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By Catherine Coulter
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"It's a base hit, George! Run!"
George threw down her bat and dashed toward first base. She kicked it with her sneakered toe and rounded toward second. She saw the center fielder scoop up the softball and sling it clumsily toward the second baseman. Doctors, she thought, panting slightly as she headed for third, do not even make for decent competition. She held up on third, and waved the victory sign toward her teammates on the sidelines.
"I've never seen a girl hit a softball like that," Dr. Elliot Mallory observed lazily to Dr. David Thornton.
"Is she one of the new residents?" David asked, gulping down another swallow of his cold beer.
"Not that I know of," Elliot said. He stretched his long legs and leaned back against a tree trunk. "Lord, it's hot today."
"It is July, you know, Elliot, and we are in the East Bay. Your blood's thinned out from living in San Francisco."
Elliot looked up at the crack of a bat against the ball and watched the girl run gracefully from third to home. He heard moans from the opposition. "I'd like to have seen her slide," he remarked.
David cocked an amused eyebrow at him. "She does have very long, very bare legs," he said, shading his eyes with his hand to get a better look at the girl, who was now laughingand joking with her teammates on the sideline. "You want to dab iodine on any scratches she'd get?"
Elliot laughed. "I can't see her well enough from here. She's probably someone's teenage daughter." He looked up as a shadow fell over his shoulder.
"What a couple of lazy slugs," Dr. Margaret Smith said, grinning down at the two men.
"Whoever heard of mixing gynecology residents with radiology residents at the annual picnic?" Elliot said. "I don't see you out there competing, Maggie. You or your chairman here."
"I haven't forgotten the sprained ankle I got from one of you macho men in our football game last year. Friendly touch game, ha!"
David shaded his eyes. "Looks like our star softball player with the long legs is headed for the volleyball court."
"She is very athletic," Margaret said, watching the girl stride gracefully alongside Dr. Randy Hansen, a new first-year radiology resident.
"Hi, guys," Doris Thornton said gaily. She kicked her husband lightly in the ribs. "Come on, jock, it's time to show your stuff. They're choosing sides for volleyball and I want the chance to cream both of you.
"Go get 'em, Doris," Maggie laughed. "I'll be your cheering section."
Elliot fished his sunglasses out of his shirt pocket and slid them on. "I don't suppose you'll take maybe for an answer, Doris?" he asked, grinning up into her pixie face.
"No chance, you bum! Come on, both of you, or I'll burn your hamburgers!"
"Just so long as you don't burn our buns," David said, only to receive another toe on his ribs. He groaned, but struggled to his feet. "I'm too old for this."
Elliot joined him, and together they headed toward the court. Obligingly, Elliot and David took the opposite side of the court. Elliot, his six-foot-three-inch height a definite asset, started at the net, David, five-foot-eight in his shoes, beside him.
Elliot looked over the opposition, including Doris, who was making a face at them through the net, and said aloud to David, "No humiliation for us today, my man. Just a bunch of women."
"Don't let Doris hear you say that. She might be small, but she's mean." David laughed and practiced setting the volleyball to Elliot.
George's eyes narrowed. She was pulling the net taut and heard the comment. Conceited jerk! "Hey, Randy," she said to the slender young man who was standing at the net. "Let me trade places with you, all right?"
Randy Hansen shrugged. "Sure, George." His gray eyes narrowed against the bright sun. "I don't like it, though. You won't come up to serve until almost last."
There were nine players on each team, and seven of the players on George's team were women.
"Let the weaker sex begin!" David called out. "With my wife serving it will be a piece of cake."
Doris stuck out her tongue at her husband and caught the volleyball from George. "Lay it on 'em, Doris," George said.
Doris served the ball high and soft, right to her husband. He set it smoothly, and in the next instant, George saw the man with the big mouth leap up gracefully and slam the ball down behind her. There were boos and shouts from both teams, and Maggie shouted encouragement from the sideline.
George cocked her head to one side and examined the man anew. She liked what she saw. He was exceptionally tall and well built, with wide shoulders, a lean waist and firm, thick thighs. His thick black hair curled loosely about his head. He moved with the natural grace of an athlete. But he had to be a doctor, she supposed, frowning slightly. She and Randy had arrived late, and she hadn't met him. She wished she could see his eyes, but his sunglasses were darkly tinted.
The other team served, and a woman in the middle row struck at the ball wildly, sending it flying out of bounds. The next serve was short, barely clearing the net. George, a smile on her lips, timed her jump well and smashed the ball right into the man's face.
The sunglasses cracked and slid from his nose, and she stared into beautiful leaf-green eyes, staring back at her in mute surprise. He was undoubtedly a splendid male specimen. George, who knew little enough about flirting, reacted in the only way she knew.
She challenged him.
"It might help if you keep awake!" she shouted, laughing.
To her delight, the man grinned widely, showing even white teeth.
"George," Randy wailed from behind her, "don't insult my boss!"
"Well," George said, "I hope he's a better doctor than a volleyball player." She sent Randy's boss a dazzling smile.
Elliot wasn't insulted, he was amused and intrigued. He studied the girl across the net as the game continued haphazardly around him. She wasn't a teenager, but she was young, early twenties, he guessed, and incredibly lovely. She was tall, with slim, straight tanned legs that seemed to go on forever. Her hair, a deep honey color, was pulled back from her flawless face into a bedraggled ponytail. She wore no makeup and looked as clean and fresh as sunshine. He wondered, cynically, if her hair was dyed.
As both teams rotated to change servers, he glanced over her body. She wore a T-shirt with Beau Jangles across the chest and cutoff jeans. He watched her set the ball smoothly and easily, and watched her breasts rise as she jumped. He wanted to meet her.
"Hey, Elliot," David called to him. "Wake up! The game's nearly over."
Elliot waved his hand toward David, then turned to watch her move to the service line. His team was leading by an easy thirteen to five score. She handled the ball easily, and that should have warned him. In the next moment, the ball whizzed straight at him, low and hard. A man's serve. She caught him unawares, and the ball bounced off his belly onto the ground. He heard her laugh and her teammates cheer wildly.
"Bet you can't do that again!" David shouted out. Her next serve nearly flattened him with its speed and force.
Elliot was so busy laughing that he again missed the ball that was served straight at him. He settled down and managed her next serve, but Hoover, a third-year resident, bobbled it.
He heard her shout, "Practice makes perfect!" and took the serve again. When his team finally managed to return the ball, Doris, in a stroke of blind luck, struck it with the palm of her hand and got it back over.
Excerpted from Aftershocks by Catherine Coulter Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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