Read Slow Heat Page 1


  To my dear friend Gena, who when I said I was stuck, ever so sweetly told me to shut up and get writing, because she wanted something good to read.

  And to Nicole, who is never afraid to tell me when I suck. The sign of a true friend.

  Love you both bunches!

  Chapter 1

  Confucius say: “Baseball wrong—man with four balls cannot walk.”

  —Author Unknown

  She’d read somewhere that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, but Samantha McNead knew better than that—in certain men the stomach was aiming just a bit too high.

  Wade O’Riley was one of them.

  The best defensive catcher in Major League Baseball, he had women lining up to meet him wherever he went. And it wasn’t home cooking that they wanted to give him either.

  Not that Wade seemed to mind. Nope, even with all the constraints that went with the new big, fat, multimillion dollar contract he’d just signed for Santa Barbara’s expansion team, the Heat, the guy seemed oblivious to pressure. Laid-back and easygoing, he took everything as it came, with a grain of salt and a slow, knowing smile that let everyone in on the joke.

  Because life was one big funny joke to Wade.

  Sam appreciated that, she just didn’t live it the way he did. Didn’t know how. As the publicist for the Heat, as one of the few females in a man’s world, her life tended to be more work than fun lately. Hence her mission today.

  The limo pulled up in front of Wade’s big, cottage-style beach house, perched on a bluff over the ocean. From the backseat she could see the waves froth and pitch.

  Much like her stomach.

  In the work aspect of her life, she was extremely comfortable. That was a given. She’d been raised by men: her father, her uncle, her brother, and her cousins were all tough, implacable, unforgiving alpha males. Failure had never been an option, which translated to being very good at whatever she tackled. Unfortunately for her more womanly parts, all she’d tackled lately was the job.

  A job she loved with all her heart, but sometimes she yearned for more. Maybe one of these days a man would sweep her off her feet and then into bed, but it wouldn’t be today, and it wouldn’t be with the guy she’d been tasked with babysitting.

  The Heat had played last night. It was the first week of April, and it’d been an exhibition game, a prelude to their season opener on Sunday. They’d played the Padres, and it’d turned out to be surprisingly down and dirty. Wade had hit a homer in the second inning, then been harshly walked in the third when the pitcher had hit him in the thigh with a throwaway pitch. The game had gone two extra innings, until past midnight, when the Heat had finally won on Wade’s double, so Sam expected him to be exhausted and probably sore as hell. Maybe she’d even have to pull him out of bed.

  The thought brought concern, and a secret tingle to those womanly parts she’d been neglecting.

  Nice to know they still worked.

  As she reached for the limo door handle, Wade’s front door opened, and six feet of rugged, lean, muscled male stepped out in Levi’s and an untucked blue and white striped button-down. A gust of wind molded his clothes against the body that tended to make Sam’s tongue stick to the roof of her mouth.

  Wade stopped to slide on his sunglasses, the picture of a California surfer, all easygoing, laid-back charm.

  He’d been a rock star in another life, Sam was convinced, and she purposely let out a breath and leaned back, reminding herself he was just a guy. A flawed guy at that, though certainly none of his flaws happened to be showing at the moment.

  He moved across the lawn in an unhurried, sexy stride, all scruffy gorgeousness, and opened the limo door, letting in the chilly April afternoon air. With one hand on the roof, the other on the door, he bent down, peering in through his Prada sunglasses, merely arching a brow when he saw her.

  Couldn’t blame him. They weren’t exactly on speaking terms.

  His sun-kissed light brown hair was either styled messy today on purpose, or he hadn’t bothered with a comb. His face sported at least a day-old beard so she was going with the no comb theory. He should have looked sloppy and unkempt but nothing about him ever looked anything less than God’s gift. She’d seen him in uniform, in designer suits, in workout gear, in all sorts of things including absolutely nothing, and he always looked perfect.

  Especially in the nothing.

  “Hey,” he said in that low, slightly raspy voice of his, the one that never failed to immediately put her back up.

  And/or turn her on.

  “Hey yourself.” He hadn’t limped, and he sure as hell didn’t look exhausted. The opposite, she thought a little breathlessly as his deceptively lazy gaze raked her in from head to toe. Deceptively, because behind that beach bum front of his lay a sharp-as-hell wit.

  Given their . . . tense relationship at the moment, she didn’t smile.

  And though he usually smiled at anything female, neither did he.

  “Are you okay after last night’s game?” she asked.

  “Always. How about you, Princess?

  She’d asked him a million times not to call her that. It drove her crazy, which was of course why he did it. “I’m fine. We need to talk.”

  “Sorry,” he said with mock regret. “But we don’t talk. We fight. And I’m not in the mood.”

  He hadn’t been “in the mood” since what she called The Mishap.

  The Mishap Never To Be Talked About.

  Except . . . except Wade got along with the entire world, and she had to admit it was disturbing that they didn’t. Couldn’t. But there was nothing to be done about that now.


  She had a job to do. They had a job to do. “I realize you probably don’t want to go over the plan,” she said, feeling at a disadvantage sitting while Wade still stood. “But I really think we should.”

  “I know the plan,” he said. “One of the corporations endorsing the Heat has a new, conservative CEO who has high family values, and is upset with our PR troubles—”

  “Your PR troubles,” she corrected.

  He let out a tight breath and bowed his head in agreement. “And you, the Skipper, the owners—hell everyone but me—believes that the world cares about one more ridiculous baseball scandal involving some woman claiming I’ve gotten her pregnant.”

  “You can’t blame people for believing it; you do have a bit of a playboy reputation.”

  “I never slept with Tia.”

  “She produced pictures of you and her on the beach by your house.”

  He just looked at her.

  “See,” she pointed out. “This is why we have to talk about it.”

  “Look, I get what the powers-that-be want from me. From us. We pretend to be a couple in the eyes of the press so I look like a good boy, and our endorsements won’t be pulled. How hard can it be?”

  “I don’t know,” she replied cautiously. “How hard?”

  His eyes heated. And a matching heat seared through her belly at the inadvertent double entrendre. “You know what I mean, Wade. The plan—”

  “The plan is that I have to behave. And you’re supposed to make me.” He paused. “Though I am looking forward to the make me part.”

  Oh, God. “You know what? This isn’t going to work.” She was fun, dammit. Even lighthearted at times. Why the hell he made her sound so uptight and stuffy, she had no idea.

  Wait. She did have an idea. An exact idea.

  She’d slept with him.


  On the one single night in her entire life when she’d had too much to drink. Except there’d been no sleeping involved. To make matters worse, it’d been one of the most erotic, sensual nights of her life. “Listen, I realize we’ve ha
d our differences, but—”

  “Differences?” He laughed, then shook his head, still amused.

  “Fine, so differences doesn’t quite cut it. We have to get a move on.” A friend of his was getting married. A close friend who just happened to be a big-time Hollywood producer, and Wade was one of the groomsmen. The wedding was an entire weekend extravaganza, where there was sure to be tons of press. If he attracted any of it—and just by being Wade, he most definitely would—he needed to attract good press.

  By the end of the two-hour trip to the famed Orange County, specifically Laguna Beach, they needed to be in sync and looking like lovers. Willing to do her part, she practiced a smile on him, the smile that usually got her exactly what she wanted, which in this case was Wade’s cooperation. Thing was, he didn’t often feel the need to cooperate. “You getting in?”

  He looked at her for a long beat, all big and built and completely inscrutable, during which time she held her breath. For as kicked back as he was, he was also tough as steel. He had to be. Catchers were known for their courage and toughness, having what was arguably the hardest position in baseball. And Wade was the best catcher behind the plate, period. He had to command the respect of all the players, make the calls on the field, have good sequences in those calls, and the ability to change it up and keep the hitters off balance. All of which meant he had to be smart, sharp, and strong in both mind and body.

  Wade was all of those things and more, and clearly one of those things was decisive. He tossed his overnight bag into the limo and followed it in, dropping down next to her even though he could have had the opposite seat all to himself. Leaning back, he stretched out his long, long legs and looked around. “So. We have any food in here?”

  “No. Are you hungry?”


  He was always starving. Probably because he burned God knew how many calories a day between his five-mile runs, weight training, and the game itself. “We can stop and get something to go. Rosa’s?” she asked, naming the closest café. Look at that, she was getting the hang of taking care of him already.

  “DQ is good.”

  She’d never met a grown man with such a love for fast food before. But whatever he wanted, she’d get. It would make him happy, and a happy Wade was a hopefully compliant one. With a nod from her, the driver started the engine and they began their trek, heading through town toward Dairy Queen.

  Santa Barbara was a colorful blend of the Spanish history of California and beach living. Wade was looking out the window, taking it in, giving her his profile as they turned onto Highway 1, heading south. The sparkling Pacific was on their right, the green, craggily Santa Ynez peaks on their left, both breathtaking.

  They stopped at Dairy Queen and quickly got back on the road. Wade was quiet as he ate, watching as they left the affluent homes and ranches, heading into the outlying county and the less privileged areas. She knew he’d been underprivileged himself. Despite his many faults, he was surprisingly humble and quick to laugh at himself, and often joked he’d grown up so far from the proverbial train tracks that he hadn’t even been able to seethe tracks.

  And her?

  Well, she’d grown up with a silver spoon in her mouth and everyone knew it. It was certainly all Wade knew about her, because it’d been the only thing she’d ever let him see. He had no idea that the two of them had a hell of a lot more in common that he’d ever guess.

  He polished off two burgers and went to work on his fries. “So . . .” His green eyes were relaxed but assessing as they met hers. “When were you going to tell me they want us to do this boyfriend/girlfriend thing for a whole month?”

  “You heard?” she asked in surprise. She’d been asked to talk him into it.

  “I work with a bunch of women, Sam. They tell all.”

  “You work with a group of professional athletes, male.”

  “Who gossip more than a bunch of teenage girls after cheerleading practice. Pace heard it from Henry, who overheard Gage talking to you.”

  Pace being Wade’s best friend and the Heat’s pitcher. Henry was their shortstop. Gage, their team manager. And yes, the supposedly professional clubhouse really was similar in nature to a high school locker room.

  Sprawled out, relaxed, Wade watched her with a half smile, looking far too appealing. She took a careful breath. “A month shows stability. It’s more impressive than just a weekend wedding fling.”

  “So you’re okay with being joined at the hip for a month?”

  “If you are.”

  He considered this. “Are there benefits?”


  He sighed. “So much for fun.”

  “Hey, I’m fun.” He didn’t say a word, which burned. “I am! And I just realized, there are benefits.”

  He cocked his head.

  “Well . . . I can be a pretty convincing bitch when I want to be.”

  “Noooo,” he said with feigned shock. “But how exactly is that a benefit?”

  “I can scare away all the crazy women that chase you around, thereby giving you a break. And in return, you can relax knowing you won’t have to take care of me like your usual fan-girl, clingy type who bores you within the span of one date.”

  He arched a brow.

  “Just calling ’em like I see ’em.”

  He didn’t say anything to that as he finished his fries, then tossed all the trash into the bag and set it aside. He rubbed a hand over his jaw and said another entire boat-load of nothing.

  “It’s just a role, Wade. And it could have been worse. We could have lost the endorsement entirely, or they could have traded you.”

  “They’re that desperate for good press?” He shook his head in disbelief.

  “Hey, baseball isn’t exactly showing its best foot to the public lately. We need this. The Heat needs this.”

  “And your father’s okay with it?” he asked carefully.

  With good reason. Her father was one of the owners of the Heat. Her uncle owned their sister team, the South Carolina Charleston Bucks. The McNead brothers were famous for getting their way, or more accurately, infamous.

  And they were baseball royalty.

  Or had been until Samantha’s brother Jeremy—her PR equivalent at the Bucks—had stepped over the ethics line, the moral line, and several other lines as well, and brought the wrath of the press down on the McNeads. It hadn’t gone over well, and damage control was required. Gee, guess who was in charge of damage control? “Yes,” she said quietly. “My father thinks it’s a good idea.”

  “So they’re willing to pimp out their princess when it suits them.”

  Ouch. But the answer was yes, a McNead was expected to stick to the pack. She’d known that by the time she could talk in full sentences. “It’s just an illusion.”

  “It’s an entire month.”

  The reminder made her stomach quiver. An entire month of being his girlfriend. “We’re grown-ups.”

  “Really?” His stark green gaze was more genuine curiosity than sarcasm. “Because we’ve not spent more than two minutes together without snarling at each other.”

  God. So true.

  “Well, except for the elevator,” he said.

  Also true, and her stomach executed a double gainer with a twist as the memory flew back, hot and sexy, resurrected by nothing more than the sound of his voice and the sudden sleepy look in his eyes.