“Stop being a whiny bitch, Greenwood! Bottoms up!”
My best friend and resident troublemaker of the team smacked me on the back. His boisterous laugh and booming voice took up all the space around him. I loved many things about the man, but the thing I loved the most was that in his presence, I became invisible. Since the age of 16 I’ve been recognizable. Once you were a star athlete with a future and the hope of winning a championship, you became a commodity, something shiny. And being simultaneously a slugger and a pitcher was a combination so rare that those with it, like myself, were priceless.
It hadn’t taken me long to learn that being invisible keeps you safe.
“We have to meet that analytics chick in an hour. I don’t want to reek of alcohol. Coach will kick our asses.” I didn’t like to drink. Most days I can’t even stomach the smell of it, but for the sake of keeping up appearances I usually nursed a glass in my hand and always offered to be the designated driver so no one suspected anything. Rod was really good about covering for me when needed, chugging back the drinks people often bought for me, acting like the cocky best friend he was.
“It’s still technically the off-season. Another one won’t hurt.”
“Another always hurts, particularly in the form of a hangover the next morning,” I replied.
“You sound like a dodgy old fuck. Where’s the guy who used to party with me all night long? I want him back.”
I chuckled, thinking about all the times we’d been in trouble. I prided myself on how well I blended into the crowd and let him take the attention. Rodriguez and I had been buddies since our rookie year. We’d grown up together on this team, cut our teeth on the ins and outs of playing professional ball, but as time passed I found that faking it seemed to exhaust me more and more each day. I was tired of it all, and the only thing that still made me feel something was the game. Everything else was endless noise that passed by with no true meaning or intention. I felt like I was walking in a blur, just waiting for time to pass.
“I’m not twenty-one anymore. Coach said any more stunts like that one you pulled at warm-ups and we’re both benched. And you, motherfucker, are not getting me benched.” The idea of sitting out a game was unbearable. Rod and I were thick as thieves, and Coach knew that if anyone could reel him in, it would be me. But what the coach didn’t know was that the idea of losing baseball in any way was like a noose around my neck, tightening until all the oxygen was ripped from me.
“You’re my wingman, buddy, and ya gotta admit, spiking the water cooler was pretty genius.”
“And landed us in a shit load of trouble. Frankly, I’m just too old for this shit anymore. Let the rookies have at it. We had our fun.”
“You make thirty sound like a death sentence. Not for me. When I turn the big 3-0 next year I’m going big. I want my feet in the sand with a drink in my hand and a pussy on each arm. Fuck it, a limo full of pussy. I am gonna get more ass that night than a toilet seat.”
“Yeah, I bet you do.” I’d never liked how Rodriguez embraced the cliché ball player persona. He played ball hard—out on the field he was a beast. But he partied even harder, a revolving door of girls after every game. I was always up for a few drinks, but the groupies that surrounded Rodriguez always made my stomach turn. It was so obvious they wanted him for his status and money—his staggering salary was very appealing to bunt bunnies. I had absolutely zero interest in them.
All the women around ball players didn’t have much to offer, and my life was so messed up that I doubt any woman wanted anything to do with it when she found out. The only kind that would stay would be one that would hope for a staggering payday at the end. I had enough people standing by with their hand out, so I wasn’t interested in a woman who wanted that, too. Besides, I only had a few more years to play this game, and I wasn’t going to squander them for some chick. These women didn’t care about the men. They cared about the limos, the big ticket items the ball players paid for, and the thousand-dollar dinners. Rodriguez made hundreds of millions, just like so many of my buddies, and just like the other ball players, he had no issue living like a king. But that lifestyle didn’t interest me in the least.
This life wasn’t for everyone, I wasn’t even sure it was for me sometimes. I rarely liked to go out, and the women did nothing for me. I lived and breathed the game, so much so that I couldn’t imagine what else I would be doing if it wasn’t this. I had one single focus and that was to win the World Series. I had been playing ball for eleven years with the MLB, and that was the only thing that eluded me. I was known as the best player in the entire league and yet I didn’t have that World Series title under my belt. My years left playing ball were dwindling—a ball player was gettin’ some age by thirty—but it was the one dream I hadn’t yet attained.
“Let’s head over, man. Don’t want to piss off Coach.”
Rod slammed his shot glass down on the counter, his eyes shining with excitement. “Wanna place bets on how fast I can get up the analytic girl’s skirt?”
“You haven’t even seen her yet.” We walked out the doors of the corner bar, afternoon light heating my skin as we walked the short block to the stadium. Today we had a meeting with what would be the new official star analytics firm for the club, before opening day tomorrow. I’d been waiting months for this day, the time between playoffs and opening season always left a pit of dread in my stomach. If I could play twelve months of the year I would.
We pushed through the stadium doors and made our way down the dim hallway, headed for the conference room next to the locker room. I nodded at Coach when we walked in and greeted a few of the other guys as the entire team settled on benches around the center of the room.
“I don’t want to take up much of your time, so I’ll cut right to the chase.” Coach looked around the room. “A few of you have been fucking off, so we need focus if we’re going to have a good season. I don’t expect miracles, but I do expect you to listen. No more antics. Stay focused. I expect each of you to improve your averages by the end of the season. “
“Like it or not, stats are down, guys. We need all heads in the game if we’re gonna improve and have a shot at going all the way this year. Delilah Grey from Lionsgate Analytics is here to help us do that.. She’ll be with us—every game, every day—all season. She’ll be sending me the stats throughout the game, and I want you guys tuned in to your averages. Push yourselves every night.”
He glanced around the room, pausing for a moment on Rod. “And please treat Delilah with respect. She knows we need some help, but she doesn’t need to know you’re all a bunch of animals.” God, I loved Coach. So steady and calm. He was the reason this team was great. Without him we’d all be a bunch of animals on the field.
Coach swung open the locker room door and in walked a fucking vision. I noticed the heels first. Sexy stilettos with leather cutouts that made me want to get down on my knees and slip them off her feet one at a time. My eyes devoured her creamy, toned calves, and not even the conservative pencil skirt could hide the full curves of her hips.
Rod said under his breath.
I nudged him, for the first time in my life irritated by his overt appreciation of a woman. Looking at Delilah, the hairs on my arms stood to attention. As did something else. Damn, she was stunning, I’d never seen a woman so radiant in my entire life. She had dark silky hair cascading down her back in loose curls, so damn soft-looking that my hand itched to brush up against them. I, Cash Greenwood, for the first time in my life had a desire to brush up against a woman’s hair.
“Hey guys, I’m Delilah Grey.” She nodded, her spine rigid as she leafed through a handful of papers in her arms. “If you could pass these around, I’ll tell you a little about me, then we can chat individually.”
“Individually?” Rod chimed, his horny grin sending anger racing through my stomach.
“Yes, that’s how I prefer to work. Deal with each player’s specific issues before we bring the whole team together.”
“I’ve only got one issue.” Rod shifted in his seat, his hand brushing over his crotch. My nostrils flared. Why was he such a dick?. At that moment I hated my best friend so much I wanted to pound his face into the ground. The thought made me feel ashamed and idiotic. I knew Rod, he was a joker, more talk than action on most days, but the fact that he was being crass to this woman upset me beyond all reason. I didn’t have an explanation, but I did not enjoy the idea of Rod looking at her like she was a piece of meat. Not one bit.
Delilah’s deep chocolate eyes narrowed in a flare of anger for a moment before she turned back to her paperwork. If one paid close attention to her, as I was doing, one could see the patch of red forming on the back of her neck. “I started Lionsgate Analytics nearly three years ago. I want you to be the best players, on and off the field, and excelling in this world isn’t just about home runs and fly balls. It’s also about measuring speed, distance, velocity.” Her eyes flicked over the team again. “I’ll be hanging out at all the games, laptop open and watching just how consistent everyone is, and hopefully it won’t take us long to get an average. Anyone have questions for me?”
“Yeah, got plans tonight, sweetheart?” That was Rod, and I nearly shoved my fist in his gut for that one. I watched as Delilah’s jaw ticked. She was tough, I could tell. I liked that. I liked that she wouldn’t take anything sitting down. I had had enough of women taking things sitting down, so the fighter in me was drawn to the fire in her.
“Let me make one other thing clear: if anyone calls me sweetheart, toots, doll, baby, or any other demeaning term of endearment again, I can’t promise you won’t feel my high heel in your balls. I don’t play well with men who act like animals. We’re here for one thing and one thing only—to get this team in shape to win this year. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t make an ass out of yourself in the process. Have I made myself clear?”
Fire blazed through my veins when she spun and exited the very door she’d come from. Well damn, after thirty years I finally found a woman who could make me take notice, make me want to chase. And not only chase, but tie her up and hold her against me, bind her to me in every way possible.