3 CHAPTER SNEAK PEEK
“Mav. Get your ass up and unlock the damn door!”
Shouting and pounding erupted from outside the hotel suite door waking Maverick Jansen from a dead sleep. He didn’t know if it was night or morning since he’d closed the blackout curtains after he checked in last week and
The pounding started again. Like someone was doing a tap dance on his skull. And the voice he heard sounded suspiciously like his catcher, Luke Garibaldi, who had just rocketed to the top of his shit list.
But after the last couple of months of hell both personally and professionally, Luke was also quite possibly his last friend on earth. Mav couldn’t afford to ignore him even if he wanted to. But he wasn’t above messing with him for a few more minutes.
“C’mon, it’s Luke, I need to show you something.”
Real concern laced his teammate’s words, but Mav wasn’t ready to face anyone. Not even his best friend.
Another round of pounding. “Someone down the hall is calling security. C’mon, Mav.”
“In that case, you’d better leave.” Maverick then shouted louder, “I’m going back to sleep. You’re on your own. A charmer like you can fend for yourself.” Maverick immediately regretted that choice. He grabbed his head and cursed. Sitting up, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and used words his momma never taught him.
As he sat there ignoring Luke, Mav still couldn’t get over the fact that he was still on the team. During the league’s winter meetings last month he thought for sure he’d be traded or let go after the disaster at the division championships. But here he was in a luxury hotel room since he hadn’t bothered finding a place to live when the Outlaw’s move from Boston to Pineville, Idaho of all places had been announced.
But that second chance hadn’t kept him from accepting drinks from fans as he hung out at O’Malley’s last night. He’d found the pub the first day he’d been in town, and it felt like home. He’d been having dinner there the last few nights while trying to keep a low profile. Until last night when he’d finally been recognized.
Mav ripped off his sheets, stood up, then his world tilted. Yeah, maybe that fourth shot last night hadn’t been his best decision. Or the three beers in between.
More pounding erupted.
“Man, the last thing you need is security riding your hide. Open up.” Luke paused. “Please? I have news and it’s not good.”
“All right ... all right, hold your goddamn horses, you citified cowboy.”
Bracing his pitching arm against the wall next to his bed in the five-star resort bedroom overlooking the lake that had drawn the area’s early settlers and brought tourist from around the world, Mav thought about moving toward the door, but that’s as far as he got.
Damn, it hurt like hell to think.
Taking a deep breath, then another, he spoke again. This time in at normal volume. “Hang on. Let me throw some pants on.” Mav stumbled around the darkened room searching for his sweats.
Luke was right. He sure as hell didn’t need hotel security up in his business. Squinting at the clock he thought it said four ten, but was it morning or afternoon? Making way toward the door before Luke could begin another round of rat-a-tat-tat.
“Mav, I swear to the good Lord above, if you don’t…c’mon hurry up, I just heard the ding of the elevator. Besides, it’s not like I haven’t seen your package in the locker room. If I wasn’t impressed then, I sure as hell won’t be now. Open . . . the damn . . . door.”
The desperate tone in Luke’s voice slammed into him. Fear of what awaited him on the other side of the door turned his blood ice cold as memories assailed him. Maverick’s stomach clenched; the nausea he thought he had under control reared its ugly head.
Maverick had had enough bad news in the last few months to last two lifetimes.
Hopping on one foot as he finished pulling on his sweats, he said, “This better be good, Luke, because I was having this crazy good dream and….” Not really, but he needed one more moment to steady himself.
Ready or not he blew out a short breath, threw the dead bolt then flung open the door to let in the person who more than likely was the only one who still gave a shit about him.
Luke brushed past him, talking a mile a minute.
“Mav, you need to see this. Some asshole taped you going off on our ex-owner, the league, and the commissioner. It’s all over, man and I just saw one of the network channels use it as a tease for the lead story on the evening news.”
“Slow down. I need coffee to keep up with your motor mouth.” Squinting from the glare spilling in from the hallway, Maverick held up a hand to block the bright light.
“What are you talking about, Luke? When? I haven’t been anywhere except here and O’Malley’s for the past few days.”
Dragging his sorry ass back across the room, Mav sat in the armchair opposite the bed and put his feet up. Luke looked fuzzy, so he closed his eyes and prayed. When was he going to get a break so he could heal in peace?
“Yeah, well it was filmed before we moved. Remember when we hit that bar right after it was announced the team was sold and the new owner was moving us to Pineville?”
“Wait a minute, wasn’t that the night that girl and her friends followed us from the restaurant, and she kept trying to get me to, uh . . . kiss her?”
“Yup, a kiss and then some. I think she said she wanted to have your baby.” Luke scratched his chin, zoning out for a second. “Too bad we left after that. Her friend was hot.”
“Luke, focus. Get your head out of your pants and get back to the reason you nearly tore down my door.” His gut signaling this conversation would not end well.
“Hey, look who’s calling the kettle black, Mr. Bad Boy of Baseball.” Luke held out his cell to Maverick. “Just watch it.”
“Call me that again and you’ll be eating this phone.” Mav hated the nickname the press had stuck on him his first year in the league. Grabbing the phone, he sat forward and braced his elbows onto his knees. A lump the size of a cement truck landed with a thunk in his stomach at the first frame.
He so fucking did not need any more drama in his life.
He watched his image appear in the smoky shadows of his favorite pub in Boston. The one he and most of the single players hung out in after home games.
Mav watched himself rant on the league for letting the new owner move the team to “Hicksville.”
Then he cringed as he listened to his stupid-assed-self complain there were probably “only two traffic lights and not even an Applebee’s.”
Between his f-bombs and hand gestures, it wasn’t hard for anyone to know what he thought and what he considered the “doom” of the team. It also wasn’t hard to guess what the woman on his lap wanted from him.
Damn, damn, damn.
The video ended and Mav tossed the phone back to Luke. “How many hits did you say the video has?”
“I didn’t, but it’s going on four hundred and fifty thousand.” Luke plopped his large frame down in the chair across from him looking as sick as Mav felt. “It’s also on the local news, and the tabloid shows are tearing apart every word you said. They’re throwing out crazy theories and talking about your ‘purported’ drinking problem.”
What the hell? He wasn’t a drunk, dammit. Well, not yet officially—maybe. Even he knew he was walking a fine line with his current love affair with premium whiskey. Leaning forward he hung his head in his hands. God, he needed something for the drum solo playing in his head.
“Hey, do me a solid and grab a water bottle out of the mini-fridge, would yah?”
Damn. Maverick never considered someone would film him at Kelley’s Pub. It was, or had been, a safe haven for the team. The patrons left them alone when they were there to blow off steam and gathered there on game days to watch them on the big screens.
“So, don’t you think you need to call your agent and see what you should do?” Luke tossed him the water bottle.
“I would, if I hadn’t fired his ass last week.” Mav took a swig of the water and wished he hadn’t. It rolled around in his stomach. What his body really craved was the only sure thing that would cut through the fog of the morning after: coffee—strong and sweet.
“What is with you? You need someone to handle this crap. You can’t do it all on your own and work on rehabbing your arm.” Luke hadn’t sat back down and it hurt his head to continue looking up at his friend’s six-one frame which was large for a catcher, but he made it look easy.
“Sit your ass down.” Rubbing his neck, Mav stared at the water bottle again wishing it were a cup of coffee. “Yeah, well, he was skimming, Luke. I shouldn’t have trusted him to handle my accounting too. So no, I don’t need some slick ‘yes man’ pretending he cares about my career so he can get his hands on my endorsement money.”
Mav tried to ignore what looked like pity on Luke’s face. “Listen, don’t feel sorry for me, I’ve had enough of that from everyone since the accident. Besides, it was effing satisfying when Jerry realized he wasn’t dealing with some rookie ballplayer who doesn’t know a capital expenditure from depreciation. I guess the business degree I earned to please my father paid off after all.”
“Okay, so now you have no one to call, other than TS,” Luke pointed out. “And man, our new owner is not going to be happy with you. Bad timing, Mav, ’cause I know you want to get off the disabled list by the beginning of the season.”
Mav stared at his buddy. Yeah, for starters getting off the disabled list would go a long way in putting his career and his life back in order. And not letting Luke down was a close second. Baseball had brought them together; pitcher and catcher in the beginning, then friends, and now—brothers. He needed to man up and act like this situation was fixable. No big deal.
“So, what’s your first move?” Luke asked.
“I could be wrong here, but I think this is going to blow over in a day or two. No hear me out. There’ve been plenty of players complaining about the move to Pineville. My comments just happened to have been recorded when I wasn’t aware.”
“You mean drunk.” Luke smirked.
“Not drunk, dammit. You were there. Sure, I had a few, but I was far from drunk.”
Mav stood up and paced the room. Who could he reach out to for help when everyone he trusted was either dead or had given up trying to get him out of the hell he’d placed himself in?
Luke moved out of his way. “Okay, maybe not shit-faced drunk, but you’d had a few. How will you handle the fact that you had a half-naked woman on your lap while you were railing against the commissioner and our joke of an ex-owner for selling the team?”
Another valid question he didn’t have an answer for. “Yeah, that’s something I’m going to have to work on.” Mav groaned and rubbed the knots from his neck. “But first I need to get some decent coffee and a hot shower. What time is it anyway?” he asked.
Mav’s entire body ached. He’d need more than a couple of aspirin to shake the hangover this time. Stopping in front of the sliding glass doors he watched as heavy raindrops pounded the lake. The storm that the local forecaster promised had arrived.
“Four thirty.” Luke answered.
“In the afternoon?” Mav turned away from the view he’d grown to enjoy since he’d been in Pineville knowing he wouldn’t find any answers today among the white caps.
“Yeah, in the afternoon. The party’s in less than an hour.”
He’d forgotten about the event their new owner had set up to introduce the starting players to the city’s movers and shakers. The one bright spot of the evening would be meeting the directors of the Children’s Club. The Outlaws had chosen the organization to work with as part of their community outreach.
“Jeez, Mav. You really need a keeper. Plus, you have to come up with an explanation for TS, the USBL . . . oh and, let’s not forget the tens of thousands of local community members who’ll be buying tickets.”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass.” Luke grinned.
“You’re a real comedian, Luke, but right now you’re the only one still speaking to me, so help me out and call room service for some decent coffee while I shower and try to come up with a plan. Otherwise, we both might be out of a job by tomorrow.”
“Wait. What? Why would I be out of a job?” Luke asked. His Oklahoma drawl held a hint of panic.
“Because, cowboy, your mug is in the background of that video, and you’re grinning like a fool.”
Kelsey Sullivan waited in the executive reception area of the newly finished Idaho Outlaws’ stadium. Standing in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, she drank in the dramatic view of the choppy surface of the Kokanee River directly behind the newly built facility in Pineville.
It was late January and the sky was full of dark clouds ready to burst. She thought about the man whose viral tirade had brought her back to her hometown. She’d bet her last dollar that he was also ready to burst right about now. And if he wasn’t, even she might not be able to fix the mess he’d created.
Shifting her thoughts to the team owner, Thomas Scott, TS as he was known to family and friends, didn’t do things halfway. He’d spent hundreds of millions to bring his boyhood dream to reality. Some of that money had gone to taking a chance on the once star pitcher for the renamed Idaho Outlaws. . . a star who been ignoring all offers of help since his car accident.
She had formed an unlikely but close bond with TS in junior high. He was the lonely rich boy, Kelsey the girl from the wrong side of the tracks and somehow, they found what had been missing in their lives in each other, acceptance and a life-long friendship.
And because of that bond, she'd hopped a plane from L.A. in less than two hours after his call this morning.
From behind, she heard TS’s secretary answer yet another phone call. This time instead of the “No he’s unavailable,” reply Kelsey had heard at least a dozen times in the last half hour, she heard “Yes, she’s still here.”
As she turned to speak with his secretary, the massive mahogany door opened and out strode the uber-successful, uber-rich and sometimes uber-obnoxious Thomas Scott. Good thing she loved him because she was ready to rip him a new one for keeping her waiting. He knew how she hated to be kept waiting.
Tall and imposing at six three, he towered over her petite frame and most everyone who dared to go up against him. Before she could take two steps, she was enveloped in an enormous bear hug.
Laughing, Kelsey pinched his side then exclaimed, “TS I can’t breathe.”
Rocking back on his heels, he gave her a wide smile followed by a squinty once-over. There it was. The lethal look she remembered so well. “Yup, you’re still gorgeous. Anyone I need to keep in line for you? A new boyfriend? Some guy who isn’t treating you like the princess you are?” That was TS in a nutshell. Always looking out for her even if they hadn’t seen each other in ages.
“No, TS There’s no one at the moment. But thanks for the offer.”
“Thanks for coming on such short notice.” He gave her another quick hug. To the outside world he was as tough as they came, but with her, he showed a softer side. He was the big brother she never had.
“TS, you don’t have to thank me. You call, I’m there.”
“And I really appreciate it. So, you ready to go?” Just like that, he was back in business mode.
Confused by the question, she noticed his expectant look as if she were the one keeping him waiting. “Um, you mean into your office? Yes, I’m ready any—”
“No, I mean to attend the party with me?” he said.
“Party? Um, I think you’re confusing me with one of your many girlfriends. I wasn’t aware this was a date,” Kelsey teased.
“I’m sure I told you on the phone that my schedule was tight and we’d be attending a reception hosted by the city council. It’s a combo meet and greet for the players and fund-raiser for a local charity, the Children’s Club.”
Kelsey looked down at her business suit and sighed. “If you had told me, would I be wearing a button-down jacket and matching skirt? Dang it, TS, I don’t have time to change into cocktail attire.”
“Hey, you look great to me. Besides, you always outshine any woman in the room.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere, buster.” Shoot. Why hadn’t she thought to pack more than business clothes?
“Look, I’m sorry, Kels. With everything going on and the stadium’s construction, the relocation of the team, and now this viral video . . .”
“Right, the infamous Bad Boy of Baseball himself has gotten into yet another tight spot. I’ve checked out the video. He definitely isn’t doing you or the team any favors. Maybe you should just cut your losses, let him out of his contract? I mean from the research I did on him during the plane ride, you’ve still got him on the disabled list, right? Built in reason to let him go. And all the reports say he’s lost his edge.”
“You know how I hate to disagree with you, Kelsey, but I will anyway. Maverick Jansen may currently be a thorn in my ass, but he has talent, a shit load. He’s coming off a rough end to the season and the death of his kid brother. I’m willing to ride this out, for now. I need your super powers to help him. And me. What do you say?”
TS flashed her what she was sure was the cheesiest smile in existence. She couldn’t say no to that face when we were kids, and he was making it doubly hard to do so now.
“Mr. Scott, Henry is waiting for you down in the garage. He has the car ready to go.” His secretary said.
“Thanks, Lois. Please let him know we’ll be down shortly.”
“How late are we?” Kelsey asked.
Lois answered for her boss. “Thirty minutes. The reception began at five thirty. They’ve been calling every five minutes asking for your status.” She sent them both a stern look over her glasses.
Kelsey turned her head away to conceal her laugh with a pretend cough. Good for Lois. TS needed someone to keep him in line.
“Listen, I appreciate you giving me this opportunity, but as I said on the phone I’m slammed with high-maintenance clients, so no promises. If it was anyone else, TS, I would have hung up the phone. So, I’ll hear you out and weigh the pros and cons and then turn you down. Probably.”
She had no room in her schedule for a self-absorbed athlete who refused to help himself.
“Kelsey, you’re killing me here. I need you on this ASAP. Send Lois your invoice for the flight and I’ll cover it for you. Oh, and your Social Security number. She’ll set you up on the payroll tonight.”
“I haven’t said I’d take the job.”
“But, you will.”
“We’ll see,” she countered.
“Kelsey, name your price. I need you on this. Despite our friendship, you’re the best public relations consultant I know—”
“I’m the only one you know.” She laughed.
“— and how you handled the drama between the Carell sisters was brilliant. I need your expertise in handling this situation. Besides, you owe me and I know you too well. You’d never turn down a friend in need.”
“I. Owe. You? Really?” Kelsey loved a good sparring match, and it’d been years since they’d gone a round. “If you’re referring to the infamous double date, I’d say the statute of limitations has expired on that one. Sorry.”
“Actually, I’m referring to three years ago when that Italian businessman wouldn’t take no for an answer. I think I played a very convincing, and extremely jealous lover, don’t you?”
Kelsey snickered. TS had saved her from an embarrassing situation, but she’d never let him know it. He lived on information and ammunition. “If you want to convince me to help you out and take a job I’d normally never consider, you need to do better than that.”
TS did do better than that. He used his old standby move from their childhood. He gave her the look. She couldn’t say no to it. Dammit.
“All right, all right. Stop flashing me those puppy dog eyes. Jeez, I’m hoping this isn’t how you are in the boardroom--charming the pants off your adversaries. Eww, wait, sorry I put that visual out there." Shivering for effect, she watched him squirm at her teasing.
Laughing at his expression, she said, “So, dazzle me with your pitch, Mr. More-Money-Than-God.”
TS’ face morphed from boyish charm to corporate mogul in a flash as he guided her toward the elevator. “We’ll talk in the car. We’re late.”
“Now there’s the all-business, no-bull billionaire CEO I know and love. Oh, and just because I’m going to this event with you doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to anything. And, my rates will be double what they usually are—if I agree.”
TS ignored her comment and continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “I’ve put a lot of my personal money behind this team, but I have several investors and one minority partner to answer to, so getting Maverick back on track in the public’s eye and on the pitching mound is my number one priority. And after tonight, the goal is for it to become yours as well.”
“TS, based on the video, I think it’s going to take more than a few days to contain the public outrage over Maverick’s remarks. Plus, there are the rumors that his problems are deeper than losing his pitching control. Any truth to his drinking getting out of hand?”
“Maybe. But I believe there’s no one better than you to get my star player back in the good graces of the league and the locals. More importantly, the ticket buyers,” TS said.
“Thanks for the confidence, but until I can spend more time following every lead on his past, I won’t know if it’s possible to fix his reputation. Don’t let our friendship overrule your good business sense.” Kelsey knew he wouldn’t, but this was a negotiation and she rocked at negotiations.
He continued to stare her down. Like when they argued over who was better, Superman or Batman. Superman, of course.
Before he got all fired up with need to defend Batman’s honor, she continued. “TS, I’m concerned that he fired his agent and hasn’t taken any steps to respond on social media to the video. It’s been ten hours since this thing exploded. And there’re a dozen other questions I have that I don’t think you can answer right now. More importantly, I need to figure out if your ballplayer is worth my talents and my time. So, let’s get to this party you didn’t tell me about. I need a drink.”
TS flashed her a crooked smile. “I dare you,” he challenged.
Dammit, he knew her too well. She never could turn down a dare. Secretly though, she wasn’t so sure she was up to dealing with a player, on and off the field. She liked the sport, but not always the men who played it. TS thought he knew her, but he didn’t know everything.
Kelsey ignored his dare as she followed him toward the waiting limo. “So, where’s the party?” she asked.
“At the Lakeside Resort. It’s a short drive and after we arrive and get some drinks, we’ll talk more about what I have in mind. I’ll introduce you to some of the city leaders. Maybe you could field some of their concerns about Maverick blasting the city and its inhabitants?” TS assisted her into the limo then settled himself into back the rich leather seat. He was definitely a man used to getting his way.
Within ten minutes they’d arrived at the hotel. “Thank you, Henry. I’ll call you when we’re ready to return to the stadium.” TS walked over to her side of the car then placed his hand lightly on her elbow as they walked toward the revolving glass doors leading into the lobby.
“You know this is plain weird, right? We’ve never worked together. What if it ruins our friendship?”
“We won’t let it. Short of posting childhood pictures of me on social media, there’s nothing you could do to end our friendship,” TS assured her.
They skirted the tiered fountain in the lobby. Kelsey noticed guests milling about in cocktail attire. Tugging at her suit jacket she wished again she’d been able to change into her favorite armor—her little black dress from Chanel.
“Well, the evening has just begun. You shouldn’t have planted the idea.” Kelsey shot back. “I’ll help you with the locals tonight, as a friend, but that doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to anything.”
“This isn’t a job interview. As far as I’m concerned, the job is yours.”
“Are you sure he even wants help? Or to change? From what I’ve read, he quite enjoys ticking off the league and providing plenty of talking points for the news media. Not to mention his revolving stable of women.”
TS chuckled as he placed an arm around her shoulder. “Glad I amuse you.”
Kelsey escaped his hug then punched him. Playfully. It could have been harder but hopefully it was enough to let him know she was serious. Why hadn’t she just said no on the phone?
“You know, TS, I expected you to be more upset than you seem with Maverick. After all, he went after you in the video too. Yet, not once have you said anything derogatory about him. Why is that?”
“Because that’s what everyone would have expected. Don’t worry, he’ll hear about it, in private. I’m not interested in airing the team’s dirty laundry tonight. Plus, I know if he wasn’t still reeling from the loss of the division championship and his brother, he most likely wouldn’t have had such an ugly reaction.”
“Smart. Now, tell me why you gambled so much on this boyhood dream? Owning a USBL team then moving it to Pineville, which is the smallest market in the league is a huge risk.” Kelsey had been wondering if he was doing it for the right reasons since he called her two years ago when he’d begun negotiating with the league and the former owner.
“Life’s a gamble, Kelsey. Nothing is ever achieved without risk. Plenty of people told me I’d never achieve half of my father’s success. Between that and my hatred for that man, my need to prove him and everyone else wrong who thought I couldn’t become a success has fed my inner drive for as long as I can remember. Besides, Maverick just got caught talking about what a lot of people are still thinking about this ball club. And yes, bringing the organization to Pineville means a hell of a lot to me. But, I’m not naïve enough to think it’s going to be a piece of cake, but it’s going to be worth it.”
No one in the sports world was betting he would succeed. Probably because they’d never been in his presence. They didn’t know what he’d gone through as a kid, not really.
“What do you say, Kelsey? Do we have a deal?”
What could she say? She wasn’t ready to commit so she said, “Let’s see how the evening goes?”
They’d arrived at the penthouse and after stopping for introductions, TS guided them toward the bar for her promised drink.
She wasn’t about to tell him that she’d already begun mapping out an aggressive social media campaign, selected interviewers, and scoped out volunteer opportunities in the community. She knew she could handle the logistics of the job. But did she want to? Could she set aside her past prejudices toward baseball players and be the professional both Maverick and TS needed?
TS handed her a glass of wine and nonchalantly asked, “So, since you’re back in town, do you plan on getting together with Lara and Noel while you’re here?”
Well, huh. When had TS become so interested in her two best girlfriends? The three of them had been inseparable all through school until Kelsey had left for college. She’d texted them both after she booked her plane ticket to let them know she was coming to town. They were definitely overdue for some girl time.
“We don’t have anything solid planned. They know I’m in town for at least a couple days. Why are you so interested?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Just wondering. Thought it would be another perk for you to agree to stay and work with Maverick.”
Uh, huh. The man was digging for information. “That’s so thoughtful of you. Now, why don’t you tell me the real reason you’re asking? Which one is on your radar?”
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and honest to goodness, he squirmed. Oh, how she was going to have fun with this.
“Nothing like that, Kelsey. You know me better. I don’t have time for relationships. I was only asking because Noel had bid on my new condo project and she didn’t win. So . . .”
“So, you want to know if she called me to curse you out or maybe to see if I could pull some strings for her?” Kelsey took a sip of her chardonnay and waited. She’d never seen him speechless before.
“Nothing like that. It’s more… curiosity.” He took a large sip of his own drink then plastered a bored look on his face.
She wasn’t buying it. “Nope, she didn’t say a word to me. But I can find out if you want to know. Then I’ll see if she likes you or if—”
“Hell, forget I said anything. Can we get back on subject here?”
The intensity in his plea got to her. So, she let him off the hook—for now.
“Sure thing. First things first, and this is free advice, so I’m not committing to taking the position. But, it’s important that Maverick apologizes immediately. Tonight, is preferable. And he needs to mean it. He needs to prove to the national and local fans that he regrets his actions, his word choices. It’s crucial for the Pineville residents and surrounding communities to see, to believe, that what he said while drunk was not how he truly felt.”
“Perfect. If he doesn’t show up tonight, we’ll get you two together first thing tomorrow morning, afternoon at the latest.”
“Wait, what? No, we haven’t discussed anything. I’m just giving you first steps. Besides, I have terms. Don’t you want to hear them?”
“Kelsey, I know you better than anyone else. You thrive on the challenge of turning public opinion around. You wouldn’t have flown here on a moment’s notice and come to this party if you hadn’t already committed, in your own mind, to helping me out. Name your price.”
“Damn you, TS, you think you have me all figured out, don’t you? You have to know how tough this is for me, and yes, I really do want to help you, but—”
“Look, I know you have some concerns. Let’s say you work with him on a trial basis for the first week? Meet Maverick, set up a few strategy sessions. See how it works out? I’ll pay you a retainer fee until you decide to sign a contract.” TS named an astronomical number, nodded to someone across the room, then finished his drink.
Dammit, how could she turn him down now? She could handle a week with the moody bad boy, right?
Turning toward the bar, he hesitated. “Oh, and to sweeten the deal, if this goes well, I have an opening for vice president of communications. You’d be perfect.”
He was handing her the position of a lifetime, but could she overcome her past disappointments and return to Pineville permanently?
“What? All this time you’ve been holding that tidbit of information back from me?” He was talking more than a short-term job. VP of anything with a major baseball organization would mean she she’d be able to get out of L.A, something she’d been thinking of doing for a while.
But could she separate the heartache of her childhood with the career challenge? Seemed like Maverick’s poor choices would end up bringing her the new opportunity she’d been searching for. Kelsey smiled at TS, grateful for their friendship, and decided to take a risk.
She had a “yes” on the tip of her tongue when he walked into the room.
Maverick strode into the resort’s penthouse. He wore a frown and with a hooded glare swept his gaze over the room . Kelsey guessed it had more to do with one too many drinks consumed than his reluctance to make an appearance tonight. But that was unfair. She should give him the benefit of the doubt.
“Well, speak of the devil. Your favorite troublemaker just arrived.” She said. Noting the pitcher’s shoulders were thrust back, his arms held tight against his body. Hmmm. “And, he doesn’t look too happy to be here,” she murmured.
But he did look determined and yeah, movie star gorgeous. Maverick cleaned up rather well, wearing a midnight-blue evening jacket that showed off his broad shoulders to perfection. His thick hair usually worn in wavy locks that brushed his shoulders, a superstition he followed religiously during the season was now short. Back to the faux hawk he wore in the off season before he let it grow out again.
Much like Samson, he considered his pitching strength was directly tied to his hair. He once told a reporter about this superstition and all the players wore wigs to the next game. The public ate it up and now the diehard fans wore wigs to the home games. She wondered if that would carry over to the team’s new hometown.
“Kelsey, I’d like to introduce you two as soon as possible. But I was thinking we’d give him a few moments to settle into the room. I’ll go get us a fresh drink.” TS left her side.
Barely registering his comment, Kelsey was too busy sizing up her new client and admiring his . . . form. What was it about hard bodied athletes? Her skin began to tingle, and her breath became uneven at the thought of being pressed up against him. This was not how she’d ever reacted to a man and she’d met plenty of celebrities and other professional athletes. Her head wasn’t easily turned by a pretty face, or hard body.
Shaking off her reaction she wondered if the rumors she heard were true, that Maverick’s new best friend was a bottle of whiskey. It might explain his rigid posture tonight. Was he working off a bender? Noting he arrived solo, which was, according to the tabloids, out of character for him she wondered if he’d learned at least one lesson from this current mess.
His last relationship had been splashed all over social media. Well, not really a relationship, headlines had announced the unfortunate events during last year’s All-star weekend in Las Vegas: The Ballplayer and the Stripper had been a top story for weeks after.
Kelsey hoped he wasn’t fighting any more demons because he already came with more baggage than the team on a road trip. Add even one more issue to his list of problems and she would have to think twice about his chances at repairing his image.
Maverick turned and caught her looking at him. His face relaxed into a heart-stopping smile, and unfortunately it was aimed straight at her. His cornflower-blue eyes dared her to look away as he continued to gift her with his trademark lady-killer smile.
Lord almighty. No wonder women threw themselves at this man.
Holding her stare a moment longer, Maverick then raked his gaze over her warm face. Time stopped and all rational thought disappeared. Then he winked, breaking his spell.
Not easily seduced, she prided herself on controlling any situation in which she found herself. And that included dealing with flirtatious men. But this man, the player she was here to “fix,” had bespelled her with one look. A look that was now roaming down and back up her now humming body.
Well, two could play at this game. She held herself still, doing her best to control her rapid breathing so that by the time Mav’s eyes settled back on her face, she appeared bored or at least unaffected. She was rewarded with a wide-eyed reaction. She hadn’t earned the nickname “Ice Princess” in college for nothing.
A heated glance from a handsome man was not going to throw her off her game. Kelsey desperately needed to appear in control of her emotions, and her body’s physical response. Maverick didn’t need to know he’d captured her attention with one wicked smile.
She was here to do a job, not flirt or allow her libido to rule her good sense. Turning back to TS, she asked, “Does he know your plan?”
“Not yet,” TS answered. “I was going to give him tonight to stew about what I’m going to say. I want to see how he reacts here, in front of the hometown crowd first. See if he can hold it together. Tomorrow, I’ll drop the bomb.”
“Not bad. But are you sure that’s the best course? Lulling him into a false sense of security before going for the quick and painless strike doesn’t always work.”
“Hey, it’s my go-to move. How do you think I convinced the USBL to grant me the rights to move the team?”
“Yeah, whatever.” Kelsey smiled to ease the sting of her words, however she was secretly impressed by his tenacity. Always had been.
TS chuckled. “Kelsey, this is exactly why I need you. Why Maverick needs you. You don’t take any bullshit, even from me. I admire that. Always have.”
Glancing around the room again, she saw that the subject of their conversation was now leaning up against the bar and chatting with a few of his teammates and their dates. No longer looking her way, but her body was still humming, damnit.
“Huh. I would have figured you would react a bit differently.” TS murmured.
Busted. Giving him her full attention, Kelsey asked, “How so?”
“He’s a hotshot ballplayer. Good looks, money. Has a lot going for him despite his current challenges. I guess I would have thought you would have acted, I don’t know. More interested.”
“Really? How interested should I have acted? Especially since you want me to take him on as a client?” Narrowing her eyes, she leveled TS with her best don’t-mess-with-me glare. “I wouldn’t be able to do my job if I threw myself at the feet of your star player, my new client, now would I?” she answered.
“Guess I stepped into it, huh?”
“You could say so. Wouldn’t have expected it from you though. You know me better than that. Assuming I’m going to act like a fawning ball girl, a groupie no less, just because a handsome, mega-star athlete walks into the room and smiles at me is not going to win you my agreement to your job offer.”
“Okay. Then what will?”
Kelsey thought about it and looked over to where Maverick, the Bad Boy of Baseball, and jeez who came up with that nickname, was now standing next to the buffet. Plate in hand, listening to the mayor and a member of the city council discuss something baseball related, no doubt.
Even though she was across the room from him, another surge of warmth traveled down to her belly then lower. Damn, these reactions to him were not a good sign.
And wasn’t it just her luck that he looked over at her again, but instead of a smile, he gave her a slight nod before turning back to the men arguing next to him. Double damn. He’d caught her looking--again. Not good, and neither were the naughty thoughts his blue-eyed stare stirred within her.
Kelsey needed some fresh air and quick.
She turned her attention back to TS and named an astronomical figure--one even a billionaire would laugh at.
Choking on her wine, she blurted out, “Are you insane?”
TS reached out and patted her on the back. “Are you all right?”
Nodding, she swatted his hand away. People didn’t often catch her off guard. Not in her line of work. She took a long, hard look into TS’s eyes and saw how stone cold serious he was. “You’re crazy, my friend. No one is worth that, not even me.”
“Never say that again, Kelsey. You’re worth every penny and I’m getting a bargain here, especially if we come to a deal and you take on the VP position. I’m not sure why I didn’t consider you for it before now, but that’ll be our little secret.” TS grinned.
Even with the crazy figure she’d just named, Kelsey wasn’t letting TS get his way that easily. There was one more thing she required.
“All right, I accept. But on two conditions. One, if he is totally against this and refuses to do the work needed in the next two weeks, I still receive twenty percent of the figure I quoted.”
“Agreed. But he won’t. And what’s two?”
“Season tickets,” Kelsey said.
“Okay, but that was going to be part of the deal anyway and--”
“For life.” She set down her wine glass and walked toward the hallway leading to the ladies’ room. She looked over her shoulder, grinned, and said, “To the Seattle Authority. They’re my favorite team.”
“Hey, Mav. Glad to see you made it. Wasn’t sure—” Brock Cameron, their designated hitter and backup catcher spoke to Maverick as he joined their teammates already at the charity event.
“You wish,” Maverick interrupted. “Someone’s got to keep the ball girls happy.” Mav held up two fingers to the bartender. “Whiskey, straight up.”
Downing the drink, his thoughts went back to the memory that he couldn’t shake no matter how much he tried. Losing his kid brother then losing the division championship. Shaking off the darkness those thoughts always produced, he looked over to the new owner and the woman who’d captured his attention.
TS, who, unlike the team’s previous owner, and in spite of his harebrained idea to set up the team in Pineville, Idaho, Mav had started to think he was the best thing to happen to the team in years.
Rumor was TS had played college ball but never made it to the big leagues. Maverick had to hand it to the guy, his love for the game had shone through at the players’ meeting when he’d introduced himself. Of course, that was before he dropped the bomb that he gained the league’s okay to move the club. After meeting the players were split on whether the new owner was a step up from the former owner, crazy Billy Jack McGraw, or a fucking genius.
But right now, it seemed TS was working hard on impressing the knockout Maverick had slammed eyes with moments ago. Her obvious disinterest nagged him. But he also saw a flash of challenge in her eyes. Or maybe it was interest. Hell, maybe he was hoping it was.
He wasn’t used to being shot down by women. He’d perfected his approach in college and found a slow smile and leisurely body check were the key to an instant introduction. Not this one though. Glancing again at the woman who was occupying all of his thoughts, he wondered if she realized how her disinterest was a turn-on.
Damn, he loved a challenge and it had been a long time since he’d had this immediate physical reaction to a woman.
But now was a hell of a time to be battling a hard-on in the midst of a charity function full of the town’s politicos. He shifted a bit, adjusting himself. Scanning the room he caught Luke’s date, Syndi, checking him out. Turning away, he could still sense the heat of her stare. Shit. He was so tired of these groupies. And he didn’t want anything to come between him and Luke.
There had been a time he reveled in the nonstop attention from women, at least until the fiasco in Vegas with the stripper he hooked up with while trying to resurrect his libido. Embarrassed was too tame a word for what followed. She’d snapped a picture of him after he passed out, before he even got his pants off, and sold it to TMZ.
His sex life and his pitching hadn’t been the same since losing the championship, but maybe one of them was showing signs of life again. He tried catching the dark-haired beauty’s eye again as he strolled through the room. Her dark auburn hair was swept to one side. His palms itched at the thought of wrapping his hands up in its thick mass. Her curvy body gave him all sorts of ideas. He rarely went for the waif look that others favored and this woman conjured nothing but thoughts of tangled sheets and heated kisses.
Locked onto her, he found it difficult to break his gaze as she raised her wine glass then gestured to the door with her free hand as she spoke to TS. Damn, he wanted to be on the receiving end of all that passion. Her curves, encased in a dark green business suit, were more of a turn-on to him than the other women in the room wearing tight-fitting minis and blinged-out halter tops.
He thought better of pursuing her, for now. In the past he’d act before he thinking, and the video he currently starred in proved how much he needed to start thinking before he acted, ending up on the wrong side of public opinion—again.
Mav set down his untouched food then disengaged himself from the argument the mayor and some other guy were having about the new fifteen second pitch rule and made his way to the windows overlooking the lake needing a moment to himself.
But he couldn’t stop thinking about about her. Who was she to TS? Was she an acquaintance, girlfriend, or maybe a member of the city council here to schmooze him and the players? Whichever, he had to find out before the evening ended.
Laughter from across the crowded space had him turning back toward the main room. Somehow, he knew it was her. A siren-like sexy sound he couldn’t ignore. It grabbed him around his cock and held on. And just like that, he was hard--again.
What was it about this woman that his body had such an instant reaction to? He hadn’t even talked to her. Touched her. He needed to find out before he embarrassed himself in front of everyone.
Screw it. He was not going to let this opportunity get away from him even if the last thing he needed to add to his long list of problems was hitting on the owner’s girlfriend. He needed to find out who she was.