Hard and Fast
“Actually, it’s all that free beer you buy us.”
Jack’s brow furrowed. “Say what you will, but we all know I deliver the readers.” He looked at Amanda. “Unlike others.”
“Since Jack got his face on the side of a bunch of buses and signs, he thinks he’s important,” Brad offered. “We know better.”
Jack tuned Brad out, focusing on Amanda. “Do you know anything about baseball?”
Officially, Amanda was irritated. Jack had pushed far enough. Time to strike back. She laced her words with sticky sweet sarcasm. “You mean I need to understand baseball to do this job? Nobody told me that. Maybe you better start explaining it to me.”
Laughter echoed against the tiled floors, boosting her confidence.
Numerous offers to school her on the art of baseball filled the air. Jack’s expression soured until he looked as if he’d been sucking lemons. “Sweetheart, looking good will get you laid, but it ain’t gonna get you a story.”
She laughed, but inwardly the words stung, nestling amongst her insecurities that the only reason she had this job was because she looked good. She eyed Jack’s slightly protruding belly and her response held more bite.
“Right. I most definitely do not want to look good. That makes me a very, very bad reporter. I should drink more beer and get me a body like yours. Then I’ll get lots of stories.” Amanda reached for her pad of paper and pen inside her purse. “I should take notes. What else do you think I need to know?”
More laughter filled the air. Jack’s face reddened. “Funny. Real funny. We’ll see who is laughing when your readership comes up a big zero.”
She eyed her fingernails as if bored and then waved at Jack. “Bye-bye. Run along. I’m sure you have some major ego stroking to do.” She turned her attention to Brad, offering Jack her back. “Great pitching today, by the way.”
He grinned. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“You’ve had two shutouts in a row, but there’s speculation your old teammate, Mike Ackers, could rattle you next week. In fact, he promises a home run. What’s your take on that?”
Brad eyed Jack with amusement evident in his expression, then motioned Amanda toward his open locker. “Well, darlin’, why don’t you step right over to my little home away from home, and let’s talk about it.”
She didn’t have to look at Jack to know he was glaring. Amanda felt his stare like a dart landing in her back. Ah, but she liked it, relishing a little high from her successful verbal banter.
But the high shifted as she stepped close to Brad and his towel. Though she maintained a calm exterior, her heartbeat kicked into double time, pounding like a drum against her chest. The spicy scent of freshly showered male invaded her senses, and his gaze, direct and attentive, warmed her skin.
Amanda had met her share of professional athletes over the years, and none had affected her this way.
“So, ah, about those shutouts…” Amanda lost her words as he reached down and made a slight adjustment to his towel. She followed the action with avid interest. She swallowed and forced her attention upward. “Maybe I should let you get dressed.”
The corners of his full mouth lifted, mischief once again in his expression. “I trust you to shut your eyes if it falls off.”
That made her laugh. She couldn’t help it. No way in hell was she shutting her eyes if Brad Rogers lost his towel. He was lucky she didn’t yank it off.
His eyebrow inched upward. “What’s so funny?”
She shook her head, aware he was working her. “You’re being very bad and you know it. You should cut the new girl a little slack.”
“What fun is that?”
“Hey, reporter lady!”
Brad and Amanda both looked over to find Tony Rossi demanding her notice. An Italian with dark good looks and the best bat on the team, Tony had a reputation for playing the field with the ladies as much as he did the game.
“Her name is Amanda,” Brad said.
Tony ignored him. “Why’s he getting the first interview?”
She smiled, instantly taking a liking to Tony, possibly because of his directness. “I see you’re competitive on and off the field,” she teased. “I’ll make sure you’re next.”
“Maybe I don’t want to be next,” he said, giving her the puppy dog eyes that only a player could deliver so effectively. “I get tired of being second to Brad.”
Brad reached into his locker, pulled out a balled-up sock and threw it at Tony. “Shut up, man. What are you now? Twelve years old? Poor baby lost his place in line.”
Amanda decided to toss a weapon of her own at Tony. “I hear that new pitcher, Rodriquez, has your number.”
Tony’s expression grew stormy, and he mumbled something in Italian that sounded fairly nasty. He poked at the air the way he did when he was yelling at the umpire, which tended to be far too often, and ended with a clear statement of, “That’s bull.”
One of the trainers called Tony’s name, ordering him to the back room. Tony eyed Brad, ignoring the summons. “Tell her, man. Tell her it’s crap.” His gaze returned to Amanda. “I’m going to rip the seams off that asshole’s ball. Print that. It’s a quote.”
“You can tell her when she’s done with me,” Brad said.
As Tony headed over to the trainer, Brad focused on Amanda. He rested one arm on top of the locker, framing her with his deliciously muscular body. “I need a favor,” he said softly.
She stared at him and tried to figure out why he affected her so. Maybe it was his mouth. He had a full bottom lip, sensual and enticing. She could imagine how his mouth would feel pressed against her skin. Amanda blinked and resisted the urge to shake her head to rid it of the ridiculous thoughts.
“Favor?” she asked, a bit hoarsely. Delicately, she cleared her throat. “What would that be?”
“Before we go on…” He paused, leaning closer, his proximity wrapping her in sultry sensuality. A dart of electricity raced up her arm as his hand left the locker and settled on her elbow. Her entire body reacted, sending shivers along her nerve endings.
He tilted his head toward hers, his breath warm on her neck as he whispered in her ear, “Promise you’ll quote Tony.” He eased backward to make eye contact. “He’s very sensitive.”
He might as well have asked her to get naked with him, because the impact of those words, the touch of his fingers against her bare skin and the heat of his body so near were nothing shy of sizzling.
“Tony is sensitive?” She found that hard to believe. “Mr. Macho?”
“The tough ones always are,” he said. “Didn’t you know that?”
Amanda laughed. Again. Suddenly, she realized how easily Brad amused her. And had her forgetting her work. Damn. She stiffened, reality taking hold. Brad could star in her nighttime fantasies, but that was it. Already the Jack Ass competition was questioning her talent and alluding to her being hired to seduce stories out of the players. The last thing she needed was to give those nasty speculations any basis in truth.
Raising her notepad, Amanda showed Brad what she had written. “Will rip the seams off the asshole’s ball,” she recited Tony’s quote. “I might need to leave off the nasty names he used, though.”
They shared a smile, the mutual attraction dancing in the air between them, but Amanda forced herself to be sober. She needed to get her interview with him, then move on before the other players slipped away.
She noticed the necklace around Brad’s neck and a story idea formed. “A lucky charm?” she asked, knowing baseball players were the most superstitious of athletes, though she’d known a few football players who’d give them a run for their money.
His brow furrowed. “Lucky charm?”
“The necklace.” She leaned closer, trying to see it again but pulled back to avoid another trip down lust lane. “Is that a Longhorn? As in, the University of Texas mascot?”
His hand went to the charm. “Yeah,” he said. “My mom gave it to me on the day of my first college game.” His serious expression was replaced by the cocky one he had been wearing. “I did a fine job of warming the bench to celebrate. My butt was downright smoking by the time I finally got a chance to prove myself.”
What about his father? He hadn’t said his parents had given him the necklace. Interesting…He had such a playboy image, hearing him talk about his mother surprised Amanda. Intrigued—from a strictly journalistic standpoint, of course—she wanted to know more. Fans gobbled up personal info about the players.