Hard to Catch by Alice Ward

Chapter One

Todd

“Higher!”

The buzz of the airplane’s engine sounded in my ears while the instructor, Hans, gave me the thumbs up. I shook my head and grinned. Not nearly high enough yet.

I sucked on the oxygen bottle, taking in what my lungs desperately craved as we made the climb past the eighteen thousand feet range my instructor had done his best to convince me was my “sweet spot.”

I wanted more.

Needed more.

My play time in the sky was going to last over a minute and a half, pushing two minutes if they’d let me. Not enough, but I’d take any moment of freedom I could get.

“We’re reaching twenty thousand feet,” Hans yelled in my direction.

The door of the plane was open, my parachute packed and tested by myself. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I wanted to go higher. “Twenty-five.”

Hans grinned, but shook his head, then looked toward the pilot and nodded. “You ready?”

I was born ready.

He checked my oxygen and gave me another thumbs up. I gripped the overhead cord, walked toward the opening of the plane, and felt the cold air pulling at me with an angry force. Adrenaline rushed through my veins like heroin. This was the highest I’d pushed my accelerated freefalls, and even though it wasn’t as high as I wanted, it was enough to create tiny pricks all over my skin and send blood rushing to my cock.

Another thumbs up near the door, a quick reach up to unclip myself from the plane, and I was sucked into the cool blue sky.

My brain calculated the time I needed before releasing the chute as I steadied myself into a superman position. I flew through the heavens, falling over a hundred and seventy miles per hour toward the earth. I spiraled, spun, glided, just like a bird, better yet, like a superhero. No wingsuit to slow me down, no instructors to hold my hand. I was on my own, class A baby.

My lungs tightened in my chest from the sheer speed and altitude of the fall, but I refused to reach for the oxygen bottle strapped to my hip. I wanted to feel everything, pain included. The view was spectacular. The earth looked like tiny grids as I busted through the clouds.

I checked my altimeter, and with great reluctance, pulled the rip cord. My body halted abruptly from the fast-paced fall and lifted high into the sky as I slowed, drifting for the last two thousand feet.

Peace.

The feeling of total oneness with nature, the silence so intense it almost had its own sound, were nearly as addicting as the adrenaline rush of the fall. I loved this part too. Floating, watching the earth grow larger beneath me until I extended my legs and returned to the hard ground.

“Whoowee!” the ground instructor called out as he ran toward me. “You okay?”

“I’m great,” I said as I began unclipping my chute.

The older man, Garett, was the owner of the company. He’d offered me over fifty jumps in the last year, all of which he kept under wraps. He always found a remote location where I’d be out of the media, and even though he knew he’d stand to make a fortune to sell the story of my rebellion against the Mets and MLB rules, I trusted he never would.

“How high did ya climb? It looked like you had a seventy-nine-second freefall at least.” He grinned, already knowing I’d pushed the limits he’d tried to set for me.

“Twenty thousand was sweet.”

He nodded, smiled, but didn’t reprimand me for going against his judgment and advice.

“I’ll get to twenty-five next time.” I smirked as he helped me push the last of my personal chute back into the bag.

“A lot of jumpers lose consciousness that high. That’s a sure-fire way to get yourself killed on a solo jump.”

“I can handle it. Didn’t use my oxygen this time.”

The old man shook his head, grinned, and patted me on the back as I pulled off my jumpsuit and changed shoes. “You got too much to live for to be so bound and determined to risk it all.”

Risk? What was life without risk?

The plane circled overhead before landing just a few hundred feet away from where we stood. Garret handed me the keys to the Harley Fat Boy I’d rented for the day and walked toward the plane. “‘Til next time.”

My legs straddled the powerful machine, chrome glistening in the sunlight, my fingers tightly surrounding the handgrips. My backpack securely tied to the back, adrenaline continued to race through my system as I kicked down, sending that familiar rumble between my legs as I yearned for the open road. I wanted one so bad, not this one, but a custom with a stretched out front end, high grip handlebars, and, of course, more power. That dreaded agreement made with the MLB to steer clear of dangerous — or what they considered dangerous — activities kept me from having one of my own. It was also the reason for the hour drive I had to get back to the city. If it were up to them, I’d be surrounded by bubble wrap sitting at home waiting for the season to start. No thanks. They’ll never know what doesn’t kill me.

Vibrations shot through my thighs as the bike raced down the highway. My mind drifted to the jump. I was disappointed I didn’t push to go higher. Next time.

Shit!

Red lights shone in my face as vehicles in front of me scattered across the highway, trying to avoid something I couldn’t see. I hit the brake and jerked hard on the handles, barely missing a truck skidding across the lane. Its back bumper hit my rear wheel, tossing me like a ragdoll to the side. Then I was down, sliding out of control. My bike glided across the pavement on its side, my leg barely escaping being trapped beneath it and ripped to shreds. A slam into a white pickup truck brought the bike and me to an abrupt stop.

“Are you okay?” I looked up to find a tall, skinny man with a long beard over me. He extended his hand. I refused, getting up on my own. The bike was a mess. My leg skinned, some blood coming from my elbow, but I was okay. My head hurt like hell, making me grateful I hadn’t been stupid enough to ride without a helmet this time.

“Yeah, I’m good. What happened?”

“It’s a wreck up ahead, at least three or four cars involved.”

Twisted metal was everywhere with columns of smoke growing larger by the moment. People were screaming and tires screeching as more traffic halted to avoid the pileup. Running to the worst of the wreckage, I spotted a bleeding woman lying on the asphalt trying to crawl to a little red car turned up on its side, smoke pouring from the engine. She was crying and screaming, “My baby!”

Panic set in as I realized what she was telling me. I ran toward the car and looked inside the window. A little girl, maybe a year-old, was crying in the backseat. She was still attached to her car seat, which was now holding her inside, even though gravity wanted to drop her into the back door.

“It’s okay, sweetie.” I pushed myself inside, stretching as far as I could reach and got a grip on the buckle that held her in place.

“Please help her,” the mother screamed.

“I’m trying,” I promised, feeling the pressure of the situation, and especially feeling the heat coming from the front of the car.

My fingers gripped the buckle. My other hand reached forward, ready to catch the girl as I unhooked her from the seat. She fell into my hand with a force I hadn’t expected, almost ripping my shoulder from its socket.

“I got you,” I whispered, pulling the screaming child toward the window and backing out with her in my arms.

The mother wrapped her arms around me, squeezing both me and her daughter with an overly appreciative hug. “Thank you,” she sobbed, taking her daughter from my arms, inspecting her from top to bottom. I steered them both away from the burning car, urging those around us to get far away.

EMTs and the police were finally on the scene, and a news crew looking to get the big story were making their way toward me. I walked back to my bike, unwilling to answer any questions or be interviewed, when a firm hand pressed against my shoulder.

“Todd Morris?” I turned to find a man in uniform. Not a cop, but a firefighter. His smile was wide, his eyes filled with excitement as he spoke. “You’re a hero,” he said a little too loudly.

I shook my head. “No, you’re the hero.”

I tried to shrug away, but by that time, the news crew was already in my face. Fuck.

“Todd Morris, a major-league favorite, legendary Mets catcher, is now a hero.” A perfectly groomed blonde woman spoke into a thick, round microphone while the cameraman captured the image of her standing beside me with the wreckage in the background.

No way, this isn’t happening.

“I’m not a hero. And I’m not doing any interviews.” I walked away from the reporter and the camera.

The traffic was starting to move in the far lane, but as I looked at my bike, it was obvious I wasn’t going anywhere. The reporter and the cameraman were back in my face. She pushed the microphone at me again. “What made you run to save that little girl?”

Seriously? Reporters asked the most asinine questions sometimes.

I’m not an asshole. It was a baby girl. There were plenty of reasons why anyone would’ve done the same thing. But, I knew not anyone would have done it. Most of the drivers were more concerned with where they needed to be than with the crying mother on the side of the road. As far as they were concerned, she was the problem, the reason they were going to be late.

“I’m not doing this,” I insisted, pushing the camera from my face.

“Where were you heading before the wreck occurred?” the reporter asked without flinching at my irritation. “Isn’t spring training soon?”

None of your business, lady.

Heading back to my bike, I spotted a dude bent over my bag. “Hey!” I yelled and took off in his direction. He looked up and panicked, picked up the bag, and started to run. I caught up to him. Caught the bag, more specifically, my chute. The damn thing unfurled behind the running man before he dropped the bag and darted between stopped cars. Shit. I looked back, and yep, the fucking camera was still pointing my way. Irritated beyond belief, I balled up the chute and began stuffing it back into the pack.

“Is that a parachute?” the reporter asked. I ignored her as I zipped the pack shut and headed back toward the bike. But I heard her speaking into the camera, excitement at her “breaking news” clear in her voice. “A real daredevil and hero in the flesh, Todd Morris, All-Star catcher for the Mets…”

I was so fucked.

I picked up the bike and moved it to the side of the road. The police began ushering everyone out of the road including the pushy reporter and her sidekick cameraman. Thank God!

“You need us to call you a tow truck?” the officer asked.

“No, thanks. I’ll handle it.”

I reached into my pocket, pulled out my phone. Thank goodness for the protective case I’d just bought, not a scratch.

The rental company was more than eager to send someone out to get the bike, and of course, collect me from the side of the highway. When I told them the bike looked totaled, they actually sounded relieved. Guess they stood to make more from a totaled bike than a wrecked one. Whatever.

Traffic picked up its pace, moving smoothly once again after the wreck was removed. The officer who’d run the reporter off sat down on the guardrail beside me. “So, how much trouble is this gonna get ya?” he asked.

I chuckled. In the last two years, I seemed to stay in trouble. The coach was constantly on my ass, and the GM rode me hard with threats of trading me to another team if I didn’t cool it. “Let’s just say a lot.”

He patted me on the back as the tow truck arrived. A scruffy looking man got out, shaking his head and whistling. “This da bike?” he asked, spitting on the ground way too close to my feet.

“Yeah,” I agreed without shooting out any of the sarcasm that lingered on my tongue.

“Good luck, Todd.” The officer gave me one last pat on the back before heading to his car.

I helped the tow truck driver load the bike onto the trailer and then climbed into the front seat beside him. The truck smelled of tobacco, coffee, and raspberries, a weird combination.

I was so happy to be back at the rental office and out of that truck. After signing a shit load of paperwork, I hopped in my car and headed home. All I wanted to do was fall asleep, forget about this day, and hopefully not find myself on the five o’clock news.

“You look like you’ve had a rough day,” my doorman greeted me with his usual too nosey routine.

I grinned, pushed the elevator button, and disappeared inside.

My condo was quiet, peaceful, and inviting. I locked the door, stripped out of my clothes and headed for the shower. A quick assessment of the damages proved to be less than my body took after a tough game on the field. I stepped into the shower, letting the hot jets massage my aching muscles and wash away the grime and blood from my day. All that adrenaline… lost in one split second of bad luck.

I grabbed a towel from the rack, wrapped it around my waist, and found my phone lit up on the bedroom dresser. The coach’s mean mug was flashing on the screen with his number displayed at the top. Are you fucking kidding me right now?

“What the fuck were you thinking?” his voice growled through the phone.

I sighed to let him know I’d heard him, but I didn’t speak. It didn’t matter if I wanted to, the man was on a roll. Getting a word in edgewise wasn’t happening, not now, not ever.

“A fucking motorcycle, and was that seriously a parachute in your backpack? Are you trying to kill yourself?”

“It was just a little fender bender. It wasn’t even my fault,” I argued.

“I don’t give a flying fuck whose fault it was, or if you’d saved a burning school bus of children, you know the fucking rules. You should… you break them every time I fuckin’ turn around.”

“I’m sorry, Coach. It was just a little ride. Not like I had any way of knowing that would happen.”

“First thing in the morning. My office.” That was all I heard before the click of him hanging up.

I turned on the news. Sure enough, there I was. That overly zealous reporter was pushing her microphone in my face, and the cameraman was capturing me trying to stuff my parachute back into my bag. This was bad. This was real bad.

I fell onto my bed, phone in hand. I searched the Internet for information on what was said about me. Daredevil on the Diamond Does It Again, read one headline. Another splashed my face with a headline that simply read, Hero.

Several YouTube videos had surfaced, capturing me in the act of saving the little girl. My stomach clenched as I watched. Her mother was so distraught, and that little girl so terrified. I had no choice. I’d do it all again, even with Coach screaming down my neck.

I fell asleep, pushing the thoughts of the day out of my mind. Tomorrow, I’d deal with the wrath of the coach’s anger, but not tonight. Tonight, I’d sleep.

*

The sun beat in through my window, blasting into my eyes as they started to open. I gripped my phone, checked the time, and then jumped out of bed in a panic. Fuck, it was already seven-thirty. I only had thirty minutes to get to the stadium.

I threw on clothes, grabbed my phone and keys, and ran out the door. The doorman greeted me, “You feeling better, sir?” I didn’t have time for his inquiries into my personal life. I simply gave him a wave and kept on running.

The stadium parking lot was empty. No practice, too early for games. It felt eerie walking the long halls in the underbelly of the stadium. As I neared the coach’s office, I heard voices coming from inside, echoing down the long, narrow corridors.

“Come in. Sit down,” Coach said sternly as I appeared in the doorway.

The GM was leaning against the wall, his arms crossed, his lips pursed tightly together. This isn’t good.

“Todd, as you know we’ve had this discussion time and time again,” the coach started his speech, his brow furrowed with consternation.

“I apologize, Coach. As I said, I had no idea that would happen.”

His lips curled into a smile. His eyes brightened, and a chuckle escaped his throat. I felt at ease for a moment, but only a brief one as his expression quickly turned to a frown.

“Todd, we just don’t feel that you’re the right fit for this team anymore. You have no regard for our rules, which is leading other players to behave the same way.” The GM spoke without emotion.

Wow!

“You’re throwing me out?” I asked, surprised my mouth was able to say the words.

“Not throwing you out. But, we’ve determined it best for the team, for our image, that you be with a team more suited to your, well, your nature.” I leaned against my seat, pushing my back hard against the leather material at the GM’s words.

The last couple seasons were rough, but this was uncalled for in my mind. So I had a few incidents in the past, but it wasn’t like I was the only one. Several of my teammates had been caught riding motorcycles; one was involved in a high-speed police chase that resulted in a crash, and hell, our first baseman was busted for playing hockey during the off-season.

“I know what you’re thinking, Todd.” My coach acted as if he had any idea of what was going on in my head.

“We’ve had a shaky history with the team getting out of control. But we feel that everyone is onboard for a new season, a new image. We thought you were as well. Until this.” I wanted to smack the GM hard enough to make him eat his words.

“I don’t see the big deal. If I’d been in a car, not on a motorcycle, my injuries would be the same,” I snapped at them both.

“And jumping out of an airplane?” Coach glared at me with beady eyes.

“It’s as safe as riding in one.”

“This isn’t your first incident, Todd. As much as we value you as a player on the field, we just don’t feel you carry the same values off the field we require for this team,” Coach said softly. “Rules are in place for a reason.”

The GM crossed his arms tightly over his chest. Coach shook his head, and his eyes dropped to his hands that were clenched together on his desk. It was obvious they’d already made up their minds. It was useless to argue. The Mets had a new look, a new image, and Todd Morris no longer fit in.

“I’ve been traded?”

I couldn’t imagine leaving New York. I loved it here. I loved the people, the neighborhood, the stadium, my team. I wanted to plead with them to let me stay, but it was evident their mind had been made.

That’s that. I’m no longer a New York Met.

“We felt it best to have you here with none of the other players around. You can clean out your locker without anyone looking over your shoulder,” the coach said generously.

I scooted the chair back with a loud screech I didn’t mean to create against the floor. I stood, extended my hand to the coach and then the GM. To leave with my pride if nothing else.

“Where will I be going?” I asked, fearing the worst.

Philadelphia. Cincinnati. Milwaukee. All of those were names I hoped not to hear.

“Rhett.” Coach stood, looking toward his door.

I turned. Rhett Hamilton stood in the doorway. He extended his hand to the coach, and then to the GM before focusing his attention on me.

“Welcome to the Beasts,” he said with a wild grin and extended his hand to mine.

As if on autopilot, I reached out to shake it, feeling as though my coach just made a deal with the devil.

A Beast?

Me?

Hell the fuck no!

Chapter Two

Katrina

“Did you need me to take you somewhere else?” Larry, my Uber driver, was sweet but growing impatient with me.

“No, thank you,” I said quickly, pushing a twenty to the front seat.

I’d sat in the backseat of his Kia Forte for almost five full minutes in the wide, circular driveway. I wasn’t ready to go inside, to face the reality of my life. But Larry wasn’t going to let me sit here forever. I’m sure he had plenty of other poor carless saps to rescue today.

It felt surreal standing at the front door of the large mansion where I grew up. My stomach twisted in knots as I turned the door handle to let myself inside. Geoffrey always greeted me before, but he was gone, along with the rest of the staff. As the metal touched the palm of my hand, I realized that it was probably the first time I’d ever done something as simple as let myself inside my own childhood home.

“Oh, Katrina!” My mother rushed toward me, her long blonde hair pulled into a loose bun, her eyes red from what I assumed were tears.

My body melted into hers. She smelled of vanilla and lavender, and even though her life was crumbling beneath her, she still managed to soothe me.

“Hey, Kitty-Kat, you get the car dropped off okay?”

I opened my eyes and stared at my smiling father, careful to not cringe at my childhood nickname. He looked too chipper for the situation. Delusional. His hand rested on his hip as he leaned against the rounded door frame leading to the dining area. The large room I stood in made me feel small, made him look small. Bobby “Spaceman” Delaney, baseball legend. That was my dad.

“Yes,” I responded, but without showing the true emotion I felt.

“Good girl.” His grin widened as my confusion grew. How could he be so calm? Hell, so cheerful?

“I’ll get you a new car. A better one. Just wait and see, Kit-Kat,” he said with bright eyes and a tone that felt manic on my ears.

My pink Mercedes was a gift for graduating Stanford. It was an upgrade from the one I received for my sweet sixteen, and up until now, I’d always believed there’d be more where that came from. But, not now. Not ever again. I hated dropping it off to the dealership where my father had leased it. The general manager was gracious, but a hint of pity in his eyes told me he knew about my father’s dilemma, my entire family’s dilemma. No matter how hard my parents tried to cover this up, I knew they couldn’t for long.

“Yes, an even better car,” my mother said cheerfully, adding to my father’s delusion.

I smiled graciously, picked up a box, and headed up the long, spiraling staircase to my old bedroom.

The decorative French doors to my childhood bedroom opened to chaos. My furniture was pushed against the far wall, all accounted for by buyers, I presumed. I kicked off my shoes before stepping onto the super plush carpet so my toes would sink into the luxury one last time. This was it. Life as I once knew it was over.

The contents of my dresser drawers were already emptied onto my white canopy bed. I pushed everything into a large suitcase and moved to my closet. I reached up on my tippy-toes, my fingers searching the top shelf for the little velvet box that held my treasures. The soft material against my fingertips gave me a sense of comfort that I’d been missing. My hand gripped around the box, pulling it from its secure spot on the shelf and to my chest. I squatted on the floor and opened the little box to take inventory. I’d been living on my own since college, but Daddy was paying my bills. Now that he couldn’t, this little box of treasures was the only thing I had to make it through.

“Aww, sweetie.”

I looked up to find my mother standing in the doorway of my closet. Her hands were clenched across her chest, her eyes filled with sorrow.

“Your father had to sell everything to survive,” she murmured.

Her words hit me like a ton of bricks. I opened the box, stared at the empty space where my future once was, and felt doomed. “This was mine,” I said softly, lifting myself from the floor on legs that were much shakier than a moment ago.

“Katrina, be fair. He was paying your bills. You needed to finish school.” My mother defended him as usual.

“Yeah, my journalism degree, what good is that?” I snapped.

Breaking into the industry wasn’t easy, and the only way to earn your dues was through internships, which didn’t pay. That was all fine and dandy when I was Spaceman Delaney’s daughter, legendary baseball player with more money than God himself. But, what would happen to the daughter of Spaceman Delaney, baseball legend with a gambling problem that bankrupted his family?

Tears formed in my eyes and quickly made their way to my cheeks. I didn’t mean to be so harsh. I knew my father had given me a good life, a magical life, but I wasn’t ready for it to end. Not just for me, what would happen to them now?

“I’m truly sorry,” my mother said, her pain evident. “Here, I managed to save this.”

Her hand extended, she waited for me to acknowledge her offering. My eyes drifted to her tightly clutched fingers and watched as she opened them to reveal a large, pink pear cut diamond ring. “My sweet sixteen ring,” I exclaimed, suddenly feeling my world lifting from my shoulders.

“Shhh,” my mother warned, placing the ten-carat ring in my hand. It was extravagant, but that was my dad. He always wanted to give me the best, and this ring was the best.

“You should be able to pay at least six months’ worth of bills with this.” Her eyes were warm and gracious. She was right. It would pay at least that, if not more. I could get a car, pay for my condo, or possibly downsize to something smaller and pay cash. That would get me by until I found a paying job.

“Thank you, Mom.” I lunged toward her, scooping her into my arms and squeezing her with all my might.

“What are you two ladies fussing about?” I quickly shoved the ring into my front pocket before releasing my mother and acknowledging my dad standing at the doorway.

With the ring in my possession and my life feeling not so desolate as it once had, my anger toward him began to melt away. “What are you two going to do now?”

Dad leaned against the door frame of my bedroom door. Mom sat down on my bed, smiling at me with an emptiness I’d never seen before. I perched my frame against the wide opening of my walk-in closet, waiting, hoping for an answer I could live with.

“We have a condo. It’s small but still close to the action.” Small traces of remorse could be heard in my dad’s voice if you listened hard enough. “And, Kitty-Kat, we don’t want this news spreading all over the place,” he continued, remorse gone. “We’re just telling people we’ve downsized and plan to see the world. Who needs a big ole place like this when we’ll hardly ever be home?”

As the delusion continued, I couldn’t hold back the emotion, and tears fell down my cheeks like a waterfall. My mother’s arms wrapped around me tightly, but the same comfort she’d offered earlier wasn’t there. I felt sick. I’d idolized this man. Millions of people idolized him. How could he let this happen?

“I want you to have this,” he said softly, bringing his hands from behind his back. He held his “Most Valuable Player” award, a large plaque he’d proudly displayed in the game room for years. Aside from his World Series ring, it was his most valued possession. I felt uneasy about accepting such a gift.

“No, I couldn’t.”

“I want you to have it,” he insisted, continuing to hold it out.

Mom released her grip on me. The plaque felt massive in my hands. I’d never held it, only admired it on the shelf in the game room where it and his other trophies were displayed with pride.

“I’ll get everything back.”

I wanted to believe him, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t believe anything right now.

“He will, you’ll see,” my mother chimed in, defending him as usual.

My hands quivered with the award. He really was the most valuable player. I missed those days. Not only for the money. The man standing in front of me right now was much different than the one hitting balls out of the stadium.

I was certain my mother knew about his gambling problems early on, but I hadn’t. He’d done a fantastic job covering up his addiction, up until now. On the field, he was a God, commanding control of the ball, the other players, and always pushing himself past the limits of his talents. Even when my mom wasn’t able to go, Dad always took me to the games. I’d hang out in the general manager’s office while they practiced, watching from the closed circuit televisions. During the game, I’d have the best seats, often a skybox with some pretty impressive A-listers. The concession stands were aware of my father’s status, so I’d get anything I wanted. I felt like a princess, my father the king on the diamond.

“Remember the World Series game?” he asked softly.

I looked up, into the eyes that still held so much pride that they were breathtaking. I did remember. He was speaking of the last World Series, the one his team won. It was one of the best days of my life. I’d never forget it.

“You were so excited, you grabbed me from my seat and carted me around the field on your shoulders.” I sighed at the memory.

He chuckled. His eyes glazed over with emotion as they moved past me and onto the wall behind me. My mother stood, rubbed his arm softly with her delicate hand, staring at him with love and admiration.

“We’ll get through this,” she whispered. Her dark green eyes fell on me. “We won’t let anyone know what’s happening right now. It’s only temporary anyway. No need to have the media or nosy acquaintances judging us.”

Her stature was strong, her demeanor filled with a sudden strength. Janice Delaney, an aristocrat to her social circle, was not going to be displayed in such a poor light. No way, and neither would her husband or daughter. It was agreed without actually saying a word. I’d keep my mouth shut and pretend that all was well. Daddy doesn’t have a gambling problem that cost us our way of life, no sir, just downsizing.

“Thanks, girls,” he said with a strange burst of confidence. He turned, winked at me, slapped my mother playfully on the ass and disappeared down the hall.

“How long has this been going on?” I asked my mom once we were alone.

She hesitated, sighing, and dropped her eyes to the floor.

I knew she didn’t want to talk about it, but I deserved to know the truth. This was my life too. “Bobby’s always liked to gamble,” she said, finally looking me in the eye.

I sat on my bed, carefully placing the award beside me. “Always?”

“Yes. It started out with just a few bets here and there. Once he retired, he grew restless, I guess, needing something to keep him feeling alive,” she said sadly. “He’s a good man.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what? How was telling you, or anyone for that matter, going to help?”

“I could’ve talked to him,” I argued.

A soft sigh fell from her lips. She moved toward me, sitting on the bed next to me. Her arm offered warmth as it wrapped around my shoulders. “If I thought you could’ve stopped him, sure, I would’ve told you.”

After being told of his addiction, I took notice of his behaviors. They were sporadic, sometimes manic. His downs were rough, but his ups were even more turbulent. Watching him spiral out of control while smiling, convincing himself that everything was going to be alright was heart-wrenching.

I sat in my room alone for a while, looking out the large window that overlooked our dozen acres of land, taking in the last of the familiar scent of my bedroom, and saying goodbye to the life I once knew. I was scared, terrified really. I had no idea what I was going to do on my own.

“I have to get to work.” I sat on the window bench in the front room. My dad barked orders to the movers that had arrived, while my mother acted as if everything was normal.

“You might want to think about a real job,” Dad scolded me with his all-knowing look.

Ya think?

I loved my internship at the radio station. It kept me busy, allowed me a social life, or at least the facade of one. My social media management career, if you could call an unpaid job that, was exciting, fast-paced, and I was learning how not only to make the radio station look good online, but myself as well.

Most of my life was spent surrounded by baseball players, on the field and off. Friends were few and far between, and none of them ever really close. I liked being on the road with my dad, watching him on the field, getting the royal treatment for being Bobby “Spaceman” Delaney’s daughter.

College wasn’t much different. Even though I was surrounded by kids my own age, I didn’t seem to have a lot in common with them. I worked all the time, studying, creating the school newsletter, and of course, keeping up the game, even though Dad retired during my freshman year. Five years, that’s all it took for him to lose everything he’d worked an entire life for.

“About your condo,” my dad said quickly as the movers left with another large box.

“I know,” I muttered.

“You should be able to make the association fees, and the basic bills, right?” His eyes were full of concern, and for the first time, I caught a glimpse of reality in them.

“Yes.” I clutched the ring in my pocket, rolling it around in my fingers that were shoved deep in the denim. I’ll be fine.

“I’m really sorry, Kitty-Kat. This is just a rough patch. I’ll turn it all around soon, and then we can go shopping for another pink Mercedes. Hell, maybe even a Lamborghini this time.”

His lips curled into a slick smile, and my mother’s eyes widened in pleasure at his words. I wasn’t sure which one of them was more delusional.

Did they not see the movers outside? Could they not comprehend that all of their life-long belongings had been sold to cover gambling debts and that they were reduced to a small truck of boxes, a couple pieces of unimpressive furniture, and a two-bedroom condo that was smaller than their current bedroom?

“Sounds good, Dad,” I murmured, not willing to push him while he was already down, or up, I couldn’t tell anymore.

My phone lit up, playing the “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” ringtone I’d been meaning to change. I pulled it from my purse, stared at the screen, trying to figure out who’d be calling me from New York.

“You gonna answer that?” my dad called to me. I knew the song irritated him. He didn’t have the warm and fuzzy feelings about baseball like he used to. Since he retired from the Braves, I didn’t even think he’d watched a full game.

“Hello, this is Katrina Delaney,” I answered as professionally as possible.

Often times, the radio station gave out my number to clients. Even though I’d probably be leaving there soon, I wanted to leave on a good note.

“This is Rhett Hamilton with the New York Beasts.” His voice had the same deep tone I remembered from years ago.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Hamilton. How can I help you?” I responded, confused, excited, and a little intimidated. I knew of him, not only from the papers over the last couple seasons but also from years ago, when he and my dad were friends. The radio station was mainly a rock genre, rarely covering any sports events, unless to hand out free tickets as a contest. I couldn’t imagine what connection he’d have with them, but I was eager to find out.

My dad stared in my direction at the mention of the name. I turned away, keeping my focus on the phone call at hand and away from my curious father’s eyes.

“I have an exciting opportunity I’d like to talk to you about. When will you be free to meet with me?”

“I have a couple hours this afternoon. Are you staying in downtown Atlanta?” I asked.

A chuckle sounded over the phone. He was amused by my question, but I had no idea why. “No, I’m in New York. I need you here.”

My heart raced, and my palms began to sweat around the rubber case of my phone. “Can I ask what this is about?”

“Katrina, I’ve heard great things about you, and what you can do, so I’d like to see it for myself. You’ve heard of my team I’m sure, the Beasts?” He paused and left me to answer.

“Um, yes.”

“Then you know what trouble they can be. I need someone like you to clean them up, polish them for the press, so to speak.” He chuckled again, making me laugh too, even though I didn’t know why. I was nervous, still confused, and extremely overwhelmed. This was Rhett Hamilton, billionaire, owner of the most notorious team in the league. What did he want with me?

“I’ll make all the arrangements. You just show up at the airport, and then let me convince you as to why this would be an incredible opportunity for us both.”

I thought of my life here and what I had to look forward to — nothing. I wasn’t sure if I should tell him that I was only an intern, with no paid experience in the real world of social media management. I assumed he already knew, but should I bring it up? No, shut your mouth and accept, Katrina. You need this, badly!

“That sounds perfect.” Panic set in at my acceptance. What if he didn’t like me once we met? What if he realized he’d made a mistake hiring a college graduate with only eight months of internship under her belt? And that was only at a small local radio station. This was for the majors.

“I’ll have the information sent to you shortly. Is tomorrow afternoon okay with you? I can have you back that evening if you decline the position,” he said with confidence.

“Yes, that’s perfect,” I agreed.

I hung up the phone, slid it back into my purse, and turned to see my father staring at me with a mixture of confusion and excitement… and something else I couldn’t recognize.

“Was that Rhett Hamilton?” he asked. I nodded, still too shook up to speak. “He offered you a job?”

I nodded again. “I leave tomorrow afternoon for New York,” I managed to spit out.

“That’s great, honey!” My mother was enthusiastic, much more so than my father.

Larry, my Uber driver, was pulling up to the house. He was right on time, and for that I was thankful. I didn’t want to hang around and listen to one of my dad’s lectures about why this wouldn’t be a fantastic opportunity. I knew it was, and I was grateful to have it handed to me, even if I didn’t know exactly why.

I hope you enjoyed! Read the rest on February 9!