Double Play Read online





  Acknowledgments

  To JR Murphy, one of the cutest, nicest minor league pitchers out there—thanks for all the patient answers to my endless questions on absolutely everything in baseball, from rules to what you guys talk about in the bullpen to what really goes on in the clubhouse.

  To Stacy Joyce, an old, dear friend who works for the Anaheim Angels, who also came through for me with answers to all of my panicked questions, and there were many.

  To Sarah and Adam, for the first draft read and the invaluable input. Couldn’t have done it without you.

  Chapter 1

  A guy’s definition of baseball: you don’t have to buy the other team dinner to get game.

  If Pace Martin had the choice between sex and a nap, he’d actually take the nap, and wasn’t that just pathetic enough to depress him. But his shoulder hurt like a mother and so did his damn pride.

  Go home and rest, Pace.

  That had been his physical therapist’s advice, but Pace could rest when he was old and far closer to dead than thirty-one. In the locker room, he bent down to untie his cleats and nearly whimpered like a baby.

  This after only thirty minutes of pitching in the bullpen. Thirty minutes doing what he’d been born to do, playing the game that had been his entire life for so long he couldn’t remember anything before it, and the simple art of stripping out of his sweats had him sweating buckets. When he peeled off his T-shirt, spots swam in his eyes. An ace pitcher in the only four-man starting rotation in the majors, and he could hardly move.

  Pushing away from the locker, he made it through the Santa Barbara Pacific Heat’s luxurious clubhouse—thank you, Santa Barbara taxpayers—and into the shower room, grabbing a can of Dr Pepper on his way. Lifting his good hand, he probed at his shoulder and hissed out a breath.

  Sit out tomorrow’s game.

  That had been his private doctor’s orders. Pace had managed to escape the team doc all in the name of not being put on the disabled list. Being DL’d would give him a required minimum fifteen-day stay out of action.

  No, thank you.

  Not when they were nearing the halfway mark of their third season, and as a newbie expansion team, they had everything to prove. Three seasons in and anything could happen, even the World Series, especially the World Series, and management was all over that.

  Hell, the players were all over that.

  They wanted it so bad they could taste it. But to even get to any postseason play, Pace had to pull a miracle, because as everyone from ESPN to Sports Illustrated loved to obsess over, he was the Heat’s ticket there. Sure the team had ten other pitchers in various degrees of readiness, but none were putting out stats comparable to his. Which meant that everyone was counting on him. He was it, baby, the fruition of their hopes and dreams.

  No pressure or anything.

  Reminding himself that he hated whiners, he stepped into the shower. Under the hot spray, he rolled his shoulder, then nearly passed out at the white-hot stab of pain. Holy shit, could he use a distraction.

  Wild monkey sex.

  That had been Wade’s suggestion. Not surprising, really, given the source. And maybe the Heat’s top catcher and Pace’s best friend was onto something. Too bad Pace didn’t want sex, wild monkey or otherwise.

  And wasn’t that just the bitch of it. All he wanted was the game that had been his entire life. He wanted his shot at the World Series before being forced by bad genetics and a strained rotator cuff to quit the only thing that had ever mattered to him.

  He didn’t have to call his father to find out what the old man would suggest. The marine drill instructor, the one who routinely terrified soldiers, whose motto was “Have clear objectives at all times,” would tell his only son to get the hell over himself and get the hell back in the game before he kicked the hell out of Pace’s sorry ass himself for even thinking about slacking off.

  And wouldn’t that just help.

  Tired of the pity party for one, Pace ducked his head and let the hot water pound his abused body until he felt slightly better, because apparently he’d gotten something from his father after all. He had fourteen wins already this season, dammit. He’d thrown twenty-four straight score-less innings. He was having his best season to date; he was on top of his game. Lifting his head and shaking off the water, he opened his eyes and found Red standing there.

  The Heat’s pitching coach was tall, reed thin, and sported a shock of hair that was the color of his nickname, though it was also streaked with grey that came from four decades in the business. He had a craggily face from years of sun, stress, and the emphysema he suffered from because he refused to give up either his beloved cigarettes or standing beside the bullpen surrounded by the constant dirt and thick dust.

  Red’s doctors had been after him to retire, but like Pace, the guy lived and breathed baseball. He also lived and breathed Pace, going back to their days together at San Diego State. Wherever Pace had gone, Red had followed. Red always followed. Truth was, he’d been far more than a coach to Pace.

  All the guy wanted was to see Pace get a piece of the World Series. That was it, the culmination of a life’s dream, so Pace’s arm would have to be literally falling off before he’d admit that he couldn’t play.

  “What are you doing here?” Red asked, taking Pace’s Dr Pepper from the tile wall and tossing it to the trash before replacing it with a vitamin infused water, the same brand the whole team drank so much of that they’d been given their own label. “Usually you guys are all over a day off.”

  “I was drinking that.”

  “Soda makes you sluggish.”

  No, his bum shoulder made him sluggish.

  “Why are you here?” Red pressed.

  They didn’t get many days off. Pace pitched every fourth game, and in between he had a strict practice and workout schedule. “Maybe I just like the shower here better than my own.”

  “The hell you do. You throw?”

  “A little.”

  Red’s eyes narrowed. “And?”

  “And I’m great.”

  “Don’t bullshit me, son. You were favoring the shoulder yesterday in the pen.”

  “You need glasses. My ERA’s 2.90 right now. Top of the league.”

  “Uh-uh, 3.00.” Red peered into the shower, all geriatric stealth, trying to get a good look at his shoulder, but Pace had cranked the water up to torch-his-ass hot so that the steam made it difficult to see clearly.

  “It’s fine.” Pace didn’t have to fake the irritation. “I’m fine, everything’s fine.”

  “Uh-huh.” Red pulled out his phone, no doubt to call in the troops—management—to have the multimillion-dollar arm assessed.

  It was one of the few cons to hitting the big time: from April to October, Pace’s time wasn’t his own, and neither was his body. Reaching out, water flying, he shut Red’s phone. “Relax.”

  “Relax?” Red shook his head in disbelief. “There’s no relaxing in baseball!”

  Okay, so he had a point. The Heat had been gaining momentum with shocking speed, gathering huge public interest. With that interest came pressure. They were hot, baby, hot, but if they didn’t perform, there would be trades and changes. That was the nature of the game, and not just for players.

  Red was getting up there and not exactly in the best health. Pace didn’t know what would happen if management decided to send the old guy back down to the minors instead of letting him walk out with his dignity intact and retire on his own terms. Well, actually, Pace did know. It would kill Red. “Just taking a shower, Red. No hidden agenda.”

  “Good then.” Red coughed, wobbling on his feet at the violence of it, glaring at Pace when he made a move to help. When Red managed to stop hacking up a lung, he lay Pace’s towel over the tile wall.