Authors: Marie Ferrarella
She watched the pitcher, the six o’clock anchorman on the other station, wind up. The confident, five-thousand-dollar smile he wore told her that she was as good as out. For one brief, futile moment, she wished for Jose Canseco’s eye, but there was no use fighting the inevitable.
The pitch came. Amanda swung. And missed.
Her side had two outs.
When she returned to the bench, Pierce was still there. There were three other batters on the bench, but she saw only him. Only he annoyed her.
As she approached, he shook his head. Undoubtedly, something male and decidedly chauvinistic was about to come forth, she thought. She was already tuning him out when he opened his mouth.
“Want some advice?”
The smile she wore for the camera’s benefit, the one without any emotion behind it, fell into place. “I’ll pass, thanks.”
She could be cold when she wanted to be, he thought. And he’d be willing to place a large bet that she could be just the reverse if a man were to press the right buttons.
Finding the buttons was the challenge.
“Your form is all wrong,” Pierce told her as if she had enthusiastically accepted his offer.
Amanda let out a short breath and raised her chin.
“Not the obvious one,” Pierce continued, the soft burr of a southern accent evident in his voice. She knew that Pierce was from Georgia, but he usually kept his accent under control. It obviously suited his purpose to let it seep around his words now, like a fog wrapping itself around the coastline as it rolled in at dusk.
A lazy smile curved his lips as his eyes rolled over her
body. “I don’t think there’s much room for improvement there.”
“Thank you for sharing that,” she said icily. She started to walk away.
Pierce caught her hand. She glared at him accusingly, reluctant to cause a scene in front of so many people. But she would if she had to.
He spoke in a soft, moderate cadence, as if they were exchanging recipes for tall, cool drinks to be shared under the shade of an old magnolia tree. “But you’re holding the bat all wrong.” There was a bat leaning against the bench, and he picked it up. “Here, take this.”
She resisted the temptation to use it in a distinctly unsportsmanlike fashion. “Look, I am—“
“Going to be stubborn about this, too, I can see, but everybody should know how to hold a bat.” He shoved it into her hands.
She wrapped her hands around it as if it were a weapon. “Why?”
“It’s the American way.” Amused, he winked.
She watched as he ran a hand through his dark hair. She personally knew of seven women at the studio who would have loved to have done the same, or been the recipient of that wink. If Ryan, her plastic-perfect co-anchor, got a sackful of mail, Pierce’s mail seemed to breed in the mail room. His loyal fans were increasing at a steady rate, slain by his slate-blue eyes, the cleft in his chin, and the way he tended to smile during each broadcast, a combination of bad little boy and lover at the same time. That quality was not lost on her.
“I don’t think our national borders will be in jeopardy if I never learn to hold a bat correctly.” She shoved the bat back to him.
He didn’t accept it. “You’d be surprised. Here, let me show you.”
Before she could stop him, he was behind her, his arms covering hers. She felt his chest, broad and hard, pressing against her back. The smell of sweat and cologne combined to yield something tantalizingly male and dangerous.
He moved his face closer, close enough for her to feel his cheek near hers. Close enough to make her want to feel his cheek against hers.
Amanda gritted her teeth together, noting with chagrin that an entire section in the bleachers was taking this performance in. “I thought you were going to show me how to hold the bat,” she said, “not waltz with it.”
She twisted within his arms and realized her mistake. She had managed to twist against his entire torso. Contact had to be at a minimum. “Do I what?”
“Do you waltz?” He could see her, gliding sensuously to three-quarter time. The image was soothing and arousing at the same time.
Why was he doing this to her? Was it some sort of game that gave him a perverse sense of satisfaction? “I know how, if that’s what you mean.”
“What else do you know how to do, Amanda Foster?”
“I know how to hit a man in his solar plexus with the point of my elbow,” she answered sweetly. “Care to learn first hand?”
He moved his head back slightly and released his hold on her arms. “I’d like to learn a lot of things about you, Mandy. But none of them involve combat.”
Mandy. No one had ever called her Mandy except for Brenda, her parents’ housekeeper. The only person who had ever made time for her as a child. She didn’t want him to call her Mandy, didn’t want anything nearly that personal between them. He belonged on the outside of her circle, not within it.
“Well then, you’re out of luck. Combat is the only thing you’re going to get out of me,” she informed him tersely, still keeping her smile in place for the benefit of those who were watching.
She didn’t like the way his smile slowly spread over his lips, as if he knew something she didn’t. “We’ll see.”
Another cheer went up. Jon, on the sidelines, pounded someone Amanda didn’t recognize on the back. Ken Riley, the eleven o’clock sportscaster, had made a solid connection with the ball and sent it flying, driving in two more runs.
Riley ran loose-limbed and awkwardly, like a baby giraffe just gaining its legs, Pierce thought, watching the young man. “It looks as if Riley knows how to play a good game as well as talk it,” Pierce commented.
He was still close enough for Amanda to feel his words vibrating against her ear. And she didn’t want to hear them. Or feel them.
She attempted to move away and realized that, though lax, Pierce’s hold on her arms was still firm. “I’m going to dissolve in a puddle if you don’t let me go.”
She heard his laugh as it rumbled deep in his throat. “Why, Mandy, I didn’t know you felt that way.”
“The heat, Alexander,” she said through gritted teeth. “The heat.”
She could all but feel his smile. “You noticed it too, eh?”
Her frustration was welling up. And yet, something small and almost intangible within her didn’t really want to break contact.
It’s been too long between men, Amanda, she told herself sternly.
But it was going to have to be even longer. Pierce Alexander was not her choice of bed partners. Choosing him would be tantamount to picking up a revolver and playing Russian roulette with six loaded chambers. She had no taste for trouble. She’d had more than enough of it in her life. A spate of tranquillity would be nice for a change.
Someone behind them was elaborately clearing his throat. As they turned simultaneously, Jon walked up. “Our side’s retired, you two. Are you going to wrestle or play ball?”
Jon made no effort to hide his surprise at this unexpected coupling. He had been under the assumption that, though attractive and friendly up to a point, nothing except ice water ran through Amanda Foster’s veins.
Well, well, well. Jon felt his own hormones stirring with promise.
“Actually we’re going to—“ Pierce began, an amused spark entering his eyes.
“Play ball,” Amanda concluded, breaking free of his hold. The bat fell on the ground, unheeded. Grabbing her glove from under the bench, Amanda ran out onto the field without so much as a backward glance.
She didn’t have to look to know Pierce was watching her. She knew.
“You’re going to strike out, you know.” Jon tossed Pierce his glove. It irked Jon that Pierce attracted women without any effort. Jon had never liked sharing center stage. Or coming in second in anything.
Pierce pulled his cap down over his eyes. “Never consider the game to be over until after the last ball’s been thrown.” And he hadn’t even wound up for the pitch yet, Pierce thought, watching the sway of Amanda’s hips as she took the field.
Jon shrugged, broad shoulders courtesy of a Nautilus machine from his enamored wealthy widow rising and falling. “It’s your funeral.”
Pierce arched a brow, still looking in Amanda’s direction. From here she was all long, tan legs topped off with white shorts that barely qualified for the term. He envisioned those same legs wrapped tightly around him, her low voice moaning his name.
“Yeah, it is. Might be worth the price at that.”
Jon smiled as they parted at second base, but he didn’t mean it.
“Care to go somewhere and celebrate?” Pierce asked Amanda as they ran off the field for the last time forty-five minutes later. They had beaten the rival news station by one run. All around them grown men and women were hugging and cheering. The heat and misery were all but forgotten in light of the victory.
She shook her head. “I didn’t do anything to contribute,” she pointed out.
Pierce shrugged carelessly. “You showed up.”
“That might have cost us a run or two.”
Pierce laughed as they reached the bench. “You take things far too seriously, Mandy.”
She sidestepped an enthusiastic crew member who was heading right toward her. The man threw his arms around someone else instead and hugged indiscriminately. Just beyond the fringe, the other team was licking its wounds and muttering about unfair playing conditions.
“And you don’t,” she countered, taking off her cap. She wanted a shower. Badly.
“Absolutely.” He watched as she gathered up her tote bag. Every movement had his full attention. “Life is too damn serious to take seriously.” A glint entered his eyes a moment before he looked at her face. “Think a compromise might be in the offing?”
She’d give him A-plus for determination, but that was all. She had already given. Once was enough for anyone. “Not a chance, Alexander.”
With that she slung her bag over her shoulder and started to weave her way through the tangle of bodies.
“You might be surprised,” he called after her.
She stopped only long enough to glance over her shoulder, her words as final as a judge passing sentence. “I sincerely doubt it, Alexander.”
Don’t, Pierce thought as someone grabbed and pumped his hand. Don’t count on it at all, Mandy. It won’t be today and it won’t be tomorrow, but someday, somewhere, it’ll be.
Like the hot weather that wrapped itself around her body, refusing to recede, thoughts of Pierce stubbornly clung to Amanda’s mind. His image persisted and hovered, his smile just the slightest bit crooked, his eyes slipping the clothing from her slick body. Phantomlike, he followed her all the way home.
In her mind, he looked exactly the way he had in the park when he had surrounded her with his arms. Sensual, unsettling, like a sultry tropical storm that was about to break.
The memory made her even more irritable than the miserable weather did. And itchy. That strange itch that had no origin and existed without an epicenter. It was just there, haunting her. Making her uncomfortable. Refusing to be placated.
The sun beat down unmercifully. The air-conditioning
in her car was no match for the hot, glaring sun. She had it turned up high and still it felt sticky. This was hardly more bearable than sitting on that bench, waiting for her turn at bat. Again, her thoughts jumped to Pierce. Her body became tense, rigid as she tried to cleanse her mind.
Amanda squirmed in her seat. Damn that smug son of a bitch anyway; she didn’t need this.
She opened her glove compartment, reached in, and pulled out a handful of orange jelly beans. Waiting until after she made a right turn, she popped them into her mouth. She would have preferred a chocolate bar. One with nuts. A strong love for chocolate was a weakness she shared with her son. But on a day like today, a chocolate bar in the glove compartment would have been nothing more than a brown mess by the time she had a chance to get to it. So Amanda took what she could get. What was important right now was the sugar.
All the jelly beans did was make her vaguely nauseous.
What she needed, she thought in desperation, was a really cold shower and perhaps even a short nap, circumstances and Christopher permitting.
Amanda’s lips curved in anticipation as she brought her car up the short driveway. If she tried hard, she could almost feel the cold spray hitting her body, invigorating it. That’s what she needed, what she wanted, a cold shower and a rest, not some man’s hands all over her. She gritted her teeth as she swung her legs out of the car. A little sleep might even make a new woman out of her. The old one was feeling frazzled around the edges and put upon these days.
She slammed the car door shut and slowly rotated her neck. She could feel the kinks throughout her neck and shoulders, like so many small, hard marbles.
Maybe a long nap, she amended.
Nurturing a small glimmer of hope that her son might actually be sleeping, making her own rest an attainable possibility, Amanda inserted her key into the front door lock.
It was a modest house compared to what she had once been accustomed to. Three bedrooms and a den the size of a walk-in closet, but it suited her needs. More than that, it suited her pocket. Or what Jeff had seen fit to leave in her pocket before he had divorced her.
A bitter smile twisted her lips as it always did when she thought of her ex-husband. Gone, but not forgotten. Unfortunately. Jeff had granted her the divorce on the sole condition that she give up all claim to their house and to whatever money he hadn’t managed to squander away that was still in their joint bank account. The fact that the money was more than half hers didn’t matter.
Or perhaps it did. Perhaps it had given Jeff his incentive to emotionally blackmail her. There was nothing else she could call what he had done. Emotional blackmail. With eyes as pale as ice caps on the Arctic Ocean, he had looked at her over dinner at an exclusive restaurant and coldly promised her one hell of a custody fight for Christopher.
Not that he wanted the boy. He had never wanted Christopher, not from the moment she had gotten pregnant. But he liked the satisfaction of winning. Winning
had always meant a lot to Jeff. Almost as much as money
did and just a little more than the endless parade of women who passed through his life.