Here are the first two chapters of Game Changer, Book One in the Kindle Worlds trio of books I’m writing for Bella Andre’s Game for Love. I’m having a blast writing these books and can’t wait to get them to you. First up in the trio are Rafe and Ashlyn. Enjoy the little taste!
Rafe Wilson tuned out the sounds of the crowd heckling the Hawk’s catcher, who was currently at bat. He focused on the plate, listening for the telltale crack and moved as soon as the surface of the bat made contact with the ball, sending it straight at him. Rafe was crouched low, body aligned, glove in position for an easy out. He felt the ball slip a split second before it happened, but still had a hard time believing he’d actually dropped the damn ball.
What the hell was that? One minute, it was in his glove and the next, it slipped back onto the tan sand of the diamond in front of him. He didn’t take any time to analyze why he’d fumbled a ball for the first time in … well, shit. In a damned long time. He’d made very few errors since he’d been called up to the majors four years ago. Rafe Wilson didn’t make errors.
He rolled, had the ball back instantly, shifted to a knee and shot it to his second baseman who turned to make the out, but it was too late. Rafe’s error had just cost his team an out.
It didn’t get any better from there. No additional errors, but his at-bats sucked and he was so far off his game, he didn’t know how to face his teammates at the end of this clusterfuck. Luckily for him, he was the only one running around with his dick in his hand that day. His teammates pulled the win out in spite of him.
As they filed back into the locker room, Rafe ran through his routines in his head again. Something was off and he needed to figure out what it was. He’d worn the right socks and had his grandmother’s antique cross necklace tucked under his shirt and had followed the right patterns coming out of the dugout for each inning and at bat. He replayed his movements out on the field and in the batter’s box. Everything had been right. Every routine was completed with precision and complete accuracy.
Rafe walked up to see his teammate, pitcher Aiden Kyle, coming toward him. The rest of the team were studiously ignoring them. Clearly, they’d silently nominated Aiden to confront him.
“What the hell happened out there?”
Rafe shook his head, sinking down on to the leather chair that sat in front of the spacious open-fronted locker that housed his equipment in the Striker’s locker room. They’d all be here for another hour, at least. He may be here longer since his coach would no doubt want to talk to him after his performance.
“Hell if I know, Aiden. I don’t know what happened.”
Gage Collier, the team’s catcher swiveled his chair toward the pair and chimed in. “You miss a step anywhere?”
Rafe knew what he was asking about. The whole team knew Rafe was particular about his routine. Others would call them his superstitions, but his teammates rarely gave him crap about them. Almost everyone on the team had one or two things they were particular about. A certain shirt they had to wear for every game, or a certain way they stepped out onto the field; the same way, every single time. Rafe just happened to have a lot more of those routines than others. But, the guys didn’t care, because they worked for him. Most of the time.
Rafe shook his head again. “Nope. Didn’t miss a damn thing.”
Aiden, who was just as tolerant of Rafe’s routines as Gage shrugged a shoulder. “Maybe it’s time for a change in the routine. Maybe you need to troubleshoot it.”
Rafe scowled at him, but didn’t have time to answer. His Batting Coach stood in the door to the offices and called him over. They were joined by the First and Third Base Coaches. Shit, thought Rafe as the door shut behind him. This would be a freaking nightmare.
The next night, Rafe looked up to find his friend–and the host of that evening’s cookout—Cole Taylor looking at him with a grin on his face. Cole was a linebacker for San Francisco’s professional football team, the Outlaws. He was also one of Rafe’s best friends and he often hosted barbecues with both Striker and Outlaw members. The teams meshed well together, despite the fact that they had somewhat opposite seasons and schedules.
“Damn, didn’t you hear me? Don’t tell me you’re still obsessing over every damned superstitious move you made yesterday. Maybe your performance didn’t have anything to do with what pair of underwear you put on yesterday. Maybe you just had an off game,” Cole said.
Rafe’s teammates were on Cole in a heartbeat, defending Rafe.
“Hey, back off, man. Let Rafe do his thing,” said Aiden. “We don’t knock what works. And troubleshooting his routine,” he stressed his choice of the word routine over superstition—no one wanted to admit they were superstitious, “has always worked for Rafe. Let him do his thing.”
“Yeah,” said Gage. “Rafe just has to troubleshoot. He’ll figure it out and he’ll be back in the game tomorrow.”
Cole rolled his eyes, but Rafe happened to know even Cole had worn the same shoelaces in his cleats the entire last season, despite them needing to be knotted together in places. He wouldn’t play without them.
“Come outside while I throw the meat on the grill, guys. Anna and her friends will have the salads and sides ready in a minute” Cole said, giving Rafe’s foot a kick as he walked by him on the couch to get him up and moving with everyone else. “And, grab that cooler. There’s beer for those who don’t have a game tomorrow and juice and water for the baseball players,” he said with a grin. The Outlaws were in their off season so they weren’t quite as rigid about diet and exercise as the Strikers had to be.
Rafe grabbed the cooler and followed the others out to the yard. Cole and Anna had bought a house a few months back and Rafe had a feeling they planned to fill the house with kids sometime in the not-so-distant future. When he’d been a bachelor, Cole had lived in a penthouse suite at a hotel—the perfect bachelor pad with no maintenance needs and an endless supply of concierge services. Things had changed shortly after he’d married Anna. The yard they spilled out into now was perfect for raising a family. Fenced in with lush green grass, room to run and throw a ball, and tall shade trees that filled up the back half of the yard.
Not Rafe’s kind of place, but he could see how it would appeal to Anna and Cole.
“I tell you what we really have to watch out for this year,” said Aiden. “We all need to make damn sure no one triggers the curse.” He looked at each of the Strikers players present in turn, giving them the look that said “you know what I mean.”
“Oh hell, I gotta hear this,” said Jake Taylor, Outlaws wide receiver, sharing a smile with Cole who was now putting burgers and hot dogs onto the hot grill.
“Hey, don’t knock the curse, It’s nothing to laugh about,” said Gage.
Rafe nodded, cracking open a bottle of water and sitting back in one of the lounge chairs that lined Cole’s large deck. “The curse is nothing to screw around with.”
“Hell no, it isn’t. We don’t need that distracting us this year,” said Aiden.
“What curse?” asked Cole.
“Any year one of the Strikers falls in love and ties the knot—or even just gets engaged, three will fall,” answered Rafe, shaking his head. “Every damn time. And every year the curse is in play, the team suffers from the diversion.”
“What?” Cole asked, the confusion and incredulity hard to ignore on his face.
Gage nodded. “There was five years ago when Justin Yardley met that girl just before the season started. He married her less than a month later, triggering the curse. Mike Bussey was next, falling for that doctor who subbed for the team doctor for a month, and then Dale Carey. He got engaged right at the end of the season. We lost our bid for the pennant that year.”
Aiden picked up right after Gage finished. “Then two years ago, it was Dane, Jackson, and Eli. Last year, we thought we escaped because only Pete Murphy and Alex Perez fell in love during the season, but at the very last minute, Coach Mendez asked his girl to marry him, completing the trifecta.”
Rafe jumped in. “And, whenever the curse is in play, something gets fouled up. We lost the World Series one year because of it. But, if no one gets married and activates it, the curse won’t hit us and we won’t have any distractions.”
Cole, Jake and several other Outlaws were almost on the floor laughing. The football players were superstitious, but not nearly as bad as the Strikers and they liked to taunt them for it.
“Hey, laugh all you want. This shit is serious,” Rafe said, shaking his head at his friends again. “You don’t mess around with the curse.”
“What do you call it?” Jake asked. “The Triple Play Curse?”
His friends buckled over laughing at that, but every Striker in attendance was quick to stop that line of questioning.
“You don’t name these things!” Rafe said. “That just gives it more power.”
The football players all straightened up, nodding and putting more solemn faces on
for a few minutes before Cole spoke up again.
“So, it’s like The-Curse-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named?” he asked. The Strikers scowled while the Outlaws continued to laugh.
Ashlyn Daniels smiled as Anna Taylor—her long time friend and a teacher at the same school where Ashlyn taught fourth grade—handed her a bowl of potato salad to carry outside. Anna and her husband, Cole, always threw great parties and barbeques. Since Cole played football for San Francisco’s beloved Outlaws, the parties never failed to have plenty of eye candy for Ashlyn and all of Anna’s other girlfriends. Some of the girls had occasionally taken things past the eye candy stage with one or two of the players here and there, but that wasn’t Ashlyn’s kind of thing.
She wasn’t groupie material. She was a school teacher and smart enough to not let herself be dazzled by the fame and good looks of Cole’s friends. She knew better than to believe that lightning would strike twice. Just because Anna and Cole had fallen in love didn’t mean a long term committed relationship was in the cards for any of the other Outlaws. She’d heard the guys talking. Most of them were young, wallowing in wealth, incredibly good looking and—based on what she’d overheard—committed to bachelorhood. In fact, most reveled in the attention they got from their groupies and were all too happy to take advantage of the no-strings-attached offers thrown at them on a daily basis.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, a few of the Strikers are here today, too,” Anna said casually, as the women walked out of the kitchen and toward the backyard. Ashlyn stumbled and felt Carrie and Beth, two of Anna and Ashlyn’s other friends, smack into her from behind.
“Sorry,” she said, as she felt her face heat. For whatever reason, she’d always found the baseball players who hung out with Cole a lot harder to ignore than the football players. Maybe because she loved the game. And, she had to admit, she loved the uniforms, the long, lean bodies of the players, the whole package. The blazing blue eyes and panty melting smile of one player, in particular. One she’d hoped to avoid, but hadn’t wanted to ask about specifically for fear of tipping Anna and the others off to her attraction.
Apparently she hadn’t been as slick as she thought because Anna’s next words, delivered right as Ashlyn was walking out the patio doors and into view of all the other guests, were “Even Rafe came today.”
She turned to eye Anna and caught the grin from ear-to-ear her friend didn’t seem to be able to suppress. Ashlyn shrugged a shoulder.
“So? I told you, Anna, I’m not looking to date a player. Football, baseball, or otherwise.”
Anna shook her head at Ashlyn while Carrie and Beth walked ahead of them to place their bowls of salads and chips on the long table lining the patio. Cole and his friends stood around the grill where Cole removed burgers, piling them on a large platter.
“It sure worked for me, Ashlyn. And, I know Carrie has had fun hanging out with a couple of the guys. Why not have some fun and see where it goes?” She whispered.
Ashlyn shook her head. “It’s just not for me, Anna. That’s all. I’d rather stick to guys my own speed,” but as she said it, she all but cringed. The last guy she’d gone out on a date with had been an accountant. Good looking and safe. Mostly safe. He’d been looking for marriage, kids, the white picket fence. Everything she wanted in life.
Only he’d also been as boring as watching paint dry. They’d gone on three dates before he kissed her goodnight, and when he did, there wasn’t a spark to be felt for miles around. Nothing, nadda, zilch. But, that didn’t mean she needed to be foolish and go hog wild in the other direction. A baseball player who routinely moved from one groupie to the next wasn’t what she needed. She needed a happy medium.
Ashlyn shook her head once again at Anna for good measure and walked purposefully out toward the group to end the discussion. She would find what she wanted one day. A safe guy, whose dreams and goals matched hers, but who also sparked a fire in her. Who made her feel like the women she’d read about in all her romance novels. Women whose men made them feel like they were the only woman on the planet. Women whose men set them ablaze with heat and passion and love. She’d find that some day, but it sure wouldn’t be with a baseball player who could have any woman he wanted any night of the week. A baseball player who would most likely break out in jock itch at the mention of marriage or a white picket fence.
She stole a glance at Rafe Wilson with his sparkling blue eyes on a tanned, chiseled face and the tattoos running down his arms. Nope, definitely not for her, she thought, completely ignoring the way her thighs clenched at just the sight of him. And the heat that seemed to race through her when he laughed and looked her way. And the way his long legs looked wrapped in faded, oh-so-soft looking jeans that hugged in just the right places. All the right places. Nope. Not. For. Her.
After two burgers with ketchup and pickles but no buns, a double helping of fruit salad, and one of Anna’s homemade chocolate chip cookies, Rafe said goodbye to the remaining players and headed into the house to find Anna before taking off. His mother had never let him leave a party without saying goodbye and, for some reason, the habit stuck with him today. Maybe it was all those times she’d twisted his ear when he forgot that made the lesson stick. Whatever the case, he never left one of Cole and Anna’s barbeques without finding her to thank her for cooking for all of them, yet again. It was actually getting a little comical how many of the team’s rare days off he spent at his friend’s home. He suspected the Strikers were beginning to spend almost as much time here as the Outlaws.
But, it wasn’t Anna he found in the kitchen. It was her friend, Ashlyn. The quiet one. She mostly talked to the girls at these things, but he knew who she was because he’d see her at almost every get-together Cole and Anna hosted. And something about her intrigued him. He suspected she was too shy to talk to the players, or maybe she just looked down on them. There seemed to be two types of women in his world. Those who threw themselves at him and any other player in the vicinity, in the hopes of a shot at hooking up. And, those who looked down on them, who thought baseball players were brainless jocks who got paid too much to play a kid’s game they should’ve given up for “real” jobs long ago.
He’d dated one of those women once. In college, actually. And, although she’d liked his status as one of the school’s starting players on the baseball team, when she discovered he had no plans to give it up after school, she dumped him. It had been a real eye-opener for him. He’d assumed any woman would kill to marry a pro baseball player. Who wouldn’t want that? But, it turned out, the woman he’d given three years of his life to, the woman he loved and wanted to be with for the rest of his life, well, she didn’t want that at all. She wanted him to stop playing “childish” games and “get a real job.”
In the end, he’d been glad. He realized he would have been locking himself into a marriage before he was really ready. She did him a favor. She not only saved him from making the marriage mistake he’d seen others make, she taught him how to recognize the women who wanted nothing to do with guys who were stuck playing kid games. And, he was beginning to think that Ashlyn was one of those women.
“Hey,” he said, and laughed a little when she jumped and spun around. Apparently, she hadn’t heard him come in the room. “Sorry about that. Do you know where Anna is? I wanted to say goodbye.”
“Oh, um,” she looked nervously over his shoulder as if being in the same room alone with him made her nervous. What on earth was up with this woman? “She just ran upstairs to grab something. She’ll be right back.”
“Okay,” he said watching her intently as he leaned one hip against the counter. She seemed to struggle to come up with something to say. He didn’t feel the need to make idle chit chat about the weather or her latest sewing project or whatever she was about to bring up, so he stayed quiet. Instead, he watched the way her small breasts sloped gently under the peach colored camisole she wore and wondered if she knew how sensual it was that a tiny scrap of her lace bra that showed at the top of the shirt. Probably not. She probably hadn’t intended it to be an alluring outfit, but somehow, it was.
He was so focused on her breasts, he almost missed the words she said, but the unexpected topic caught his attention quickly.
“And, once you troubleshoot your routine,” she was saying and he was shocked. Everyone knew about his routines, but no one other than his teammates was polite enough to call them routines instead of superstitions. Rafe turned his attention to her words and her face. “You’ll get the errors worked out and then you can take advantage of the Hawk’s third baseman.”
Holy shit. She was talking baseball like she knew the game. Not only knew the game, but knew it damn well.
“He’s playing you too deep. If you drop a bunt down the third baseline tomorrow, he won’t see it coming.”
Rafe felt a rumble come from deep in his chest as he moved in closer to her, trying to get a tiny whiff of that intoxicating scent coming off her. Something flowery, but light. Not overpowering at all. Her scent might not be overpowering, but she was. Holy hell, she was sexy as shit. It wasn’t something you’d see at first glance. She was really a tiny mouse of a thing, but when she opened her mouth and sounded as sharp as his Hitting Coach, shit, she did something to him.
Rafe intended to take a step backward, to pull away before he got stupid. But, apparently, he had already hit stupid a few beats back. Instead of moving back, his feet moved closer still, looping an arm around her waist and pulling her in close.
And then she put her hands on his chest and gasped in surprise, her brown eyes going round and big, and his cock hardened against her stomach. He didn’t know what the hell came over him, but damn, he had to taste her. He expected her to shove him away or maybe even slap him, but a small whimper came from her as she melded her body to his. He lowered his head to capture those cupid bow lips with his mouth and she answered his kiss with more heat than he would have thought she had in her petite little body, sending all the wrong messages to his dick. Messages about stripping her bare and burying himself deep and hard in her on Cole’s kitchen counter.
When Rafe’s arm first came around her waist, Ashlyn was stunned into silence. What on earth would he possibly be doing, touching her, pulling her body into his? A very hot, hard body that set her on fire at the simplest of touches. She felt a brief moment of anger at his audacity. Of course, he thought he could just touch whom he wanted, grab whatever woman was around, whether she’d asked him to or not. After all, he was the great Rafe Wilson, a player with one of the highest batting averages in the American League so far this year, despite the fact that short stops usually aren’t known for their batting skill, and one of the most adored short stops the Strikers had ever had.
Just when she’d worked up a good mad and was ready to haul off and hit him—or at the very least, tell him a thing or two about who she thought he was and where he could put his grabby hands—he’d captured her mouth and melted her senses. Her senses, her brain, all her common sense. Everything flew out the window in a heartbeat as his tongue slipped between her lips and met hers, burning her from the inside out. She was ashamed to say, her response was immediate and utterly unrestrained. Her body pressed to his as his hand came up to cup the back of her head, deepening the kiss, sending images of what that mouth could do to other parts of her body skittering through her head.
In the back of Ashlyn’s head, a tiny voice was screaming something at her. Probably something about baseball players being, well … players. And something about her white picket fence and a good, safe man. And, a vague recollection that she was standing in her friend’s kitchen, making it highly inappropriate to be wishing he would tear her shirt off and put that mouth to work in other ways.
Ashlyn mentally swatted at the tiny voice and laced her arms around Rafe’s neck pressing her body ever closer. She reveled in the feel of the hard, taut planes of his chest and stomach against her breasts, the sensation of her breasts rubbing against him as he shifted to pull her closer yet. The feel of his hard length pressing into her stomach sent a flush of heat to the long-neglected area between her legs and for a moment, Ashlyn was lost.
Then suddenly, the voice was not tiny, nor was it in her head. It was coming from the kitchen doorway and it belonged to what sounded like a very shocked Anna.
“Holy Jeesum! I’m sorry, I’ll just …” Ashlyn opened her eyes to see Anna awkwardly back pedaling out of the room, gesturing over her shoulder as she mumbled about going back upstairs until they were finished.
Ashlyn gasped and looked from her friend to Rafe—more specifically to her body draped on Rafe’s, one leg actually raised and hooked around his leg—before she bolted.
Yes. Bolted. Grabbing her purse, she pushed past Rafe. She fled the room, the house, the whole scene. That did not just happen.