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The bragging. The pin-ups. The sweaty socks. Please oh please, set me free! Female sportswriter J.T. Green wants out of the locker room—until star pitcher Tommy Bainbridge walks in. Tommy defines the word hot: He’s tall, a terrific kisser, and a total catch. J.T. wants everything he has to give. But Gilbeytown, PA, needs their hometown boy back where he belongs and if his plans to help get leaked to the press, there’s going to be hell to pay. Distracting a woman as determined and downright sexy as J.T. isn’t going to be easy. Unless he can show her how heavenly it feels to be held in his powerful arms and…well, hey. She seems to like it. A lot. And so does Tommy.
It’s clear as a freshly chalked baseline that Tommy and J.T. are crazy in love. To hell with reality. They don’t care if they never come back …
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“But I had clothes on.” J.T. Green jutted her chin out and glared at the man glaring back at her across the littered desktop.
Skinny Martin was editor of the nationally read weekly Sports Today—and J.T.’s boss. But the paper on the desk between them wasn’t ST. It was The Buzz, a national tabloid that was sold in every grocery store across the country.
He shoved the paper toward her and jabbed his finger at the picture at the center of the front page. “Does this look like clothes to you?”
J.T. glanced down. Her back was to the camera, but the camisole T-shirt she’d been wearing was gone. The two AL players were full frontal and wet. The photo was cropped at their waists, but the implications were clear. Especially since one of them appeared to be lunging at her. A full page headline read SPORTS TODAY REPORTER CAUGHT IN LOCKER ROOM ORGY. “You told me to get an interview. I caught them when they came out of the shower.”
“I didn’t tell you to single-handedly make a laughing stock of Sports Today.” Skinny raised his eyebrows, which made little half-moons on his moon face. “Did I?”
J.T. opened her mouth to explain, then closed it. The top of his bald head was turning red. Not a good sign. Skinny hadn’t been skinny in thirty years. He was pushing the parameters of big fat slob and she was afraid he was going to have a coronary. He might be a bully, but he was the savviest editor around and she needed this job.
She pulled herself together. “They were wearing towels. I was wearing a camisole, like the one I’m wearing now, only blue. They airbrushed the straps out.”
“I have irate e-mails coming out of my ears, the phone has been ringing off the hook, the real press is having a field day.”
Three clichés in one breath. She was in deep doo-doo. “Skinny. There was nothing prurient going on. I’ve known both of those guys since I was ten. They were doing me a favor so I could get the story you wanted.”
“That’s why this guy is fondling you for the camera?”
“Jesus, Skinny. He recognized the Buzz reporter and tried to push me out of the way. The cameraman sneaked in. They don’t allow those kind of journalists in the clubhouse. And just for this reason.”
J.T. thought she sounded reasonable, but Skinny’s color grew redder. “Maybe we should discuss this later.”
“Forget it. You’re outta here.”
J.T.’s stomach flipped over. He was firing her? She’d only gotten the job because Skinny and the Coach were old pals, but she’d been busting her butt to get good stories, cutting-edge news, so people would finally stop thinking of her as Abe Green’s little girl. She swallowed back the panic that rose to her throat. “You’re firing me?”
“I’m sending you on location.”
J.T. nearly slumped with relief. The Coach would kill her if she blew this job. Another blot on the Green family baseball dynasty. “You are? Where?”
Tommy Bainbridge waved cigar smoke out of his face as he listened to his uncle Bernie’s side of the phone conversation.
Bernie sat back in his desk chair, his stomach making a little mound beneath his gray sweatshirt. His right leg, encased in a hard cast to the thigh, was propped on a pillow on the desktop.
He jabbed the stale air with his cigar. “Uh-huh. Yeah. Whatever.”
Tommy stepped back until he was almost against the closed door. He wished he could open the window, but it was filled with an ancient air conditioner that rattled more than it pumped out air.
Bernie banged the phone down. “Aw hell. Damn reporter left Atlanta three days ago. I’d like to ring Skinny Martin’s fat neck. In-depth story, my ass. They’re following you. Wondering why you aren’t with the Galaxies where you belong. Which brings us back to the same question I’ve been asking. Why the hell aren’t you with the team?”
“Because you said you were in trouble. And if the reporter left three days ago he isn’t following me. I’ve only been here since yesterday and I didn’t tell anyone where I was going.”
“You told him we’re in trouble?” Larry Chrysler, the Beavers general manager, was sitting in the only other chair in the room. He was as tall as Bernie was short, streamlined where Bernie was thick. Balding while Bernie’s wiry salt-and-pepper hair was still thick.
Bernie narrowed bushy eyebrows until they met in the center of his forehead. “I told him we were going through a rough patch. I just wanted some advice. I didn’t mean for you to come hauling back home to bail me out.”
He rolled the cigar tip around in the ashtray, jabbed it out, and took a roll of Tums out of his shirt pocket. He downed two before frowning at Tommy. “I don’t want you jeopardizing your season ’cause a me.”
“You’re family. Family first. Over the majors, over the money, over baseball.”
“Over the babes?”
Larry shook his head. “Hell, you’re getting old, boy.”
“You’re right. I am,” said Tommy. He was thirty-six. He’d been playing in pain for years, had surgery during the off-season, and spent most of last year on the disabled list. His rotor cuff was shot; no surgery in the world was going to make him the pitcher he used to be.
“So if you’re not injured and you’re not being traded—”
“Jesus, Larry. The Galaxies would be crazy to trade Tommy.” Bernie’s barrel chest expanded to fighting size. It had intimidated more than a few umpires in his day. It didn’t faze Larry.
“Don’t get your panties in a twist. I’m just saying that it’s pretty damn clear that Skinny Martin smells a story and I’ll eat my Roger Clemens rookie card if it’s about the damn Beavers.” He looked over his shoulder at Tommy. “So if you’re not leveling with us on why you’re hanging around like a guy without a job, you’d better let us in on the joke.”
Tommy looked at the space between the two men. He owed both men the truth. They were old-time ballplayers, all rough, scruff, and hard knocks. They’d played together on the Mariners in the late seventies.
These guys understood sacrifice. Had lived with the curves life had dealt them. They’d understand his decision. But Tommy was sworn to secrecy until the Galaxies signed his replacement. And he felt like a cad.
“I took a few days off. It happens. Hell, I was back for most of last season. Had a winning record. Worked my butt off during spring training. Pitched on Saturday. I have five days before I’m scheduled to pitch again. I asked for a few days off for family reasons. They were fine with it. I’m here because I can be. And you’re in deep shit.”
Larry barked out a laugh. “You just noticed? We’ve been in deep shit for years. We keep on muddling by.”
“That was before somebody decided to help finish you off.”
Bernie reached into his shirt pocket for more Tums.
“Damn it, Bernie,” said Larry. “Why don’t you get yourself a prescription for your stomach? Only pregnant women pop Tums.”
Bernie finished chewing and swallowed with a gulp. “Can’t afford the co-pay.” He stuck the unlit butt of his cigar between his teeth and clamped them tight.
Tommy finally moved from the door and leaned over the desk. “This team is being sabotaged. You know it and I know it.”
“Aw hell.” Larry straightened up and met Tommy’s eyes. “This team doesn’t have to be sabotaged. It can sabotage itself. Have you looked at last year’s win–loss record? We’re monkey meat. No wonder we don’t collect shit at the gate. There’s more excitement at the little league field.”
“They had a winning record,” mumbled Bernie, and spit out a piece of tobacco. “Not to mention state-of-the-art ball fields, concession stands, plumbing that works, and a grounds crew that any major league team would be proud of.”
Larry let out a long sigh and leaned back in his chair. “We’re about to be history. There’s nothing you or I or Bernie or anyone else can do to stop it.” In a quieter voice he said, “Tommy, times are changing. The population is changing. They want a new ballpark, a triple-A team. They’ll pass the referendum. They have the clout to get it done.”
“By tearing down Gilbey Field,” Bernie groused.
“They want progress.”
“On the backs of the rest of us poor tax-paying schmucks.”
“The commuters have support among the locals.”
Bernie spit out another piece of tobacco. “Thanks to our sell-out, hypocrite mayor. If you had told me Charlie Wiggins would grow up to be the swine that he is, I wouldn’t have believed it. And his mother one of our oldest fans. Poor woman deserves more than that polecat for a son.”
“That might be,” said Larry, “but that’s life. Tommy, I know what the team means to you. But if you want it to survive, you’d better buy it. I haven’t seen one of our downy absentee owners in years. Just get nasty directives ‘From the desk of.’ As if they give a shit. We’re a great tax write-off.