Time Out Read online

  In between plays, Rainey told Lena the whole story of the night before, leaving out a whole bunch of what had happened in the trailer, much to Lena’s annoyance.

  “A real friend would give details,” Lena said. “Like size, stamina…”

  “Hey. Can we focus on the real problem here?”

  “Yeah, I’m not seeing the real problem,” Lena said. “Mark’s rescued you from crappy dates, pretty much single-handedly saved your job, and he’s been there whenever you’ve needed him, for whatever you’ve needed. What a complete ass, huh?”

  “Look, I know he’s been there.” Always, no matter what she needed. “But he doesn’t want a relationship. Nothing changes that fact.”

  Casey, James and Rick had been sitting with the boys but they came over and joined the two of them for a few minutes. “So what are we talking about?” Rick asked.

  “Nothing,” Rainey said.

  “How perfect Mark is for her,” Lena said.

  “Aw,” Casey said, disappointed. “That’s not news.”

  “If they’re so perfect for each other, then why does he look like shit?” James asked. “I don’t think he’s slept.”

  “Mark never looks like hell,” Lena said reverently. “Unless you mean hot as hell.”

  “Sitting right here,” Rick said to Lena.

  Lena smiled and kissed him. “The hotness runs in the family.”

  Rainey hadn’t slept either. She looked at Mark standing just outside the dugout, but if he was tired, hurting, unhappy, he gave no sign of it as he coached the girls through a three-run inning. At the break, he left the dugout and walked to the stands, ignoring everyone to stop in front of Rainey. He wore a pair of beat-up Nikes and a pair of threadbare jeans, soft and loose on his hips, still managing to define the best body she’d ever had the pleasure of tasting. His T-shirt was sweat-dampened and sticking to the hard muscles of his arms and chest. It’d been given to him by the girls, and was bedazzled and fabric painted with a big COACH on the front.

  He should have looked ridiculous. Instead, with his expensive sunglasses and all the testosterone he wore like aftershave, he looked…


  “Hey,” he said, sliding off his glasses, his gaze intense as it ran over her.

  She became incredibly aware that the entire Santa Rey side of the stands had gone silent, trying to catch their conversation. “Hey.”

  “I want to talk to you after the game,” he said. “You busy?”

  She did her best to look cool in front of their avid audience and shook her head. “Nope. Not busy.”

  “Good.” He strode back to the game, and she might or might not have been staring at his very fine ass when Lena nudged her in the side with her elbow.

  “Do you think ‘talk’ is a euphemism for—”

  Rainey stood up. “Going to the snack bar.”

  IT WAS A time-out and Mark stood in the dugout talking to the girls.

  Or rather, the girls were talking to him.

  “We can tell you’re having a bad day, Coach,” Pepper said. “Did you get dumped?”

  “This is a time-out,” he said. “We are going to discuss the game.”

  “Aw. You did.” Pepper put her hand on his shoulder. “What’d you do? Because Rainey’s a really great person, you know? Probably if you just said you were sorry, she’d take you back.”

  Mark shook his head. Never once in his entire professional career had he had a time-out like this one. In his world, his players lived and breathed for his words and never questioned him. “We’re in the dugout,” he said. “In the middle of a very important game.” The press was there, which had been Mark’s intention all along. But he found he could care less about the press. It was about these girls. “We’re talking about the game.”

  “That’s not as much fun,” Kendra said. “I bet if you tell us what you screwed up, we could tell you how to fix it.”

  “How do you know he screwed up?” Cindy asked.

  “Please,” Sharee said. “Rainey wouldn’t have screwed up. She never screws anything up. She’s on top of things, always.”

  Mark scrubbed his hands over his face. How the hell had this gotten so out of control? He couldn’t even wrangle in a handful of teenage girls.

  Oh, who the hell was he kidding. He’d lost control weeks ago, his first day back in Santa Rey. They wanted to know what he’d screwed up, and he had no way to tell them that he’d screwed up a damn long time ago.

  She loved him. She saw right through him and still loved his sorry ass. The words had slipped out of her mouth so easily, so naturally, words he’d never dreamed he’d hear directed at him from a woman like her. A woman he could trust in, believe in, a woman with whom he could be himself. She was so amazing, so much more than he deserved, and she was meant to be his.

  He also knew that things didn’t always work out the way they should.

  Pepper put her hand on Mark’s. “My dad says it’s okay to make mistakes,” she said very quietly.

  Mark’s dad had often told him the same thing. In fact, Ramon was right this minute out there in the stands cheering his son on, which he’d do no matter what mistakes Mark made.

  “Everyone makes them,” the girl said. “But only the very brave fix their mistakes.”

  Mark lifted his head and looked her into her old-soul eyes. “You’re right.” He’d pulled Rainey in even as he’d pushed her away. He was good at that, the push/pull. Standing, he locked eyes with Rainey. She stood off to the side between the bleachers and the snack bar. Close enough to have heard the entire conversation.

  The ump whistled that the time out was over. Sharee went off to bat, and the other girls plopped back down on the bench of the dugout.

  Mark didn’t move, didn’t break eye contact with Rainey. He had no idea how long they could have kept that up, communicating their longing without a word, when the sharp crack of Sharee connecting with the ball surprised them both.

  SHAREE’S HIT WENT straight up the line and Rainey watched as the girl took off running. The teen still had an attitude the size of the diamond, but she had it under control these days. There were fewer blowups and hardly a single bad word out of her all week.

  Of course that might have been because Todd was in the stands watching her, cheering her on.

  Sharee glanced at the teen and blushed.

  Todd, already in uniform for his game, grinned.

  Watching them caused both a pang in Rainey’s heart and a smile on her face.

  But that faded fast as she caught sight of the man in dirty jeans and wrinkled shirt walking toward the field from the parking lot. He staggered a bit, but his eyes stayed focused on the diamond.

  Martin, Sharee’s father.


  Just what Sharee needed, for her father to humiliate her today.

  Rainey moved towards him, wanting to run the other way, but she couldn’t let him ruin the game for Sharee. “Martin, wait.”

  “Gettoutta my way.”

  He smelled like a brewery and looked like he’d slept in one. “Did you come to see the game?” she asked.

  “I came to see my daughter,” he slurred, blinking slowly like an owl. “She stole money from my wallet. She’s going to pay for that.”

  Rainey’s gut tightened. “I have your money in my office,” she said, gesturing in the opposite direction of the field. No way was she letting him out there to embarrass Sharee.

  Not that Rainey was going to take him to her office either. Hell, no. He was a mean drunk, and her unease had turned to fear. She led him around the side of the building, heading back toward the parking lot, her phone in her hand to call Rick for help if necessary, when suddenly she was slammed up against the brick building, hard enough that she saw stars. But that wasn’t her biggest problem. That would be the forearm across her throat, blocking her airway.

  Her fear turned to terror.

  “You told her to call the police on me,” Martin hissed, his fingers biting into Rai