Thrown by a curve, p.31
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       Thrown by a Curve, p.31

         Part #5 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
Page 31

  Author: Jaci Burton




  GARRETT LOVED THE SMELL OF A BALLPARK. THE ONE here in Florida wasn’t even a major-league park, but it was still a baseball field. The smell of the dirt and the feel of the grass under his cleats as he walked out onto the field reminded him of opening day, of what he’d spent the last eight years preparing himself for at the start of every season.

  He’d been so afraid that he was going to miss out on this, that for the first time since he’d graduated college, he’d be left behind and be forced to spend the season sitting in the dugout.

  It could still happen, but for the first time, he had hope, and that was the one thing that had been lacking all these months since his injury. At first he’d been scared, and then when his arm hadn’t healed right away, he’d been down and depressed, certain his career was over. All the therapy in the world hadn’t gotten into his head or kicked him in the ass, forcing him to work for the goal.

  Alicia had, though. She’d known what it was going to take for him to get there, to reach for what he wanted, and to really work at it. All the tools had been right there in his grasp; all he’d had to do was put in the effort.

  They were far from finished. He knew that. But for Garrett, it was more than just the chance to get back to work. It was being at the ballpark again, surrounded by his peers. And the crowd. God, he loved the fans, the sounds they made, even the boos when he had a bad game.

  He’d been isolated for so long that he’d even take a rousing chorus of boos, as long as he could just be here.

  Even better, Alicia was here with him, working with him on the sidelines. He might not be throwing warm-up pitches with his teammates, but he was at least throwing pitches today. They still weren’t the kind of pitches he wanted to throw, but he had to focus on his recovery and his arm, and not on Walter Segundo, the fiery right-hander who was his fiercest competitor and no doubt a lock to start on opening day.

  Walter was currently throwing off the mound and firing bullets into the catcher’s mitt. His accuracy was off the charts, and his ERA was nearly as good as Garrett’s had been before his injury. Garrett knew he’d been the best pitcher the Rivers had—before he’d screwed up his shoulder.

  Would he be that good again? That was the multimillion-dollar question, wasn’t it?

  “Hey. ”

  He shifted his gaze to Alicia, who was kneeling with a catcher’s mitt in her hand. “Yeah?”

  “Pull your head out of your ass and focus on me, not on Walter or the other players. You want to be here at the ballpark? Then eyes on me. ”

  He wanted to make a smart remark about how he’d rather have his eyes on her great ass or maybe it would be better if she was naked or several other completely inappropriate remarks, but there were other guys hovering nearby. So instead, he nodded and said, “Yeah. Got it. Focus. ”

  “Good. Throw a slow one at me. ”

  “I’ve been throwing slow ones at you for the past hour. ”

  “Good. Fling me a few more, and quit whining about it. ”

  He heard the snickers of his teammates, which didn’t bother him in the least. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d ribbed one another about a workout with a trainer. Hell, if Manny wasn’t chewing your ass out on a daily basis, you felt like he didn’t like you anymore. Alicia was a kitten by comparison.

  Speaking of the Rivers coach, he made his way over to them when the rest of the team took a break.

  Alicia looked wide-eyed and terrified at Manny’s approach, which amused the hell out of Garrett. He gave her credit for continuing with what she was doing, which was taking pitches from him.

  Manny stood and watched for a while, then sauntered over to Garrett.

  “I see she’s finally got you throwing some pitches. ”

  “Some weak ones, but yeah, I’m finally throwing. ”

  “They look like shit,” Manny said.

  Alicia looked horrified. Garrett grinned. “Yeah, they do. But it’s more than I’ve thrown since the injury. And my arm feels great. ”

  Manny scrutinized Garrett, then Alicia. Garrett always thought Manny looked like an old grizzled pirate when he gave that squint. Manny finally nodded and slapped Garrett on the back. “Good enough. Keep it up. ”

  When he walked away, Alicia slumped and dropped her glove. Garrett walked down the field toward her then leaned over.

  “Are you breathing?”

  She lifted her head. “I can’t help it. He scares the crap out of me. ”

  “You? The one who stood in the therapy room that day and told me I had my head up my ass, then stood up in front of Manny, your boss, the team doctor, and the entire therapy team and told them all that their method of dealing with me sucked? And you’re afraid of Manny?”

  She stood, kicked at the dirt. “I had a moment of madness. I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. ”

  “So you’re saying you have no idea how to treat me. ”

  She lifted her chin and glared at him. “I know exactly what I’m doing. ”

  When her hackles were raised and she got defiant like that, he wanted to jerk her into his arms and kiss her. It was such a turn-on when she went all fiery and independent. “Good. Then quit letting Manny intimidate you. ”

  She blinked. “You know what? You’re right. ”

  “Of course I am. ”

  Alicia rolled her eyes and pointed. “Back to work for you. How’s your arm feeling?”

  “Pretty good, actually. ”

  “Okay, throw me some harder stuff. And by harder stuff, Garrett, I don’t mean a blinding fastball or—”

  “God, Alicia. I know what you mean. Put a little more effort into it but not game-situation strength. Just a little harder than what I’ve been throwing. ”

  She nodded. “Now you’re getting the picture. ”

  He turned and walked away. “You don’t have to draw me a fucking road map. I’m not a goddamn moron. ”

  “I heard that. ”

  He turned to face her. “I know. That’s why I said it loud enough for you to hear. ”

  She crouched down into position. “Are we going to talk all day, or are you going to throw me a pitch?”

  More snickers from his teammates. He shook his head, wound up, and threw a pitch just hard enough that Alicia winced when it hit her glove.

  That might shut her up for a while. She scowled at him but tossed the ball back without saying a word.

  “Not quite that hard yet, asshole. ”

  More laughs from the other pitchers, but the laughs were still directed at him.

  Good. Just where he wanted them.


  * * *

  GARRETT WAS OFF TALKING TO THE OTHER PITCHERS, so Alicia took a moment to update her notes.

  “You look all official and therapylike. ”

  She turned around and smiled at her cousin Gavin, then gave him a quick hug. “And you look all baseball-like. How’s it going?”

  “Good. How’s rehabbing Garrett going?”

  “Great. He’s coming along. ”

  “So I’ve heard. Among other things. ”

  Alicia cocked a brow. “Other things. ”

  “Oh, you know. Word gets around pretty fast in a ball club. ”

  Crap. “Tell me what you’ve heard. ”

  “Some of the guys talking about how easy it is between the two of you, a lot of laughing and . . . things. ”

  “Things? What things?”

  “Look. I don’t pay much attention to gossip and rumor, you know that. But I did watch you two together today. It’s pretty obvious there’s some body language between the two of you. ”

  “Body language?” She knew all she was doing was repeating what he said, but she was sinking fast. She had nothing to say in her own defense, so the longer she could delay the inevitable, the better.
r />   “I know it’s none of my business, but is there something going on between the two of you?”

  There would be no use denying it to Gavin. He’d find out eventually from Liz, who told him everything. “Uh . . . sort of. ”

  Now it was Gavin’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “What does ‘sort of’ mean? This isn’t high school, Alicia. There either is or isn’t. You know I’m not going to tell any of the guys on the team. You can trust me. ”

  She knew her cousin wouldn’t talk. “Yes, there’s something going on between us. I just don’t know that we’ve really defined it yet, and I’d really appreciate it if you could do whatever you could to not promote any talk among the other players. I’m rather fond of my job. ”

  “Hey, you know I didn’t come over here to get gossip from you. ”

  She nodded. “I know. Which is why I told you. ”

  Gavin looked over at Garrett. “He’s a good guy, you know. ”

  “Yes, he is. But my primary focus is on his recovery, not on dating him. I mean, we’re not even dating. We’re just—”

  She gave Gavin a blank look. “I cannot have this discussion with you. ”

  Gavin looked as horrified as she did. “Thank God. Because I do not want to discuss sex with you. ”

  She laughed.

  “Good thing Liz is in town,” Gavin said. “It might be better if you talk to her about this shit. ” He pulled off his ball cap and dragged his fingers through his hair. “Why don’t we get together for dinner? You can come to our beach house. ”

  “I’d love to see Liz. ” Then she thought about it. “You’re not going to grill Garrett about our relationship, are you?”

  “Uh, no. Because then the whole sex topic would come up again, and believe me, that’s the last thing I want to talk about with your guy. ”

  Her guy. He wasn’t really her guy. Was he? “Okay, I’ll talk to Garrett about it and call you. ”

  He kissed her cheek. “Later. ”

  When warm-ups were finished, they stayed and watched the game. She kept her eye on Garrett to see how he reacted to being relegated to watching rather than playing. Fortunately, as a pitcher, he wasn’t always in the rotation. He seemed to handle it fine, cheering on the players as the Rivers beat Atlanta, three to two.

  He did great, even making his way down to the bullpen to rally the relief pitchers in the later innings while she stayed in the dugout.

  While the crowds filed out and the team headed to the locker room, Alicia spent some time with the other sports-medicine folks, catching up on what had been going on. Annamarie was there, the only other female sports-medicine therapist. Alicia and Annamarie had been hired around the same time and had bonded as females in a sea of testosterone. Annamarie was tough and capable and also fairly gorgeous, Alicia had always thought. She had a saucy attitude to go with her Italian/Mexican/German heritage. While Alicia’s hair was sort of the same color, the two of them could never be confused. Annamarie’s hair was thick as hell, and she often braided it to keep it out of her way. Plus, she had gorgeous olive skin and beautiful eyes and the kind of lush body that couldn’t be hidden under the team’s hideous medical uniforms. She and Annamarie had become fast friends and would always commiserate about their bottom-of-the-totem-pole status.

  “I’ve missed you,” Annamarie said, sitting next to Alicia in the dugout. “We haven’t had a chance to get caught up since you got assigned to Garrett. Lucky you. He’s a hot one. ”

  Alicia laughed. “Yeah. It’s been an interesting case. ”

  “How’s he coming along?”

  “He’s doing well. ”

  “And you get all this one-on-one time with him as his specialist. What a great career move for you. It puts you front and center in the eyes of the team. I’m kind of jealous. ”

  “Yes. It also puts me front and center in the eyes of the team, if you know what I mean. ”
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