Rhonda Shaw © 2014 || Copyright © 2014 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.
“Love ’em and leave ’em” has been real estate agent Karen Bently’s motto for as long as she can remember. She doesn’t need a man, except to make her toes curl. Or so she thought, until her longtime crush, Ace pitcher Jerry Smutton, sets his sights on her.
After signing one of the largest baseball contracts in history with the Detroit Rockets, Jerry enlists Karen to help him find the house of his dreams. Their connection is instant and electric, but neither of them is the relationship type. When Jerry proposes a friends-with-benefits arrangement, that suits Karen just fine.
Passionate sleepovers soon turn into long, romantic evenings… Still, Karen and Jerry refuse to acknowledge they’re a couple. Karen insists that she’s immune to Jerry’s heart-melting charm. Jerry’s not ready to settle down. Denial is the name of the game, until one pitch changes everything…
“Where are we going?” Karen asked Maddie as she and Shannon trailed after her and Bree.
After the end of the game, which the Rockets had won, they’d met up with Maddie and Bree in the concourse area and, after Maddie had flashed some badge to Security, were now following them down a long tunnel that appeared to never end.
“We’re going to meet up with Chase,” Maddie said, glancing over her shoulder as she held Bree’s hand. “This is where we meet him after the game.”
“Ooohhh,” Shannon teased as she hip-checked Karen. “Maybe Jerry will be there too and you can get up close and personal.”
“Shut up,” Karen said as she shoved her sister, but didn’t miss the smile that Maddie threw them. “You too.”
“Lips are sealed,” Maddie said. “No one will mention your little crush.”
Karen sighed heavily. “I really hate you all.”
They stood around for a few minutes, bouncing on their toes trying to keep warm as they waited for Chase to emerge from the tunnel. When they finally spotted his tall frame, Bree gave a little squeal as she ran and launched herself into his arms.
“Hey, there. It’s nice to see you back in town. Awesome win today.” Karen stood on her toes to give him a one-armed hug once he’d extricated himself from Bree and Maddie.
“It’s good to see you, Karen. Hey, Shannon,” he said with a nod to Karen’s sister. “Smutty threw an awesome game today. Good way to start the season, that’s for sure.”
“What are you making up about me, Patty?” Jerry asked as he walked over to them with the catcher, Matt Buck, on his heels. He glanced over at Karen and a huge grin broke out on his face. “Aunt Karen! Where have you been, my love?”
Her eyes bugged out as he pulled her into arms and gave her a big bear hug, squishing her into his black North Face jacket. “What…” she sputtered as he squeezed her tight against his long, hard body. She was too shocked to enjoy being so close to him, but she caught a hint of his cologne. Woodsy, with a touch of amber, and that made her mouth water.
He pulled back and his coffee-colored eyes sparkled down at her. His short, dark brown hair was still damp from a shower. “There’s no need to be embarrassed. We all know I’m your favorite and that’s why I’m so glad I could give you, my number-one fan, a good game today.”
Before she could even utter a response, he cocked his head over his shoulder. “That’s Matt Buck. Bucky, this is Aunt Karen.”
Matt laughed as he held out his hand, his cobalt eyes twinkling as they crinkled in the corners. “Somehow I find it hard to believe that you’re his aunt.”
“He could only wish.”
Jerry chuckled but then noticed the tall blonde standing behind Karen and straightened up. “And who are you? You have to be related to this one here. You look just like her, only taller.”
Shannon smiled, despite hating the reminder that she stood out like an Amazon woman, and held out her hand as she walked over to him. “I’m Shannon and yes, she’s my sister.”
He shook it with a firm grip. “Nice to meet you, Shannon. Jerry Smutton.”
“Uh, yeah, I got that,” she said with a snigger. Her smile became shy as she met Matt’s eyes and gave him a little finger wave. “Hi, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Um, yeah,” he said with a big smile of his own. “Nice to meet you too.”
Shannon tore her eyes away from him breaking the sudden awkwardness and noticed that Karen was still staring at Jerry. “I think you’ve somehow accomplished making her speechless,” she said to Jerry with a humorous glint in her eye. “That’s quite a feat.”
“Oh fuc…shut up,” Karen quickly corrected when Maddie cleared her throat loudly and glanced down at Bree. “Just because he’s a big smart-ass doesn’t make me speechless. I’m just in awe of the size of the ego that walked in here and I’m feeling a bit smothered.”
Jerry threw his head back and laughed. “Whose ego? Mine or yours?”
Karen jerked back in surprise before her brows puckered. “My ego? What are you talking about?”
“Oh, I’ve heard all about you, Aunt Karen,” he teased with a wag of his finger. “All the stories.”
Karen looked over his shoulder at Maddie and Chase. Both of them shrugged, indicating they had no idea what he was referring to.
“And what stories would those be, Smutty?” she asked, using the nickname his teammates had bestowed upon him.
He paused for a second and then laughed again. “You called me Smutty. That’s funny. Come on, Bucky.”
Matt hesitated before grinning again at Shannon, who beamed right back at him. “It was really nice meeting you.”
Jerry, oblivious to what was transpiring between his catcher and Karen’s sister, gave Bree’s nose a squeeze and Maddie a quick hug before heading toward the garage. Halfway out, he turned around and walked backward, pinning his eyes on Karen.
“I’m serious, Karen. Don’t hide yourself anymore. Let me see your pretty face every once in a while.”
Karen felt something pass between them, an arc of electricity that caused all of the hair on her body to stand up. She thought she saw recognition of it in his eyes as well before he broke out in a wide grin and spun around, leaving her puzzled as to what had just transpired.
“Later!” he said with a quick wave over his shoulder.
Everyone looked back at Karen with raised brows when he was finally out of sight. For a moment, she was truly speechless, so caught off guard by the encounter with Jerry that she couldn’t even tease her sister about drooling over Matt. She could still feel the hard line of Jerry’s body pressed up against hers and she was cursing herself for being too stunned to enjoy it.
“What?” she finally exclaimed, coming back to her senses. “I don’t know what drugs he’s on.”
“Uh-huh,” Shannon said with a grin. “Don’t tell me your ego didn’t just inflate to astronomical levels.”
“Oh, God, please not that,” Maddie groaned. “That’s all we need.”
Karen glared at her sister and dear friend before sticking her tongue out at both of them. She stomped over to Chase and hooked her arm through his, leading him out of the tunnel toward his car and ignoring the trill of laughter behind her.
“Come on, Chase. You and Bree can take me to dinner. We’re leaving these bitches here.”
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"The in depth look at a struggling pitcher, the lesson of living each moment to the fullest, and learning to let go of the past to move forward were all integral parts of this truly enjoyable story. Check out Rhonda Shaw’s Boys of Summer series and her latest release The Ace, it’s a perfect way to start out this year’s baseball season." ~ Slick, Guilty Pleasures
"This was for sure a very heart warming fun read. I smiled and laughed throughout most of it and teared up a few times!! I really hated that it ended. I wanted more!! Good page turner here so if you love a sweet athletic guy, get to one clicking this one!" ~ Toshia, Give Me Books
"This was a good read, hard to put down and I can’t wait to read “Bucky’s” story which I’m hoping is next…" ~ Harlequin Junkie