Title: HOME RUN
Author: Heidi McLaughlin
Series: The Boys of Summer
On Sale: June 6th, 2017
Trade Paperback: $14.99
LOVE ISN'T A GAME . . .
I've given up everything for the chance to play major league baseball. Everything. Now I'm so close I can practically hear the crowd chanting my name. There's nothing that could take my dream away from me . . .
Unless I lose focus. And Ainsley Burke is the most beautiful, distracting woman I've ever met. When I'm with her, I can't think of anything else.
But no matter how much I want Ainsley, there's no room for love in my game plan. I can give her a quick tour of the bases, but that's it. Then I have to let her go. If she wants to think I'm a love 'em and leave 'em player, fine.
All dreams require sacrifice. I just wish this one didn't mean tearing out my own heart.
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“Where are we going?” I ask. I turn my ball cap around to prevent it from flying away since her convertible top is down and it looks like we’re heading toward the parkway.
“I thought we’d go to the beach.”
“Isn’t that like thirty minutes away?”
Ainsley glances at me quickly before turning back and focusing on the road. “Do you have a curfew or something?”
I shake my head. “Nope, drive on.” I may not have a curfew, but six a.m. comes very early, and it’s our last practice before we start pre-season play. I suppose, since I went without much sleep in college, one night now isn’t going to hurt me. Besides, it’s for a good cause. I’m into Ainsley, and if she wants to take me to the beach, I’m going to let her.
She turns up the radio and starts singing along to the song. I know it as well so I join in, and before I know it, we’re having our own karaoke party while we’re cruising down the road. When we hit a stoplight, I expect her to stop singing, but she doesn’t, and the people pulled up along the side of us start singing too.
Before I know it, we’re at the beach. The car is shut off, the music has stopped, and the only thing you can hear are the waves crashing onto the shore.
“Coming here at night affords me the ability to sit and think without too many people around.”
“Is it safe?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I never thought about that. I suppose in some aspects it’s not, but there are always a few other people around so…” She gets out of her car before finishing her sentence. She shouldn’t walk the beach alone at night, but who am I to tell her otherwise? I quickly follow her, catching up with her in the sand.
We walk side by side until the dry sand turns wet, and then we both sit down.
“When I was little, my mom used to bring me here all the time. I’d swim and play while she read her book or she’d come in the water with me. It’s funny, when you’re a kid, you have no worries in life, but the minute you become an adult, everything changes.”
I wish I could relate. “My life was the opposite. I’ve always had the pressure to succeed in baseball on my shoulders. My dad, he was strict about everything. In fact, if he knew I was out here now and not sleeping, he’d have something to say about that.”
Shrugging, I slip off my socks and sneakers, burying my toes into the cold sand. “It is, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without that kind of structure.”
“Do you like playing baseball?” Ainsley slips off her shoes and pulls her legs to her chest, wrapping her arms around them tightly.
“I love it. I love everything about the game.”
“Do you ever wish you had done something else?”
I think about her question and wonder what else I could’ve done. If my dad and I hadn’t turned to tossing the ball in the backyard, where would we be? For us, it was therapeutic and a way for me to express how angry and hurt I was that my mom had died. The harder I threw, the better I felt. The more my dad cringed when he caught the ball, the more satisfying it was that he was hurting as much as I was.
“I don’t know what else I would’ve done, honestly. Baseball is what I know. My dad used it as a tool to help me cope with my mom’s passing, and before I knew it, I was trying out for these elite baseball clubs and making all-star teams. College and major league scouts would come watch my games in high school, and I thought ‘Wow, this could be a career for me.’ I was drafted out of high school but chose to go to college first. I wanted something to fall back on in case baseball didn’t work out.”
“What’s your degree in?” She turns and looks at me. The moon is casting enough of a glow that I can make out her facial features. Now would be the perfect time to lean over and kiss her, but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not what she wants from me.
“Well, the only thing that made sense.”
Ainsley holds her hand up. “Don’t tell me, it’s something to do with sports.”
I nod, holding back laughter. “Yeah, broadcasting. I figure I can become a commentator or something when I retire.”
“Interesting,” she says, turning back toward the ocean.
I lean into her, bumping her with my shoulder. “Don’t be like that.”
“Like I took the easy way out with my degree or my career isn’t the same as a doctor or whatever.”
“Is it though?”
“Baseball is America’s game. It doesn’t know social class, race, or any other classification. It’s a game every one can play and afford to participate in. You don’t have to have straight A’s to go to college to play ball. Hell, most players come to the majors right out of high school. It’s a game for everyone.”
“A game that you make millions of dollars at.”
“It’s no different than being an actor. We bring entertainment to people.” I counter her claim.
“I don’t like this argument,” she says.
“Me neither. I think we should talk about something else.”
“Like what?” she asks.
Taking her hand in mind, I kiss the top of it before meeting her gaze. “Like you going out with me.”
She shakes her head.
“I know, you don’t date athletes, so think of me as a sports broadcaster.” I waggle my eyebrows at her, and she laughs.
“You’re hard to resist, Cooper Bailey.”
With those words, I pull her closer. “Then stop resisting me, Ainsley.” This is my chance, and I take it. My lips brush against hers lightly, testing her resolve. She’s either going to punch me, push me away, or let me continue to kiss her.
Third Base, #1
Home Run, #2
Grand Slam, #3
Heidi McLaughlin is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she now lives in picturesque Vermont with her husband and two daughters. Also renting space in their home is an over-hyper beagle/Jack Russell, Buttercup, a Highland West/mini schnauzer, Jill, and her brother, Racicot. When she's isn't writing stories, you'll find her sitting court-side at her daughters' basketball games.
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