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I’m not sure what made me do it.
The devil? Too easy.
My boss? Maybe.
My screaming libido? Ding, ding, ding—we have a winner.
Winning a dinner date with the hunky baseball player at the charity auction hadn’t been my intention. My boss dared me.
My family and friends constantly tell me I need to lighten up—I’m too serious, career driven, and they say I scare men away. Whatever. But there’s something about him and a dare’s a dare, right?
He promises to keep his hands to himself, but do I want to hold him to his promise or ask him to show to me what it’s like to be desired by the league’s hottest player?
It’s my last year in the league and the PR department talks me into a bachelor auction. It’s for my favorite charity so I dust off my tux and play the role that’s unfairly followed me my entire career—playboy athlete.
She’s the opposite of my usual type. She has brains and beauty. She’s a little grumpy, okay a lot, but nothing I can’t handle. Besides, once I sit across from her, I can’t stop thinking how she’d taste and look after a night spent in my bed.
Thinking fast because I can’t let her walk away, I tell her I could use some help with upcoming social events and ask her to be my fake girlfriend. Incredibly, she agrees.
I suspect she sees right through my lame attempts at impressing her, but I’m determined to put some sunshine into her life, chasing away her grumpy façade on the way to my first and last happily ever-after.
Chapter 1 (unedited version)
“Thea Lynch, this is absolutely the craziest thing you’ve ever done.” I whisper the words to myself as I make my way through the crowded ballroom, avoiding eye contact with anyone I know.
Unfortunately, almost everyone I know is in the room. Well, almost everyone excluding my parents—thank gawd, and older brother, Colton. Brenley, my sister, who had supplied the gorgeous floral centerpieces, was somewhere in the room and probably laughing her ass off.
Then, sadly, the realization that I didn’t have friends outside of work or whom I hadn’t met through work smacked me in the face.
So, yeah, everyone I know was here, and witness to my ramped up yet thoroughly under-utilized libido. And maybe I caved to the pressure of my boss’ teasing, along with her all-star player husband, when they’d not so subtly dared me a few days ago when they asked me to help them out.
Refusing to appear embarrassed, desperate or worse, giddy at the prospect of going on a date with one of the hottest baseball players in the country, unlike the previous women who’d won their bids, then fawned all over their “dates”. The auction was a yearly event supported various children’s charities in the region and featured local celebrities, including a couple players from the Idaho Outlaws baseball team.
I’d kept my cool, keeping my face neutral when the auctioneer declared me the winner. And I didn’t go up to the stage. I escaped. As much as my high heels allowed me to, I quickly made my way out of the ballroom and down the hallway where the checkout area was located for the winners to pay. What had I been thinking? This was so unlike me. And I couldn’t even blame it on too much champagne. I’d agreed to this, but the reality of it brought all my younger self’s insecurities bubbling to the surface.
Passing life sized photos of all the bachelors lined along the walls, I came face to face with the high-resolution print of my date. I stumbled slightly at the intensity of his light hazel eyes peering back at me. Brock Cameron, third baseman for the Idaho Outlaws, notorious playboy and Pineville’s favorite hometown boy, had risen to fame and fortune with his on-the-field talent and the league’s highest batting average year after year.
He made my heart skip, my lady bits tingle and question my sanity. The first two I could hide. But the last one? It was on full display earlier as I raised the paddle handed to me by my boss, Kelsey Jansen, with the assurance her husband, Maverick and star pitcher for the Idaho Outlaws, would pay the winning bid. It was for a good cause, after all. All the funds raised tonight would go to the local club for disadvantaged youth, The Children’s Club and other charities in the Pineville area.
“Thea, wait!?” My boss’ voice rang out. Kelsey caught up to me, cradling her very pregnant belly.
My stomach dropped at the sight. I fast walked toward her, so she’d stop. “Kelsey, are you crazy? Slow down or that baby is going to make an unscheduled appearance, and I’m not taking the blame when Maverick finds out you were running down the hall after me.” My hands were outstretched in a vain attempt to keep said baby from possibly hitting the ground should my thoughts become reality.
“Stop worrying about me. I’m just here to pay.” She sidestepped me waving what I could only assume was Mav’s black Amex card and stepped up to the alcove where event’s staff was taking payment. She signed the receipt, then turned back to me. Just watching her made me dizzy.
“Kelsey, this is insane. I can’t believe I listened to you and Mav. Maybe it’s not too late and we can go speak with the lady who lost? I’m sure she’d be ecstatic to go on the date with Brock.”
I knew better than to try and talk my boss out of anything, let alone her and Mav’s screwy attempt at match-making, but the swarm of butterflies in my gut made me try.
“This is not going to work, Kels. I don’t know what I was thinking. Because obviously I was not thinking. And I can’t even blame it on alcohol.”
“What are you really worried about, Thea? This is exactly what you need. You are way too serious about everything and don’t pull that face with me. I’m worried about you. So, sue me. You need to loosen up, have some fun. What better way than a night out with the handsome Brock Cameron?”
She was making me sound like I never had any fun. And so what if I preferred a quiet night in rather than clubbing? My friends were constantly trying to set me up, and I was constantly shooting them down. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a man in my life, I just wanted the right man. And he wouldn’t be found in a bar, online or at a bachelor auction.
Yet, as I had the thought, a part of me screamed “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” If there was one man who could make me change my mind, it was Brock.
How Kelsey and Maverick knew I had a secret thing for the six-foot-two chiseled ballplayer, I had no idea, and for once I should stop being a “negative Nelly” and go with the flow—maybe.
I gave her a nod. “Let’s get you back to your table so you can sit down.” When I turned to lead her back, I smacked into a wall. A firm, muscular wall encased in a custom tux.
“Brock, perfect timing. This is Thea Lynch. Thea, Brock Cameron.” Kelsey stood next to us, beaming like a proud mother.
Reeling from the contact with Brock’s chest, I took a moment to catch my breath. Leaning back, I smiled, or gave it my best shot, then nodded and tried to untangle myself from him.
But Brock wasn’t letting go. He had a large hand on my shoulder and the other around my waist as he steadied us both, and I had to fight to melt into his warmth. A quick inhale had me taking in his spicy cologne mingled with his unique musk, had all my nerve endings firing and my girly parts sighing, “Oh, my.”
“You okay, Thea? Sorry. This wasn’t the way I wanted to meet.” His smile lit up his face.
My eyes locked on his full lips as they spread wide. Fighting my body’s reaction to keep my features schooled, I gave him the tiniest of smiles in return.
There was no way I was going to let him know how much his presence, his touch, affected me. It was a knee jerk reaction I used whenever I found myself with a man who turned me on. Something I’d perfected since college, when I’d been shot down in spectacular fashion by the big man on campus in front of all my friends. Some things you never forget.
I hadn’t been thin enough, or pretty enough, for him and he’d let me know…loudly, and even though he’d been inebriated, and my friends tried to convince me it was no big deal, I knew the truth. There was an old saying “A drunk man’s words were a sober man’s thoughts” and it launched me into a panic attack that from that moment on had me surrounding myself with a heavily guarded wall of skepticism whenever I found myself attracted to a man.
I held myself stiff, but not quick enough. My body had already settled into his frame, if only for a split second, when my hands had grabbed onto his broad shoulders. And, oh how those shoulders felt under my sweaty palms as I dug into his hard flesh through the material of his tailored tuxedo.
His arm snaked around my waist, keeping me from stumbling and from moving away.
We were locked in the intimate embrace for less than five seconds, but it was the best five seconds ever. My soft curves pressed up against his hard, muscled frame was heaven itself or what I imagined was the feeling of instant connection I’d been missing my entire adult life.
Swallowing a low moan, I quickly schooled my features, flattened my hands on his chest, and pushed away. I could have wept from the contact, the heat I’d absorbed from him before the chill of the surrounding air swept over me, mocking me for giving up so soon, and the bliss I felt being in his arms.
Damn, I wanted to lean forward and bury my nose in the crook of his neck and take another hit, but I held. I kept it together and instead fell back on my years-long perfected persona of being unaffected, disinterested and slightly annoyed by someone who dared showed me the tiniest interest.
Yeah, I know how eff’d up that sounds, but after the humiliation in college plus years of seeing my mother deal with a cold, unloving husband who never showed her the physical affection she craved, I’d developed what I thought was a failsafe solution in avoiding any hint of rejection by a man.
But for a moment, that one perfect moment, I was almost positive I read interest, maybe even desire, in his eyes as I broke out of his hold. But I allowed insecurity to take the reins once again, nodding coolly, then mumbled something I wouldn’t remember later even if offered a million dollars. I excused myself and strode toward the ladies’ room.
I heard Kelsey apologize for me. Disappointment laced her tone, loud and clear. I berated myself for messing things up for her and Mav. Then, right before I entered the ladies’ room, I looked back. Why I tortured myself I couldn’t say, but I felt as if they’d been watching me flee and I just had to see if the itch of mutual desire I’d felt in his arms was real.
Brock’s eyes were locked on me. Not in anger at my obvious rudeness, but loaded with heat as his gaze ran over me before settling on my face. One corner of his mouth lifted, and I swore he was daring me to call him out for the obvious full-body scan that left me flushed and needy.
Instead, I did what I always did. I ignored it and him, bolting into the washroom.
Standing in front of the long row of sinks and mirrors, I braced my hands on the cool granite and stared at my wild-eyed reflection.
What in the hell is wrong with me?
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