Slow Heat

Chapter 1

Confucious say: “Baseball wrong – man with four balls cannot walk.” ~Author Unknown

She’d read somewhere that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, but Samantha McNead knew better than that – in certain men the stomach was aiming just a bit too high.

Wade O’Riley was one of them.

The best defensive catcher in major league baseball, he had women lining up to meet him wherever he went.

And it wasn’t home-cooking that they wanted to give him either.

Not that Wade seemed to mind. Nope, even with all the constraints that went with the new big, fat, multi-million dollar contract he’d just signed for Santa Barbara’s expansion team The Heat, the guy seemed oblivious to pressure. Laid-back and easy-going, he took everything as it came, with a grain of salt and a slow, knowing smile that let everyone in on the joke.

Because life was one big funny to Wade.

Sam appreciated that, she just didn’t live it the way he did. Didn’t know how. As the publicist for the Heat, as one of the few females in a man’s world, her life tended to be more work than fun lately. Hence her mission today.

The limo pulled up in front of Wade’s big, beach cottage-style house, perched on a bluff over the ocean. From the backseat she could see the waves froth and pitch.

Much like her stomach.

In the work aspect of her life, she was extremely comfortable. That was a given. She’d been raised by men; her father, her uncle, her brother, cousins, all tough, implacable, unforgiving alpha males. Failure had never been an option, which translated to being very good at whatever she tackled. Unfortunately for her more womanly parts, all she’d tackled lately was the job.

A job she loved with all her heart, but sometimes she yearned for more. Maybe one of these days a guy would sweep her off her feet and then into bed, but it wouldn’t be today, and it wouldn’t be with the guy she’d been tasked with babysitting.

The Heat had played last night. It was the first week of April, and it’d been an exhibition game, a prelude to their season opener on Sunday. They’d played the Padres, and it’d turned out to be surprisingly down and dirty. Wade had hit a homer in the second inning, then been harshly walked in the third when the pitcher had hit him in the thigh with a throwaway pitch. The game had gone two extra innings, until past midnight, when the Heat had finally won on Wade’s double, so Sam expected him to be exhausted and probably sore as hell. Maybe she’d even have to pull him out of bed.

The thought brought concern, and a secret tingle to those womanly parts she’d been neglecting.

Nice to know they still worked.

As she reached for the limo door handle, Wade’s front door opened, and six feet of rugged, leanly-muscled male stepped out in Levi’s and an untucked blue and white striped button down. A gust of wind molded his clothes against the body that tended to make Sam’s tongue stick to the roof of her mouth.

Wade stopped to slide on his sunglasses, the picture of a California surfer, all easy-going, laid-back charm.

He’d been a rock star in another life, Sam was convinced, and she purposely let out a breath and leaned back, reminding herself he was just a guy. A flawed guy at that, though certainly none of his flaws happened to be showing at the moment.

He moved across the lawn in an unhurried, sexy stride, all scruffy gorgeousness, and opened the limo door, letting in the chilly April afternoon air. With one hand on the roof, the other on the door, he bent down, peering in through his Prada sunglasses, merely arching a brow when he saw her.

Couldn’t blame him. They weren’t exactly on speaking terms.

His sun-kissed light brown hair was either styled messy today on purpose, or he hadn’t bothered with a comb. His face sported at least a day old beard so she was going with the no comb theory. He should have looked sloppy and unkempt but nothing about him ever looked anything less than God’s gift. She’d seen him in uniform, in designer suits, in work-out gear, in all sorts of things including absolutely nothing, and he always looked perfect.

Especially in the nothing.

“Hey,” he said in that low, slightly raspy voice of his, the one that never failed to immediately put her back up.

And/or turn her on.

“Hey yourself.” He hadn’t limped, and he sure as hell didn’t look exhausted. The opposite, she thought a little breathlessly as his deceptively lazy gaze raked her in from head to toe. Deceptively, because behind that beach bum front of his lay a sharp as hell wit.

Given their . . . tense relationship at the moment, she didn’t smile.

And though he usually smiled at anything female, neither did he.