Series: Hard Ball , Book 2
By: Abigail Barnette | Other books by Abigail Barnette
Published By: Resplendence Publishing, LLC
Published: Jun 27, 2012
ISBN # 9781607355267
By: Abigail Barnette | Other books by Abigail Barnette
Published By: Resplendence Publishing, LLC
Published: Jun 27, 2012
ISBN # 9781607355267
Word Count: 23,427
Available in: Epub, HTML, Microsoft Reader, Palm DOC/iSolo, Adobe Acrobat, Mobipocket (.prc)
DescriptionWhen Javier Vargas was traded from the Portland Pioneers to the Grand Rapids Bengals, he didn’t just leave his team behind… he turned his back on the love of his life. Now, a year later, short stop Zach Martin is playing for the Bengals, as well, and Javier can’t believe he ever walked away from the scorching heat between them.
Being a Bengal brings its own complications for Zach, who’s tired of never setting down roots. Playing beside Javier, Zach is constantly reminded of their passionate nights—and the pain of his loss.
Javier screwed up one chance with Zach, and he’s not about to let a second one slip by. With scandals swirling all around the team, he has to choose between his career and his heart, and in the end, he might have to sacrifice both.
Reader Rating: (3 Ratings)
Excerpt:Zach Martin was showing up to work late. Real late. Like, fourteen weeks late.
He paced around his long-stay suite, wishing he was anywhere but Grand Rapids. He missed his house in LA. He missed his dogs. Hell, he even missed his apartment in Lakeland, where he stayed during spring training. More than any of those, he missed playing baseball, and now that he had the all clear to get back into the game, he was wishing for more time off.
He checked his reflection in the mirror, and ran a hand over his jaw. Copper stubble had crept up over the past week. He hadn’t been taking very good care of himself, aside from the routine visits to the trainer. Today would be his first batting practice, and if things went well, he’d ride the bench for tonight’s game and then maybe get some playing time in tomorrow. No matter how long he put it off, though, he still had to face the inevitable.
Sooner or later, he was going to see Javier.
Grabbing his bag, he stepped out of the suite and directly into the blistering Michigan June. The temps were apparently a record high, which Zach could have lived with, if not for the humidity. As hot as it got in California, he rarely worried about drowning while walking down the street. The air was thick and wet and gross, and the idea of playing in it…he shook off his internal complaints and slid into the driver’s seat of his rental car. Just another weird, impermanent aspect of his life. The only thing about playing for the Bengals that bore any resemblance to his old life was Javier. And the last thing he needed was his deeply closeted ex acting one hundred percent weird around him for the next three years.
When Zach had taken the contract with the Bengals, things had been so different. He’d planned the entire thing in his mind. Showing up to spring training, seeing Javier for the first time in four years, letting him see that Zach was fine, even better, without him. After all, he was dating one of the most powerful young directors in Hollywood, he’d just come off a career high season, and the Bengals had been willing to drop a mighty big chunk of change to scoop him up.
It would have been perfect. Then, he’d decided to go for a run, deviated from his normal course one stupid time, and, distracted by thoughts of his impending triumph over his ex, he’d stepped in a gutter drain and ended up with hairline fractures in his elbow and ankle at the same damn time. The deal had been inked, but he’d missed spring training and the beginning of the season. It had been all over the internet and talk radio. “Zach Martin, biggest waste of money since Delmon Zario wrecked his arm with too much Guitar Hero.” Fans loved to harp on stupid mistakes, as unfair as it was to the players. Hindsight being twenty/twenty he could have easily avoided his injury.
Now, he didn’t even know if he was going to be staying in Grand Rapids long enough to sign a lease. He’d been fine with confronting Javier when it seemed like everything was coming up Zach. Somehow, living in a corporate stay and driving a rental car didn’t seem particularly brag-worthy.
The ballpark sat on the riverside downtown. Zach tried to muster up some enthusiasm for the sight of the lights peeking above the freeway as he approached. He mentally planned batting practice, every last swing. There was an old adage about shortstops being notoriously bad hitters, but he took pride in his average. That had been last season, though, before the Los Angeles Sewer and Water Works threw him a curve ball. Though he didn’t feel any lasting effects from his injuries in daily life, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t feel it on the field.
He parked in the employees only garage beneath the park and used his shiny new laminated badge to open the security doors. He’d just nonchalantly slip into the clubhouse and get changed. Hopefully no one would make a big deal.
The second he opened the doors, he wished he’d broken both ankles. A big sheet cake with “Welcome Home, Zach Martin” sat on a table beneath a dark flat-screen television. A few guys had helped themselves to the corners.
Zach’s swiveled round to see Taylor Coburn, center fielder, pulling a t-shirt over his head. “The season started in April, man.”
With a laugh of relief, Zach headed over to his friend and clasped his hand. “You have no idea how glad I am to run into you, first.”
“Why, are you avoiding someone?” Taylor had come up to the majors at the same time as Zach had, to play on the Oklahoma City Sooners. They’d become good friends during that season, and they’d kept in touch after Zach had gone to the Pioneers. Still, there were some things Zach didn’t share in the clubhouse.
He slapped Taylor’s shoulder and said, “Nah, just nervous. A friendly face helps.”
“You taking batting practice today?” Taylor asked as Zach hauled his bag to his locker. It would have been nice to get a spot next to Taylor, but the manager made clubhouse arrangements based on what he thought would be best, and Zach wasn’t one to argue with the skipper.
He nodded and pried his shoes off with a toe against each heel. “Got the all clear yesterday. Just do me a favor, don’t hold today against me. I haven’t had a bat in my hands since last season.”
“And you guys didn’t go that far,” a voice pointed out helpfully from across the room. “At least, not as far as we did.”
The hair on the back of his neck standing up, Zach turned to face Javier Vargas, catcher, possibly the love of Zach’s life, if someone demanded the truth under pain of death and Zach particularly felt like living that day. “Hey man, haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Nope, don’t get out to Portland all that much.” Javier smiled, but the expression didn’t reach his warm brown eyes. It was a lie, the Bengals played the Pioneers just as often as they played all the other teams. But that wasn’t what Javier had meant, and they both knew it. He was saying there was nothing in Portland interesting enough to make him visit. “I heard this crazy rumor that you were living in LA during your downtime.”
“Yeah, that’s where I…it’s where my better half lives. You know how it is.” He shrugged and cleared his throat. “Women, right?”
“Yeah, I know what you’re saying.” Javier pulled his cap on. “Get a piece of your cake, before these jackals eat it up.”
“I really wasn’t expecting a cake.” In fact, it was kind of embarrassing, showing up after a stupid injury to find your name in frosting.
Taylor laughed ruefully. “The new owner’s assistant has this weird idea that everything should be celebrated with cake. It’s driving the trainers nuts, you should see how much weight some of the guys are putting on.”
There was a companionable silence that turned uncomfortable. Javier slid his sunglasses on and said, “Well…see you guys out there.”
Zach could feel Taylor’s stare as Javier left. It was pretty bad when it only took a five second conversation to put all the awkwardness between them on display. Quietly, Taylor asked, “So…you guys didn’t get along in Portland, huh?”
In fact, they’d gotten along too well, but that was definitely not clubhouse talk. “You could say that. It’s not going to cause a problem, though. We’re both big boys.”
That promise sounded hollow, even to his own ears. It wasn’t until he got onto the field that he felt like he could breathe again. Surrounded by his teammates, some friends, some strangers, all wearing the Bengals practice jersey while a few fans watched from the empty stands, and he didn’t feel like he’d really missed anything at all. The only snag in his exhilarating revelation was the fact that Javier was there, and both of them were being careful, too aware of each other on the field in a definite attempt to avoid talking to each other.
“Baird, you’re up,” their manager, Ken Holmes, called. Then, he narrowed his eyes as they landed on Zach. “When I saw you on my roster today, I gotta tell you, I was relieved. It’s good to have you with us finally.”
Zach couldn’t help but grin at the old man’s words. He’d only met Ken briefly, in the thick of the deal, when general manager Casey Morgan hadn’t yet totally convinced Zach to leave Portland. A large part of Zach’s decision had been based on the leadership the grizzled veteran manager had promised. “Any chance I’ll play today?”
“No sir,” Holmes immediately shot him down.
“I did my sixty days,” he pointed out. “More than. They’ve got me down as day-to-day, right?”
“They’ve got you down as day-to-day, but I don’t listen to the DL, I listen to the trainers. Medical wants you riding the bench tonight.” Holmes turned to the batter in the box. The conversation was clearly closed, not to be revisited. “You ready, Baird?”
Zach tried hard to suppress his disappointment as he walked away. When the skipper called out to him again, his spirits momentarily lifted. Until Holmes said, “Why don’t you grab Vargas and do some fielding drills?”
It would have to be Vargas. He nodded and gave a tight smile. Javier had overheard the command, as well, and though his mouth barely moved, Zach knew he’d sworn under his breath. He wanted to shout, “Hey, I don’t want to be around you any more than you want to be around me,” but that wasn’t exactly the old team spirit. He couldn’t come in as the new guy, the injured liability, and start a fight with the guy everyone probably liked.
Because Javier was likeable, damn him. As they walked silently into the outfield, Zach tugging on his glove, his chest ached a little. In Portland, things had been damn near perfect. He and Javier hadn’t just been lovers, they’d been best friends. When they’d split up, Zach had found himself wanting to turn to someone for comfort, and realizing that the only person he wanted comfort from was the one who’d hurt him.
Of course, they’d both done their fair share of hurting. Hadn’t he been the one who’d acted like their relationship had been casual? Like it hadn’t bothered him at all that they would be thousands of miles apart? Strangely, it didn’t bother him when Domenic was on location, like he was now.
In fact, he hadn’t really been missing Domenic at all, lately.
He pushed that discomfiting thought aside to focus on drills. If Javier was anything, it was professional, and he wasn’t going to let some petty romantic feuding ruin the entire team’s chances.
“How’s the arm feeling?” he asked, after a couple gentle throws.
Zach flexed his elbow. “It’s not clicking anymore. That has to be a good sign, right?”
“I hope so. You don’t want to be the guy they strategically drop from the roster.” Javier took a breath. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t nice.”
“It wasn’t mean. It’s reality. If I’m still banged up and they’ve got a chance to bring up a better shortstop, they’re going to.” He peered across the field to where Braydon Bells stood against the fence while another player hit ball after ball at him. “You think Braydon is going to be pissed that I’m back?”
Javier shrugged. “He wants to play shortstop, but he’s better in the outfield. Don’t worry about him; he’s not the guy calling the shots.”
As the day wore on, the tension between them eased. After they broke from practice for a light dinner in the clubhouse—Zach hadn’t gotten his grocery order in with the clubhouse manager on time, but Taylor gladly shared some of the bagged mixed greens and pre-cooked chicken breasts he kept in the huge industrial refrigerator—it was time to get suited up for the game. It wasn’t a momentous night for the rest of the team. In fact, most of the guys were already counting down to the long weekend the mid-season exhibition game provided for those not voted onto the team. For Zach, it was just as exciting as opening day. His fingers itched to get inside a glove, and riding the bench would be torture, but at least he felt like he was getting closer to some actual playing time.
The park was packed to the rafters. The nice weather had brought out the fans, as had the team’s long-standing rivalry with the New York Patriots. Even from the dugout, Zach could feel the good spirits of the crowd, who would get a little drunker and a little louder as the sun set and the lights came on.
The game was a good one, too. The Patriots weren’t going to go home without putting up a fight, and the Bengals were more than willing to give them one. Zach studied Braydon Bells’s moves as SS. There was a reason the kid wasn’t going to keep the position. He couldn’t turn quick enough, his release was sluggish, and an eighty-year-old could cover second better. It wasn’t that he was a bad player; he just wasn’t a great shortstop.
They clinched the win gaining a two run lead in the eighth, ending the game 5-3. Walking out of the dugout without having played, though, felt like a huge loss.
Reader Reviews (1)
Submitted By: laloga on Jul 3, 2012Fantastic chemistry between the guys, and they were well-written and believable; perfectly masculine while also being human and well-rounded. And sexy as hell. And romantic. Just wonderful all around! Loved this book!