Various States of Undress (2 page)

BOOK: Various States of Undress
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“Several of us could get called up to the big leagues,” Brett muttered, but his heart started hammering again.

“Yeah, but you've already been up to St. Louis, and it's only a matter of time before you head back. You've got Rookie of the Year, World Series pennant, and Hall of Fame written all over you.” Booker paused. “Shit, your brother's halfway there already, and his stats in the minor leagues weren't as good as yours. You're as good a catcher as anyone in major league.”

Brett shrugged again. All of that was true, but being cocky about it around Booker, whose career would probably end in the next couple of years, wasn't a cool thing to do. Plus, he didn't like talking about his embarrassingly brief stint last year with the St. Louis Cardinals, especially since the local media had made such a big deal about him joining his brother, Joe, in the big leagues.

Joe was a Memphis hometown hero—and he'd earned it. Brett didn't want that kind of status until he'd earned it too, and, until then, the media could piss off. Especially WHAP. He looked at Booker, who was scratching his stubbly chin. “So what are you implying?” Brett asked, even though he knew the answer.

“I'll bet you a hundred bucks and a noncreepy hand massage that within a week Georgia Fulton will be calling the clubhouse looking for you.”


“A hundred bucks?” Juan raised an eyebrow. “Why not make it two hundred?”

“Yeah. Good idea, Juan. I'll take that cash and laugh while I'm doing it,” Brett said. “And just so you know, it doesn't make me the least bit uncomfortable to get a massage from a guy named Booker the Hooker.” He pointed at Booker. “Don't try telling me that nickname is because of your curveball.”

Booker laughed. “Of course it's because of my curve, and at least it's a better nickname than yours. Knox the Fox? Who the hell came up with that?”

“Some high school chicks. They chase me every summer.”

“Sucks to be a pretty boy, doesn't it?”

“You oughta know.” Brett slapped Booker's chest with the back of his hand and ambled back toward his locker. His heart still raced, and his mind was beginning to, as well. He needed to calm the fuck down. It was ridiculous to get so worked up over Georgia because she didn't even know that he existed. What was he? Some kind of loser? No, he sure as hell wasn't. He could snag almost any girl who crossed his path, and he took pleasure and pride in doing so little work to get them. He didn't need the distraction of panting after the president's daughter like an idiot. Baseball was his life, and it always would be. End of story.

The clubhouse phone rang. For a moment, everyone was silent and then the guys busted out laughing. Brett turned his head slowly and stared at the black boxy phone on the wall. “Shut up. It's not
. Anyone wanna get that?”

“Uh-uh. My back's fucking killing me,” Booker said. The truth was, nobody wanted to answer it because calls to the clubhouse usually weren't a good thing. It was either the coach, Monty Ballard, or the general manager, Fred Shipley. Both men had no problem raising hell on the players. The phone rang again. And again.

“I'll get it,” Drew grumbled. He walked over, his long skinny legs eating up the distance, and he snatched the phone off the wall. “Clubhouse.” He paused for a moment, and then his eyes went big. “Seriously? No, of course you're serious. So I mean yes. Yes, sir. I'll tell him.” He hung up and pointed at Brett. “Ship wants you.”

“What for?” Brett's lips suddenly felt numb. When Fred Shipley called the clubhouse after a game, it was usually to tell a player to get his head out of his ass. Or worse. Occasionally the call meant that a player was being demoted to double A. Brett was in no mood to be shipped anywhere by Ship, and besides, he'd played great today. He'd gotten on base four times and racked up three RBIs. Shipley probably just wanted to pick at him, and Brett was in no mood for that either. All of his energy needed to be focused on moving up, not getting paranoid about moving down. “Actually, call him back. Tell him . . . tell him that I need PT on my hand and I'll come see him first thing tomorrow.”

Drew shook his head. “He wants you to go to the press box. Like, right now.”

“Huh?” Brett frowned. “You better not be playing a trick on me, Meat.”

“I'm not.” Drew shook his head again. “He said that before you head out, he wants you to go introduce yourself to a reporter. From WHAP news.”

There was silence for a moment, almost a reverent silence, and Brett felt the floor tilt a little beneath him. He grabbed the edge of his locker. It couldn't be her, right? It couldn't be Georgia. Even though he realized that he had things in common with Georgia, it was ridiculous to assume that they would ever meet. That cocktail party had been the only time he'd seen her in person, and he'd never expected a repeat. He let out a long breath.

Booker cleared his throat. “You owe me two hundred bucks, dude.”

“You don't know that,” Brett retorted.

“Hey, Knox.” Drew walked over and gave Brett's arm an awkward pat. “You owe him two hundred bucks,” he whispered.

Brett closed his eyes.

“You all right, bud?” Drew asked.

“Yeah.” Brett coughed and pushed his glasses up his nose. “Yeah, I'm fine.” Without another word, he took a deep breath, grabbed his toiletries kit, and headed for the sinks.

“Goin' the wrong way!” Booker yelled.

Brett didn't answer because he was focusing on putting his contacts in with shaking hands. He might not have a shot in hell with Georgia, but he wasn't going to meet her while wearing his stupid glasses. He needed to hurry, too, before reality sank in deep. He couldn't think about who she was; his only goal right now was to nip the situation in the bud and say no if she asked for an interview. He'd be his charming self, of course, but there was no way in hell he would allow her access to his life story. Not for WHAP.

A couple of years ago, when Joe had joined the Cardinals, WHAP had aired a feature, but it hadn't been about baseball at all. Instead they'd focused on how Joe had risen above poverty to become a star. Brett had hated that embarrassing excuse for a news story, and he'd be damned if he got suckered into an interview with them, too. Joe had already left for St. Louis when his feature had aired, so he hadn't been around to see the looks of pity on people's faces. Brett had.

It wasn't as if Brett had never seen those looks before. After all, he
grown up with the stigma of being desperately poor. School teachers had treated him differently, some of them assuming that he was headed straight for nowhere. Others had quickly decided that he was a prime candidate for whatever program was in place to keep poor kids in school. None of them had looked beyond the poverty and seen him for himself. Not that he'd made it easy, with a giant chip on his shoulder. He thought he'd gotten rid of that chip, but he hadn't. The need to prove himself was as strong as ever.

Blowing out a breath, he got the lenses in and looked in the mirror. A handsome, but shell-shocked face stared back. He narrowed his eyes at himself and stuck out his jaw. “Get your shit together. You're Knox the Fox.” He grinned at himself. Much better. Now
guy could charm any girl, even a daughter of the president. That guy played hard—and hard to get. But face-to-face with Georgia Fulton . . . how would he really act?

Only one way to find out.

Chapter Two

in a hot mess.

As she trudged through the bowels of AutoZone Park, home of the Memphis Redbirds, she felt like a steaming wet washcloth had been slapped over her head. Her blouse stuck to her back. Her stomach gurgled. Her brand-new briefcase hung heavily from the strap over her shoulder. And her heart sank because the very first day of her internship was
not what she had expected. Since her dad had been elected president, she'd gotten used to encountering the unexpected, but this? Her future career in TV journalism hinging on whether or not she could interview
baseball players
? No. Just . . . no.

But unfortunately, yes. Her internship hadn't come with a job description attached other than the fact that she would be working on features. Over the past few months, when she'd pictured what July 1 would be like, it certainly wasn't this. She was
to have been getting settled at WHAP, Channel 19 News—gearing up to tackle investigative stories, not interviewing athletes about what they did during downtime. Weren't their whole lives recreation time?

She didn't care to find out. But that didn't matter because, before she'd even reached the Memphis city limits, Joan Crisp, the station manager, had e-mailed and turned Georgia's world upside down. Joan hadn't been subtle about it, either—Georgia was famous, so naturally she needed to be writing stories on local celebrities and making the ratings soar. Joan had been so eager for her to get started that the instructions had sent her to the stadium before she could even drop her briefcase on a desk at the station.

Georgia wasn't supposed to report for work until she'd tracked down the Redbirds' star catcher and set up an interview for a feature story about his major league aspirations. A fluffy no-brainer story, reported by the president's daughter. Her internship had barely begun and she already felt used.

Would it echo too badly in the concrete tunnel if she let out a blood-curdling scream?

But she couldn't. Not if she didn't want poor Fred Shipley, the team's general manager, to be tackled by Stan and Ernie, her Secret Service detail. Fred, who was obviously nervous, lumbered alongside her, and Stan and Ernie walked just behind. Georgia glanced back at the agents. Both of them grinned at her, probably because they loved baseball. They were clearly thrilled that she'd been stuck with this assignment, whereas she just needed time alone to come up with a successful argument against it—like reminding her new boss of the awards she'd won in college for serious investigative stories. It wasn't like she couldn't ace her internship—Georgia Fulton could do anything she set her mind to.

“We'll have you there in a jiff, Miss Fulton,” Fred said.

“Great.” She gave him a smile.

Fred trundled on, beads of sweat rolling from the oval bald patch on his head. After a moment, he slowed to catch his breath. “Today sure turned out to be a scorcher, but your agents said the timing was good since the stadium's empty.”

He jerked a thumb backward toward Stan and Ernie, who weren't breaking a sweat at all. The two men strode purposefully, wearing suits and sunglasses. The look on Fred's jowly face said everything—he couldn't quite believe that he was dealing with real, live Secret Service agents, and he wasn't sure how to behave. “I do appreciate y'all stopping by.” They nodded but didn't speak. Fred turned back to Georgia and shook his head in wonder, as if she, too, weren't quite real. “You doing okay? It's not much farther.”

“Oh, I'm fine,” she said pleasantly, training her eyes on the square of hazy pale sky, shimmering in heat waves at the end of the tunnel. She wanted to say something witty, but there was a good chance that what she meant and what Fred perceived wouldn't be the same thing. She'd been curbing her sarcasm a lot more lately because she needed to focus on her professional image.

After her dad had been elected, she'd assumed that impressing people with her intellect was the way to go—the 4.0-college-student who could outwit even the smartest brainiacs. Being super smart
the time hadn't worked with her fellow students very well, and college had been an isolating—sometimes lonely—experience.

Her Trivial-Pursuit-wired mind hadn't mixed well with presidential cocktail parties or groundbreaking ceremonies, either. Georgia needed to remember her mother's advice—normal conversation could go a long way toward making people comfortable. She ought to bring up the fact that she'd been to Memphis before, even though that particular memory made her blush.

She smiled at Fred again as they walked. “I've been to Memphis before. It's a nice city.”

“Oh, how wonderful.” Fred's chest puffed up. “Yes, once you visit, you fall in love. When were you here?”

“It was a couple of years ago when my dad was campaigning. There was a cocktail party, if I remember correctly.” She remembered vividly, but she didn't want to tell Fred that she'd spent a lot of the event attempting to keep her gaze off of the baseball players who'd been in attendance. In their tight uniforms. She also didn't want to tell Fred that all she'd ever seen of Memphis before today was the inside of the Peabody Hotel. At night. “I enjoyed it very much.”

Fred's face relaxed and he stopped walking. “Of course. I remember meeting your father . . . and your family.” He cleared his throat. “What a moment that was. I hope that you find a warm welcome again.”

“Thanks. You've been very welcoming so far.” It didn't surprise her that Fred hadn't remembered that she'd been there, too. She spent most of her time going unnoticed—not because she was shy but because she blended in on purpose—participating in her own life only when she felt relevant. For her, that almost always meant the classroom, not campaign events. Plus, with her brown curly hair, freckles, and plain brown eyes, she was hardly a stunner, especially at this moment. Her curls were frizzy with the humidity, and she felt . . . wilted. She looked toward the end of the tunnel, where she could see the green grass of the playing field. Hopefully there was a breeze out there. “Should we continue on? You said something about showing me the press box?”

“Surely.” Fred began walking again, whistling this time, and she knew she'd put him a little bit more at ease. At least somebody was, right? Her heels made a hollow ringing sound on the concrete as she tromped uphill through the tunnel toward the open air of the grandstand.

BOOK: Various States of Undress
2.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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