to find that everything that had happened today had only been a nightmare.
Because that was the only explanation for how she’d woken up this morning thinking all was right with the world and was ending the day mainlining alcohol.
She motioned for a refill and the bartender poured. She was so going to regret this in the morning, but given she was pretty sure that this wasn’t a nightmare and, unlike in the movies, no one was going to magically grant her a do-over for today, she was going to regret a lot of things and tequila would be far, far down the list.
“Ms. Jameson, you look like you need some company.”
Oh God. Not him. The universe could not possibly hate her quite so much that it would send the cause of her misery to the same bar where she was trying to drown out his memory. She turned very slowly. Alex Winters. Smiling at her. Wearing the same jeans, expensive white shirt, and gray blazer he’d worn this afternoon when he’d ruined her life. It was a disguise, she’d decided. He wore those clothes so no one would see that underneath it all he was another ruthless suit. But he was. And now he was here. Apparently she’d made the universe’s shit list after all.
She gritted her teeth and tried for some semblance of calm. The tequila burning in her stomach and fuzzing her brain made it difficult. “I’d prefer to be alone.”
His smile widened. “Drinking tequila alone is never a good idea.” He nodded at the bartender and a shot appeared in front of him like magic. If Alex Winters snapped his fingers, people jumped. High.
“Mr. Winters.” She heard the
on the end of his name slur a little and winced. “As I learned today, there are many things in the world that are not good ideas and yet that doesn’t stop people from doing them.” Top of the list being her father selling the Saints franchise to the man sitting next to her. The betrayal of it burned worse than tequila. She’d worked her ass off. Gotten a degree crammed full of economics and psychology—and then a master’s in sports management—going all the way to Chicago because her dad had insisted she had to leave New York for school so she could concentrate. Chicago. Where even the Cubs fans looked down on the Saints. All so she could help her dad keep the Saints alive. And now, now when she’d finally been ready to put her plans into action, Alex Winters and his two partners from Hades had made her father an offer he’d apparently been unable to refuse.
She scowled at Winters. In the dim bar light, you couldn’t see quite how green his eyes were and his hair looked merely brown but he was still appallingly compelling. It was like he had some secret master-of-the-universe force field surrounding him. All around them, women were turning to look at him and men were subtly moving aside, giving the alpha male space. She’d noticed the same thing in the meeting today. It was ridiculous and annoying and yet she’d had to work hard to not give in to the desire to do the same. At least until he’d started talking and she’d realized what was happening. Then she’d had no trouble finding him one hundred percent completely resistible.
“You’re upset,” Winters said. “About today?”
Her jaw dropped, her fingers clamping around the shot glass. “Did you seriously just ask me that? Well, gosh, Mr. Winters, no, I’m not at all upset that my father sold my legacy down the river. Didn’t bother me in the slightest.” She downed the tequila before she could do something stupid like burst into tears in front of the enemy. The alcohol hit her stomach like a bomb and she felt herself slide over the edge of tipsy into firmly drunk. Crap.
“We can talk about a job, if that would make you feel better.”
She squinted at him incredulously. The trouble with tequila was that it made men more attractive, she decided. And Alex Winters didn’t need any help in that department. The man was hot. Or he would be if he wasn’t a soulless corporate raider who had apparently grown bored with buying companies, building ever-taller skyscrapers, and seeding the suburbs of America with minimalls and had decided to come play at professional sports.
Men like him were the reason that baseball had turned into a business. She accepted that fact, but her father had fought to keep the Saints traditional, to not let it be all about the money. Which was possibly why they were the worst team in the league but was also why they had fans who wouldn’t abandon them despite their dismal record. Fans who loved hot dogs, and old wooden bleachers, and their silly halo-clad mascot as much as she did. Saints fans were more devoted than even the craziest Cubs fan. They had to be.
All she’d ever wanted was to work at the Saints with her dad. He was a hands-on owner, taking on the responsibility of running the Saints as CEO instead of leaving that to an executive team like some owners did. She’d always hoped one day she could step into his shoes and he could retire. Until Alex Winters had snatched that dream away. And he would no doubt proceed to turn the team into a slick moneymaking machine that was just as soulless as he was. So it didn’t matter what he looked like. She hated him.
“My dad was going to make me CEO eventually,” she said as icily as she could given how tanked she was. “Is that position available?”
“I’m afraid that’s my job,” he said.
“Figures.” Maggie sniffed. “Then, Winters, you and your job can go to hell. Where I’m sure you’ll be right at home. Being the devil and all.”