One of my favorite contemporary romance settings are those set in the world of baseball. To me there is nothing better on a spring or summer day than eating hotdogs and watching a good game. So when one of my favorite authors has a new series set in the world of baseball you can bet I’m going to read it. In Jennifer Bernard’s new series she takes us into the world of the Kilby Catfish baseball team. I’m only a couple of chapters into All of Me and let me tell you I can’t wait to finish it because it’s just that good. It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite baseball series by Kasey Michaels The Trehain Brothers (if you’ve never read those you need to go and read them).
Playing for the Kilby Catfish is hotshot pitcher Caleb Hart’s last chance to salvage his career after a major league meltdown. But the day of his opener with the minor league team, Caleb strikes out with the gorgeous woman who is delivering a petition to run the unruly Catfish out of town. Now, to stay in the lineup, Caleb will need to score big with the feisty brunette he can’t keep out of his thoughts.
After the nasty lies Sadie Merritt’s rich ex-boyfriend spread about her all over town, she’s lucky to have a job at all. She can’t afford to screw it up by falling for the player who is supposed to be helping her change the image of the fun-loving Catfish. But that’s easier said than done when Caleb’s voice alone is enough to make her pulse race. And when he surprises her with a mind-blowing kiss, she knows there’s no turning back.
A glass in each hand, Sadie forged her way through the milling crowd. In the shifting gaps between dancers, she saw that Donna was now sitting squarely in the middle of the little table, one alligator-sheathed leg sliding provocatively against the other, her chest arched in the direction of a tall, fit-looking man. The man’s hands were shoved into the back pockets of his jeans. Those jeans covered a rear end that, even in the land of tight cowboy butts, screamed “outstanding hottie.”
Could she call her wing-woman’s job done? Maybe she could deliver Donna’s drink and skip out of here before any awkward encounters ruined the night.
“Here you go, birthday girl. Sorry it took so long.” She reached past the strange man, who turned and looked down at her.
It was Caleb the baseball player. He looked just as good here as at the ballpark. Maybe better, in those crisp blue jeans and cowboy boots, along with a tight blue T-shirt that made his eyes stand out. Of all the guys Donna could have found, why this one? Why the only man she’d been attracted to since the Hamilton Disaster?
As she met his startled gray gaze, she bobbled both glasses, sloshing white liquid onto his pants.
“Maybe I should have brought a bodyguard,” he teased, grabbing the drinks—or trying to, anyway. He and Sadie ended up in a sort of tussle over them.
“What are you doing here?” Silly question, but she was completely rattled…
“Right now? Wrestling chick drinks.” Caleb tried to steady the glasses, splashing Kahlua across his hands. Another man, who stood on Donna’s other side, laughed out loud. Sadie noticed dark curly hair, mischievous green eyes, and a dimple.
Donna eyed the creamy liquid on Caleb’s hands. “Want me to lick that off for you, handsome?” She gave a goofy, exaggerated wink.
Caleb’s friend snorted. “I’m getting a beer. Be right back, handsome.” He slapped Caleb on the back, then headed for the bar.
Sadie finally managed to wrangle the two glasses onto the table. Donna looked like she wanted to jump Caleb right there on the floor of the Roadhouse. She couldn’t tell what Caleb wanted. Donna was beautiful, after all, and a fantastic person, even though she was a little out of control at the moment.
But Donna could get away with it. She had a fun, kooky way about her that made everyone like her. Sadie knew if she threw herself at Caleb like that, all the talk would flare back up. Her life would become hell all over again. And who knew what Hamilton would do when he heard?
No, she couldn’t afford any sort of misbehavior, which was why she was the perfect wing woman. She snatched up one of the White Russians and took a long sip.
“What’s your name, cowboy?” Donna was saying. She lifted one boot and ran it along Caleb’s leg.
Sadie gripped her glass as if it were a hand brake on a runaway train. Then she drained it, grateful for the sudden fuzziness it granted. If ever a moment called for alcohol …
“I’ve heard of you. You’re from the Catfish. I’m Donna and this is Sadie. You should really ask her to dance, because she even though she’s acting kind of strange right now, she’s super cool. Like, the bestest of the bestest.”
Caleb shot an amused glance at Sadie, who made a little face to indicate Donna’s buzzed state.
“Besides, she doesn’t go out much anymore.” Donna leaned forward, nearly toppling off the table. “She had a bad experience.”
“It’s my birthday and I can say what I want. Besides, I can see the sparks flyin’ here.” She waved her hand back and forth between the two of them as the curly-haired guy returned with two Lone Stars. “And I think your friend’s a hottie. I’ve decided to put my money on those cute little dimples.”
“Now that’s an interesting bet,” said Caleb. “We’ll leave you to it. Let’s go, Sadie.” Eyes gleaming with laughter, he grabbed Sadie’s free hand and tugged her toward the dance floor.
As soon as they hit the dance floor, and Caleb drew Sadie against him, he regretted it. Her dress had no sleeves, and the back was cut to expose her shoulder blades as well, so he couldn’t avoid touching her skin, which felt like silk in firelight. Her hair kept brushing against the back of his hand too. He’d never felt so aware of another person.
It unnerved him.
“It’s her birthday,” Sadie was saying. “She wanted to cut loose. I really should get back to her.”
“Mike can handle it. He has a couple of sisters.”
“Is he a Catfish too?”
“Yes. Catcher. Good guy.”
She peered up at him doubtfully. “But … he’s a baseball player. Emphasis on player.”
He stiffened. “We’re not all like that.” Sure, girls came on to him all the time, but he, for one, was pretty careful about who he hooked up with. He liked to keep his personal life private, and didn’t trust the baseball groupies not to tattle. “Mike likes to flirt, but he takes a strict vow of celibacy during the baseball season.”
“A vow of celibacy?”
“Yes. Literally. He visits a Catholic church right before spring training and takes a vow of celibacy. Says it keeps him sharp.”
She laughed, a low, throaty sound that seemed to reach into his pants and stroke his cock. “So you left your friend, who took a vow of celibacy, with my friend, who wants to get laid for her birthday. That’s either genius or a little mean.”
The breath from her laughter fluttered against the skin of his throat, making him swallow hard. Sadie. Sexy Sadie. And Lord, was she sexy. Especially in that dress. Although the dress couldn’t compare to the red cowboy boots.
Tightening his grip on her upper body, he swung her to the left to avoid a passing waitress. The scent of her hair—some sort of spice, like cloves?—made him want to bury his nose in the thick dark locks. He actually leaned down, just a little, to inhale a deeper breath of it. The Kilby Roadhouse, which at first glance had seemed a generic, dreary place with a lackluster band, pulsed with energy around him.
Sadie was still talking. “She’s my best friend, and I swear she’s not usually like this. Believe it or not, she works in child care. Normally she has Cheerios stuck to her hair and diaper bags on both shoulders.”
He laughed. He liked this girl, her sparkly eyes and hot body. He wouldn’t mind knowing more, even though he had no intention of actually getting involved.
“Is Sadie your full name? Not short for anything?”
“No, it’s just Sadie.” She tilted her head back to meet his eyes. Hers were dark, brilliant, sparkling in the dim roadhouse light. “Why?”
“I read the petition and looked at all the signatures. I didn’t see any Sadie. Does that mean you don’t have it in for the Catfish?”
“I don’t have it in for the Catfish, no.” She leaned toward him, as though sharing a secret. “But don’t tell my boss. She has nothing good to say about you guys.”
“Now that’s just all kinds of unfair. She ought to get to know us better first.” He winked at her. “Maybe you can do that for her.”
“No,” she said quickly. “That’s not a good idea.” She made to draw away from him, but he took the opportunity to swing her in a little dip, so she couldn’t escape.
“Shouldn’t you gather more information before you pass judgment?” he asked her. “Seems only right.”
When she didn’t answer, he wondered if maybe he’d gotten out of the habit of talking about anything not baseball-related. Even the girls he met wanted to talk about the game.
Maybe she did too. “You said you went to Catfish games when you were a kid, right?”
“Yes, I have a good memory,” he said simply. “I can remember all kinds of shit. Ask me what pitches I threw to Derek Jeter the one time I got him out. Fastball low and inside, fastball low and away, that one got fouled off, slider down the middle, he almost got a piece of that one, but he missed. Strikeout. Highlight of my career.”
She smiled at him, a wide grin that made her eyes tilt at the corners. “So far.”
At this point he’d rather talk about anything than his career. “What about you? How long have you been working for the mayor?”
“About six months. But I’m hoping to go to law school someday.”
“Nice. Gotta love lawyers. They make contracts that keep us ballplayers from getting screwed.” He chose not to mention his father’s lawyer, who’d been a lifeline during his trial and imprisonment.
Sadie raised her chin with a flash of disdain. “Is that all you can think about? Rich baseball players getting good contracts?”
“Well, it does come up a lot in the clubhouse. What kind of lawyer do you want to be, then?”
“Probably a civil rights lawyer. I want to fight for people whose rights aren’t being respected. Especially if they’re female. I’d also consider environmental law.” She gave a little hiccup. “Plants deserve respect too.”
He laughed. He couldn’t help it. She was just so appealing. Sexy too, with all that tanned skin peeking out from her tight dress, the shadows hinting at curves. Her combination of sexy and feisty really did it for him.
She shook out her hair so it flowed over her shoulder. “Are you laughing about the plants?”
“No. I never laugh about plants.”
That got her. She burst out laughing too, her eyes sparkling at him.
“You know,” he added. “I think you’d be a great lawyer.”
“Because of the way you talk. Every lawyer I’ve known can talk up a storm. My fa—” God, he’d almost let slip something about Bingo’s lawyer. “Just an observation.”
As if to prove him wrong, for a moment they danced in silence. The temporary lull wasn’t quiet though; something electric pulsed through it. He felt the muscles of her back shift under his hand. This girl did something to him, and if he was smart, he’d run the other way.
“What did your friend mean about the bad experience?” Where had that come from? He never asked personal questions like that. It was hard to tell in the lowered light of the dance floor, but he thought she turned a deep red.
“She’s a little buzzed.”
Her reluctance to answer made him more curious. Actually, everything about her made him curious. He liked talking to her. He liked how quickly she responded to his jibes, and the sparkly energy she gave off, and the occasional wariness that flitted across her face. He really liked how she felt against his body.
“You know, I called you earlier,” he told her.
“You did?” Her eyes widened. There was so much life in those eyes, as though a million thoughts were flying through at the same time.
At that moment he made a snap decision. He wanted to work with her, for real. Even if that petition was insane. “Yeah. I have some ideas for the team. I think we should get together sometime and talk about them. We’re going on the road after the game tomorrow. What about when we get back?”
The band shifted into an up-tempo number, and she drew away from him. “I don’t know. I’d better find Donna.”
He watched her walk off the dance floor, her long legs sleek and quick, her dark hair tousled from their dance. What would it look like after a tumble in bed, after he’d stripped her naked, licked every bit of her silky skin, made her bright eyes go sleepy with pleasure? She was all eyes and skin and fire and heart … and look at the way her hips moved under that short dress …
Just like that, he knew there was only one thing for it. He wanted Sadie.