"A grand slam romance! FULL COUNT is sweet, sexy, and tackles tough issues with heart. Lynn Stevens has knocked this sports romance out of the park!" - Marie Meyer author of Turning Point
I know everyone has bad days, but mine is going to be hard to top.
I blew out my knee and probably trashed my chance of going pro. My girlfriend cheated on me. And my jerk of a professor tells me I’m almost on academic probation.
All in one day.
Awesome. I guess now I get to find a tutor.
Enter Mallory. She’s quiet, kind of intense, and gorgeous. She also happens to hate baseball and any guy who plays it.
Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m curious.
I tell myself that we'll keep things strictly academic. That tutoring is all I’m interested in from Mallory.
I’m a liar.
I want to know more about her. I want her.
I'm not sure which is the biggest challenge - getting back on the field, or unraveling all of Mallory's secrets.
Each book in the Westland University series is STANDALONE:
* Full Count
* Game On
About the Author
Lynn Stevens flunked out of college writing her first novel. Yes, she still has it and no, you can't read it. Surprisingly, she graduated with honors at her third school. A former farm girl turned city slicker, Lynn lives in the Midwest where she drinks coffee she can't pronounce and sips tea when she's out of coffee. When she's out of both, just stay away.
A lifelong fan of baseball, Lynn cheers for the St. Louis Cardinals and can be found most summer days in front of the TV with a game on, a book on her lap (for commercial breaks), and coffee by her side. That is if she’s not at the ballpark.
Read an Excerpt
Westland University Series
By Lynn Stevens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Lynn Stevens
All rights reserved.
We'd only been playing about five minutes when I went down. The rookies kicked the soccer ball right at Chuck, who caught it against his chest. I broke down the field as he flung the ball toward me. The throw was perfect, hitting the grass in front of my feet. I deked left to fake out Rosenthal, a freshman pitcher who could clock ninety-nine on the gun. He was also tall and a bit of a klutz. He raced my buddy Seth who blocked for me. Seth was fast, but the lanky freshman's stride was too much. Rosie's long pipe cleaner of a leg caught my calf as I fell. My knee bent in a way God never intended, and I hit the dying grass with a thud.
I think I screamed. I think I cried. I know I passed out, because I woke up in the hospital.
Fluorescent lights flashed over my head as the EMT rolled me down the hallway. My eyes burned at the glare. We weren't in any hurry. The guy grunted and turned the gurney right. The room was small — no window, just a bunch of machines, a bed, and a small TV high on the wall without any sound.
"All right, Mr. Betts, let's get you on this bed," the EMT said, blowing his coffee-scented breath over my face.
I held him off, using my own strength to get from the gurney and onto the bed. It felt like someone stuck my knee into a blazing fire and decided to stoke it with a sharp poker. My teeth ground together as I tried not to let the EMT see how much it hurt.
My father always told me, "Never let them see you flinch." It was a lot harder than it sounded.
"You okay, Mr. Betts?" he asked.
Was I okay? Fuck if I knew. Why did I play that pickup game? If Chuck hadn't insisted it was my responsibility as co-captain to haze the rookies, I wouldn't have bothered. I hated soccer.
Baseball was my game. And I was damn good at it.
The EMT glanced around the too-bright room for a moment before grinning down at me. "Saw you play last year against Stilton. Took my boy over to the game and watched you hit for the cycle." He chuckled at the memory. "When you smashed that 3-0 count over the right field wall, Malcolm about lost his voice from screaming. Had to buy him a Hawks shirt. He wears it almost every day now. Wants to play for Westland, too."
Despite my pain, I smiled at his excitement. That had been one of the best games I'd ever been a part of.
"Can I ask you something?" He paused and waited for my consent. Most people usually just asked away. "Heard you got drafted out of high school. Why'd you turn it down?"
I snorted. It wasn't the first time someone asked me. The minute I stepped into our team meeting at Westland my freshman year, five guys asked me in five minutes. "I can do better than the thirtieth round."
"Then why didn't you go to a Division 1 school? I heard Texas and Iowa wanted you."
Texas and Iowa did want me, but they offered partials. Westland offered a full ride. Besides, I'd dreamed of playing baseball at the same college my father had played. My parents only had to shell out the cash for food and a room. Everybody understood the money, but nobody understood the sentiment.
Trish had her heart set on Westland, too.
I shrugged with a grin. "Why do men always screw up their lives? For a girl."
That sent him into a belly laugh. "Ain't that the truth." He clasped my shoulder and squeezed. "You take care, Mr. Betts. Hopefully we'll see you on the field this spring."
The little drip of happiness our conversation gave me dried up. That had been my first thought as soon as my knee turned into scrambled eggs. The way it bent before separating and snapping back together, the fact that my kneecap wasn't in the right place anymore ... I doubted I'd be out in centerfield this spring. But maybe I was wrong. I had to be. The draft was in June, and I was eligible again. Not playing would drop me out of the first round, probably even the second, if not completely. Every day I wasn't on the field lessened my chances.
Sighing, I glanced at the bandage holding the ice pack to the bowling ball that was now my knee. There wasn't anything I could do to change what had happened. Any of it.
That's the shitty thing about "the past." It's unchangeable.CHAPTER 2
The ceiling fan clicked to the tune of "loser, loser, loser." It mocked me with its easy movement. Every time I twitched, pain swirled in my knee before exploding into my toes and up toward the backs of my eyes. I stared at my reflection in the black screen of my laptop as I waited for the video chat to ding a call. I used to have scrolling pictures of Trish as my screensaver. It had been black since the day of my injury.
The surgeon said to rest for a couple of days before putting pressure on it. He reconstructed my ACL two days ago, and I'd been sitting at home instead of in my dorm room ever since. Why didn't I pick something simple, less competitive? I'd only chosen soccer because it was fast and exciting compared to the golf game I'd been subjected to the last two years.
The video chat started up, dialing like the old rotary phone my parents kept in the kitchen. Crossing my arms over my chest, I settled back into my pillows and waited to be interviewed by the tutor. When Coach Hummel told me Monroe might flunk me, I thought he was joking. I'd called the history department and Monroe told me Coach wasn't bullshitting me. I hired the best tutor on campus the second I hung up with the prof from hell, but she required an interview. What kind of tutor interviewed students?
I rolled my thumb over the touch pad and clicked answer.
A girl with wild curls filled the screen. Actually, her hair filled most of the screen while her petite face frowned from the center. She had to be close to my age, even though the splattering of freckles made her look a few years south of legal. Not what I was expecting at all.
"I'm Mallory Fine." Her lips molded around each word. I opened my mouth to respond, but she didn't give me a chance. "If I agree to tutor you, I need your complete attention. I'm not going to waste my time on someone who isn't going to take this seriously."
She practically bit the last word. I fought the smirk, but it wasn't going to lose. Battling with my facial muscles had always been my tell.
"And I can see that you won't, Aaron. Good-bye," she snapped as she leaned toward the screen.
I sat up quickly, groaning at the pain in my knee. "Wait a minute. You haven't even given me a chance here."
She raised her perfectly crafted eyebrows, ones that didn't need to arch to question your very existence.
"Look, it's too late for me to drop the class, and Monroe won't let me turn in my work late, and my first paper was a solid D. I missed two quizzes and a second paper. The only way I can make up the grades is a twenty-page research paper in my worst subject. If I fail, they won't let me play ball in the spring. You're the best history tutor on campus, and I need the best to pass." I fell back into my pillows, wishing like hell I hadn't shredded my ACL. Since the game, I'd missed all my classes. Unfortunately, Modern American History was the one course with an unsympathetic prof. The rest cut me some slack. "I will take this serious, Mallory."
"Dr. Monroe can be ... harsh." Her shoulders dropped, and so did her attitude. "I prefer payment weekly as a bank transfer."
Straight to the point. I liked that in people. "No problem."
"And my fee is not negotiable."
"I didn't think it was."
"When will you be back on campus?"
"Monday. The doc said I can start using crutches then." Even mentioning my injury made my knee throb.
"We'll need to meet at least twice a week, but I think three times would be better knowing Dr. Monroe's grading scale. We'll meet in the library on the third floor." She glanced at something on her desk. "I'll email you a schedule for the sessions. Any questions?"
I shook my head.
"Then I'll see you in a few days." She paused and sucked the right corner of her lower lip into her mouth, turning Mallory into the hot librarian so many guys fantasized about. Damn. "I'm not going to lie to you, Aaron. I don't think this is a good idea."
That yanked me out of my soon-to-be-X-rated fantasy. "Why?"
Her eyes darted down for a split second before turning hard when she raised them again. She reached forward. "I don't like baseball players."
My mouth dropped open, but before I could formulate a response, she signed out. What the hell? She didn't like baseball players? Of all the crazy-ass reasons —
My door flew open, and my little sister ran into my room.
"How'd it go?" Chelsea flopped dramatically onto my bed, jostling the mattress. It might've been cute when she was a little kid, but at eighteen, my sister wasn't little anymore. A wave of pain rolled through my leg.
"Shit, Chels. Be careful." I grabbed the sides of my leg, as if that would stop the throbbing.
She sat up, her gaze darting to my knee. "Sorry."
"S'kay." I lifted my ass off the mattress one cheek at a time to get some feeling back. Being bedridden was not fun. "And it went fine I guess. She agreed to tutor me."
"Weird. You always managed a solid C average without help in high school." Chelsea fidgeted, shuffling her feet on the navy-blue rug beneath her.
"Yeah, well, college Cs are high school As." I waited for the static to build and for her to zap me with her finger. But thankfully that didn't happen. She was too distracted. "What's going on?"
Her gaze darted around my room, pausing at the corkboard with a map of the world and pictures of me with Trish. I'd avoided looking at them since I'd been home, but they needed to come down. Trish made it clear we were over, but I just wasn't ready to let go yet. Not like she did. Four years don't disappear overnight. I almost told Chelsea, but for whatever reason, I kept the breakup to myself. Maybe I'd hoped Trish would change her mind. Maybe I wanted everything back that she'd taken away when she dumped me. The lines blurred lately. If I was honest with myself, I didn't miss Trish as much as I missed the clear path I'd set out on: college, marriage, MLB career, World Series ring, family, retirement, taking over Betts Family Farm and Implement. The only things that were certain now were college and Betts Family Farm and Implement.
"I sent them off." She turned to look at me. Her nerves almost made her vibrate. "The applications. For New York. I applied to every school for early action. Hell, I even applied to a few in New Jersey."
"Mom's going to shit." That was an understatement. This wasn't going to be easy for my sister.
"Ya think?" She rubbed her hands over her thighs and stood to pace from the closet to the bed.
"And she'll get over it. Don't worry." I nodded to reassure myself as well as Chelsea. "She'll get over it. Give her time."
Chelsea stopped and stared at me with tea-saucer-wide eyes. "I hope."
"Remember how she freaked out when I was drafted in the thirtieth round? And when Texas A&M offered me a partial scholarship?" I shook my head. Being drafted, that was a dream come true, but I wanted to get drafted higher. A lot of players choose college over low A ball. And I was eligible again after this year; I just needed to get my ass back on the field. "She worried about me going a few hours away to Westland. She got over that."
"True. But Madison's in Iowa, not New York." Chelsea pressed her fingers against her eyes, rubbing them as if she just woke up. "At least you didn't go to San Diego or Texas."
"Nah, too hot there." I smiled. "You do understand why she's freaking out, right?"
Chelsea sighed. "Yeah, I know."
Mom had told the story of us getting mugged in New York a million times. One incident ten years ago and she was determined never to let us out of her sight. She'd taken us to New York, to Broadway, because she knew how much my sister loved the stage. That's the story she used on me when I was drafted. But I knew better. Mom didn't want us to grow up, move out, and leave her. "She'll let you go, Chels. And she'll worry every single day." I shrugged. "So will I. It's kinda our thing."
She finally smiled before bouncing over to kiss my cheek. "Thanks, bro."
Chelsea ran out of the room, slamming the door behind her. The girl was a whirlwind of energy. Mom wasn't going to let her go without a fight. Her fears outweighed anything else. But I had Chelsea's back. And she knew it.
I glanced over at the corkboard. Prom pictures, homecoming photos, courtwarming dances. All of the things Trish and I had done in high school. I'd left them behind when we both left Medill for Westland University. My dorm had the photos from our first two years of college. I'd boxed them up the day she told me it was over.
Four years with the girl I'd planned on marrying someday.
I closed the computer and put it on the desk by my bed. Four years I wasted. Thinking about everything we had and wouldn't have was a rabbit hole I didn't want or need to go down. Living in the past wasn't going to get me through a new future. Neither was living with the what-ifs. So my plan had to change when it came to her. I just hoped the baseball career wasn't going out the window, too.
I popped a painkiller and pushed my duffel off the bed with my good leg. It didn't take long for the ache in my knee to fade as the meds kicked in.CHAPTER 3
At least my dorm room was on the first floor.
I opened the door and tossed my bag inside, grateful once again that Mom and Dad had gotten me a private room.
There wasn't much to it: a single bed, a desk for my laptop and books, a dresser where I had my trophies, and the closet. Pretty much the size of the average prison cell. Dorm rooms weren't made for comfort, but it was home. I hobbled over to the twin bed and fell back onto the blue and gold comforter. Dad sat beside me, staring out the window at the fading daylight.
"What happened to that poster you had over there?" Dad pointed to an empty spot between the closet and the window. Michael Arrington, a two-time gold glove centerfielder, had hung there.
I shrugged. "Didn't want a cheater hanging on my walls."
"Steroids are ruining the game." Arrington claimed his first positive test was a fluke, but he took the suspension in stride. The second one he blamed on recovering from an injury and not paying attention to what the doctor prescribed him. The third time banned him from baseball for life. Nobody cared what bullshit he spewed from his mouth. Michael Arrington cheated.
"You'll be fine, you know that, right?" Dad turned to face me, but the distant look in his eyes was enough to understand that he wasn't really talking about me.
"Yeah, I know. I don't want to redshirt this season, though." I scooted up so my back was against the wall. This is what we've been waiting for, right? To get drafted again. To get drafted higher than the thirtieth round.
"Another couple of weeks and you'll start PT with the trainers. Hummel's already talked to the doc about getting you ready. We'll see where you are after PT." He slapped my good leg. "Don't worry, Aaron. A knee injury isn't the end of the world."
Could be the end of baseball, though. Right, Dad? Like father, like son.
"Just don't do anything stupid." He tapped his bad knee and stood. With his hand on the door, he turned back toward me. His eyes darkened as a distant memory took over. "Be better than me, boy. With modern medicine, you can recover from this. You still have a shot."
He left without another word. Dad wasn't much of a talker, but I knew him as well as I knew myself. During his senior year in college, his drunk buddy knocked him down the stairs of the frat house they lived in. Dad broke his leg, blew out a knee, and almost broke his neck. The accident ended his playing days. He didn't set foot on a baseball field until I started T-ball. Then our life was baseball and nothing else. He held out hope I'd be scouted as much as he'd been. When I got drafted, he was the first person I told. Dad celebrated. Until I decided to go to Westland instead. It was the right decision. I would've been eaten alive at eighteen. Now I was ready. Now I could hold my own.
Shaking off the feeling of disappointing him again, I took my computer out of my bag and powered up. The first email I saw was from MFine. I laughed at Mallory's last name. She was pretty fine with that pixie face and hair a guy could get lost in. I opened it and smiled.
Excerpted from Full Count by Lynn Stevens. Copyright © 2017 Lynn Stevens. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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