FIRST CHAPTER SNEAK PEEK
“Mav. Get your ass up and unlock the damn door!”
Shouting and pounding erupted from outside the hotel suite door waking Maverick Jansen from a dead sleep. He didn’t know if it was night or morning since he’d closed the blackout curtains after he checked in last week and
The pounding started again. Like someone was doing a tap dance on his skull. And the voice he heard sounded suspiciously like his catcher, Luke Garibaldi, who had just rocketed to the top of his shit list.
But after the last couple of months of hell both personally and professionally, Luke was also quite possibly his last friend on earth. Mav couldn’t afford to ignore him even if he wanted to. But he wasn’t above messing with him for a few more minutes.
“C’mon, it’s Luke, I need to show you something.”
Real concern laced his teammate’s words, but Mav wasn’t ready to face anyone. Not even his best friend.
Another round of pounding. “Someone down the hall is calling security. C’mon, Mav.”
“In that case, you’d better leave.” Maverick then shouted louder, “I’m going back to sleep. You’re on your own. A charmer like you can fend for yourself.” Maverick immediately regretted that choice. He grabbed his head and cursed. Sitting up, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and used words his momma never taught him.
As he sat there ignoring Luke, Mav still couldn’t get over the fact that he was still on the team. During the league’s winter meetings last month he thought for sure he’d be traded or let go after the disaster at the division championships. But here he was in a luxury hotel room since he hadn’t bothered finding a place to live when the Outlaw’s move from Boston to Pineville, Idaho of all places had been announced.
But that second chance hadn’t kept him from accepting drinks from fans as he hung out at O’Malley’s last night. He’d found the pub the first day he’d been in town, and it felt like home. He’d been having dinner there the last few nights while trying to keep a low profile. Until last night when he’d finally been recognized.
Mav ripped off his sheets, stood up, then his world tilted. Yeah, maybe that fourth shot last night hadn’t been his best decision. Or the three beers in between.
More pounding erupted.
“Man, the last thing you need is security riding your hide. Open up.” Luke paused. “Please? I have news and it’s not good.”
“All right ... all right, hold your goddamn horses, you citified cowboy.”
Bracing his pitching arm against the wall next to his bed in the five-star resort bedroom overlooking the lake that had drawn the area’s early settlers and brought tourist from around the world, Mav thought about moving toward the door, but that’s as far as he got.
Damn, it hurt like hell to think.
Taking a deep breath, then another, he spoke again. This time in at normal volume. “Hang on. Let me throw some pants on.” Mav stumbled around the darkened room searching for his sweats.
Luke was right. He sure as hell didn’t need hotel security up in his business. Squinting at the clock he thought it said four ten, but was it morning or afternoon? Making way toward the door before Luke could begin another round of rat-a-tat-tat.
“Mav, I swear to the good Lord above, if you don’t…c’mon hurry up, I just heard the ding of the elevator. Besides, it’s not like I haven’t seen your package in the locker room. If I wasn’t impressed then, I sure as hell won’t be now. Open . . . the damn . . . door.”
The desperate tone in Luke’s voice slammed into him. Fear of what awaited him on the other side of the door turned his blood ice cold as memories assailed him. Maverick’s stomach clenched; the nausea he thought he had under control reared its ugly head.
Maverick had had enough bad news in the last few months to last two lifetimes.
Hopping on one foot as he finished pulling on his sweats, he said, “This better be good, Luke, because I was having this crazy good dream and….” Not really, but he needed one more moment to steady himself.
Ready or not he blew out a short breath, threw the dead bolt then flung open the door to let in the person who more than likely was the only one who still gave a shit about him.
Luke brushed past him, talking a mile a minute.
“Mav, you need to see this. Some asshole taped you going off on our ex-owner, the league, and the commissioner. It’s all over, man and I just saw one of the network channels use it as a tease for the lead story on the evening news.”
“Slow down. I need coffee to keep up with your motor mouth.” Squinting from the glare spilling in from the hallway, Maverick held up a hand to block the bright light.
“What are you talking about, Luke? When? I haven’t been anywhere except here and O’Malley’s for the past few days.”
Dragging his sorry ass back across the room, Mav sat in the armchair opposite the bed and put his feet up. Luke looked fuzzy, so he closed his eyes and prayed. When was he going to get a break so he could heal in peace?
“Yeah, well it was filmed before we moved. Remember when we hit that bar right after it was announced the team was sold and the new owner was moving us to Pineville?”
“Wait a minute, wasn’t that the night that girl and her friends followed us from the restaurant, and she kept trying to get me to, uh . . . kiss her?”
“Yup, a kiss and then some. I think she said she wanted to have your baby.” Luke scratched his chin, zoning out for a second. “Too bad we left after that. Her friend was hot.”
“Luke, focus. Get your head out of your pants and get back to the reason you nearly tore down my door.” His gut signaling this conversation would not end well.
“Hey, look who’s calling the kettle black, Mr. Bad Boy of Baseball.” Luke held out his cell to Maverick. “Just watch it.”
“Call me that again and you’ll be eating this phone.” Mav hated the nickname the press had stuck on him his first year in the league. Grabbing the phone, he sat forward and braced his elbows onto his knees. A lump the size of a cement truck landed with a thunk in his stomach at the first frame.
He so fucking did not need any more drama in his life.
He watched his image appear in the smoky shadows of his favorite pub in Boston. The one he and most of the single players hung out in after home games.
Mav watched himself rant on the league for letting the new owner move the team to “Hicksville.”
Then he cringed as he listened to his stupid-assed-self complain there were probably “only two traffic lights and not even an Applebee’s.”
Between his f-bombs and hand gestures, it wasn’t hard for anyone to know what he thought and what he considered the “doom” of the team. It also wasn’t hard to guess what the woman on his lap wanted from him.
Damn, damn, damn.
The video ended and Mav tossed the phone back to Luke. “How many hits did you say the video has?”
“I didn’t, but it’s going on four hundred and fifty thousand.” Luke plopped his large frame down in the chair across from him looking as sick as Mav felt. “It’s also on the local news, and the tabloid shows are tearing apart every word you said. They’re throwing out crazy theories and talking about your ‘purported’ drinking problem.”
What the hell? He wasn’t a drunk, dammit. Well, not yet officially—maybe. Even he knew he was walking a fine line with his current love affair with premium whiskey. Leaning forward he hung his head in his hands. God, he needed something for the drum solo playing in his head.
“Hey, do me a solid and grab a water bottle out of the mini-fridge, would yah?”
Damn. Maverick never considered someone would film him at Kelley’s Pub. It was, or had been, a safe haven for the team. The patrons left them alone when they were there to blow off steam and gathered there on game days to watch them on the big screens.
“So, don’t you think you need to call your agent and see what you should do?” Luke tossed him the water bottle.
“I would, if I hadn’t fired his ass last week.” Mav took a swig of the water and wished he hadn’t. It rolled around in his stomach. What his body really craved was the only sure thing that would cut through the fog of the morning after: coffee—strong and sweet.
“What is with you? You need someone to handle this crap. You can’t do it all on your own and work on rehabbing your arm.” Luke hadn’t sat back down and it hurt his head to continue looking up at his friend’s six-one frame which was large for a catcher, but he made it look easy.
“Sit your ass down.” Rubbing his neck, Mav stared at the water bottle again wishing it were a cup of coffee. “Yeah, well, he was skimming, Luke. I shouldn’t have trusted him to handle my accounting too. So no, I don’t need some slick ‘yes man’ pretending he cares about my career so he can get his hands on my endorsement money.”
Mav tried to ignore what looked like pity on Luke’s face. “Listen, don’t feel sorry for me, I’ve had enough of that from everyone since the accident. Besides, it was effing satisfying when Jerry realized he wasn’t dealing with some rookie ballplayer who doesn’t know a capital expenditure from depreciation. I guess the business degree I earned to please my father paid off after all.”
“Okay, so now you have no one to call, other than TS,” Luke pointed out. “And man, our new owner is not going to be happy with you. Bad timing, Mav, ’cause I know you want to get off the disabled list by the beginning of the season.”
Mav stared at his buddy. Yeah, for starters getting off the disabled list would go a long way in putting his career and his life back in order. And not letting Luke down was a close second. Baseball had brought them together; pitcher and catcher in the beginning, then friends, and now—brothers. He needed to man up and act like this situation was fixable. No big deal.
“So, what’s your first move?” Luke asked.
“I could be wrong here, but I think this is going to blow over in a day or two. No hear me out. There’ve been plenty of players complaining about the move to Pineville. My comments just happened to have been recorded when I wasn’t aware.”
“You mean drunk.” Luke smirked.
“Not drunk, dammit. You were there. Sure, I had a few, but I was far from drunk.”
Mav stood up and paced the room. Who could he reach out to for help when everyone he trusted was either dead or had given up trying to get him out of the hell he’d placed himself in?
Luke moved out of his way. “Okay, maybe not shit-faced drunk, but you’d had a few. How will you handle the fact that you had a half-naked woman on your lap while you were railing against the commissioner and our joke of an ex-owner for selling the team?”
Another valid question he didn’t have an answer for. “Yeah, that’s something I’m going to have to work on.” Mav groaned and rubbed the knots from his neck. “But first I need to get some decent coffee and a hot shower. What time is it anyway?” he asked.
Mav’s entire body ached. He’d need more than a couple of aspirin to shake the hangover this time. Stopping in front of the sliding glass doors he watched as heavy raindrops pounded the lake. The storm that the local forecaster promised had arrived.
“Four thirty.” Luke answered.
“In the afternoon?” Mav turned away from the view he’d grown to enjoy since he’d been in Pineville knowing he wouldn’t find any answers today among the white caps.
“Yeah, in the afternoon. The party’s in less than an hour.”
He’d forgotten about the event their new owner had set up to introduce the starting players to the city’s movers and shakers. The one bright spot of the evening would be meeting the directors of the Children’s Club. The Outlaws had chosen the organization to work with as part of their community outreach.
“Jeez, Mav. You really need a keeper. Plus, you have to come up with an explanation for TS, the USBL . . . oh and, let’s not forget the tens of thousands of local community members who’ll be buying tickets.”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass.” Luke grinned.
“You’re a real comedian, Luke, but right now you’re the only one still speaking to me, so help me out and call room service for some decent coffee while I shower and try to come up with a plan. Otherwise, we both might be out of a job by tomorrow.”
“Wait. What? Why would I be out of a job?” Luke asked. His Oklahoma drawl held a hint of panic.
“Because, cowboy, your mug is in the background of that video, and you’re grinning like a fool.”