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Tuesday Teaser 1/16/18

Tomorrow Strong Hearts comes out!!! I am going to post one last teaser from Brutus and Denise’s story.
Then next week I’ll begin giving you little tidbits from Gina and Colby’s story.

Young woman embracing man with naked muscular torso

Although I don’t think contemporary romance will ever be my favorite to write, I have to say I loved Brutus. He’s so big and mean looking, but he really does have a tender heart. At least for Denise, the heroine. I had a hard time deciding which pic to choose for the cover. I finally picked the one where they are embracing front to front.  But I’m including the other one so you can see how gorgeous Brutus’s chest is  🙂

These two are like real people. That is, they are good people, but they are human, and they have flaws. I hope you’ll give them a try.  🙂

Chapter Three

 

“Hey, Wolfe, it’s me.” Brutus squeezed the phone between his ear and shoulder while he dumped a scoop of dry food in Rowdy’s bowl. The dog looked at him like he was only minutes away from starvation. “There ya go. Good boy.”

“What?” said Wolfe.

“Not you. I was talking to the dog.” He dropped the plastic scoop into the trashcan he used to store Rowdy’s food and flipped the lid shut. “Hey, look, I was in Billie’s tonight and—”

Wolfe cut him off with a groan. “You got drunk and had another fight?”

“Oh, for … No! All I had was a cup of coffee, and I was there for only thirty minutes.”

He should have stayed longer, taken the opportunity to talk some more with Denise, but he had been so elated when she agreed to meet him at the game he hadn’t trusted himself to make sense during a conversation. Which reminded him of why he’d called his buddy.

“Look, I ran into that girl. Her name is Denise. The game was on at Billie’s, and it turns out she’s a big Rangers fan. So I asked her out to the game on Saturday.”

There was a moment of silence on the phone. “The game we’re going to on Saturday?”

“Uh, yeah. Could I buy your ticket from you?”

“I don’t know. I was looking forward to seeing the game.”

Brutus’s heart fell. “Aw, c’mon, Wolfe. The season is almost over, and there’s no way the Rangers can pull up enough to make the playoffs. Culver is pitching. It’s not like you’d be missing anything.”

A sigh came over the phone and Wolfe’s voice turned dreamy. “Except some quality time with my best bud.”

Brutus took the phone from his ear and stared at it. “The fuck?”

Wolfe’s snicker grew to a howl. “Gotcha.”

Brutus huffed a weak chuckle. “You suck.”

“Yeah, but you can have my ticket anyway. Hope you and Denise have a good time at the game.”

 

Denise left the National Guard Armory at half past four on Saturday. She had only two hours to get home, bolt down supper, change out of her uniform, shower, dress, and drive to Arlington to meet Brutus at the ballpark. She was met at the door by an eager Stella.

“I’ve got an interview right away Monday morning,” she reported.

“That’s great.” Denise tossed the words over her shoulder as she headed to her bedroom. Her uniform came off quickly, but she took the time to neatly hang it to wear again tomorrow.

Stella leaned on the doorjamb. “Would you like me to make you a sandwich?”

“I would love that. Thank you.”

She took the quickest shower of her life, blasted her hair with the blow dryer for two minutes, and put it up in its usual ponytail. She grabbed clean jeans and her Texas Rangers jersey and pulled them on. She snagged her Rangers ballcap, threading her ponytail through the gap in the back. When she went out to the kitchen, Stella stared at her.

“Is that what you’re wearing on your date?”

Her sister sounded horrified. Denise looked down at herself to be sure the jersey didn’t have a stain. “Yeah. Why?”

“No makeup?”

“I hardly ever wear makeup. Thanks for the sandwich.”

Stella poured some chips on the side on the paper plate. “You’re welcome. Are you sure about the makeup? I could do your eyes for you. Your eyes are real pretty. All you need is a bit of liner and mascara to bring them out.”

Oddly touched, Denise smiled. “Thanks, Stella. Maybe next time. We’re just going to the ballgame, and I’m running a little late.” She bit into her sandwich, surprised and pleased that the amount of mustard was just right. “Good sandwich.”

Denise’s phone rang.  She looked at the screen before answering. “Hi, mom, what’s up?”

“Denise, I haven’t talked to you in an age.”

“It’s a been a while.” Denise agreed. “I’m sort of busy right now.”

Stella opened the fridge. “Did you want a pickle?”

Her mom said, “Who was that?”

Denise jumped up. “No one.” She shook her head at Stella and edged out of the kitchen, pausing in the short hall.

“I heard a voice,” her mom said.

“It was the TV. Hey, I’m heading out to the Ranger’s game in a few minutes. Can’t talk now.”

“Well, alright. You give me a call sometime this week. We haven’t talked in too long.”

Denise agreed and hung up. Thank God she dodged that bullet. What her mom would say about Stella staying with her made Denise shudder. She went back to her sandwich and her sister.

There was a wrinkle between Stella’s pale brows. “Was that your mom? I heard her ask about me.  Why did you call me no one?”

Darn it, she needed to turn down the volume on her phone. “I didn’t. I mean, I didn’t mean it like that.”

“You oughtn’t lie to your mama.”

Denise took a large bite of sandwich and attempted diplomacy. “Well, the thing is, mom would be unhappy if she knew you were here, and there’s no reason to cause her grief. She’s sort of crazy when it comes to the assh… er, your dad.”

Stella tilted her head to the side. “Daddy said she wouldn’t like it at all.”

Denise shoved a handful of chips into her mouth to prevent a sarcastic comment about her sperm donor. “Tell me about your job interview.”

Stella brightened. “Oh, I think it’s the perfect place for me. The hours are good, and the pay is reasonable. Not great, you know? But the tips ought to be real good. It’s at The Pink Pussycat Lounge.”

Denise swallowed with effort. “That’s a, uh …” She stalled, not sure what to say.

“It’s a gentlemen’s club. From what I’ve read, it’s a nice place. It’s in an old, historic part of town. Lots of rich tourists.” She must have seen the horror Denise tried to hide, because she giggled. “The position is for a waitress, not a topless dancer. It’s work I’ve done before. I’m good at it, too.”

That was work that Denise wouldn’t do in a million years. But Stella would never want to clean the kennels at the dog shelter. “Well, that’s great. I hope you get it.” Denise stood up and grabbed her keys. “Gotta go. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“Have fun.”

The drive to Arlington took way too long. When she finally got to the stadium, the parking lot was filling up fast. She glanced at the clock on the dash. Twenty-five after six. She beat a pickup truck to a sliver of a spot. The truck never would have fit. Then she locked her car and bolted to the area Brutus said he would meet her.

The crowd was thick. At five-six, she wasn’t tiny, but she couldn’t see much but backs, shoulders and heads.

There he was.

His short brown hair was hidden under a Texas Rangers ballcap, but he was a head taller than most of the other people here. He stood against a wall, arms folded over his massive chest, like a colossus standing guard. She stood on tiptoe and waved to get his attention. She knew the exact moment he saw her. His face relaxed from a cold, granite mask to a warm smile. In that moment, even with his blunt, heavy features, he was almost unbearably handsome. In only a moment he’d plowed through the people jammed between them and came to her side.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said breathlessly.

He glanced at his wrist. “Only by two minutes.”

“Oh, good. Traffic was murder. I’m glad you’re so tall. I don’t know how I would have found you otherwise.”

His cheeks flared with color. “I’m a pretty big guy,” he said, looking away.

“Good thing, too,” she said brightly. “In a crowd like this I tend to get lost, so I’ll just stick to you like a leech, and you can get us where we need to go.”

His gaze flashed back to her face and a slow smile curved his lips. “Sounds good to me. Hang on.”

He grabbed her hand and towed her through the crowd. Most people got out of his way before he got to them. Denise laughed with delight as she watched people melt away from their path. People never did that for her, she always had to squirm and nudge people to get through a crowd. They got to the turnstiles and Brutus handed over their tickets, then led the way up the stairs to their section. His long legs made climbing the extra wide, extra tall steps look easy. Denise had to stretch her legs to make the climb. She was panting a little when they got to their row.

They settled into their seats and then neither of them seemed to know what to do or say next. They spent several minutes looking at the people marching up and down the steps like armies of ants, and down at the field where some of the players were warming up. Finally, he cleared his throat.

“Are you from Dallas?” he asked.

Relief that he had spoken first eased the strain. “No, I grew up near Fredericksburg. My family ranches about three miles northwest of it.”

His head jerked around. “Fredericksburg? I’m from Kerrville.”

Denise stared. Kerrville was only a thirty-minute drive from Fredericksburg. “Small world,” she commented. “You must have gone to Tivy High?”

“Yeah, my mom taught English there.”

They exchanged stories of their high school years. He graduated two years before she had and joined the Navy immediately afterward. After her graduation, she had tried tech school for a year.

“But I didn’t do very well,” she confessed, “so I joined the Army. I did one tour in Iraq, and when my ETS came up, I decided to go into the Guard and go back to school.”

She glanced up and caught his gaze. He had the most beautiful eyes, especially when he smiled at her. “What’s your MOS?”

When she told him, he thought a minute. “They keep changing the designations. Motor pool?”

She nodded. “Mechanic. Wheeled vehicles. Although in Iraq, I did plenty of work on track vehicles too. Nothing like sand to gunk equipment up.”

He laughed shortly. “Tell me about it. A mechanic, huh? Have you always been into that?”

She shrugged. “I guess. Growing up on the ranch, I learned a lot about all kinds of stuff, from fixing equipment to grinding feed to herding cows. I was the only girl, so my uncles and cousins treated me just like a boy.”

“What about your sister?”

Denise stilled. “She grew up in Mississippi.”

“Oh, your parents divorced? That’s tough. You must have been pretty young.”

May as well get it out and over with. “They were never married. My mom thought they would be. When she found out she was pregnant with me, she told him. She thought they’d get married then. But it turns out he was already married, and his wife was expecting, too. Stella is five months older than me. I never even met her until two weeks ago.”

His mouth hung open for a split second. His voice went flat. “Your father is an ass. People don’t sleep around when they’re married. Period.”

Now her mouth hung open. He might have misunderstood her reaction, because he hurried to apologize.

“Sorry,” he said. “He’s your dad. I shouldn’t put him down.”

“Oh, no, please do.” Her chuckle was brittle. “I’ve never met him, and I have no plans to. I don’t call him dad, because he’s not. I suppose he’s my father, but only in the biological sense of the word. I have my uncle Rob and my uncle Steve, and that’s good enough for me.” She swallowed, anxious to turn the conversation. “How about you? Sisters? Brothers?”

“Two brothers, one older and one younger. Cash helps manage the ranch and vineyards. Gus bums around. He works the rodeo circuit, mostly bull riding, and works on the ranch in the offseason.”

The game started. The Rangers’ pitcher, Culver, retired the first three batters, all on strikeouts.

“Good start,” Brutus said. “Culver’s earned run average isn’t that great this season, but he’s looking good today.”

Denise agreed. She accepted the hotdog and beer Brutus ordered, and settled in the enjoy the game. He wasn’t the fidgety sort. He followed the game with keen interest, but he didn’t scream or shout when the Rangers got a hit. When the Rangers scored a run in the second inning, he only smiled and sucked down more beer. He did lean forward to watch Culver face his twelfth batter and retire him.

“It’s the bottom of the fourth,” he murmured, “and so far, Culver hasn’t given up a hit or a walk.”

He didn’t need to tell her that as of now, Culver was pitching a perfect game. “It’s only the fourth inning,” she cautioned. “Too early to get too excited.”

He nodded. “True. Plenty of games start out good but …” He trailed off, apparently unwilling to jinx it.

The fifth inning came to a close without a hit or a walk. During the sixth inning, everyone in the ballpark seemed to be aware that they could be seeing history. A perfect game came around only once in a blue moon. In the entire history of baseball, a period of nearly one hundred and fifty years, less than two dozen perfect games had ever been pitched. Most pitchers never pitched a game where they didn’t give up a hit or a walk. No one had ever done it twice. Denise reached up to tighten her ponytail even though it didn’t need it.

The air during the seventh inning stretch seemed electrified. Half the stadium sang Take Me Out To the Ball Game with manic energy, and the other half just stood silently. She was on the manic side. Brutus stood quietly beside her.

Culver started the eighth inning with his eleventh strikeout. Not a single person in the stands cheered. No one wanted to breathe any harder than they had to for fear of distracting Culver.

“How many pitches has he thrown?” Denise muttered. “If they take him out—”

“They won’t take him out. He has a solid shot at a perf …” Brutus swallowed. “You know.”

The next batter sent an easy pop fly to right field. The third batter of the inning went down swinging. Denise looked up at Brutus and saw the same wonder and anticipation there that she felt herself. One more inning. Could Culver keep this up for three more batters?

At the top of the ninth Denise sat on her hands to keep them from trembling. The first batter struck out. The stadium was dead silent. Even the announcer said nothing. The players in the dugout lined the fence, faces intent. The second batter swung at the first pitch and missed. A sigh went around the stadium. People rose to their feet, still silent, straining to see everything. Denise and Brutus stood too. The second pitch was a ball. The third pitch was a ball. Denise wished she had more beer to wet her dry throat. The fourth pitch was a strike. The fifth was a ball. It was a full count. The next pitch could be the one that ended Culver’s perfect game. Brutus took her hand. She clenched his fingers in an agony of nerves. Together they watched the next pitch. Foul ball.

Brutus lifted his cap enough to swipe the back of his hand over the sweat on his forehead. Denise watched Culver wind up and closed her eyes. She opened them in time to see the batter swing and miss.

Strike three. Her knees threatened to collapse. She gripped Brutus’s big hand harder. He looked down at her and smiled. It was a tight smile, probably intended to be reassuring, but he looked as tense as she felt. Only one more batter. If Culver got this guy out, he would make baseball history.

The third and last batter of the ninth inning stepped into the batter’s box. The glare on his face said he intended to put an end to this perfect game.

Denise’s heart stopped at the crack of the bat hitting the ball. The ball soared three hundred and seventy feet to center right. Denise quit breathing while she watched the outfielder sprint desperately to catch the ball. When he did, the smack of the ball in the mitt could be heard clear to Dallas. Utter silence reigned for five more seconds. Then the stadium broke out in hysteria. The announcer shouted that they had just witnessed the twenty-fourth perfect game in major league baseball history. The wave of cheering was like a wall of sound crashing into her. Denise’s legs turned into cotton candy, and the only reason she didn’t fall down was Brutus’s big hands on her waist. He had a curiously blank look on his face.

“Wolfe is going to kill me,” he said.

“Oh, my God,” she screamed up at him. “He did it! Culver pitched a perfect game! And we got to see it!”

“I know,” he said, quite calmly, picked her up, and kissed her.

Surprise held Denise still for a split second. She decided it must be one of those quick, carried-away-by-the-moment kisses, fast, hard, and full of jubilation. But it wasn’t. His face was hard and blunt, but his lips were indescribably soft. His kiss was gentle. Exploratory. Hot. She forgot her feet were inches off the concrete. She forgot she’d just witnessed baseball history. The people jumping up and down and screaming madly only inches from her ceased to exist when his tongue brushed over her lips, asking to come in. Her arms reached up and around his neck and she kissed him back with everything in her.

It was a long moment before she came up for breath. She blinked at the hot way he looked at her. “Come home with me,” he growled.

Her girl parts screamed yes. The rest of her said no. She braced her hands against his chest. His pectorals were bunched and hard from holding her one hundred and thirty pounds up. It was hard, but she shook her head. “Too soon.” Those two were the only words she could find for a minute. “But this deserves a celebration. How about a beer and some dancing at Billie’s?”

He didn’t answer for a long minute. “Good enough,” he finally agreed.

But he didn’t release her. “Hey? Could you put me down?”

“Do I have to?”

“Well, it will be hard for me to drive to Billie’s this way.”

He roared a laugh. Such a happy, joyous sound made her giggle too. “Okay, okay.” He settled her gently on her feet. “Let’s get out of here, but hang on to me. This crowd will trample both of us if we’re not careful.”

She’d like to see anyone try to trample him. “I’ll stick to you like glue,” she promised. “Lead the way, big guy.”

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