Read Double Play Page 1


  To JR Murphy, one of the cutest, nicest minor league pitchers out there—thanks for all the patient answers to my endless questions on absolutely everything in baseball, from rules to what you guys talk about in the bullpen to what really goes on in the clubhouse.

  To Stacy Joyce, an old, dear friend who works for the Anaheim Angels, who also came through for me with answers to all of my panicked questions, and there were many.

  To Sarah and Adam, for the first draft read and the invaluable input. Couldn’t have done it without you.

  Chapter 1

  A guy’s definition of baseball: you don’t have to buy the other team dinner to get game.

  If Pace Martin had the choice between sex and a nap, he’d actually take the nap, and wasn’t that just pathetic enough to depress him. But his shoulder hurt like a mother and so did his damn pride.

  Go home and rest, Pace.

  That had been his physical therapist’s advice, but Pace could rest when he was old and far closer to dead than thirty-one. In the locker room, he bent down to untie his cleats and nearly whimpered like a baby.

  This after only thirty minutes of pitching in the bullpen. Thirty minutes doing what he’d been born to do, playing the game that had been his entire life for so long he couldn’t remember anything before it, and the simple art of stripping out of his sweats had him sweating buckets. When he peeled off his T-shirt, spots swam in his eyes. An ace pitcher in the only four-man starting rotation in the majors, and he could hardly move.

  Pushing away from the locker, he made it through the Santa Barbara Pacific Heat’s luxurious clubhouse—thank you, Santa Barbara taxpayers—and into the shower room, grabbing a can of Dr Pepper on his way. Lifting his good hand, he probed at his shoulder and hissed out a breath.

  Sit out tomorrow’s game.

  That had been his private doctor’s orders. Pace had managed to escape the team doc all in the name of not being put on the disabled list. Being DL’d would give him a required minimum fifteen-day stay out of action.

  No, thank you.

  Not when they were nearing the halfway mark of their third season, and as a newbie expansion team, they had everything to prove. Three seasons in and anything could happen, even the World Series, especially the World Series, and management was all over that.

  Hell, the players were all over that.

  They wanted it so bad they could taste it. But to even get to any postseason play, Pace had to pull a miracle, because as everyone from ESPN to Sports Illustrated loved to obsess over, he was the Heat’s ticket there. Sure the team had ten other pitchers in various degrees of readiness, but none were putting out stats comparable to his. Which meant that everyone was counting on him. He was it, baby, the fruition of their hopes and dreams.

  No pressure or anything.

  Reminding himself that he hated whiners, he stepped into the shower. Under the hot spray, he rolled his shoulder, then nearly passed out at the white-hot stab of pain. Holy shit, could he use a distraction.

  Wild monkey sex.

  That had been Wade’s suggestion. Not surprising, really, given the source. And maybe the Heat’s top catcher and Pace’s best friend was onto something. Too bad Pace didn’t want sex, wild monkey or otherwise.

  And wasn’t that just the bitch of it. All he wanted was the game that had been his entire life. He wanted his shot at the World Series before being forced by bad genetics and a strained rotator cuff to quit the only thing that had ever mattered to him.

  He didn’t have to call his father to find out what the old man would suggest. The marine drill instructor, the one who routinely terrified soldiers, whose motto was “Have clear objectives at all times,” would tell his only son to get the hell over himself and get the hell back in the game before he kicked the hell out of Pace’s sorry ass himself for even thinking about slacking off.

  And wouldn’t that just help.

  Tired of the pity party for one, Pace ducked his head and let the hot water pound his abused body until he felt slightly better, because apparently he’d gotten something from his father after all. He had fourteen wins already this season, dammit. He’d thrown twenty-four straight score-less innings. He was having his best season to date; he was on top of his game. Lifting his head and shaking off the water, he opened his eyes and found Red standing there.

  The Heat’s pitching coach was tall, reed thin, and sported a shock of hair that was the color of his nickname, though it was also streaked with grey that came from four decades in the business. He had a craggily face from years of sun, stress, and the emphysema he suffered from because he refused to give up either his beloved cigarettes or standing beside the bullpen surrounded by the constant dirt and thick dust.

  Red’s doctors had been after him to retire, but like Pace, the guy lived and breathed baseball. He also lived and breathed Pace, going back to their days together at San Diego State. Wherever Pace had gone, Red had followed. Red always followed. Truth was, he’d been far more than a coach to Pace.

  All the guy wanted was to see Pace get a piece of the World Series. That was it, the culmination of a life’s dream, so Pace’s arm would have to be literally falling off before he’d admit that he couldn’t play.

  “What are you doing here?” Red asked, taking Pace’s Dr Pepper from the tile wall and tossing it to the trash before replacing it with a vitamin infused water, the same brand the whole team drank so much of that they’d been given their own label. “Usually you guys are all over a day off.”

  “I was drinking that.”

  “Soda makes you sluggish.”

  No, his bum shoulder made him sluggish.

  “Why are you here?” Red pressed.

  They didn’t get many days off. Pace pitched every fourth game, and in between he had a strict practice and workout schedule. “Maybe I just like the shower here better than my own.”

  “The hell you do. You throw?”

  “A little.”

  Red’s eyes narrowed. “And?”

  “And I’m great.”

  “Don’t bullshit me, son. You were favoring the shoulder yesterday in the pen.”

  “You need glasses. My ERA’s 2.90 right now. Top of the league.”

  “Uh-uh, 3.00.” Red peered into the shower, all geriatric stealth, trying to get a good look at his shoulder, but Pace had cranked the water up to torch-his-ass hot so that the steam made it difficult to see clearly.

  “It’s fine.” Pace didn’t have to fake the irritation. “I’m fine, everything’s fine.”

  “Uh-huh.” Red pulled out his phone, no doubt to call in the troops—management—to have the multimillion-dollar arm assessed.

  It was one of the few cons to hitting the big time: from April to October, Pace’s time wasn’t his own, and neither was his body. Reaching out, water flying, he shut Red’s phone. “Relax.”

  “Relax?” Red shook his head in disbelief. “There’s no relaxing in baseball!”

  Okay, so he had a point. The Heat had been gaining momentum with shocking speed, gathering huge public interest. With that interest came pressure. They were hot, baby, hot, but if they didn’t perform, there would be trades and changes. That was the nature of the game, and not just for players.

  Red was getting up there and not exactly in the best health. Pace didn’t know what would happen if management decided to send the old guy back down to the minors instead of letting him walk out with his dignity intact and retire on his own terms. Well, actually, Pace did know. It would kill Red. “Just taking a shower, Red. No hidden agenda.”

  “Good then.” Red coughed, wobbling on his feet at the violence of it, glaring at Pace when he made a move to help. When Red managed to stop hacking up a lung, he lay Pace’s towel over the tile wal
l. “You’ve had enough hot water. You’re shriveling.”

  When Pace looked down at himself, Red snorted. “Get out of that hot water, boy.”


  He hadn’t been a boy in a damn long time, but he supposed to Red he’d always be a kid. Waiting until Red shuffled away, Pace turned the water off and touched his shoulder. Better, he told himself, and carefully stretched. Good enough.

  It had to be.

  Red had a lot at stake. The Heat had a lot at stake.

  And knowing it, Pace had everything at stake.

  Reporter Holly Hutchins prided herself on her instincts, which hadn’t failed her yet. Okay, so maybe they routinely failed her when it came to men, but as it pertained to work, she was razor-sharp. And given that work was all she had at the moment, she really needed this to go down correctly. She was waiting to interview Pace Martin, the celebrated, beloved badass ace starting pitcher she’d just watched in the bullpen.

  He probably hadn’t been aware of her observing his practice. There’d not been a manager or another player in sight, certainly no outsiders, including reporters or writers—of which she happened to be both. She’d sat on the grassy hill high above the Heat’s stadium, surrounded on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by the steep, rugged Santa Ynez Mountains, and studied Pace from the shadow of an oak tree.

  She hadn’t used her camera. That would have been an invasion of privacy. She might be the epitome of a curious reporter, but in spite of her ethicless, demanding ass of a boss, Holly had a tight grip on her own personal compass of right and wrong. Taking pictures when Pace hadn’t been aware of her even being there would have been wrong.

  Which was a shame, because he’d looked pretty damn fine in his warm-up sweats. Not a surprise, really, since he was currently gracing the cover of People magazine’s “Most Beautiful People” issue.

  But what had been a surprise: his pitching had sucked.

  She hadn’t wanted this assignment, had fought against it—hell, she’d known only the basics about baseball before spending the last two weeks cramming—but Tommy had forced her to do this or quit. Since she’d grown fond of eating and having a roof over her head, she’d agreed.


  And since she did nothing half-assed, she was in this, for better or worse. She knew Pace was the best of the best. He had two Cy Young awards and a Gold Glove, and routinely won a minimum of twenty games a season. She also knew that the Heat needed a fantastic year and that the pressure had to be enormous. Holly understood pressure; she wrote under enormous pressure on a daily basis.

  She wasn’t tabloid. No, making up tidbits and taking racy pictures didn’t turn her on. The truth turned her on, a throwback from a disillusioning childhood. Tommy White, the editor-in-chief for American Online Living, had given her a weekly blog on his site, where she picked subjects of national interest, then profiled that subject in depth for three months at a time—with an interesting angle. Secrets. As she knew all too well, everyone had one and people loved to read about them, and since she was the master of digging them up—thanks, Mom—it was a natural fit.

  Her last ongoing series had been on space travel. It’d garnered her awards for exposing the dangerous use of inferior, cheaper parts, which had resulted in two tragic accidents . . . and a bitter breakup when her boyfriend had turned out to be one of the rocket scientists on the wrong side of the law.

  Before that, she’d blogged about the ghost towns of the great wild, wild West, using her own photographs to document what had been left behind when those towns had failed and what the cost had been in terms of human suffering. That one had ended up getting her a segment on 60 Minutes.

  Yep, secrets had both once destroyed her and served her well.

  She looked down at her watch, then eyed the clubhouse door. Women were allowed into the locker room but by invite only. She had one for the upcoming game but not for today. If she had a penis, she could just walk right in and interview him in his element. Not that she wanted a penis. No thank you, they were way too much trouble. In fact, given the fiasco with her last boyfriend, she’d given up penises.

  Or was it peni?

  It didn’t matter, singular or plural, they were a thing of her past. Not a huge loss, as they’d never really done all that much for her other than give her brief orgasms and a whole lot of grief.

  Where was her phenom? She looked at her watch and assured herself that she had time. Months of time, which she’d be using to profile the Santa Barbara Heat in depth. Her plan was to start easy, taking a personal direction for her first article. She could have picked any of the young, aggressive, charismatic players. Joe Pickler, the second baseman who’d given up medical school to play AA ball and then spent five years working his way up to the majors. Or Ty Sparks, the relief pitcher who’d overcome childhood leukemia and was trying to work his way into the starting rotation. Or maybe Henry Weston, the left fielder turned shortstop who’d left the Dodgers where his twin brother played in spite of it causing a major family rift. There was also the reputably charming rogue Wade O’Riley, the Heat’s catcher, who’d come from abject poverty, something Holly knew all too much about.

  But always a sucker for a challenge, she’d chosen to start with Pace, a player three years into his fifty-million-dollar, five-year contract, who’d oddly and very atypically for a ballplayer turned down millions more in alcohol and cologne ads, a guy the tabloid reporters loved to try to dig up dirt on.

  She glanced out to the parking lot. Pace’s classic apple red Mustang GT was hard to miss. Nope, he hadn’t skipped out on her; she wasn’t worried about that.

  But she was curious.

  Why had he pitched for thirty minutes, pushing hard in spite of the fact that he’d clearly been having an off day, and then suddenly dropped to the bench, shoulders and head down, breathing as if he’d run a marathon? He’d just sat there, very carefully not moving a single inch. Only after many minutes had passed had he pushed to his feet and escaped to the clubhouse.

  Was he nursing a heartache?

  A hangover?

  What? She could feel his secrets, and the part of her that needed to get to the bottom of everything, to hurry up and expose the bad so she could relax and get to the good, reared its head just as the clubhouse door finally opened and she caught a quick glimpse of tall-dark-and-attitude-challenged in the flesh.

  Pace Martin.

  “Hi,” she said, gripping her pad of paper and pen, perfectly willing to forgive his tardiness if he made this easy on her. Not that it mattered. Sure, he’d made a secondary career out of being tough, cynical, edgy, and for a bonus, noncommittal. Luckily for her, she specialized in tough, cynical, and edgy. She thrust out her hand. “I’m Holly Hut—”

  “Sure. No problem.” He grabbed her pen and leaning over her, quickly wrote something on her pad.

  As he did, she took her first up-close look at him, searching for that elusive “it” factor that seemed to make men want to be him and women want to do him. Granted, he owed much of that to his packaging, but she’d already known that. He had still-wet-from-his-shower dark hair and movie-star dark eyes, and a face that could have been descended directly from the Greek gods, but she wasn’t moved by such things. As a writer and a people watcher, Holly knew his pull had to go far deeper, that there had to be more to his charisma than genetic makeup.

  Or so she hoped.

  But the good looks sure didn’t hurt. He hadn’t shaved, though she could smell his shampoo or soap, something woodsy and incredibly male that made her nostrils sort of quiver. Which meant People magazine appeared to be correct on the beautiful-people assessment—he clearly had genuine appeal.

  Since she barely came up to his broad shoulders, she had to tip her head up to stare into his face as he straightened and handed her back her pad, giving her just enough time to see that his eyes weren’t the solid brown his bio claimed, but rather had gold swirling in the mix. They weren’t smiling to match his mouth, not even clos
e, and if she had to guess, she’d say Mr. Hotshot was pissed at something.

  Then she glanced down at her pad and saw what he’d done.

  An autograph. He’d just given her an autograph.

  And then, while she was still just staring at the sprawling signature in shock, he handed her back her pen and walked away, heading down the wide hallway with his steady, long-legged, effortlessly confident stride.

  “Hey,” she said. “I didn’t want—”