#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!


It’s (Mostly) Fun And Games At The Bookstore

I stopped by my local Barnes and Noble yesterday to pick up a few books.  Four great-looking reads in four genres:  a contemporary romance by Toni Blake, a paranormal romance by Angela Knight, a historical romance by Jennifer Haymore, and a romantic suspense by Laura Griffen.

My idea of a good time

Angela Knight and Toni Blake are on my auto-buy list, and I love Jennifer Haymore’s elegant and heartfelt historical romances.  Since my latest project is a Christmas historical romance, I thought I could pick up some tips from Jennifer and enjoy a great read at the same time.  I’m new to Laura Griffen, but I’m always looking for a good romantic suspense.

It wasn’t all fun and games at the bookstore, though.  Every time I stop by one of the big chains, I notice less shelf space for books.  At Barnes and Noble, some of that space has been given over to the NOOK display, which is all about reading and buying books.  So that’s great.  But more and more floor space seems to be going to kid’s toys and games, and lifestyle products.  In the romance section, shelf space for authors’ back titles is really contracting.  There’s quite a bit of room for new releases, but if you’re not one of the big dogs, forget about seeing back titles.  And even for most of the big dogs the bookstores only carry a few back titles for each author in stock.  Unless you’re looking for a book by Nora Roberts or Fern Michaels, good luck finding an older book.

I have mixed feelings about this.  More romance readers are buying on-line, either at Amazon or from e-book retailers, and that’s great.  But I really like to browse for back titles and it frustrates the hell out of me when I can’t find them in the bookstore.  I guess that most stores have just given up trying to compete with Amazon, and I think that’s a crying shame.  I adore hanging out in bookstores, but there’s less and less incentive for me to go there.  Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What about you?  Are bookstores still a place you like visiting, or have they become an exercise in readership frustration?


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