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“Come on now. We’ve gone over this a thousand times. Your father wanted her here because we are the best. And you keep saying you’ll move back eventually. So what if you move her down there, upheaving her life and her routines, just to put her in some sub-standard facility only for you to end up getting that transfer back to New York?”

Rylee sighs again. “You’re right, Barbara. I know you’re right. I just miss her, that’s all. I’m all she’s got.”

“You’re wrong, Rylee. She has me. She has us. We love her like our own mothers. I promise you she’s getting the best care possible.”

Rylee nods her head and then picks up her phone to check the time. “Barbara, I’ve got to go, I have a patient coming soon.”

I finally back away from the office and head back to the door that leads to reception. Alex comes through a side door and looks around the room, having caught me walking towards reception and not away from it.

He looks back at the office Rylee is occupying. “Is there something I can help you with?”

He eyes me up and down. He doesn’t like me. But that’s okay, I don’t like him either. I don’t like the way he looks at Rylee.

“Uh, the sign said to come on back, but I saw Rylee on the phone, so I thought I’d just wait out front.”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” he says.

He stares me down, waiting for me to walk away and go through the door. But I’m not backing down first. He needs to know he can’t manipulate me. He finally shakes his head and retreats across the room.

Before I go through the door, I see Rylee come out of the office, wiping tears from under her eyes. I pretend that I’ve just now come in.

“Hi,” I say, innocently, as if I haven’t just eavesdropped on something I had no right to know about.

“Oh, hi.” She tries to compose herself.

“Something wrong?” I ask, like I don’t know she’s dying inside.

“Eyelash in my eye,” she says. “But I think I got it. Thanks.”

I look around the room. “Where’s Brad?”

“At the orthopedic. I had to work him in later this afternoon.”

“I’m a bit early. Do you want me to wait out front?”

She shakes her head. “No. Just have a seat over by that training table and I’ll get my laptop and pull up your chart.”

While she gets ready for me, I pull out my phone and Google her dad. Surely there can’t be too many orthopedic surgeons named Kennedy who worked with professional sports teams in New York.

It doesn’t take me long to find him. Gerald Kennedy. He actually has a Wikipedia page. He married his second wife, Georgia, and had his one-and-only child, Rylee when he was fifty years old. Tragically, he died of a massive stroke at the age of seventy-two, leaving his wife, who was in a memory care facility with early-onset-Alzheimer’s, and a daughter who was in her first year of PT school.

I look at Rylee as she logs onto her laptop, feeling sorry for a twenty-two-year old who had to deal with such massive amounts of tragedy. Twenty-two. She was twenty-two when it happened. Same age as I was.

I leave Gerald Kennedy’s Wikipedia page to Google my own. I do that every once in a while to make sure it doesn’t say anything about Natalie and Keeton.

When I was drafted by the Hawks, the story of their deaths hit the papers. I mean, how could it not? I wasn’t even available to take the highly-anticipated phone call because I was burying my wife and child. Thankfully, however, the story died quickly and nobody cared much about a player who was starting out on the single-A team.

With my first few paychecks, I hired a service to scrub any existence of Natalie and Keeton Taylor on the net. I didn’t need to be reminded of what happened and I sure as hell didn’t need strangers or new friends asking questions.

Luckily, most baseball players are self-centered and even among the single-A team who knew my past, my story was quickly forgotten and replaced by tales of women, drinking, and successes in baseball.

As the years went by, I became known as the perpetual bachelor of the Hawks. The guy who would never settle down. The playboy of baseball. And if anyone in the media or the Nighthawks organization knows about my past, they don’t ever say anything and for that, I’m grateful.

“Ready?” Rylee asks, coming to stand next to me.

I put my phone away. “Give me all you got.”

She smiles.

I’m glad I made her smile after how sad she looked a minute ago.

“I’m going to push you more than I normally do today,” she says.

“Do it. I’m ready.”

“Good. Let’s get started.”

An hour and one mother-fucking-sore arm later, she’s finishing up putting the TENS unit away as I quickly hop onto the training table. I love all of Rylee’s massages, but I think my favorite is the intense neck massage she gives me when I’m lying on my back. She really gets in there and when her strong fingers push up and extend my neck, I can feel all the stress leaving my body.

She laughs. “Eager for a massage, are we?”

“I think I deserve a longer one after that workout,” I say, stretching my neck and shoulders to relieve the tension. “You definitely earned your name as the Queen of Pain today.”

“Well, as luck would have it we got started early, so I might just have a few extra minutes.”

She doesn’t talk much during my massage. I think she gets that I prefer to lie quietly and get lost in my thoughts and her hands.

Her hands. It amazes me that such a small person has the strength to manipulate large muscles such as mine. Surely she’s the one who needs a massage after working on all the athletes that she does.

Suddenly, I find myself fantasizing about our roles being reversed. About Rylee being on this table. About her long locks being pulled from the hair tie and splaying over the table, the rich brown waves cascading over the edges. About my hands kneading and plying the tension from her neck, her shoulders … and how my hands wander lower, searching for the unexplored territory that lies beneath her Hawks-colored polo shirt.

Her hands fall away from my neck, causing me to open my eyes. She retrieves a towel from the cabinet and throws it over the growing problem in my sweat pants.

“You’ll scare the children with that thing,” she jokes, trying to hide her embarrassment.

I wink at her before closing my eyes to enjoy the rest of my massage.

I wonder what she thinks about it. Does it happen often? I can honestly say that in all the years I’ve been getting massages from female PTs, this is the first time I’ve gotten anything more than a semi.

I imagine her hands on me now, her very strong and capable hands going down on me and reaching under the waistband of my pants to stroke me.

Fuck. I know when I get back to the hotel, I’ll be doing a lot more than just squeezing the stress ball.

I think I let out a groan or a growl and then her hands fall away. For good this time.

“Okay, I think you’re good to go,” she says, walking to her laptop to do some typing.

I sit up, keeping the towel over my lap.

“What would you say to a repeat of last Friday? Not the aquarium again, but something different. More Tampa culture.”

She looks up from her laptop. “I’m not so sure about that, Brady.”

“Why not? You had a good time, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but …” she looks at the towel that is hiding my waning erection.

“Oh, come on, Ry. Surely as a medical professional, you understand I have no control over that.”

She sighs, thinking about it.

“You said yourself that getting out and being active is good for me. Would you rather I sit alone in my hotel room, crying in my beer over my bleak future?”

“Your future is anything but bleak. You are making great progress with your elbow. The rest will come. Trust me.”

“Is that a yes?” I ask.

“That wasn’t an anything,” she says.

“You know you want to, Kennedy. We had a blast.”

“I don’t know, Taylor. It might not be a good idea.”

Her eyes flit back to my lap, making me wonder if she thinks it’s a bad idea because she doesn’t want me, or because she does.

“I’ll have to see. I’m not sure I could move things around again.”

“You have quite the social calendar, don’t you?” I tease.

“Yeah, that’s me,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Just call me Wild Child.”

I hop off the table, tossing the towel to her. “See you tomorrow, Miss Child.”

“I’ll be here.”

Before I’ve even left the building, I pull out my phone and make a call to Jason, the team owner, to see if there is anything he can do to facilitate Rylee getting back to her mom.

Then I jog back to my hotel, my balls bluer than the Atlantic, knowing I’ve got a date with my right hand.

Chapter Nine

I manage to scribble a few autographs with my right hand out in front of the hotel while I wait for Rylee. Word has gotten out that I’m staying here and it’s become increasingly hard to come and go without being spotted. But when the familiar silver SUV pulls up under the hotel awning, I find myself racing through the fans to get to the one person who doesn’t seem to care in the least that I am one of the top starting pitchers in the league.

Or was.

One bystander gets out her phone to snap a picture as I get in the car. I hold up my hand. “Please don’t.”

The last thing Rylee or I need is for her face to be plastered across the tabloids with rumors of us hooking up.

I quickly slip inside the passenger door. “Next time, why don’t you park in the lot and I’ll walk out? Or even better, I’ll Uber to your place.”

“Next time?” She raises her brow.

“Yeah. I think this should be our thing. Friday nights on the town. We’ll call them Friend Fridays if it makes you feel any better.”

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