Shy and reserved, good girl Ellie McDonald is determined to break out of her shell—and her relationship rut. First order of business? Woman up and finally ask her longtime secret crush, Jake Armstrong, on an old-fashioned date. She’s not at all his type—which is great. Once Jake turns her down, she can finally move on.
Except he says yes...
MVP shortstop Jake Armstrong has tried to keep his bad boy nature under wraps. But there’s nothing he likes more than tempting sweet Ellie to the dark side. No one needs to know.
But when the hotel catches fire and their rescue—while nearly naked—is caught on camera, the two have a PR problem. Jake’s solution is a fake relationship, just for the season. Only for Ellie, there’s nothing fake about it…
Each book in the Locker Room Diaries series is STANDALONE:
* Hitting It
* Sliding Home
* Hard and Fast
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"What did you say?" my sister gasped. She loved gasping. She also loved not waiting for me to answer. "Tell me you kicked her ass."
I shook my head. "She's my boss."
Rachel rolled her eyes as she took a vicious bite of her cheeseburger. We were in my parents' backyard at a picnic barbecue in honor of my cousin, the amazing catcher for the Indianapolis Bobcats. Though I lived in Indiana, I'd driven up to Chicago for the party and to hang with my older sister. Fortunately, the team had just pounded the White Sox, so everyone was in a good mood as they ate burgers and chips. But despite the huge selection of hot male specimens lounging around the patio, Rachel's attention was all on me and my job disaster. "She's not a boss. She's a vicious dictator. You need to put her in her place."
Easy for her to say. In fact, being bold was exactly what Rachel did best. Right from the shock of red in her flyaway blond hair to her artfully sliced band T-shirt. She was a radio personality whose voice sparkled as much as the rest of her animated body. Me? What was easiest for me was keeping my mouth shut as I did what I was told at work. I was a nurse, and we weren't paid to make trouble. Besides, I had too much school debt to risk losing my job.
"It wasn't your fault," she stressed.
"I also didn't catch the error," I argued. A doctor had ordered the wrong medicine, and being the nighttime medicine nurse, I had filled it. It would take more brass balls than I had to question a doctor's orders, but the patient had nearly died and someone had to take the blame. According to Mrs. Sargent (and yes, that was her real name), that shitstorm was headed for me.
"No, no, no! You cannot let her get away with that!" My sister had always been my champion. The problem was that this wasn't grade school anymore. She couldn't just throw Joey Winston, the class bully, into the mud and end the teasing forever. Besides, Mrs. Sargent wasn't the real problem.
"Look, I've got a plan. Better yet, I'm executing it."
Rachel sat up and leaned forward with a low, "Ooooo! Sounds juicy."
I nodded, feeling my heartbeat speed up. It wasn't excitement. It was terror. But at least I wasn't sweating, so that was an improvement. "It's called exposure therapy. I'm doing something every day that gets me rejected. Eventually, this kind of stuff won't bother me anymore."
My sister blinked at me. "Come again?"
"Look, I noticed that the medicine looked weird, but I was too intimidated to ask about it. The head nurse that night is a real witch, and I knew she'd tell me to do what the doctor ordered."
"That's always been my problem. I'm too afraid of being wrong to speak up."
"You're cautious. That's not a bad thing." She gestured to the empty seat beside her. "You notice a distinct lack of male companionship sitting here? That's because Freddie was a dick. With three other women. If I had a little bit more of your caution —"
"You'd still be ten times bolder than I am."
"That's not true! You used to take risks all the time. You tried skydiving in college —"
That had been because of a guy. Bad choice — the guy, not the skydiving. Though eventually I gave up both.
"You enter trivia contests when you know nothing about sports —"
That was just fun.
"And you organized that kazoo squad for homecoming."
I'd done that, and yes, it'd been pretty out-there. But then I'd had a string of bad-choice boyfriends, which had shot my dating confidence. Then I thought I could manage school, a job, and an apartment on my own. The exhaustion was topped off with a bout of mono, which ended with me losing my job, dropping a semester of school, and living back at home while Mom told me every day that I had to be more careful. I hadn't taken a risk since, and I was just now realizing how big a problem it had become.
I straightened to my full height. "I haven't done a risky anything since I moved to Indianapolis two years ago. But I'm changing that."
"By getting rejected every day?"
I grinned. "And living to tell the tale. I've already done it five times, and look, I'm still breathing."
"Okay, color me intrigued. What exactly have you done?"
I flushed hot at the memory of my first rejection. It had been stupid and terrifying. "I went into a Starbucks and asked for a burger."
She tilted her head. "They don't sell burgers."
"I know! That's what the guy said, but I didn't hear him. I was too busy scurrying away." Just the memory of how my pulse had pounded a thousand beats a minute was enough to make my hands sweat in embarrassment. "It was a tiny, silly thing, and I was terrified. I ran straight for my car without even getting any coffee."
My super-supportive, always-in-my-corner sister wrinkled her nose. "That's just dumb."
"I know! Who's afraid of a barista?" I held up my hand. "But I survived."
"But you didn't make sense, either. Ellie, you were a straight-A student, captain of the volleyball team, and you've read like every book in the library. You're an ace at everything you try."
I grimaced. Didn't my sister get it? I aced everything I tried because if I thought I'd fail, I wouldn't even make the attempt. I wasn't stupid. Just really, really afraid to screw up. And that was a big problem. No one could go through life constantly afraid they'd fail. It made me timid, and that was unacceptable in a nurse. I needed to be a strong advocate for my patients, not a shy wallflower.
Meanwhile, Rachel was still struggling to understand. "Did you seriously just run away?"
I exhaled. "That became my new rule. No running away. I nearly rear-ended a SUV just getting out of the parking lot."
"Ugh. You cannot afford a car accident."
Didn't I know it?
"So what did you do next?"
I blew out a breath. "I made this one harder. I applied for a construction job."
She blinked. "You don't know anything about construction."
"That's the point. Plus, I don't have any tools, would only work weekends, and had to interview with a guy large enough to bench-press a truck."
She grinned. "What happened?"
Besides dry mouth, sweaty palms, and heatstroke from my blush? "Nothing. He laughed and asked me out on a date." I grinned. "Easy peezy." Except, of course, it hadn't been. It had been one of the hardest things I'd ever done. I blew out a breath.
"Did you go out on the date?"
"I might have, because he was really sweet. Then I noticed the pictures of him with his wife and kids on the desk."
I nodded. "But I survived." I leaned forward. "I've been at it for almost a week. Five days of being stared at strangely, then refused."
"Is it getting any easier?"
"Definitely. Just yesterday I went into a doughnut shop and asked for Olympic rings doughnuts."
"The Olympics are over."
"Doesn't matter. I said I was watching them on reruns. Anyway, the most incredible thing happened." I paused for dramatic effect, but she was having none of it.
"Don't keep me in suspense. What?"
"The manager came out and told me it was a good idea. We sat there and created the design, and an hour later, I had Olympic ring doughnuts. For real."
She stared at me. "They created specialty doughnuts just for you?"
I grinned. "Because I asked. Can you believe it?"
My sister leaned forward, her eyes taking on a mischievous look that made me nervous. "So it's getting easier, right?"
"Well, I can ask for ridiculous things at stores now without sweating through my bra."
"So it's time to step it up, right?"
"I mean, you're trying to be bold, right? To take rejection like a champ?"
She understood the core of what I was doing, but I didn't trust the sparkle in her eye. "I'm making great progress."
"Of course you are. But being embarrassed in front of a store clerk isn't the same as boldly sticking to your guns at work."
Fear made me lurch forward in my chair. "I'm not saying something stupid at work!"
"No, no, not there. But how about here? Among friends, in the comfort of your parents' backyard?"
"Um ..." I twisted my foot underneath me as I considered. The thing is, so far, I'd learned that I could do something stupid in front of strangers and promptly put it behind me. But these people were friends. I looked around the yard. Besides all the superhot baseball players, there were Mr. and Mrs. Hartmann, who'd let me shoot hoops in their driveway, their son, Craig, and his new wife, Mary, who sat beside him, plus a half dozen other people from the neighborhood.
It was bad enough to embarrass myself in front of them, but then there were all of my cousin's teammates, whom I knew by reputation and media coverage. They'd be in Connor's life for years to come. I couldn't act like an idiot in front of them. "Mom and Dad would be horrified."
"Well, yeah," Rachel said, laughing. In her world, embarrassing our parents was a bonus. She'd excelled at it as a teen. The day hadn't been complete if Mom hadn't sputtered into her tea or jerked twice on her double strand of pearls. Me, I'd hated every second of the screaming fights they'd had while I was growing up.
"I can't —"
"It'll be easy. Do it now while Mom's inside bragging about her potato salad."
"Do what?" I huffed.
She made an expansive gesture at the abundance of men talking sports in the backyard. "Ask one of them on a date."
I gaped at my sister, feeling insulted and terrified at the same time. "It's supposed to be an exercise in rejection," I groaned. "Not a way to scar me for life."
She flushed. "I didn't mean it that way. I thought you could ask a married guy or something." Then she abruptly brightened. "But now I have a better idea."
"Him." She pointed to a group of ballplayers hanging around our cousin. I knew without looking which guy she meant. Jake Armstrong, the Bobcats' shortstop. The guy who was so good-looking that my heartbeat went into overdrive just thinking of him. In a very-much-regretted drunken moment, I'd once confessed to my sister that he was my secret crush. And now she wanted me to get rejected by him?
"You are no longer my favorite sister."
"I'm your only sister."
"See how far you've fallen." I pushed to my feet, thinking I'd head inside to watch Mom brag about her cooking. Yeah, like that was fun. Unfortunately, I hesitated long enough for Rachel to grab my arm.
"Listen to me," she said as she tugged me down. I dropped because she had a grip like a steel vise. "Remember what Connor said about Jake? That he was known for never going out with a girl he couldn't bed by midnight?"
I winced. Yeah, Jake was definitely a player. It was mostly kept out of the press, but Connor was on the team, so he knew all about it. And as soon as my loose-lipped sister had told him about my crush, my cousin had wasted no time in warning us away from Jake, the man-ho. And yet the hot shortstop still filled my dreams. He had, ever since I first read an article about how he made it a point to visit sick kids in the hospital. Not just once for the cameras, but every week for the last year.
"I remember," I half growled. "And now you're saying he wouldn't date me."
She tsked. "Of course he'd date you. You're a hot, curvy woman with strawberry-blond curls and sass in her step when you're feeling good."
I blinked at my sister, unsure of whether to take that as a compliment or wonder if she'd just called me fat. A moment later, I realized she had meant it as an honest compliment, and I got even more confused. "So why would he reject me?"
"Because you're going to make it clear, right up front, that you have standards. That you won't be treated like one of his bimbos."
I waited, expecting her to explain. Only she didn't. At least, not until I threw up my hands in a WTF gesture. She huffed and started talking.
"Here's what you do ... go up to him and tell him you'd like to go out with him."
I immediately choked and shook my head. I couldn't go up to the one guy I'd been fantasizing about for months and ask him out on a date. Not in a million years. Sadly, Rachel didn't see my budding panic and continued on with her insane plan.
"Then you tell him that you'd like to go to the most expensive restaurant in town, on him. But there won't be any after-dinner hanky-panky. You don't do that on a first date." She leaned back with a satisfied grin. "He'll turn you down flat. And — bonus — you'll prove to Mom and all her nosy neighbors that you aren't a slut."
"Mom never worried about me." Rachel had been the one with a new guy every night, though admittedly not lately. In truth, her wildness had ended after high school.
My sister waved that away with a casual flick of her hot-pink nails. "Whatever. The point is, you're trying to be bold. So take some risks. Prove to yourself and the world that you're not a pushover."
"It's just an experiment in rejection."
"No, it's not. It's you learning that you can survive when things don't go your way. You've done a great job of being refused by harmless strangers. Now it's time to step up your game."
She was right. But damn it, I didn't want to do it with my secret crush. That kind of rejection would haunt me for years. Which, now that I thought about it, was the whole point. To feel the sting and go on.
"Can't I just ask Dad for a new car?"
"Please, we got used to Dad saying no the minute we hit puberty. Where's the risk in that?"
She had a point. And worse, she knew it. Then she leaned in and delivered the coup de grâce.
"You've wanted Jake ever since you first saw his baseball card. This is your chance. But not as his flavor of the night. You could be a real, honest-to-goodness date. One he respects."
"Or rejects. In front of my family."
"Who will love and support you while I kick his ass to the curb."
And she would. Assuming Connor didn't get there first.
"I didn't bring any clothes with me." This was just supposed to be a quick trip to Chicago for the party and some bonding time with my sister. And because, as much as Dad loved showing off his famous nephew, Mom always needed help with the party.
"Please," Rachel drawled. "I have plenty of outfits. And we both know he's going to say no anyway."
At that moment, I realized I had to do this — ask Jake Armstrong, the hottest shortstop in the major leagues, to go out with me.
"I think I'm going to throw up."CHAPTER 2
Despite the fame of the hot dog, roughly 83 percent of the people at this backyard barbecue preferred a cheeseburger. And of the remaining 17 percent, at least half of them wanted a burger, but didn't want to wait because the Bobcats had already scarfed down all the cooked beef patties.
I couldn't help myself. I had a thing for statistics. I noticed the oddest things. Like ... although 100 percent of the people here were sweating in the June heat, at least 90 percent of the BO came from Bob, our host, who had clearly spent way too much time slaving over a hot barbecue. But he was funny and the uncle to Connor, everyone's favorite catcher, so no one said anything, even when he leaned much too close as he handed off extra beer.
It's what I did. I counted. I guesstimated. And I was usually right.
But what I hadn't counted on was that our host's too-cute daughter would walk tentatively in my direction. Though she tried to hide it, she was sweating — and not from the heat. Her fingers twisted together until she stilled them into fists at her side. And then, clearly on impulse, she grabbed a cold beer from her father, popped the top, and chugged back half the can.
Clearly the woman had lost a bet with her sister, who was watching with gleeful excitement from the sidelines. Well, it was gleeful ... until I caught her gaze and she gave me a death stare. It was a warning: play nice or else.
Which, naturally, made me lean back in my seat and decide that I'd rather play dirty.
I looked back at the shy sister. She was cute in the way of all small-town girls. Strawberry-blond hair cut short and sassy; a loose tee that showed intriguing curves, but wasn't tight enough to upset Mom and Dad. Her denim shorts were very short, softly cupping what I call an irresistible heart-shaped ass. And best of all? She was looking at me with a hint of daring that had little me perking up with interest.
Down boy! I ordered sternly. It wasn't cool to mess with my host's daughter. Not when I was the inner-city kid hanging out for the afternoon in the suburbs. And it was doubly uncool to play with a girl wandering over to the wild side on a dare. Just because my dark side loved breaking a good girl, that didn't mean I was going to let it out. And certainly not with Connor's delectable cousin.
Besides, just last week, I'd had another conversation with team owner Joe Deluce about how my playboy ways could damage the team image. So naturally, I was on my best behavior.
Meanwhile, Miss Temptation Incarnate started out in the usual way. "Everybody get enough to eat? I'm sure there's more potato salad in the kitchen. I can —"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sliding Home"
Copyright © 2018 Kathy Lyons.
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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