Thrown by a curve, p.5
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       Thrown by a Curve, p.5
 

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

  Author: Jaci Burton

  “That’s it?”

  “A little while ago you wanted to be done. ”

  He paused. “Well, that was earlier. I’ve got a second wind, and I can go longer. ”

  “We’re finished. Now, I’ll stretch you. Go lie down. ”

  “That’s not enough. We need to do more. ”

  “It’s enough for now. I’ll give you a good stretch, and you’ll be begging me to leave you alone for the rest of the day. ”

  “We’ll see. ”

  Alicia gave him a sly smile.

  Garrett dragged his fingers through his hair and laid on his back on the padded table.

  Logically, Garrett knew how therapy worked. It was a slow, methodical process, and nothing changed dramatically the first day. But goddamn it, he expected miracles.

  He’d need a miracle in order to start pitching again. He was investing a lot in his decision to go with Alicia as his therapist. He hadn’t been blinded by her beauty or great body. He’d depended entirely on gut instinct and the way she’d talked to him.

  Now, as she loomed over him, he sucked in a breath and hoped for the best.

  “You ready for this?” she asked.

  He shrugged. “Sure. ”

  She lifted his arm over his head, doing the basic stretches he was used to. Nothing hurt, but it always felt good to get stretched out after a therapy session. He closed his eyes and imagined himself on the mound, throwing a curveball to a batter, followed by the umpire signaling a strike.

  Yeah, that’s where he needed to put his focus, and if he had to ride Alicia hard to get her to push him, that’s where he’d—

  “Jesus Christ!” His eyes shot open when she bent his arm back, then to the side. Hot, stinging pain made his eyes water. “That fucking hurts. ”

  “Take deep breaths,” she said, her voice soothing, as she did the same damn thing with his arm.

  He wasn’t a wimp, and he had a pretty high pain tolerance, but that shit was painful as hell. “What are you doing?”

  “Breaking up scar tissue. Pushing you to your limits. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

  “Yeah. But I thought—”

  “Shhh,” she said, taking his arm back in a pitcher’s rotation position. “Just breathe and try to relax through this. ”

  “How long are you going to stretch me?”

  “About thirty minutes. ”

  He could be dead in thirty minutes if she kept this up. He gritted his teeth and sucked it up like a man, trying not to moan when she kneeled beside him and, he was certain, pulled his shoulder right out of its socket.

  Okay, maybe he exaggerated, but it sure felt like she was twisting his shoulder into unnatural positions. And he didn’t like it.

  The room was getting hot, the pain more intense. Having something to bite down on wouldn’t hurt, either, because Alicia was relentless. And she wouldn’t stop. He needed just a one-fucking-minute break, so he could take a goddamn breath, but she went on and on and on until he was panting like he was about to give birth.

  “Tell me about the best game you ever pitched,” she asked as she worked on his arm.

  Momentarily distracted from the pain, he lifted his gaze to hers. “What?”

  “What was your best game?”

  He thought about it for a second. “Against Chicago. Tied in the ninth. I had pitched the whole game. Grueling back and forth. Coach wanted to pull me several times, thought I was getting tired, but he relented and let me stay in. ” He winced when she drew his arm back for a long stretch.

  “Just take deep breaths,” she said, her voice soft and comforting. “You’re tied in the ninth. Home game?”

  He breathed in and out, and she released the tension on his arm. “Yeah. So I face the first batter, who swung at a curve and hit a grounder to first. Second batter popped up to center. The third one was tougher, throwing off fouls on my fastballs, but I figured I could get him because his timing was off. Either that or he was gonna wallop a big one off me. But I dug in and nailed one right past him. He struck out swinging. ”

  She stopped and looked down at him. “Hard to have that kind of juice on your ball that late in the game. ”

  He smiled up at her. “Yeah. Our guys scored a run in the next inning, and we won the game. ”

  “Good game, then. ”

  “Yup. ”

  She held out her hand. “And good session. We’re done here. ”

  Relieved as hell, he sat up. “Thanks. ”

  She leaned him against the wall then put an ice pack on his shoulder.

  “Ten minutes with the ice pack, then you’re all done. ”

  She’d distracted him during the toughest part of the stretch by making him talk to her.

  He watched her while she typed into her notebook, part of him hating her for the wicked-hard stretch, the other part of him just not able to figure her out yet.

  She looked up and met his gaze. “You’re giving me strange looks. Was it too hard for you?”

  “It was fine. ” His shoulder was still throbbing.

  “Your jaw is clenched. You should try to relax. ” She took the ice pack away and sat across from him. “It’s only going to get harder from here on out. Think you can handle it?”

  For a split second, he pondered going back to the other trainers. He was used to their brand of therapy. This had been . . . different. It had been hard. But there was something about Alicia that clicked for him. And he’d asked for this, so he was going to take it. “You’re sure this is going to work. ”

  “Positive. ”

  “Then I can take whatever you dish out. ”

  “Good. If you’re sore later, I’ll rub you down. ”

  Later? He was sore now. “I thought you didn’t give massages. ”

  She gave him a look over her shoulder as she left the room. “I’ll make an exception for you since you look like you’re about to cry. But I warned you that working with me wasn’t going to be a vacation, didn’t I? I’m not going to go easy on you, Garrett. If you don’t want to work with me, say so now, and we’ll make adjustments. ”

  She waited, the challenge in her eyes really damn clear. He liked that about her, and no way in hell was he going to cave.

  “If you can dish it out, I can take it. Let’s do this. ”

 

 

  FOUR

  IT HAD BEEN A WEEK AND A HALF. TEN HORRIBLE DAYS of therapy that Alicia thought might kill her.

  Physically, Garrett was doing all right. He was taking a toll on her emotional state, though, because his constant griping was a pain in her butt.

  She either worked him too hard or not hard enough. Nothing she did was right. No wonder the team coddled him. They obviously did whatever he asked to shut him the hell up. He might be pretty on the outside, but she had thoughts of running for the duct tape to slap over his mouth whenever he showed up for therapy.

  Even worse, everyone else had left at the beginning of the week for spring training in Florida, which left her alone with Garrett. The first few days she’d had the other therapists to talk to when things had gotten rough. And they’d commiserated, because they’d all worked with him.

  Now she was alone, though both Phil and Max had told her she could call them if an emergency came up related to Garrett’s condition or if she had a question. Annamarie, one of the other therapists and a good friend, said to call her if she just needed to vent.

  She’d likely have to call Annamarie just to whine at her. Probably every day.

  Like today, because Garrett was an hour late. She used the time to update her notes and work on her upcoming treatment plan for him, but when another half hour ticked off, she dialed his cell.

  He answered with a sleepy, “Yeah. ”

  “You were supposed to be here over an hour ago. ”

  “Who is this?”

  Alicia suc
ked in a hard breath. “Your therapist. ”

  “Oh. ” He paused, and she heard a yawn. “Sorry, Alicia. I must have overslept. ”

  “No kidding. How about you get your ass in here?”

  Another yawn. She tapped her foot.

  “How about we just skip today? My arm’s kind of sore anyway. ”

  “I don’t think so. Grab some coffee and get dressed. ”

  She could have sworn she heard a snore.

  “Garrett. Are you there?”

  “Huh? Oh, yeah. I’ll be there tomorrow. Promise, k?”

  Then she heard a click. “Hello? Garrett? Garrett?”

  She stared at her phone.

  “That son of a bitch. ” He’d hung up on her.

  Unbelievable. That play might have worked on someone else, especially when the facility had other injured players to focus on. Did he think she was going to enjoy the day off and go shopping or maybe read a book? Hell no.

  He’d asked for her, and like it or not, he was going to get her. She pulled up his address from his file, grabbed her coat and car keys, and stormed out the door.

 

  * * *

  THERE WAS A RELENTLESS POUNDING IN GARRETT’S head. He’d had a few beers last night, but he didn’t recall any whiskey or tequila, so he shouldn’t have a hangover.

  He pulled the pillow over his head, but then he heard the bell ringing. He searched under the pillow on the other side of the bed and grabbed his phone, cracking his eyelids open to peer at the display.

  No, wasn’t the phone.

  There was that pounding again.

  What. The. Fuck?

  It took him a few seconds to figure out it was the door. And the doorbell. Simultaneously. He dropped his head to the pillow again. Whoever it was would go away when he didn’t answer.

  Except they didn’t. The banging and ringing continued.

  Shit. He rolled out of bed and slid into his sweatpants, went to the door, and peered through the peephole.

  “Really?” He unlocked the door and pulled it open. Alicia stood there with a sweet smile on her face.

  “Morning, sunshine. Ready for therapy?”

  “Uh, no. I was sleeping. ”

  She pushed through the door. “Not anymore. So you might as well get dressed. ”

  He couldn’t believe she’d come to his house. He wanted to shut the door in her face. But since she was here . . .

  “I need coffee. ” He walked past her, and since he heard her footsteps behind him as he made his way to the kitchen, he assumed she’d come in.

  At least she was quiet. While the coffee was brewing, he grabbed two cups, got out the cream and sugar, and turned to face her.

  Her gaze drifted down to where his sweats were slung around his hips. He realized then that he was barely dressed, just the sweats that he’d grabbed so he could see who was at the door.

  And she had noticed. And he noticed that she was looking.

  He cracked a smile at that. Crossed his arms as she made a visual inspection of his abs and chest. When her gaze reached his face, she blushed.

  Nice.

  But she stayed silent. “Might as well take your coat off. ”

  “That’s not necessary. I can wait while you get dressed. ”

  “I need to take a shower. ”

  He saw her make a quick scan of his exposed skin again. If she didn’t stop that ogling, she was going to give him a hard-on. She looked cute all bundled up in her coat and hat and gloves, her cheeks rosy from blushing.

  “Shed the outerwear and have a cup. ”

  She tugged off her cap and shrugged out of her coat. “Fine. ”

  He laughed as her hair flew in all directions from static cling, which made her glare at him. “What?”

  He walked over to her and smoothed her hair down. “You look like you stuck your finger in a light socket. ”

  Her eyes widened, and she slapped his hands away, grabbed a ponytail holder from her wrist, and gathered her hair up in it. “And you aren’t making me any happier this morning. ”
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