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The Game Can't Love You Back

The Game Can't Love You Back

by Karole Cozzo


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Bitter sports rivalries and swoon-worthy romance intertwine, in Karole Cozzo’s classic enemies to lovers young adult story where two former nemeses blur the lines between love and hate.

Eve is used to being the odd woman out. As the only girl on her school's baseball team, she knows exactly how to put sweaty, macho baseball players in their place, and she's learned to focus on one thing and one thing only—being the best pitcher she can be.

But when a freak accident forces her school to be absorbed by the neighboring town, Eve has to contend with a new group of guys who aren't used to having a woman on their team. And the new team's star pitcher, Jamie, has no interest in being ousted from his throne. He can't afford to give up his starting slot to a new pitcher—especially to a girl.

As the competition between Jamie and Eve starts to heat up, so does their attraction to each other. Can they keep their heads in the game, or will they end up getting played?

Chosen by readers like you for Macmillan’s young adult imprint Swoon Reads, The Game Can’t Love You Back follows Eve as she is forced to join a new baseball team and contend with the insufferable (and cute) rival pitcher.

Praise for The Game Can't Love You Back:

"Cozzo's twist ending is to be applauded. A strong addition to any young adult library, especially where sports fiction is needed." —School Library Journal

Praise for How to How to Say I Love You Out Loud:

"A budding romance with family drama and a feel-good ending.” —School Library Journal

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250163899
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 05/15/2018
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Karole Cozzo, author of How to Say I Love You Out Loud, How to Keep Rolling After a Fall, The Truth About Happily Ever After, and The Game Can't Love You Back, lives outside of Philadelphia with her loving husband, unendingly exuberant daughter, and eternally pleasant son. She is a school psychologist by day and a lover of all things colorful and creative by night. Karole spends her free time drawing with her young artists-in-residence, making photo books, decorating her home, and of course, writing.

Read an Excerpt


March 1


I'm seeing stars.

I wake up at six forty-five a.m. and hazy early morning sunbeams illuminate my sheer curtains, but after my eyes adjust to the light, I'm still seeing stars.

Three smaller stars shoot out from the marble base of the trophy, aspiring to reach the bigger, central star they frame, the one that's engraved with a golden basketball. The trophy is draped in the net from the championship game. The W was a team effort, and some might say the net should be displayed with the big team trophy at school. But most people would say the net belongs to me, so here it is.

I smile, the same smile I've woken with for the past week, since the trophy came home with me. My trophy spent the first night on the pillow beside my head, but now it's in its permanent home so I can wake to the sight of it every morning. State champions. It has a damn fine ring to it.

My gaze drifts to the left of the trophy, coming to rest on the framed certificate commemorating my selection to the All-County Girls' Soccer First Team in the fall. EVE MARSHALL, FARMINGTON SOUTH, JUNIOR, 5'8?, FORWARD. Not as newsworthy as a state championship, but the best I could hope for. Offense wins games; defense wins championships. And on the soccer field, I didn't have the defense to back me up and take us all the way. A familiar sense of satisfaction fills my chest as I look at my name. I don't say it out loud, but maybe I prefer individual accolades anyway. I was pumped I'd been recognized as an individual, at least.

And then my gaze drifts right, past the stars, to the empty spot I'd reserved on my shelf. Before, a Cy Young trophy ending up there was inevitable, but now ... My smile disappears as I grind my molars together. Stupid fire. Stupid Dr. Coyle and heartless administrative decision-making. They've effed up everything.

I whip my covers back, my feet hit the cold wood floor, and I storm into the bathroom for a quick shower. My thick, long dark hair is so routinely plaited into two French braids to keep it out of my face, it could probably braid itself by now, and it stays in place despite the shower.

Then, feeling subversive — and ready, willing, and able to show it — I tug a Farmington South Bulldogs hoodie over my head and pull on a pair of black sweatpants. My sneakers are the only clothing I put any time into selecting. Studying all eleven pairs of Nikes, I finally select the black-and-fluorescent- green Cross Bionics. They're badass. Superhero colors.

After bounding down the stairs, I'm in and out of the kitchen in a flash, grabbing a Clif Bar from the pantry and a bottle of Minute Maid from the fridge. Marcella's already behind the wheel of the cheery red Jetta parked in the driveway next door. She's bobbing her head, shiny brown hair gyrating right along with her, and her lips are moving. Taylor Swift. I inhale a deep breath. I just know it's Taylor Swift.

I sling my backpack onto my shoulders and cross the narrow patch of grass that separates our houses. As I climb into the passenger seat, she quickly swipes her index finger across the face of her iPhone to silence the music, but not before I get a glimpse of the cover art on the screen, a wild mass of blond curls and red lips. Swifty. Knew it.

"Good morning, Eve," she greets me.

I glance at Marcella's colorful outfit. Mustard wool miniskirt, tight red sweater worn over a shirt that she'd referred to as "chambray" when I'd questioned if jean shirts were really in style outside of Nashville. She should look like a walking advertisement for hot dog condiments, but somehow, on Marcella, it works. It always works. "Why are you so fancy today?" I ask.

"It's not fancy, it's classy. There's a difference." She gives me a once-over and scrunches her face up. "Why are you so unfancy? You look like you just rolled out of bed."

"Look at my face." I give her my death stare and toss my bag onto the floor with more force than necessary. "Does it look like I'm in the mood?" Marcella shrugs once and backs out of the driveway. I'm pretty sure she knows better than to take my moods personally.

For the record, probably the only, and I mean only, reasons Marcella and I became best friends are (1) we were born exactly one week apart, and (2) we have lived next door to each other our whole lives. There's no undoing a friendship that was an entire childhood in the making, regardless of how totally different we've always been.

So we drive in comfortable silence the two and a half miles to Scott's house, finding him sitting at the curb, eating a sausage-and-egg breakfast sandwich. A second one is wrapped in foil on the sidewalk beside him. His face breaks out in that wide, patented Scott grin the second he sees us, for no damn reason at all. Scott's always smiling for no damn reason at all, and usually the sight of his smile makes me smile, too. Scott MacIntyre's my other best friend, the "mac to my cheese" as he likes to say, but nothing can shake my surly mood today.

Scott is short and squat, as if his body's been compressed from all the time he's spent behind the plate, catching for me, and he lumbers into the backseat. He leans over the headrest and grips my shoulders with both hands. He shakes me a little bit. "Pitchers report today, baby!"

I twist in my seat and give him my best Really? face.

He collapses back with a sigh and buckles his seat belt. "The team is going to be stronger than ever," he says. "You just need to get with the program."

"You're delusional if you think it's going to be that simple." I flick my braids over my shoulders and reach down to pull my chem binder from my bag, promptly ending the conversation. I have an exam today, and it won't hurt to work out a few more practice equations now, especially since I'm supposed to be picking trash up with the Go Green Club during my study hall. And it's a waste of his breath to try to convince me that what's happening today is a good thing.

I inhale sharply as I remember last season's first practice. I jumped out of bed that day, counted down the minutes of every single class. The memory brings a stabbing pain of loss to my gut. I used to relish the first day of practice. Today I'm dreading it like nothing else. I clench my fists around the binder edges, my mixed-up emotions simmering down to a bitter anger as I consider — for about the hundredth time — the injustice of it all.

* * *

When we enter the lobby, which still smells and feels unfamiliar — even two months in — an invisible magnet draws Brian to Marcella. Literally. Their bodies make contact at several points, simultaneously. Fingertips. Hips. Lips. It's all a little bit too much for 7:40 in the morning. Okay, a lot bit too much. I should be used to it by now, since Brian and Marcella are pretty much an institution. Brian and Marcella. Marcella and Brian. They've been together for so long now, sometimes it's hard to tell where Marcella ends and Brian starts.

They turn back toward me and Scott. We huddle close together in the crowded space, still working at recognizing faces, trying to find friends among strangers. The lines are starting to blur some, which aggravates me. Hands in fists, I fold my arms across the bulldog on my chest, just as a rowdy group behind me shoves its smallest member, a short girl with pink hair the color of Bazooka gum, right into my back, pushing me into Scott.

"Whoa, sorry." She giggles as she attempts to right herself, pulling her oversize black hoodie back up on her shoulder.

I get a better look at her. In addition to the cotton-candy-colored hair, she has pink-and-blue gauges in both earlobes. Two round studs pierce the skin above her lips. Underneath the heavy eye makeup, she looks like she's about twelve.

Then she scampers off, losing herself among the group of ripped-black-shirt-wearing guys who were jostling her about.

I quirk an eyebrow and shake my head.

"Your judgment is showing." Scott grins, nudging me in the ribs. "You might want to tuck that back in."

"No judgment," I lie. "I just don't get people like that. Who works so hard at not fitting in?"

Marcella snickers.


I swear her gaze flicks to my Bulldogs sweatshirt, but she just smiles at Brian and shakes her head. "Nothing." She tugs on his hand. "We should go. The student council meeting's all the way down in Mrs. Trimble's room. And today we're taking the final vote on the prom theme!"

"Okay, babe."

Marcella, the eternal good sport, is handling the loss of her presidency over the junior class of Farmington South with grace and dignity, jumping right back into school politics at Farmington East without missing a beat. She separates herself from Brian for a quick second to give me a hug, the scent of her trademark Burberry perfume washing over me. "See you at lunch." She tugs on a braid before reaching for Brian's hand again.

"See you."

My gaze follows them as they're swallowed up by the sea of bodies, and I catch a glimpse of some of my friends from the South girls' basketball team in the alcove near the ramp. I gesture toward them and Scott nods, down for whatever. I take three steps in their direction ... and then stop in my tracks, fingers tightening into an angry claw around my black backpack strap.

Blocking my path is the Farmington East baseball team. Its members are loud and amped, several of them dressed in last year's T-shirts, bearing the words THERE'S NO "I" IN TEAM. And as I watch them, they get even louder and more amped, calling out and slapping fives. Because their captain has just arrived, whipping them into a frenzy.

And God grant me patience. Because if his entrance wasn't so damn irritating, I would walk over and laugh in his pretty face.

Jamie Abrams.

He swaggers across the lobby with the air of a rapper who's sustained a gunshot wound or something. I mean, I swear, he might actually be faking a limp. It's early March and partly cloudy, yet he has sunglasses on. Inside. Jamie's got his East baseball cap on backward, and he's wearing his Windbreaker, embroidered with his cocky nickname — ACE — in gold over his chest.

Jamie Abrams, God's gift to Farmington baseball. God's gift to Farmington girls.

I can't stand him.

Not that I've ever spoken to him. I've been avoiding him like the plague the past couple of months.

But that doesn't stop me from hating him, or more specifically, hating the idea of him. From what I've observed — discreetly, of course — his prime objectives for coming to school include flaunting his overhyped image and finding his next hookup. He's always talking, always laughing, always whispering in one girl or another's ear. I can't really believe he takes anything that seriously, so I highly doubt that baseball is an exception.

Even if he has been the star pitcher for two years and counting, securing the position his freshman year, which is pretty much unheard-of. He's good, sure, but there's no way in hell he's as dedicated as I am.

Yet I'm willing to bet he feels entitled to that Cy Young trophy. Because everyone makes him out to be such a rock star. Because this team is more his than mine.

That trophy belongs on my shelf.

And there's only one for the taking now.

My natural competitive impulses flare, and I realize I'm glaring at him. I shake my head in frustration. I'm used to glaring at the person in the batter's box, not the one wearing the same uniform.

As I stand there, shooting daggers, something weird happens. I see the muscles in his back tense beneath his Windbreaker and he stops running his mouth, midsentence. He turns and looks right in my direction, as though he can feel my fiery gaze upon his back.

Slowly, he removes his hat, running one hand over the top of his close-cropped light brown hair. The glasses come off next, and before I'm ready for it, his cool, steady, slate-blue eyes are piercing mine. The look on his face bears no trace of the sleepy-eyed, cocky smirk combo I usually see him using when he focuses on other girls.

All laughter has drained from his face, and his glare is as ice-cold as the one I've got trained on him is hot.

I think it's the first time he's ever really looked at me. And in that instant, it's crystal clear — as crystal clear as those blue eyes of his — that he feels the same way about me as I feel about him.

This is why it doesn't matter that I'm wearing a Bulldogs hoodie. Why I couldn't embrace Marcella's cheerful mood this morning and why I dismissed Scott's contention that our teams coming together will make Farmington baseball even stronger.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter where we go to school or what mascot I wear on my shirt now. Locked in a staring contest with Jamie, I know I'm right. We're not on the same team. Not at all.


March 1


"Morning, handsome."

My mom's in the kitchen when I come downstairs, standing at the counter, stirring artificial creamer into this huge travel coffee mug. She tries to assault me with a hug as I pass her, but I shrug her off. She knows I'm not a morning person.

"Morning, Ma," I mutter, opening the pantry, considering my options. Half-empty box of Target-brand reduced-fat granola. Probably half-stale, too. Unopened box of Froot Loops. No-brainer. I grab Toucan Sam and rip open the cardboard.

When I turn back around to get a bowl, I see the tension in her shoulders. "What?"

Her lips twitch nervously. "What's wrong with granola? It's healthier."

"I like Froot Loops."

She doesn't say anything right away, but eventually she gives me the usual reminder. "You two can't keep letting open boxes of cereal go to waste."

I stare down at my full bowl of cereal, wishing she wasn't standing there making me feel guilty about my breakfast. "It's just cereal."

"Everything can't be 'it's just.'"

I pick up the box and set it back down on the table for emphasis. "It's just cereal," I repeat.

She takes a big swig of coffee and resets her smile, backing off. "So practice starts today, huh?" I shovel cereal into my mouth, nodding while I chew and swallow. "Yep."

My mom approaches me again, smiling warmly, and rubs at one shoulder. "You feeling good?"


Then she leaves her hand there. Lately, it's like she's always trying to make contact, like she needs someone to hold on to. I don't really like the way it feels, being that someone, but she's trying to do things differently these days, so I let her lean on me sometimes. "Text me and let me know how it goes, okay? I have to work a double today."


"Have you gotten to know some of the guys from South?"

"Yeah, I knew a bunch of them already from summer ball. You know Brayden and Noah Turner, right? And Jake Pawlings, who was on the Padres with me back in the day?"

"I recognize those names."

I shrug, pouring some more cereal into my bowl. "The other guys, I met them at tryouts this past week. They're all right."

A half smile lifts her left cheek, and her eyebrow goes up at the same time. "Any threats?"

A psssh sound escapes my lips. "Not even close."

Although ...

I narrow my eyes at the milk, thinking of the one person I didn't meet at tryouts last week.

Not even close, I think again.

There's an obnoxious clatter on the stairs, and a second later, O appears. My hand freezes, spoon halfway to my mouth. My half sister has done lots of things to make herself look silly, but this takes the game to a whole new level. I stare at her as I chew my last spoonful of cereal. Shaking my head as I take the empty bowl to the sink, I murmur my opinion to no one in particular. "You look completely ridiculous."

She rolls her eyes comically. "Annnd, good morning to you, too, Sunshine." Olivia glances at the table and claps her hands. "Yay, Froot Loops!"

Mom's pursing her lips again, over the cereal or O's latest makeover, I don't know. But she chooses not to comment on either and digs around in her purse for her keys. "All right, kiddos, I'm off." She squares her shoulders and lifts her mug, ready to take on the working world.

In actuality, I've been a part of the working world longer than she has. George is a good guy, and he let me start taking shifts at Best's Burger Barn and Shake Shack, paying me under the table before I could legally work.

Mom plants a kiss on the top of my head, and then more hesitantly on the top of my sister's — God only knows what chemicals were responsible for that train wreck — before opening the back door. "Hit the road. Don't be late."


Excerpted from "The Game Can't Love You Back"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Karole Cozzo.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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.

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