Kate Angell

USA Today Bestselling Romance Novelist

STRIKE ZONE

PROLOGUE

La Grave, France

Skill.

Speed and stamina.

Guts.

Freedom.

Taylor Hannah delivered the skiing experience of a lifetime. Three extreme skiers had hit the slopes at dawn, following the regions biggest snow storm. In the lead, she guided them down a mountain that ate people alive.

A major adrenaline high kept her body aerodynamic as she blistered steep faces at warp speed. Only those who’d Carved the slopes since birth dared La Grave. The majority of the adventure addicts and adrenaline junkies were male.

As the sun’s glare burned off the crackled glacier walls, the group traversed crevasses and rappelled into rocky couloirs piled with fresh powder. Off-piste, there were no ski patrol or avalanche control. No boundaries. At their backs, the mountain of La Meije loomed like the grim reaper. Waiting for nature’s law to bring a man down.

Far below, the forest line flashed into view. Beyond that, the shadowed stone cottages of the 12th-century French village.

Four hours had passed in the blink of an eye. Taylor sensed more than saw the weariness that overtook her group toward the end of the run. Even the strongest and most coordinated skier faced fatigue. A fatigue that would steal his focus.

The rush would soon wear off and their bodies would
fold into chairs before the hotel fireplace. Mulled wine would warm their spirits. The Hotel L’Edelweiss would feed their hunger with a four-course spread that included fondue and tartiflette, a potato gratin with cheese, onion and bacon.

Nearing the base, she shifted her skis perpendicular,
snow plowing to a stop. Her pulse racing, her breath harsh puffs on the frosted air, she plunged her ski poles into the snow and pulled off her orange-lensed goggles. Her ski cap came next. She shook out her short blonde hair.

Wind burned her sun-screened cheeks. Her lips now
chapped. Her body grew overly warm beneath the layered ski gear. She pulled off a glove and unzipped her bright blue jacket. Then released the bindings on her skis. The three men surrounding her did the same.

The skiers withdrew bottled water and power bars from
their hydration packs. Taylor went with a handful of cherry jelly beans. Her favorite snack. The small bag stashed in her jacket pocket.

“Total kamikaze.” Blake Carter, a world-class snow-
boarder who’d taken to his skis, slapped his buddies on the back. “Freeriding all the way, man.”

Taylor grinned. The graduate students had challenged
the elements and lived to tell about it.

“Freakin’ insane. My life flashed before my eyes when
we sidestepped down the rock rib.” Matt Everett fought to catch his breath. “Lady, you’re amazing.”

She was her mother’s daughter. Liv Hannah, a one-
time Olympic gold medalist in downhill, had Taylor on skis within days of her first steps. Over the years, Taylor had skied the world.

Her father, an Iron man Triathelete, had groomed her
to warmer climates. An outdoorsman of perseverance and
strength, Stephan competed in countless competitions. From Florida, California to Hawaii, he’d swum, biked, and run to the finish line. He believed in winning. And had always pushed himself hard.

Now, at thirty-three, Taylor faced the challenge of
running Thrill Seekers, along with her younger sister, Eve, following their parents untimely demise in a plane crash over the Amazon.

While Eve scheduled the tours from their Richmond
office, Taylor guided daredevils and adventurers to off-map locales. Just as her parents had done. She seldom returned to Virginia.

“Same time tomorrow?” Jason Cain nudged Taylor with
his elbow. She blinked, returned to the moment. The young man’s anticipation surprised her. Jitters had claimed him when he’d stepped from the telepherique.

Nerves which ran raw even in the most seasoned skiers.
La Meije drew a vertical drop of seven thousand feet,
one of the steepest terrains in Europe. Taylor hadn’t been certain if Jason had the guts to downhill or if he’d return to the base on the aerial tramway.

When his buddies had called him ‘Snow Bunny’, she’d
stepped between the men. Goading Jason served no purpose. Fear was his enemy. Man had to be in-sync with the mountain to survive.

After several deep breaths and a long moment of
silence, Jason had crossed himself twice, then pushed off with the rest of them.

He’d immediately hit cookies - clusters of rocks
poking out of the snow - and managed to keep his legs.
After the initial rough spot, he’d held his own. He’d
hucked – thrown himself off cliffs - and caught big air along with Carter and Everett. He’d also produced the biggest bomb hole when he’d landed.

At the end of the day, there’d been no cuts, bruises
or blisters. No broken bones. Soreness came with the sport. All in all, it had been a good run.

“Grab dinner, a steam and massage,” she instructed
the men. “Get a solid eight hours sleep. I’ll meet you in the hotel lobby at seven sharp.”

“See you, Fearless.” Jason Cain winked, then trudged
off with his buddies.

Fearless. . . The nickname stopped her heart. Another
man, in another lifetime, had called her Fearless. No one had since. Sentiment and sadness claimed her so suddenly she massaged her chest, the memory of Brek Stryker a deep, dull ache.

“Mademoiselle Hannah.” A man from the hotel staff
approached her. He handed her a Federal Express mailer. “This just came for you. Urgent.”

Taylor took the envelope and smiled her appreciation.
L’Edelweiss valued the business Thrill Seekers brought to the hotel. The staff showed her every consideration. The return address reflected Eve’s need to contact her.

She propped her skis against a long bench where
visitors could sit and view the dangerous, yet picturesque La Meije. Then quickly ripped open the mailer.

Inside, she found a photocopy of an engagement
announcement torn from the Virginia Banner. With each word, ice infused her bones beneath her layered ski gear. She shivered uncontrollably.

Hilary Louise Talbott and Brek Stryker are announcing their engagement. The wedding plans are pending. The bride-elect is the daughter of Mayor Wayne and Alice Talbott and a graduate of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Hilary is employed with the investment firm of Talbott and Myers. Brek is the son of Derek and Jayne Stryker and a graduate of University of Virginia, Charlotteville, Virginia and is a professional baseball player with the Richmond Rogues.

Taylor’s legs gave out and she dropped onto the bench.
Fearless. She’d thought of Brek mere moments ago, and news on the man had followed.

News she’d rather not have read.

Stryke was getting married.

The man who had proposed to her three years prior was
marrying someone else. Which he had every right to do.
Taylor had left him at the altar.

She’d always thought she’d have time to go home and
heal their shattered relationship. Brek had been the only man she’d ever loved, yet settling down had scared the hell out of her. He’d wanted marriage within months of the plane crash that took her parents’ lives. He’d gone all concerned and protective, wanting her to lean on him.

Taylor never leaned. On anyone at anytime. She’d been
taught by her parents to be strong. Independent. She’d
needed her own space. Had needed time to grieve. In her own way.

Everything that went into planning their wedding
constricted. From the size of the church to the alterations on her satin and lace gown, her life was no longer her own.

Without meaning to, Stryke had smothered her. Stable
and sane, he’d nearly killed her with his understanding and need to make everything better.

Thrill Seekers had kept her alive.

Throughout their engagement, she took up where her
parents left off. She continued to guide adrenaline junkies on the most dangerous adventures imaginable. She pushed the envelope. Seeking out the remote and undiscovered.

On her wedding day, she’d done the unthinkable. The
church had been booked and decorated for a one o’clock
ceremony. High noon, and Taylor had hopped a plane for the World Paragliding Championships in New South Wales.

She’d never forgiven herself for leaving Brek at the
altar. She should have handled things differently.

She was long overdue in offering an apology.

Perhaps the time was now.

Before he married another woman.


CHAPTER ONE

“Rally Ball’s checking you out, Stryke.” Right
fielder Psycho McMillan snapped his towel toward the corner of the locker room where the Richmond Rogues mascot peered over the low partition separating them from the trainers’ tables. “Charlie Bradley wants you bad,” he referred to the man who performed as Rally.

Brek Stryker slowly turned. Psycho’s comments were as
crazy as the man himself. Yet there was no hiding for the giant fuzz ball nor any discreet peeking. The costume stuck out among the players, a big white baseball with red stitching. Leg and arm holes showcased long red-and-blue striped sleeves and matching tights. The team mascot dipped and bobbed and drew attention to itself.

Showered and shaved, relief pitcher Sloan McCaffrey
toweled off his chest. “Charlie’s not himself today.”

“Definitely not himself.” Third baseman Romeo
Bellisaro stepped into a pair of knife-creased khakis.
“Man’s lost weight. His tights are baggy.”

“He grunts like a girl.” Psycho slipped on a black T-
shirt scripted with Nude ‘Tude. The man preferred to be naked.

Stryke stared at his teammates. “Bullshit.”

“No joke,” Sloan returned. “Charlie was all over the
baseline today, tipping and tripping like he was drunk.”

“Man doesn’t drink,” Stryke knew for a fact. Bradley
was a seasoned mascot and good friend.

“Does he wear nail polish? Perfume?” asked Sloan.

Stryke shook his head. “Never happen.”

Sloan lowered his voice, nodded toward their mascot.
“You’re the team captain. Walk by Rally. Red nails and
do-me perfume.”

Stryke didn’t have time for such nonsense. He had
dinner plans with his fiancée and her parents. Punctuality was part of the program. He didn’t need to be held up by a team prank.

Bare-chested, his black silk boxers low on his hips,
he sauntered toward Rally Ball. The mascot froze, then
began to back up. Slowly at first, then much more quickly. Ten steps, and Rally bumped and bounced off a wall and banged into Stryke’s chest.

They both stilled as the red stitching pressed his
pecs. A too-close-for-comfort brush between men. Stryke
nudged the mascot back. Annoyance drew his growl. “What the hell, Charlie?”

Wiggle. Wiggle. Rally ball squirmed. Once again
rubbing Stryke with fuzz and stitching. The mascot’s
roundness now grazed his abdomen and groin.

Whoa, buddy. Way too familiar.

Stryke grabbed the mascot’s arms. Slender and toned
arms, not burly like those of Charlie Bradley. He
looked down on the fuzz ball’s hands. Claw-a-man’s-
back red tipped the nails on clenched fingers.

Confused, he pulled back and openly stared at the mascot’s red-and-blue tights. Baggy tights, all wrinkled at the knees and pooling at the ankles. The blue Converse high-tops looked big and clumsy like clown shoes.

There was no scent of sweat on Charlie today. Only a
heady sensual fragrance, all sunshine and warm-the-sheets sexy. Amber Nude. A scent he recognized from long ago. The cologne had once seduced and driven him crazy on only one woman’s neck. . .

His jaw locked, and his gaze narrowed on the eye slits of the costume. Wide and uncertain, sea green eyes, lashed sun-gold, replaced the brown of Bradley.

Taylor Hannah.

Stryke’s heart slammed and his body tightened. He
swore he’d have a crippling Charlie horse or a full-blown coronary. Three years had passed since she’d left him at the altar. Instead of an ivory and lace gown, she now faced him in a fuzz ball costume.

He shook his head disbelievingly. “No way in hell.”

For a man who used his body competitively, he couldn’t
move a muscle. Time lengthened as he stood stunned and
rigid. Not until Psycho yelled “Need help?” did Stryke’s breath hiss through his teeth and he took action.

“I’m fine,” he shouted over his shoulder as he grabbed Taylor by the elbow, more roughly than he’d intended. He half-walked, half-dragged her down the hallway to the Mascot Lounge.

Once inside, he slammed the door so hard the glass
shook. He jerked down the shade and turned the lock. Before him now, Taylor as Rally stood stiffly, her arms crooked over her rounded sides, her legs braced.

“Damn, woman, this has to be the stupidest stunt
ever,” he snarled. “What are you doing here? And why are you dressed as Rally?”

Taylor had to agree with Brek Stryker, this was a
stupid stunt. She hadn’t rallied well. The costume was big, bulky, and sauna-hot. Despite her flexibility and
coordination, she’d spent more time weaving and wobbling than rousing the fans. Had it not been for a bat boy coming to her rescue, she’d have rolled into the Rogues dugout.

At game’s end, she’d gotten caught in the players
exit. She’d staggered down the steps, struggled along the tunnel, then stumbled through the set of double doors that led to the locker room. The room was deep and wide and modern.

Rally ball had roll. Before she’d found a hiding
place, she’d wobbled around and gotten an eyeful.

Broad shoulders.

Bare chests.

Six-packs.

Tattoos.

Athletic supporters.

And penises. So many penises.

While Taylor embraced life and all its experiences,
her pulse rioted and her entire body blushed. From behind the low partition, she’d witnessed men in all states of undress. All handsome as hell and comfortable in their skin.

She wasn’t a prude. She did, however, know better than to invade an entire team’s privacy. She’d shut her eyes.

Eventually, the scent of soap and aftershave replaced
sweaty male bodies. She’d peered through the eye slits and noticed most of the Rogues now wore boxers or briefs. A few let freedom ring. All around her the men discussed their evening plans. She knew many of the older players from the time she’d dated Stryke: Risk Kincaid, Zen Driscoll, and the Bat Pack - Psycho, Romeo, and Chaser. The younger players she recognized from the occasional sports’ magazines and televised games.

Locating Brek had been easy. At six foot four and
testosterone driven, he embodied baseball. A pitcher like him came along in twenty, maybe thirty years. Few batters laid wood on his blazing fastball and sharp slider. He’d won the Cy Young Award five times as well as seven Gold Gloves.

He held a strong presence both on and off the field,
maintaining a variety of business, charity and personal
interests in the community.

Rogues’ fans loved him. Bred and born in Richmond,
he was one of their own. Once, he’d belonged to her.

An unexpected sigh had escaped as she’d taken him in,
from his cropped brown hair to the bold line of his
eyebrows. Sun lines slashed near his eyes. His cheeks were lean, his chin formidable.

She’d stared openly at his athletic build, from the
breadth of his shoulders to his size fourteen feet. The shadowed shift of his sex between his thighs flirted with her as he’d toweled off and tugged on his boxers.

The man was generously sized.

He looked hot in his Rogues uniform. Hotter still
in silk boxers. She’d wondered if he remained ticklish just below his ribs. If he would still get hard if she blew softly on his belly.

It had taken Psycho’s snap of the towel and a nod in
her direction for Taylor to blink. She’d known the moment Stryke looked her way she was in deep-ass trouble. She should have left the locker room the moment she’d entered, but the possibility of seeing him up close had swayed her heart to stay.

Stryke was a total man-bite, so delectable a woman
could nibble on him all night long. Years ago, she’d
nibbled, nuzzled, sucked. . .and fallen in love.

Love was not in the air now.

“Remove the costume,” his deep, rough tone sliced
through her thoughts and resonated low in her belly. His dark look indicated if she didn’t move fast, he’d rip Rally off her body.

So be it. If the man could stand before her in his
boxers, she might as well strip down to her sports bra and panties. Charlie Bradley had warned her when she’d rented the costume to wear next to nothing inside Rally. In no more than Barelythere underwear, she’d still perspired profusely. She swore she’d lost five pounds.

So much for her best laid plans. She now stood knee-
deep in silence and raw nerves. Sweat dripped off her brow and onto her eyelids. Her eyes burned, and would soon be bloodshot.

She toed off the high-tops. Then went to work on the
long stretch of zipper that ran beneath her left armpit, down and over the curve of her hip. A zipper that soon stuck below her breast. Frustrated and all fingers, she twisted, strained, and swore beneath her breath as the metal teeth bit and bruised her skin. It had been so much easier getting into the costume than it was getting out.

“Little help here,” she finally requested.

Stryke bent toward her. “Raise your arm.”

Up went her arm and down came his hand. His knuckles
brushed the soft underside of her breast as he prodded and pulled on the zipper. Her nipple puckered and her heart pounded so hard and fast her chest hurt.

The slide of the metal teeth soon bared her to him. She caught the shift of his jaw, the narrowing of his eyes, as he stood back and watched her peel off the costume. Down to her black bra and matching boyshorts.

She felt like a stripper. The slide of the red-and-
blue sleeves down her arms, followed by the unrolling of the baggy tights, held his slate-blue gaze. As did the big bruise on her inner thigh and the Ace bandage that wrapped her left knee. She’d taken a tumble on the slopes her last day on La Meije. Her mind had been on Stryke and not the sharp dogleg that made the mountain treacherous.

Now, beneath a flickering overhead light, they both
stood in their underwear. The situation was as familiar as it was strange, as both their lives had changed. She was seeking his forgiveness, and he looked far from forgiving.

Nudging the costume aside with her foot, she curled
her bare toes against the white tiled floor. She waited for Stryke to meet her gaze.

He finally looked up. His expression stone-cold.

She shivered. Long gone was any hint of a smile. Any
ounce of warmth. The man stood closed to her.

The moment stretched, thinned, finally broke when he
demanded, “Where’s Charlie Bradley?”

“I have no idea.” Which was the truth. “I offered the
man three hundred dollars to rent Rally for the weekend. He mumbled something about overdue child support and a trip to Norfolk.”

“You rented Rally?”

Crossing her arms over her chest, she went on the
defensive. “You have a problem with that?”

Confusion creased his brow. “Why would you pull such a stunt?”

Because I heard you were getting married and wanted to see you one last time as a single man. “I seek thrills.”

He snorted. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

The man deserved an explanation. “I scrunched into a
cab and entered the stadium through the gate near the bull pen. Security let me pass with a flash of Charlie’s identification badge. The guards believed I was their veteran mascot. I paid the taxi driver to pick me up after the game. I’d planned to sneak out of the park without notice. The locker room was a fluke.”

“What brought you to Richmond?” He’d drawn a line
between them, and she was trespassing on his town.

She had the perfect excuse. “Addie’s birthday. My
grandmother turns eighty next weekend. Eve and I are
throwing her a party.”

“After the party?”

“Desert hiking across the Sahara.”

“Pack sunscreen.”

She’d be less exposed than she was now. “Any chance I
could borrow a pair of your sweats?” she asked. “I hadn’t planned to get caught nor face you. I was going to wear the costume home, not strip down to my underwear in the Mascot Lounge.”

Brek Stryker ran one hand down his face. He and Taylor stood in an uncomfortable and compromising position. Even with the door locked, the trainers and maintenance men had keys. Someone could walk in at any time. He was an engaged man. Caught nearly naked with a previous fiancée would trigger gossip he didn’t need. He wanted Taylor gone.

He took in her tousled blonde bangs, sea green eyes,
and kissable lips. Years ago, he’d never missed an
opportunity to make love to her mouth.

He wondered if she still tasted like the cherry jelly
beans she’d always carried in her pocket.

Shaking off the thought, he said, “I’ll see what I
have in my locker.”

Tension hummed through his body and echoed in his ears as he left the lounge. His muscles remained so tight, he felt like the Tin Man.

He found the locker room empty, his teammates long
gone. He had fifty minutes to cut Taylor from his life and connect with his fiancée.

Hilary Louise had been on his mind when Psycho snapped his towel and nodded toward Rally. She was a soft-spoken woman, sweet and unassuming, and always available when he called. Employed by her uncle, Hilary dealt in stocks and bonds, and investment portfolios.

Outside of work, she gardened and dabbled in pastels. She’d never once proved a distraction. That he valued most. She made no demands on his life. Hilary didn’t follow baseball, yet she understood his need
to succeed. This was the year he could surpass several
major league records held by his father, Derek, who’d once pitched professionally for the Ottawa Raptors.

Sportscasters were eating up the father-son statis-
tics. With each start, they pulled out the record book, ready to write his name one line above his old man.

Stryke needed every ounce of concentration. It was time to best his father. Derek would be cheering him on, the loudest of anyone in the stands.

Facing Taylor had resurrected old times and bad
memories. His first glimpse of her had hit so fast, he
hadn’t had time to brace himself. She’d gutted him once
again. He hated the fact her thrill seeking affected him so strongly. He’d be counting down the days to her North African departure.

Lifting a white T-shirt and pair of gray sweat pants
from his locker, he returned to the Mascot Lounge. He
tossed her his clothes.

“Shower and dress,” he said flatly.

“And you’ll show me the door?”

He nodded. “I’ll be in the locker room when you’ve
finished.”

“Maybe then we can talk.”

Talk? No way in hell. “I’ve nothing to say to you,
Taylor.”

“I owe you an explanation.”

“You’re three years too late.”

She looked about to argue the point, but instead went
silent. For which he was grateful. There wasn’t a reason she could give that would set things right between them.

Not after all this time.

His life with her was over.

From the corner of his eye, he watched her walk to the
mascot shower. He couldn’t deny her smokin’ hot body and wild child genes. Sporting blood ran in her veins. She’d been high-octane and low maintenance when they’d been together. In the end, a flight risk.

Her banged up body surprised him. He’d caught the
bruises and Ace bandage at her knee. He’d tamped down his heartbeat of concern. Lady could take care of herself.

Taylor shut the door, and his breath rushed out. It
took little imagination on his part to visualize her
movements. He’d watched her undress countless times when they’d lived together. At that very moment, she’d be unfastening her bra. She had a slow, sexy way of slipping the straps off her shoulders which allowed her breasts to fall freely from the cups. She’d raise her arms over her head and stretch out her spine until it cracked. Then draw down her boyshorts.

In the stillness, he was certain he’d heard her
panties drop. She’d be naked.

He felt his dick harden in memory of her sleek and
sinewed body. Taylor Hannah was as kick-ass as she was
feminine. She’d always embraced shower sex with eucalyptus gel, steam, and pink-skinned slickness. She’d remained hot even after the water ran cold.

His curse colored the air. Disgusted with himself,
Stryke left her to the warm spray and walked stiff-legged to his locker. He needed time and whatever distance he could maintain between them to clear his head.

Time was not on his side. Taylor came to him quickly.
She scuffed across the locker room in the mascot’s too-
large sneakers, her body lost in his clothes. His XXL
T-shirt hung to her knees. She’d cuffed his sweat pants three times over her calves.

As if time had stood still, and she belonged in his
life, she dropped down on the bench and watched him dress.

Ignoring his glare, she focused on his groin. “I
always loved your tat.”

His tattoo from his rookie year, small, yet represen-
tative of his pitching career. Taylor had modeled for the drawing. Beneath a mini-skirt, a pair of shapely legs spread over home plate, a baseball thrown and centered between the caricatures thighs. Strike Zone was scripted between her red stilettos.

His tattoo had lasted longer than their relationship.

He nodded toward the double doors. “Feel free to
leave.” She’d left him once, she could do so again. He
didn’t need an audience while he dressed.

“Yeah. . .I could.” But she didn’t move.

He tugged on a pair of black cargo pants, reached for
a cream-colored polo. Then slipped on leather loafers,
without socks.

Still, she sat, her gaze on him. He noticed the
wariness in her eyes and the weariness etched on her
features. She looked suddenly tired.

He’d never seen her less than super-charged.

“Point me to a phone and I’ll call a cab,” she finally
requested. “My ride’s long gone. I’ll need a loan to get me home.” She patted her thighs. “I didn’t bring a purse to the park. I’ll pay you back when I return your T-shirt and sweats.”

“Keep the clothes.” Their reunion was over. “There’s
no need to repay me. I’d prefer our paths didn’t cross a second time.”

“But they will, Stryke,” she told him straight out.
“One more time. I’m Rally again tomorrow.”

His stomach clutched. “Not going to happen.”

“It will happen. Charlie’s out of town and the Rogues
need a mascot. I’ve got Rally down now. I can control the roll. I’ll have better balance next time.”

“You’re not going back on the field.”

“Who’s going to stop me?”

It was an open challenge. During their time together,
she’d issued so many. Challenges he’d won more than lost, but he hadn’t been engaged to another woman then.

Stryke didn’t want Taylor parading as Rally. He was
scheduled to start against the Raptors. A glimpse of her wobbling like a Weeble would prove too damn distracting from the mound.

He jammed his hands in his pockets, broadened his
stance. Went for intimidating. “I’ll tell management
that Charlie’s sick.”

She wasn’t afraid of him. “I’ll phone Guy Powers and
offer to replace him.”

She had him by the balls. And knew how to squeeze.
They were both aware the team owner adored her. Powers
admired bold, beautiful, free-spirited women. Women like his first wife, Corbin, who he’d divorced when the competition between them as individual team owners separated them as widely as the American and National Leagues.

Corbin refused to sell the Louisville Colonels. And
Powers lived and breathed the Rogues. Baseball meant more to them than their wedding vows.

Powers had sympathized with Stryke, yet empathized
with Taylor when she’d left Stryke at the altar.

Stryke didn’t share Powers feelings.

Taylor Hannah had ditched him before one thousand
guests. Her departure had cut him, sharp and deep, and he’d nearly bled out. He’d canceled the reception, then cashed in their honeymoon package to Parrot Cay for half its value.

His good buddies, center fielder Risk Kincaid and
shortstop Zen Driscoll, along with their wives Jacy and Stevie, had helped him pack up and post every gift. It had taken three weeks, six days, and two hours to clear the wedding presents from his living room and foyer.

Taylor had fractured his ego.

She’d made him look the fool in front of his friends.

Worst of all, she’d broken his heart.

He’d never let her near him again.

Nor would he pit Guy Powers between them. He had too
much respect for the man to involve him in their dispute.

Fixing Taylor with a dead-on look, he warned, “Go
ahead and play Rally. However, if you so much as wobble within a foot of my peripheral vision, I’ll have security haul your ass—“

She flashed her palm. “I get the picture.”

He unclipped his cell phone from a side pocket on his
cargo pants and tossed it to her. “Make your call.”

She dialed the cab company from memory. By the end of
the conversation she was frowning. “My taxi won’t arrive for thirty to forty minutes.”

“I don’t have time to wait.”

“I can wait by myself.”

Dusk cast shadows over the stadium and empty parking
lot. No matter how anxious he was to send Taylor on her
way, he couldn’t leave her alone. It wasn’t safe.

“I’ll give you a ride,” he finally decided.

“Harley or McLaren?”

“I now drive a SUV.”

“A family man’s car.”

He saw it in her eyes then, she knew he was engaged.
Whether mountain climbing or white water rafting, he
figured the news would reach her eventually. He had no
intention of discussing his present engagement with his ex-fiancée. “Let’s go. I’m late for my dinner date.”

“No reason to keep the lady waiting.”

“No reason at all.”

He followed her through the double doors, silence
separating them and their years apart. He cut a glance to the woman by his side. Dressed in his T-shirt and sweat pants, she appeared to belong to him. Which rode his last nerve.

Once seated in his Cadillac Escalade, he asked, “Where to?”

“Thrill Seekers.”

“On John Adams Parkway?”

She shook her head. “The business moved last week.
We’re in the same historical landmark building as Jacy’s Java.”

His jaw worked. The coffee shop was his first stop in
the morning and oftentimes his last one at night. Years ago, he and Taylor had been Jacy’s best customers. He’d continued the coffee tradition long after she’d gone.

For two years and four months, he’d order an
Americana, then sat and read the newspaper. Each new
arrival had drawn his gaze. He’d continue to hope Taylor would breeze through the door, as in need of her caffeine fix as she would be of him.

He’d waited and waited.

She’d never shown.

Now, with Thrill Seekers in the same block, chances
were good he’d run into her at least once during her stay.

Lady liked her coffee.

That did not please him. At all.

He’d hardened his heart against this woman.

She could buy her own iced lattes and raspberry
scones.

Game face on for the next seven days.

Taylor would never hit another home run off him.
Lady had struck out.

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