CATCHING LUKE – Chapter One
“Who cares what shade of green we choose? Let’s do this.” Luke Garibaldi was pumped. He and several of his teammates from the Outlaws had been selected to play for the West Coast All-Star team over the Fourth of July break.
To celebrate they’d had a team tattoo designed by a local tattoo artist and today they met up at the Stateline tattoo parlor, Ink by Einstein. They made a pact that the rest of the team would have to earn the right to wear it after the all-star break.
The silhouette of a handkerchief-wearing outlaw placed over an outline of the state of Idaho would be placed prominently on each player’s forearm. However, they’d never get started if his buddies wouldn’t stop squabbling like teenagers over the shade of green to use.
“It has to match up with the logo on our uniform. We don’t need a social media blow up over ‘is it Kelly green or Forest green’? Let’s just go with E’s suggestion and get a move on. My woman is on her way and I’d like to have mine done before she gets here.” Maverick Jansen, Luke’s best friend rolled up the sleeve of his pitching arm and walked towards the chair of the highly sought after ink master who simply went by E.
“I doubt Kelsey would be happy to hear you call her ‘my woman’.” Luke grabbed Mav’s arm, pulled him back and beat him to the chair. “Age before beauty, Mav.” He flashed the Outlaw’s star player a smile and chuckled while the other players began to give him a hard time as well.
There were two other tattoo artists working today and the other players had already grabbed their chairs, so Mav would have to wait his turn.
About an hour later Kelsey walked in and Mav immediately caught his ‘woman’ up in his arms for a kiss and a quick squeeze before she reminded him they weren’t alone. E didn’t look up from Luke’s tat when he said, “There’s a cot in back if you two need a few minutes alone.”
With Kelsey was her best friend, Lara Andretti. Not his type, as she had goals and ambitions beyond being a temporary hook-up, but that didn’t keep Luke from regretting he hadn’t made a play for her several months ago when they first met.
He watched her cross into the dim main room and take a seat in a low-slung leather couch and responded to the greetings from the rest of the players there. All he could think about was how much he wanted to grab the green-eyed Lara and drag her back to the cot just offered to Mav. But what he had planned would take a hell of a lot longer than a few minutes.
Luke watched in fascination as she morphed into the life of the party. She joked and laughed with the others in the room. Everyone except him. Damn, she had to know how affected he was by her. It felt like torture to watch as she gave his buddies a sunny smile and her attention.
It had been exactly three months, nine days and almost sixteen hours since Luke last had sex. Not for lack of offers or desire. He spent nearly every morning taming his morning wood. No, his crazy ex, turned stalker was to blame. The funny thing was he wasn’t the one she had been stalking.
Luke fumed as JR, their right fielder was doing his lame-ass Bradley Cooper impression. Her laughter hit him square in the gut and he found himself thinking of puppies and losing last year’s championships to try and tame Luke Jr. Her face was flushed, glowing even. Almost as if she’d lived through the scenario he’d played out in his fantasy world moments ago.
“You going to let him get away with that?” E asked him.
Luke looked over towards JR and Lara, and sobered. No way in hell. “I’m just picking my moment, man. Besides, she’s nice to everyone.”
E changed tips and glanced over to the couch again. “If you say so.”
Luke gritted his teeth. There was no way he’d let another Outlaw touch Lara. Hell, she’d been the only one to spark his interest in months since he missed the warning signs of an emotionally unstable Syndi.
She’d sent threatening texts with photo shopped pictures of herself with Mav. It had created a media frenzy just when his buddy was getting his life back together. The best thing that came out of that nightmare for Maverick was meeting Kelsey Sullivan. Now his fiancé and the team’s VP of Communications, she helped him rebuild his reputation and restore his confidence in his pitching ability.
And he was the best man to Lara’s maid of honor. They’d be spending more time together and just maybe it was time for his drought to end. The more he pictured her in his arms, a list of possibilities, very naked possibilities, came to mind on how he could use the upcoming events leading to the big day to his advantage.
To take his mind off the vision of her naked and screaming his name, he quickly looked down at his arm while E wiped down the now finished tattoo. He thought back to the last time he saw her. It had been opening day when he’d run into her at an after-hours party at Club Cortona. He’d been alone, but she’d been with some loser wearing a golf shirt and a fake Rolex.
He’d met her a time or two before then but the timing had always been off. He’d been either with Syndi or trying to avoid women after the shit hit the fan and pushed thoughts of the lovely Lara out of his mind.
But that night, seeing her with someone else had ramped up his inner caveman and it had been all he could do not to approach her and drag her away from the jerk she was with. Lara certainly had the looks and a curvy body he’d love to explore, but she also had something else—class. And she was nice to everybody. Even to her date who’d kept sneaking looks at other women. Idiot. Men like that didn’t deserve women like Lara.
“You’re all done, Garibaldi. Turned out better than I’d envisioned.” E nodded at Luke and slapped him on the back. “Okay, Mav. You’re up.”
Luke had about a dozen tattoos on his body but this one was special. And probably the last one as an active USBL player. He was still in the top tier of catchers, but after this season, if not the next, he would seriously be looking at retirement.
He walked over to the counter where the cashier was doing her best not to fall asleep and paid his bill. Worth every penny.
“Hey, Lara. Long time no see.” Luke nodded towards Lara as he passed her. She had moved to stand by the counter and was looking at the artwork on the wall. She did a double take. Like she hadn’t noticed him when she’d walked into the place.
“Luke, oh. Hi. Nice to see you again.”
Formal and polite. That’s all he got from her. He still hadn’t decided if she really didn’t find him attractive or if she treated him this way because of the incident with Syndi or, and he hoped it was this one, she liked him but didn’t want to like him. So now would be the perfect time to find out.
He had to remind himself that Lara was a loyal friend to Kelsey who’d been on the receiving end of the crazy as well as Mav. And Kelsey would be royally pissed at him if he broke her best friends heart.
He did his best to ignore the innuendos JR was throwing at Lara from across the room. He finished paying for the tattoo, walked up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. He felt her stiffen. She stopped what she was saying to JR and took in a deep breath. From his vantage point, a good eight inches taller than her, he watched as the movement brought her breasts up higher. He groaned and took a slight step back before he whispered in her ear. “Lara, I’m getting ready to leave, do you think I could have a moment of your time?”
Flustered at first, he watched in fascination as she recovered from his touch and turned her head towards him. “Can it wait? JR was telling me about—“
“Actually, it can’t. I have another appointment and need to leave soon. It’ll just take a few minutes, I promise. It’s about the engagement party.” He leaned down and softly said for her ears only, “I dare you.” He sent JR a ‘back off’ glare and turned and left the building. If anyone was going to end up with Lara, it was going to be him.
He didn’t wait to see if she followed him because if there was one thing he did know about the beautiful Lara, she always took a dare.
# # #
Lara never turned down a dare. And just, how would he know that? She didn’t have to think too hard or too long. The only person who could have tipped him off was Kelsey. So much for sisterhood. She sent her traitorous friend a squinty eyed “see you later smirk” and received a fake innocent shrug in return. And like a moth to a flame, she followed.
She stepped outside the tattoo parlor which had become a mecca to ink enthusiasts from around the country, and walked over to the man who’d been starring in her fantasies. But he didn’t need to know that.
Her dreams had been filled with him for the past few months. Since the big win on opening day in fact. Maybe longer if she was honest. She wondered if the sexiest man she’d ever met, now sitting on his shiny steel horse, had ever been told no. Every time she’d been around him he exuded confidence just shy of outright cockiness. A trait usually found in professional athletes, but on him it only added to his allure.
Comfortable in his own skin, Luke never seemed to worry about what others thought. It also made her wonder if the Outlaw’s owner or the team manger knew about Luke’s new toy. She knew enough about the baseball world that owners frowned on their players partaking in dangerous activities outside the sport, but she didn’t know if it was an official no-no or not.
At the moment it didn’t matter. She couldn’t take her eyes off him sitting on the bike, black t-shirt, aviator glasses and a hard body she wouldn’t mind being pressed up against. Luke Garibaldi looked every inch the outlaw he now wore on his skin.
His back muscles bunched as he bent down to check on something on the giant-sized machine. She nearly swallowed her gum at the site of his heavily muscled arms as they strained against the material of his t-shirt when he placed both hands on the handlebars.
When he lifted up the short sleeve above his new ink for inspection she stumbled over a rock; more intent on ogling the man then in her own safety. And of course he had to notice her walking towards him at that exact moment. He flashed her a slow, sly grin and in an instant she was back in tenth grade. A lovesick teenager faced with her first crush and at a total loss of coherent thought.
“E does incredible work. What do you think?”
Lara stared at the tat and the reddened skin around it. The only thing that came to mind was she wouldn’t mind being wrapped up in those arms. She shivered and felt her nipples harden at the thought.
Some women preferred lean men and that was fine. Her ex had some muscle tone, but nothing like Luke and she was a sucker for wide shoulders and the toned contours of rock hard arms. She tried to come up with something witty and off the cuff, but she had nothing but some drool on the corner of her mouth.
“Lara, if you don’t like it, it’s okay. Just say so. I appreciate honesty.”
He held her now shock-filled gazed and sat there waiting for her to respond. Shit. What was wrong with her? She’d spent too long objectifying him that she totally blew off his question and now he probably thought she was being standoffish or worse a tattoo snob.
“Ah, no. I mean…well that is I do like it and …tattoos in general… I uh, have always thought about getting one of my own, maybe. A dragonfly or one of those fancy one-word scripts like, strength or persevere or lo…love.” She closed her eyes and wanted to die.
Lord, she her palms were sweating. It’s wasn’t like she’d never been around a hot guy before. But he wasn’t just hot. He was ghost-chili-hot. He was on a whole different level and she suspected he was into her too, which was why her brain had frozen.
His eyebrows went up at the end of her babbling. He folded his arms and she watched in awe as his gaze made a slow journey down her body then back up.
“And just where would you put this tattoo? Maybe only somewhere you or your boyfriend could enjoy it or maybe…” His heated glance briefly stopped on her chest before landing on her hip and below.
Shaking from the visual caress, she was determined to not stutter. “Um, no actually I was thinking maybe my shoulder or even on one of my ankles. I’d keep it small. You know since it would be my first one.”
“And if you liked it? Would you get something… bigger the next time?”
“Maybe. But it hasn’t happened yet, so I’d have to see how the first experience went.”
“Smart. You never want to go overboard on something that important. Slow and steady is your best bet.”
Were they still talking about tattoos or something else? Something else wasn’t what she was looking for, but maybe just what she needed. But if it was something else, then the timing couldn’t have been worse. So caught up in their verbal foreplay she’d forgotten she needed to leave soon for her date. A date with a guy she now wished was Luke.
“So, Lara. Have you ever been on a motorcycle before?” Luke shifted his frame and started the bike.
“No. I’ve never known anyone who rides.”
He removed his sunglasses and held her gaze. At first she thought he was going to make a joke about her never having ridden a bike, but she noticed his grey eyes were darker than they’d been earlier. They held her spellbound; she held her breath waiting for what came next.
“Well now, the first time can be scary or if handled right, a thrill of a lifetime. What do you say, Lara? Can I interest you in a ride?”
And just like that Lara’s mouth went dry and her panties wet. Now she knew they’d progressed beyond tattoos. Hell, they’d jumped way beyond the getting-to-know-you conversation and were rounding second base on the way to third. Was this the reason he asked her to follow him outside?
She was about to say yes, when George’s face popped in her head. A man she no longer had any interest in pursuing. But she wasn’t the type to ditch one guy for another. She’d had that happen to her and it sucked.
How to handle the situation? She wanted him to know she was interested, but she didn’t want him to think she was making up a date just to play hard to get. He said he liked honesty, so she went with that.
She took a couple steps closer to him. Close enough she could now smell his musky scent. She briefly closed her eyes as her senses ramped up and her pulse raced his nearness.
“I’d love it, but— “
“Luke, I already have a date. And the thought came to me to call him and cancel, but it’s pretty late notice and I would hate it if the reverse happened to me so…”
“So, it’s a no. Hey, I understand. I’m disappointed but I understand. I’m glad you believe in following through on commitments. It’s a rarity these days.”
He reached out and grabbed her hand and rubbed his thumb across her palm. Not once, but several times; back and forth. The contact created a spark that travelled from her hand to her belly where it settled and a warmth spread down her thighs to the tips of her toes. Damn.
“When you’re ready to get that first tattoo or a ride on my… bike. Just let me know.”
Again at a loss for words, she nodded and licked her now dry lips. She really wished she wasn’t meeting George later for what was sure to be another boring discussion on golf. But it would be her last date with Mr. Not-Quite-Right.
Luke ran his index finger along the side of Lara’s cheek and tapped her on the nose before he placed his sunglasses over his gorgeous eyes, flipped up his kick stand and with a nod he took off out of the parking lot.
She stood and watched until he disappeared. Life had just got interesting.