Read Curveball Online

Authors: Kate Angell

Tags: #Baseball Players, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Fiction, #Love Stories

Curveball

Curveball

Kate Angell

LOVE SPELL     
     NEW YORK CITY

A Swing and a Miss

He shrugged, blew her off. “I don’t care what you spend. The furniture means as little to me as my game meant to you today.”

She stood silent for longer than he liked, as if fitting missing pieces into a puzzle. She had no business trying to figure him out.

“Later, Keely.” He nudged her toward the door.

He jerked off his sweatshirt, in need of a shower. He tugged on the drawstring of his sweatpants, realized she hadn’t budged. “Staying for the show?”

She shook her head. “It’s Memorial Day Weekend. I’m taking two days off. The Rogues play at home. You’ll be around for the dogs. I’m going back to my apartment.”

Back to her place?
He’d allowed her into his life, only to have her cut him out?

Expecting her to leave, he dropped his sweatpants. One step toward the shower, and an unexpected slap on his bare ass spun him around.

“Congratulations on your win,” Keely managed, blushing. “Isn’t that what jocks do? Slap rear ends to celebrate?”

“You’re not a jock.” Psycho stared at her, finding it hard to believe she’d smacked him.

The sting of her slap had shot straight to his groin. Nothing outside of sex was going to appease him now…

To Sue-Ellen Welfonder

we are great friends, animal lovers,
and most importantly, you totally get the
Winged Monkeys from
The Wizard of Oz.
Curveball
is for you.

Welcome to James River Stadium

HOME OF THE RICHMOND ROGUES

Starting Lineup

25
RF
Cody McMillan
18
C
Chase Tallan
11
3B
Jesse Bellisaro
21
CF
Risk Kincaid
7
SS
Zen Driscoll
15
1B
Rhaden Dunn
44
LF
Ryker Black
1
2B
James Lawless
51
P
Chris Collier

PROLOGUE


What the hell were you thinking?”
Guy Powers, owner of the Richmond Rogues, was addressing the Bat Pack, the top power hitters in Major League Baseball. His gaze shifted among the players seated on the other side of his desk. Right fielder Cody “Psycho” McMillan, third baseman Jesse “Romeo” Bellisaro, and catcher Chase “Chaser” Tallan, all slouched in tan club chairs, arrogance and pride personified. Not one of the men showed an ounce of remorse.

Powers slammed the
Virginia Banner
atop a growing stack of newspapers. Headlines glared back at him. Big and bold and block-lettered.

P
SYCHO WASTES NO TIME GETTING IN SWING OF THINGS.

R
ICHMOND BRAWLERS TAKE TO THE FIELD.

Powers shoved himself forward in his brown leather chair. He rested his elbows on a massive claw-footed oak desk. Pursed his lips. His tone conveyed pure disgust. “Media Day. Photogra
phers, journalists, television, and radio. A chance to hype the season ahead, and instead you fought, showed your asses.”

He shuffled the newspapers, snagged one from the bottom. Ruffled the pages. Read, “Sportswriter Emerson Kent’s column,
Press Box,
claims player egos have grown larger than the national pastime.” He creased the newspaper, returning it to the stack. “I tend to agree with her.”

“Kent’s column is a joke,” Psycho snorted. “She should return to the society section. The lady writes as much about the players’ haircuts, tight butts, and the restaurants we frequent as she does about runs batted in and who stole second.”

Powers’s nostrils flared. “Emerson draws women readers. Women who fill one-third of the seats at James River Stadium.”

“Emerson went out of her way to make us look like jerks,” Psycho complained.

“She didn’t have to go far today.” Powers’s gaze was now as hard as his reputation in the National League East. “You screwed up.”

All around Powers, the room bristled with hostility. Standing in an arc behind his desk, publicist Catherine Ambrose, team manager Tim Rhodes, pitching coach Danny Young, and team captain Risk Kincaid all glared at Psycho as if he’d committed the crime of the century.

In Powers’s eyes, Psycho had. An hour into interviews and photo ops, the right fielder had taken batting practice, showing off for the press. Powers’s latest acquisition to bolster the bullpen
had been on the mound. Left-hander Chris Collier had thrown some major heat.

Heat that gunned down Psycho. The fastball clocked at one hundred miles per hour caught the right fielder on the hip. Spun him around and drove him to his knees.

The press and the executives had cringed.

Trash talk erupted between the two men. Loud and profane. Collier had claimed it was a wild pitch. An accident. Psycho swore the pitcher had thrown to maim him.

Animosity shot between home plate and the mound, soon spreading among the other team members as well. The ballplayers spat and glared. Clenched their fists. The atmosphere darkened as the men primed themselves for a fight.

The head trainer ordered Psycho off the field, instructing him to ice his hip. Psycho had blown him off. His ego on the line, he’d taken a stiff practice swing, once again facing down Collier.

The press stood on the sidelines, wide-eyed and taking notes as quickly as each could write or relay play for television or radio broadcast.

Collier was smoking, pleasing the crowd with his changeups. Then came a slider.

Psycho whiffed. Couldn’t buy a hit. Dark determination glazed the power hitter’s eyes as he dug in, edging home plate.

Collier fired a sinker. The ball spun, dropping suddenly as it reached the plate. Psycho couldn’t jump back fast enough. A guttural hiss escaped him as the ball slammed into his instep.

Media sympathy surrounded him until Psycho threw down his bat, tore off his batting helmet, and charged the pitcher’s mound, bent on retaliation.

Chris Collier dropped his mitt, and stood his ground. Psycho threw the first punch, and then all hell broke loose. Romeo and Chaser jumped off the bench and the bullpen emptied. Players took sides, and fists flew.

A fight captured by the media. A publicist’s nightmare. Catherine Ambrose would be hounded by the press the entire season. Powers made a mental note to send her a bottle of Tylenol. Extrastrength.

Catherine did an exceptional job in public relations. No one thought faster on her feet or spoke with more authority, continually bending over backward to downplay the team’s behind-the-scene disputes and nasty divorces. She stood between the players and the press to keep the Rogues’s name as polished as their World Series Trophy.

Unfortunately for all concerned, today’s onfield fiasco could not be buried with the obituaries.

Powers ran his hands down his face, focused fully on Psycho. “You broke Chris Collier’s nose. His vision’s distorted. He won’t start the season opener.”

“Start Cooper Smith or Roan Ginachio. Both have more talent than Wimbledon,” Psycho stated as he crossed his ankle over his knee and rubbed his bandaged and deeply bruised instep. Had the
ball caught him an inch higher, it would have shattered his ankle.

Wimbledon
…Powers shook his head. His latest acquisition had taken a whole lot of ribbing since his arrival. Collier’s sharp features, whiteblond hair, light hazel eyes, and lean frame made him look more like a tennis pro than a baseball player. Psycho had tagged him Wimbledon, just to be annoying.

For some reason, Psycho and Collier had hated each other from the onset of spring training. The fight today was the culmination of weeks of taunting, aggression, and bad blood.

Powers listened as pitching coach Danny Young ripped Psycho a new one. “Media Day targets trades and new acquisitions. Collier was to throw a series of pitches, show his heat.”

“His
heat
struck me twice,” Psycho reminded Young.

“It was an accident. Collier was about to apologize when you stormed the mound.”

“Apologize, my ass. The man has a rifle arm and precision timing. One wild pitch, I might believe. Two”—Pyscho shook his head—“the man threw to take me out of the game.”

“You crowded the plate,” Young openly accused.

“Like hell I did.”

“You did.” Team captain Risk Kincaid backed up Young. “Roger Clemens in his prime would have nailed you.”

“Clemens I would have excused,” Psycho snarled. “Wimbledon deserved what he got.”

“No remorse, Psycho?” Powers raised a brow.

His silence said it all.

Romeo and Chaser nodded their agreement.

Behind the Bat Pack, their sports agent, Cal Winger, shook his head, disgusted by their behavior. Winger had represented the three players from their first appearance in the majors. He’d grown gray trying to keep them in line. And quite bald. Frown lines bracketed his mouth. He looked ten years older than his present forty-five.

Powers still had a full head of dark hair. He’d be damned if the Bat Pack would drive him to either hair dye or plugs. Or an early grave. They’d already caused him an ulcer.

There would be no fighting in his organization. Not as long as he owned the team. His starting pitcher was out for the count. Which left the bull pen lean.

Powers scooped his rubber stress ball off the desktop. He squeezed it so hard his fingers pressed his palm. The tension slowly left his body.

He wanted to be calm when he leveled his punishment on the Bat Pack. Clearing his throat, he spoke with the authority of his position. “Psycho, you’re the most fined and suspended player in Major League Baseball, both on and off the field. You disregard rules and fair play. You’re arrogant and self-centered, and a total pain in the ass.”

Psycho’s eyes widened in a
who, me?
expression.

Keeping his voice even, Powers tallied, “Four black eyes, five split lips, two dislocated shoulders, and a bruised kidney resulted from the fight. In
the midst of the fray, Romeo slammed into Emerson Kent and knocked her down. Her suit jacket was ripped and her slacks grass-stained.” Powers cut his third baseman a look. “She’s new to sports. I don’t want her harboring ill-will toward the Rogues. A personal apology and the purchase of a new outfit are in order. Understood?”

Romeo slowly nodded.

Powers lowered the final blow. “The Bat Pack will be suspended one game for each man or woman injured.”

“Sit the bench for thirteen games? Son of a—” Psycho swore a blue streak. “I’m more at fault than Romeo and Chaser. Suspend me, let them—”

“Walk?” Powers shook his head. “They should have held you back, not joined the fight.”

“This totally sucks, Guy.” Psycho was the only player on the team who called Powers by his first name.

“It’s about to suck a whole lot more. You’ll be fined for fighting. I’m talking six figures.”

Psycho’s jaw went slack. “You can’t—”

“I can, and I will,” Powers assured him.

“Trade me.”

“Definitely an option.” An option Powers would never execute. No other player breathed baseball as Psycho did. The right fielder was a feared contact batter and base stealer. He consistently drove in ninety runs from the leadoff position. His leaping catches on defense had frequently robbed an opposing player of a home run.

He’d slammed into the cement wall so many
times, chalk outlines similar to those drawn around a dead body decorated the outfield perimeter. Each one was a testament to his dedication to the sport. He had six Golden Gloves and had been voted onto the 2006 National League All Star team.

Powers pushed his chair back from his desk, stood. He met Psycho’s gaze squarely. “Keep your animosity off my field.”

Every muscle in Psycho’s body tightened as he leaped up. “Might want to share that advice with Wimbledon as well.”

Powers watched the Bat Pack leave his office. All strut and swagger. Young men flanked by fame and fortune and a lack of repentance.

Once management had departed, Powers sat alone. He’d done what he had to do. He’d taken the Bat Pack off the roster. Richmond fans would not be happy. The Rogues had gone four years without a Divisional Championship. Five years had passed since they’d won the World Series. Richmond wanted another trophy as much as Powers needed control over his team.

His Rogues lacked unity. He blamed the salary cap and off-season free agency for the dissension. Only six of his original starters remained. The newcomers crashed the park with attitude and their own sense of self-importance. An importance that the Bat Pack resented. Captain Risk Kincaid had gone out of his way to build team spirit, but the Bat Pack had pulled the welcome mat.

The three power hitters stood alone. They had each others’ backs. And no one else’s.

Powers faced Opening Day with rookies and second stringers. Not a good way to start the new season.

His heartburn flared like a blowtorch.

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