Various States of Undress (6 page)

BOOK: Various States of Undress
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“Well, according to your thesis supervisor, you have a reputation for earning your way, Georgia. So there's nothing to worry about, is there?”

There was plenty, starting with the fact that WHAP was using her like a celebrity prop, but Georgia sensed complaining about that wouldn't do her any good. And her pride wouldn't allow her to go whining to her mom and dad. She just nodded again. “Do you have any investigative stories on the back burner?”

Joan's lips quirked up. “I understand where you're going with this, but we're in the middle of sweeps.” She paused. “Do you know what sweeps are?”

“Yes. The Neilson ratings. July is a data-gathering month, and I understand how important ratings are to stations, which is why I'll do a great job on Brett Knox. And after that, I'll get another assignment,” she said stubbornly.

“Of course. How about this. If you're successful with Knox, and if there's time left on your internship, I'll promise you a feature on childhood nutrition in disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

“That sounds pretty great.” Georgia relaxed a bit. “So, I guess I need to get moving.”

“Yes, you do. Learn how to throw that ball before the Fourth of July, okay? Do WHAP proud.”

I'd like to throw that ball at your head
. Georgia smiled. “Not a problem.”

She went back to her cubicle, grabbed her phone, and stuffed her heavy briefcase into a drawer. There was no way she could deal with that thing today, and besides, her phone had a voice recorder. She texted Ernie to let him know she was ready and then strolled out of the station with Stan, into the baking heat. Her stomach jumped when Stan opened the SUV's back door, because Brett sat on the opposite end of the seat, his beautiful brown eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. Hidden was good—she wouldn't have to look into those eyes and risk another fit of nervous giggles.

But when she was settled next to him, he took off those glasses and grinned. She stared—at the crinkles in the corners of his eyes and the short, thick lashes tinged with gold. It would be really helpful if he didn't stare back, but he did. She glanced away as the SUV drove through the open gate. “So, Brett. Tell me about your childhood.”

He laughed.

“Okay, another time. How old are you?”

“Twenty-six. How old are you?”

“Twenty-two. Did you go to college?”

“What about me makes you assume I didn't?” he asked. “But yes, I graduated cum laude.”

Georgia raised an eyebrow. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks. How about you?”

“I haven't graduated yet.” She coughed. “But I will soon and expect to be summa cum laude.”

“Mm.” Brett looked away.

“Tell me about your family, Brett.”

“No, thanks,” he said politely.

“Okay. How about your brother, Joe? Will you talk about his baseball career?”

“No, thanks,” he repeated.

“Seriously?”

“Yep.” He leaned back against the seat, and she glanced at him again. His jaw looked tight. “There are plenty of sources for information about Major League Baseball players,” he offered.

“No problem,” she said casually, pushing aside a wave of exasperation. “I have a great source.”

Brett gave her a skeptical glance. “Okay, then.” He replaced his sunglasses and began humming under his breath.

Georgia reached for her phone and pressed an icon on the screen. After entering a pin number, she lifted the phone to her ear. “Hi, Dad.”

Brett's humming stopped immediately. Concealing a smile, Georgia settled back against the seat.

“Georgia! How are you? How's the internship?” Patrick Fulton's voice was full of concern as usual—he'd yet to stop thinking of Georgia as a kid.

“I'm fine,” she answered. “Internship is . . . off to a brisk start.”

“Good, good. Memphis is hotter than hell, isn't it?”

Almost as hot as the guy sitting inches away from her. Georgia shifted toward the window. “You're right, Memphis is warmer than I imagined it would be. How's Mom?”

“Perfect. But she nags at me nonstop to take a vacation.”

“Dad, you really ought to take her advice and sneak off to Camp David for a while. Or something.” Before he could protest, Georgia changed the subject. “Are you treating my cat well?”

“He's adapting. But I have to tell you, Georgia, Junior Mint is eating us out of house and home. He weighs twice as much as the dog.”

Georgia laughed. “Well, the cat's only there temporarily, and I appreciate your taking him in.”

“That's what parents do.” Patrick paused. “So, what can I help you with, hon?”

“Well, I'm working on my first story assignment and I need your opinion.”

Patrick was silent for a moment. “Since when do you ask anyone's opinion about anything, Miss Stubborn?”

“It's about baseball.”

“Oh.” Patrick laughed. And then he laughed again. “You got stuck with sports reporting?”

“I did.” She looked at Brett from the corner of her eye, but he was staring straight ahead. “Since you're a baseball fanatic, I'd like to know what you think about a player named Joe Knox.”

“Do you really mean that you have no idea who he is?”

“I have some idea,” Georgia responded.

Patrick chuckled. “He's a very exciting player to watch. Joe Knox Jr.—JJ is his nickname—was Rookie of the Year a couple of years ago and has the second-best batting average in the National League. Great player and probably a future Hall-of-Famer.”

Georgia raised her eyebrows. If Joe Knox was that important, it meant that Brett was more than likely suffering from a case of Little Brother-itis. And it was probably a fairly bad case since he'd been demoted last season. No wonder he didn't want to be interviewed, but she still had to drag the story out of him. Carefully. “That makes sense.”

“What does, hon?” Patrick asked.

“Your explanation. Thanks for the info.”

“Sure. Do me a favor. Call your mother and let her know you're okay.”

Of course, Georgia was okay—she had guards 24/7—but she knew that wasn't what her dad meant. “I will.” Georgia paused and glanced at Brett again, who gave her an easy smile. “Um, better go. Thanks again.”

“You're welcome, and I'll give you a piece of advice from the late, great Yogi Berra.”

Yogi who?
“Sure, Dad.”

“You can observe a lot by watching.” He chuckled. “Love you.”

“That's a good one. Love you, too, Dad.” Georgia hung up and made a mental note to Google Yogi, though she bet she wouldn't find him with Boo-Boo Bear. She looked out the window as downtown Memphis came into view, some of the buildings tall and new, others short and worn with age. As the SUV turned onto Second Avenue, she spotted a Starbucks on the corner. It would be so nice to hole up there with her laptop and do research. Last night she'd been so tired, she'd flopped onto the hotel bed and flipped channels until she fell asleep.

“Nice chat with POTUS?” Brett asked casually.

Georgia turned to him, her gaze trailing over his lean jaw. He looked back, a hint of a smile curving his mouth. The mirrored lenses of his sunglasses reflected her own expression, which looked way too eager. Suddenly, she wished for a pair of sunglasses of her own. “Talking to my dad is always nice, and he answered my question.”

“With a source like that, you shouldn't have any problem writing your stories.” Brett took off his sunglasses and pointed toward the windshield. “Stadium. You ready to watch some baseball?”

“Sounds great,” Georgia managed to say, holding back a wince. She shouldn't have called her dad just to show off. To Brett, it probably looked as if she were throwing around her fame, assuming that he would buckle and give her the interview she wanted—on her terms, not his. Which was exactly what she
had
been doing, right? Dammit. “I'll stay out of your way while you're practicing.”

“Probably a good idea. Getting hit by a ninety-mile-an-hour fastball isn't exactly fun.”

“I would imagine not,” she murmured—except she already felt that way, metaphorically, at least. All she had to do was meet Brett's intense gaze and it was as if she'd been knocked sideways. But maybe she'd better get used to it. Maybe if she looked at him more, not less, she would become accustomed to his sex appeal—form an immunity to it.

She peeked at him. He winked.

Her eyes wide, Georgia turned back toward the window and began to hum under her breath.

Chapter Four

I
T HAD BEEN
almost twenty-four hours since Georgia had walked into his life, and Brett still hadn't gotten over the shock of it. He was having trouble focusing on anything
except
her. Now, behind home plate—the one place where he always felt complete confidence—he was a complete mess. And she was watching the team practice. His shit was no more together today than it had been in the press box yesterday.

The press box was a big room, but he'd felt hemmed in—Secret Service agents at the door and the girl of his fantasies right in front of him.
Smiling
at him. After he'd turned her down, he'd left the ballpark, his mind a blank—not able to play even a word of the conversation with her over in his head. He'd driven his beloved Jeep around aimlessly and then wandered through the grocery store like an idiot. He'd ended up at his apartment with a family-sized bag of Cheetos and a two-liter of Mountain Dew. They'd reminded him of childhood, which should have been comforting—centering—but that's not how they'd made him feel.

Looking at the neon-colored junk sitting on his expensive kitchen counter had only brought back feelings of anxiety and embarrassment because when he was a kid, that's what his mom had frequently fed him for breakfast. He wasn't going to consume that crap now that he'd left his childhood behind, and he sure as hell wasn't going to turn back into the cringing kid who was mortified by his mom—chain-smoking Margot Knox—who laughed too loud and wore tight tank tops.

He'd made peace with who his mom was, and he'd made a complete one-eighty from the child he used to be. Case in point? Yesterday, he hadn't even broken a sweat when Ship had called him and demanded that he return to the ballpark. And when he'd returned, he'd stood there, hiding his anger, listening to the man rant about the media clause in Brett's contract. He'd even calmly agreed to go see Georgia at the station today. But nothing could have prepared him for sitting in the backseat of a Secret Service vehicle, right next to her, while she chatted away on her phone
with her dad
. The president of the United States. Brett hadn't experienced many WTF moments in his life, but that one had topped them all.

While she'd talked to her dad, apprehension had crowded the already nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach, and Brett hadn't known what to say. His own father—a firefighter in California—had died on the job before Brett was born. His mother had moved to Memphis, two small boys in tow, and he'd grown up fatherless, surrounded by adults who couldn't read past a sixth-grade level.

He and Joe had used talent and hard work to rise, but he didn't want a pat on the back for it, as if he were somehow a better player just for overcoming his background. He'd left the past in the past, and it didn't need to be dug up like river-bottom mud and slung all over the Memphis viewing area. For the second time. Joe might not have cared when he'd been interviewed two years ago, but Brett did care. What could be worse? The girl of his dreams was the person who wanted to retread the story, but he'd be damned if he let Georgia do that, no matter how much he admired her.

And damn, how he admired her—every bit of her. He'd spent a whole lot of today's practice admiring her to the point of distraction, and even though he was squatting behind home plate, he knew exactly where she was—sitting in the dugout, laughing it up with Drew and Juan.

He frowned and punched his catcher's mitt. “Come on, Hooker. Throw me something I can catch,” he called.

On the pitcher's mound, Booker threw his arms wide. “I could've been throwing you a beach ball, and you wouldn't have been able to catch it. What's your problem?”

Brett glared at him, even though he knew Booker couldn't see his face behind the catcher's mask. Booker knew damn well why Brett was distracted. “Pitch,” he commanded.

“I better go easy on you.” With a grin, Booker lobbed a slow ball at him, just as Georgia let out a peal of laughter. Brett's gaze snapped to the dugout. Was she laughing at him? No—she was laughing with Juan, who was patting her arm. Brett growled, turning his head just in time to reach for the ball sailing toward him. It bounced off the edge of his mitt and rolled between his legs. A groan, followed by a “whoop-whoop” went up from the dugout.

Brett yanked off his mask and scrambled for the ball, anger welling in his throat. “Fuck,” he muttered under his breath. If Georgia hadn't been there, he would've shouted the word. Repeatedly. This was ridiculous—the fifth pitch he'd fumbled in less than twenty minutes. He might choke when he was up to bat sometimes, but he could always rely on his performance at the plate. Well, he had been able to—until Georgia came along.

Now what was he supposed to do? The more agitated he got, the more mistakes he made. Right now he was two seconds away from throwing his mitt in the dirt and stomping off the field. The only thing preventing him from doing it was that she was watching. Wasn't she? He glanced at the dugout again.

Next to the players in their sweaty uniforms, she looked completely out of place in her airy light-blue dress. So far, he hadn't gotten the feeling that the guys had exposed Brett's monster crush on her, but then again, he'd threatened to kick their asses so hard their noses would bleed if they did. With a humorless smile, Brett picked up his catcher's mask and retrieved the ball. He threw it back to Booker, who was grinning at him, the asshole.

BOOK: Various States of Undress
9.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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