The Perfect Catch
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Those whispered words were my undoing . . .
As the most hated player in baseball, I had two options: either clean up my image or pack my bags. Being traded wasn't an option which only meant one thing, I had to become compliant.
That's how I found myself sharing a small bistro table with Kate Chapman, the Chicago Bobbies newest PR Manager. Devastatingly beautiful, vastly intelligent, and incredibly cunning, she knows exactly how to handle my grumpy demeanor.
It was supposed to be simple. Book some PR events, show up, smile for the camera, and be done. But one massive mistake on my end sends me into the trenches with Kate, forcing me to open up to her.
Innocent glances turn into cordial encounters.
Secret touches turn into tempting invitations.
And dangerous nights alone turn into consuming desperation.
I've never wanted a woman as much as I want her. And I know she wants me, but there's a no fraternizing with the players rule. Neither of us can afford to lose our jobs, but we also can't seem to keep our hands off each other either.
Release date: June 10, 2021
Publisher: Hot-Lanta Publishing, LLC
Reader says this book is...: emotionally riveting (1) entertaining story (1) happily ever after (1) realistic characters (1) rich setting(s) (1) sex scenes (1) strong chemistry (1) strong heroine (1) suspenseful (1)
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The Perfect Catch
Have you ever had the feeling when you walk into a room, you just know everyone hates you?
You can feel the animosity.
The unfiltered negative energy directed at you, wishing—hoping—you’d just disappear into nothing right there on the spot?
Try having that feeling when you’re walking into the batter’s box in a stadium with tens of thousands of people who actually hate you.
Who wear shirts displaying their anger toward you.
Who wave signs from the stands, screaming out why you suck and shouldn’t be playing the one sport you’ve played your entire life.
It doesn’t feel great.
And yet, I haven’t been able to muster up an ounce of care, which has only made matters worse.
The most hated player in baseball—that’s what they call me.
My attitude is shit.
My “bedside manner” is atrocious.
My interviews are lackluster at best.
My relationships with the coaching staff and my teammates are mercurial.
And recently, this year, my stats are a fucking dumpster fire.
Why am I so moody?
I can waste a week of your time unraveling that Pandora’s box, but one of the main reasons is I have to play baseball with the one person I thought I’d never have to play with again: Penn Cutler.
The All-American heartthrob—the media’s words, not mine. I think the dude is a giant douche. I’ve thought that ever since we were small. We grew up in the same town. We played on the same teams—little league all the way through high school. We’ve worked magic on the field, Penn being the pitcher, me being the catcher. We’ve won title after title together, and yet, we hate each other.
Hell, hate isn’t even a strong enough word.
Seniors in high school, I’d thought that would be the last time I had to deal with his smug face. He was off to California to pitch, and I was headed to Florida to catch. The era of Penn and Walker came to a close, and I was the first one to throw some goddamn confetti in the air when it happened.
But you should never celebrate too early. Before I knew it, we were both in the minors, then the majors, floating between teams until the Bobbies penned us both: same year, same team.
Life was fucking over.
The media ate up the reunion, and Penn, being the camera whore that he is, played it up for the flashing lights and the live mics. Arm draped over my shoulder, offering to the fans what kind of presence the dynamic duo could bring. And we did. We have. We’ve dominated.
But as Penn’s stardom rose, mine clunked and clambered down.
I accepted it. The limelight has never been my thing.
I prefer to be a hermit. I prefer to keep my distance. I prefer to do my damn job and then go home. I don’t need any of the extra fanfare that comes with being a professional baseball player.
Apparently, that’s not good enough though, because rumors are being tossed around.
The front office wants me traded or wants me out.
And I’m not ready.
The only way to get them off my back?
Clear up my image. You can imagine the monumental feat that would take, given how everyone I interact with despises me. But I took it head-on because I’m desperate to play, desperate to stay in Chicago.
And how hard could it be?
Famous last words, right? Especially when the Bobbies decide to set me up with their newest PR nightmare fixer.
To her, Penn’s the absolute golden boy—beyond reproach, charming, brilliant, and, of course, charismatic.
To her, I’m the absolute leech—beyond redemption, reprehensible, unpleasant, depraved, and, of course, demoralizing.
This girl’s compassionate, beautiful, has a heart of gold, and is everything I’m not, and she has me by the goddamn balls. I’ve never met anyone like her. I’ve never wanted a woman as much as I want her.
Of course, there’s the no fraternizing with the players rule. Because what’s a story without a fucking HR nightmare ready to unfold?
But oddly enough, that’s not the worst part. No, the worst part is how she sees Penn and how she sees me. And I have no clue how to change that or how to change me.
Basically, I’m screwed. Chapter One
“Fuck,” I scream, loud enough for not only both dugouts to hear, but for my booming voice to bounce off the eardrums of the first twenty rows in the stadium. I swing my powerful body around to the umpire, who’s taking off his mask and resetting his clicker. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I spew. “That pitch was at least a foot off the plate. Where was that call when I was standing in front of you, protecting you from ninety-five mile-per-hour fastballs?”
Not even looking me in the eye, Joe Verity, one of many umpires I’ve come to know well during my years behind the plate says, “Walk away, Rockwell, before I chuck your ass out of here.”
“Go ahead, the game’s fucking over.”
Brow lifted, he makes eye contact. “Don’t think I won’t get you suspended for the next few games. Watch yourself, Rockwell, I know you’re on thin ice already.”
Gripping my bat in both hands, I step over the plate and mumble over my shoulder as I walk toward the dugout. “Fuck. You.”
“Rockwell . . .”
I ignore the warning tone in his voice and make the walk of shame back to the dugout. I glance over my shoulder at the scoreboard.
Six to five.
I went zero for four with two strikeouts, one pop-up, and a goddamn groundout to the pitcher, a grounder my grandmother could’ve fielded. I haven’t been in a slump this bad since my first season in the minors.
Fans start to clear the stands, disappointment on their faces, accepting another loss for our barely five hundred season. We’re still in the running for the playoffs, thank you long baseball season and other teams slumping, but for a team with the potential to win the World Series, this is a pathetic showing, and it starts with me not being able to put wood to the ball.
I jog down the steps of the dugout, bypassing my teammates, who are collecting their gloves and fleeing to the locker room. They can sense what’s going to happen next—destruction.
They can see it in my face.
And it wouldn’t be the first time.
I can feel it in my tense shoulders as my vision tunnels to black, rage seeps from every pore, and the bat in my hand turns into a weapon, not a means to win a game.
Heading to the far corner of the dugout, I raise my bat, let out another swear word that would scare the Jesus out of all believers, and smash it on the blue water cooler.
The first connection of my bat to the plastic vibrates through my wrists all the way up my forearms. Fuck, that stings. But the next two hits ease some of the pent-up tension in my shoulders. The few after that make me feel alive for the first time all day.
It isn’t until the water cooler has lost all of its contents and keels over, wrapped around my bat, that I feel satisfied. And that’s when I take a deep breath and turn around to not only find my manager staring at me, hands stuffed in his pockets with a disapproving look on his face, but I also find every camera on the field pointed at me.
“I liked the water jug,” Ryot, our third baseman, says from next to me. “Why’d you do it, man?”
“Shut the fuck up,” I mumble while leaning forward in my chair, towel wrapped around my waist, and a death march to my manager’s office hanging over my head.
After a pleasant walk while cameras flashed at me through the dugout, Coach met me in the hallway and told me I wasn’t to leave this stadium until I stopped in his office for what I can only think will be my third verbal lashing of the month.
Still caught up on the water cooler, Ryot whispers while glancing around for listeners, “When you were in the shower, they wheeled the poor fella through the locker room on a gurney with a towel draped over his limp body.”
Ryot Bisley, third base for the Bobbies, an arrogant yet hilarious prick, is my best friend—my only friend. Normally, he can make me laugh, lighten the mood, but not right now.
I stand from my chair, whip off my towel, and put on a pair of boxer briefs, my muscles aching with every jagged move I make. With each passing year, this job gets harder and harder. Despite my young age of thirty-three, I can already feel the ache in every one of my bones from squatting for a living.
Sensing my frustration, Ryot bends over to tie one of his shoes and says, “It was a bad game. Shake it off.”
“It’s been four bad games in a row,” I answer through gritted teeth as I yank my jeans up my legs and sit back in my chair again, facing away from the rest of the team.
“The loss isn’t just on you. None of us had our bats tonight.”
“The rest of the team isn’t facing trade and forced retirement rumors like I am.”
The All-Star break is coming up and despite it being a week where those who weren’t chosen for the All-Star game get to take a breather, it’s also one of the most hectic times for the front office, trying to make those last-minute trades to stack your team for the end-of-the-season run to the World Series.
My name has been tossed around, speculation that I could be possibly sent to Oakland or Phoenix, both teams I would rather not touch with a ten-foot pole.
Not when my home is in Chicago.
Not when the only thing I care about is here.
“So you think beating the fuck out of a water jug is going to grace you with a shining image?”
“No.” I grind my teeth together while the urge to punch the wood of my locker pulses through me, but I hold back. “Should’ve just broken my bat over my knee instead.”
“You performed that trick last week. You can’t keep showing off,” Ryot says with blatant sarcasm.
The smallest of smirks passes over my lips before I quickly wipe it away. The look on Ryot’s face when I broke my bat over my quad is still engrained in my head. Horror and respect crossed his eyes at the same time.
Unfortunately, I still have a bruise on my leg to show for my loss of temper.
“I need more time in the cages. Meet me at ten tomorrow?”
“You don’t need time in the cages. You need to get laid.”
I roll my eyes and pull my Bobbies T-shirt over my head. “Sex can’t fix everything.”
“It sure as hell can loosen you up. Your shoulders were so tense at the plate, I swear they started to eat up your bat.”
“When was the last time you actually fucked someone?”
I scratch the side of my jaw, my nails scraping over my rough five o’clock shadow. “Don’t know.”
“Fuck, dude, if you don’t know, that’s a problem. You and I both know in an adrenaline-laced job like ours we need to work it off in the bedroom. Don’t you have a fuck buddy? Someone you can call? You need to come, man, and not in your hand, because if you show up tomorrow with your shoulders still touching your ears again, I’m going to blow you myself.”
Ignoring Ryot, I stuff my wallet and keys in my pockets, snag my phone, and head to my manager’s office, where I knock on the closed door.
I don’t need to fuck. I need . . . hell, I don’t know what I need.
Ralph Hopkins is one of the toughest managers in the league—fair, but tough—and from the disapproving look he gave me in the dugout, I know this conversation is going to be anything but pretty.
I push through the door and take a seat in the chair across from him, knowing the routine by now.
But to my surprise, when I sit down, I notice I’m not alone. Nope, the beat-up water jug is “sitting” in the chair next to me. A sick feeling builds in the pit of my stomach. I’m not going to like whatever this meeting is about.
Still in his uniform, Ralph sits back in his chair, hands folded over his stomach, and glares at me.
Not fucking happy at all.
Staring me down with his classic unhappy eyes, he says, “You acted like a child out there today.”
I acted like an angry ballplayer who’s desperate to get out of his rut, but he doesn’t see it that way. Never has.
The thing about the Bobbies is they’re the most clean-cut do-gooders in the league. They pride themselves on admirable morality, respect on and off the field, and loving the game. There’s no fighting, there’s no long beards, there’s no goddamn personality allowed to be shown on the field. We’re machines. We play the game as it’s supposed to be played, and we don’t show emotion on the field as it’s a sign of weakness. We’re the complete opposite of our rival team here in Chicago, the Rebels; our manager enforces it.
Playing for the Bobbies has been everything I wanted, despite all the rules and regulations we have to face, because it’s kept me close to where I need to be. My temper has hindered me, something I haven’t been able to get ahold of since my rookie season. And Ralph Hopkins is one temper tantrum away from not dealing with it anymore.
“You’ve been zero for sixteen over the last few games with nothing to prove for your talent besides being one of the best catchers in the league. That glove and arm of yours is the only reason you’re not sitting out right now. I can’t afford to have Tony behind the plate, not when he can’t throw his own grandma out at second.” Ralph drags a frustrated hand over his face. “And then you go and pull that shit.” He gestures to the dilapidated cooler. “With every media outlet pointing their camera at you.” His chair squeaks as he leans forward, planting his hands on the desk. “I’m already struggling with your image and shit attitude. How the fuck am I supposed to deal with that stunt you pulled after the game? Sit you out? When I need you to be behind the plate? You don’t fucking think, Rockwell.”
“It won’t happen again,” I answer simply, knowing it’s a promise I can’t keep.
“That’s what you said after you broke the bat over your knee.” See?
“I didn’t break a bat this time, I broke a water jug.”
Coach’s eyes narrow. “I’m talking about your attitude, Rockwell. It’s shit. And I’m fed up with it. If this roster was up to me, your ass would be out of our red-and-blue jersey, warming the wood somewhere else.”
I don’t know what to say to that, so I stay silent. Ralph has never liked me . . . ever. And frankly, the feeling is mutual. We clash. He’s strait-laced, I’m crooked. He’s smooth with his delivery to the media, I’m bent, broken, constantly piecing myself together to represent something I’m not.
He shakes his head and blows out a frustrated breath. Looking off to the side, he studies a picture on the wall for a few breaths before saying, “Be here tomorrow morning at nine with an apology ready to be issued.”
“An apology?” My brow knits together. “You want me to apologize to the press?”
“No,” he deadpans. “I want you to apologize to the goddamn water jug.” I give him a confused look, thinking he’s joking, but then he says, “You think I’m kidding? I’m not. We’re doing damage control, which means our media team will have the cooler set up in the dugout where you’ll make an official apology and thank the inanimate object for its long service with the Bobbies. It’s a PR stunt that will show a lighter side of you. Believe it or not, you’re not a fan favorite and it’s because you have the attitude of a Rebel, not a Bobbie.”
Not the first time I’ve heard that.
“You want me to apologize on camera to a water jug?” I ask, trying to understand if I’m hearing him correctly.
“Yes.” He leans forward even more and adds, “And you’ll wear a goddamn smile while doing it or I will bench your ass, putting a playoff run in jeopardy for the entire team.”
Fuck. He’s serious.
He really wants me to apologize to a fucking water container.
“Don’t be late. Now get out of my office.”
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