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Me: Every time he’s needed to talk to me in the past six months it was to ask me for money.

Kirsten: You really should talk to him.

Me: You haven’t contacted me since the day I moved out, Kirsten. If Tony is just getting you to do his dirty work, I’m going to block you, too.

Kirsten: I wouldn’t do that if I were you.

I don’t even acknowledge that with a reply. I just block her number. Jamie is the only one of my old roommates who I’ve talked to since I left. She told me that Kirsten hasn’t been able to land much work lately, but that Tony stays with her because he can’t get anyone else. Even Tori and Pauline stopped sleeping with the bastard. Does that mean they developed a conscience, or that he’s just gotten to be that bad?

It makes me feel dirty that he was able to ‘get’ me. How could I have been so gullible?

I pull out my sunscreen and lather it on. I don’t want to get red like I did at the beach yesterday. Caden wasn’t happy that he had to handle me with care last night. But then again, he didn’t mind it when I asked him to rub aloe on me. And boy did he give me a good rub down.

I hear some girls laughing a few rows over. The stands are fairly empty in this minor-league stadium, but there are a few pockets of girls, and even guys, who have come to watch the Nighthawks pre-season workouts.

I shake my head in irritation when I overhear one of the girls bragging about how many of the players she’s slept with. I’m not surprised to hear the names of both Brady Taylor and Sawyer Mills. Those boys better be careful or they will end up getting someone pregnant. I know Caden has told me they claim to be as careful as he was, but still—if you throw enough darts, one of them is bound to stick.

My back stiffens when I hear one of them mention trying to get with Caden. I smile when she calls him an arrogant prick for ignoring her advances.

When Caden gets a break and jogs over in my direction, the girls next to me start squealing, thinking he’s coming over for them. When he walks past them and over to me, they all look at me with pure hatred. I think they finally realize who I am. Our relationship is no secret. Caden and I were interviewed by a popular nightly news show last month. Anyone who follows baseball has heard about the love story of the Hawks player and the girl he hit with his home run ball.

I stand up and walk down the bleachers to meet him, fully aware of a dozen eyes burning into the back of my head. Then one of them yells out, “Caden, you don’t have to hit me with a ball to get me to fuck you.”

He looks at her and laughs. “Yeah, because your incredible charm would win me over.”

The girls scoff at him.

“I told you he was an arrogant prick,” another girl says.

I lean over the bulkhead and wrap my arms around him. “I love you, you arrogant prick,” I say.

He pulls me over the wall and into his arms. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when you leave, Murph. It’s great having you here.”

“You’re going to focus on being the best ball player you can be, that’s what.”

“I predict this will be my best year ever because I’ll have my lucky girl with me.”

I roll my eyes at him. “We’ve gone over this, Caden. There is no way I can go to every game.”

“How about just the home games?”

“That’s still a lot.”

“Okay, four games a week,” he says.

“Are you negotiating with me, Kessler?”

He laughs.

“One,” I say. “I promise to go to one game a week.”

“Three,” he says, leaning down to nibble on my ear.

“You’re incorrigible,” I say, laughing. “Fine. Two. Two games per week and that’s my final offer.”

Someone calls him back over to practice, so he lifts me up over the half-wall and gives me a kiss. “I would have settled for one,” he says, walking away. “I’ll take you any way I can get you.”

I blow him a kiss. “I almost caved at three.”

He shakes his head, laughing as he jogs back to the others. Before he gets there, he turns around and gives me a big smile. A smile that says it all. A smile that says he’s mine.

Yeah – happy is definitely not a strong enough word.

Chapter Forty-five

Caden

Opening day. There is nothing like it. Looking up into the stands and seeing forty thousand fans is surreal. Some days I still can’t believe I get to play ball for a living. I stick my head out of the dugout and take a long look around. Just as the last Beatles song is finishing up in my ears, my eyes land on Murphy. She’s gorgeous in her Hawks shirt.

I wonder what hat she’s wearing today. She has quite the collection of hats in her apartment now. And often when we’re together, she’ll wear one and I’ll take it off her to see which date is inside. Then we’ll reminisce about how she came to have the hat.

I try to guess which one sits on her head right now. The one I gave her on our first Christmas? Or maybe the one I gave her the day we met in the hospital. Or better yet, it could be the one I gave her in the tent on the beach when she came down to Tampa. Each one holds a special meaning. And I find myself hoping she never stops wearing them.

I take my earbuds out and stash them in my bag. When I do, something falls out and Sawyer reaches down to grab it. He opens the small velvet box to reveal a diamond ring.

“Shit, Kess. Really?”

I shrug my shoulders. “What can I say, man? She’s the one.”

I bought the ring in Florida a few weeks ago. I’ve been carrying it around with me because I’m waiting for the perfect time to propose. I still haven’t figured out if I’m going to plan out an extravagant proposal or let it be a spur of the moment sort of thing. All I know is that I’ll know when the moment is right.

Sawyer takes the ring out of the box and examines it. “Damn fine ring,” he says.

“Damn fine girl,” I tell him, taking it back.

“We love you, Caden!” some girls scream next to the dugout.

I quickly throw the box into my bag and slip the ring in my back pocket to keep anyone else from seeing it. I don’t need some teenage fan-girl ruining the surprise by tweeting about me showing off an engagement ring to my buddies.

“Gear up,” our coach says.

Adrenaline flows through me like hot lava. I can’t wait to get back out on that field.

God, I love baseball.

~ ~ ~

My teammates pat me on the back on the way to the clubhouse. Today was an epic day by anyone’s standards, but a personal best for me. Not only did I have a two-run homer, but a total of four RBIs, and three double plays.

Lady luck was surely on my side. As I undress, the ring falls out of my back pocket. I forgot it was even there. I study it for a minute, thinking of the game I just had. I smile as I put it back into the black velvet box. It’s Murphy. She’s my lady luck.

I see an envelope taped to my locker. It has a sticky note on it from Melanie that says she was told the message was urgent. I rip it open and pull out a letter.

Since Murphy will no longer take my calls, and she walks into the back office when I try to confront her at the gym, I have no choice but to come to you.

I have something you want.

If you want to protect your girl, I suggest you meet me in the tunnel to parking lot B, right outside the locker room.

Now.

Otherwise, I can’t guarantee she won’t get hurt.

There’s no signature, but it doesn’t need one. It’s from Tony Fields. My blood boils. My jaw tightens. My temples pound. I want to tear up the letter, but I don’t. It could be evidence. He wants to hurt her?

Before I’m even fully out of uniform, I pull my pants back on, grab the letter and my phone and go out the back entrance of the clubhouse.

I text the head of security along the way.

Me: Meet me behind the clubhouse in the parking lot B tunnel. Now.

Drew: I’ll be there in 5.

I spot Tony immediately. I’m not sure how he got access. This tunnel is off limits to fans. It only gets used by players and stadium workers.

“You threatening her?” I yell at him on my approach.

“Well, if it isn’t the famous Caden Kessler,” he says, mocking me. “Can I have an autograph?”

“Are. You. Threatening. Her?” I say, slow enough for his pea-sized brain to understand as I press him hard against the wall.

He has the gall to laugh. “That depends on what you mean by threaten,” he says, trying to break free. “I’m not going to hurt her physically, if that’s what you mean. I’m not like that, man. I’ve never hit a girl in my life and I won’t start now.”

“And yet that fact still hasn’t kept you from being a complete asshole.”

“You might want to choose your words carefully,” he says. “Otherwise I might not play nice.”

“What the hell do you want, Fields?”

“I’ll tell you as soon as you take your hands off me.”

I take a step back, but still stay in his face. “Spill it.”

“What do you think I want?”

I shake my head. “Same thing as every scammer. Money.”

“Ahh, yes, it’s true,” he says. “Except for one thing. I’m not a scammer, big man. I’m merely an enterprising businessman. I have something you want and you are going to pay me for it.”

“Blackmail? Nice try. There is nothing you have that I could ever want.” I turn to walk away.

“I beg to differ. And I’ll bet Murphy would, too. But I guess it’s up to you if you want your girlfriend’s naked body all over the internet.”

Fuck.

I know he’s probably lying. I mean, this is Murphy we’re talking about. No way in hell would she have given him a naked picture of herself. But I need to be sure. I turn around. “If you have a naked picture of her, prove it. I want to see it right now.”

“Well, it’s not a naked picture exactly,” he says, chewing the inside of his cheek.

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