Monday, December 2, 2013

Chapter ONE from IN IT TO WIN IT

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IN IT TO WIN IT (Deadlines & Diamonds, #2)
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1

GRAYSON PIERCE WAS LARGER THAN LIFE—and annoying as hell.
The man had been a thorn in Jane’s side for nearly twenty years—if she counted elementary school, she guessed it was even longer than that—and he’d never been a bigger pain in her ass than in this very moment.
“Can you do that, Jane?” Dale asked from behind his desk.
Dale was the News Director for KHB—and her boss. His blue eyes were no nonsense and as he ran a hand over his thinning blond hair, Jane knew that his question wasn’t up for debate.
Sweat coated her palms and she bit her lip. Jane wanted to say no. She wanted to say that there was no way she was going on the road to follow Pierce’s team around the freakin’ country while they played their way to the World Series. It was bad enough she had to report on how successful he was, but now, she was going to have to follow the jackass just to shove a microphone in his face so he could tell her how awesome he was.
She wasn’t bitter though.
“Sure thing, Dale,” she said through clenched teeth. “When do I leave?”
“You and Nate will head out tomorrow afternoon. First stop, Vegas.”
“Okay, I’ll go pack.” She turned on her heel but was stopped when Dale cleared his throat. She paused in the doorway of his office and her already sucky situation got worse.
“Get an exclusive if you can. Anything nobody else has. There’s a raise in it for ya.”

lll

“PIERCE IS HOT TONIGHT,” THE COMMEN-tator said from overhead. “Swing and a miss.”
Jane could clearly see Grayson from her vantage point just inside the tunnel that led to the locker room. He backed out of the batter’s box and tapped the bat against his cleats. A quick roll of his head on thick shoulders and he stepped back into the box, hefting the bat into position. The tip circled for a moment before stilling. The navy batter’s helmet with the large white R in the center was pulled down to his brows and his eyes were focused on the wind-up.
One more out—or one more run—and the team would be heading her way. Nate, her photographer and good friend, had the camera perched on his shoulder, waiting for the explosion of commotion that was only minutes away. He was all calm, cool and collected. Jane, however, had butterflies in her stomach.
Closing her eyes and sucking in a deep breath, she reminded herself that Grayson Pierce and his opinions no longer mattered. That hell called high school had been fifteen years ago. But she’d be damned if those scars didn’t take eons to heal.
“…and a home run by Pierce brings in three! Rockets win by two.”
Cheers and applause erupted, nearly shaking the walls of the stadium. “Pierce. Pierce. Pierce!”
The enthusiasm was enough to make Jane want to vomit. She swallowed hard and rolled her eyes.
In seconds large men flooded the space around her, making it suddenly seem like the walls were closing in around her. The smell of dirt, sweat and testosterone pushed her deeper into the tunnel until she was finally swept into the locker room. Nate was a big guy, easily as tall as any of the athletes with shoulders just as wide, and he captured b-roll to send back to the station.
Grayson, surrounded by his cheering teammates, entered and her heart nearly stopped. It had been years since she’d been so close to him and the effect he had on her was the same. Tears stung her eyes and she blinked. This was not the appropriate time to get emotional.
Come to think of it; never was the appropriate time to get emotional over Grayson Pierce. He didn’t deserve her tears.
The one she recognized as Xavier stopped in front of her. His brows rose. “Hey, sweet thing. You lookin’ for an interview?”
Instead of slapping him—which is what she really wanted to do—she stuck the mic in his face. “Great game.”
“Thanks. Standing at the plate with men on the corners puts a lot of pressure on a guy, ya know?”
She bit down hard, grinding her molars to keep from rolling her eyes. “I can imagine,” she said through gritted teeth, urging him to continue.
He did. “But doing it with a full count is enough to make you sweat.” He chuckled and lifted his hat to wipe his forehead with the back of his hand. “It’s a good thing I don’t buckle under pressure. I thrive on it.”
“You’ve had a decent rookie season—”
“Decent?” He laughed, looked over his shoulder and hollered, “Yo, Pierce, this chick says I’ve had a decent season.”
In that moment Jane wanted to drop to the floor and dig herself a hole to hide in. The situation only got worse as Grayson lifted his chin and laughed. The sound was low and deep and—damn her straight to hell—sensual. He waded through the crowd straight toward them. Jane gulped and ignored the fact that he’d taken off his jersey. His navy uniform pants were so low on his hips she wondered if his cheeks would show if he turned around. His abs were damp with sweat and Jane felt the sudden urge to trace them with her tongue.
Which was absurd … because she hated him.
Grayson’s eyes met hers and he lifted a brow. Damn! Surely, he didn’t know what she was thinking.
“Thanks for the interview,” she mumbled, trying to get away without having to talk with Grayson.
Surely there was another ballplayer that wouldn’t thrive on trying to humiliate her. No doubt when Grayson showed up that’s what would happen. And she didn’t need those kinds of problems.
The news industry was highly competitive and challenging, but being a female sportscaster made it all the more grueling. Most athletes were respectful. A high percentage flirted relentlessly. She’d been given more than one hotel room key—all of which were placed where they belonged … in the trash.
Molly, her best friend since her college days at USC—Go Trojans!—insisted she wallpaper her bedroom with them. Or better yet, just hand ‘em over to her. She’d be happy to use a pompous, egotistical man.
“Hey! Where you goin’, darlin’?” A hand the size of a ham bit into her arm and roughly urged her to turn back around. She slapped Xavier’s hand away.
“I am not darlin’. The name’s Jane Alexander. If you’d like to stuff your testosterone where the sun don’t shine, I’d be happy to put your ugly mug on TV. If not … we’re both just wasting our time.”
Nate snorted, but didn’t react further, professionally keeping the camera on the arrogant face that seemed momentarily stunned. But only momentarily.
“Listen, honey—” Xavier raised his hands in mock surrender. “—I didn’t mean no disrespect.”
“Listen, honey, if you can’t call me Jane, then don’t call me at all.”
Xavier laughed and jerked his thumb in her direction—but the red tint to his cheeks revealed that he was embarrassed. “This one’s a livewire. For real! Pierce, I think I’m in love.”
Grayson finally made his way to stand before her. Those shoulders of his were even broader than she remembered—his body more toned with a wider chest, a narrower waist and more powerful thighs. The boy she’d known had become a delicious man. His dark hair was in a sweaty disarray, his cap having been removed, a dark curl rested against the tanned skin of his forehead.
 He was sporting a goatee these days, trimmed close to his face, probably to hide the thin scar that she’d given him junior year. It was only fair; heaven knew that she wore enough scars from him. Hers were emotional—and still raw.
His heated gaze slowly roamed from her pink-painted toes, pausing at her hips and breasts, before coming to a stop on her face. Those perfect lips of his formed a smirk and her knees nearly gave out.
He stuck out his hand. “Hi. Grayson Pierce.”
Wow!
Of all the reactions he could have had to seeing her after so many years that was by far the last one Jane would have expected. It hurt—an honest to goodness dagger to the heart—that there was no recognition in his dark brown eyes.
She glanced down at his hand, but didn’t take it. She forced herself to make eye contact as she said, “Jane Alexander, KHB, can I get a comment on the win?”
His grin widened and he shouted, jabbing his fists into the air, “Rockets—all the way to the Series!” He winked at her. “And you can quote me on that.”
“Pierce!” a male voice yelled. “I need you over here.”
“Duty calls. I’ll catch you later, Jane Alexander.” He held her gaze for a moment longer than necessary before turning to stride off through the crowd.
“Let’s get out of here,” she told Nate, refusing to accept that her heart had been bruised yet again. Would she never learn?

MAN, IT’D BEEN GOOD TO SEE JANE.
She was just as beautiful as he remembered. Her shiny brown hair had highlights he didn’t remember and was longer, sleeker than it used to be. It now hung just below her shoulders with just a bit of a curl at the ends.
Her eyes though, they hadn’t changed a bit. They were the most intoxicating green he’d ever seen. Even after all these years, and all of his travels all over the world, Grayson had still never found a shade that could compare. The closest he’d found was the deep green of freshly cut grass, but that didn’t have enough variations to be exactly right.
Grayson couldn’t get over how sexy she was. That was new. Her body had matured into that of a woman. He’d not dared touch her because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to let go once he had her wrapped in his arms. And groping her in the locker room, in front of God and all his teammates would have just embarrassed them both.
Besides, it had been a long time since they’d crossed paths. He had a feeling that that was exactly the way she meant for it to be.
Yeah, how dense was he? She wouldn’t even shake his hand. He’d felt like an idiot with his hand stretched out to her, hanging in midair. He guessed he deserved it.
Acting like he hadn’t known her had been a pretty chicken-shit tactic, he had to admit. But standing there in front of her, he couldn’t—just couldn’t allow their reunion to happen in a crowded locker room.
Striding toward the elevators he shook his head, trying to clear it of the stricken expression on her face. He would make it up to her.
It had been ridiculously easy to get her room number. He felt like a letch, flashing a smile at the star-struck girl working the front desk. But that had been a means to an end and he’d learned a long time ago that Grayson Pierce could get just about anything he wanted. And a few things he didn’t—like phone numbers and ladies underwear.
The elevator ride to Jane’s floor happened in a blink, yet took a lifetime. He wanted to see her again. But then … wasn’t sure he did. He wanted her to smile at him the way she used to. The odds of that were pretty slim, he feared. The last few weeks of high school had been hell—and he wasn’t even sure why.
When the ding! signaled he’d reached his destination, his heart jumped into his throat and he suddenly felt sick to his stomach. He swiped a hand over his face from chin to eyebrows and continued the sweep through his hair. Sucking in a breath did nothing to calm his nerves.
The elevator doors started to close and Grayson was surprised when his arm flashed out to stop them. The doors retreated back into their pockets and he stepped out into the corridor. He took two steps forward, one back. Practically ran down the hall, only to turn and stalk away. The back and forth continued until he found himself standing in front of her door. It was now his arm’s turn to be indecisive, rising and falling. Fist poised at the door, only to be brutally shoved into his pocket.
Oh good hell! Was he a man or a mouse?
He lifted his arm again.

JANE SAT IN HER HOTEL ROOM, SURFING THE   internet for stats on the Rockets and the team they would be playing in two days. She took a bite of her room service hamburger and tried to concentrate on the graphs and stats that filled the screen of her laptop. The colors and numbers blurred as her mind kept returning to the exchange in the locker room.
She’d changed since the days when Grayson knew her. She knew that. She was no longer the insecure little girl with braces and glasses, which hid her uni-brow, and brown hair that was in a constant state of frizz. The ninety’s had not been kind to her. But the twenty-first century came and with it went ‘Plain Jane’, bringing straight teeth and contacts, a monthly appointment with the salon for perfectly arched brows and John Frieda’s anti-frizz formula—and the boob job, not that she ever told anyone about that.
Even her mother thought that college had magically made her breasts two sizes larger—and that was the way Jane was going to keep it.
Jane’s parents had moved from the tiny town in Central Utah where Jane was born and raised and she had never gone back. Why bother? It was better to leave the past where it belonged—in the past.
Except now that painful past had come flooding back with a really sick sense of vengeance. She couldn’t help but wonder what she’d done that made karma hate her so badly? She tried to be a good person. She’d never killed anyone or tortured any small, helpless animals. Surely, the spider in her room yesterday morning didn’t count.
She moved her cursor and put KHB’s web address into the browser, calling up tonight’s newscast. She watched as her face appeared on the screen. She scrutinized every movement and was satisfied with her work today. Not bad. No notes to work on—except to keep her heart from pounding every time Grayson Pierce showed up.
Well, what do you know? It seemed that she was still the heartsick little girl whenever he looked at her.
Could she be more pathetic?
In a huff, she gathered her things and headed for the bathroom. A hot shower to wash away the frustration of the day was exactly what she needed. Too bad she couldn’t scrub out the inside of her head and plaster a band-aid over the wound on her heart.
She groaned. She was not going to do this. She was here to do a job, not moon over whether or not Grayson remembered who the hell she was. She didn’t care!
She stepped out of the shower and began to dry her hair with a towel. Standing buck naked in front of the mirror, Jane brushed out her hair and began to moisturize; first her legs, then her stomach and arms and…
A knock on her door made her jump. She grabbed a towel and wrapped it around her middle and went for the door, only to decide that it didn’t cover enough, even if it was only going to be Nate. Especially if it was only going to be Nate.
Nate was happily married and wasn’t afraid to admit how much he loved his wife, Roxie. The last thing Jane wanted was for word to get around that there was something going on between her and Nate. None of them needed the heartache that kind of rumor could bring—even if the gossip was completely unfounded, unsubstantiated, and untrue.
Another knock.
“Hold on,” she yelled. “I’m coming.”
Thankfully a big, white, fluffy hotel bathrobe hung from a hook on the back of the bathroom door and Jane shrugged into it, tying the belt as she opened the door and turned back into her room.
“I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been thinking about the story and wanted to run some things—”
“Jane?”
She froze at the sound of her name. She knew that voice with a certainty that made her tingle from head to toe. Taking a breath to brace herself she turned.
“Grayson? What are you doing here?”
“May I come in?” he asked, dipping his Rockets hat covered head slightly.
She nodded, unable to find her voice.
He sauntered inside, closing the door behind him. She gulped not sure she liked the idea of being stuck in a hotel room with Grayson. His hands went up in submission. “I won’t hurt you.”
“I know,” she answered softly. She knew he wouldn’t hurt her—at least not physically.
She twisted the tie of her robe around her finger and waited for him to say something. His mouth didn’t open. He just stood across the room and stared at her. She was going to show him the door when he rushed at her, wrapping his arms around her and swinging her around the room. The air raced from her lungs on a gasp. His arms held her to the hard planes of his body and she wasn’t able to breathe. She heard the sound of his boot clunking into the door and the thud as it closed. Her heart was jumping around in her chest, but not because she was afraid.  
“Jane, it is so good to see you.”
She stumbled when he placed her on her feet. He kept hold of her hands and stepped back to arm’s length, visually taking her in from head to toe.
“Man, you look amazing!”
“What are you doing here?” she asked the same question she’d voice when he stood in her doorway. Her mind swam. Why the hell was Grayson standing in her room? And why the hell had he wrapped her in a hug that turned her into a pile of goo? Not that she was going to complain any time soon.
His baseball cap was pulled down so low that his eyes barely showed from under the brim. His jeans should have been illegal, they were so tight, every muscle was visible as it flexed with his movements. And the black Under Armour t-shirt fit him like a glove.
She swallowed. She would not drool.
Pathetic.
He tugged her to him and the towel pooled around her feet. He grinned, his dark eyes sparkling, and with large, muscular hands, he eased her against him, holding her close against his rock hard body. He smelled good; clean and male and … mouth-watering. She wiggled to get away from him—so she could think—and he released her.
“Sorry. It’s just so good to see you.” He shook his head, his face a mixture of elation and awe if Jane was reading it right. “I know I said that before, but it really is. I’ve seen you on TV, of course. You’re really a great sportscaster. You actually know what you’re talking about. So, do you like baseball?”
The guy was rambling, the questions spewing from his mouth like water from a faucet turned on full blast. Jane just stared at him. What else could she do? She’d dreamt of this guy once and he’d made her life miserable … once.
Needing distance between them, she walked around the bed and stood on the opposite side. Grayson kicked at the towel, popping it into the air. He plucked it up midflight and tossed it onto the bed. The corners of his mouth lifted and tiny lines appeared around his eyes. As if he needed any more help being sexy.
“Whatcha wearin’ under that bathrobe?” he asked suggestively.
“None of your business,” she snapped, feeling unwanted heat under said robe. Her fingers unconsciously went to the tie, yanking it so tight she wondered if it was possible to be cut in half by the stupid thing. She glared at him. “What are you doing here?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I wanted to see you.”
“You saw me in the locker room earlier.”
“Um, yeah, I was … ah … surprised.” At least he looked contrite.
“You introduced yourself.”
“I … um …” Muscles rippled as he lifted a shoulder in a shrug. When he grinned at her the chagrin on his face made her want to giggle. It was the same look she’d seen when they were kids. His eyes roamed casually over her face. “You’re beautiful, you know that?”
“Yeah, so I’ve been told.” She could almost taste the sarcasm, her only line of defense. She had been told that she was beautiful, but never by Grayson and she was not going to explore the effect that hearing it from him had on her.
“Hey, there’s no reason to be that way.” He took a step toward her and she willed herself to hold her ground. She would not be intimidated by him. “The truth is … I didn’t want things to be awkward while you were trying to do your job—and I was doing mine.”
He ran a finger down her cheek and she fought a shudder. She was not going to let Grayson know how much he was getting to her. Hell, she wasn’t ready to admit it to herself. His thumb ran lightly over her bottom lip.
“So … is this a one-time deal or are you gonna follow me ‘til the end?”
She blinked and gulped back her sigh. She snapped, “I am following the Rockets—not you.”
That wasn’t exactly the truth. Grayson was the hometown kid, who’d hit it big. Dale dreamed of stories like this, and unfortunately, it was Jane’s job to chase this particular dream for him. Her hands tightened into fists and she jammed them into the pockets of the robe.
“But yes, I am to follow the team until you lose,” she conceded softly.
“So you’re with me until the end.” He was so sexy when he was cocky.
“I guess so. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got an early morning.”
His head dropped slightly as did the look on his face and he smoothed a hand over his chest. “I’d like to see you again.”
“I’ll be around.” She strode past him and opened the door. “Good night, Grayson.”
He took her not-so-subtle hint without protest and walked out into the hall. “Good night, Janie. I’ll dream of you.”
She didn’t respond, mostly because the air had frozen in her lungs, and just closed the door. It took several moments of exaggerated breathing before the light-headed feeling left and her  thoughts cleared.
This was impossible.
She couldn’t do this. Being so close to Grayson brought back every insecurity she’d ever felt. And she’d never been so aroused.
Frustrated in more ways than one, she shrug-ged out of the robe and climbed into bed.
And, damn her, dreamed of Grayson.

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