Stealing Home - Nicole Williams

WORKING FOR A professional baseball team was going to be the end of my love life. The past two years confirmed that theory, as had the last text I’d received from my latest ex-boyfriend.

Half of the year on the road added to another half of the year working grueling hours that rivaled a doctor’s first year of residency equaled a whole lot of no free time to fill with a social agenda. Since being hired on by the San Diego Shock this season and the San Francisco Kings the year before that, the longest relationship I’d maintained spanned eight weeks.

This last one had barely cleared the four-week mark.

My lifestyle was costly, but it was worth it. Baseball was in my blood, and sports medicine was in my heart.

I’d grown up in a small Midwest town where people still got together for potlucks and everyone from the town hermit to the mayor attended a funeral. Where the only place you were expected to be after church on a Sunday was stretched out on the bleachers around the baseball field. It didn’t matter if it was a T-ball game or the high school championships—the bleachers were always packed.

Baseball was a religion where I grew up—it was stitched into the fibers of my life—so it was no surprise when I ended up with a baseball player. No, the surprise came after I’d followed him to college and found him in bed with someone else.

It had taken the wind right out of me, along with my tendency to trust first and doubt after. Ben had been sleeping around for a while by the time I found out—friends had known and said nothing—and that was the day I made a promise to myself to never let another guy hurt me as he had, to never be made a fool of like that.

After changing schools mid-year, I started studying sports medicine and never looked back. Or at least not often. I only looked back when I found myself feeling something similar to what I’d felt for Ben. The relationship never lasted long after that.

As evidenced by my newest failed relationship.

“Whose ass do I need to kick, Doc?”

Dropping my phone into my lap, I looked across the aisle to see who was sliding into the row across from me.

Luke Archer.

Known to fans as the best hitter on the Shock, if not in all of pro baseball. Known to women for his good looks and up-to-no-good smile. Known to Cosmo magazine as being voted the Finest Ass in professional baseball. And known by the athletic training staff as a well-rounded pain in our asses.

Not because he thought he knew better or was yet another prima donna—which the sport had no shortage of—but because he held to the old-school code of taking care of an injury by “walking it off.” If that didn’t work, then we could usually convince him to pop one or two pain relievers after the game, and sometimes, if he was feeling especially accommodating, he’d accept a bag of ice.

Luke Archer was the real man of steel, and no one to date had managed to convince him he was also made of those injury-prone materials known as flesh and blood.

“Doc?” Archer’s voice broke through my haze of thoughts. “Just give me his name and I’ll take care of it.”

The rest of the team and staff were shuffling down the aisle between us to find their seats on the team jet, but his stare aimed my way felt unyielding.

“What makes you think anyone’s ass deserves a kicking?” I asked.

I returned a high-five as Reynolds passed by. He’d twisted his ankle in the game earlier today, and I’d been the first on the field to get him taken care of. I’d been the last one out of the locker room to finish getting him taken care of too. As a noob, I had to work twice as hard. As a woman, I had to work ten times as hard.

“I have three younger sisters. I have more experience than most with guys deserving ass kickings.”

The last of the guys wandered by us. Without the break of their bodies coming between us, Archer’s stare became too intense. His eyes seemed capable of pinning me to the back of the seat.

The head athletic trainer, Dax Shepherd, attended to the “money” players—the ones like Archer, who brought fans to the stadium and were a large part of the Shock’s impressive win-to-loss ratio. Up until this very moment, I didn’t know Luke Archer