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Hard and Fast
Lisa Renee Jones


The voice from behind Brad was distinct and all too familiar. A New York accent delivering a smart-ass comment could only be the rookie—Brad’s nemesis of the past few months.

Becker came into view, his pressed Dockers and collared shirt looking more preppy than cowboy. Even his blond hair was perfectly groomed—buzzed on the sides, longer on the top, maybe a hint of hair product to hold it in place. He looked like Mr. GQ. He always looked like Mr. GQ.

“Becker,” Brad said, giving him a nod.

“Hey, old man.”

Brad shook his head at the tired jab, wondering if the kid would ever grow up, or at least get new material. “What brings you out tonight?”

Becker lifted his draft beer—figured. The kid couldn’t even drink beer like a man, he had to sip from a glass. “Same as you, I suspect. A little celebration. A little drinking.” He paused. “That reporter from the Tribune…I saw you try to score with her.” Becker flashed his perfect white smile. “She shut you down.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, kid,” Brad said, refraining from making a much snider remark and taking a slug of beer. “If I wanted her, I could have her.”

“She’s not your type,” Becker said. “She’s what you call a lady.” He leaned on the pool table. “And a lady needs a certain kind of man.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Brad demanded, feeling the rise of his temper. The comment bit his ass, and it bit hard.

“You can hand a good ol’ boy money, but you can’t teach him about being a gentleman,” Becker said. His gaze was insolent as he eyed Brad’s faded Levi’s with obvious meaning.

Inhaling deeply, Brad managed to keep his sour words to himself. Not an easy task, considering the sorry little bastard not only had landed him in hot water today, but basically had insulted his mother. A mother who’d worked her backside off on a teacher’s salary to help Brad achieve his dreams, who’d kept him striving even after his dad had died during his junior year of high school.

But if he was honest with himself, the thought of Amanda with Becker didn’t sit well. The idea of that punk touching her, taking her, when Brad wanted her, brought a bitter taste to his mouth. If anyone on this team was getting Amanda naked, damn it, it was going to be him.

“You think Amanda, or any woman for that matter, wants a snotty nosed little boy?” Brad asked, then followed with a disbelieving sound. “She’d be screaming my name long before you could even find her bra strap.”

Becker’s face started to redden as he clenched his jaw. “Say what you will, old man,” he replied in a tight voice. “Talk is cheap.”

Tony pounded a fist on the pool table. “Now this is a bet I am in on for sure.”

Kurt spoke up then, clearly having realized why this was not a good idea. “Brad’s right. The shit’ll hit the fan if Coach hears you’re screwing with the press.”

“I like the press,” Becker said with a gloating look in Brad’s direction. “And they like me.”

Brad ground his teeth together. Despite Coach’s warnings to leave Becker alone, Brad wanted nothing more than to teach the kid a lesson in respect. “Fine, kid. You got yourself a bet.” He might regret this, but his pride had taken enough for one night.

Without giving Becker—or anyone else—a chance to respond, Brad walked away. The bet was made and once he’d committed to a play, he took it all the way.

Amanda would be his soon, and keeping the new reporter occupied might be a good idea. He’d give her something other than his arm to think about.

3

TO CELEBRATE her first foray into the Rays’ locker room, Amanda shared dinner with her assigned photographer, Reggie Sheldon. Considering she’d only met him that morning, Amanda was surprised she already felt comfortable with him. He’d guided her through what could have been a rough first day of work, and helped her make sense of all the new people and places. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant he had sworn she’d enjoy had indeed been an exceptional choice. The food was phenomenal.

Amanda tossed her napkin on the tiny square table and sighed. “You were right,” she admitted. “That was great Mexican food. I thought for sure I’d given up such fare when I left Texas.”

“Told you,” Reggie said, pushing his empty plate aside. “Los Angeles is the other Texas.”

Amanda laughed. “Not sure what that means but okay.”

“L.A. is a melting pot. There is so much diversity here. It keeps things interesting.”

Reggie himself seemed to be a melting pot of characteristics. A heavyset black man with dreadlocks and stern features, his forearm sported a tattoo of Mickey Mouse. She was coming to know his choice of tattoo matched his unexpected sense of humor.

“Interesting is moving in a matter of days,” Amanda commented. “I still can’t believe this time two weeks ago I didn’t even know I was moving. I’ve started working before most of my wardrobe even crossed the state line.” She glanced at her watch. “Wow. It’s late. I have to write up something about tonight’s game for tomorrow’s paper.”

“That’s just a quick write-up, at least. It’s a good way to get your feet wet. The real pressure, I imagine, is your first feature.”

“Oh, yeah.” Butterflies fluttered in her stomach thinking about submitting that feature. “It’s not due until Monday night, so I have three days to fret about what to write.”

“I have a feeling you’ll do just fine,” he assured her. “But I better get you home to write tomorrow’s piece.”

“You mean my hotel?” she asked, but she didn’t give him time to respond, her mind on the work ahead of her. “Speaking of my story, did you get any shots of that home run Tony hit?”

“The one he blasted halfway to Texas?” Disbelief laced his tone. “What kind of wingman would I be if I missed that kind of shot?”

“Wingman, huh?” She kind of liked the sound of that. Back in Dallas, she’d been lucky to have her own coffee mug, let alone a wingman.

“That’s right, honey cakes.” He gave her a nod. “The right arm to your left. The holder of thy hand in troubled times.”

“Honey cakes?”

“What?” He lifted his eyebrow. “You don’t like your new nickname?”

“I guess you don’t like Amanda?”

“Amanda is a fine name.”

When he said nothing else, she took the bait. “But?”

He shrugged. “It’s what everyone else calls you. I don’t like being like everyone else.”

“You’re joking right?” she asked. “Using my name would make you different. The players called me every name imaginable but Amanda. Honey. Baby. Sweetie.” She rolled her eyes. “Men.” Then quickly added, “Present company excluded, of course.”

They paid the bill, then left the restaurant.

“What do you know about Jack?” Amanda asked, as they settled into the van.

“Jack Ass?” Reggie asked. “I mean Krass.” He started the ignition. “I guess I should have warned you about him.”

“Ya think? Seems a wingman’s duty if I ever heard of one.”

“Yeah, well, I hate to waste good air talking about that sorry bastard.”

“I take it you don’t like him any more than I do,” she commented. “So what’s the story?”

“In a nutshell,” he said, maneuvering the van onto the highway, “he’s an asshole.”

“And a chauvinist bastard. He treated me like I didn’t know sports because I’m a woman.”
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