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But number eleven is doing more than fluttering eyelashes Allie’s way. Far more. Luke Archer is at the top of his game and doesn’t let the fear of striking out keep him from swinging. This is a motto he applies both on and off the field, but Allie appears immune, seeming to view Luke as nothing more than caution tape on legs.
He’s a player, and in Allie’s experience, they’re all the same. She won’t risk her job or her heart to another one, no matter how different this one claims to be. But as Allie gets to know him, she discovers the number eleven the public thinks they know is very different from the real Luke Archer. He seems too good to be true.
And maybe he is.
Allie will have to confront the stories attached to a player of Luke Archer’s stature and decide who she’ll put her faith in—The man she’s falling for? Or the rumors?
“Hey.” Archer slid next to me on the bench after jogging into the dugout.
“Hey,” I replied, trying to ignore that same mix of sweat and man closing in around me when he slid closer. Along with it came the hint of grass and leather. It should have been offensive, but it was the opposite. I loved this sport and everything that came with it—the scents included.
“So how do you like playing football?” I asked, keeping a straight face.
“Please, football players have it easy with all that padding and protection. I’m going to look like I got tuned up by a tire iron tomorrow.” He turned his forearms over, and I could already make out a few bruises breaking to the surface.
“You want something for the pain?” I reached down for my duffel bag.
“Do I ever want something for the pain?”
“Fine.” I tucked the bag back under the bench. The bruises weren’t bad—he’d survive.
“But I wouldn’t mind a nice deep-tissue massage later. Let’s say ten o’clock. My room. Clothing optional.” He kept his voice quiet, smirking at the field as the Rays threw a few warm-up balls.
“No pressure,” I said under my breath.
His smirk grew. “No pressure.”
When Coach paced down the dugout past us, Archer casually shifted farther down the bench from me, his smirk fading.
“I want to steal home.” Archer scooted back closer to me once Coach’s and the other players’ attention was on Hernandez stepping up to the plate.
“No one steals home anymore.”
“Doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
His arm was brushing against mine, messing with my head. “Doesn’t mean it should be done either.”
“We need a run. We need a big play.” He sucked in a breath when Hernandez swung at the pitch . . . and missed. Strike one. “If Hernandez and Garfield can get on base and I hit a double or a triple, we’ll be in good shape.”
“Or you could just hit one of those homerun things you’re setting records for. That could work.” I glanced at him from the corners of my eyes.
He shook his head at me.
“Stealing home plate?” I repeated, realizing he was serious. “It’s like a one-in-a-thousand shot you’ll pull it off.”
“Never tell me the odds. It only makes me want to do it more.” His jaw ground when Hernandez chalked up another swing and a miss.
“Play it safe. I know you’re favoring your right leg.” My gaze dropped to his leg running down the length of mine. “I don’t know what you did to it, but I know it’s hurting. Don’t risk injuring it any more.” When his jaw set a little, I sighed. “Am I going to have to tell Coach?”
“I just twisted it weird. It’s fine. A little ice and rest and I’ll be good.”
“Is this when you tell me you’re going to walk it off?”
It wasn’t affecting his performance much, but he’d need speed and luck to steal home. With the way he was favoring his leg, speed was not in his corner tonight.
“No. This is when I show you I’m going to walk it off. Right after I add another point to our side of the scoreboard when I steal home.”
When Shepherd glanced down the bench, I reached into my duffel so it looked like I had a reason to be having a conversation with the star player. Instead of the real reason we were having a conversation.
“Don’t steal home,” I said once Shepherd’s attention went back to the game. When Archer sighed, I added, “Not as in not ever. Just wait until the time’s right. When you know you’ll be successful.”
He looked ready to argue when pitch number three sailed at Hernandez and he connected with the ball, sending a whizzing line-drive into left field. Hernandez turned on the jets and hauled to first base, making it right before the ball smacked into the first baseman’s glove.
The dugout let loose with a round of whistles and cheers.
“I’m on deck.”
“Good luck.” I nudged his leg with mine as he stood.
“Hey, I’ve got my lucky shirt on. I’m all set.” He slid off his ball cap and sailed it into my lap.
“Yeah, but it’s been washed a few times since I was in it. Not sure how much luck’s left in it.”
“I’m feeling pretty damn lucky.” He pinched at the shirt before slipping a batting helmet onto his head. “But don’t worry. I fully plan on having my jersey draped around your body again soon.”
My eyes wandered down the dugout. No one was watching—they were too busy holding their breaths as Garfield sauntered up to the plate.
“Don’t steal home.”
“Make me a better offer, and I’ll consider it.” He paused for a heartbeat, challenging me with his eyes. When my lips stayed sealed, he climbed the steps out of the dugout. “Home plate it is.”
Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.
Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.