At twenty-two, Thane Wells is the highest-paid pitcher in Major League Baseball—and he owes it all to his adoptive Mama, “Queen” Elizabeth Sommerville, a wise, beautiful, entrepreneurial African-American woman who always encouraged him and his two white brothers to reach for the stars…the woman Thane still talks to daily. He never dreamed their most recent conversation would be their last. With his beloved supporter suddenly gone, Thane is grief-stricken, shaken, and vulnerable—especially to a woman like Kari Meyers.
Kari’s had her eye on Thane for a while, but strictly for business. As a junior sports agent, she’s hungry to sign him, especially when she hears his current agent will be retiring soon. When she finally locates Thane, she’s shocked to discover he’s attending his mother’s funeral—and he’s shocked to find Kari in his hotel room. Assuming she’s an escort is just the beginning of their misunderstandings. But one thing that’s clear is their mutual attraction. As a single mom with an NBA ex, Kari has a rule against dating athletes. Yet as circumstances bring the two closer together, they just might find they’re on the same team, heart and soul…
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Head Over Heels
By Crystal B. Bright
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Crystal B. Bright
All rights reserved.
Five years ago
Kari Meyers stared at her reflection in the ladies' room mirror at the Hilton Hotel in New York, trying to will herself to appear more important than she felt. She hadn't waited for the ink to dry on her diploma from Old Dominion University when she made the trek to this hotel on the heels of a man. No, a boy. Hell, who was she kidding? Even at seventeen, Thane Wells looked like a grown man with a lot of stories.
She could have kicked herself for her salacious thoughts. No other sports agent, especially one starting out, would think of a potential client like a sexual being — even if the client had thick, dark brown hair that begged to have fingers raked through it, and aquatic-blue eyes that made her want to dive in deep and get lost in them for years without coming up for air. She couldn't forget his strong jaw, sleek nose, and his set of full, kissable lips.
For a white boy, he had swagger. For a college freshman, he had an impressive pitch. Kari had to remember that and stop contemplating whether he would find an African-American woman a few years his senior attractive.
Her phone rang in her purse at the same time the door to the bathroom opened. Kari ignored the woman that had come into the restroom when she saw the name on her caller ID.
"Hey, Grandpa." Kari smiled.
"My baby. How are you doing up there? Did you get Thane to sign on as your client?" His strong voice powered through the few cracks that riddled his speech.
"I haven't met him yet. Psyching myself up first." The wild, flapping vultures in her stomach hadn't settled since she'd arrived by Amtrak that afternoon to crash this baseball-recruiting event.
Llewellyn Meyers didn't mince words. Never had. "You know sports. You're the one who found this cat's information when he was in high school. And you just got that degree."
Kari heard a giggling sound through the phone that made her smile and almost tear up.
"And you have this little guy here depending on you."
Kari could almost see her grandfather smiling.
"Say hi to your mother."
"Hi, Mama!" Michael screamed.
Little kids her son's age had no volume control. Kari loved it.
"I shouldn't have taken this trip right now. I just graduated last week." Kari peered over at the stately looking African-American woman who busied herself by slathering a coat of red lipstick over her lips.
She looked flawless. Her eyebrows sat perfectly arched over her full brown eyes. Her eyelashes looked good enough to be fake — full, long, and curly. She wore a sensible skirt and matching jacket, but with the cream-colored silk shirt underneath, she pulled off a feminine yet strong look.
Kari scanned her own outfit. She wore a simple red wrap dress and had her shoulder-length brown hair in simple waves around her face. She'd thought she looked appropriate ... until she saw this woman.
"Don't be silly," Llewellyn said. "I don't mind watching this little guy. You've worked hard. You've put yourself through college. You recognized that young man's talent before all the other big agents, including Alec Fogel. Sign him and come home and tell us all about it."
Kari smiled. "You always believe in me, even when I screw up."
"Hey," Llewellyn said quickly. "You haven't made a mistake in your life. People have disappointed you. But things happen for a reason. That boy that left you years ago gave you a great little son."
She smiled. "Michael is a blessing." She took a deep breath. "I'll do my best, Grandpa. As soon as I meet Thane, I'm coming right back home."
"Do what you need to do. Love you."
"Love you. Give Michael a hug and kiss from me." Kari made a kissing sound on the phone before disconnecting the call.
She surveyed her appearance again. Feeling a tad casual next to the Queen of England standing next to her, Kari pulled out a tube of lipstick and painted her lips a rose color.
"First time leaving your child at home for an extended period?" the woman asked out of the blue.
Kari turned to her. Her bathroom companion's simple and genuine smile made Kari relax a little.
"Was it that obvious?" She tossed the lipstick in her purse and exhaled. "I felt mommy-guilt when I went back to college. Now that I've graduated, I'm trying so hard to make a good life for the two of us. I feel bad leaving him, even if it's only for a day."
"I understand. I had three young boys myself at one time and was running my own businesses."
Kari blinked. "You did all that on your own?"
She nodded. "At one point, I had a husband. But he was more of a nuisance than anything else. Got rid of him but kept my boys." She smoothed her hand over her hair. "So you're here on business?"
Kari nodded. "Trying to become a sports agent. I want to start my own business and not work for someone else. I know it'll be difficult. But I'm not going to give up."
Kari's new confidante nodded and carried the biggest grin.
Kari continued. "I thought if I could get this player I've been watching since his high school days, it would get me noticed."
The woman raised her eyebrows. "Wow. So you came here on your own to sign an athlete as a client, and you haven't even started working yet? That takes a lot of nerve and guts. I admire that. You're not looking for anyone to hand you anything. You're willing to do it all on your own. Reminds me a lot of myself several years ago." She held out her hand. "Elizabeth."
Kari shook it. "Kari. Nice to meet you." She should have guessed the woman's skin would be soft to the touch. "Do you live in New York or just visiting?"
"Here on business. So you're meeting an athlete here?" Elizabeth tucked her clutch under her arm.
Kari nodded. "I don't have a meeting set up with him or anything. I was hoping to see him and talk to him." Her body felt warm all over as she thought about Thane Wells. "He's going to be amazing on a major league team someday."
"Who is that? Someone named Thane?"
"Yes, Thane Wells. He's a great pitcher. I know all his stats now that he's in college. I understand he got invited up here by the Yankees. I don't know if he has an agent yet, but I would love to get in on the ground floor." She lowered her voice and leaned closer to Elizabeth. "It doesn't hurt that he's extremely good looking."
"He just started college. Don't you think he should finish?"
Kari blinked. "You are a mom. Yes, he should finish if he can. But his best earning years are now."
"And you sound like an agent." Elizabeth moved in closer to Kari. "Let me give you a bit of business advice. It appears that you've done your homework. For that reason, you should come at him in a more businesslike way and not, um, with putting all your assets out there."
Kari peered down at her attire again, this time catching a glimpse at her exposed cleavage. "I thought I looked professional." She pulled the top of her dress together.
"If you truly did, you wouldn't have adjusted your dress." Elizabeth lowered her voice. "You might be seeing a male client, but you need to look like a professional woman. Don't think you can snare him with your looks. You're smart. I can tell that from our short conversation. Show him you care about propelling his career and he'll be happy to sign. Don't expect him to do it because he's attracted to you or because you're attracted to him."
Kari shook her head. "I was planning on winning this guy over by spouting his stats. Nothing else."
"Do you have any contacts yet?"
Kari remained quiet. She'd made some connections with minor league teams, but nothing on the level of a major league team. Her silence must have answered Elizabeth's question.
"The meet-and-greet may happen, but you may not get him to take you seriously now. Maybe in a few years." Elizabeth put her hand on Kari's shoulder. "But I do like you. I wish you all the best. I'm sure you're going to do great things in the future."
Too stunned to talk, Kari remained quiet as Elizabeth walked out of the bathroom. Great. Now she felt self-conscious about everything — her look, her approach, her pitch. She grabbed a paper towel and scrubbed the abrasive gray material over her lips to remove some of the lipstick.
Although Elizabeth had talked to Kari like a mother, Kari appreciated the words of wisdom. Kari hadn't realized she had dressed more like a bar hopper than an agent. Since she didn't plan on staying overnight, she hadn't brought extra clothes. She pulled her dress together even more to cut down on the view of her cleavage, and she cinched the belt tighter. Then she stopped.
She'd come to New York on a head full of steam and her nerve. Her grandfather believed in her. She had done all of this for her and Michael's future. She couldn't let the words of a stranger make her doubt herself.
Kari reapplied her lipstick, fluffed up her hair, and marched out of the bathroom. Confidence would get her through this moment. So far, her nerve had gotten her to a city she'd never been, to meet a man she'd never met and make a proposition to catapult her career.
The silence of the bathroom had shielded her from the noise and activity in the hotel lobby. Guests and employees strolled by her. Working on instincts, she walked down a hallway that led to several conference rooms. She stopped when she spotted Thane standing at the end of a hallway.
Even in jeans, a collared shirt, and sneakers, he didn't come off as a kid. Maybe it had something to do with his height or his slightly muscular frame. He had his back to her for a moment in the empty corridor. When he turned around and spotted her, he froze. He stared at her before a smile rose.
Kari's heart pounded. The words of a stranger echoed in her head. She had to go into this with business on her mind and forget that even from several feet away, his incredible eyes pierced right through to her soul.
Thane took a step toward her, but a couple of men, coming from a nearby conference room halted his movements. They spoke to him simultaneously as they guided him into the room and closed the door.
"Damn." Kari marched back and forth in a tight three-foot area. She couldn't just barge in and interrupt the meeting. She wanted a chance to talk to Thane first.
"Ma'am, are you a guest of the hotel?"
Kari felt the hand on her shoulder before she heard the question. She turned to see a hotel security guard standing behind her.
"No, I'm not a guest," Kari answered honestly. When she saw the guard gearing up to boot her out, she continued. "I'm with the Yankees talking to a recruit. They have Thane Wells in the room down there." Part of her statement held some truth.
The guard held up his hand. "I apologize. Let me know if there's anything I can get you."
"Bottle of water would be great." She might as well play this up for all she could.
"Of course." He walked away.
As she waited for Thane to reemerge, she thought of all the arguments she would make to get him to take a chance on her as a new, untried, untested agent. She paced around and caught sight of a couple of businessmen sitting in the lobby. As she stared at them, she recognized one. Legendary sports agent Alec Fogel had made a trip all the way to New York for Thane. She knew it.
She didn't recognize the man beside him. It didn't matter. The fact that she'd spotted talent that had attracted a monumental agent like Alec Fogel made her want to pat herself on the back. She heard the conference room door open and laughter coming from down the hallway.
Kari brought her attention back to that area. She saw Thane emerging with one of the Yankees' coaches. She started to approach them when she stopped in her tracks again. This time, Thane's great looks had nothing to do with her hesitation. Someone else strolled out of the room that she'd never expected she would see. The woman Kari had had a conversation with in the bathroom followed the duo and stood next to Thane. Was she another agent?
No, she'd given Kari advice and wished her luck. Or maybe she'd done that to get into Kari's head. Only one way to find out. Kari started down the hallway when she felt a vise-like grip around her upper arm. She turned to see the security guard again and another employee.
"All the Yankees' employees have been checked in already. Nice try, lady," the employee said. "Please escort her out of the hotel."
"Wait. No. You don't understand." Kari attempted to dig her heels into the sandy-colored ceramic tile floor. "I need to talk to Thane Wells. If I can do that, I'll leave."
"Honey, I'm sure someone in your business would love to talk to some clients. You're not doing that in here." The security guard pulled her roughly toward the door.
"Stop. I'm not who you think I am. I'm a sports agent." She managed to crane her head around the guard to see Thane, Elizabeth, and the real Yankees staff members walking out into the lobby. This would be her only chance to make an impression. "Thane! Thane!" She waited for him to look at her before she could be thrown out into the street. "Finish college and then sign with a team. Get with a good farm team. With your pitching stats, you can get top dollar."
"Be quiet and leave the premises," the guard spoke between gritted teeth.
Kari ignored him and made one final plea. "You would be worth every penny. Sign with me, and I can take you far."
Before she could see if she made an impact, she got pushed outside the door, nearly toppling to the ground. Kari managed to keep her balance. She wouldn't be caught flailing even though she had failed.
"And stay out." The guard pointed at her and turned back into the hotel.
Kari stood on the sidewalk and tried peering into the glass doors to see if her words had gotten through to Thane. Had he heard her and, more importantly, did he believe her?
After waiting an hour in front of the hotel, Kari chalked up her stunt as a disaster. Thane had probably heard her pleas, but apparently her words hadn't made any impact. Or maybe they had, and whoever this Elizabeth woman was to him had convinced him that Kari couldn't represent him or his career.
She glanced at her watch. If she hurried, she could make it down to Penn Station and get home to tuck her baby into bed.
Kari started to head down the street when she heard a voice behind her.
She turned, hoping to see Thane calling for her. Instead, she saw the other businessman who had been sitting with Alec Fogel. Out of curiosity, she waited as he walked up to her.
"Do I know you?" Kari asked as she held on to the strap of her purse.
"No. And I don't know you, but I'd like to." The statuesque older man ran his hand over his silver hair. "My name is Frank Milliner. I'm the owner of the Winning Edge Agency. I heard what you said in there to Thane Wells. What agency do you work at now?"
Kari regarded him for a moment before speaking. "I don't. I was hoping to sign him up as my client."
"Wait. You don't work at an agency? How did you even know about him?"
Great. Another man who probably underestimated her passion for sports and her drive for a career. She would have to correct that perception right now.
"I review high school teams and watch players like a scout. Thane came up on my radar when he threw that no-hitter during his senior year of high school. He's only gotten better in college. He's going to be a beast on the field. I'm guessing Elizabeth knew that."
Frank furrowed his eyebrows. "Who's Elizabeth?"
"That woman who was with him." She pointed into the hotel.
He chuckled. "That's Elizabeth Sommerville, Thane Wells's mother. She adopted him and his two brothers."
"I know about Gunnar and Gideon Wells. I had no idea they were adopted. But I've focused on Thane." With good reason, she wanted to say.
Gunnar had already become an MMA champion by the time Kari had found out she would be a mother at the age of sixteen. Gideon began his career as an NFL quarterback during her freshman year of college.
Now she understood Elizabeth's motherly advice. She hadn't been trying to steer Kari clear of Thane because she wanted his business. She'd been protecting her son from a potential gold digger or worse. Of course, it would have been nice if Elizabeth had told Kari of her relationship to Thane. Then again, if she had, it would have made Kari even more nervous.
"I could use someone like you in my company. I'm assuming you've finished school." Frank crossed his arms over his chest as he studied her.
He laughed and shook his head. "Yes, you are exactly what I need for my business. We should talk." He tried to guide her back into the hotel.
Kari stayed cemented to the cracked walkway. "I'm not exactly welcome back in there. Can we meet somewhere else?"
Frank smiled. "Of course."
Although she'd missed one opportunity, she hoped this one would turn out to be a winner. That didn't mean she would be giving up on Thane Wells. He wouldn't be the one who got away.CHAPTER 2
"I shouldn't do this." Thane Wells stared at his reflection in his hotel room's bathroom mirror.
He braced his hands on the granite countertop as he gathered himself. The slight pain in his abdomen still throbbed. Thane took a couple of deep breaths and hoped that it would help ease the gut-wrenching feeling.
He grabbed a bottle of a pink, thick fluid. He downed a couple of gulps and waited for it to make it to his stomach before he followed it with some mouthwash. He spat out the minty, green liquid and took another cleansing breath before he left the bathroom.
Excerpted from Head Over Heels by Crystal B. Bright. Copyright © 2016 Crystal B. Bright. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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