Outfielder Tristan Murrell has a problem. As the number two slugger for the Suttonville Sentinels, his team is counting on him to make their very first run at the state championship. But he has a secret—his swing has totally deserted him. As in, he can’t hit anything. He needs to fix the issue, and fast, but how?
Ballerina Alyssa Kaplan has a problem, too. The shiny new sports complex in town has left her family’s batting cage business on the verge of going under. Nailing her audition for a prestigious dance company is everything, but there’s no way she’s letting her some shiny big-box company destroy her family’s livelihood.
Tristan needs a miracle. So does Alyssa. And maybe, just maybe, Tristan’s secret weapon might be the girl of his dreams...
Disclaimer: This book contains hot, shirtless baseball players, kisses that bring a ballerina to her knees, and a lot of baseball smack-talk.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.55(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Swinging at Love
By Kendra C. Highley, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Kendra C. Highley
All rights reserved.
There's a sound that can only be made by an aluminum bat striking a baseball. Ting! Alyssa couldn't help turning her head to figure out which hitter clocked that ball, but based on the cheers of the Little League team in cages two, three, and four, it had to be one of them. Twelve-year-olds, a whole pack of them. Swing Away hadn't been this busy in weeks.
Dad came over and leaned against the chain-link fence that divided the snack bar/observation area from the cages. "Came out of nowhere. They're here for that big tournament in Dallas. Next step toward the World Series."
Alyssa nodded absently. The kid in cage two was trash-talking his buddies. At that age, the trash talk was mostly gestures and the word "dumbass" repeated over and over again. When the ball shot out of the machine — low-grade changeup — he whiffed it. His friends doubled over laughing. The kid glared at them and tried again. This time a fastball, medium speed, zoomed over the plate. Nothing but air.
"He's anticipating it too much," she murmured. "Ahead of the ball."
Dad smiled, the skin at the corners of his eyes crinkling. "I still don't understand why you gave up softball. You were the best hitter in the league. Second best pitcher, too."
Three years, and he was still a little sad about it. "I know, but I love to dance more."
"Could've done both." Dad turned to watch the kid in cage two. Another whiff. "And paid for college with a softball scholarship at a big-name school."
Maybe, but somewhere along the way, she'd lost her love of playing. She still loved the game, but the politics, the dirty play, the bruises, the long weekends traveling to tourneys ... They didn't add up. "I'll get an academic scholarship, and I don't need to go to a Division I school. Not for a business degree. I can go to community college the first few semesters."
"Well, we have a year to think about that." He winced as the kid missed another ball. "Think the machine is acting up?"
She shook her head. Two of the machines were out of order — Swing Away was slowly falling apart — but at least six of them were in good shape. "It's the kid. I'll be right back."
She let herself into the batting area, trying to ignore the bad nets, the creaky gates, and especially cage five, where the pitching machine sat broken and dormant. Those were things to worry about later. Instead, she went to cage two. "You're ahead of the ball. Slow it down a split second, and you'll have it."
The kid's chin jutted out. "I'm fine."
"Not really," she said, keeping her tone kind. "You're basically giving it a false start every time. Slow down."
"She's a girl, Scout," one of the kid's buddies said. "What would she know?"
Sighing, Alyssa picked up a bat from the collection outside the cage. "Move."
"I paid for this round!" Scout protested.
"I'll give you a full round on the house in exchange. Now, let me show you something." Muttering to herself about how grateful she was she never babysat, Alyssa rolled her shoulders and swung a few times, remembering the rhythm. Ready, she went to the plate and squared up, waiting for the clack that came before the ball was launched.
It came — fastball, medium speed. She let the bat fly, putting her weight behind it.
The ball sailed over the net into the pit in the middle, where it would be fed back to the machines. Ignoring the "whoa" and "wow" from the crowd, she eyed the pitching machine. Another clack — changeup.
The ball sailed over the pit and hit the cinderblock wall at the very back of the complex. Point made, Alyssa turned around and looked Scout straight in the eye. "Slow. Down."
"Yeah, okay!" He scrambled into the cage as she left. A minute later, his bat made contact.
"And my work here is done." She went back to the front side of the complex and stuck her head into her dad's office. "Do you need anything? I promised Lauren we could meet to work on our group project for history."
"Go on ahead." His smile was strained. "I need to do some paperwork, so I'll stay until close."
She wanted to ask how bad it was, but she couldn't bring herself to. If she didn't ask, she could keep believing everything was fine. "Okay. I'll be home in time for dinner."
He nodded absently, already staring at the pile of bills on his desk. Alyssa let herself out. It was after five, and that history project wasn't getting itself done. She needed the AP credit, and the test was in four weeks. The soft spring breeze, with a warm edge that hinted at the summer's coming heat, toyed with her hair, blowing tendrils across her face. She scraped them back impatiently, wishing — not for the last time — that her hair was both as smooth and as long as Lauren's, or even their friend Faith's. Her curls refused to stay in a ponytail, and ballerina buns were the stuff of nightmares, requiring a bottle of hair spray and a small country's worth of bobby pins.
Her well-used Honda groaned a little when she started it. "Come on, be a good car."
It rattled but drove without complaint once she got it rolling. The tires jounced across the gravel lot, past the Little League team's van, and out onto the four-lane state highway that led back into Suttonville. It wasn't a long drive, but it was farther out than the Top Sports complex three miles from the heart of town.
Alyssa drove by it on the way to Lauren's. Cars and trucks filled the lot, and when she stopped at a light, she could see dozens of people milling around the mini-golf course. Top Sports' batting cages were outside, unlike Swing Away's indoor facility, but they were well-lit and covered by an awning. Off to one side, a fully equipped driving range was full of golfers. Based on what she'd heard — because she'd never set foot inside — there was an indoor complex with basketball and racquetball courts to rent, along with a ten-lane bowling alley that boasted league action. Membership was available for the low, low price of seventy-nine bucks a month — families for $199. Based on the crowd, plenty of people were willing to pay their outrageous fee.
How can Swing Away even compete? Glaring straight ahead, Alyssa gunned the Honda as soon as the light changed. Two broken pitching machines, decrepit vending machines, torn nets, a gravel parking lot ... None of that compared to slick, shiny Top Sports.
By the time she made it to Lauren's neighborhood of two-story homes and perfect lawns, Alyssa had a knot growing to epic proportions in her stomach. How much longer would her beloved Swing Away make it? Because no matter what Dad didn't tell her, she wasn't blind. Sighing, she pulled her backpack out of the car and went to Lauren's front door. Her mother had painted it peacock blue last summer, which made total sense.
"Alyssa bear!" Mrs. Willet waved her inside. Today she was dressed in teal leggings and a yellow sweater bright enough to blind. "I have cookies!"
Alyssa's stomach growled, but she shook her head. "Thanks, but I'm good. Watching my diet, you know."
"The auditions aren't for six weeks." Mrs. Willet tsked. "You girls are plenty skinny."
"Mom." Lauren appeared at the upstairs banister. "She's fine."
Mrs. Willet shrugged. "All right, then. I'll be in the kitchen if you need me."
As soon as her back was turned, Lauren shook her head, chuckling. "She means well."
"And I'd give anything for a cookie, but the academy looks at everything and I'd rather not show off a muffin top." Alyssa climbed the stairs. "Maybe that's why I'm pissy. Living on fourteen hundred calories while dancing my butt off is making me cranky."
Lauren led her to her bedroom, wisely not saying anything. She was one of those naturally thin girls who could eat the world and still look like a sparrow in a size four. Madame Schuler at the studio called her figure the "ideal ballerina body." Alyssa could only imitate it by dieting and sucking everything in. She had an athlete's body — strong, flexible, and surefooted, but the Dallas Ballet Conservatory wanted waifish primas rather than girls who could leap higher than the rest. And D-cup breasts were definitely not on that list.
Maybe Dad was right, maybe she should've stuck with softball. At least there, two sports bras would be just fine.
Lauren flopped onto her bed, letting Alyssa have the comfy, ratty armchair in the corner. "Faith says she'll work with us at the studio Saturday. Give us tips on form."
Alyssa grinned. "You mean she's going to pry herself off Kyle long enough to teach us? Those two, I swear. They're in their own little orbit or something."
"Right? So cute, but almost disgusting. Anyway, the baseball team starts regional playoffs tomorrow, and will be practicing a lot, so she has time."
"Good enough." Alyssa dragged her binder out of her backpack. "Might as well start this."
"Bleck. Faith's so lucky. I wish we were seniors and could coast the rest of the semester, too." Lauren made a face. "I really don't want another year of high school stuff."
Alyssa wagged a pencil at her. "We can make it through five weeks."
"Then we'll dance all summer!" Lauren pumped a fist in the air. "It's going to be great."
Alyssa forced a smile. It would be great ... if she passed her audition.CHAPTER 2
Coach waved toward the batter's box. "Murrell, you're up."
Tristan stood and grabbed a bat. He started out of the dugout as Kyle Sawyer trotted down the steps, having just nailed four of seven pitches. "Show off."
Kyle laughed. "Talent."
Tristan couldn't argue with that. Kyle always played like his hair was on fire, but now that he was dating Faith, his game had improved to pro levels. The teams they were playing in the playoffs wouldn't know what hit them. Not that Tristan was any slouch. As soon as Kyle graduated, the Suttonville Sentinels would be his team.
Tristan trotted to the batter's box and swung his bat a few times, then posted up for the pitcher to throw to him. Dylan gave him a cocky grin. "Here for some punishment?"
"After what Sawyer just did to you? I'm here to clean up your mess." Tristan grinned and waggled his bat. "Bring it."
The first pitch was high and outside. "Ball!"
"Oh, come on!" Dylan glared at him and wound up again.
A nice, fat fastball hurtled toward Tristan. Yeah, this one was a grapefruit.
He swung, hard.
The ball sailed by him.
"Strike!" Dylan called, his grin returning. "Oh, I'm sorry ... Were you planning to hit that?"
Tristan stared at the catcher, trying to unstick his brain from the miss. How did he not hit that? It should've been a homer, dead-center field. Instead, he'd whiffed it like a third grader.
"Enough with the trash talk, Dennings," Coach barked from the dugout. "How about a changeup?"
Tristan tightened his grip on the bat. Everyone missed sometimes. When a three hundred batting average was considered good, one out of three wasn't bad, and Tristan had a three twenty average. He'd hit the next one, no problem.
Except ... he didn't. Out of seven pitches, he only clipped one foul. Tristan glared at his bat in betrayal. The first round of regional playoffs started tomorrow night. He couldn't go into a slump now.
"Shake it off." Kyle whacked him on the shoulder when he went back to the dugout. "Look at it this way — you got the bad ones out of the way. Now you'll be red hot."
"I guess." Tristan dropped his bat into his equipment bag.
"Hey, don't overthink it," Kyle said. "The more you stress, the worse it'll get. Let the mojo flow."
Tristan rolled his eyes. If you looked up mojo in the dictionary, you'd find Kyle's picture. Badass car, gorgeous girlfriend, money, looks ... It almost wasn't fair. Although, even Tristan had to admit Kyle had been more chill, happier the last six weeks or so since he got together with Faith. Maybe that's what Tristan needed — a girl.
He snorted. Eight months out of a two-year relationship had him rusty. The idea of trying to hook up with a girl sounded like more effort than he could spare right now.
"Dude, it's going to be fine." This from Dylan, the dream-crusher. "I'm just awesome today, is all."
"Don't be a jackass and kick him while he's stewing," Kyle said, giving them both a dose of his stern team-captain stare. "Go home, get some rest. It's going to be a long haul if we want to make it all the way to state."
Right. "Will do, boss."
Dylan followed Tristan to the locker room. "Seriously, stop pouting."
"If I hadn't known you since second grade ..." Tristan made a fist. They both knew he was bluffing. Besides, he was being a baby about it. His swing always came back. "I'll be fine. Want to grab some dinner?"
Dylan laughed. "Is your Mom cooking tonight?"
"Yeah." Tristan shuddered. "I told her I might have study group. At Snap's."
"Okay, I'll be your cover. Seriously, your mother operates on people's hearts ... You'd think she'd learn to cook."
Tristan shrugged his equipment bag onto his shoulder. "You'd think. Dad can grill things sort of okay, but it's 'casserole night,' so I'm having a burger."
"Sure. As long as you don't rag me from the mound anymore."
"Dinner's on me, then!" Dylan grinned at him. "Just kidding. I'll stop busting on you."
"Uh-huh, and the first fastball I send over the fence will end that."
"Probably." Dylan looked way too cheerful about it. "Take me to dinner, sweetheart."
"You better put out later," Tristan grumbled.
Snap's was the best sports bar and restaurant this side of Dallas ... and Tristan had his own booth.
"Back again?" His favorite server, Kathy, shook her head. She looked like somebody's frizzy-haired favorite aunt, right down to the shrewd gaze and mischievous smile. Like she'd sneak you into an R-rated movie and not tell your parents. "Seriously, take a load off your folks and learn to cook. Maybe you'll be good at it."
"Then I wouldn't see you three times a week." Tristan flashed her a smile.
She rolled her eyes. "Aren't you sweet."
After she took their order and left, Dylan put both hands flat on the table and announced, "So, there's this girl."
Tristan leaned back in his seat. "Seriously? After last year, I thought Dylan 'Ice Man' Dennings said girls were off the table until he made the minors. This must be some girl. Who is she?"
"Girl in my AP history class. Not super tall, but not short either. Fills out a T-shirt, if you know what I'm saying."
"No, Dylan, I have no idea." Tristan kicked him under the table. "Continue, Captain Obvious."
"Ow, Jesus. Anyhow, she has curly-ish hair and these big green eyes. Never seen anything like them. I dropped a pile of homework, and she helped me pick it up. Those eyes nearly knocked me over."
If it wasn't a girl's eyes, it was her hair, or her legs, or her smile. Or her ass. Dylan had a deep admiration for the female form. Then again, what seventeen-year-old guy didn't? Tristan grunted. Still, Dylan didn't usually do more than notice and move on. "Okay, Romeo, why don't you ask her out?"
"I need to keep my focus. Maybe once we win state." Dylan puffed his chest out. "That should make her give me a look, don't you think?"
Tristan gave him an amused smile. He really has no clue. None of the girls he'd been friends with or gone out with had given a crap about baseball. But Tristan wouldn't burst his friend's bubble. "It might."
While Dylan alternated between attacking his burger like his life depended on it and giving an enthusiastic play-by-play about how he would eventually ask History Girl out, Tristan picked at his dinner. The fries were perfect — thick cut, just the right amount of crispiness — but he couldn't shovel them down like Dylan. The tourney started tomorrow. Tomorrow. No matter what kind of brave face he put on, Tristan had a growing sense of alarm, and it was messing with his appetite. No surprise there. Because he was hiding something from the team: today wasn't the first time his swing had deserted him. No, it had been slowly slipping for the last two weeks.
He had to figure out a way to shake off his slump before he ruined the playoffs. Otherwise, his future as team captain would pass him by ... and end up going to his best friend.
Excerpted from Swinging at Love by Kendra C. Highley, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2017 Kendra C. Highley. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.