Diamonds and Dugouts 3
To Mom and D:
For always believing, even when I didn’t. And,
also for the name. I wouldn’t be here without you.
And to my editor, Chelsey Emmelhainz:
For taking a story I love and making it shine.
Three years ago
SHE SHOULD BE in jail.
Leslie Cutter signaled the bartender behind the hotel lobby bar for another round and dabbed at the corner of her eye with a fingertip. No way was she going to cry in public. He didn’t deserve that kind of satisfaction.
Nobody would see her cry.
Not even tonight, of all nights. Just the opposite. She should be celebrating her victory. She should be rejoicing in the fact that her fancy-pants attorney had saved her ass from lockup. And she would, too, right after she drowned her sorrows in the bottom of a shot glass.
The word echoed in her mind, taunting her. That’s what they’d called it—the legal terminology. But she felt like it was a personal attack against her character. That the word was meant as a label for her, not some charge leveled against her in the courts.
The dark-haired bartender refilled her glass, and Leslie murmured her thanks, her eyes feeling as watery as the amber liquid she held. She should have known it would come down to this. It always did. No matter how hard she tried, somehow or some way she inevitably screwed up.
She tossed back the shot and sat the snifter down on the mahogany counter with a sharp rap. “Way to screw up yet again, Leslie,” she muttered with a truckload of self-loathing.
Why was it that when it came to men she had absolutely no sense of judgment? The bigger the piece of shit he was, the blinder she became and the harder she fell. Especially when they dressed themselves up in respectable Armani and spouted sweet nothings in her ear.
Which was exactly what Tom had done while pretending to be her honest, reliable accountant. She’d bought it—hook, line and sinker. And he wasn’t the first one. At least this one hadn’t knocked her up before leaving her. Instead, he’d just embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from her public relations firm in Miami and stored it in an offshore account in the Caymans. All the while he’d been sleeping in her bed and telling her how much she was adored.
When the cops had shown up at her door to arrest her for tax fraud, he’d already been on his way out of the country, leaving her brokenhearted to take the blame.
Boy had she.
Leslie blew out a breath, ruffling a strand of pale blonde hair that had fallen in her face. If it weren’t for her brother Mark and his very deep pockets, she’d be wearing a bright orange jumpsuit and stamping license plates at the state penitentiary right now.
She shuddered. God, she looked horrible in orange.
Fortunately for her, Mark’s career as a professional baseball player for the Denver Rush lent him a pretty hefty salary, and he hadn’t hesitated to throw it around, hiring a top-notch defense team for her. It had paid off too. Her life was in ruins; she was beyond broke and had no future.
But she wasn’t in jail.
“Thank God for that,” she said as movement in the mirror behind the long bar caught her attention. It was after eleven and the swanky art deco lounge was almost empty except for a few late-night drinkers like herself. The middle-aged man in a business suit who’d caught her eye was sitting at the baby grand piano in the corner plucking a tune, his tie loosened and disheveled. Every so often he took a long sip of the cocktail he’d set on the glossy black instrument before resuming his stumbling rendition of the Moonlight Sonata with his head down. The expression on his face made her stomach squeeze in sympathy.
He looked like she felt.
Shifting on her bar stool, Leslie uncrossed her long legs, the expensive fabric of her slacks whispering over her recently waxed skin. As she crossed them again the other way she thought about all the perks she’d enjoyed the last five years, like professional waxing, and how those were now officially luxuries of the past.
Frowning, Leslie unbuttoned her suit jacket and shook back her hair. Damn it, but she liked her luxuries. It wasn’t fair that she had to give it all up because of what someone else had done.
Then again, she’d been stupid enough to let it happen, so maybe she did deserve it.
More than already a little in her cups, she tapped her glass and said, “Fill ’er up, bartender.”
Drowning her heartache in Patrón seemed like the appropriate thing to do. And why not? Her life was over.
Everything she’d worked so hard for—gone. She snapped her fingers and wobbled on her stool a little, her balance iffy. Just like that. All of it gone.
As soon as her glass was full again she snatched it up. About to take a drink, she was stopped by the sound of a deep voice coming from right behind her left shoulder. “What’re you doing there, Leslie?”
Sliding her unsteady gaze to the left, Leslie snorted at the man who swung a heavy, muscle-bound leg over the bar stool next to her and sat down, the worn denim of his jeans stretching taut across his thighs.
“I’m celebrating, Peter.” She raised her glass and gave a grand wave. “Can’t you tell?”
Her brother’s teammate, Peter Kowalskin, surveyed her through impossibly pale blue eyes, his expression both amused and concerned. “I heard. Tough break, kid.”
“You don’t know anything about tough.” How could he? He was the Rush’s ace pitcher, and at the height of his career. Money, sex, cars, fame. She was sure he had it all. He certainly acted like it.
She, now, she had nothing.
“You might be surprised by what I know, princess.” Peter leaned forward and placed his elbows on the bar, the thin cotton of his white T-shirt pulling snug across his sculpted biceps. “How many drinks have you had?” His gaze was on the once-again empty snifter.
Bitterness washed over her. “Not nearly enough.” Was there even enough booze in the world to make her numb? Because that’s what she was going for. Numb. Then she wouldn’t have to feel anything.
Peter’s lips twitched a tiny little smile and her gaze zeroed in on his mouth. It looked hard and unforgiving. Squinting through the liquor, she raised a hand and tapped his lips with a finger. The unexpected heat and softness of them had her yanking it right back. “Why are you here? Mark was s’posed to be meeting me right in this bar after your game.” She made a big sweeping gesture. “Was it too much for him to take the elevator down here to the lounge?”
The ballplayer shrugged his shoulders, looking uncomfortable, and Leslie was mesmerized by the way the muscles rolled and flexed. Normally she wouldn’t consider him her type. He was too cocky, too crass. But her life as she knew it had gone up in a puff of smoke and she was feeling reckless.
Tomorrow she’d gather the shattered pieces and try to glue them back together along with her dignity. But for now she was just going to sit right there on the red leather stool in her good-girl navy blue suit and ogle his muscles. Every last one of them.
Why? Because she could, damn it. And because this morning as she’d walked into that courtroom she’d been absolutely sure she was never going to see the light of day again.
The sound of Peter clearing his throat drew her attention. “Your brother sent me instead. He’s been, um, detained.”
Leslie snorted again. She knew exactly what—or rather who—had detained him. No doubt she had legs up to her chin and breasts like over-full water balloons. “So I’m s’posed to thank you in his place?”
The only reason she was in the expensive hotel with its glittering chandeliers and pink fresco walls in the first place—instead of curled up at home with a box of macaroons and a whole lot of tissue—was to give her brother a giant hug for helping her out in her time of crisis.
Looked like she’d wasted her time.
The ballplayer chuckled. “You can thank me anytime you want.” The way he said it made giving thanks sound dirty.
Her gaze roamed over his body once again. Maybe she would thank him. Because dirty was good. It was distracting.
She just bet that Pete, with his badass looks and rock-hard body, could be one hell of a distraction.
Why not let him?
Spinning suddenly on her barstool, Leslie reached out and grabbed a handful of his white T-shirt, thoroughly enjoying the surprised look on his rugged face. Before he could open his mouth to speak she leaned off her stool and planted her lips full on his.
The zing of connection shocked her.
Sliding from the stool like water from a glass, Leslie let go of his shirt and wrapped both arms around his neck as she landed in his lap. She kissed him hard and deep, feeling the pain melt away with every passing second her lips were on his.
This was so much better than getting drunk.
Yanking back, Leslie took in his heated, intense expression. “You’ll do.”
His eyes narrowed. “Care to elaborate on that?”
Nope. She was going to show him instead. That way she could ignore the hollow ache in the center of her chest for a few hours and pretend it didn’t exist. She could pretend she wasn’t on the verge of breaking down. “This is your one chance, Peter. Make it count.”
PETER FLICKED ON the lights and shut the door to his hotel room quietly behind him.
“Are you sure you want to do this, princess?”
Leslie was pretty wasted, and her day hadn’t exactly been stellar. Not that he was opposed to sweaty, raunchy sex with the smokin’ blonde. No, not at all. He’d fantasized about it on more than one occasion already.
It just didn’t seem fair to have sex with her when she probably wouldn’t even remember it the next day.
Without waiting for her response, he slipped into the bathroom to take a quick leak and called out, “We can just talk if you want to.” She was the first woman he’d ever said that to and meant it.
“That’s sweet,” she called back with her sugary Southern drawl all slurred and lazy.
Yeah, that was him all right. Sweet as honey. All the ladies said so.
Peter washed his hands and scoffed to himself. What ladies? There hadn’t been any since he’d first set sight on the blonde bombshell currently sprawled across his hotel mattress like a bed sheet. One look at her luscious curves and intelligent, gorgeous eyes and no other woman would do.
For more than a year he’d wondered what it would be like to have Leslie naked and moaning. He would have found out by now, too, if it wasn’t for Mark being her brother. That had put a real crimp on things.
But now here she was in his bed wanting to have no-strings sex. It was like a cosmic reward for being such a good boy. He just hoped like hell that if he did go through with it, Mark never ever found out. No doubt it would piss him way off, because as much as the catcher tried to hide it, he had a huge heart and was a protective bear about his sister.
If Peter was any sort of morally upstanding guy he’d do nothing more with Leslie than take off her shoes and tuck her under the covers. He thought about it briefly. Considered just leaving.
Yeah, maybe he should do that.
Opening the bathroom door, Peter stepped into the room and stopped dead. Leslie was standing in the middle of the floor without a stitch of clothing on, a sultry smile full of invitation on her lips. Her deliciously voluptuous curves nearly dropped him to his knees. His stomach tightened with need.
“See anything you like?” she purred, and tossed back her sleek blonde hair, putting her hands on her lush hips.
Yeah, if he was any sort of moral guy he’d walk away right now. Just leave and let her sleep it off. That’s what an upstanding guy would do.
But the hell of it was that they had something. A chemistry that crackled like fireworks when they were in the same room together. And knowing that made it so hard to be the good guy and just walk away. Especially when he knew that she wanted him every bit as much as he did her.
He took a step back. Swore. Fought an internal battle of conscience—and lost.
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