Read Fastball Online

Authors: V. K. Sykes

Tags: #Romance, #sports romance, #sports romance baseball, #baseball romance, #baseball hero, #athlete hero

Fastball

 

 

 

FASTBALL

 

V.K. SYKES

 

 

Copyright © 2012 by V.K. Sykes

http://www.vksykes.com/

Smashwords Edition

 

Cover Art © Kimberly Killion of HotDamn Designs

http://www.hotdamndesigns.com/

 

Formatted by Jessica Lewis

http://www.authorslifesaver.com/

 

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment
only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Epilogue

Also Available By VK
Sykes

About the Author

Rock*It Reads

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Maddie Leclair knew most women would sell
their souls to be in her shoes—the only female on a chartered
flight with thirty-five men, twenty-five of whom were professional
baseball players. Insanely, wildly hot baseball players. And at
least half of them had no wedding rings on their fingers. Her job
had many perks, one of which was flying around the country a few
dozen times a year with the Philadelphia Patriots of professional
baseball’s National League.

She settled back in her seat, laptop propped
in front of her, and allowed herself a few rare moments to revel in
the joys of her recently attained status. Only five months into her
new assignment as sportswriter for the
Post
newspaper, she’d
managed to earn the respect and trust of nearly all the players. An
unfortunate few retained their Neanderthal status, treating her as
a receptacle for lewd remarks and boneheaded comments about her
presence in the locker room. But she’d learned how to deal with the
best and the worst of them, and felt more comfortable in the job
with each passing day.

Did she get hit on? Oh, yeah. But the truth
was she had little if any interest in getting mired in a
potentially compromising relationship. And even if she’d been open
to a fling, most of the older guys were married with kids and the
younger players looked on her as something of an old lady. In a few
weeks she’d turn thirty, and in this crowd of testosterone-fueled
egos that qualified her as totally over-the-hill.

When the fasten seatbelt sign lit up, Maddie
stowed her laptop and prepared for the landing in sunny San Diego.
Once inside the terminal, she gave a wave to some of players and
headed off to the taxi stand, skipping the drive to the hotel on
the crowded and often raunchy team bus. She liked spending time
with the players and enjoyed their company but she needed her
space—especially after five hours with them in an airborne sardine
can. Taking a cab by herself from the airport was always a good way
to get some of the privacy she cherished during road trips.
Besides, after rushing to the airport at five a.m. to catch the
early morning flight to the west coast, she was already tired. A
very long day lay ahead, and she wanted to settle into her hotel
room and get some rest before tonight’s game.

After a speedy check-in at the front desk of
the Omni, Maddie fell into bed for a much-needed nap. When the
bedside alarm jolted her awake several hours later, she dragged
herself off to the bathroom, treating herself to a long, hot
shower. Unlike the players, she didn’t need to get to the park much
before game time at seven o’clock, so she took her time getting
ready, selecting her favorite black pantsuit with the tailored
jacket—the one that very nicely displayed her curves. It was severe
and business-like, but didn’t make her feel completely butch. As
much as she wanted to be accepted as one of the guys in the locker
room, Maddie had no intention of relinquishing every last vestige
of her femininity.

That was often a tricky compromise to
negotiate, especially given her occasional and very unwelcome bouts
of insecurity. Unfortunately, one of those little bouts was
circling her right now, hovering just out of reach. That called for
drastic action, so she rummaged into the bottom of her suitcase
until she unearthed her sleek black boots with stacked heels. She
pulled them on and thoughtfully inspected her image in the
full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. The heels gave
her five-three figure some stature, as well as a needed boost to
her self-confidence.

She grimaced at her reflection, hating that
she even had to worry about boosting her confidence levels. She’d
never been one of those people who liked to be center stage, and
had always had difficulty pushing her way into the forefront.
Though Maddie was loath to admit it, she knew her reticence had
played no small role in the length of time it had taken her to work
her way up the ladder in the
Post’s
sports department.
Journalists were supposed to be pushy bastards in their
never-ending quest for good stories, but Maddie’s inherent shyness
had always held her back. There had been days when she’d feared she
might be stuck covering high school sports for the rest of her
career, no matter how hard she worked—both at her job and on her
personal demons.

When her break had finally come, it had been
a very mixed blessing. Only the heart attack and sudden death of
the previous incumbent on the Patriots’ beat had thrust her into
the more prominent role. Even now, months into the job, she knew
she was still on probation. Her editor kept pushing her to come up
with more creative features, but as much as she worked her ass off,
she hadn’t yet developed the kind of breakout stories that would
seal her reputation—and her career. Many a night found her tossing
and turning in bed, the little devils of doubt and anxiety clawing
away at her belief that she actually
could
handle the job,
and handle it well.

Forcing a bright smile for her reflection in
the mirror, Maddie gave herself a little mental pep talk and headed
downstairs.

As she pushed through the hotel’s revolving
door and stepped out into a beautiful day, she lifted her face to
the sun and inhaled the soft air, faintly scented by the Pacific
breeze. On days like this, when everything seemed perfect, she
actually believed she would make a mark for herself in the
ruthless, male-dominated world of sports. She was living her dream,
and not for one minute would she allow herself to forget it, or let
her personal fears get the better of her. Her mother had always had
faith in her, and it was time for Maddie to keep that faith as
well.

After a pit stop for a quick dinner at a
nearby sushi restaurant, she hurried to Petco Park. Taking the
elevator up to the press box, she exchanged greetings with several
other reporters and dropped into her seat just before the national
anthem blared out from the huge loudspeakers around the field. In
spite of her jet lag and lingering fatigue, she felt the familiar
rush of excitement—the sense that little old Maddie couldn’t
possibly
be doing this—as the Patriots’ starter threw out
the first pitch.

Unfortunately, her excitement ended there.
The Patriots’ infielders performed like they had terminal jet lag,
booting two routine grounders for errors. Combined with two walks
and a bases-clearing double, the Padres scored four runs in the
first inning. After that, it only got worse. By the time the
seventh inning stretch rolled around, the score was a gruesome 8-1
and it was “mop-up time.” At least she was spared the agony of
extra innings, and it seemed her colleagues in the press booth felt
the same. Most were already making plans for the post-game bar
crawl, and a couple of them even invited her to hang out with them
later. As grateful as she was to the guys for extending that hand
of friendship, she was itching to get the game over with so she
could email her story to the paper and head back to her room, more
than ready to make up for her sleep-deprived state.

Not that she looked forward to writing up
this blow-out loss. When the team sucked, her editor and her
readers expected her to come down hard on the players who didn’t
produce. Her job didn’t involve treating them with kid gloves, but
that was easier said than done. She spent half her life with these
guys now, and they trusted her to do right by them. Though they
weren’t babies, and knew they had to take criticism when it was
justified, the players often had a different take as to what was
justified and what was not. Maddie worked as hard as she could to
be appropriately tough but always fair.

As she mulled over the lead for her story,
idly tapping her fingernails along the rim of her laptop, the
Patriots’ right fielder, José Rodriguez, chased a pop fly over to
the stands in shallow right field. He extended his body to make the
catch, but the ball bounced off the tip of his glove as Rodriguez
hit the rail in front of the first row hard. His momentum flipped
him right over onto the laps of a group of stunned fans.

Maddie jerked upright, holding her breath as
the player slowly extracted himself, with the help of a couple of
teammates, from the milling group of fans. His face a mask of pain,
Rodriguez clutched his right wrist. The Patriots’ dugout exploded
into action, trainers sprinting across the diamond to support the
player as he trudged back across the field to the dugout. Maddie
had seen a lot of flips into the seats over the years, and this one
was rougher than most. She had little doubt Rodriguez had broken
his wrist. That meant months of recovery, and the loss of one of
the team’s top power hitters would strike a hard blow to the
Patriots’ pennant hopes.

With a sigh, she slumped back into her seat,
ignoring the excited buzz from the other reporters. José Rodriguez
was a good man and a stand-up guy, and the loss of his bat, his
sure glove, and his leadership would devastate his teammates. For
the Patriots, the injury couldn’t have come at a worse time.

When the game ended, Maddie stood, stretched
her cramped muscles, and began to pack up her laptop. Despite her
bone-weariness, she had to stick around and see if she could get
some info on the injury from Jack Ault, the team’s manager. That
meant either wading into the Patriots’ clubhouse—never a fun time
in a situation like this—or hanging around outside, waiting for a
grumpy Jack to emerge. Not much of a choice either way.

Might as well get it over with
.

She made a beeline for the clubhouse, getting
there just as the last players were straggling in. As she followed
them through the door, she silently repeated her usual prayer of
thanks to the pioneering female sportswriters who had endured years
of harassment from sexist players and managers. Today, the guys
were mostly gentlemen, or at least they tended to swallow the
offensive jibes before they actually got past their teeth. There
was the occasional disgusting remark thrown her way, but she’d
pretty much learned to ignore those incidents.

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