“What?” he says, feeling my silent giggle.
“It’s just so normal,” I say. “Everyone listens to music when they are stressed.”
“Yeah, well, everyone doesn’t listen the way I do.”
He has my attention now and I turn my body, perching my chin up on his chest. “Oh?”
“I listen to the same music before every game.”
“That doesn’t seem all that unusual. Do you have a pre-game playlist?”
“What’s on it?”
He sighs. “The entire Beatles White Album.”
My jaw drops. “You listen to the entire Beatles White Album before every game?”
He nods. “All ninety-three minutes of it.”
“How do you have time for that? Don’t you guys have to warm up or something?”
“We do warm up. I do it with earbuds in.”
“And they let you do that?”
He laughs. “Murph, if they think that we think something will make us perform better, they will bend over backwards to make it happen. Especially when we’re on the road.”
I lay my head back down on his chest, not wanting to think about him being on the road.
“What is it?” he asks. “I just felt you tense up.”
I shrug into him. “I guess I’m just not sure what comes next,” I say. “What are we going to do when you have to travel all the time? We’ll never see each other.”
He kisses the top of my head. “We have over two months to figure that out, babe.”
“Two? I thought baseball season didn’t start until April. That’s four months away.”
“It doesn’t, but spring training starts around the third week of February.”
“Oh, well, how bad can it be? It’s just a bunch of practices, right? We’ll still get to see each other. That is unless they have a no-girlfriends rule or something.” I suddenly get a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I look up at him. “There isn’t a rule, is there?”
He chuckles, his chest bouncing under me. “No, there’s no rule.”
“But what about you?” I ask. “I remember you once telling me you didn’t want a girlfriend because you didn’t want distractions. What if I’m a distraction, Caden?”
His hand rubs up and down my arm. “You are anything but a distraction. You’re my good luck charm, remember? But, Murph, spring training isn’t here in New York. It’s in Florida.”
I sit up and pull the sheet around me. “Florida?”
He runs a hand through his hair and then sits up against his headboard. “Yeah. We’ll be down there for about six weeks.”
I sigh. “I guess six weeks isn’t so bad.”
He pulls me to him, settling me between his legs so my back is resting on his chest. “You could go with me.”
I glance back at him, giving him a look. “I have a job, Caden. One I like very much.”
“I know,” he says. “How about I fly you down every weekend then? I’m in tight with one of your bosses, so maybe he’ll agree to let you fit your hours into four days or something.”
I shrug. “We’ll see. We have some time. We’re not even sure where this is going yet.”
“This? You mean us?” He surprises me by turning me around and pinning me down onto the bed. “This is going all the way. All nine innings.”
I smile. “You say that like you know we’ll be together. But we’ve just gotten started. How can you be so sure?”
He leans down to kiss me. He starts out softly, kissing each side of my mouth and then my top lip, followed by my bottom. He kisses my cheeks, taking extra time over my imperfections. When his lips move back to mine, he devours my mouth with his tongue, exploring, tasting, savoring.
When he’s kissed me breathless and is growing hard on top of me, he pulls away, running a finger across my scar. “Don’t you know by now that you’re my perfect game?”
I’ve known him long enough to understand what saying that means to a guy like Caden. A guy whose whole life has been dedicated to one thing. I look into his eyes and see how much he means it.
A knot forms in my throat as I feel emotion pass between us. My eyes pool with tears. “Getting hit by your ball was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
He nods and I can tell he’s trying to keep his emotions in check. “I … I’m not good at this romance stuff, Murph. I never wanted to be good at it. You’ve changed everything for me. I know I freaked you out last week when I told you like wasn’t a strong enough word. After that, I promised myself I wouldn’t move too fast and risk scaring you. But if I’ve only got two months to convince you this is real—that you’re it for me, then I’m not holding back. Because I’m pretty sure I love you, Murphy Brown. And I don’t know if me saying that is going to make you run out that door or not. But if you do, I’ll chase you. I’ll always chase you. And I’ll make you realize you need to be with me. I’m never going to be happy that I hit you with my ball, but now I know it was fate. The beautiful scar on your face brought us together. And every time I look at you, all I see is a reminder. A reminder that you belong to me.”
I can’t even see him clearly anymore with the steady stream of tears escaping my eyes. I gently push him off me and get out of bed.
“Shit, Murphy, I’m sorry.”
I pick up the unused condom he threw on the floor and climb back into bed, right on top of him, smiling. “Whoever told you you’re not good at the romance stuff is wrong. Is there anything you don’t excel at?”
He laughs. “Damn, woman. You scared me for a second.” His eyes fall to my breasts that are dangerously close to his face now. “You’re not mad?”
“Mad?” I lean down and feather kisses along his jaw. “How could I be mad when I feel the same way?”
His breath catches and he cups my face in his hands, forcing me to look at him. “I’m going to need to hear you say it.”
More tears threaten to fall. “I love you, Caden.”
His eyes close briefly and he sighs. “Again.”
“I love you, Caden Kessler.”
“I never thought I’d want to hear those words,” he says, brushing some hair out of my face and tucking it behind my ear. “And now, I hope I never have to go a day without you saying them.”
“This is going to work, isn’t it?” I ask hesitantly. “We’ll be apart a lot of the time, but we can make it work, can’t we?”
“We have to make it work,” he says. “Us not working is not an option.”
I hold out the condom. “Then we better get started, because I plan on showing you over and over what you’ll be missing when we’re apart.”
He takes the square package from me, leaning up to give me one more kiss. “We may not always be in the same city, Sweet Caroline. But we’ll never be apart.”
We stop talking. But we don’t stop telling each other everything we need to hear.
My eyes scan the arrivals terminal as people make their way to the luggage carousels. Every time I see a head of blonde hair, my heart jumps. And maybe another part of my anatomy as well.
It’s been three weeks since we’ve seen each other. We just haven’t been able to get our schedules to mesh. Taking on more responsibility at the gym means it’s harder for her to get away. But now she’s on vacation and I get her for an entire week.
I used to love spring training. Being down in Tampa for six weeks when it’s bitter cold up north was just another perk of the job. But this year is different. This year I have someone to go home to. Someone who is waiting for me.
A smile splits my face when I see her. When she notices me standing here, her steps quicken and she walks as fast as she can without running. Our eyes are locked together. Hundreds of people surround us, yet we only see each other. I want to go to her but security would probably apprehend me.
I start laughing when I realize what she’s wearing. Shorts. A halter top. Flip flops. Appropriate attire for Florida, but not for New York City the first week of March. She must have frozen her butt off in her excitement to get here.
She passes security and jumps into my waiting arms, wrapping her legs around me. Cameras come out and photograph us, but I don’t care. In the past four months, we’ve graced the covers of so many tabloids it doesn’t even bother her anymore. Just like everything else in her life, she’s taking this in stride.
We kiss like we’ve been apart for three decades, not three weeks.
This, right here, makes everything worth it.
When we finally pull apart and I return her to her feet, she tries to compose herself. “Well, that ought to give them something to write about,” she says, nodding at the paparazzi who caught wind of us.
Several photographers follow us as we retrieve her suitcase and walk out to my rental car.
“Caden, is there a wedding in the future?” one shouts.
“Miss Cavenaugh, does it bother you that he’s down here bar-hopping?” another asks.
Having heard enough, I turn to them. “I haven’t seen my girl in weeks. We’ll be happy to pose for a photo if you’ll then give us our privacy.”
Murphy pastes on her best model smile as the cameras snap repeatedly. Then, just as asked, they leave us alone. Sometimes I find it easier to give them what they want rather than try to fend them off.
I open the door for her and she gets in the car. “It’s not true, you know. I don’t go bar-hopping. I mean, I’ve been to a few bars, but I’m not out trolling or anything.”
“Caden, I don’t expect you to sit in your hotel room twiddling your thumbs while you’re down here. I hope you’re going out with your friends. You deserve to have a little fun after working so hard.”