Love Bats Last
by Pamela Aares
When love’s in the game you can’t play it safe...
In LOVE BATS LAST, author Pamela Aares introduces you to the Heart of the Game series. Get ready for All-Star alpha males and the strong women they come to love!
A stormy night changes their lives forever...
The baseball diamond isn’t the only field for all-star player Alex Tavonesi; he also runs his family’s prestigious vineyard. What he can't seem to run is his love life. He’s closing in on the perfect vintage and the perfect game, but so far the perfect woman has eluded him.
Veterinarian Jackie Brandon is eluding her aristocratic past and memories of a soccer star who jilted her just before their wedding. She devotes herself to a marine mammal rescue center on the northern California coast, where hundreds of seals and sea lions are washing up dead.
A chance meeting in a midnight storm brings Alex and Jackie together to rescue a stranded whale. Watching her work, he realizes she's the passionate, courageous woman he thought he'd never find--he just has to overcome her deep distrust of jocks. Jackie's passion and courage lead her to discover what's killing the sea mammals. The culprits want to silence her, and Alex is the only one standing in their way. What will he sacrifice to save the woman he loves?
Quotes and Praise
“Pamela Aares deftly weaves together the desires and strategies of world-class sports with the equally charged realm of the heart to create fast-moving tales you’ll wish would never end.” —Mary Beath, award-winning author of Refuge of Whirling Light on the contemporary series the Heart of the Game.
“A new star in the romance world!” —E. Alexander, New York Times best-selling author
Bracing herself in the mud, she put her shoulder against the pontoon and shoved hard. It didn’t move even a fraction of an inch.
She was two miles from where she’d parked her truck downriver and didn’t relish the idea of trying to find a vineyard hand to help her. There’d be questions. Questions she wasn’t prepared to answer, not yet.
She walked to the bow of the Zodiac. It jutted up, maybe just enough for her to hang her weight from the front and pop up the midsection. She stepped into the river and sucked in her breath as she sank neck deep into an eddy pool. Feeling with her feet, she found a flat rock that gave her solid footing. She reached up and wrapped the bowline around her hands and tugged her full weight against it. Her hands slipped and she splashed back into the chilly water.
“It’s a bit early in the season for a swim.”
Adrenaline shot through her as she scrambled to her feet. A tall and ridiculously handsome man stood blocking the trail. He looked like he’d been airlifted out of a men’s fashion magazine. He squatted, bringing him to her eye level. She froze, unprepared for the intensity of his gaze. He had deep blue eyes, the color of the sea before a storm. Those eyes crinkled as a slow, easy smile curved his lips.
“Just testing the water,” she said with a bravado she didn’t feel.
Goose bumps rose along her arms as she sloshed out of the water and stepped onto the riverbank. She wished they were just from the cold. To give her hands something to do, she brushed ineffectively at the mud on her jeans.
“Can I give you a hand?”
He held a half-eaten sandwich, one of those piled-high deli sandwiches that Americans loved. Her stomach grumbled; she’d forgotten her own lunch. But this was no time to be thinking about food.
He didn’t look dangerous. But the expensive-looking slacks and perfectly tailored shirt he wore were out of place. She was from England—she knew a custom-tailored shirt from a Savile row tailor when she saw one. Why anyone would be wearing a three-hundred-dollar shirt and Prada loafers in river brambles was anybody’s guess.
“No,” she said, backing up a step. “I was just leaving.”
His assessing gaze sent a shiver down her spine, pushed it deep. She tugged at her shirt. Wet and plastered against her skin, it was almost transparent. She didn’t have to look down to know he could see her nipples puckered from the chilled water. She wished she’d taken the time to put on a bra.
She glanced up, and he quickly averted his eyes. Every cell in her body suddenly said flee.
She leaned over the pontoon and grabbed her backpack, rummaged to the bottom, found her jacket and pulled it on. She felt his eyes on her once again as she tugged up the zipper. At least she didn’t feel naked anymore.
She put a hand on the Zodiac, wishing that her touch would magically free it.
“What brings you up here? I don’t see many people boating in this stretch of river—just the occasional kayaker doing some bird watching. It’s mighty shallow.”
He gave her the perfect answer.
“I was looking for nesting clapper rails.”
“That shouldn’t take long,” he said. “There’ve only been a few sightings in this area since I’ve lived here. They’re endangered, you know.”
The man knew something about birds. And he was local. Could be good. Could be bad.
He quirked his brow. “And you’d be more likely to find clapper rails in the fields, wouldn’t you?”
He thought she was a clueless bird watcher. She should’ve chosen a different bird, but she really didn’t know the birds of the region all that well, except for the marine birds.
The man smiled again.
A smile shouldn’t send a zip of unnerving energy straight into her, but it did. She’d sunk herself in her work for so long, studiously avoiding exactly that kind of smile. He had the ease of a man who knew the effect he had on women. An ease she knew only too well, having once fallen prey to it at the hands of another man who knew how to wield his charm and allure.
She looked away from his face and down to his hands.
“Nice-looking Zodiac,” he said. “But you couldn’t have come up from the bay. It’d take you half a day with that small motor. You put in somewhere south of here?”
An observant man. Usually she liked that type. She tried not to be dazzled by his near perfect physique and a face that was more handsome than any man should be allowed. It was distracting. And dangerous. That she also knew from experience.
“I might ask what you’re doing here,” she said, deflecting. She eyed the Zodiac, assessing another approach to freeing it from the mud.
“Eating,” he said with the same dazzling smile.
A wise guy. From his polished American accent and fine clothing, obviously a very wealthy and well-educated wise guy. But he didn’t have the body of a businessman.
He grinned and waved the sandwich at her.
“There’s a great deli about two hundred feet from here. Can I buy you a sandwich? You look like you could use one.”
She dragged her hair away from her face. She’d love a sandwich. But there was a mile of river to sample between here and the vineyard properties to the north. And she didn’t want to answer questions. He looked like the type to ask plenty of them.
“Thanks, but I have to get back.”
Right. Not the cleverest of responses on her part.
“Back to, um...”
Jeez. Tracking down water samples had made her feel like she was in some sort of cheesy spy novel or something. This guy was just a guy having lunch near his local deli. Right. Dressed in expensive clothes and eating a sandwich by a really crummy spot in the river. She might be good at chasing down the mysteries of marine mammals, their lives, their health and the way the bigger picture affected them, but she was never much good at figuring out people.
“Back to work,” she said flatly.
“Where do you work? Can’t be around here.”
It was a simple question, a question she’d answered hundreds, maybe thousands of times. She hated to lie, usually didn’t have any reason to, but it was hard to ignore the small voice telling her to do just that. Maybe the sun had addled her brain. And she hadn’t been sleeping well. She’d read that lack of sleep could make you paranoid, make you read things into situations that weren’t there. She really should get more sleep.
“I work at the California Marine Mammal Center,” she said as she pulled her foot from the muck and edged closer to the Zodiac.
“The seal hospital near the Golden Gate Bridge?”
The Center was known for their quick response in rescuing injured marine mammals, doctoring them up and returning them to the ocean, but the work went far beyond that. Yet right now she didn’t feel like explaining.
“I’ve been meaning to get over there. For about ten years,” he said with a laugh.
“Evidently not a priority,” she said, trying not to like the sound of his laugh. “Or if it is, maybe you’re direction challenged?” She hadn’t meant to engage him, but his smooth manner was like oil on a hillside, and she just kept sliding along.
He sprang up from his crouch with a catlike, almost effortless, motion and took a couple steps down the path toward her. She stepped back and nearly lost her balance as her foot sank into the mud.
She fisted her hands against her hips, and he stopped walking.
“I heard you’re having a rash of seal deaths,” he said, suddenly serious. “Any clues as to what’s causing the diatom bloom?”
Her breath hitched in her chest. People in the Bay Area knew about the seal strandings; reports been all over the news. But most didn’t know about the diatom bloom or if they did, they didn’t get the connection. Maybe he was a scientist. But he didn’t look like a scientist. Scientists never had muscles like his.
“It’s too early to tell.” At least it wasn’t a complete lie. It was too early to tell. “I really have to be going.”
She turned and pushed her shoulder against the pontoon. Color crept into her face. She was stuck, in more ways than one.
“Here,” he said as he closed the distance between them. He bent down and put the sandwich on a rock. “Hop in. I’ll shove you off.”
She tilted her head and shaded her eyes. Maybe he could do it; he looked incredibly strong. His shoulders reached beyond those of most normal men. Only movie thugs and athletes had shoulders like that.
God, she was being ridiculous. Letting him shove her off was the best solution. Maybe the only one.
“Okay,” she said.
Their gazes locked, and she felt both trapped and held.
“I don’t bite,” he said.
There it was again, that easy, wide smile. She was really losing it if she could let herself be charmed by a stranger standing on a riverbank.
Before she could move away, he closed his hands around her waist and lifted her over the side of the boat.
“Straddle the pontoon on the opposite side,” he said as he released her. “Lean into it.”
The confidence of his tone told her he was used to giving orders.
He walked to the bow of the boat and stepped into the water. She noticed that he didn’t fall into the eddy pool. Maybe he knew this stretch of river very, very well.
She hung her weight against the pontoon and watched his arm muscles work as he gripped the bow line and levered his shoulder against the boat. With perfect control he tipped the bow down. The bottom of the boat sucked up off the riverbed with a sigh and a slurp, and with a firm, steady motion, he pushed the boat into the river.
“You might need this.” He grinned and tossed the bow line over the side. She caught it with one hand.
“Nice catch,” he said as he stepped out of the water.
Mud covered his expensive shoes and stained up his pant legs. He apparently didn’t notice or didn’t care.
Her hands shook as she started the engine. Only then did she remember she hadn’t thanked him. She waved and shouted thanks over the buzz of the motor.
“My name's Alex,” he said as he waved and stared after her. “Maybe I'll see you around these parts again.”
Not if she could help it. Maybe he wouldn’t notice that she was headed north, upriver to the vineyards. Besides, why would he care?
About the Author
Pamela Aares is an author of contemporary and historical romance novels. Her first book, Jane Austen and the Archangel (Angels Come to Earth, #1) was released in 2012. Midnight Becomes You, (Angels Come to Earth, #2) will release in 2014, along with three more books in the Heart of the Game series, all releasing in 2014.
Before becoming a romance author, Pamela Aares produced and wrote award-winning films and radio shows including Your Water, Your Life featuring actress Susan Sarandon and the NPR series New Voices. After producing The Powers of the Universe and The Earth’s Imagination, she knew without a doubt that romance lives at the heart of the universe and powers the greatest stories of all.
Pamela holds a Master’s Degree from Harvard and lives in the wine country of California with her husband and two curious cats. Her love of nature led to adventures scuba diving the coral reefs of Fiji, exploring the cliffs of Greece, sea kayaking the Rosario Straits and white water rafting the wild and scenic rivers of the west—and romance!
Web site: http://www.PamelaAares.com
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/pamela-aares