AN: I've had people on me for months about writing a sequel to Going for the Gold. Unfortunately, that isn't ever going to happen, HOWEVER, there is a new sports star in the house . . .ladies (and gentleman), I give you Baseballward! I am pretty much totally obsessed with the Boston Red Sox and have been for years. My co-author, the amazing jakeward, is equally obsessed, and was wonderful enough to introduce me to the wonder that is Jacoby Ellsbury, center fielder for the team. I am forever changed by this man--no joke. This story is going to be funny and sweet and just a tad bit dramatic. Mostly just funny, though.
For all intents and purposes, this story will follow the current season of the Boston Red Sox, most of which has already been played. We are taking a few liberties, however. The players, also, are all real, just with different names (though some of them are keeping their original names). There is a link to a character list on my ff profile. Yes, there is a lot of baseball "verbiage" in this as well. If you don't know what something means or is, feel free to ask and we will try to cover it in the next chapter's AN. . .also, I think a dictionary of baseball terms might be in order. Also there are two gratuitous Jacoby Ellsbury pics on my profile--check him out, he is a hot, HOT man. HOWEVER, if you are not a baseball fanatic, I still think you will like this story. It's funny and sweet, and at the heart of it is the romance between Edward and Bella--the baseball is just kind of window dressing :)
I'd been playing baseball since I was four years old, and in the last 21 years, I'd gotten ready for hundreds--no, more like thousands--of games. Some had been, by definition, more special than others. I remembered the state championship game my senior year of high school, and the College World Series. I remembered the first time I'd started in single A, then double A, triple A, and then finally, my first game playing for the Boston Red Sox. Then there were the games I'd started in my first American League Championship Series--I'd been euphoric and so full of adrenaline it was a wonder I'd been able to catch a single fly ball. Strangely, I couldn't remember at all what I'd felt before the 2007 World Series. I'd been numb and sick with nerves, terrified I'd get to bat and puke all over the catcher. Or even worse, strikeout with most of the world watching.
This game felt, with maybe those handful as an exception, like every single other game I'd ever played in. And yet, there was something different. . .some elusive whiff of excitement that floated around the Red Sox clubhouse.
Seth Clearwater, who'd been a rookie the year before me and played 2nd base, was sitting across from me, wrapping his ankle. We had trainers that usually did that, but Seth and I were young. We weren't used to be catered to like huge stars. I still freaked out whenever anyone recognized me in Boston. And lately it hadn't just been in Boston. The press was proclaiming me the next big star, and to be honest, that idea made me kind of sick. All I wanted was to play baseball--the whole massive popularity thing was an additional symptom that scared the shit out of me.
But excelling as a starting position player with one of the best teams in major league baseball meant that everything you did was under a microscope. Boston, no matter how much I loved it here, took its baseball very, very seriously, and I knew my welcome would only last as long as I helped the Sox win games.
"Something feels different." I leaned over the bench next to my locker, saying it quietly enough that only Seth heard me. He was used to my quirks, but the other guys would probably laugh at my naivety. They were all good guys--some of them were even great guys. I couldn't get over the fact that I batted with the great Emmett McCarty and watched the greatest ace of our generation, Jasper Whitlock, pitch on a regular basis. Even Seth, the guy I bunked with and hung out with, and knew, had won the American League MVP last year. It was humbling and sobering and downright fucking rad that I got to play every day with these guys. And even more incredible that I was considered in their league.
Seth nodded, as he wound the tape expertly around his right ankle. "First game after the All-Star break. We have the best record in the whole league. Gotta keep it that way."
"We will," I said confidently, knowing in my bones that we had such a good team we almost couldn't lose.
"Jasper pitching today." Seth said it nonchalantly, like it was no big deal, but I knew what he meant. We wouldn't have to drive in many runs to win if Jasper kept pitching the way he'd been doing before the All-Star break. The man was like a fucking machine. Nobody, nobody, could remember an ace with such a low playoff ERA. Sure, we weren't in the playoffs yet, but between Jasper and Jon Lester and Wakefield, it was kind of inevitable.
"It'll be fine," I said, refusing to even glance in McCarty's direction. He was a huge beast of man, with a swing that sent balls flying over the Green Monster and the walls of pretty much every other ballpark he'd ever played in. The man was a home run legend. It had been him who'd nearly singlehandedly saved the Sox against the Yanks in the 2004 ALCS. Boston adored him. I adored him, though I would have died before admitting it in front of him.
But lately, despite all his many accomplishments, he'd hit a wall. Struck out more times than a designated hitter should. Didn't homer for a number of games at the start of the season. He'd been steadily improving up until the All Star break, but I knew management wasn't happy with him. A DH was supposed to drive in runs, not strikeout.
"You mean he'll be fine," Seth said so softly I barely caught it.
I nodded back. "They wouldn't." The unspoken rumor around the clubhouse was that if McCarty couldn't seriously pick his way up out of the slide, he'd be traded. I couldn't even imagine what it would be like if that happened. Emmett McCarty was Red Sox baseball.
"They traded Manny last year," Seth hissed, and I thought I saw Carlisle's head raise just an inch. He'd heard.
"They got sick of Manny being Manny. I can't blame them for that either." It had killed me to watch Manny loaf around in left field, pretty much doing nothing to catch fly balls, while I'd busted my ass in center to prove my worth to the team. When Manny Ramirez, McCarty's hitting buddy, had been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, I'd felt more than a little vindicated. The management here in Boston only wanted players who could pull their own weight on the roster. It didn't matter if you had a bloated contract and a million fans around the world wearing your jersey.
"Manny's gone now." Seth and I looked up to see Carlisle, the older third baseman, walking towards us. "Manny's gone, and it wouldn't be good to start talking about him now." He jabbed a finger in McCarty's direction. "Papi here will start crying again."
Emmett's abnormally huge head didn't move an inch. "Fuck you and the momma you rode in on."
"Anyone hear about the reporter that Charlie's bringing around today?" Carlisle asked, running a hand through his silvering hair, then resting his foot on one of the benches, leaning over to tie his cleat.
"A reporter?" I asked with disgust evident in my voice. "Why do we have to have a reporter?"
"Oh, it gets better," Sam Uley, our power-hitting first baseman added. "We get a reporter for the rest of the fucking season."
That got Emmett's attention. He made a disgusted sound, before slamming his locker door shut. The sound reverberated in the spacious clubhouse. "You've got to be shitting me," I said, thinking about some slimy reporter sticking his nose into our business for the rest of the season, putting on the wrong kind of pressure.
"You ain't nothing to worry about, pretty boy," Sam said, giving me a leer. "McCarty here's gonna get grilled within an inch of his life."
"Fuck you all," Emmett growled, but there was a huge smile on his face. Sometimes I wondered if the stress of a possible trade got to the rest of us more than it got to him. Emmett was jovial and friendly and laidback, and we all worried about him like a bunch of pre-adolescent chicks.
"It's not Edward's fault he's prettier than the rest of us," Jasper drawled in his Texas accent, a baseball dangling from his fingertips. I clamped my lips together and returned my attention to the cleats in my hands. It was one of the team's favorite pastimes to give me as much crap as possible over my looks.
"Believe me," I responded shortly, "I'd much rather be ugly and bald like Uley over here."
The door to the clubhouse opened, and then slammed shut.
"Everyone decent?" Charlie called out, and we all looked at each other with confusion. Charlie Swan had seen all of us naked, clothed and every other form in-between. He was our manager, our father, and our own personal dictator.
"Yeah, we're decent," Jasper called out, straightening on the bench, figuring out faster than the rest of us that Charlie clearly wasn't alone.
And he was right; there was a girl with Charlie. She was young, maybe 23 or 24, and skinny, with pale arms that stuck out of a plain blue t-shirt and short slim jean-encased legs. Long brown hair was caught up in a ponytail and she wore a brand new Sox cap. Her face was pale and heart-shaped, with huge, startlingly dark brown eyes.
We almost never had female visitors in the clubhouse, and those that did visit were almost always the wives or significant others of the players--and even they were almost never comfortable in this traditional male enclave. The floor might be teak hardwood and plush carpeting and the lockers triple-sized, but it still smelled like sweat and Gatorade and leather. But this girl, she exuded a calm sense of absolute confidence, like she belonged wherever she was. She looked at each one of us, carefully and completely, her eyes flicking from one player to the next. Our eyes met, and she gave me the same once over that everyone else got, and then moved on, her expression betraying nothing.
Jasper sat up even straighter, and ran a hand through this shaggy blond hair. I rolled my eyes at his transparency. Whitlock was the biggest manwhore on the whole team, and made no secret of the fact that his Southern charm never failed to win over pretty much any woman he'd ever wanted.
"Boys, this here is Bella Dwyer. She's a reporter with ESPN."
Total silence. We just sat there, half-dressed, with our jaws dropped nearly to the shiny hardwood floor. This was the reporter? She looked like she was still in college.
I remembered her dispassionate perusal of all of us, and I felt a chill on the back of my neck. However old she was, the girl was serious trouble.
"Hello," she said, allowing a smile to break across her delicate features for the first time, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that this girl was fucking gorgeous. Her voice was low and just a little husky. The power of it shot straight to my crotch, and just like that, I was fucking hard. Casually, I draped an arm in front of me, hoping that I'd be able to hide the evidence of my reaction.
What the fuck, I told my body, she's just a pretty girl--get yourself fucking together.
"I expect," Charlie said, "that you will all be friendly to Miss Dwyer and treat her with the utmost respect and courtesy, as well giving her access to your batting and pitching practices, warmups, as well as answering all her questions before and after games. This is going to be a special series ESPN is running on us--the team to beat in the playoffs--and I want our best foot forward." He smiled charmingly at Bella, who just ate that shit up.
He turned to walk away, leaving Bella just standing there, a calculating expression on her face. No doubt she was trying to decide which of us was the easiest nut to crack.
"Hey there little lady," Jasper drawled, getting to his feet, and sauntering over to where she stood. "You can interview me anytime you like." I barely refrained from rolling my eyes again. This was par for the course, but you'd think that Whitlock could keep it in his pants when it came to the reporter who was going to be stalking us for the next four months.
"Can it, Jasper," Billy, the catcher, snapped. "You've got a game to prepare for."
Jasper threw up his arms in mock confusion, all the while eying Bella Dwyer. "I'm ready. Never been more ready in my life, if you know what I mean . . ." he trailed off suggestively.
She just shrugged a little, not looking either shocked or surprised. "I'm sure I can find someone else to talk to," she said again, and this time, I was sure I caught a hint of Boston in her voice. Oh, great. She was either a groupie posing as a reporter or a reporter posing as a groupie. This could only end badly.
"Talk to Eddie, here. He's real friendly," Jasper said suggestively, waggling his eyebrows in a way he insisted that women found irresistible. Bella, however, clearly wasn't like any other women because she just gave him a bland stare.
I flushed; if there was anything more embarrassing than having the ace pitcher of the team pimp out women to me, it was when they didn't even know who I was. No doubt Miss Bella Dwyer had been looking for a few more famous jerseys to try on for size. Like. . .Whitlock's. Or McCarty's. They were both single.
Those dark eyes swiveled towards me, and I suddenly felt like she was picking me apart, thread by thread. "Oh," she said, her voice still flat and emotionless, "you mean Edward?"
Somehow, she'd figured out that I hated being called Eddie, and that I much preferred to be referred to as Edward, and the slight smirk on her pretty lips indicated she found it amusing. The feeling was, unfortunately, not mutual; she was annoying me more every second I spent with her.
I glared at Jasper's retreating back, as he and Billy went to formalize the night's game plan. Turning back to my locker, I decided to ignore Bella. Let someone else show her around the clubhouse. I had a game to focus on, and I wasn't going to let some little girl break my concentration.
"Go talk to her," Seth hissed under his breath, just loud enough that I barely heard him.
"Why?" I hissed back.
He shrugged his shoulders and gave me a look like, why the fuck not?
I could think of a lot of reasons why I didn't want to squire around the newest pain in my ass, and I started to list them, but Seth stopped me. "Dude," he whispered, even lower, "she's real pretty." And then Seth gave me a look like, I can't believe I have to point this out to you.
He didn't. But I definitely wasn't going to tell my best friend and last year's American League MVP that I got hard with just a glimpse of that long brown ponytail.
My temper was rapidly fraying, and it was all her fault. I was notorious on the team for being totally calm and collected. It took something akin to a nuclear explosion to have me lose it--or, apparently, the appearance of one, way too pretty, reporter. I threw on my jersey, and slammed my locker door shut. I was sick of everyone in the locker room thinking that I was some kind of fucking eunuch.
She was still standing in the middle of the room, like a bug under a microscope, because every single of my teammates was staring at her like she was an alien from another planet. Even the happily married ones. I shook my head in disgust. I would just have to take one for the team, before this chick got under Sam's skin and Emily killed him. Or Seth's skin, and I had to answer to Rachel.
Nobody, I thought darkly as I moved towards her, could accuse me of not having enough team loyalty. I wasn't exactly a willing victim, but I'd be a martyr--at least just this once.
"You want a look around?" She looked up at me, those dark lashes sweeping upwards, the expression on her face a mix of amusement and expectation. She'd known I was going to succumb to her charms--and as much as I hated to admit it, she was definitely attractive in a I'm totally not trying to be pretty, I just am way. Great. Freaking fantastic.
"That would be great." She smiled at me then, lips parting and showing me a line of straight white teeth. She'd been pretty before she smiled, but the smile just effortlessly pushed her over into breathtaking territory. It made no sense whatsoever, but I really hated her in that moment. Or maybe I just hated myself--and my inevitable reaction. I shifted myself in those damn tight pants and tried to pretend that the entire team wasn't watching me make a utter fool of myself.
"So this is the clubhouse, obviously. Let's go to the training room." I started walking towards the door, slapping my glove against my leg, and she followed behind me. She was well-behaved now, but I'd seen that mischievous, sly look in her eyes. Bella Dwyer might look like an angel, but I knew she wasn't one. Not even fucking close.
The training room was almost totally empty. Everyone was feeling good after the All Star break, and with so little time left before players due on the field, anybody who needed treatment had already gotten it.
Bella said nothing, but her eyes took in every single minute detail. I could almost visibly see her filing away every bit of information that could be useful to her.
"So why are you here?" I asked casually, leaning against the wall.
She turned, a slight smile on her lips. "You know why I'm here. To be with the team. The best team in baseball."
"You've done your research then," I drawled.
"I am a reporter," she snipped. "That's my job."
There was something in her voice that worried me. Something about her attitude that I didn't like. "Do you even like baseball?" I asked, wondering if I had managed to stumble on the secret she didn't want anyone to know.
"Don't be ridiculous. Why does it matter if I like baseball or not? This is a job."
The temper that had been simmering away since Sam had told us there was going to be a reporter ripped into a full-on boil.
"See, there's the flaw in your logic. Baseball is my job, and I happen to love it." My voice inched up an octave, and I knew I sounded like a patronizing ass, but I could have cared less. This girl had showed up on my turf, holding our reputations in front of us like bait, and now had the nerve to tell me that she didn't care one way or the other--it was just a job.
"Fine," she snapped. "I've never liked baseball. I find it boring and trite, and the players all have egos the size of New York."
Later, I would think back and be able to trace my whole disintegrating self-control back to this exact moment. When she compared me to fucking New York. The fucking Yankees.
"That's it," I roared, and I think my sudden total loss of control took her by surprise, because just as I stepped towards her, my vision red and fiery, she took a shocked step backwards. "You show up here, uninvited and unwanted, to totally disturb our concentration and dish out our private shit to the whole fucking world, and then you dare to compare us to fucking New York?"
Bella's eyes grew wide and surprised, as if she suddenly comprehended exactly what she'd done to piss me off. "Yes," I yelled, "maybe that was in your research--Boston hates New York."
She nodded then, her chin dipping towards her chest, and I took another threatening step towards her, perversely enjoying that I could make her so visibly uncomfortable. Typically, I considered myself supremely non-threatening--I was tall, but not huge like Emmett, and while I could dish out my own brand of intimidation, I didn't have the fiery intensity of Jasper or the death glare of Papelbon, our closer. I was feeling just edgy enough that I kind of liked putting Miss Bella Dwyer on notice this way. It was hard to deny thatI loved getting under her skin the same way she'd gotten under mine.
Bella swallowed hard, hard enough that I could see the movement disturb the smooth, white skin of her throat. I couldn't remember the last time Id been so physically aware of a woman before, but whatever interest she held for me was already bordering on unhealthy. I didn't even want to contemplate what I'd feel like four months down the road.
"Listen, Eddie," she growled, suddenly taking another step forward, and meeting me head-on. "You may hate that I'm here, but I'd like you to remember that, yes, as you so graciously put it, 'I'm here to dish out your private shit to the whole fucking world,' so maybe you should watch yourself." Her dark brown eyes bored into mine, and I gulped a little. I didn't exactly like that she could hold her own with me while I was in a snit, but there was something strangely attractive about it. Something almost comfortable in that I could lay into her and she'd take it and dish it right back without blinking. She was tough.
And just like that, some of my anger faded, though the electricity that flowed between us didn't relent. Instead, I found myself way too close to her, and instead of backing away, my eyes automatically fell to her lips. I'd noticed them before, but now I was almost mesmerized by them. It would be so, so, so fucking easy just to. . .
The door banged open. "Masen, you in here?" It was Billy, the captain, trying to get everyone on the field for warmmps. Damnit.
"I'm coming in a second," I called, taking a step back away from Bella. The moment broke and she looked away, though she certainly looked a bit flustered, she didn't blush or fidget. She'd known what was about to happen, and she didn't seem upset that I'd been this close to molesting her in our training room. Which opened up a whole other train of thought in my head. Was this what she'd been wanting? Was she here in groupie or reporter capacity?
"Do you know how to get to your seat?" I asked, not turning my head to look at her, because if I did, I wasn't sure if I could resist any longer.
She nodded, and while we went our separate ways, I felt the same way I did right the moment I took off to steal a base--once I got moving, I couldn't stop myself--the momentum pulled me inexorably forward. I felt a twinge of unease that I'd just taken one step over the line with Bella Dwyer and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to move back.
Out on the field, I passed by Seth, who was stretching. "Hey," he called, and I walked back over him, shielding my eyes from the sun.
"What?" I knew what he wanted to ask, and the last thing I wanted to discuss was Bella. Her job and her attitude and her general fuck you chip on her shoulder still kind of pissed me off, but I'd just almost kissed her. I needed four hours of soul-cleansing baseball action to try to get my mind off all the other action that could have just happened. It was a momentary thing, I told myself, you just had a weak moment because she's so damn pretty and you admired that she stood her ground with you.
"What happened with you and the reporter?" Seth had a knowing look in his eye and I knew that the rumor was already circulating the field that I'd been caught, way too close to Bella, in the training room. Thanks a bundle, Billy, I thought.
"Her name's Bella, and nothing happened," I said shortly. "I'm going to go warm up."
I went through my warmups, tossing the ball back and forth with Seth, and Paul, our right fielder. Finally, JD, our left fielder jogged out and we warmed up our arms, him throwing me long balls and watching me with shaded eyes as I ran after them, hard. I wanted to punish my body today--I wanted to drive it into submission so that when I ran into Bella again, I had total control.
The game started, uneventfully, but then, most games seemed fairly uneventful after 20 years of playing baseball. I chased a ball down, but it wasn't particularly challenging. Jasper retired the first three batters in their order, and we jogged into the dugout. I was the lead-off hitter, so I grabbed my batting helmet and my bat, swinging it once, then twice, to try to loosen up my arms. I'd taken a particularly grueling batting practice yesterday, and I felt a little tight.
I stepped up to the plate, and waited for my concentration to narrow in to just me, the pitcher, and the ball, like it always did, but for some reason, I couldn't focus today. I'd gotten over the fact that over 50,000 people watched my at-bats a long time ago, but for some unknown reason, I felt a twinge of nerves as I watched the first strike whiz past my hands. Bella, I thought, feeling my concentration slip, was watching me. And somehow, this changed everything, which was pretty ridiculous.
"Strike!" the umpire called, and I halted to readjust my gloves, then settled back into my batting stance. I let a ball go by, and then a second ball.
Just get on base, I told myself, that's what your job is. When I'd first come up to the bigs, I'd been eager and tenacious, determined to jump on any pitch with potential, but as a leadoff, that wasn't my job. My place in the batting order was to get on base any way I could, then theoretically steal bases, hopefully putting me in a strong scoring position when the meat of our order came up to bat.
The next pitch, I could feel it, would be a fastball. I could almost see it in the pitcher's eyes. I swung hard at it, and as I felt the ball connect with the bat, I took off hard, knowing it could possibly be a single, maybe even a double, if the placement was right.
I'd been right. A double. I slid easily into second base and popped up, dusting off my now-dirty white uniform and readjusting my helmet. I looked across the field to see Seth take his first pitch, which was an obvious ball. Seth might look small and unintimidating, but he was scrappy and fearless and I'd watched him grind out incredible at-bats against some of the best pitchers in the majors.
This pitcher, however, was pretty easy to read. Seth hit a short choppy single, and I moved to third. The ball had stayed infield or else I would've been pretty tempted to head all the way to home plate. If I was being 100% honest, I wanted to prove to the delectable Miss Dwyer that I took my job as a baseball player very seriously.
Lame, I reminded myself as I watched Sam Uley strike out, you want to score so that we'll be ahead as a team, not because you want to score with Bella Dwyer.
McCarty flew out to right field, and then suddenly we were down to two outs. I hated this, sitting on third base, just waiting for someone to be able to get a hit. I wasn't the most patient person alive, and with the adrenaline surging through me, I wanted to head home so badly I could almost taste it.
But then, instead of blowing the ball over my head towards the Green Monster, the left fielder caught it easily, and just like that, the inning was over, with Seth and I stranded on 1st and 3rd.
The game plodded along. Jasper held his own with their batters, but a few misplaced pitches sent the balls flying over our heads, or skidding along the ground where they were difficult to catch for outs.
By the eighth inning, we were behind 4 to 3. I'd struck out once, in the 3rd, and then I'd ground out in the fifth. Finally, I'd managed another choppy single in the last inning, stolen second, and then scored. As I'd rounded home plate, I hadn't been able to resist lifting my eyes to find Bella in the stands, to see if she was watching. Even though I usually found it difficult to find friends and family in the massive sea of faces, I found hers easily--of course--and our eyes locked for a brief second, before she bent her head down. It looked like she was scribbling notes on a pad, and I wondered if she'd found something in my performance today lacking and that was what she was writing about. Residual anger at her high-handed attitude about baseball gnawed at me, and I swung the bat back and forth, trying to work some of the mental kinks out physically.
As I approached home plate, I saw Jasper in the dugout, scuffing the floor with the toe of his cleat. He had a pissed off expression on his face, and I knew he was furious that we could lose this game when he'd pitched so well.
I wanted to win this game. For Jasper. For me. For the team. And for Bella.
The Blue Jays' reliever was in, and I knew I could hit off him. It was just a matter of what he'd give me to hit. I gripped the bat tighter, and leaned over in my stance, the metal of my cleats digging into the dirt.
He threw a ball. Then a strike, which I didn't like the look of. Finally, on the third pitch, he threw something I could really use. I got a huge chunk of it and took off in a frantic burst of speed. As I sped past the first base coach, I saw him make the single to keep going. I rounded second and hit third in a slide, sending the dry dirt up in a cloud. But I was safe. Safe.
I could hear the roar of the crowd as the ump called it, and the small swell of self-satisfaction was impossible to ignore. I'd done it. I'd gotten us in scoring position with no outs.
Seth hit a ground out. The elation inside me faded a bit, and I saw the frustration in every line of his body as he slumped back to the dugout, but I refused to give up hope. I'd been left stranded earlier, but I wouldn't let it happen again.
Then Carlisle came up to bat, and I saw that the pitcher wasn't even paying attention to me. He hadn't once glanced over at third base. He was solely focused on his catcher and on Carlisle. A wild, absolutely insane thought popped into my head, and I tried to dismiss it, but I couldn't. It remained stuck there, like glue, as I watched Carlisle strike out.
Paul stepped up to the plate, and again, I thought that the pitcher had seemingly forgotten I was even here. Well, I thought, he's going to pay for that. I wasn't considered one of the fastest runners in the fucking majors for nothing.
I waited until the precise moment when he had gathered all his concentration to throw the pitch. My muscles tensed as I tried to hide my intention from the third baseman, but he wasn't even paying attention to me. That sealed the deal. The moment came and I took off, my legs pushing hard into the dirt, my arms pumping. I knew it was going to be really, really close, so I slid in headfirst. I felt my fingers brush the cold hard plastic of home plate, and then felt the tag. I closed my eyes in relief and my heart pumped with elation. I'd fucking done it. A straight steal of home.
I got to my feet after what seemed like an eternity but in reality was probably only a second. I was so sure I'd done it; I'd known I'd done it. There had been a split second only between my fingers touching the plate and the catcher tagging me, but that was all I needed--that tiny, minuscule fraction of a second.
The roar of the crowd was incredibly loud, but not loud enough to mask the ump's decision.
"Out!" he roared, and with that single word, my control totally splintered and fell apart. I'd been on edge from the second that Bella Dwyer walked into the clubhouse with her smug attitude and beautiful eyes, and with the ump's call, I fell off the cliff. I tore the helmet off my head, anger surging through me in a white hot river, and I threw it at the ump's feet. I barely registered the single move of his arm that ejected me from the game, but I did see Bella, up in the stands, shake her head in dismay.
Charlie ran out of the dugout, his face an alarming shade of red that matched the lettering on our uniforms, and starting berating the ump with angry gestures and even angrier words. I couldn't hear him through the roar of the crowd. Fenway's faithful were incredibly displeased and I felt a savage sense of unfairness. They knew I'd been safe.
I stalked off the field, the boos filling my ears, and headed down the tunnel to the clubhouse. My heart pounded so hard that I thought it might explode out of my chest from the sheer agonizing fury. Fuck Bella Dwyer. This is what happens when I try to be a cocky bastard. Anger coalesced into a hard ball inside me, stifling the air in my lungs until I could barely breathe. I wanted to tear her limb to limb for ruining my concentration today, for tempting me and then leaving me to pick up all the fucking pieces.
I threw my glove on the bench and it missed, hitting the floor instead with an angry thwrap.
Bella Dwyer had just fucking ruined me.
I exited the stadium, made sure my press pass was in full view, and retreated back to the clubhouse. Edward Masen, the guy-next-door, had just been ejected from the game and I was shocked. He'd never been known for having a temper, and I'd just seen it twice in one day.
I wasn't sure why he held such disdain for me, but I knew it was mutual. I was covering the team; it couldn't be helped, so why and when did I become his target? I'd walked into the clubhouse, ready to just sit back and watch the team prep for their game. I hadn't planned on actually talking to the players. Then Jasper Whitlock started in with his psuedo-charming attitude and before I knew it, I was Public Enemy Number One as far as Edward Masen was concerned. And it set me off.
After our pre-game exchange, I sucked it up and did my best to keep my head clear. But just when I thought I'd managed to do just that, an image of Edward would rush back and the irritation would start once again.
I'd gone to my seat, five rows back from home plate, and watched the game. I had to admit it was a great game, even though I didn't like baseball. Then the ejection happened.
I'd watched my fair share of games growing up, even when my mom remarried, and I had never seen such a terrible call. I would never admit to Edward that I thought he was right to protest the call, but it was clear to me where I sat that he was definitely safe. Charlie came out of the dugout and then he and the ump went at it, and that's when I decided I had to slip away.
I didn't want to start my coverage of them with that scene. I walked quickly through the crowd, and made my way to the door that led to the clubhouse. After flashing the badge that hung around my neck, I went straight to the clubhouse to sit and wait for the game to be over and maybe get at least one interview to recap a players' perspective of the game.
"Damn it!" I heard a voice shout, and instinctively, I knew who it belonged to.
I quietly slipped into the room where Edward was. His forearm was pressed against the wall, his glove still on his hand, his head rested on the inside of his elbow. For as wrong as it was, I felt the same zapping current hit me that had when I first saw him in the clubhouse earlier that night. It was as if I suddenly felt alive and I could feel every part of me react to him; his voice, his eyes, and his body.
Once I saw him, every other player was reduced to the background. There was just something undeniably beautiful about Edward. His build was average for a ballplayer, but every muscle was toned and developed for the sole purpose of playing the game. His arms were strong, and his hands looked as if they could provide all the pleasure he was capable of giving. I thought about running my fingers through his thick, dark hair; and what it would be like to be kissed by his lips. So perfectly shaped and full, with the most perfect peak I had ever seen. I knew I could survive for weeks on the sight of the jawporn alone, and that was only after I cleared the image of his perfectly sculpted cheek bone. His neck lead to the shoulders that were both broad and perfect for his frame. When I actually was able to shift my gaze lower, I felt a heat rocket straight to the core of my being when I studied his amazing thighs and ass.
I shook the image from my mind just as quickly as I had when I first laid eyes on him. I was here for my job, not a hook-up. Then he spoke to me with such annoyance, all the images of the pretty I had just absorbed hit the curb.
I watched him as he slammed his gloved hand against the wall a second time, then spun sharply and threw the glove across the room. Damn. That was hot. I never took my eyes off of him even when I heard the sound of leather hit the wall. I walked silently toward him; his hands on hips, his head tilted towards the floor where his glove lay.
I wasn't sure if I should say something to him. Love the sport or not, it was clear the call was bull and he was right to express it how he did. I took in a large breath, still unsure of what action I should take next when he spun around and saw me.
"Well isn't that just great. Got your story now, don't you?" He spat the words out and I knew half the anger in his voice was, in fact, directed at me.
"No. Like it or not, I'm not the only one that saw that. I can't stop it from hitting the news."
"You're like a bad penny. You just keep turning up," he snapped.
"What is your issue with me, anyway? I've never seen or spoken to you before tonight." I stood firm and let him know that if he wanted to get back into it, I was ready.
"I don't like the press." He glared at me, the most accusing look in his eyes.
"How very Ted Williams of you," I said as I matched his look.
"What the hell does that mean?" He took a step closer to where I was standing, the anger obvious.
"It means that here you play for Boston, home of the most faithful fans in the league; and without knowing why I'm here- what the point of this piece is- you've decided to just be an ass to me, the press –and the damned enemy as far as your concerned - for no reason what-so-ever." I heard my accent start to slip out as it always did when my temper flared.
"Like I said, I know what you're here to do." His voice rose, and the vein in his beautiful, thick neck started to stand out against his sweat-dampened skin.
"Yeah, because God forbid that I might actually be here to write a story about baseball. Did you forget I work for ESPN?"
"That doesn't mean anything. I've seen reporters come into the clubhouse saying they are writing one article only to find out they wrote something different. You people can't be trusted."
"What?! Reporters can't be trusted? What about ball players? You guys are known for using women and just casting them aside when the mood strikes you."
"Not all of us," he said under his breath.
"No, but a fair majority of you do." I didn't want to back down. There was something so unbelievable hot seeing him like this – anger so close to bubbling over.
"And all you reports are just saints?" His eyes narrowed.
"No, but before you decide to take out your obvious hostility toward my profession why don't you step back and observe yours for a second," I fired back. I could feel the heat of our exchange course throughout my body, and it was not just feeding the anger. Something else was being fed altogether.
"What the hell does that mean?" he asked, as he leaned in to me. I wanted to back up, but my body had other ideas. It wanted to stay as close to him as possible "You think I don't know this sport? You think I'm just some jock from Washington State that showed up? They don't have walk-on's in this sport, sweetheart."
"I'm aware of that." My response was breathless, and I was pissed that my body was starting to become fully aware of just how sexually appealing this man was to me.
"I've busted my ass every day from little league, through college, and in the minors to get here. I've played this game with the utmost professionalism. Until today." His eyes bore into me and I started to feel a whole different heat come over me.
"Are you inferring that I got you ejected?" I asked, completely shocked.
"Well it had never happened before you showed up, I can tell you that." He leaned away from me; his nostrils flared and his lips phased into a thin line.
"Well maybe it's the fact that you rattled your own cage," I spat.
"Never." His voice was rough and I fought to keep breathing.
"There's always a first time for everything," I seethed.
"And a last…" His words lingered and the threatening tone in his voice pushed me further to the edge.
Something in me snapped. I wasn't sure if it was the sexual desire I felt for him or the fact that he had no regard for me and my profession. Or maybe . . .
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"It means, these boys aren't stupid. You start snooping around where you aren't welcome, and your clubhouse days are over. And I'm sure that would put a crimp in your jersey collection," he said, and unless I was nuts I picked up on a hurt edge in his voice.
"You think I'm here to sleep with the players? What the fuck kind of thinking is that?" I was pissed and it was game on. It was hard enough to be one of the few women in a near all-male club, but I was a complete professional.
"I saw the look on your face when you walked in," he said. Nothing on him moved. He was a solid wall.
"So," I started, my body moved forward to challenge him, "a woman walks into the famed Red Sox clubhouse, and she's only there to collect the jerseys of her conquests? "
"I didn't mean that," he defended as he took a step back.
"Let me tell you something, , I'm here to cover to the 2004 and 2007 World Series Champs as they chase down the ALCS this year." I stepped forward again, and he stepped back. "This team started the season as the favorite to win the ALCS, but no – you think I'm here to score on my own."
"If you're here for sports coverage, why were the players not told?" He seemed leery of being to close too me, and I used that to my advantage.
"Not my problem that the owners never brought it up. But I'm here now, and you better find a way to deal with me ." I stepped several steps closer to him, and moved us into the small "L" shaped hallway that separated the lockers from the training room.
"I don't have to deal with anything. And let me tell you something, Ms. Dwyer, you write one word that paints this team or my teammates in an unflattering light and it will be the worst day of your life." He fought back, but his words hit my last nerve.
"Don't threaten me. You're the one with the problem, not the other way around." I pointed my finger and came close to actually touching his chest, and my heart fluttered at the thought. Well, maybe not my heart, but something much lower.
He had almost backed into the wall. "You don't get it, do you? No one wants you here."
I felt the anger surge and I was not going to let him win. "By no one you mean you, right?"
"Yes." His icy stare fixed on mine. I felt the heat build and course through my body.
"What the hell did I ever do to you?" I asked; the distance between us closed and I felt the heat from his body engulf me.
"You showed up. " The depth of his stare morphed into a death glare. The anger was obvious; and hot.
I fixed my eyes on him, fighting the urge to curse – a product of my upbringing in South Boston. Then my body went on auto-pilot. I never thought about what I was doing, I only reacted to the pure, unbridled lust that had hit me the minute I saw him. I placed my hands on his chest and shoved him back into the wall a few feet behind him, and kissed him.
The moment our lips touched, it was like the fire that sought to consume me raged; the flames climbed and dared to intensify. His lips were firm and didn't yield to mine. For as much as it killed me to do it, I relented and pulled back. The moment I did, I saw the heat in his eyes, threatening and fierce. I took a step backwards, my hands still in the position they were in when I pushed him. I was terrified he would launch into another tirade when he did the unthinkable.
He took a step toward me and my heart slammed against my ribs. He looked at me as an animal would assess its prey right before the kill. His nostrils still flared, his thinned lips tightened, and his eyes narrowed. I felt my gut drop just before he put his hands on my shoulder, shoved me against the wall just off to my left shoulder; my back pressed flat against it, and launched himself against me. His lips collided against mine and his grip on my shoulders tightened. There was no thinking; only reacting. My body countered; my hands slid around his back and groped at his back, searching for the real him under multiple layers of fabric. I pushed my hand up to his neck and revealed in the feel of his bare skin as it touched mine.
He shifted on hand down from my shoulder and over the upper curve of my breast and I dropped my head in reaction. He moved his mouth quickly from mine and began his full on assault of my neck. His hand skimmed over my breast until his strong hand was cupping it, and gently massaging and driving me further to the edge. His body was flush against mine.
I scraped my nails along his exposed skin on his forearm and neck, frustrated at not feeling enough of his physique against my body. I could feel the heat, the electricity, the attraction rage between us and I was beyond on fire. His other hand slipped down my arm; his touch feather light and completely erotic. I gasped at the sensation the barest touch was stirring in me. His hand left my arm and latched on to my hips just before he placed his knee between mine, and nudged my legs apart just enough to press his thigh and hips against me; grinding ever-so-slightly. I threw my head back and a moan escaped me at the same time he growled. The primal sound in his voice and actions made me forget where we were. His kisses against my neck added a few nips along the curve of my neck; the grinding and the massaging of my breast continued and I was fast losing my ability to stand up.
He trailed kissed back up to my mouth, only after he placed a few kisses along the underside of my jaw; and I lost it. His lips pressed against mine, his tongue teased against my lips; never seeking entry, but meant to drive me wild. Shit. It worked. I snaked my hand down to the belt of his uniform and toyed with small dips lower and along the small of his back. My the other hand groped and grabbed at his hair, and assisted in keeping his head right where is it was – kissing me straight in to ecstasy.
And as suddenly as it started, it stopped. Edward pulled back, his eyes wild with desire and his body was breathless. He looked deeply into my eyes before he spoke. "Fuck!"
I stayed where I was, unable to move an inch of my body. I was sure he would return to kissing me--the unmistakable look in his eyes said that he wasn't done with me yet.
The sound of the door being flung open was like a bucket of cold water being dumped on us.
"Holy shit, did you see how pissed he was? Damn good thing we won." Seth spoke loudly, almost too loud if I were to make a guess.
"Damn," Emmett said laughing, "Boy was ready to light the fires, wasn't he?"
"Good thing that reporter wasn't around to see that," Billy laughed. Oh, how wrong he was.
Edward looked at me, licked his lips, and then tried to smooth his hair and jersey. He was lucky we were hidden from the locker room and from the sight of his teammates. He studied my face and then that hard stare he'd gotten right before he kissed me returned. He started to walk past me, back into the main clubhouse. He paused for a moment, reached behind himself and collected my hand. He squeezed it gently, the walked down the short hall, turned the corner, and returned to his team mates, leaving me weak and wondering what the hell had just happened.