Authors: Mindy Klasky
Tags: #spicy romance, #sports romance, #hot romance, #baseball, #sexy romance, #contemporary romance
FROM LEFT FIELD
From Left Field
Copyright © 2014 Mindy Klasky
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portion thereof, in any form.
This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published by Book View Café Publishing Cooperative
Cover design by Reece Notley
Book View Café Publishing Cooperative
P.O. Box 1624, Cedar Crest, NM 87008-1624
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. Thank you for respecting the author’s work. Discover other titles by Mindy Klasky at
After thirty-two years of Baseball Opening Day Barbecues, Haley Thurman should have been an expert.
It wasn’t all that tricky. Buy enough food for a full-scale deployment of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Bring extra chairs into the living room while the game was on, so everyone could watch the Raleigh Rockets win their first game of the season. Make sure the beer stayed cold and the grill stayed hot.
And keep an eye on the dogs.
That’s where she screwed up. She should know better by now. But Killer, the toy-size mop of a mutt, had woven between her ankles, pressing against Haley’s shins to express undying canine love. Darcy, the three-legged beagle, began baying like his heart was about to break. And Heathcliff, the brains of the operation, used his height to snag an entire smoked pork shoulder from the counter.
She got it back from him. In a household that included three dogs, a grumpy cat, and a tank full of fish, chaos was the norm, and Haley was used to moving fast to avert disaster. But by the time she made her recovery, the pork was beyond salvaging. The human guests would have to make do with beef brisket, grilled chicken, links of sausage (hot and sweet), gallons of Brunswick stew, and a dozen assorted side dishes, all served at picnic tables in the back yard.
The dogs got locked in the laundry room—better late than never—and Haley rewarded herself with one of her ice-cold beers.
“Careful, now. Toss ’em back like that on an empty stomach, and you’ll be staggering by sunset.”
Of course, she recognized the voice before she turned around. Thirty-two years of being next-door neighbors did that to a person. “The man of the hour,” she said, grinning as Adam Sartain folded her into a bear hug.
“Sorry I’m late,” the Rockets’ left-fielder said, brushing a kiss against her cheek. “The post-game press conference went on longer than I thought it would.”
She laughed as he let her go, and she turned toward the fridge. “You say that every year,” she said, automatically reaching toward the back for his preferred Guinness.
“Every year, I think I can slip out early.”
“Sure, the team would be fine with that. The face of the franchise, ducking out of a little Q and A because he’s got barbecue waiting across town.”
“A man should have priorities,” Adam said, grinning easily. He accepted the beer and handed over a white pasteboard box in exchange.
“For me?” Haley asked, pretending surprise.
Adam chuckled. “Like I could forget and dare to show my face around here? Happy spring training.”
She eyed her annual treat of Florida salt water taffy longingly. “I should eat dinner first.”
“I won’t tell on you,” Adam said.
Not that she needed his permission… She pounced on a piece of cinnamon candy, tearing off the waxed paper and slipping the pink stuff into her mouth. She sucked hard on the spicy sweetness. The taffy was so soft that she moaned a little in pleasure.
He laughed. “Huh. I’ve worked for years to perfect my sweet loving, and all I really needed to do was give a girl some of that candy.”
She almost choked. There’d been a time, for about three days back in high school, when she would have swooned to hear the word “loving” come out of Adam Sartain’s mouth. But her brothers’ mocking had knocked that insanity out of her system fast. So she grinned and said, “The truth hurts, doesn’t it, buddy?”
Adam shook his head in pretend mourning. “I thought you invited me every year because of my winning personality.”
“I invite you every year because my brothers would kill me if I didn’t. Let’s go. Michael and Billy are dying to talk about that suicide squeeze in the ninth.”
Adam led the way. He knew the screen door as well as she did; he remembered to lift on the handle as he pushed it open. He
remember—he’d been running in and out of this kitchen since he was a skinny blond boy with summer shorts, a bare chest, and scabbed knees.
The hair had darkened over the years—it was chestnut brown now, with a hint of silver coming in at his temples. And he wore an anonymous navy polo shirt to cover his chest. She had no idea about the state of his knees, especially after that hard slide he’d taken into second, in the bottom of the fifth.
Adam Sartain might be the most popular player on the Raleigh Rockets, the steady left fielder who’d shown up day in, day out for nearly a decade of play. But first and foremost, he’d always be Haley’s next-door neighbor. That’s the way things had been for decades. And that’s the way Haley wanted them to stay forever.
Hours later, Adam whistled in admiration as Haley let loose with a string of profanity that would have made her a star in the Rockets’ locker room. “Let me guess,” he said when she had finished. “Billy cleaned out the beer.”
“I should have known better than to trust my baby brother with putting away the leftover food.” She slammed the refrigerator door.
He was honor bound to distract her from thoughts of bloody revenge. “Any of that banana pudding left?”
“Aren’t you in training?”
“Sure. I’ll have a bowl now and run a few windsprints tomorrow.”
“A few hundred, maybe.” She grumbled, but she dished up two gigantic servings of dessert. He followed her into the family room, gladly accepting his bowl and collapsing on his end of the old, familiar couch. The sweetness in the first bite made his teeth ache, and he leaned his head back in contentment. “Man, it’s good to be home.”
“Come on,” she said, kicking him with a bare foot. “You love Florida. But now that you’re here, let’s go. Spring Swap. I went first last year.”
Yeah, she had. But maybe he could distract her into forgetting their stupid tradition. He put his bowl on the coffee table and pulled her feet onto his lap. His fingers automatically started to work the arch of her right foot, finding the pressure points and releasing her tension.
“Mmm,” she sighed, and he wasn’t sure if that was a comment about his hands or the massive bite of banana pudding she’d just shoved into her mouth. “God,” she moaned. “That feels amazing.”
“Sounds like someone hasn’t been getting any,” he teased.
She opened one eye. “Ante up, Sartain. I fed you, and I bought you Guinness. We all celebrated your win. Now it’s time for Spring Swap.”
Jesus. But Haley would never give up without a fight so he swallowed hard and confessed, “It was a dry season.”
Haley raised her eyebrows. “No one? Not all spring long?”
He shrugged. “I hooked up with one girl the first week, but she was out of there by the middle of February.”
“By Valentines Day,” Haley teased. “Don’t tell me you’ve lost that old Sartain charm.”
“I’m an old man down there.” He kept his voice light, but he saw her measure the truth behind his words.
“You’re thirty-two. I don’t think we need to drag out the wheelchair quite yet.”
He shrugged. “Half the guys are right out of college. Baseball is a young man’s game.”
And that was the thing about Haley. She didn’t try to tell him he was an idiot, didn’t try to make up a million excuses to soothe his ego. Instead, she sat up and pulled her feet out of range. “Hey,” she said. “Are you okay?”
And he should be, right? He had a year left on a multi-million-dollar contract that had pretty much set him up to do whatever he wanted for the rest of his life. So what, if his shoulder ached when he got up in the morning? Who cared if his knees complained for the first half hour he walked around? Why should it matter that the opposing pitcher never threw over to first once he got on base because he was never a threat to steal, not any more?
He still loved playing the game. And the team still looked to him for guidance. Hell, he’d taken the first question at the presser that afternoon, feeding all the usual answers about how this was the strongest team the Rockets had ever seen. And he’d loved saying it, because it was true. This team actually had all the parts to win a championship. With their starting pitching and their lineup of hitters, half the sportswriters out there said they were a shoo-in for the World Series.
“Adam,” Haley said, and he realized he’d let a lot of time go by without saying a word.
“Yeah,” he said, and he made himself smile. “I’m fine. But you’re not going to get any vicarious thrills from my wild exploits in the Sunshine State, not this year. So, your turn. How are things with computer genius Dylan?”
Automatically, he started looking around. Nope, there were only three dogs snoring in the huge bed beneath the grand piano. “You’re still together?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No. But I decided three dogs were enough for any girl.” She hesitated, but then she admitted, “There’s a cat around here somewhere. She’s probably curled up on my bed.”
Haley adopted a new pet after each spectacular breakup with the guy she’d been convinced was The One. Darcy had been that asshole with the Jaguar, the lawyer who’d screwed around behind her back for a year before she found out and threatened to cut off his balls. Heathcliff was the artist, the one who’d sponged off her for ages before she finally gave him his walking papers. Killer was… who the hell was Killer? Some other clueless jerk Haley had thought she could save, just like she thought she could save every homeless animal in Wake County.
“Let me guess,” he said. “The cat has three legs.”
Haley shook her head and kicked his thigh. “Nope, that’s Darcy.”
“Then she needed two thousand dollars’ worth of surgery before you brought her home.”
“You’re thinking of Heathcliff.”
“No one would adopt her because they thought she was a chupacabra.”
“That’s Killer, and she’s been over the mange for ages.”
“What’s wrong with the cat?”
“Nothing,” Haley said. But then she gave him a sidelong glance. “If you don’t count the fact she only has one eye.”
“What? There’s nothing wrong with Emma! It’s not her fault she got into a fight before Paws saved her!”
Paws for Love. Haley had built the damn thing from the ground up. She still wanted to drag home half the animals from the no-kill shelter. And she would, if she kept dating assholes who left her high and dry. “So,” he prompted. “Dylan?”
She grimaced. “He had an … anger-management problem.”
His gut tightened, and he sucked in air between his teeth. “Shit,” he said, and the word came out sounding like he was pissed with her.
She set her jaw. “Yeah. But I wasn’t quite the punching bag he expected.”
“What happened?” He wished Dylan was there, so he could beat the guy’s face in. He was glad the asshole wasn’t anywhere in sight because he wasn’t sure he’d know when to stop.
Haley squared her shoulders. “Turns out I learned
growing up with you and my brothers. My right hook’s as good as ever. I broke his nose, and he didn’t get a hand on me.”
She met his eyes. “Yeah. Well… Jesus. Sometimes I feel like I’m a million years old.”
“Don’t say that,” he warned. “Not when I’m six months older than you are.”
still have a marketable skill. What am
going to do in my old age?”
“Whoa! You’re getting way too close to a pity party. It’s a good thing Billy took the beer, or I’d have to cut you off.” He pushed himself upright and dusted off his hands. “Great Spring Swap. We really need to do this again soon. Not.”
“Yeah, well.” She shrugged. “Welcome home.”