#SampleSunday: HARDBALL by V.K. Sykes

For #Sample Sunday, here’s another excerpt from Hardball, the sexy contemporary romance I wrote with my husband under the pen name of VK Sykes.  Nate, a superstar baseball player, and Holly, a serious and rather shy pediatric surgeon, have been dating for several weeks – and it’s been hot and heavy.  But problems for both of them at work have been putting strains on their relationship, so Nate has surprised Holly with a get-away weekend to the Florida coast.  After dinner in a five star restaurant, they head out to the beach…

A sliver of moonlight allowed Nate and Holly to pick their way along the narrow path through the dunes.  He glanced back at the lights of the Ritz shining behind them.  Ahead lay only the darkness of the sand and the glow of the moonlight on the still water.  With the low tide, the beach seemed to stretch forever toward the sea.

They had ditched their shoes at the end of the fake wood walkway that traversed most of the wide dunes between the hotel and the shoreline.  Holly looked elegant in her sexy cocktail dress, but as for him—well, bare feet and rolled up trouser legs didn’t exactly go with the Armani look.

Leading the way, wine bottle under one arm and a long-stemmed glass stuffed in each outside pocket of his jacket, he swept the beach ahead with the small flashlight a valet had retrieved from the BMW.  Holly followed right behind, her left hand loosely gripping the back of his jacket and her right clutching the blanket.

Suddenly, she cried out.  “Ouch!”

“What’s wrong?”  He swung around and flashed the light in her direction.

“Man, that really hurt!”  Holly flopped down in the sand like a little kid and examined the bottom of her foot.  “I must have I stepped on a sharp shell.  I think it’s okay, though.  Just stings a lot.”

Nate trained the flashlight on her foot.  Just inches away, he noticed a big, bumpy oyster shell poking up out of the otherwise pristine sand.  “You sure you’re okay?”

She nodded as she dusted the sand from her foot and then held out her hand.  He grasped it and helped her up.  She balanced on one foot for a moment before gingerly putting the injured foot down.  “It was more a shock than anything.  No big deal.  Let’s keep going.”

“As soon as we stop, I’ll kiss it better,” he murmured in her ear.

“Maybe I should step on things more often,” she said in a sex-laden voice as she reached around his neck and leaned her body into him.

Nate dropped the wine and the flashlight onto the soft sand and pulled her against him, his hands reaching down to the small of her waist and then to her bottom.  Feeling the smooth, rounded warmth in his hands as his mouth eagerly found hers made him hard in a split-second.  He knew Holly could feel his erection against her stomach, as she moaned and melted against him.

“I thought you wanted to keep going?” Nate growled, running a string of damp kisses over her ear and neck.

“I do,” Holly whispered.  “But just far enough.  We’re too exposed here.”

“You had this planned all along, didn’t you?”  He squeezed her waist, desire ripping through him.

“Are you complaining?” she retorted, giving him a nudge in the back.  “It’s time you found us a nice, private place.”

Small dunes covered in sea oats lined the beach as far into the distance as Nate could see.  They slowly walked south past some medium-height condo buildings until he spotted a kind of small semi-circle formed by two dunes.   He could see that it offered protection from view on three sides—only people walking by on the beach directly in front of the indentation could see inside it.  And it was highly unlikely that anybody else would be walking here on this dark beach, so late at night.

“Over there,” he said, pointing.  “That’s our spot.”

Holly gave him a thumbs-up and quickened her pace, despite her foot.  Nate laughed and followed.  By the time he caught up to her in the dunes, she had already spread out the blanket.  He set the wine bottle down, pulled the glasses and corkscrew out of his pockets and tossed them onto the blanket.  Then he reached for her.

“Oh no,” she protested, sitting down.  “You promised something first.”  She reclined onto her back and gracefully lifted her right leg into the air, wiggling the foot.

“I did, didn’t I?  He sank to his knees and took her slender foot in his hands.  Brushing off the film of fine sand, he kissed it—not just once, but all over, running his lips lightly from her heel to her toes and back again.

“That tickles!” she yelped.  “You, sir, could use a shave.”

“Now look who’s complaining,” he murmured, gently sucking on her little toe.

“Okay,” she sighed, “that’s better.”  She laid back, her hair cascading over on the blanket.  “Do it some more.”

Hardball is available on the Nook, Amazon and at Smashwords for $2.99.  You can read all about it, including another excerpt, on my VK Sykes website.

Have a great Sunday!

#SampleSunday: HARDBALL by V.K. Sykes

For #Sample Sunday, here’s another excerpt from Hardball, the sexy contemporary romance I wrote with my husband under the pen name of VK Sykes.  Nate, a superstar baseball player, and Holly, a serious and rather shy pediatric surgeon, have been dating for several weeks – and it’s been hot and heavy.  But even though things have been going well, problems are starting to pile up for them.  Nate just injured his shoulder in a game and Holly is dealing with a tricky situation at work – she’s treating a young heart patient whose father seems strangely opposed to the life-saving surgery the little boy needs.

Still feeling slightly woozy and pretty much like a piece of crap, Nate automatically reached out with his left hand to open the fridge, only to be brought up short by the sling on his arm.

He expelled an impatient breath and switched to the other hand.  Okay, the stupid sling saved him from the searing pain of ill-advised shoulder movement, but it was going to take a lot of getting used to.

Why couldn’t the stinking ball have whacked me in the right shoulder?

He took pride in being a lefthander, and baseball loved southpaws.  Most pitchers were right-handed, as were a large majority of batters.  So hitters would face righties on the mound seventy or eighty per cent of the time.  That discrepancy gave a leftie pitcher the advantage of relative unfamiliarity.  Added to his natural talent and conditioning, it gave Nate an ever greater competitive edge.

Aside from baseball, being left-handed was an advantage in a scrap, too, because the other guy often had no idea how to react to jabs and punches coming at him from a different angle.  In Brooklyn, where he’d grown up, knowing how to fight was more important than just about anything.  And as a teenage baseball phenom, his southpaw curveball had baffled the other kids, even much older players.  He had mowed down the batters like a scythe slashing through wispy stalks of dry wheat.

Nate remembered the day when one of his elementary school teachers taught the class that the word “sinister” derived from the Latin word meaning “left”.  That was cool.  It meant vaguely dangerous or threatening, and that suited him just fine.

But now, without the use of his left arm and hand, he felt like a pathetic, one-winged bird.  The simplest things had become difficult, like opening the fridge door.

He was struggling to slather peanut butter on a couple of slices of toast when he heard the front door open.  Dropping the knife on the granite counter, he ambled to the hallway just as Holly shut the door behind her.  She leaned into him and he kissed her slowly and deeply, his tongue tasting all the heady sweetness of her.

He thanked God for Holly.  She was the only thing right now keeping his sense of anger and frustration at bay.  When he opened his eyes this afternoon to see her standing by his bed in that damn hospital cubicle, her emerald-green eyes full of worry and affection, it had been like someone had thrown him a lifeline.

“I like that welcome,” she sighed in her pretty, southern-tinged voice.  “You must have missed me.”

“Big time.”  Nate clumsily brushed a lock of auburn hair away from her face.  “It’s been hell trying to get the peanut butter onto my damn toast.”

“Beast!”  She slapped him on the ass as he dodged away from her.  “You’re feeling a little better, I gather, since you’re back to the lame jokes.”

“It doesn’t hurt that much except when I move the arm.  The sling’s good, but I’m sure I’m going to keep trying to use this arm unless it’s glued to my body.”

She walked with him down the hall, rubbing his back in sympathy, but then laughed when she saw the mess he’d made in the kitchen.  He’d slopped more peanut butter on the counter than he managed to get on the bread.  She cocked an eyebrow at him.  “Having a little trouble with the right hand, are we?”

He grimaced, his frustration spiking again at the thought of how long it would take him to get back to normal.  “This thing better heal fast or I’m in trouble.  I’ll have to hire a cook.”

“Now there’s a thought,” she agreed, wiping down the counter with a Handi-wipe.  “But for now, why don’t you let me make you something better?  How about an omelet and a salad?  Got any eggs?”

“In the fridge.  Thanks.  Maybe this invalid thing won’t be so bad after all.”

“I think you’d better find that cook,” she said with a little snort.  “And in the meantime, get out of the kitchen.  Oh, wait.”  She rummaged around in her purse, extracted a pill bottle, and twisted the cap off.  “Here are your meds.  Take two now, and go relax.  I’ll call you when dinner’s ready.”

“Thanks, Doc.  You’re the best.”  He dropped a quick kiss on her lips and left the kitchen, but not before he saw the happy, almost shy smile that lit up her beautiful face.  He hesitated, and his chest muscles seemed to pull tight.  Not painful tight, just strange tight.  He frowned, rubbing his pecs, but then chalked the odd feeling up to the stresses of the day.

They ate at the glass-topped table in his kitchen, both too tired to talk very much.  They discussed his upcoming rehab, and Nate made a few lames jokes about it.  Though Holly chuckled at his attempted humor, he could see something weighed on her mind.  Something besides his injury.

“I know you’re worried sick over me,” he said in a teasing voice, “but I get the feeling that something else is going on in that mighty brain of yours.  Want to talk about it?”

Holly sighed.  “Really, it’s nothing you should worry about.”

He thought she was trying to hide her discomfort for his sake, but wasn’t doing a very good job of it.  “What’s going on, babe?”

Her mouth turned down at the corners as she clearly weighed telling him.  He knew her enough by now to understand that her instinct would be to coddle and protect him, but that was crap.  If something was bothering her, he wanted in on it.

“Oh, it’s just some nastiness with a guy at the hospital,” she finally said.  “I don’t take well to being yelled at.  I got enough of that from my parents to last several lifetimes.”  She gave a shrug, as if it didn’t mean that much.

Nate bristled on her behalf.  “What’s the bastard yelling at you for?”

She got up to retrieve the coffee pot from the counter, and didn’t answer until she’d refilled his cup.  “It’s a weird situation.  His five-year-old son needs a heart valve replacement as soon as he’s healthy enough for the surgery.  But the father’s balking at giving his permission.”

Nate frowned, not understanding.  “What, is he nuts?”

“He keeps saying the boy’s been through enough.”

Nate scoffed.  “I can see that in theory.  I’ve been around children’s hospitals long enough to know the score.  But how bad is this kid’s situation?  It can’t be bad enough to make a father do something as weird as that.”

“No,” Holly said firmly.  “It absolutely isn’t.  I mean, the boy’s going to be in for a tough haul, and lots of things can go wrong.  No question about that.  But he’ll pull through this current crisis, and I can save his life with the operation.  Isn’t that all that counts?”

He loved that Holly had such confidence in her skills.  Nate knew what it took to be a winner, and his brilliant, sexy doctor had it in spades.

Reaching out, he covered her hand with his.  “That’s where I’d be, if it was my kid.  Maybe the guy will come around in time.  He’s a jerk, but he’s probably scared out of his mind.”

She shook her head.  “Normally, I’d agree with you.  But Lance Arnold’s different.  I’ve never met any parent remotely like him.  I don’t get any sense of fear in him.  He oscillates between indifference and anger.”  She sighed, looking unhappy as she reached for his plate.  “And he doesn’t spend a lot of time with his son.  The nurses and residents have all remarked on it.  Most parents of five-year-olds practically live in their kids’ rooms.”

Nate thought about that as she started to load the dishwasher.  “You’re right.  One of the parents is usually there when I’m visiting a kid.”

Holly paused, leaning against the kitchen counter.  He could tell by the tension in her shoulders how much the situation was bugging her.

“I don’t get it,” she said.  “For a father who claims to be so close to his son, Arnold’s showing precious little sign of it.  It’s really disturbing.”

Nate stilled, struck by a swift, ugly thought.  He knew almost nothing about the case, but his gut was sending him a loud and clear signal.  A bad one, too.

Hardball is available on the Nook, Amazon and at Smashwords for $2.99.  You can read all about it, including another excerpt, on my VK Sykes website.

Have a great Sunday!

Winners & Another Great Contest For Romance Readers!

The winner of Lena Diaz’s new book, He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not, is wendybooks.  Congrats, Wendy!  I’ll be in touch soon.  Lena is also giving away five sets of trading cards to the following readers who commented on the blog:  catlady, Natasja, Robin D, librarypat, Christine Leone.  I’ll also be in touch you ladies for your addresses.

And for new visitors to my blog, I’d like to tell you about a fabulous contest I’m running with a group of fellow authors, which includes giveaways of entire backlists of your favorite romance stars.  I’m giving away paranormal and romantic suspense author Cynthia Eden’s backlist, and other prizes include the backlists of authors like Julia Quinn and Lisa Kleypas.  Yowzers!  You can find the details on how to enter this mega-contest here.

Have a great day, everyone!  Stop back tomorrow for another #SampleSunday excerpt of my V.K. Sykes contemporary romance, Hardball.


#SampleSunday: His Wicked Revenge by Vanessa Kelly

For #SampleSunday, I’d love you to read an excerpt from my Regency short story, His Wicked RevengeCaptain Anthony Barnett has roamed the seas for thirteen long years, seeking his fortune.  Now he’s finally returned to London and to the woman he could never forget…

It started with a woman and it would end with a woman.  This women.  The one Anthony Barnett had been dreaming about for thirteen years.  The same one who would now be the instrument of his revenge.

Lady Paget—Marissa, to her close friends and family—studied his somber office, taking in the dark, heavy furniture and the stacks of bound shipping ledgers.  She looked everywhere but at him.

Not that he could blame her.  His summons, directed to her brother, Lord Joslin, had been carefully worded.  But the threat had been clear, nonetheless.  Marissa was to appear in Anthony’s office at Nightingale Trading by noon today or else the entire Joslin family would suffer the consequences.

Anthony maintained his silence, knowing the victory would be sweeter when Marissa finally came to him of her own volition.  Step by reluctant step. She had already made the first one by coming to down to his warehouse on the docks.  The next would be when she worked up the nerve to look him directly in the eye.

The long case clock by the door ticked out the seconds as she inspected everything in the room worth inspecting.  But eventually, like a disobedient child dragging her feet, she slowly lifted her gaze to meet his.  Her pale eyes, the color of a summer sky over the Indies, fixed on him with reluctant attention.  A hint of shame pooled in those cool blue depths.  At the sight of it, a grim satisfaction settled in Anthony’s chest.  She could no longer ignore him, and had now stepped willingly into his carefully-laid trap.

Marissa was finally where he wanted her, or, at least she would be very soon.  And there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it.

“The light is poor in this room, but I think you are greatly changed,” she said in a flat, toneless voice.  “I hardly recognize you.”

He frowned.  What had she expected?  The last time she had seen him, he’d been nothing more than a callow youth, and a weedy one at that.  Years spent at sea had toughened him—hardened him in ways she couldn’t imagine.  But he could say the same for her.  She had changed as well, and in ways he had not expected.

She still retained the feminine power to command his complete attention, of course.  But Marissa had always chattered and sparkled like a rippling brook, full of laughter and mischief.  Now she was subdued, even colorless—a muted reflection of her youthful self.

Reluctantly, he recalled the last time he had seen her, on that night when his life had come to both a beginning and an end.  She had been full of life and beauty—so joyously in love that his heart had well nigh burst with glory of it.  The beauty remained, with her tall, slender figure and hair spun from moonlight.  But the glow that had lit up the world—well, his world, anyway—had faded.  Now her allure had an unearthly, remote quality to it.  Lovely but cold, like an Alpine lake before the spring thaw.

Anthony moved from his post by the window overlooking the docks and his small shipping empire.  He prowled across the room, coming to a halt in front of her, deliberately crowding her against a bookcase.  This close, he could smell her perfume—faint, and scented with jasmine—and the sweetness that was always Marissa.  That, at least, had not changed.  His body recognized the subtle scent, responding with a flash of heat and a quick sharpening of all his senses.  Almost unconsciously he leaned into her, wanting more.

She flinched and took a step back.  Anthony frowned.  Marissa had never cowed before anyone, not even her father when he was in one of his towering rages.

He waged a brief internal struggle to ignore the impulse—long and lamentably ingrained—to protect her.  She had forfeited such a right years ago, and his current plans called for exactly the opposite.

“Lady Paget,” he said.  “Please sit down.  I’m sure you’re as eager to begin our discussion as I am.”

She muttered something under her breath and stepped around him to the hard cherrywood chair in front of his desk.  With a spine as straight as an oak mast, she perched on the edge of the seat, looking as anxious as if she were facing a roomful of Barbary pirates.

Well, he wasn’t a pirate, but he was her first lover.  The man she had sworn to love forever but instead had betrayed—breaking all the vows they had made so many years ago.

His Wicked Revenge is available on Amazon, and at Smashwords and Barnes and Noble for only 99 cents!

#SampleSunday: HARDBALL by V.K. Sykes

For #Sample Sunday, here’s another excerpt from Hardball, the sexy contemporary romance I wrote with my husband under the pen name of VK Sykes.  Nate, a superstar baseball player, and Holly, a serious and rather shy pediatric surgeon, have been dating for several weeks – and it’s been hot and heavy.  Although thrilled with how things are going, Holly can’t help being a little worried.  After all, she and Nate lead such different lives. In this excerpt, Holly is talking to the very pregnant Maddie, the wife of Nate’s best friend, Jake.  Holly is about to find out that perhaps some of her fears are justified.

The crowd in the stadium came to its feet, roaring its approval as Nate struck out yet another in a long string of batters.  Holly cheered along with everyone else, swept up in the excitement of the game and the display of Nate’s power and control.  She’d never suspected a baseball game could be such a turn-on, but that was before she’d started sleeping with Philadelphia’s number one sports hero.

Maddie turned in the next seat and gave her a playful smile.  “He’s really something, isn’t he?”

Holly removed her sunglasses and grinned back.  “And you’re not just talking about his pitching, are you?”

Maddie was right, of course.  Nate was something special, and Holly hadn’t taken her eyes off him since he’d stepped onto the pitcher’s mound.  She had a good view, too, as they were seated in the field level seats behind the Patriots’ dugout.  That allowed her to study his rugged profile from the side—the strong jaw, the high cheekbones, and the dark, two or three day growth of stubble.  Even from a distance, he looked so tall.  Dominating.  Overpowering.

Just like in bed.

A hot, sensual shiver moved through her body.  Holly clamped down on the mental image of Nate’s hard, naked body looming over her as they made love.  Now was not the time or place for sexual fantasies, especially with Maddie sitting right there next to her.

Pay attention and concentrate on the game, silly.

Watching Nate play was exciting on its own terms—a righteous display of athletic power and skill.  When he fired the ball in an impossibly violent yet somehow graceful motion, Holly had no hope of following the blazing pitch.  She’d see the ball in Nate’s hand as he whipped his lanky arm forward, and a split-second later she heard the hard, leathery smack as it hammered into the catcher’s glove.

Wearing a knowing little grin, Maddie nudged her in the side.  “He’s all man, that’s for sure.”

Not long ago, that comment would have made Holly flinch with embarrassment.  But in the three weeks since she and Maddie had met at the golf banquet, they’d fashioned the beginnings of a solid, lasting friendship.  Maddie had invited her over for dinner the first night the team had hit the road for Atlanta.  Holly had reciprocated by taking her to lunch in Little Italy, and they’d met for coffee three times since.  Today, when Holly finally could rip herself away from work, they’d agreed to meet at the stadium to watch Jake and Nate in action.

Holly gave a sheepish laugh.  “Tell me about it.  I think I may have had more sex in the past three weeks than in the rest of my days put together.”

“You’re not complaining, are you?”

“Complaining, no.  Feeling a bit overwhelmed, yes.  But in a good way.  Nate was calling me all the time from Atlanta and Chicago.  And when he got back…well, let’s just say I’m pretty sure he missed me.  A lot.”

Maddie’s eyebrows arched.  “I can’t get my head around the calling all the time part.  Our Nate?”

Holly felt a little twinge of satisfaction.  Nate’s attentiveness had surprised her, too.  “He’s been so great.  We’ve done something together every day he’s been in town.  Fabulous restaurants, strolls through the park, a trip to the zoo.  On one of his off days, I even managed to drag him to a Philadelphia Orchestra concert.”

Maddie shifted her very pregnant body in her seat, changing positions as she’d been doing throughout the game. “And here I thought you’d be spending every minute of your free time in bed,” she said with a deadpan face.

Holly adjusted the Patriots visor that kept the bright afternoon sun out of her eyes.  “Close enough for me to realize how much I didn’t know about sex.”

“I’m glad you used the past tense,” Maddie said dryly.  “Otherwise, I’d have been disappointed in our boy.  But listen, Jake said something last night that surprised me.”

Holly gave her a curious look.

“He told me he’s seen a change in Nate.  And, trust me, Jake knows the man like a brother.”

Holly’s stomach fluttered.  “What kind of change?”

“Everybody knows Nate’s never been one to miss a post-game party.  He likes to unwind with the guys after a game.  This trip, in Atlanta and San Diego, he and Jake would go out with a bunch of other players to get a beer, but then they’d both head straight back to the hotel.  A beer, Holly.  One.  Jake said it didn’t take a genius to figure his mind had to be back here with you.”

Holly exhaled a wistful sigh.  “I really missed him when he was gone.  Crazy, isn’t it?  I’ve only known him such a short time.”

Maddie gave Holly’s knee a little pat.  “Not crazy at all.  I felt exactly the same way about Jake when we started going out.  Plus, I was insecure and a little jealous, because as a sportswriter I know exactly what life is like for players on the road.  Especially super-hot guys like Jake and Nate.  I watched women hound ballplayers everywhere they went.  Some would troll the hotels, knocking on doors if they managed to figure out the team’s floor or floors.  Hell, I’d lie awake at night thinking about it, even though I knew Jake is as straight an arrow as I could ever find.”

Suddenly, Holly heard a loud crack followed by another roar from the crowd.  Maddie pointed toward the outfield and Holly swung around to follow the ball.  The Patriots’ third baseman had hit a long drive that had the centerfielder running back as if he had a pack of rabid dogs on his tail.  As he neared the wall, he leaped high, his glove arm fully extended.  But he came up a couple of inches short and the ball bounced off the very top of the wall, landing in the bleachers for a home run.

With a grunt, Maddie heaved herself up.  Holly, seeing everyone else around her standing, rose to her feet, too.  But her mind wasn’t really on the home run, or anything else about the game.  She wanted to continue their discussion.  As the cheering faded, Holly put her arm around Maddie’s back to give her support as her friend lowered herself into the chair.

“Maddie, I’m glad we’re talking about this,” she said, restarting the topic.  “I’ve been thinking about it all week.  I’m pretty taken with Nate, even though it’s way outside my comfort zone.  So I’m really encouraged by what happened when the team went on the road.”  She paused for a moment, struggling to find the right words.  Maddie was so close to Nate, and the last thing she wanted to do was offend her in some way.  “But I can’t stop thinking about…you know…his reputation.”

Maddie gave her a puzzled stare.  “We already talked about that.  I told you that stuff is mostly exaggeration, or even outright bullshit.”

“I know.  And I believe you.  But like you said, he’s still going to have women running after him in every city.”  Holly’s stomach pulled tight with anxiety at the thought.  Maybe this discussion wasn’t such a good idea after all, but she didn’t really want to stop, either.  “He’s a single guy, and he has every right to sleep with whoever he wants.  And I don’t much care what he’s done in the past.  In fact, it’s none of my business.”

She stopped for a moment, worried that this was starting to sound like a speech.  Maddie waited patiently, although she looked a little wary.

Holly sucked in a deep breath.  “I know it’s still early days for the relationship.  But I know myself.  I know I’m not the kind of person who can be with a guy who’s even thinking about fooling around, much less doing it.  I’m just not built that way.”  She shook her head.  “I guess what I’m saying is that I’m scared I’ll get in too deep and it’ll all come crashing down on my head.”

She wondered if Maddie could really understand the stakes.  “I’d be a damn hot mess, that’s for sure.  And I can’t afford to be.  Not ever.  Not when kids’ lives depend on me not being an emotional wreck.”

Maddie didn’t speak for a moment.  Then she nodded, and gave Holly’s hand a gentle squeeze.  “I get it.  And I don’t blame you for having those fears.  Nate’s a wonderful man and a class act, Holly, and as far as I can tell he’s totally into you.  But we both know there are no guarantees, as much as we might like to believe otherwise.”

Holly swallowed hard.  Sure, there were no absolute guarantees.  But with some guys there could at least be some kind of lasting comfort level.  “What about with Jake?  Not even with him?”

Maddie gave her a crooked smile.  “Jake and Nate are both idiots in their own way, but they’re totally different animals when it comes to women.  Jake is as straight as they come.  But, like I said, it still took me a long time to stop having those little niggling worries when he went on road trips.  And the first spring training after we got together was even worse.”

“So, you’re saying that with Nate, I’d better get used to insecurity?”

“I’m saying worrying won’t change anything.  Don’t let your insecurities and fears torpedo a relationship before it gets a chance to take root.”

Holly let Maddie’s words resonate for a few moments.  Thankfully, it felt like the right path to take.  “That won’t be easy for me, but I’ll try.”

“Have you said anything to Nate about how you feel?”

Holly shifted her eyes back to the field as the crowd roared yet again.  A Patriots’ batter was jogging toward first base, shooting snarling glares at the Cardinals’ pitcher.  “Not yet,” she said.  “I’ve thought about it, but everything’s been so wonderful that I haven’t found it in me to bring it up.  I guess I’m being a wimp, but why should I risk scaring him away right at the start?”

Maddie grimaced.  “I’m afraid I can’t give you much advice on that score.  It’s obvious the insecurity is really getting to you.”

Holly sighed, embarrassed.  “Stupid, huh?”

Maddie rubbed her huge belly again, as she’d done dozens of times that afternoon.  A little pang of jealousy shot through Holly.  Her friend had a fine husband, and would be a mother in a few weeks.  Plus, she had a great career that she’d be able to return to whenever she wanted.  Maddie really did seem to have it all.

“Let’s take a step back,” Maddie said, looking thoughtful.  “This discussion started by me saying that Jake claimed to be seeing a change in Nate.  I think you should take that at face value, because it’s a good sign for your relationship.  And, at this point, I don’t think there’s too much more we can know for sure, but you shouldn’t assume the worst.  Just take things as they come.”

Holly read between the lines.  “I think you’re telling me that we’re hoping Nate changes his ways, but what we’ve had so far is a long way from some kind of future together.  The kind I want, anyway.”

“Something like that.  I really like you, Holly, and I don’t want you to get hurt.  But that doesn’t mean I think you should run away, either.  For my money, Nate Carter is worth the risk.”

“My heart agrees with you,” Holly said, that same heart suddenly much heavier than it had been a few minutes ago.  What in God’s name had she been hoping to achieve from this discussion?  “Now I just have to convince my stubborn brain.  That might take some doing, but I’ll keep working at it.”

Maddie looked suddenly restless as she fidgeted with the bracelet on her left arm.  “Since we’re talking frankly, I really should ask you something else.”

What now?  “Go ahead,” Holly said cautiously.

“Has Nate mentioned anything to you about a possible trade to another team?

Holly’s chest tightened.  Suddenly, she had to concentrate hard just to draw a full breath.   Heart pounding, she averted her eyes from Maddie’s gaze, willing the sharp spike of panic to subside.

She swallowed hard.  “No, he hasn’t said a thing.”

Maddie’s words had felt like a hammer blow.  Holly instantly pictured what would happen if Nate had to spend the interminably long baseball season hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

It wasn’t good.

Hardball is available on the Nook, Amazon and at Smashwords for $2.99.  You can read all about it, including another excerpt, on my VK Sykes website.

Have a great Sunday!