Summer Heat: Chapter 1
Oh hey there. Hi. Remember me? The lady who used to update her blog regularly. Miss me? Yeah, me too. The feeling is most definitely mutual. But good news! I'm back and I have a new book! Summer Heat is out Monday, April 10th! It is book 5 in The Storm Inside series and it brings us the second chance love story of June Daniels, Eve's youngest sister. And since I abandoned you for so long, I've included the entire first chapter for you to check out! And check out this cover designed by Romanced by the Cover! Holy hotness! Happy reading!
Can baseball’s bitterest feud become its greatest love story?
A long time ago I fell in love with the wrong man. Wrong because there was no chance we could ever be together. Roman St. James was off limits. Forbidden. The enemy.
Except the Daniels-St. James feud isn’t my feud and it most certainly isn’t Roman’s. He’s nothing like his father. And while the rivalry between our families is one of the most famous in all of baseball, I couldn’t help myself. One smile turned into one date, and one date turned into so much more.
Of course it was a disaster. And now, five years later, I can still barely bring myself to think about what could have been. Until one night in a locker room changes everything…
I pushed the heavy metal door open and stepped into the visiting team’s locker room at Tropicana Stadium.
“Hello? Did someone call for a trainer?” It was unusual, to say the least, to get a call asking for medical help for the opposing team, but then again, this wasn’t a game day and no one should be in either locker room. Visions of horror movies filled my head as I tentatively stepped further inside.
“In here,” a familiar voice called. A very familiar voice. Too familiar.
No . . . he couldn’t possibly—
I stopped short at the sight of Roman St. James standing beside his best friend Wes Allen. Wes was laid out on a bench with his foot propped up and he was very clearly in pain. I averted my eyes before Roman looked up because no. Just no. There was absolutely no way I could look that man in the eyes.
“What have we here?” I asked, dropping my bag on the ground and immediately looking over the hurt foot.
“I think I sprained it?” Wes’s voice rose an octave in question.
“I want to be sure it’s only a sprain before he moves,” Roman explained. “I know this isn’t exactly normal but I didn’t know who else to call on such short notice.”
Had Roman asked for me specifically? Was that why I’d been sent instead of someone else when the call came in?
“Of course,” I murmured, running my finger over the swollen flesh.
“That is, if it’s legal? I’m sure it’s not insurable and it is most definitely not kosher to look over someone from another team.”
I snorted at Roman’s logic. “I’m almost positive this isn’t illegal. We’re not at war, just on different teams.” Except Roman and I were very much at war, just not over this. Enemy combatants in a fight neither of us chose.
He rocked back on his heels and from the corner of my eye I could see that he was wearing a grey suit. He looked wonderful, actually, not that I noticed. Nope. I didn’t notice the way his shoulders filled out the jacket or how his stubble was perfectly trimmed to look sexy and rough at the same time. I definitely didn’t notice the way the air crackled between us.
Not one little bit.
Denial was the only way I was getting through this.
“Still, it’s very generous of the Rays to lend us your talents,” Roman murmured.
Wes gave him a funny look. “You’re acting weird.”
Roman shrugged. “Whatever. Is it broken?”
I shook my head. “Definitely not broken.”
They both sighed with relief.
Yes, it would most definitely be a problem to have the Jacksonville Waves star catcher out with a broken ankle. But why was the Waves catcher in the Tampa Bay Rays locker room?
My locker room.
“Thank God,” Wes mumbled, lying back on the bench. He was in uniform but not dirty. “I’m an idiot. You’re supposed to stop me from doing idiotic things, Roman.”
“What did you do?” I chuckled as I pulled out an emergency cold pack and a wrap.
Roman grinned and cocked his thumb over at Wes. “Knucklehead here is a romantic. He was making a video for his girlfriend when he tripped over second base.”
“Oh, the dirty jokes I could make about that one,” I giggled as I pressed the cold pack to his ankle.
Wes groaned. At six-foot-three he was a tall and truly talented catcher for the Waves. Catchers tended to be shorter but Wes made it work. I’d watched his transformation first hand in college, putting all the naysayers to shame. I was in no way surprised that he’d not only made it to the majors, but was quickly becoming the most famous catcher in the game.
“Please don’t, I feel dumb enough as it is . . . ”
“How long have you been together?” I’d almost stopped noticing exactly how close Roman was standing beside me.
“That’s the really ridiculous part,” Roman scoffed. “Two weeks.”
Wes covered his face. “Stop making fun of me! I love, love. What’s so wrong with that?”
My heart kicked up a little bit because there was nothing wrong with a massive dirty blond ballplayer who also happened to be terribly romantic.
Roman groaned. “The problem is that you fall in love with everyone, Wes. You might want to reserve grand gestures that get your ass on the disabled list for the one.”
“She’s out there,” he grumbled.
“How do you know it isn’t this one?” I asked. I’d moved on to wrapping the ankle and ignoring the heat my body suddenly seemed to be generating simply by being in the same room with a man I desperately wanted but could never, ever have.
“Because ‘Annie’s’ gonna dump his ass the minute she sees the ankle,” Roman said.
I frowned at Roman’s subtle reference to baseball groupies. “She’s a cleat chaser?”
They both nodded. I was not a fan of the baseball groupies, or “Annies”, as our fathers called them—women who bounced from player to player for fame and financial reasons—but it was a relationship that worked for the individuals involved. The players got beautiful arm candy that stroked their egos while the women got the favors of fame. I didn’t want to know what technically happened between the sheets, but I could imagine it was more mechanical and less romantic. I didn’t begrudge anyone who chose that life if that was what they wanted. But it wasn’t me. I wanted fireworks. I wanted devotion, loyalty, and passion the likes of which I’d only seen in a few very special couples. Anything less was unacceptable.
And I’d thought I’d had it once. For six glorious weeks Roman St. James had been my world. He was fire and excitement and he had eyes only for me . . . until reality set it.
I swallowed down the lump in my throat. “You’re tall and you have weak ankles Wes, you always have. You need to be more careful.”
The room went silent and when I looked up Wes was staring at me. “How do you know I have weak ankles?”
Shit. I froze, realizing my colossal mistake. “Uh . . . ”
“Do you not know who this is?” Roman stepped in. My heart took off in a panic. What was he going to say? He wasn’t going to tell Wes, was he? “This is June Daniels.”
I held his gaze and watched as Wes tried to place me. “Papa Joe Daniels daughter?”
I nodded, hoping that the knowledge I grew up in the game was enough to satisfy Wes’s curiosity. “And,” I added, “I know ballplayers.” My father had been a famous third baseman for the Twins. I was raised in the world of baseball, just as Roman was. It was, quite literally, in my blood and the reason I’d chosen a career as an athletic trainer. It perfectly blended my two favorite things: medicine and baseball.
Wes arched a skeptical eyebrow. “You’re telling me Roman St. James intentionally called the daughter of his father’s mortal enemy to fix me up? What the hell is going on here?”
I finished wrapping the ankle and stuffed my gear back into my bag like it was on fire. I needed out of there fast.
Roman shifted back and forth on his feet. “We all went to college together, Wes. She was one of our trainers at The University of Florida.”
I sighed heavily and for the first time, locked eyes with the man I had avoided for five long years. Roman was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen and nothing had changed in that department. His skin was permanently tan from years on the field and his eyes . . . oh his eyes. They were what did me in. He had these deep brown eyes that had a way of showing everything he was feeling. They could see inside me and strip me bare.
But that wasn’t why I’d fallen for him. I’d watched Roman for a long time before anything happened and yeah, his eyes were expressive, but the only time they ever looked like that was when he was looking at me. Believe me, I’d studied that look for months after we parted ways, hoping to see him turn that gaze on another woman so I could officially hate him with every fiber of my being. But he didn’t. Not once.
Not until now.
I felt the world fall away as he searched my eyes with the softest expression. I saw regret and hope mixed together in an older and far more mature version of the man I’d once loved.
He’d been a brilliant third baseman and had a body that went with it. Six-foot-one with a strong right arm that could throw bullets across the infield with laser precision. He would have been great. Maybe one of the greatest.
“I don’t remember you and I’m pretty sure I’d remember a Daniels,” Wes said, but I barely heard him. I was trapped in Roman’s gaze. Frozen where I stood. How was it possible to feel just as strongly all these years later? It was as if no time had passed. We were still twenty-one and spending the longest, sexiest weekend of our lives alone together in a hotel room. His look turned me on every single time. How could it not? When he looked at me I was the only woman who existed. I could see and feel his need for me in that gaze.
And when he touched me? Oh yes. When his hands grazed across my skin it was fire and electricity, but deeper than that. His touch always sank inside until all I could feel was him.
I cleared my throat, trying to find my voice. “I kept away from Roman and his friends. It was best for everyone,” I finally murmured. “I should go.”
Panic flared in Roman’s eyes.
I ignored it and reached for my bag. I caught Wes’s wide eyes as I stood up. He glanced back and forth between us, jaw slack, putting together pieces he really should leave apart.
“Oh. My. God,” he finally whispered. “It’s her! She’s the one.”
My heart stopped beating. The one. As much as I wanted it to be true, I’d never allowed myself to believe Roman felt as strongly toward me as I’d felt toward him. He couldn’t. Not if he’d let me walk away.
“I should go,” I repeated and bolted for the door. Behind me I heard Wes’s voice rise up to almost a shout.
“June Daniels was the secret woman that had you so fucked up? I can’t even wrap my brain around this.”
There was silence just before I heard a growl. And then as the locker room door swung shut, “Never speak about her that way ever again.”
The venom in his voice…it was intense. For me? Or for the secret we shared? If his father ever found out we’d had a relationship—
“June, wait!” Roman called out, his voice echoing off the white cinderblock walls.
I rushed forward hoping he wouldn’t see me as I rounded the corner. If I could just get back to my office I’d be safe. What could he possibly say in front of my coworkers?
But then a strong hand wrapped around my bicep and gently pulled me to a stop. “Please, June. Just let me explain.”
The warmth of his palm seared into my skin like a brand. It took my breath away. “Explain what?” I sneered, sounding much angrier than I intended. I didn’t want him to hear just how much he was affecting me, whether it was positive or negative.
I screwed my eyes shut and silently counted to ten. “Everything? Like, why you’re here at my place of work in a suit, or something a bit older, like why you never apologized after our last conversation?”
His dark eyes locked onto mine. “Everything,” he repeated again, this time as a whisper. Then he seemed to remember himself and cleared his throat. “I’m here right now because we’re in negotiations for a trade to the Rays. Wes cannot afford to get hurt.”
I studied Roman—this time with intention. The suit looked good on him, so did the way his jaw ticked with frustration. Why did he have to look so appealing even when I wanted to hate him?
And then it hit me. “You’re an agent now?”
He nodded. “I am. I’m Wes’s agent. When I called Marie looking for a suggestion on who to take Wes to she suggested you.” He shrugged. “How could I say no to that?”
My jaw fell open as more pieces fell together. “Wait . . . you work for Marie?” Marie Hamilton was a very close friend of the family and one of my oldest sister’s best friends. She was CEO of Bancroft Sports, her family’s company, and, apparently, Roman’s boss?
“Since when?” Did Eve know about this? Or had Marie kept it a secret from all of us? Why would she ever hire a St. James when her best friends were all Daniels? It didn’t make a lick of sense.
“Six months. Marie just brought me down, partially to work this deal for Wes.” He kept searching my face, looking for some clue as to my reaction, no doubt.
And at this point I was so shocked that I had no idea what kind of expression I had on my face or what he was able to read in my responses. What I did know was that I needed to escape. An overwhelming need to flee had taken over my entire body.
“If Wes takes it easy he should be good as new next week.” I turned to leave, but he stopped me again, and damn it all, I loved the feeling of his large hand on my arm. It was familiar and unleashed a longing deep inside my chest.
“Wait.” He yanked his hand away as if he’d been burned, then ran it through his dark hair. “Thank you for this.”
I nodded, not trusting myself to look into his eyes again. “Of course. This is what I do.”
“And I hear you do it very, very well.” There was deep admiration in his voice that made my pride swell in ways that it really shouldn’t.
“Marie is biased. She thinks of me as a sister.”
“That’s not where I heard about you.”
For some reason, that admission took my breath away. “Are you checking into me?”
He didn’t say anything. Instead he slid both his hands onto my arms and turned me to face him. And I let him, mostly because I seemed to have lost all feeling in my limbs or ability to string together thoughts that didn’t involve the way my pulse pounded in my veins or the way the air around us seemed to be alive.
I didn’t dare look up into his eyes again. I knew if I did I wouldn’t be able to look away, so instead I stared at his throat where his collar and tie pushed up against his Adam’s apple.
And that didn’t help at all, because all it did was remind me how much I loved the way his body moved—always so fluidly together—from his eyes to his jaw, all the way down his strong shoulders to his trim waist, and over his muscular thighs.
I sucked in a little breath and held it.
Did he feel this? Was his body humming with need and recognition like mine? Was his mind spinning faster than he could form thoughts?
“June,” he whispered, and I knew right then by the strangled way it came out that he was absolutely as affected as I was. “Please look at me.” His fingers tightened on my arms. “I’ve never stopped thinking about you.”
I looked up and the need in his eyes slammed into me like a wave. “Five years.” I tossed out the time it had been since we’d last spoken like a shield.
“I’m sorry. I’ve owed you those two words for so long.”
And I’d waited to hear them, but it wasn’t enough. It felt . . . incomplete. “You’re sorry?”
“Yes. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the things I said but I’m even sorrier that I was so fucking stupid.”
“You weren’t stupid,” I bit out. An uncontrollable anger roared back to the surface. I’d fantasized a million different ways to make him hurt the way he’d hurt me. He’d gotten that satisfaction—seeing the pain in my eyes—right before I walked away. I hoped leaving him had hurt him but I didn’t know for sure and I certainly never got to see it. “You were weak.”
He flinched, and for a moment the satisfaction was everything I needed . . . until it wasn’t. He blinked several times and took a careful breath. “Well, that is something very different.”
I’d hurt him, just like I wanted, and instead of feeling relief or triumph or even closure, all I felt was wrong.
He cleared his throat and let his hands drop away from me. “I was stupid but you’re right, I was also weak.” He struggled to get that last word out. “I was stupid to waste the best thing that ever happened to me. I was even stupider for just standing there when you left. But you’re right, I was also weak.”
The two inches that separated us felt more like a mile of open black space that I was about to tip forward into and free fall to my own death. I knew Roman was a bad idea from the moment I felt the first pull of lust, but I’d ignored it. What was wrong with a little mental fantasizing about a hot ballplayer? But then we’d gotten stuck together in a dugout during a rainstorm. Alone. While he was on one of the most painful phone calls I’d ever had to listen to.
George St. James, Roman’s father, was an asshole. Girls have stage moms: the intense ladies who make their daughters act and enter beauty pageants to fulfill some sort of lost fantasy of their childhood, but boys had something similar: sports dads. And a sports dad who happened to be a Hall of Famer and had a superiority complex? George was the worst. He’d pushed Roman so hard and on that particular day I’d seen a young man defeated.
But then he’d put the phone away and steeled himself. And a minute later he’d asked me about my classes with genuine interest. No hate. No vendetta. Just genuine interest. He didn’t care about the feud any more than I did.
I started to fall for him right then and there. It wasn’t immediate. Ours was more of a long, slow, pleasurable slide into oblivion. But, as it turned out, the end wasn’t a soft landing. It was a painful kick in the ass.
“I should get back to work,” I murmured, reaching behind me for the wall.
“Can I buy you coffee?” He blurted it out so loud it echoed off the walls.
I let out a frustrated sigh. “Why? Why would I do that, Roman?”
“Because we’re more than a failed affair.”
That was putting it mildly. “Whatever we were doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Yes it does.”
I didn’t understand why he was being so stubborn. Now. In the bowels of Tropicana Stadium. He could have written me an email or found me anytime in the last five years to apologize, but he didn’t.
“Why, Roman? Why now after all this time?”
“Have coffee with me and I’ll explain.”
“Explain now and then we can talk about coffee.”
He groaned and ran his hand over his face. “This isn’t going the way I hoped.”
“And what way is that?” Had he expected me to be pliant? To fall into his arms and let him kiss me?
“Well for one I didn’t think I’d spend more time concentrating on keeping my distance than actually saying what I need to say.” He threw his hands onto his hips and glared at me.
“I don’t understand what that means. Keeping your distance?”
“It means,” he growled, “that you keep licking your lips and breathing heavy and looking at me with those big fucking blue eyes that you know make me forget everything, and all I want to do is kiss you so hard you forget the last six years. Forget everything that happened between us before so I could meet you right now, for the first time.”
Oh. Well then . . .
He stepped into me before I could form a reply and ran a hand along my cheek. I closed my eyes and leaned into his touch before I could stop myself—it was instinct when it came to Roman.
“June . . . ” he whispered. His words reached inside me to places I’d closed off long, long ago. I couldn’t breathe. How was this possible? I’d had many fantasies about Roman over the years, but never this. Not even close.
“What about the feud?” I whispered. Even if I was open to the idea of a relationship with the man who had completely broken my heart, it didn’t change the fact that our families hated each other.
“Fuck the feud. It’s not our fight.”
But it was. Family loyalty meant a lot to me. He knew that. “I can’t do that.”
Pain flickered in the dark brown of his eyes. “Then I’ll just have to prove it to you. The feud is in the past and you will fall back in love with me. There is no other woman on this earth for me and I know there is no other man for you.”
I hated that he was right almost as much as I loved hearing how he felt about me.
I took his hands and gingerly removed them from my body. Each movement hurt on a deep molecular level. I wanted Roman. I wanted him desperately. But I couldn’t have him. Not with the feud and not with what had happened between us. Attraction was wonderful and maybe there’d been a shot at love for us once upon a time, but those days were long gone. The reality was that we could never be together. Not in any healthy, sane way.
He looked absolutely tortured by the way I pushed him back, but I knew it was what I had to do. “Goodbye, Roman.” I turned and walked away, my footsteps echoing with each step I took like some sort of doomsday clock.
“You’ve got that wrong, June,” he called. When I looked back he was standing exactly where I’d left him, his head down and his hands thrust into his pockets. “This isn’t goodbye. This was hello.”
I shook my head. “What does that even mean?”
He looked up, a huge grin on his handsome face and a gorgeous light in his eyes. “It means this was the beginning of something brand new.”