Happy Thursday, folks! The winner of my giftcard contest is Joy Ota! (Yay, Joy! Check your email.)
Now for the “loser” part of the deal.
As I mentioned before, the heroes in my Reedsville Roosters series are from a minor league baseball team with a history of losing. Sometimes the feeling of incompetence bleeds over to other parts of their lives, and the guys decide they’ve had enough.
Here’s ex-player (and ex-loser) Quinn Hathaway in a little excerpt from Designated Hitter, which you can get in the At Her Service anthology for just 99¢ through 3/17.
She narrowed her dark-as-night eyes at him again. Maybe her expression would have intimidated other men, but Quinn was around women like her all the time. He’d gotten so he preferred ladies who were a little bossy—who’d tell him what to do and then make him do it.
Yeah, he’d enjoy that. Missed it. It’d been too long since he’d given up control to someone. Not since Emilie Beaudelaire, and he couldn’t have her anymore. She was off the market, and cohabitating with a couple of ex-Roosters who’d likely stomp him into the earth if he ever happened to cross their paths. It wasn’t his fault that Quinn and Ren always went after the same chicks. Quinn sure as shit wouldn’t have done it on purpose. He didn’t want anyone’s sloppy seconds.
“I can tell you this, though.” He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his sweatpants. Marina’s gaze tracked down his chest to the bulge of one pocket, then the other, and then fixed on the bulge in the middle.
He jiggled it.
She looked up.
He grinned. “Caught you looking. Go on and look. It’s an occupational hazard for me, I assure you.”
“Thank you for the kind offer, but I’ll pass. I believe you were going to tell me something.”
He would have rather showed her something. Something that was getting hard and long, and he wasn’t going to try to hide it. He wanted her to see it—to pay attention to him, especially since it seemed to be such a chore for her. Her ignoring him seemed to make him even needier for praise. “I could tell you so many things,” he said low.
“I bet you could, you slick-tongued bozo. But we were talking about your client. What were you going to say about her?”
“Oh. That.” He sighed dramatically and leaned against the doorway again. “Only that a certain baseball team owner was looking for a good reason to cut me since that happened. You know, he would have never found out my name from the agency. He didn’t get it from them.”
“So, you’re saying my stepmother told him?” She narrowed her eyes and muttered, “That cheating strumpet. I told him—”
“Now, now.” Quinn wagged a finger at Marina and suppressed the urge to follow up on that surprising aspersion. Apparently, Marina wasn’t as fond as her dear-old stepmother as Quinn had assumed. “I’m not telling you that.”
“Right, right.” She rolled her eyes. “Confidentiality.”
“Yep. You’re gettin’ the gist.”
“The gist I’m getting is that you’re passing the buck to me, and yet I had absolutely nothing to do with your circumstances.”
“Maybe you didn’t, but if you had any goodness in your heart, you’d want to do a little bit to fix them.”
“I’ve got plenty of goodness in my heart. I write a check to the local women’s shelter in my city every month and I let kids whose mothers’ need emergency babysitting so they can go to work hang out at my house when I’m there. Don’t assume that just because I’m not falling for your flimflam means that I’m a cruel, cold-hearted bitch.” She gave his shoulder a poke. “It just means I’m smart.”
Quinn bobbed his eyebrows and let out an indignant huff. “Hooray for you. You oughta get a trophy for winning at life.”
“That sounds like something someone who’s used to finishing in last place would say.”
She barely heard the snarl before she felt his gentle grip on her upper arms, and herself being pulled close to him. He held her tight and glowered down at her with his brow furrowed and mouth a stern slash. “I am not a loser,” he ground out.
Body tight and tongue arrested, Marina couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. She was rendered paralyzed by her own words. She wasn’t the sort of woman who enjoyed wounding people on purpose, emotionally or otherwise, but he kept setting himself up for it. He kept instigating her bad behavior as if it were the only way he knew how to get her to respond.
And, oh, she was going to respond. She couldn’t help but to.
“Why are you so mean to me?” His tone was desperate and a bit pleading, like some little boy who didn’t understand that sometimes people were shitty. But Marina wasn’t one of those shitty people. She tried to be kind as much as she could be, but she had her walls up for a reason. Her trust was a hard thing to earn.
Her lungs relaxed enough for her to draw in a deep breath, and she let it out slowly, keeping her gaze fixed on his intense glare. “Unhand me, Quinn.”
“I’m sorry.” He let go of her and took a step back—out onto the doormat.
“You behave as if I’ve prejudged you, but I haven’t. I’m treating you this way because it’s what you’ve fed into. Do you understand me?”
Brow furrowed, he ground his jaw.
“You want to flip the script now and say you’re an okay guy? That’s not what your body of evidence supports.”
“No one ever gives me a chance.”
“And so, what? You lash out at them for treating you the way you’ve trained them to? Well, let me tell you something.” She fisted the front of his shirt and yanked him back over the threshold. She didn’t want the whole damn neighborhood craning its collective ears toward the house.
Closing the door, she said, “If I’ve learned one thing as a woman, it’s that sometimes, we’ve got to put up with a lot of bullshit. Lots of unfair treatment that’s usually based on spurious reasoning. We get prejudged for what’s between our legs and what people think is missing from between our ears. I get treated like garbage, actively and passively, all the damn time. And you know what? I suck it up because I have to.”
She shrugged. “And that’s the difference between you and me, I guess. I can put my pride aside to accomplish things, even when I’d rather not submit myself. Is it fair?” She scoffed. “Hell no. But that’s life. You surf it the best you can, and if it takes you under with a big wave, you just hope you can find your way up to the surface before you drown.”
Quinn raked a hand through his short, dark hair, and stared at her some more. There was no more malice in his expression, but the anguish that had replaced it didn’t relax her any.
In fact, it made her sad for him.
What happened to him?