Thrown by a curve, p.23
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       Thrown by a Curve, p.23

         Part #5 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
slower 1  faster
Page 23

  Author: Jaci Burton

  She’d even lowered her voice when she said the word, as if he was so dull witted he didn’t understand the concept. He hadn’t gone through months of grueling rehabilitation to fuck it up with one throw. He rolled his shoulder, which felt good, then threw the ball overhanded. Gently.

  It didn’t hurt. Goddamn, it didn’t hurt to throw a ball, even if he had thrown it like a pussy.

  “How did that feel?”

  “It felt fine. ”

  “No twinges or sudden sharp pains?”

  “None at all. ”

  “Good. Do it again. Easy, still. ”

  Excited, he threw again, doing his best to follow her instructions and keep his throw as soft as he could. No pain.

  They lobbed the ball back and forth for about fifteen minutes, until Alicia told him they were taking a break.

  Frustrated, he walked off the mound toward her. “I was just getting warmed up. ”

  She reached into her bag for two jugs of water. “It’ll be a short break. ”

  They sat in the dugout and Garrett took several swallows of water, staring at the mound, anxious to get back out there.

  He turned to her. “I want to throw a pitch. A real pitch, Alicia. ”

  Alicia shook her head. “You’re not ready yet. ”

  “We’re already in spring training. And I’m missing it. I threw the ball and felt fine. ”

  She lifted her gaze to his, and he saw the understanding in her eyes. “Tossing a few balls ninety feet isn’t the same as the mechanics of pitching, and you know it. Those weren’t even warm-up pitches. There was no velocity to them. We’re just stretching your muscles right now, getting your arm used to throwing again. ”

  Disappointment ate away at him. He stared at the mound, a place that suddenly felt a million miles away.

  “How soon can I pitch?”

  “We’ll go back out there in a few minutes, and you can throw again. ”

  “I mean pitch. A curve, a slider, a changeup. ”

  “And a fastball?”

  “Yeah, that, too. ” He was itching to really throw some heat, see how it felt. He missed pitching.

  “Sooner than you think. ”

  “That would mean today. My arm feels fine. ”

  She stood and tucked the water into the bag. “Your arm isn’t ready today. Let’s go throw some more. ”

  He wanted to argue, and when he got to the mound, he wanted to take a windup and blast a heater into her waiting glove.

  Logically, he understood what she said made sense. Rushing his recovery could hurt his progress. But damn if it didn’t take every ounce of restraint he had to pull back and lob those weenie balls.

  But as he continued to throw, he began to see the wisdom in her approach. After thirty minutes his arm felt fatigued. He didn’t want to quit, because, sonofabitch, he wasn’t even throwing pitches. They were playing catch and nothing more.

  But Alicia had some kind of freaky sixth sense. She approached the mound, the ball in her hand.

  “I think that’s enough for today. Let’s go back to the house and ice you down. ”

  He didn’t want to admit defeat. “I can go a little longer. ”

  “No, you can’t. That’s enough for today. ”

  Without waiting for his next argument, she pivoted, left the mound, and packed up the bag.

  Game over.

  He’d gotten back onto the mound. He’d thrown a ball.

  But it sure as hell felt like a loss today.

 

 

  FOURTEEN

  ALICIA HAD READ THE DEFEAT ON GARRETT’S FACE after they left the field.

  She’d thought he’d be excited to get out there and throw again, but she didn’t factor in that he wanted to pitch—real pitches—or how much not being able to do so would devastate him.

  When he’d first taken the mound, she’d read the fear on his face, and for a while there she’d been afraid he wasn’t going to be able to muster up the courage to even lob balls underhanded. But he had. And then she’d seen him fired up and excited, and she’d been excited for him. Until he found out he wasn’t going to be able to throw his standard pitches. Then he’d been pissed off. She understood his frustration, but she also knew what was best for his recovery, even if he didn’t.

  Men and their egos. It was bad enough that so much of what a man considered his self-worth was tied to his penis. There was also the not-so-small matter of career. Sex and career were the deal breakers. Lose the ability to perform either one of those, and it spelled doom for a man—at least in his mind.

  She was fairly certain, though it was a guess and likely a fantasy on her part, that Garrett was a master in the sex department. His career, on the other hand? That part was still up in the air.

  She would have loved to let him pitch today. She’d seen the game films. Hell, she’d been to the games and watched him. Garrett was magnificent. He had a sneaky slider and a wicked fastball. She wanted to see him throw that heat again.

  But he wasn’t ready yet. Deep down, she knew he was aware of that, but she hated seeing the disappointment on his face.

  He was going to be ready soon. His arm had moved easily today, and he hadn’t exhibited any signs of pain. It wouldn’t be long before they could start easing into throwing actual pitches.

  But he wasn’t going to be patient, which meant she was going to have to encourage him and give him a realistic plan so he’d get on board and not try to rush things. She knew he was impatient, and the last thing she wanted was for Garrett to suffer a setback. That could destroy him.

  After stowing her gear, she went into the workout room to take off the ice pack she’d put on Garrett’s shoulder. She stopped at the doorway, struck by the sight of him reclining on the cushioned futon, his back against the wall. His legs were stretched out, his eyes closed, just the right amount of stubble peppering his jaw, which of course drew her focus to his mouth.

  That stubborn set to his jaw was also part of what made him so sexy.

  She’d like to straddle him and put her lips to his, taste that mouth, just to see what he’d do. Then she’d rock against him and find out how long it would take him to get hard.

  Realizing she’d taken her visual fantasy down to his crotch, she snapped herself out of her dirty daydream, shocked to discover his eyes had opened. He was watching her with a full-on look of hunger that sent a stab of desire to her core.

  She’d spent a very sleepless night reminding herself that he was a patient, she was his therapist, and she was going to stop fantasizing about him or thinking about him in any personal way.

  That resolution hadn’t lasted long, had it?

  Some rock you are, Alicia.

  She cleared her throat and walked in, keeping her focus about a foot above his head. “I think you’ve cooled down enough. ” She reached for the ice pack, but his hand snaked up and wrapped around her wrist, forcing her to look down at him.

  “I’m not cooled down. ”

  She sat next to him and laid her hand on his shoulder. It was cold from the ice pack. “Are you feeling pain?”

  His lips curved. “Yeah, you could say that. ”

  “Tell me where it’s hurting. ”

  “Right where you were looking when I caught you staring at me. ”

  Her eyes widened, and she started to pull away, but his hand on her wrist stopped her. Mortified, she tried to jerk away again, but he held her still.

  “Why are you fighting this? It’s what we both want. ”

  She finally looked at him. “I don’t want it. Let me go. ”

  He released her wrist, and she walked out of the room, feeling like a coward.

  Because he was right. She did want him. So damn much her body throbbed all over. She went into her room and shut the door, climbed onto her bed, and laid her face in her hands, feeling ridiculous for
running away.

  She wasn’t some scared teenager who didn’t know how to have a conversation with someone of the opposite sex. And she certainly wasn’t a virgin. She should have stayed and had a rational talk with Garrett, explaining the obvious conflict of interest. That her career was more important to her than satisfying her sexual urges and that he needed to spend his time focusing on his recovery, which had to remain his number one priority. And that whatever she might want—or he might want—it wasn’t going to happen.

  It was so easy to play the conversation out in her head after the fact. It was so simple. After all, as soon as she’d said no, he had let her go. It wasn’t like he was being difficult. Garrett of all people understood the importance of one’s career. He’d get onboard with this. He might want her, but he’d deal with the fact that nothing was ever going to happen between them. It was simple and logical. He was a man. Men weren’t emotional. He’d get it.

  Armed with new resolve, she slid off the bed and went in search of him, finding him in the kitchen, foraging in the refrigerator.

  “Garrett. ”

  He didn’t look up. “Yeah. ”

  “We need to talk. ”

  “I’d rather eat. I’m starving. ” He closed the refrigerator, then looked over at her. “I want a steak. I can fix one of those tofu things for you. Maybe with a baked potato and salad?”

  She vaguely registered his list of menu items. “Uh, yeah. Sure. But we need to talk. ”

  “We can talk over dinner, when my stomach isn’t growling. I’ll fire up the grill. How about you make the salad?”

  He walked out of the room and left her standing there, her fiery prepared speech wilting as fast as her confidence.

  Maybe he’d gotten past it quicker than she thought.

  Or maybe he felt rejected, his feelings were hurt, and he was hiding it from her by pretending the conversation in the workout room hadn’t happened. That’s probably how she’d deal with it.

  But he was a guy, and she was a woman, and women were emotional, so she had no idea what he was really thinking.

  Shit.

 

  * * *

  DINNER WAS . . . UNREMARKABLE. OH, THE FOOD WAS fine, but Alicia barely remembered eating it.

  Refusing to let the conversation she intended to have with Garrett be pushed to the side, she’d made a list in her head of all the points she wanted to discuss with him.

  After dinner, though, just in case it resulted in upsetting him. No sense in ruining the meal.

  And okay, she was stalling because it was going to be uncomfortable. But at some point tonight the two of them were going to talk.

  When they finished, they did the dishes. She’d no more than hung up the dish towel when she turned around to find Garrett had disappeared. She flipped off the light and found him flopped on the couch channel surfing. Alicia hovered nearby, ready to crawl out of her skin. She made some notes about today’s pitching session until Garrett finally found a movie and stopped flipping channels.

  She grabbed a glass of wine and fished a few pieces of chocolate from the bowl on the coffee table, all the while watching. And waiting. And waiting some more.

  She didn’t want to interrupt his movie, but it was an old one, and she was certain he’d probably seen it before.

  Now was the time.

  “Garrett. ”

  He ignored her. She tried again. “Garrett. ”

  He frowned. “Yeah? What?”

  “We need to talk. ”

  His gaze jerked from her to the television and back again. “Can it wait? I’m watching this movie. ”

  She sighed. “Sure. ”

  An hour and a half later, she’d polished off two glasses of wine and more chocolate than she’d intended. She’d also read half a book and the movie was over. Garrett grabbed a drink and resumed channel surfing.

  Oh, no. This wasn’t happening. He couldn’t avoid her forever. She moved over and grabbed the remote from him.

  “Hey. I was—”

  “Avoiding having a conversation with me. ”
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