Thrown by a curve, p.4
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       Thrown by a Curve, p.4

         Part #5 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
Page 4

  Author: Jaci Burton

  “That limb on the tree ahead. Keep walking, but just grab the limb as we walk by. ”

  “And do what with it?”

  “Here. I’ll show you the first time. ” She strolled ahead of him then slowed down as she stepped under a tree with low-hanging limbs. She reached up with her right arm and grabbed one of the thinner limbs, held on as she walked past.

  Ah. He got it. “You want me to stretch the back of my shoulder by grabbing on to tree limbs. ”

  “Yes, but don’t jerk it. Do it gently. Slow your pace as we walk under the trees. Just pause, hang on to the limb, and really feel the stretch. ”

  “Got it. ” And he did the next time, and the next; she’d chosen a heavily tree-lined street.

  “This is a lot less boring than the pulleys. ”

  “Even if you are freezing your ass off?” she asked with a wry smile.

  “Even if. ”

  “It’s always nice to get out of the facility. I like being outdoors, breathing in fresh air. Plus, you needed a change in your therapy. And you need to get out of your head. It’s very doom and gloom in there. ”

  “So you think me yanking on tree limbs is going to fool my body—and my mental state—into thinking this really isn’t therapy?”

  She laughed. “No. I know you’re not stupid. You’ll still know this is therapy. It’s just using different mechanics. ”

  By the time they’d walked a mile, he could definitely feel it in his shoulder. Plus, she made him do it leaning to the side and from the front. They walked into the facility, and he wasn’t cold anymore. He peeled off his hat and his jacket, and went to the break room for a bottle of water.

  Alicia met him at the door. “Ready for some serious work now?”

  He paused mid-drink. “I thought we were done. ”

  “That was just a warm-up. Now that your muscles and tendons are toasty, we’re really going to dig in. ”

  “Yeah, I don’t think so. I’m a little sore. ”

  She marched over to him and pushed on his back. “Being a wuss isn’t allowed. Head over to the pulleys. ”

  “I thought jerking on the tree limbs was in lieu of the pulleys. ”

  She adjusted the weights for him. “You would think that, wouldn’t you? But no. Three sets of ten. ”

  He looked down at the weights, which were set heavier than they’d been before. Then he looked up at Alicia. “This isn’t going to wreck my shoulder?”

  “Nope. Start lifting. I’ll be here watching your progress. ”

  He went through the routine, waiting for some sharp, knifelike pain to signal that he was right, that the weights were too heavy.

  The pain didn’t come. It hurt, but therapy always did.

  Though, it was a lot less painful so far because he had Alicia to push him around. Maybe this could work.


  * * *

  ADMITTEDLY, ALICIA WAS NERVOUS. NOT JUST A LITTLE nervous, but a whole bundle of jammed-up tension that had settled right between her shoulder blades as she worked through this first session with Garrett.

  There was a mountain of pressure on her to do this right, and a lot riding on this—Garrett’s career. If she didn’t get his shoulder working again, and not just working minimally, but fully enough that he could pitch and pitch well, then she’d likely be out of a job. Sports medicine specialists were hired—especially by a baseball team—because they were the best. Throughout her time in school and at the orthopedic clinic she’d worked for prior to being hired by the Rivers, she’d prided herself on being damn good at sports medicine. She’d studied anatomy and physiology before she’d ever stepped foot in a college classroom, had worked on her brother’s and cousins’ aches and pains, and had watched athletes’ mechanics and studied their injuries.

  This is what she’d spent her life training for. Now was her chance to prove herself.

  She put Garrett on the leg press to give his shoulder a break and also to balance his workout. She took a moment to ogle his muscles as he lay back and pushed a sizeable amount of weight. Since he’d warmed up, he’d shed his sweats and was down to his shorts, his thighs flexing as he pushed up on the press.

  If she wasn’t an employee of the team, she’d be all over him like she was sure many women were. But fantasizing about the hot pitcher wasn’t going to happen, no matter how amazing his body was or how sexy his eyes were when he glanced up at her.

  He was her patient, and he was going to remain firmly rooted in that spot.

  He sat up after locking the weights into place.

  “So, how experienced are you at this, Alicia?”

  “I have plenty of therapeutic experience. ”

  He dropped his chin then lifted his eyes. “Right. Tons, I’ll bet. ”

  This wasn’t the first time she’d been questioned by one of the athletes about her background. “I have a master’s degree in sports medicine. I both interned and worked for some of the best orthopedic surgeons out there before I was hired by the Rivers. I’ve been working in this field for seven years. But if you have any doubts about working with me, you can feel free to—”

  He held up his hands. “Touchy subject, obviously. ”

  “Hey, you’re the one who wanted me. If you’ve changed your mind, just let me know, and I’ll turn you over to Max again. ”

  “I haven’t. ”

  “Good. ” She picked up her notebook and sat on one of the benches. She was irritated but more at herself than at Garrett. She was being overly sensitive, and she knew it, and it wasn’t his fault. Well, indirectly it was, because he’d placed her in this position by singling her out and putting her in charge of his recovery.

  “Why me?”

  He frowned. “Huh?”

  “Why did you choose me? You had to know I don’t have half the experience of some other members of the team. ”

  “I told you why. Because you didn’t take any of my shit and you told me exactly how you’d handle me. ”

  “I see. ”

  “So . . . ” He looked down at his shoulder then back at her. “Handle me. ”

  She really wished she hadn’t picked up the sexual innuendo in what he said. Which was probably all in her mind and not at all in his words. She wished he was ugly or unpleasant to deal with.

  Even when he was whiny and complaining, there was still an underlying charm about him. He might be a pain in some areas of his recovery that made him cranky, but that she could handle. He was also friendly, and oh, dear God, was he gorgeous and sexy, and he had a body she wanted to get her hands on in much more than a therapeutic way.

  But this was her golden opportunity, so she was going to have to separate her . . . urges from her job.

  “So . . . are we done here?” he asked.

  “Nice try. Our time together isn’t up yet. ”

  “My shoulder feels like a limp noodle. ”

  “And you’re not the therapist, so suck it up and sit there until I tell you you’re done. ”

  She walked away to get the stretch bands and the ball, mainly to create distance. The less she chatted with him, the less she’d think about him on a personal level. When she brought him the bands, he gave her a dubious look.

  “We should be beyond this. ”

  “And you like to cut corners. That’s why your therapy isn’t progressing. Let’s do this. ”

  He blew out a loud, frustrated sigh but did the routine she laid out. She turned some relaxing music on.

  “I’d prefer something harder. ”

  She tried not to wince. For some reason, everything he said conjured up sex in her head. She’d like something harder, too, but it wasn’t music she was thinking about. And she needed to stop acting like a lust-filled teenager for the love of God.

  “This is relaxing. I want your muscles liquid, not tensed up. ”

  “You could always give me a massage af
ter. ”

  “You want a massage therapist, I’ll bring one in. That’s not what the team is paying me to do. ”

  “Oh, so you will bring in a masseuse for me?”

  She stood beside him, watching and making notes while he pulled at the bands. “If I think one is warranted. ”

  “Yeah? And how will you know?”

  “After I finish you off, I’ll see how your muscles feel. ”

  “How come you won’t do the massage yourself? My other trainers did. ”

  “Good for them. ”

  “But you don’t want to climb on me and massage me. It’s too personal for you. ”

  Now that was innuendo. Plain and clear. She slanted him a glare. “Well, now I know what kind of massages you get. ”


  “Climb on?”

  He laughed. “Okay, I was exaggerating. But I know you all give massages. Except you, obviously. ”

  She met his gaze and couldn’t tell if he was teasing her, challenging her, or plain trying to annoy her. She chalked his attitude up to sore muscles and decided to give him a break. “I didn’t say that. ”

  “I know you all are trained in massage because one of the guys told me. ”

  “Yes, we are. But that’s not our primary focus as therapists. I tend to frown on doing it because I don’t want my patients to look on me as a glorified masseuse. ”

  “You mean because you’re a woman. ”

  “No, because I worked my ass off to become a therapist. And not a massage therapist. ”

  “Again . . . touchy. ”

  “I’m not touchy. And you’re finished here. Let’s move on. ”

  She put him through a routine of circuit training with various upper body machines, with the objective of strengthening his shoulder.

  “You gave me heavier weights when we started,” he said as he dragged the pulley forward.

  “I know. ”

  He frowned as she had him do another set with only twenty pounds of weight. When he bent to adjust the pin to a heavier weight, she stopped him.

  “These are too light. I’m not getting any benefit. ”

  She tilted her head to look at him. “Last time I looked, you weren’t in charge. Do another set with this weight. ”

  He gave her a look through his narrowed gaze that led her to believe they were about to argue the point, but then he straightened and did the set.

  “Your form is good, so let’s up the weight. ”

  “Finally. ”

  She bit back a retort. He was frustrated, and she knew that. She had a plan. She increased the weight in ten-pound increments after each set until she saw him struggle.

  Impressive. And encouraging. His shoulder could bear a lot of weight, at least on the pulley.

  “Now, let’s pull from the side. This will be harder. ”

  “I know. ”

  Once again, she started with lighter weights and gradually increased. He couldn’t handle as much weight, but she monitored him for signs of pain. When she saw the wince, she ended the session and marked it in her notes.

  “I could do more. Now that we’re into it, I can see the benefit. It’s not hurting as much, and my shoulder can handle it. ”

  “That’s enough for our first go-round. ”

  “I need to push myself,” he said as he followed her to the next circuit. “You said so yourself. ”

  She turned to face him. “And if you reinjure the shoulder, you’ll be back pulling ten pounds again, and you’ll miss the season. Is that what you want?”

  “No. ”

  “All right, then. ” She took him through the rest of the circuit, arguing with him the whole way about how much weight he could handle. She remained firm, refusing to allow him to press or lift any more weight than what was in her therapy plan, much to his irritation.

  “We’re done,” she finally said after an hour.
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