HIS GAME NEVER FAILS...
Baseball star Oliver Shields has always lived for the game-and now the New York Saints have finally made the play offs. The season isn't over yet, but meeting gorgeous Amelia Graham seems like a bonus grand slam-until one night of partying threatens to take Oliver out of the game for good...
UNTIL SHE puts his heart in play...
All work and no play has always been Amelia's motto, earning her a coveted job on Wall Street and the freedom she's always longed for. Oliver is a real player-in more ways than one-and a distraction she doesn't need, especially when she's trying to win a chance at her dream assignment at work . When flirtation turns to attraction so fierce neither one of them can say good-bye, will Oliver and Amelia step up to the plate-and give love a chance?
"Sexy...[with] emotional intensity."
-Kirkus Reviews on The Devil in Denim
About the Author
MELANIE SCOTT, who also writes as M.J. Scott, grew up in a family of avid readers who fostered her love of words. A long time reader of fantasy and romance, it was inevitable that her own stories combine the two genres. Her unpublished novels have won a number of awards including the Romance Writers of Australia's Emerald Award and Valerie Parv Award and the Romance Writers of New Zealand's Clendon Award. She is a two-time finalist in the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart® Award. Shadow Kin, her debut novel, won praise from three New York Times bestselling authors. All three books in her Half-Light City series have been finalists in the Australian Romance Readers Association Awards. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she distracts herself with books, cats, and yarn when she's not writing.
Read an Excerpt
By Melanie Scott
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Melanie Scott
All rights reserved.
Wall-to-wall hot men and all Amelia Graham really wanted was more comfortable shoes. It was official. Her life was sad. If there was a list of people who had lost their mojo, it would clearly say "Amelia Graham" at the top. In bold. Underlined. She winced at the mental image and tried to find her party spirit. But her feet hurt — stupid new shoes — and the wall-to-wall hot men seemed far more interested in the hordes of superhumanly glamorous women filling the room than in her. She looked good but these women were New-York-model-level gorgeous. And if the sky-high stilettos most of them wore were hurting their feet, they were far better at ignoring that fact than Amelia was.
Which only proved that her name belonged on the sad list. If Em could see her now, she'd be rolling her eyes in disgust. Of course, it was Em's fault that Amelia was stuck at this party in the first place. Her best friend had steadfastly refused to move to New York, remaining at home in Chicago. Which meant that when Em's brother Finn — Amelia's de facto brother by way of lifelong best-friend-hood with Em — had been transferred from the Chicago Cubs to the New York Saints, Amelia had reinherited first-line Finn Support status. All the other Castros were still back in Chicago, so it was Amelia who got to play cheer squad and sounding board and whatever else he needed. Back on Team Finn. Not that she'd ever really been off it. And it was a role she was happy to play. After all, she owed the Castros a lot, and Finn especially. She could never repay that debt. Being there if he needed her was the least she could do. Still, she'd been in New York for seven years now and they hadn't been as close as before she'd moved here. Until he'd moved here, too. She'd helped him find his apartment and showed him around when he'd first arrived in New York and somehow they'd fallen back into old patterns.
Not quite as it used to be, though. Sometimes weeks went by without him calling. After all, he traveled a lot for games and he'd found a crowd to run with quickly enough — Finn was blessed with the same dark good looks as his sister and a bucketload of charm as well and never had trouble making friends — but he still called her when he was at loose ends and wanting to be entertained. Or wanted a familiar face at his games. And Amelia couldn't help being there to answer. Plus there was Em, who wanted reports on how Finn was doing. Something Amelia had been used to when Finn was in high school and he'd told her things he wouldn't necessarily tell his sister. Now, at twenty-nine, it was kind of weird to be asked to keep an eye on a twenty-five-year-old guy who was a professional baseball player.
But she couldn't say no to Em any more than she could to Finn.
So she'd said yes when Finn had invited her out tonight, even though it was the first Sunday she hadn't worked in a month and all she really wanted to do was sleep. But the Saints were celebrating the fact that they'd made it to the American League Division Series for the first time in a long time and she was feeling guilty that she hadn't actually made it to that many of their home games this season due to work craziness. Amelia liked baseball, having kind of absorbed her knowledge and affection for it through Finn, so a baseball party should have been fun. So she'd come. And now, somewhat predictably, she was bored, watching Finn dance with random women.
She sighed and rattled the two rapidly melting ice cubes that were all that was left of her drink. There really had to be something wrong with her. All these gorgeous men and no one had caught her eye. Which was troubling. She had something of a thing, to her chagrin, for guys who oozed confidence, and professional athletes oozed it more than anybody. But all too often it seemed that über-confidence had a downside. Too many of the guys who had it were a little too fond of themselves and a little too sure of their place in the universe. It had been that way with the jocks she'd steadfastly avoided dating in high school and college, and it was the same with the men she'd met on Wall Street since she'd graduated. Both groups leaned toward master-of-the-universe worldviews. The Wall Street guys just did it in expensive suits rather than baseball uniforms.
She'd resolved the last time, after another crash and burn with an investment banker who'd been exactly that type, to stick to nice guys in the future. Maybe the fact that she was bored tonight — surrounded as she was with men who should be Amelia catnip — meant she had a chance of succeeding in keeping that resolution.
Though, if she was going to stick to her guns, tonight was probably not the best night to put her plan into action. She was guessing that ordinary nice-guy types were an endangered species at this party. Finn had let slip enough team gossip about how the single guys tended to blow off steam that she could be fairly certain of that. So maybe she should just give it another hour and then make her excuses to Finn and leave. Go home to comfy slippers and watching whatever seemed good on Netflix while she baked some late-night muffins. Maybe the pistachio chocolate ones she'd spotted on one of her favorite food blogs the other day. Finn wouldn't care if she left now that he was surrounded by beautiful women, so she was off the hook there.
Time to be sensible.
Like the guy she wanted. She sighed and put the empty glass down on the small, high table near her elbow. If she was going to stay, she needed another drink. Though maybe a soda first. Whoever had made the cocktail she'd just finished definitely hadn't skimped on the alcohol. The buzz of it was warming her veins just a little too well. Not good if she wanted to be sensible, smart Amelia. One soda, one more cocktail, and then one swift getaway.
* * *
Maggie Jameson and Raina Easton definitely knew how to throw a party. Oliver Shields took his tequila from the bartender and turned to survey the room, taking in the heaving mass of partying New York Saints players, wives, girlfriends, and whoever else had been invited. The play-offs. The Saints had made the fucking American League Division Series for the first time in God only knew how many years. Of course, he should know, having spent the last fifteen years playing for the Saints, but after his first two tequilas had gone down fast, the statistic, one that most of the time he had to try hard to ignore, refused to come to mind easily.
He was finally going to the play-offs. Halle-fucking-lujah. He had to hand it to Alex Winters. He hadn't liked the man when Alex had first bought the club with his two best friends, Lucas Angelo and Malachi Coulter — not only because Alex had succeeded in getting Oliver's onetime girlfriend Maggie Jameson to become Maggie Winters — but the terrible trio knew what they were doing. This was the third season since they'd purchased the Saints from Maggie's dad, and the team had made the goddamned play-offs.
Which was why every man and woman even remotely connected to the Saints was currently blowing off steam for one night of insane partying before it was back to the grindstone. After tonight it would be tunnel-vision focus and a lot of sweat. Eyes on the prize twenty-four seven if they were going to achieve the next seemingly impossible goal — making it to the League Championship Series and then, if the stars aligned, to the World Series.
Ollie sipped his tequila — one of the other things Raina Easton knew how to do was stock a damned good tequila in her burlesque club — and watched the crowd. Across the room he saw Maggie's dark head next to Alex's blond one and found himself smiling. They were good together. They worked. In the way that he and Maggie, as much as he'd never wanted to admit it, never quite had.
Damn, that was way too serious a thought for tonight. Tonight, he'd decided, was for celebrating. He'd been pretty damned dedicated this season. Practically a monk. But even monks needed to give in to temptation occasionally, and this room was just chock-full of temptation, though no one had actually caught his eye yet. Which was why he was still drinking tequila alone at the bar instead of busting a move down on the tiny dance floor with some gorgeous woman. Like Raina was with her fiancé, soon-to-be-husband, Mal Coulter. Raina was a former Broadway dancer, among other things, so she was making Malachi work hard to keep up, but the two of them were grinning at each other like fools. Next to them, Finn Castro was dancing with a short blonde Oliver didn't recognize.
The sight soured his mood slightly. Castro had been a pain in the butt all season. A smart-ass whenever he thought he could get away with it. Temperamental. Too fond of partying. And always pushing for a chance to step into Oliver's position. The only thing that had saved him from being traded again was the fact he'd been playing very well. Not good enough to take Oliver's slot, but Alex had gotten more than his money's worth. Pity Castro was such a dick. A dick who was just going to have to keep making his peace with life in the outfield. Oliver wasn't going anywhere.
He drained his tequila, savoring the smooth burn for a minute, then decided that maybe it was time to slow down. He'd driven tonight, not wanting to break training completely. Also, if he did find some temptation to yield to, he preferred to drive them back to his place himself rather than use a driver.
Turning back to the bar, he waved at the skinny bald guy tending it and said, "Club soda," at the exact same moment a woman slid through the crowd at the bar and ordered the same thing.
She turned to look at him and said, "Snap," with a smile in big blue eyes almost the exact deep shade of the Saints logo. He found himself smiling back automatically. She had a pretty face, curving lips, and dimples to go with the eyes. Her hair was pulled up into some sort of messy bun arrangement at the back of her head, wisps of it coming loose around her face. In the low lighting of the bar, he couldn't really tell what color it was ... maybe blond, maybe red, maybe something in between.
The bartender slid two glasses across the bar toward them. Ollie nodded at her. "Lady's choice."
"Thanks," she said and leaned forward to take the nearest glass. Her dress was sleek and black and finished north of her knees, showing off a very nice pair of legs and equally sleek black high heels, but it wasn't the usual plunging, painted-on thing that girls who came to trawl Saints parties for talent wore. Who was she exactly?
He reached for the other glass, using the movement as an excuse to move slightly closer. "So, what has you hitting the hard stuff tonight?"
She stirred the soda with the straw. There were no rings on the slim fingers. "I could ask you the same question."
He started to say I'm in training, then stopped. For once he didn't feel like being Oliver Shields, first baseman. And his mystery companion hadn't shown any sign of recognizing who he was. "What if I said I'm on duty?"
Her eyebrows arched slightly. "On duty? Are you security? One of the guys' bodyguards?"
She didn't know who he was. This could be fun. "I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you. And that would just cause problems." He hit her with a smile. "Now I've told you, your turn."
"Me? I'm an economist at Pullman Waters," she said. "Wanna hear about the outlook for Southeast Asian currencies in the next few months?"
He nearly choked on his soda, and she burst into laughter. Deep throaty laughter that sank into his gut and spread outward and downward. Damn. His vague curiosity about her kicked itself up to very interested.
"Sounds fascinating." He didn't really know what an economist did but he was willing to find out.
"Really?" Amusement lurked in her eyes.
"'Round here the conversation revolves around baseball, so it's something new."
She laughed again, and his body reacted in the same way to the sound. He curled his fingers a little tighter around the glass.
"You get points for not falling asleep immediately," she said, smiling.
"I find it hard to believe that anyone could fall asleep on you."
She tilted her head but her smile didn't fade. And there was a glow of mischief in those big eyes he liked. "If you're going to flirt with me, you should tell me your name," she said.
Damn. He didn't feel like giving up his anonymity just yet. "Ladies first."
"Oh no, you started this, you go first."
There was a sudden loud cheer from the direction of the dance floor. He turned to see one of Raina's performers balancing on Sam Basara's shoulders. The kid — who was shaping up into a very nice pitcher — was grinning like all his Christmases had arrived at once as the girl on his shoulders did a pretty good bump and grind given her position.
"Interesting," said his mystery woman from beside him.
He turned back to her. "These guys get a little crazy when there's something to celebrate."
"Oh?" She closed her lips around the straw and sipped, and he suddenly found his attention riveted by the deep pink of her mouth. He leaned slightly forward, and a hint of her perfume — something heady and rich — reached him. His gut tightened again, and his attention zeroed in on her.
Who was this girl?
"Not too crazy," he said. Though right now he felt like getting a lot crazy. If crazy involved her.
"Everyone has to blow off steam sometime," she said. "So what are you celebrating?" Her eyes were laughing again.
She had to be teasing him. "You don't know? Did you crash the party or something?"
"I'm here with a friend."
A friend. That could mean a lot of things. A flash of disappointment hit. Of course she was here with someone. But she definitely wasn't dating any of the guys on the team. He knew all their wives and girlfriends. There were a few guys who were single. Like him. But none of them had mentioned bringing a date. Maybe she was here with a girlfriend?
"A friend —" he started to say then stopped as Finn Castro muscled his way up next to them and grinned at the mystery woman. Oliver felt his jaw tighten, a sensation far less pleasant than his reaction to her.
"Milly. There you are. I was looking for you." Finn turned his focus to Oliver, and his smile died. "This guy bugging you?"
She shook her head. "No, we were just talking while I got my drink." She looked from Finn to Oliver and back again, the pleasure in her eyes fading a little.
Oliver smiled at her and then narrowed his eyes at Finn, trying not to let his annoyance show on his face. Castro. Of course, she had to be here with Castro. Because life apparently had it in for him. "Finn," he said, trying to sound polite.
"Shields," Finn replied, and beside him Milly's eyes widened slightly, her expression turning wary as she glanced at Oliver. Oliver felt his gut tighten, wondering just what shit Finn had been talking about him. Plenty, he was sure. Their relationship hadn't improved any since that first incident in the locker room, and Castro didn't bother to hide it. He was barely polite to Oliver at work, so Oliver couldn't imagine Finn had anything good to say about him away from it.
Finn jerked his head toward the dance floor. "Come on, Milly, let's dance."
Milly — what that was short for? — held up her glass. "I haven't finished my drink." Her expression was still wary as she looked between the two of them.
"You can finish it with me."
"Finn, you're being rude." Her expression turned exasperated. Her tone wasn't annoyed girlfriend, more sisterly irritation. Interesting. Oliver felt a flash of hope that she might actually stay and talk to him.
"I'm just looking out for you," Finn retorted. "Shields here likes to sleep around. He's not the kind of guy you want to get involved with."
Oliver stiffened. "Excuse me?"
Beside him, Milly said, "We were just talking. Besides, I'm a big girl, Finn. I've been choosing my own dates for a long time now."
Finn scowled. "Yeah, well, don't pick Shields. He has a different girl every week."
Oliver bit back the urge to tell Finn exactly where he could shove his bullshit. That wasn't going to help the situation or impress Milly if she was really a friend of Castro's. Besides which, Finn was clearly on his way to drunk. Glassy-eyed and looking for trouble. And he was full of just enough youthful arrogance and stupidity to pick a fight. Which was the last thing anybody needed.
"I believe that's a case of the pot calling the kettle black," Milly said. She glanced up at Ollie, her expression somewhat assessing, and she focused on Finn again. "What happened to the blonde?"
"I came to find you. You said you'd dance with me."
She studied him for a long moment. Sighed. "Okay, I'll dance with you. But how about we get you a cup of coffee first?"
Damn it, she was going to go with Castro. Time to step back from the plate. "Good idea," Ollie said. He smiled at Milly. "It was nice to meet you, Milly the economist."
And then he turned and walked away.
Excerpted from Playing Hard by Melanie Scott. Copyright © 2016 Melanie Scott. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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