Hello everybody. I am sorry for the late update. I didn’t have internet access this morning like I thought I would, so this is the first chance I had to get online. For the first several days of the Playing Ball blog tour, Shae, Kate, Kerry and I are posting excerpts to introduce our respective stories. My story, Wild Pitch, is about two best friends who played together for years and now that they are retired, they are finding themselves dealing with emotions they thought they left behind them.
Ruben Martell fell in love with Alan Hartner during their years playing baseball. They stepped over the foul line once, but the encounter left them struggling with heartache and guilt, turning away from each other to focus on their families. Now retired from the majors, they run a batting cage together and coach rival Little League teams as they juggle fatherhood and being single again. Though Ruben has never given up hope that Alan might look at him as more than a friend, Alan seems determined to keep things the way they’ve always been. But long-buried feelings and desires have a way of resurfacing, and Ruben can't wait forever.
In this excerpt Ruben heads to Alan’s house against his better judgment and finds himself in a situation that immediately eases his mood. I hope you enjoy.
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FROM the backyard, Ruben heard the roar of a major battle taking place, the high-pitched gleeful shrieks of young boys mixed with Alan’s shouts of defiance. He grabbed the six-pack from the passenger seat and went around the side of Alan’s house to investigate. It might be safer to take refuge on the deck and watch the chaos until they noticed he’d arrived.
Ruben slipped through the gate and stopped with a laugh at the sight of the full blown water war taking place. Alan had barricaded himself behind the picnic table turned on its side, and his three older sons were attempting to swarm him with water guns. None of them saw Ruben come in. The boys were too intent on getting to their victim and Alan in holding them off.
Alan jumped up with a roar, water balloons in both hands, and Brett, Mikey, and Seth scattered with another round of shrieks. Alan tossed his first round of ammunition, catching both Mikey and Seth, though Brett danced out of reach with a taunt before reaching down to grab more ammunition.
Ruben grinned and set the beers on the deck with a wicked sense of bubbling anticipation. It pulled him out of the downward spiral of nagging regrets and the sense of hopelessness that had dogged him for the past couple of weeks. It was impossible to remain depressed around Alan and his sons.
The youngest boy, Matt, was with Alan, attempting to carry the water balloons off one by one. He was soaked to the skin, breaking most of the balloons as he hugged them to him while trying to toddle away. The only one not wet was Alan, and that couldn’t be allowed.
Humming to himself, Ruben unwound the garden hose from its neat coil under the back faucet. Matt grabbed another water balloon, caught sight of Ruben, and let out a crow of delight. Ruben held a finger to his lips and beckoned to him as he turned on the water. Oh this was going to be so good.
“Unca, Unca!” Matt yelled, dropping the water balloon and waving his chubby hands as he toddled toward Ruben as fast as his short, fat legs would take him.
Alan twisted around, looking for Matt, and his gaze fell on Ruben as he pointed the hose at him. He had just enough time for his eyes to widen before Ruben turned the nozzle on full blast with a wicked laugh. The stream of water caught Alan square in the chest, and he shouted as the boys whooped in delight.
“You double crossing—” Alan cut himself off before he let loose the slew of curses that would’ve once dominated his tirade. Ruben snickered and kept the hose on him as Alan’s boys came in with their water guns to finish him off.
Alan grabbed a water balloon and threw it at Ruben, who sidestepped it with a chuckle. “Your pitching sucks, Hartner,” Ruben taunted.
“Yeah? Dodge this.” Alan grabbed more ammunition and barreled forward with the burst of speed he’d once used to steal bases.
“Whoo-hoo!” Brett shouted, turning his water gun on Ruben. “Get Uncle Ruben too!”
Ruben cursed under his breath and took a step back even as he knew it was too late. Alan pelted him with the water balloons and then tackled him to the ground. Of all the fantasies he’d had over the years of Alan taking him down like this, none of them had involved water balloons or four shrieking boys in the background.
He stamped on his libido and pulled the trigger of the nozzle as Alan tried to wrest the hose away from Ruben. Water, just above freezing, went everywhere, soaking them both and Ruben let out a startled shout from the shock. He relinquished the hose and shoved Alan off him with a laugh.
“You do realize I’m the only one at this madhouse without a change of clothes, right?”
“You’ll dry out in the sun. There’s a nice breeze coming off the lake.” Alan sat up and gave him a friendly shove back. “You should’ve stayed out of it if you didn’t want the consequences.”
“Please. You all would’ve involved me the moment you saw me, unless I took refuge in the house.”
Alan grinned, his entire expression engaging, and for a moment the familiar camaraderie was there, the kind they’d had before things had gotten to be so complicated. Ruben missed that, the friendship without old guilt, the enjoyment of being in Alan’s presence without his feelings being muddled by sexual tension and longing for more.
He only had himself to blame for any awkwardness between them. He never should’ve kissed Alan that night, no matter how much the memory of that kiss had been seared into his brain.
“Hey, you okay?” Alan nudged Ruben’s elbow with his own.
Ruben pulled himself out of his depressing thoughts and met Alan’s concerned gaze. “Yeah.”
“It’s not your shoulder, is it?”
Ruben forced a smile and got to his feet. “Despite last year’s surgery, my shoulder is faring better than my knees. I’m good.” The memory of being forced out by younger, stronger m
Besides, he couldn’t complain. He wasn’t the only one who’d had to quit playing professionally. At least his kids still had both their parents, even if one was in Florida and the other in Vermont. Alan had been forced to do it all on his own, and Ruben hadn’t heard him bitch once about how his life had been turned around inside out.
“Then what is it?” Alan asked in a low voice as he stood up as well. He shrugged out of his wet T-shirt and tossed the thin cotton over his shoulder. Ruben looked away from his broad shoulders and trim waist, squashing the familiar tug of longing. “You used to tell me everything, Ruben.”
There used to be a time when Ruben could tell him everything, but he wasn’t about to pressure Alan with the stupid, unrequited love whine. He knew where Alan stood when it came to the two of them and that was okay. Ruben’s “what ifs” were all his own. But if anybody would understand how much Ruben missed his kids, it would be his best friend.
“I will,” Ruben assured him. “Just not now. Later, when the boys are in bed. Right now I just want to chill and break out the grill.”
“I’ll hold you to that.” Alan turned his gaze on Matt, who was attempting to run and hold onto his falling diaper at the same time. “First, I have a renegade to take care of before he decides to strip naked.”
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Next up on the tour, the lovely Shae Connor! Now for everyone who comments on our blogs or follows us on Twitter or Facebook, they get entered into our Raffle with two fabulous prizes at the end!
10/10: Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words
10/10: Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words