The countdown has begun!!! In just about six weeks, The Winning Season will be released. I hope you’re all as excited as I am!
I knew when I was writing Love in the Afternoon, that Kelly and Matt would get their own story, and I couldn’t wait to start writing it. Kelly is much different than her sister, and Matt has been through a very rough period in his life. Sparks flew when they met and not much has changed as the story begins.
Below is an excerpt from the first chapter.
“Hey, Maxwell, rumor has it you like it hard and fast.”
Kelly Maxwell tightened her batting glove around her wrist and gave the opposing team’s smart-ass catcher a smirk. “Actually, I like it slow and delivered with finesse. Something you know nothing about.” She pulled her favorite bat out from under her arm and stepped up to home plate. “Rumor has it,” she added with a grin.
“Come on, Kel. Get a hit.” The feminine voice belonged to her roommate, Stacia Lindstrom, who, while not on Kelly’s coed softball team, occasionally tagged along to—in her words—supply moral support to the team. In reality, though, the only reason Stacia bothered to show up was to meet hot guys.
“Who’s your friend?” the catcher, Kevin, an investment banker who worked in the financial district, asked after casting a lingering glance at Stacia, who, despite the cool San Francisco summer evening, wore a skimpy top that left little to the imagination.
“Out of your league,” she said, getting into her batting stance as Kevin crouched down behind home plate.
“Ouch. Seriously, can you introduce us?”
“I’m not a matchmaker.” Kelly looked at the pitcher and met her hard stare. Not intimidated, she continued, “But if you’re interested, we usually head over to Kamu’s after the game.”
“Thanks for the tip. I owe you.”
“Don’t mention it,” she said as the pitcher went into her windup and delivered. The trajectory of the ball looked high so she took the pitch. She had a good eye—the umpire standing behind them called it a ball.
“By the way, I’m going yard tonight,” she said after digging the toe of her spikes into the dirt and then smoothing it out. There was no particular reason for doing this. It was just a part of her at-bat ritual. A ritual she had performed since she was a kid playing in the peewee league. Even back then she took the game seriously.
“Still as cocky as ever, I see.” Kevin glanced at her after he threw the ball back to the pitcher. Through his catcher’s mask she could see the amused glint in his eyes. “No one’s hit a home run off Beth so far this season.”
Recognizing a challenge when she heard one, Kelly shot him a confident grin. “There’s a first time for everything.”
Two hours, three hits and one home run later, Kelly sat amongst her teammates at Kamu’s Tavern enjoying the sweet taste of victory. Sipping her beer, she watched—bemused—as Kevin tried his best to get Stacia’s phone number.
Stacia was to men what catnip was to cats. In a word: irresistible. The proof of that was Kevin wasn’t the only guy from the opposing team who’d shown up at the restaurant after being annihilated on the baseball diamond this evening.
“I see your roomie is fending them off once again.” Kelly shifted in her chair as her team’s pitcher, and her coworker, Angie DeMarco, sat next to her. “I hate her.” Angie wrinkled her pert nose.
“Would it make you feel better if I told you she snores so loud I can hear her from my bedroom?”
“Extremely,” Angie said with a devilish grin. “I’d hate to think she’s as perfect as she looks.” The remark made Kelly smile. With long dark spirals of hair most women would kill for, and bright blue eyes, Angie wasn’t any less attractive than Stacia.
A chorus of boos erupted at the bar. Both she and Angie turned to look behind them at the flat-screen television mounted on the wall over two rows of lighted shelves that held a variety of liquor bottles. “Damn it,” Kelly muttered, looking at the box score on the screen. “The Dodgers won again.”
“It figures they’d get hot while we’re in a slump.” Angie lifted her beer. “They got rid of Scanlon and started winning. We got him and started losing.” She tipped the bottle to her lips and took a sip.
Kelly didn’t want to agree, but that’s exactly what had happened. The minute the Blaze had lost their catcher, Rick Taylor, for the rest of the season, and the Dodgers had unloaded their troublemaking bad boy, Matt Scanlon, the Blaze had been in a tailspin. The combination of losing Rick, who was a shoo-in for rookie of the year, and getting a player whose best days just might be behind him had cast a pall over the clubhouse that hadn’t lifted yet.
“But on the bright side,” Angie said, “his jersey is selling like hotcakes.” Angie worked in the accounting division so she would know this. “The women love him, and the men want to be him.”
“Not all women love him,” Kelly said darkly.
No one at work, including Angie, who was her best friend, knew that she and Matt had met a few weeks before he’d been traded from L.A. to San Francisco. Nor would they ever know. She wasn’t about to repeat the insults he’d hurled at her, or reveal that she’d given just as good as she’d got. The only satisfying thing about their heated exchange was she’d managed to get in a final parting shot that had left his jaw on the table. Not her proudest moment, but the arrogant bastard had started it and deserved every bit of her ire.
“Is he still refusing to give interviews?” Angie asked.
“Yes.” Kelly’s jovial mood took a turn for the worse. That’s what usually happened when she thought about Matt. The jerk knew it was her job to schedule his interviews and had told her adamantly he wasn’t talking to anyone. His exact words were “I’m here to play ball, not spill my guts to a bunch of damn reporters.”
That was rich coming from a guy who’d spent the past year partying, setting a new record for being ejected from games, and pretty much nailing anything in a skirt.
Now he wanted to keep a low profile?
If he wasn’t her problem, she’d probably find it amusing.
As the senior media relations coordinator for the San Francisco Blaze Major League Baseball team, it was her job to handle all aspects of public relations for the team. There were days when she felt like a babysitter to a bunch of six-year-olds, but she had landed her dream job and truly enjoyed coming to work every day. Or at least she had until Matt Scanlon arrived on the scene.
“We’re here to celebrate our victory.” She lifted her beer. “Not talk about that pain in the ass.”
Angie laughed. “I’ll drink to that.”
“You’re starting tomorrow.”
Matt Scanlon looked up from the notes he’d been studying and watched J.T. Sawyer head toward him. J.T. had just come from the showers and had one towel wrapped around his waist and another looped around his neck.
“I heard,” Matt said. Closing the binder, he rose from the slatted bench in front of his locker and pulled his gym bag from the alcove. “Morgan told me before he went home.” He shoved the binder into the bag and zipped it.
“It had to happen.” J.T. halted in front of his locker, two down from Matt’s. “That’s why they brought you here.”
J.T.’s voice held no rancor, which was surprising because until the Blaze had bought out Matt’s contract with the Dodgers, J.T. had finally gotten the chance to be a starter. Now he was back to being number two and yet the guy seemed to hold no ill will toward Matt at all.
“I guess they figure you’ve had enough time to get to know our pitchers,” J.T. continued as he pulled out a deodorant stick and quickly applied it.
“I suppose so.” He’d gotten to know them, all right. Most of them hated his guts.
“You wanna grab a beer?”
J.T.’s impromptu invitation was the first one he had received since he’d joined the team. A bit surprised, he nodded. “Sounds good.”
“There’s a place not too far from our building. Kamu’s. Have you been there yet?”
J.T. lived in the same building Matt did, just across the street from the team’s ballpark in the area of the city generally referred to as SoMa, or South of Market Street. Several of his teammates who resided in other cities also rented condos or apartments near Blaze Field during the season. It was easier getting to and from work that way.
“No. But I’ve gone past it on my morning run.”
“I think you’ll like it.” J.T. pulled the towel from his neck. “The owner’s been a Blaze fan since the seventies. It’s the one place around here where we can go and have a beer or a meal in peace. The owner makes no bones about throwing out anyone who gives the players a hard time. Plus, he’s got a shitload of memorabilia. It’s fucking awesome.”
If Matt were a Blaze fan he’d be thrilled to see the team’s memorabilia. But he wasn’t. He was a Dodgers fan and had been since he was old enough to swing a bat. Now he was playing for the rival team he’d hated and ridiculed his whole life.
There was no doubt about it. He’d fucked up his life—royally.
Not long after he and J.T. left the clubhouse, Matt sat at the bar with a beer in front of him, watching the highlights from the day’s games on one of the flat screens mounted above the bar. Like most sports-related establishments, Kamu’s featured a gleaming mahogany bar with comfortable leather-padded stools as well as a number of television sets located in strategic positions for optimum viewing from either the bar or the adjoining restaurant. Framed photographs of Blaze players past and present hung on the walls, and when he and J.T. walked in, he’d noticed a custom-made cabinet that housed autographed baseballs near the entrance. It was a baseball fan’s paradise.
Today had been a rare off day for the Blaze but several other teams had played. His former team, for one. He watched the footage of the Dodgers beating the Braves, but because his loyalty had been in question ever since he got to San Francisco he forced himself to remain impassive.
He was anything but.
Starting a few days after he’d been traded, the Dodgers had embarked on a winning streak that had catapulted them into first place in the division. Conversely, the day he’d donned a Blaze uniform, the Blaze had lost enough games to drop out of first place and into second, tied with the Padres.
Taking a long pull of his beer, he half listened to J.T. talk to the bartender. He heard Rick Taylor’s name mentioned, and for the first time in his life knew what it was like to play in someone else’s shadow. What was even more messed up was that Rick Taylor was a damn rookie.
The best rookie catcher to come along—well—since Matt himself. Not that he was bragging or anything. After all, he did have the National League rookie of the year award to prove it. Until his motorcycle accident, Taylor was a shoo-in for that same award. By all accounts, Taylor was a decent kid from Texas who had earned the respect of his teammates with his strong worth ethic and solid leadership.
Now the team was floundering without him.
A light tap on his shoulder pulled him from his thoughts. He turned to find a stunning blonde sliding onto the stool next to him.
“You’re Matt Scanlon,” she said, flashing a wide smile. Her eyes were sky-blue and her breasts impressive. She looked like a centerfold model—exactly the type of woman he went for. Or she would be if she wasn’t looking for a relationship. He liked to keep things casual. And by casual, he meant sex with no strings attached.
“And you are?” he asked, angling away from J.T. to give her his full attention.
“Stacia Lindstrom.” She tilted her head and gave him a practiced smile. “I don’t usually approach men I don’t know, but I’ve heard so much about you that I had to come over and say hi.”
“I’m flattered.” He’d heard that line before and had, many times, used it to his advantage. It was amazing the number of women who chased ballplayers. Some just wanted to score with a professional athlete, while others were looking for more. Specifically, to sit in that special section in the ballpark where the players’ wives and girlfriends sat.
“How do you like San Francisco so far?” she asked.
“I haven’t had a chance to see much of it yet.”
Stacia’s smile turned suggestive. “I’d be happy to show you the sights.”
Matt had a pretty good idea what sights she meant and the thought wasn’t unappealing. He cast a quick glance at her amazing rack. “Can I buy you a drink?”
After thirty minutes Matt had a good idea of where he’d be spending the night—or at least a portion of it. And he was looking forward to it. He hadn’t gotten laid since he’d left L.A. and needed to release some tension. Sex between two consenting adults who knew the score was the way to go. He didn’t have time for a relationship, and after the year he’d had, he didn’t think he could deal with the emotional baggage that came along with one. All he wanted was uncomplicated sex.
Excusing himself from the bar, he left Stacia with J.T. and headed for the restroom. There was recognition in several people’s eyes but no one said a word to him. Just like the team, the fans in San Francisco treated him warily. In L.A. he’d been the toast of the town, but here he was persona non grata.
Rounding a corner, he headed down a short corridor decorated with Blaze memorabilia. As he approached the men’s room, the women’s restroom door opened and the woman who emerged caused him to stop cold.
Kelly Maxwell’s eyes narrowed and her expression hardened the moment she saw him. He recognized the look—it was the same one he got whenever they crossed paths.
“What are you doing here?” she asked in her husky voice that reminded him at lot of the actress Demi Moore. When he’d met her in L.A. a few weeks ago it was the first thing he’d noticed about her. That and the fact she was an Amazon.
“Having a beer,” he said, quickly taking in her grime-covered baseball uniform. The word Panthers was emblazoned across her chest and she had a baseball cap turned backward on her head. Her cheek was lightly streaked with dirt, and although she’d just come from the restroom she hadn’t bothered to wipe it off.
She was the antithesis of everything he found attractive in a woman.
Obviously, she found him just as unattractive. Her whiskey-colored eyes looked at him like he was lower than pond scum. Not the typical reaction he got from women, but then Kelly Maxwell was anything but typical.
“I hear you’re starting tomorrow.” She folded her arms across her chest. He noticed a scrape on her forearm and assumed she’d gotten it from the game she’d apparently played tonight. “The Brewers have been on a hot streak. Please tell me you’ve done your homework and studied their hitters. Or have you been spending your free time partying it up like you have all season long?”
As always, he bristled at the disdainful tone of her voice. “Are you fucking kidding me?” He glared at her. “I’ve been in the National League for eight years. I know who can’t lay off the first pitch, who’s a sucker for a hanging curve, and who I can rattle with a well-timed insult about their mother.”
Damn the woman. From the first moment he’d met her she’d been able to make him lose his cool.
Kelly’s lips twitched with amusement. “I was just asking. You really shouldn’t be so defensive. It’s not my fault your sorry ass got traded. I warned you it would happen, remember?”
He fixed her with a hard stare, and like that night in L.A., she didn’t flinch and she didn’t back down. God, she was infuriating. The air grew taut between them.
“Oh, I remember.” She was tall—six foot at least. He was an inch above that. There weren’t many women who could meet his gaze levelly. But she did. “You’ve got quite a mouth on you. That’s not an attractive quality in a woman.”
“Like I give a fuck what you think.” Kelly’s eyes flashed with fire. “And I couldn’t care less what you find attractive in a woman. Judging by your choice of companions for the past year, I’m sure it’s not brains.”
“Yeah, I swear. So what?” Unfolding her arms, she got right into his face—so close he could see the golden flecks in her eyes. “You men and your double standards. It’s okay for you to cuss, spit and scratch your balls but if a woman swears it’s a big deal.” She let out a sound that bordered on a snort. “Give me a break.”
“I’m just saying…” He grinned. He’d gotten a rise out of her and derived great satisfaction from doing so. “If you want to catch a man you won’t do it cursing like a sailor and not hitting the showers before you show yourself in public. You smell like a locker room.”
Her eyes widened and then narrowed with anger. “My whole team is here, you ass. We came here after the game. It’s a ritual. I’m not at Kamu’s to catch a man.”
“That’s obvious.” He brushed by her and headed for the men’s room. As the door shut behind him he was pretty sure he heard the word bastard and couldn’t help but chuckle.
Score one for him.
Text Copyright © 2013 by Alison Packard
Cover Art Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.