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Saturday, May 19, 2018

COMING SOON! "THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY" - First in the ECHOES OF THE HEART series



SNEAK PEEK OF: Heather & Mike

The One That Got Away
(Echoes of the Heart, #1)


RELEASING 5/25 - FIRST OF A NEW SERIES 

ECHOES OF THE HEART 
SECOND CHANCE ROMANCE STORIES.

Chapter One


New York City, Upper East Side of Manhattan
Thrusting his hand into his pocket, Mike Sullivan made sure the little box from the jewelers was there. Of course, Amy might prefer to pick out her own ring, but she’d been hinting around about marriage for so long he guessed any ring would be welcomed.
On his way to the hair salon to pick up his girl, his phone dinged. It was a text saying they had been backed up and she was behind schedule. Already halfway there, he kept going.
His stomach became queasy. Was proposing to Amy a good idea? Good, old reliable Amy. Bill, his buddy, had made a case for her. He’d pointed out how dependable she was, how down-to-earth, rock solid, predictable. She’d never surprise him with something unpleasant, like screwing around. Mike gave a short laugh. Nope, Amy would never cheat on him because he doubted anyone would ask.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t a beauty, though she put out a lot of effort and came damn close. The woman had no sexual heat, but she was dependable as hell. He knew, when he got home from work, dinner would be on the table fifteen minutes later—every single night. As he waited for a red light to change, Bill’s words echoed in his head.
“What do you expect? Marriage is about give and take. You want someone who’s gonna be there to raise your kids. Pick ’em up from school every day. Cook dinner. Amy’s an excellent cook.”
He was right about that. Amy could cook like a gourmet chef. Mike frowned.
“You’re not still mooning over that flaky chick from Fire Island, are you?” Bill had asked.
“You mean Heather?”
“Yeah. That’s the one. It’s fuckin’ five years already. You’ve looked everywhere for her. She’s gone, buddy. You need a dependable girl, like Amy. Get married. Have a couple of kids.”
“What about happiness?” Mike had asked.
“Much overrated,” Bill had said as he shook his head.
Mike wasn’t so sure. Still, he’d planned to move into Amy’s apartment. In three days men were coming to stuff his belongings into a storage locker. His place was pretty well packed up. He couldn’t move in with her without at least the promise of marriage, could he? A lot of men did, but not Mike. He didn’t roll that way. Still, marriage meant giving up his dream of Heather. Was he ready to do that? He pushed her out of his mind and crossed the street.
When he arrived, he had about a half hour wait. Her hair had to be perfect. Everything about Amy had to be perfect; her clothes, her house, he hesitated to put down a glass, even on a coaster, on the coffee table. So God damn perfect it made him nervous. That was about to come to an end, once he moved in. “Messy Mike” she’d nicknamed him. He hated it, but she was right.
Heather popped into his mind. Her shoulder-length light brown hair hadn’t been perfect. Wind-blown from the ocean breezes, it had whipped around her face before settling on her shoulders in loose, messy curls. She’d worn no makeup that he could see, except a little lipstick. Pages of articles and stories had littered her beach house. There had been nothing perfect about Heather, except that she’d been perfect for him.
Sitting back, he rummaged through the magazines for customers until he found his favorite, Esquire. Glancing over the cover, he spied a small headline for an essay inside. It was titled, The One that Got Away. And it was written by a best-selling author named Heather Stone. He searched his brain, but couldn’t recall Heather’s last name, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t Stone.
Heather had been an aspiring writer when he knew her. But this couldn’t be her. Still, he thumbed through to the article, just to make sure. He read the opening sentence, and his mouth went dry.
“Mike, where are you?”
His eyes widened. No, this couldn’t be, she must be talking about someone else. But he read on anyway.
I’ll be darned if I can remember your last name. But you were the love of my life five years ago and I tossed you away like an old pizza box. I’ve regretted it ever since. I didn’t even listen to your explanation. I dumped you like a hot coal. I was wrong. If you’re out there, please give me another chance.
He stared into space, remembering that last day, five years ago.
Broken-hearted, Mike had leaned against the railing on the Fire Island ferry, riding back to civilization. Amid a crowd of twenty-somethings, he had struggled to keep his emotions in check. The boat was jammed with bodies making their way back to life in the big city on Labor Day. Summer was over.
He’d met the girl he’d been waiting for, then screwed it up. Listening to Bill, his best friend, was totally stupid. Anger had seethed in Mike when he thought of the idiotic advice his friend had given him.
“She’s one chick. It was ten days. Don’t be an asshole. Branch out.”
Under Bill’s guidance, Mike had spent the next weekend with a girl he’d barely known, instead of Heather. After finding out about it, Heather had cried, refused to speak to him, and taken the ferry back two days early.
On the choppy ride across the bay, he’d stood alone, searching for a way to mend the relationship. In a feeble attempt at a fifth apology, he’d called her, but she’d blocked his number.
She’d breezed into his life and seized his heart as if it was her due. And then she was gone because he had been an idiot. He’d been devastated.
Eventually, he’d moved on. But Mike had never forgotten her.
“Ready?” Amy asked.
Mike looked up. Smiling, Amy stood before him, every hair in place.
“I thought we’d go to Romeo’s for dinner. Is that okay?” she asked.
Flustered, he tucked the magazine under his arm and struggled to bring his brain back to the present.
“Sure, sure. Romeo’s is fine.”

He closed his fingers over the tiny box in his jacket pocket and transferred it to his pants. He pushed it all the way down before opening the door for her and heading uptown.

PRE-ORDER HERE:






Monday, May 7, 2018

The House that inspired "The House-Sitter's Christmas" #sweetromance

 I love when unusual experience happen, especially when they are inspired by my books. Last Saturday, I went to the Romance Writer's of American NYC chapter brunch on the East Side. When the event was over, I decided to walk a few blocks before catching a cab home.
   As I strolled up Park Avenue, the light change. In the mood to read, I decided to reread my "House-Sitter's Christmas" book when I got home. While waiting for a green light, I turned to peek at the magnificent townhouses on East 61st Street. And BLAM! There it was.
   I'd forgotten where the townhouse was that inspired "The House-Sitter's Christmas." It was on East 61st street. I'd passed it by on several occasions while visiting the dentist.
   I hadn't been back to that neighborhood for a year, so I hadn't seen it. Having some free time, I wandered over to get a closer look. My book had just tied for a third place award, and I wanted to refresh my memory on the magnificent building.
   I couldn't believe it, but there was someone working on the building. He was adding some cement to the wall by the stairs down to the basement door. I ambled over and started a conversation. Of course, he didn't own the building, but he worked on it often for the people who did.
   I told him about the book. He seemed fascinated, surprised that anyone would write a book about a building. It's a sweet romantic story, like a modern fairy tale. But the building does take on the role of supporting character.

   As we chatted, he assured me that the owners took good care of the building, maintaining all the old wood and beautiful features of a townhouse of that era. Practically drooling, I wished I could have seen the inside. Of course, I'd never ask. Too shy. Still, my imagination began to churn.
   Up close, the house is still stunning. The big staircase is one aspect that attracted me in the first place. And, yes, just like in the book, it has a big wooden door.
   We exchanged names. He wanted to know where he could get the book. I gave him my card and wrote the name of the book on the back. I doubt he'd actually buy it, but just the fact that he wanted to made my day.
   Such a serendipitious meeting. What are the chances I should happen to walk by that enchanting edifice, totally out of my neighborhood, on a Saturday and he'd be working there, outside?  I guess I was drawn to it, like a moth to a flame. As I gazed at it, I could swear I saw Laura Fleming and C.W. Banley in the window.
   A writer's inspiration can come from anywhere, at any time. I owe the elegant townhouse a vote of gratitude for inspiring an award-winning story. The romance of the era rubbed off on me.

Curious about this quirky little novella? Here's
a bit about the book:

At Christmas, Laura Fleming lived her fantasy adventure. Paid to house-sit for the fabulously wealthy financier, C.W. Banley, while he traveled, she eagerly headed for New York City. As mistress of his elegant townhouse, she baked cookies and dressed the old gent’s richly-furnished residence for the holidays.
As December rolled around, the lonely, lovely writer eagerly anticipated soaking up the Christmas atmosphere in the grand city. With only the cat for company, she’d turn Banley’s elegant home into a wonderland of sparkling lights, fragrant garland, and shiny tinsel. 
Every year, she wished, in vain, for a happy ending. Will this be the year that Miss Fleming discovers her dreams can come true, even in a big city, like New York?

A sweet, New York City Christmas Fairy Tale.


You can get a copy in ebook, paperback, even in large print paperback, or audio (with male and female voices) here (click on the site name):



























Thursday, May 3, 2018

Matt Jackson, Catcher - Bottom of the Ninth, Baseball romance series

I received this review from a reader on Book Bub: 

I recommend this book
I received a complimentary copy of this book and loved it so much that I purchased a copy. This was a fantastic book and a great addition to the series. I just love the entire Nighthawks and their women. Reading each of their stories has been a wonderful journey. I love the dual POVs and the addition to the having the entire Nighthawks reappearing in all the stories. This book was wonderful. I loved the scene with Matt at his sister's grave. What a touching scene. I cried. The book is so well written that I do get disappointed when the stories end. I highly recommend this story as well as the entire series to anyone!!!
Reasons I enjoyed this book:Easy-to-readEntertainingFunnyHappily Ever AfterOriginalPage-turnerRealisticTear-jerkerWonderful characters 

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After reading this, I went back and reread the scene. I agree with her, the graveside scene is poignant. I want to share it with you. Here it is:

“Come on, Matt. Going to Texas de Brazil. Steak. Meat. Lots of it,” said Jake Lawrence.
“You go ahead. I’ve got to be somewhere.”
“What’s more important than red meat?”
Matt laughed. “Not today, buddy.”
“Okay, but it’s your hard luck.” Jake headed for his car.
“So it is,” murmured Matt to himself.
Not quite out of earshot, he heard Jake complain to Dan. “Where the hell does he go when we get to Pittsburgh? Every time. He disappears.”
“It’s personal business, Jake. Don’t worry. He’s okay.”
“If you say so.”
Matt silently thanked his friend for stopping the query. He didn’t want to let everyone in on his personal pain. Pity embarrassed him. He slid behind the wheel and maneuvered the car to the Allegheny Cemetery, where Marnie was buried. He’d paid for her plot and the upkeep on it. He stopped to pick up some flowers on the way. Roses, if he could find them, were her favorites.
He placed the flowers on her grave and sat on a cement bench nearby. He was thirty now. She’d been gone two years. He smiled to himself. Last month she would have been twenty-two.
Sometimes, he’d simply sit there. Other times, he’d talk to her as if she was still alive. Today was one of those days.
“I’m doing good this season. Not batting as well as I could. Yeah, yeah, I know. I need to practice more. Maybe I’ll let Dan pitch to me. If I can hit his shit, I’ll be doing fine.”
He recounted the game, almost play-by-play. Marnie had loved to listen to his commentary on who was good and who had had a bad day. She swore she learned from his teammate’s mistakes and smart moves. Her attention had filled him with pride. So, he kept doing it, even though she wasn’t there to comment. He’d hear it in his head. Yes, he had known her that well.
After he reached the final out, he stared at the sky. A few wispy clouds blew by overhead. A bright red, male cardinal landed on her headstone. The creature watched him for a bit. Matt reached out. The bird darted his head from side to side, looked at Matt once more, and flew off.
“I get it. So, you’re wondering about my love life, right? I knew you would be. You always wanted me to get married. Don’t think that’s gonna happen, Marnie.”
He was quiet, as if listening to her voice.
“Yeah, I did meet someone. She’s hot. And like you, she plays ball. No, no, she’s not the one. I tried to tell you last time, there isn’t going to be ‘the one.’ Not for me. Women. Too much heartache.”
He sighed and looked away. “Maybe if I could find someone like you, well, that’d be different. But they broke the mold, sweetheart. Not gonna happen. Dusty comes close. The way she took care of my foot. Nothing to worry about. It’s fine now. But that’s because she nursed it. Like you would have.” He glanced at his watch.
“Gotta go. Having dinner with Pop tonight. Yeah, I promise. No yelling. Okay, kitten. I’ll be back when I can.” He pushed to his feet, took a deep breath, and walked to his car. “See ya next time,” he mumbled.
Visiting Marnie had helped him. It always did. But following it with time with his father…well, two steps forward, one step back. He maneuvered the rental car to Mifflin Mobile Court, where his dad lived.
Most of the mobile homes were in good condition. His father’s was passable, thanks to the handyman and housekeeper Matt had hired. They came by once every two weeks, fixed things, prepared meals, and cleaned. And the catcher footed the bill. His father had a small pension and social security, but barely enough money to scrape by every month.
He knocked on the door, and his father answered. He was taller than Matt, and slim. His eyes were bloodshot and his thin hair, gray. His shoulders were wide, but bony.
“Hi, Dad. Ready?”
“I thought we’d eat here instead. Grendel came by today. She fixed some stew for us. Come on in. Take a load off,” Tom Jackson said, moving away from the door.
Matt stepped inside, grateful that the housekeeper had been there. At least there wouldn’t be mold in the bathroom and a ton of dirty dishes in the sink. Something smelled good. He smiled. Guess she was a good cook too.
“Have a shot,” his father said, waving a bottle of gin at his son.
Matt raised his palm. “No, thanks, Dad. I don’t drink on the road. And you shouldn’t either.”
“Hell, we all shouldn’t do a lot of shit, but we do it anyway.” He poured himself half a glass and took a slug.
“It’s killing ya, you know,” Matt said, easing into a fake leather chair.
“So, what? What have I got to live for, anyway? Who cares if I die? You?”
“We’ve had this discussion a thousand times.”
“Yeah. So, let’s can it.”
“I promised Marnie I wouldn’t fight with you. So, let’s talk about baseball.”
“Marnie? She’s dead. She can’t talk to you.”
“I visit her grave, Pop.”
“I should do that. I’m a shitty father. Always have been.” He took another jolt of alcohol, to wash down the bitter words.
“Why don’t we have a pleasant conversation? How about those Yankees, huh?”
“You won yesterday. Way to go,” his father said, bringing the glass to his lips.
“It wasn’t too hard. The Wolves aren’t bad, but we’re better.”
“You always had confidence. God knows where the fuck you got if from. Sure as hell wasn’t from your mother or me.”
“Pop, can’t we have a pleasant conversation? What’s going on in your life?”
“Nothing. Not one Goddam, fucking thing. Screwed any girls lately?”
Matt made a face. “I’ve got a girlfriend.”
“She hot?”
“Yes. Nice too. She plays ball, like Marnie.”
“Bangin’ her?”
“Pop, that’s not an appropriate question.”
“Well, are ya? I bet you are.” His father sniggered.
“None of your business. Geez. Shit. Don’t you know when to shut up?”
“Stew’s probably ready. Let’s eat.” Tom pushed up on the arms of his chair and wobbled.
Matt grabbed his dad’s skinny arm and steadied the old man. “Why don’t you sit down? I’ll serve,” the catcher said.
“Good idea.” Tom plunked down onto a metal chair by the tiny table he called his kitchen.
Matt went to the stove. He took down two of the three bowls in the small cabinet and filled them with stew. Searching through a drawer, he managed to locate two forks and knives. He shook his head. Living like this was shameful. Last time Matt had given his dad enough money to move to a nicer place, the man had drunk it up in two months.
His father’s liver was failing. He didn’t have much longer to live, according to his doctor. He surely wouldn’t be a candidate for a transplant. Matt’s mouth pressed into a thin line when he remembered the conversation. Tom had been present and threw a fit when the doctor refused to put him on the donor list.
Matt wasn’t a man accustomed to doing nothing. He shifted his weight as he evened the portions in the bowls. He was a man of action, on the field and off. He took charge of his life. During off season, he had taken a short course in money management and handled his own finances. He’d done pretty well too. Watching his father throw his life down the neck of a gin bottle killed him. Anger gathered inside. What Marnie wouldn’t have given to have had this many years?
He carried the bowls to the table and prayed for silence while they ate.
“She’s a damn good cook,” his dad said, stuffing a piece of meat in his mouth.
Matt had to agree. As soon as he finished, he cleared, washed, and dried the dishes. Breathing a sigh of relief, he headed for the door.
“Great seeing you, Pop,” he lied, shrugging his jacket over his impressive shoulders.
“Say, son, can you spare a twenty?”
Every visit, he tried to make his getaway before his father hit him up for money. But the old man had caught on and snagged him at the door.
“Sure, Pop,” he said, slipping a crisp bill out of his wallet.
“Take care. Don’t get hurt now,” his father said.
“I won’t. Go easy on the booze, Pop.”
“I will, I will. Love you, son.”
“Love you too.” It was that last double lie that left a bad taste in his mouth. He pulled away from the parking lot and hit the gas pedal. He needed a shower.When he returned to the hotel, he raised a palm to his buddies in the lobby, but didn’t stop to talk. He turned on the water as hot as he could stand it and stood under it for fifteen minutes. 


Matt Jackson, clutch hitter, fielder extraordinaire, and team captain, is dynamite on the baseball field, but a loser with women. Or is he? He makes a show of coming on to chicks in bars, but always strikes out. Convinced being dateless is safer, Matt keeps his distance from women. Is he simply an insensitive chauvinist, or a crafty man hiding a secret?
Everything he believes in is challenged the day he walks in on a beautiful woman in the locker room. Dusty, the sharp-tongued spitfire, cuts the all-star pro down to size. Unwilling to accept second-class status, she challenges everything he knows about women.
Does a solo life make living with emotional pain easier? Drawn to the stunning, talented woman, Matt has a long way to go to win her trust. Getting close to Dusty is dangerous. Can he risk his well-protected heart? Matt faces a difficult choice -- will he make the right decision?

In case you want to read more of this stand-alone book, you'll find it in ebook, paperback and audio here:






 KOBO










Thursday, March 22, 2018

WILL GRANT, CENTER FIELD -- NEW RELEASE! #romance #sportsromance




Sometimes reviewers can sum up a book better than the author. Here are two of my favorite reviews:


March 27, 2018Format: Kindle Edition   A heartwarming tale of finding and creating a family when fate steps in with those curve balls the 'Hawks handle so well. This time it's Will, a hard-working guy given the chance of a lifetime in the major leagues, only to discover his real challenge lies off the field when he meets Jackie and her precocious son Mickey during winter baseball camp.   Continuing with the Bottom of the Ninth series emphasis on well-rounded characters who are genuine - warts and all - Will Grant's story takes a strong turn to how it feels when a man tries to do the right thing, then has to look failure in the eye and still keep on swinging. Jackie is one of the strongest female leads in this series, with real emotions and grit, and her son Mickey is a star-struck six-year-old with a story arc of his own that drives this lovely tale of what it means to be family - both on and off the field.   I recommended this very satisfying exploration of learning to fit in and second chances.

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"Once again Ms. Joachim hits one out of the park with this heartstring pulling story of rookie Will Grant,Jackie Rice and her adorable little boy Mickey. The foolhardy teasing to the young rookie is sure to make you smile. 
   Remembering how each and every player before him had to walk the path of good natured ribbing when they went after the female of their choice will make you laugh, shake your head and wonder if they will ever grow up. Our favorite author likes to spice her stories up with deeper and sometime tough topics and this one was no exception. 
   Love has no boundaries, society viewpoint tends to set the standards for what is acceptable and what is not, usually with a double standard. We view a couple that has an older male counterpart as acceptable but when the woman is the older partner she becomes a horrible person. Jackie made many references to their age difference as she struggled to accept her growing relationship with young Will. The fact she was a single mother and had a young son was also a hot topic, as they came as a package deal.          
   Many people are not willing to take on a ready made family and the responsibilities that come with them. The circumstances around Jackie's single parent hood also played a major role creating an underlying feeling of impending doom and the waiting of the preverbal other shoe dropping.
    The 1 in a million chance that Jackie's choices and a choice from Will's past would actually collide make for some intense drama. Ms. Joachim allowed us to see this situation from both sides, letting you feel both characters emotions, see both points of view and reminding the reader that a seemingly unimportant choice can cause consequences that can come back and bite you in the a@# in the future. A great story, awesome characters and a storyline that made you think." N.D.

***********************************
Excerpt:
This snippet takes place in Florida. Will's participating in the Nighthawks baseball camp for kids. It's his first day in the camp.

The next morning, he rose early and grabbed breakfast in the hotel dining room. He studied the roster, memorizing the kids’ pictures. He wanted to be able to greet them by name. He remembered how he’d felt on the first day of Little League. His mom had taken him. He had been small, short and slight back then. His teammates had nicknamed him “Bobble” because, with a helmet on, his head looked so big, he resembled a bobble-head doll.
He’d been intimidated at first. But his mother bucked him up. She and his dad worked with him after school. It wasn’t long before he was hitting doubles and outrunning the other team. He caught more fly balls than anyone else. After the first month, no one was calling him that atrocious name anymore. At the end of the season, the little kid from Sycamore Lane was a shoo-in for the most valuable player award. These kids were probably scared and unsure of themselves. He’d offer them a friendly, welcoming greeting, so they’d feel important.
There were twenty kids: ten per team, mixed, boys and girls, though there were only four girls. He’d make sure they got the same workout as the boys, but gentler. He remembered how he’d recruited his sister to work out and practice with him. This would be a cinch.
The packet contained directions to the stadium. He glanced at the wall clock. It was only eight. The kids weren’t coming until nine. Might as well get an early start. He pushed up from the table, fished the car keys out of his pocket, and headed for the door. Blam! A little kid wearing a miniature Nighthawks’ uniform slammed into him, almost knocking him down.
He narrowed his eyes. “Mickey? Mickey Rice?” The kid looked adorable.
“Hey, mister, how come you know my name?” The boy shot a suspicious look at Will.
“I’m Will Grant. Center fielder for the Nighthawks,” he said, offering his hand.
“Oh boy! You’re Will Grant! Mom! Mom!” the boy said, looking for his mother.
Huffing and puffing, an attractive blonde woman ran up behind the boy.
“This is Will Grant, Mom. He plays center field,” Mickey said.
“Did you apologize, Mickey? You almost knocked him down.”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry, sorry.”
“No problem.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Grant,” Jackie said, offering her hand.
He took it. Her hand was small but strong. Taken by surprise by her beauty, he stared. Words jumbled on his tongue like a seventh grader. She was gorgeous. Sucking in air, he forced himself to focus.
“Ms. Rice. Nice to meet you,” Will said, trying not to drown in her blue eyes. Then he turned his attention to the boy. “And, you, too, Mickey.” Jackie glanced at her watch, then fastened her hand on her son’s shoulder and pointed him toward the dining room. Will took the opportunity to glance down at her left hand. No wedding or engagement ring.
“We’ve got to eat, Mickey, if we’re going to be on time.”
“See you at the stadium,” Will said, making eye contact with the pretty blonde.
She lifted her hand in a casual wave, gave him the once-over, and turned toward the dining room. Mickey waved, then let his mother lead him through the door.
Will smiled. What a fine woman, slim, but not skinny, with juicy curves in all the right places. She had checked him out, too, but he couldn’t tell if she liked what she saw. He knew one thing, though she might have a year or two on him, she was one hot baseball mama. Grinning, he headed for the parking lot. A little zing shot up his spine. Looked like this gig might have hidden benefits.
He had to be careful. Will didn’t want to make a play for a woman, only to get shot down and have her complain to management. That’s all he needed—a sexual harassment allegation. Just the idea made him sweat. He’d worked too hard to get to the Nighthawks to let his dick short-circuit his career.


PRE-ORDER THE BOOK HERE:

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

NEW RELEASE - MEET "SKIP QUINCY, SHORTSTOP"




MEET SKIP QUINCY, SHORTSTOP for the  New York Nighthawks. While this is book 6 in the Bottom of the Ninth series, it is a stand-alone read. 



   One minute ten-year-old Skip Quincy was riding in the backseat of his parents’ car, the next, he woke up in Little Angels orphanage. Within six months, he was adopted. He was welcomed by Mrs. Quincy, the woman he learned to call “mom”, but Mr. Quincy wasn’t a fan.
   Athletically gifted early on, Skip pursued baseball. He loved the sport and excelled, despite his indifferent dad. Driven to succeed to prove his father wrong, Skip worked hard. Under the guidance of his beloved high school coach, he won the coveted, challenging position of shortstop.   Though plagued by self-doubt, Skip made it to the Nighthawks. He focused on baseball and relied on brief encounters with groupies as a substitute for love. When two women entered his life, satisfaction with one-night stands faded. Mimi or Francie? Could either one give him the love and acceptance he’d never had?

EXCERPT

Skip, Bobby, Jake, and Nat donned sweats and headed for the field. They loped along, staying in a group until they’d done the warm-up, then they headed inside to pump iron. Skip loved the challenge of the weight room. He was reduced to adding reps, because Vic wouldn’t let him take a heavier weight. To avoid pulled muscles, the trainer insisted they stretch before working out.“Keep going. Push yourselves, just a bit. One more rep. Two more. But no pulled muscles!”Sweat soaked Skip’s T-shirt. He stopped to down a bottle of water, then jumped on the bike for cardio. Feeling his body perform, work, stretch, and grow stronger stoked his fire. Each session readied him more and more for the contest with the Washington, D.C., Wolverines. Playoffs were next week. He’d be ready.The men took a break. There was a buffet spread for lunch in the dining hall. Bobby got behind Skip in line.“What happened to that Banner chick? You didn’t bring her last night.”“Right. I’m taking her out tonight.”“Big night?” Bobby nudged him in the ribs and wiggled his eyebrows.“None of your beeswax, jerkoff.”“Just thinkin’ it might be nice if you got a little, for a change.”“I’m gettin’ plenty.”“Yeah? From who?” Bobby picked up a plate.“None of your damn business.”“Not from Francie?” Bobby’s voice rose.“No way. I keep tellin’ you, she’s like my little sister.” Skip speared a piece of ham and put it on his dish.“Good. Leave her alone.”“Says you?”“Yeah. She’s too nice for you.”“Fuck off. I’ll go out with whoever I want.”“She’s got enough problems, without you messing up her head with your dick.”“That’s weird, buddy. What you just said? Very weird.”“You know what I mean.”

EXCERPT

Dan swiveled and fired at Bobby, who was between first and second. Skip ran to second, anchoring himself with his back foot up against the bag, and stretching out toward the second baseman with his other one. Bobby tossed it to Skip, who bent down and tagged Weeks’ right foot as he slid into base. The bastard raised his left foot, aiming his cleats at Skip’s back leg, but the shortstop dove forward, into the dirt, bending his back leg at the knee, barely avoiding the spikes. And he kept hold of the ball, nestled snugly in his glove.

“Out!” The umpire called, making a fist and pumping it toward the ground.Weeks jumped up and immediately argued with the umpire. Skip smiled and loped toward the dugout. He knew he’d tagged him before hitting the ground. One glance at the Jumbotron, which showed a replay, and Skip shook his head, his grin widening. Eddie Weeks, once an asshole, always an asshole. Skip hit the dugout and nabbed a bottle of water, downing it in almost one gulp.Cal Crowley sidled up to him. With one nod and a pat on the shoulder, the manager said, “Way to go, Skip.”“Thanks.”After several teammates high-fived him, he sat down, waiting his turn to bat. Nat was up first, then Bobby, who was in the on-deck circle. Skip couldn’t wait. Confidence flowed through him. This was going to be his game. He felt it, in his bones. All the weeks, months, and years of endless practice would come together on this field, starting today.He stood up, walked to the front of the dugout, and glanced at the stands. The seat he’d bought for Mimi Banner was empty. Swinging his gaze to the left, he spied Francie Whitman, sitting next to Elena Delgado. That was all he needed to know.

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Glancing up, he spied Mimi, hesitating at the front of the restaurant. She wore a low-cut black dress. His gaze zeroed in on her chest. He marveled that such a petite woman could have such large breasts. He wondered if they looked bigger because she was so tiny. When he finally looked up at her face, he frowned. She looked lost. Skip raised his hand to catch her eye.She smiled and headed for his table. He rose and pulled out her chair. She smoothed her skirt over her thighs and sat down.“No one’s done that for me in a long time,” she said.“Rowley didn’t pull out your chair?”She shook her head.“You were his wife.”“Didn’t seem to make much difference.”“Don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but he must have been kinda stupid.”“Thanks.” She shot him a warm smile.The conversation was going exactly where he wanted. He needed to come off as a thousand times better than her dead husband if he wanted to warm her bed. Soft, brown curly hair caressed her shoulders. He wanted to touch it but suspected she was skittish and would freak out if he reached across the table to comb his fingers through her locks.Rowley had smacked her around and been suspended, and eventually fired, for it—and for steroid usage. According to the coroner, steroids had caused the heart attack that killed him.“You must miss Rowley,” Skip said, signaling for the waiter. “What do you want to drink?”“Just ginger ale.”Skip raised his eyebrows. “I have a game, but you have no reason to avoid a drink.”“I stopped drinking two years ago.”“Why?”“Alcohol made Rowley more violent. I needed to stay sober to keep my wits about me when he was drinking. It just became a habit.”Switching to her choice, Skip ordered two ginger ales. He couldn’t imagine what it was like to be chained to a guy like Banner.“Makes sense. Are you hungry? All the food here is good. Trust me. I’ve eaten everything on the menu.”“All at once?” she asked with a twinkle in her eye.

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