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Authors: Rebecca Crowley

Love in Straight Sets

BOOK: Love in Straight Sets
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Love in Straight Sets
By Rebecca Crowley

Regan Hunter came to tennis late in life, but she’s worked hard to become one of the world’s top players. Beating the odds has made her unstoppable on the court and neurotically controlling off of it. So when her manager hires a new coach, a has-been who left the sport after a scandal, Regan wants him gone, fast.

Ben Percy, a former Grand Slam winner, is well aware of Regan’s reputation for driving coaches away—usually screaming. But working with the notoriously mercurial Regan could be just the break he needs to take his career to the next level, and he’s never been one to scare easily. He must stick to only one rule: hands off Regan.

Keeping his distance from Regan is more difficult than Ben ever imagined. Behind her tough, sexy exterior is a woman he wants to get to know better. And Regan feels a connection with her patient, easy-on-the-eyes coach that’s hard to ignore. But with the biggest championship of all on the line, romance may be completely out of bounds...

64,000 words

Dear Reader,

I’m jumping right into it this month because
New York Times
bestselling author Shannon Stacey’s next book in the Kowalski series is out in both digital and print at the end of April.
Taken with You
is the story of girlie-girl librarian, Hailey. She’s easy to get along with, is a small-town girl who loves where she lives, but she also loves nice clothes and fine dining and is looking for a guy who will be there when she comes home at night, and who will dress up and take her out to something a little more upscale than the local diner. It’s also the story of Matt, a hunky forest ranger who loves the outdoors, loves his dog, and is looking for a woman who doesn’t mind his erratic hours, will take a muddy ride on an ATV and won’t kick him out of the house when he walks in covered in dirt. Needless to say, these two opposites attract when Matt moves in next door to Hailey, and their story will take you on a wonderful romantic rollercoaster that will leave you with that happy-book sigh at the end.

If you love the TV show
Scandal
, have I got a new series for you. In Emma Barry’s Washington, D.C.-set, politically charged
Special Interests
, a shy labor organizer and an arrogant congressional aide clash over the federal budget but find love the more difficult negotiation.

April also brings a week of sports-related romance releases at Carina Press and we have six fantastic, very different contemporary sports romances being added to our already fantastic sports romance lineup. Allison Parr’s
Imaginary Lines
continues her new adult series. Tamar fell hopelessly in love with Abraham Krasner at age twelve, but knew he’d never see her as more than the girl next door—until years later, she gets a sports journalist position covering the NFL team Abe plays for...

Author Michele Mannon follows up
Knock Out
with
Tap Out
. Underwear model and playboy extraordinaire Caden Kelly will let nothing stop his come-back as an MMA fighter, especially a red-headed busy-bodied reporter hell bent on ruining his shot at a title. Meanwhile, Kat Latham writes the London Legends series about the world’s hottest rugby team. Book two,
Playing It Close
, features the team captain and a scandalous woman with whom he spent one passionate night and never thought he’d see again—until she turns out to be his team’s newest sponsor.

Kate Willoughby brings the on-the-ice action when a hunky hockey player falls helmet over skates for a nurse, but has to convince her he’s not the typical different-puck-bunny-every-day athlete in
On the Surface
. In a much more warmer-weather sport, professional tennis player Regan Hunter’s temper is as notorious as her unstoppable serve, but love and ambition will go head-to-head when she meets former player-turned-coach Ben Percy. Check out
Love in Straight Sets
by Rebecca Crowley.

And because we can’t leave out America’s favorite sport, Rhonda Shaw’s
The Ace
brings us a sexy baseball romance in a follow-up to her debut,
The Changeup
. “Love ’em and leave ’em” is real estate agent Karen Bently’s motto—that is until her longtime crush, ace pitcher Jerry Smutton, sets her in his sights and offers her a proposal she can’t resist.

But it’s not all contemporary romance all the time in April. We have an eclectic selection of books from a lineup of talented authors (as always, right?). R.L. Naquin is back with her popular Monster Haven series. If you haven’t checked out this fun, sometimes zany, but always adorable series, look for book one,
Monster in My Closet
, at all of our retail digital partners. This month’s installment,
Golem in My Glovebox
, finds crazy shenanigans mix with a gruesome, cross-country trail of clues, as Zoey and Riley attempt to save the rest of the country’s Aegises—and ultimately, Zoey’s lost mother.

PJ Schnyder is wrapping up her London Undead trilogy with
Survive to Dawn
, in which werewolf and pack medic, Danny, must choose between his Alpha’s orders and the human witch who might have the cure to the zombie plague. And in the second installment of the Once Upon a Red World science fiction romance saga from Jael Wye, the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk unfolds on a devastated Earth 300 years in the future in
Ladder to the Red Star
.

A.J. Larrieu debuts with her first full-length paranormal romance novel,
Twisted Miracles
. A reluctant telekinetic is drawn back to New Orleans’ supernatural underworld when her friend goes missing, but once she’s there, she finds her powers—and her attraction to the sexy ex-boyfriend who trained her—are stronger than ever. Talented fantasy author Angela Highland is back with Rebels of Adalonia book two in her epic fantasy
Vengeance of the Hunter
. As rebellion ignites across Adalonia, the healer Faanshi must save both the Hawk Kestar Vaarsen and the assassin Julian—the one from magical annihilation at the hands of his Church, and the other from a path of revenge.

For mystery fans, we welcome author Delynn Royer to Carina Press with her book,
It Had to Be You
. An ambitious tabloid reporter stumbles upon the story of her career when she joins up with a jaded homicide detective to solve the Central Park murder of a notorious bootlegger in 1920s Manhattan.

Rounding out the April lineup is a book for all Regency historical romance fans. Wendy Soliman’s Forsters series wraps up with
Romancing the Runaway
. When Miranda and Gabe discover her childhood home has been stripped of all its valuables, Gabe uncovers more to the old house than either of them had imagined. And with Gabe’s safety hanging in the balance, Miranda is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice...

I’m confident you’ll find something to love among these books and I hope we provide you with many hours of reading enjoyment and escape from the neverending dishes!

Coming next month: Fan favorite male/male author Josh Lanyon, an amazing science fiction lineup, more sexy cowboys and hot moments from Leah Braemel and so much more!

Here’s wishing you a wonderful month of books you love, remember and recommend.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Editorial Director, Carina Press

Dedication

For Mom and Dad. I guess those tennis lessons paid off after all!

Chapter One

Regan exhaled irritably as a shadow fell across her poolside lounge chair, obscuring what little sunshine managed to penetrate the cloudy sky. She opened her eyes long enough to identify her manager, Desmond Campbell, then snapped them shut and motioned for him to move.

“What do you want? You’re blocking my rays.”

“What rays? We’re having one of the coldest springs in Florida history. Just because it’s not raining doesn’t mean it’s time to throw on a bikini.”

“You’re from Edinburgh, Des. You can probably count the sunny days of your childhood on one hand. I’m a native Floridian who spent all morning on an indoor tennis court, and I need whatever sunlight I can get. Speaking of which, you still haven’t moved.”

“Sorry.” There was a scraping noise as he pulled up another lounger, and then the sun’s feeble warmth was back on her bare stomach. “But I do need to talk to you.”

Regan sighed. “Look, I know yesterday’s sparring match was terrible and that I wasn’t on form this morning either, but you have to remember that you’re not the only one looking for a big win this year. Maybe if you finally found me a decent coach, I could—”

“That’s what I want to talk to you about. I’ve hired your new coach.”

“Already? Please tell me it’s not that Czech guy again. Or that Swedish woman. She was awful. Or the one who—”

“You haven’t met him before. His name is Ben Percy.”

“Never heard of him. Who has he worked with?”

She heard Des shift on the lounger and didn’t need to open her eyes to know that the barrel-chested, ruddy-faced Scot was wearing his trademark expression of thinly concealed annoyance.

“He’s only coached amateurs so far. You’d be his first pro client.”

Regan shook her head in disbelief. After eight years on the professional tennis circuit she was finally a serious contender for a Grand Slam title, and he wanted to gamble on some no-name rookie? They both knew she wanted to retire at the end of this year. Her game was at its peak, the next generation of players was nipping at her heels, and she wouldn’t mind finally having some semblance of a personal life. She squeezed her eyes closed even tighter behind her sunglasses, trying to ward off the stress headache gathering at her temples.

“Not a chance. No way I’m squandering even an hour’s worth of practice on some complete random you picked out of the phone book. Find someone else.”

“You’ve fired everyone else,” Des retorted, his voice rising in volume. “Each one was either too tough, or not tough enough, or too old-fashioned, or too green, or whatever arbitrary reason sprang into your head the day you sent them packing. You’ve hit the bottom of the well, and now that you’ve earned yourself a reputation for being impossible to coach, you’ll have to take who you can get.”

Regan pursed her lips, still refusing to open her eyes and face the situation she was well aware she was responsible for creating. Ever since she’d made her late entrance into the sport after college, she’d kept an obsessively tight rein over her training, firing anyone who tried to wrest too much control out of her grasp. She’d had everyone from the most unconventional to the most traditional, and sooner or later they were all shown the door.

But it never occurred to her that the revolving door of elite-level coaches might someday grind to a halt.

“If that’s true, why are we starting down the amateur list with this Ben Percy guy? What are his qualifications?”

“Ask him yourself, he’s standing right here.”

Regan bolted upright so quickly that her sunglasses slid from her face and hit the ground with a clatter.

Sure enough, a man around her own age stood not two feet from the end of her lounger wearing a bemused smile. Coupled with his cinnamon-brown hair, eyes the exact color of green olives and a sharply masculine face that wouldn’t seem out of place in a commercial for a men’s cologne, he was annoyingly good-looking.

He inclined his head in greeting. “Nice to meet you, Miss Hunter. I’ve followed your career with interest these last few years.”

He spoke with a faint accent she couldn’t quite place, and she squinted as she tried to pinpoint a sudden sense of familiarity. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

His smile faltered almost imperceptibly, but Des waved his hand to interrupt before Ben could speak.

“Would you mind waiting for us inside? I need to speak to Regan for a few minutes.”

“Of course. I’ll see you shortly.” He shot Regan a confident, undeterred smile that could only mean trouble. She scowled at his departing figure as he rounded the pool and let himself into her house through the sliding glass door.

“You don’t have to say it—I know, you hate him already.” Des held up his palm. “Guess what? I don’t care. You only have a little more than two months until the Baron’s Open and I’m not going through one more coach swap before then.”

“Great, so I’m stuck with him by default because you can’t be bothered to find the right person?”

He leaned forward on the lounger until his elbows were on his knees. Des was usually impervious to her bratty diatribes. He was one of the few people she could count on to weather her fits of bad temper for the sake of genuine friendship, and she was fiercely loyal to him as a result. But now his face had a grim, serious set that she hadn’t seen before, and she braced herself for bad news.

“I can’t keep doing this,” he began. “I can’t keep paying out coaches’ six-month contracts when you fire them after three days and then spend hours on the phone trying to find someone who won’t hang up as soon as I mention your name. I know you got yourself into the pros almost all on your own—”

“From working the register in the club shop to the national rankings in four years,” she reminded him.

He inclined his head. “And maybe it’s my fault for letting you run the show for so long, but the truth is you need to loosen your grip and trust someone. You need help to win in London and Ben is our last hope. He stays, or I go.”

Des couldn’t have shocked her more if he’d slapped her. For a moment Regan was so devastated by the prospect of facing the world of professional tennis without her trusted manager that she could barely gather her thoughts. He’d been by her side since her last match in the NCAA and was more like family than her aunts and uncles back home in Jacksonville. She had no idea she made his life so difficult. Suddenly her lower lip was trembling from a rush of guilt.

“Okay,” she acquiesced. “I’ll stick it out with Ben until the Baron’s Open. Then we can reevaluate. Fair?”

“Fair.” He sighed with palpable relief and stood up. “Let’s meet your new coach.”

Regan leaned down to gather up her sunglasses and sarong, deciding not to voice her irritation at cutting short her sunbathing. “I could swear I’ve seen him before. Are you sure we haven’t met?”

“You probably saw him on TV.” Des’s tone became distracted as he pulled his vibrating phone from his pocket and scrolled down the screen. “He won a Grand Slam twelve, maybe thirteen years ago. He used to be a champion.”

* * *

“Ben Percy! I remember you.”

He spun at the sound of his name, grateful that Regan’s sprawling house was so austerely decorated that he couldn’t have been snooping even if he wanted to. The airy, high-ceilinged, utterly immaculate living room was so devoid of anything personal that it was like stepping onto a page in a furniture catalog.

As Regan approached him, wagging an identifying finger, he noted with mixed feelings that she’d wrapped a flowered sarong around her waist. He should be grateful for anything that combated the deeply unprofessional images that sprang to mind the instant he spotted her in that bikini—yet he wouldn’t have minded one more glimpse of the tantalizing strip of bright blue cloth running between those firm thighs. Her body was small but strong, and the power promised by her muscled frame was almost as sexy as the triumph that glittered in her big, dark brown eyes.

“I watched you win the Baron’s Open when I was still in high school,” she continued, advancing on him with her manager trailing a few feet behind. “I was hanging out in my dad’s store and he had a little TV behind the counter. You came out of nowhere to defeat Victor Borokov with this incredible serve—what was it, one-hundred-thirty-five miles per hour? One-forty?”

Ben shoved his hands in his pockets, smiling tightly. Over the years he’d developed a practiced nonchalance when it came to this topic, but he still hated reliving the past. “One-forty-seven, top speed.”

“And you were this young guy, only a year older than me, from somewhere unusual.” She squinted at him. “Kenya? Tanzania?”

“Zimbabwe.”

“That’s it.” She snapped her fingers. “It was the biggest upset in years. An eighteen-year-old kid bursting onto the scene to unseat the three-time tournament winner. Everyone thought it would change the entire game. That all the seasoned players should sit up and take notice. But then you disappeared. It wasn’t that you were getting knocked out in the early rounds—you weren’t playing at all. What happened?”

Des shot him a sympathetic look over Regan’s head. He knew the story.

“My father had some financial troubles, and there was a lot of legal wrangling that kept me off the court. I’m much happier on the coaching side of things—I wasn’t really cut out for the professional game.”

She looked unconvinced, so he hastily changed the subject. “Anyway, I’ve been reviewing your footage and I think there are several areas where I can help you improve.”

She crossed her arms, blocking his view of her pert breasts. “Such as?”

“For a start, you’re very short.”

“Is that right?” she drawled, rolling her eyes. “And what do you plan to do about that? Put me on a diet that’ll make me grow an inch?”

“I’m serious.”

“Billie Jean King was five foot four and a half.” She lifted her chin defiantly. “Same height as me.”

“Billie Jean King played in the seventies. It’s a tall woman’s game now—most of your opponents are nearly six feet.”

She sighed impatiently. “Get to the point.”

“It looks to me like you’ve only been taught how to overcome your height, not use it to your advantage. I’d work on that, for a start.”

“What else?” Her tone remained full of challenge, but her posture eased. Ben stifled a victorious smile.

“You’ve got a bold serve and a hell of an offense, but as soon your opponent puts you on the back foot, you fall apart. You have more power and zest than anyone in women’s tennis. Now you need to refine and control it. I can help you do that too.”

Des nodded enthusiastically as he moved to stand beside Regan, whose gaze swept Ben in a slow, careful evaluation. Her eyes lifted to meet Ben’s and their stares locked with a jolt, as if someone flicked a switch to send an electric current sizzling between them. A surge of primal lust roared through him with such intensity that he took a stumbling half step backward, wrenching his gaze from hers and shifting it to the back of a chair, the tiled floor, the tops of his shoes, anywhere that might provide a safe harbor from the sea of pure male desire on which he suddenly found himself adrift.

He’d expected that coaching his first professional player would bring new challenges, but instant, overwhelming and totally unbidden attraction hadn’t been on the list.

Des cleared his throat. “We’re looking forward to seeing you in action. Aren’t we, Regan?”

Ben allowed himself the briefest glance in her direction. Her eyes hadn’t left him.

“We sure are,” she murmured. She straightened, and in less than a second the steel was back in her expression. “I train in the morning and spar in the afternoon. Be at the clubhouse by seven o’clock tomorrow. Court number six.”

“I’ll see you there.”

She regarded him steadily for another moment, then pivoted and headed back toward the pool, not bothering to glance over her shoulder as she called, “Don’t be late.”

Des rushed forward to grip his hand in a firm shake, and Ben craned his neck to catch the barest glimpse of Regan yanking off her sarong before the burly Scot led him through the house to the front door.

“Regan trains here, in the gated community’s sports complex. I’ll give your name to security and tomorrow they’ll give you a pass for your car. I know she said seven, but I’d suggest you get here for six-thirty to set up. Sometimes she wants to start early. Any other questions, give me a call.”

Des moved almost as fast as he spoke, and the next thing Ben knew they were out from under the portico and shortcutting across the lawn to his car.

“Hang on. Are there any notes from previous coaches? Anything I should know about what they’ve tried before? I don’t want to jump into this blind and risk wasting—”

“Don’t worry about them. Just don’t touch the merchandise.”

“Excuse me?”

Des’s gaze swept him as Regan’s had, but his eyes were coolly assessing. “Are you married?”

“No.”

“Have a girlfriend?”

“No, but I don’t see—”

“Listen.” The hand on Ben’s shoulder held all the menace absent from the manager’s too-friendly tone. “I’m not old enough to be Regan’s father, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see her as the closest thing I have to a daughter. I know how these things work. Plenty of men in your position have already tried. You’re her age, in good shape, probably no stranger to female attention. But Regan doesn’t need any interference right now. Your job is to get her to the Baron’s Open final, and nothing more. And if I hear otherwise, you’re fired. Simple as that.”

Ben blinked once, twice, unsure whether to laugh in incredulity or storm off in offense. Des gave him a hearty slap on the back, and the salesmanlike grin was back on the Scot’s face.

“You’ll be fine.” Des was already backing away toward the house, tapping at the screen on his iPhone and giving Ben the distinct impression that the manager was trying not to give him the chance to change his mind. “See you tomorrow.”

He turned, made his way briskly up the front walkway and disappeared through the huge double doors without a backward glance.

For the next several minutes Ben stood motionless, with his hand on the car door, listening to the babbling water fountain in the center of the circular driveway and wondering what the hell he just signed up for.

BOOK: Love in Straight Sets
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