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Monday Puzzler > April 21, 2019: It's Baseball Season so Here's a Baseball Romance

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message 1: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1909 comments Mod
HERO moved across the lawn in an unhurried, sexy stride, all scruffy gorgeousness, and opened the limo door, letting in the chilly April afternoon air. With one hand on the roof, the other on the door, he bent down, peering in through his Prada sunglasses, merely arching a brow when he saw her.

His sun-kissed light brown hair was either styled messy today on purpose, or he hadn’t bothered with a comb. His face sported at least a day-old beard so she was going with the no comb theory. He should have looked sloppy and unkempt but nothing about him ever looked anything less than God’s gift. She’d seen him in uniform, in designer suits, in workout gear, in all sorts of things including absolutely nothing, and he always looked perfect. Especially in the nothing.

“Hey,” he said in that low, slightly raspy voice of his, the one that never failed to immediately put her back up. And/or turn her on.

“Hey yourself.” He hadn’t limped, and he sure as hell didn’t look exhausted. The opposite, she thought a little breathlessly as his deceptively lazy gaze raked her in from head to toe. Deceptively, because behind that beach bum front of his lay a sharp-as-hell wit.

Given their . . . tense relationship at the moment, she didn’t smile. And though he usually smiled at anything female, neither did he.

“Are you okay after last night’s game?” she asked.

“Always. How about you, Princess? She’d asked him a million times not to call her that. It drove her crazy, which was of course why he did it. “I’m fine. We need to talk.” “Sorry,” he said with mock regret.

“But we don’t talk. We fight. And I’m not in the mood.” He hadn’t been “in the mood” since what she called The Mishap.

The Mishap Never To Be Talked About. Except . . . except HERO got along with the entire world, and she had to admit it was disturbing that they didn’t. Couldn’t. But there was nothing to be done about that now. Nothing. She had a job to do. They had a job to do. “I realize you probably don’t want to go over the plan,” she said, feeling at a disadvantage sitting while HERO still stood.

“But I really think we should.”

“I know the plan,” he said.

“One of the corporations endorsing the Heat has a new, conservative CEO who has high family values, and is upset with our PR troubles—”

“Your PR troubles,” she corrected. He let out a tight breath and bowed his head in agreement.

“And you, the Skipper, the owners—hell everyone but me—believes that the world cares about one more ridiculous baseball scandal involving some woman claiming I’ve gotten her pregnant.”

“You can’t blame people for believing it; you do have a bit of a playboy reputation.” “I never slept with Tia.”

“She produced pictures of you and her on the beach by your house.” He just looked at her. “See,” she pointed out. “This is why we have to talk about it.”

“Look, I get what the powers-that-be want from me. From us. We pretend to be a couple in the eyes of the press so I look like a good boy, and our endorsements won’t be pulled. How hard can it be?”

“I don’t know,” she replied cautiously. “How hard?”

His eyes heated. And a matching heat seared through her belly at the inadvertent double entrendre. “You know what I mean, HERO. The plan—”

“The plan is that I have to behave. And you’re supposed to make me.” He paused. “Though I am looking forward to the make me part.”

Oh, God.

“You know what? This isn’t going to work.”

She was fun, dammit. Even lighthearted at times. Why the hell he made her sound so uptight and stuffy, she had no idea. Wait. She did have an idea. An exact idea. She’d slept with him.

Once. On the one single night in her entire life when she’d had too much to drink. Except there’d been no sleeping involved. To make matters worse, it’d been one of the most erotic, sensual nights of her life.

“Listen, I realize we’ve had our differences, but—”

“Differences?” He laughed, then shook his head, still amused.

“Fine, so differences doesn’t quite cut it. We have to get a move on.”

A friend of his was getting married. A close friend who just happened to be a big-time Hollywood producer, and HERO was one of the groomsmen. The wedding was an entire weekend extravaganza, where there was sure to be tons of press. If he attracted any of it—and just by being HERO, he most definitely would—he needed to attract good press. By the end of the two-hour trip to the famed Orange County, specifically Laguna Beach, they needed to be in sync and looking like lovers. Willing to do her part, she practiced a smile on him, the smile that usually got her exactly what she wanted, which in this case was HERO’s cooperation. Thing was, he didn’t often feel the need to cooperate.

“You getting in?” He looked at her for a long beat, all big and built and completely inscrutable, during which time she held her breath. For as kicked back as he was, he was also tough as steel. He had to be. Catchers were known for their courage and toughness, having what was arguably the hardest position in baseball. And HERO was the best catcher behind the plate, period. He had to command the respect of all the players, make the calls on the field, have good sequences in those calls, and the ability to change it up and keep the hitters off balance.

All of which meant he had to be smart, sharp, and strong in both mind and body. HERO was all of those things and more, and clearly one of those things was decisive. He tossed his overnight bag into the limo and followed it in, dropping down next to her even though he could have had the opposite seat all to himself. Leaning back, he stretched out his long, long legs and looked around.

“So. We have any food in here?”

“No. Are you hungry?”

“Starving.”

He was always starving. Probably because he burned God knew how many calories a day between his five-mile runs, weight training, and the game itself.

“We can stop and get something to go. Rosa’s?” she asked, naming the closest café. Look at that, she was getting the hang of taking care of him already.

“DQ is good.”

She’d never met a grown man with such a love for fast food before. But whatever he wanted, she’d get. It would make him happy, and a happy HERO was a hopefully compliant one. With a nod from her, the driver started the engine and they began their trek, heading through town toward Dairy Queen.

.They stopped at Dairy Queen and quickly got back on the road. HERO was quiet as he ate, watching as they left the affluent homes and ranches, heading into the outlying county and the less privileged areas.

She knew he’d been underprivileged himself. Despite his many faults, he was surprisingly humble and quick to laugh at himself, and often joked he’d grown up so far from the proverbial train tracks that he hadn’t even been able to seethe tracks. And her? Well, she’d grown up with a silver spoon in her mouth and everyone knew it.

It was certainly all HERO knew about her, because it’d been the only thing she’d ever let him see. He had no idea that the two of them had a hell of a lot more in common that he’d ever guess. He polished off two burgers and went to work on his fries. “So . . .” His green eyes were relaxed but assessing as they met hers.

“When were you going to tell me they want us to do this boyfriend/girlfriend thing for a whole month?”

“You heard?” she asked in surprise. She’d been asked to talk him into it.

“I work with a bunch of women, HEROINE. They tell all.”

“You work with a group of professional athletes, male.”

“Who gossip more than a bunch of teenage girls after cheerleading practice. Pace heard it from Henry, who overheard Gage talking to you.”

Pace being HERO’s best friend and the Heat’s pitcher. Henry was their shortstop. Gage, their team manager. And yes, the supposedly professional clubhouse really was similar in nature to a high school locker room.

Sprawled out, relaxed, HERO watched her with a half smile, looking far too appealing. She took a careful breath.

“A month shows stability. It’s more impressive than just a weekend wedding fling.” “So you’re okay with being joined at the hip for a month?”

“If you are.” He considered this. “Are there benefits?”

“No.”

He sighed. “So much for fun.”

“Hey, I’m fun.” He didn’t say a word, which burned. “I am! And I just realized, there are benefits.”

He cocked his head.

“Well . . . I can be a pretty convincing bitch when I want to be.”

“Noooo,” he said with feigned shock. “But how exactly is that a benefit?”

“I can scare away all the crazy women that chase you around, thereby giving you a break. And in return, you can relax knowing you won’t have to take care of me like your usual fan-girl, clingy type who bores you within the span of one date.” He arched a brow. “Just calling ’em like I see ’em.”

He didn’t say anything to that as he finished his fries, then tossed all the trash into the bag and set it aside. He rubbed a hand over his jaw and said another entire boat-load of nothing.

“It’s just a role, HERO. And it could have been worse. We could have lost the endorsement entirely, or they could have traded you.”

“They’re that desperate for good press?” He shook his head in disbelief.

“Hey, baseball isn’t exactly showing its best foot to the public lately. We need this. The Heat needs this.”

“And your father’s okay with it?” he asked carefully.

With good reason. Her father was one of the owners of the Heat. Her uncle owned their sister team, the South Carolina Charleston Bucks. The LASTNAME brothers were famous for getting their way, or more accurately, infamous. And they were baseball royalty. Or had been until HEROINE's brother Jeremy—her PR equivalent at the Bucks—had stepped over the ethics line, the moral line, and several other lines as well, and brought the wrath of the press down on the LASTNAMEs. It hadn’t gone over well, and damage control was required. Gee, guess who was in charge of damage control?

“Yes,” she said quietly. “My father thinks it’s a good idea.”

“So they’re willing to pimp out their princess when it suits them.”

Ouch. But the answer was yes, a LASTNAME was expected to stick to the pack. She’d known that by the time she could talk in full sentences. “It’s just an illusion.”

“It’s an entire month.”

The reminder made her stomach quiver. An entire month of being his girlfriend.

“We’re grown-ups.”

“Really?”

His stark green gaze was more genuine curiosity than sarcasm.

“Because we’ve not spent more than two minutes together without snarling at each other.”

God. So true.

“Well, except for the elevator,” he said.

Also true, and her stomach executed a double gainer with a twist as the memory flew back, hot and sexy, resurrected by nothing more than the sound of his voice and the sudden sleepy look in his eyes. It’d happened last season. The Heat had just lost, bad. The press had been ruthless, and her father had been pissed at her for somehow not being Super Woman. She’d been in desperate need of some alone time. What she’d gotten instead was stuck in an elevator on the way to her hotel room with HERO and a couple little bottles of airplane Scotch, and her pity party for one had turned into a naked party for two. The erotic, alcohol-tinged memories came to her in slow-mo and as always, always, sent her spinning between total and complete humiliation and an even more devastating aching hunger and desire.

If she could just erase from her memory banks the picture of HERO taking her straight to heaven in under five minutes she would, but the pictures in her brain seemed to only strengthen with time instead of lessen. She darted a quick glance at their driver, who was currently sipping a seventy-two-ounce DQ soda and rocking his head to the radio as he beat the steering wheel like a drum.

“I don’t want to discuss that night.”

HERO shrugged.


message 2: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1909 comments Mod
No skin off his nose. Hell, he’d probably had lots of nights like that since. She concentrated on the view. Not a hardship. Santa Barbara wasn’t called the American Riviera for nothing, and she watched as they passed four-thousand-foot peaks covered in unique and beautiful chaparral and sandstone outcrops.

“So we’re good?” she asked quietly. HERO smiled. It was his professional smile, the one that could melt a woman’s panties at fifty paces and make men wish that they had half his athletic prowess, and it was a charmer. She knew its potency, braced herself for it, and stillfelt her panties begin to melt.

“What the hell.”

He stretched out even farther, his leg sliding to hers.

“We’re good. Girlfriend.”

“Fake girlfriend,” she corrected, shoving him over, telling herself she was absolutely not noticing the heat of him, the feel of his rock hard thigh . . .

He stretched some more, straightening his arms above him, briefly exposing a flash of washboard abs between the hem of his shirt and the waistband of his jeans. Jeans that were faded at all the stress points. He had some very fine stress points . . .

She saw more men in a day than the average woman dreamed of. Many of those men—if she was in the clubhouse before a game—in various stages of nakedness, leaving her utterly immune to tantalizing glimpses of male skin. Which didn’t explain why her mouth went dry.

“Maybe we should kiss on it,” HERO suggested. “Seal the deal.”

Her tummy quivered, a fact she firmly ignored. “What? No!”

“Spoilsport.” He’d probably have fallen over if she’d said yes, which she absolutely wouldn’t do. Even if he was the kiss master. Which he was . . .

His leg was touching hers again. He was hogging the backseat, albeit unintentionally. He was a big guy and he needed space. He also smelled good. He looked good, too, which really didn’t seem fair at all.

But he was here, not pitching a diva fit, and she owed him for that.

“Thank you,” she said. “For agreeing to this.”

“You’re welcome.”

Well, that seemed surprisingly genuine, and she had to wonder if maybe she’d anticipated trouble with him simply because of their past.

Maybe . . . maybe deep down he really was a good guy. It was possible. Maybe they could laugh about this, her having to keep up the pretense of being his lover, when they’d already done the deed. That could possibly be fun.

Maybe.

Sort of.

And maybe they could even become friends. It would be nice—

“You packing any Scotch today?” he asked, looking around the limo. “Should I be bracing myself for you to tear my clothes off again?”

With a sigh, she leaned back and closed her eyes.

She could safely check both fun and friends off the list.


message 3: by Chocolatesoup (new)

Chocolatesoup | 382 comments I haven't read this one but by the writing style (so good) and the baseball team name, I have a guess :-)


Stacey is Sassy (staceyissassy) | 1275 comments It seems familiar but I don't think I've read it. :-)


message 5: by Leigh-Ayn (new)

Leigh-Ayn | 1182 comments Oh my! I want to read this!!! I haven't read any baseball romances!! Can't wait for the reveal!


message 6: by Irisheyes (new)

Irisheyes | 896 comments The whole set up seems very familiar to me, but I can't think of what book it would be.


message 7: by Dls (new)

Dls | 2093 comments Mod
One of my favorite books by her


message 8: by Susan (new)

Susan (susaninaz) | 1016 comments No idea.


message 9: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1909 comments Mod
Sorry so late guys! As some of you have guessed, it's Slow Heat by Jill Shalvis. I really loved the first two books in what was supposed to be a trilogy. But alas, sales weren't great and she left the baseball world behind after only two. Still, it's classic funny, sweet Shalvis.


message 10: by Irisheyes (new)

Irisheyes | 896 comments I loved those 2 books! It's been so long since I read them I completely forgot she wrote them. hahaha


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