Thanks to Nancee Cain for reading and reviewing Masquerade: Oddly Suited, a young adult anthology including my sports romance short story, Behind the Catcher’s Mask.
Fast-pitch softball is Andie Wilson’s life. She’s a fierce pitcher hoping to score a college scholarship, and she hates the annoying distraction of cocky baseball players crashing her high-school charity game. But she doesn’t anticipate the impact of one baseball player: Colt Turner. As Colt stares at her through his catcher’s mask, his steadfast gaze may be just what she needs to guide her through a crisis. And Colt may need Andie, too—to cope with the secret hiding behind his mask.
Nancee’s review reminds me that I want to share a teaser from my story with you. This scene takes place after the story, from Colt’s perspective.
Sharp air fills my lungs as I stride toward Andie’s front door. This early cold snap has blown in uninvited. Welcome to Ohio.
Andie skips out and closes the door behind her before I reach the porch. She turns her face up to mine, fresh and pink in the glow of the porch light. Her pastel-striped knit hat fans out her long, blond hair over the collar of her coat.
“You sure your parents are cool with you going to a senior party?” I ask.
She rolls her eyes. “Alex will be there, so he’ll protect me.”
Her older brother’s the starting quarterback for USC. “Your brother’s in town for Christmas?”
“Just for a couple of days, then he has to head back to L.A. before the bowl game.”
When she shivers, I reach for one of her mittens, tug her closer, and lean down to kiss that irresistibly soft and rosy cheek. “C’mon, let’s go.”
I hold the passenger door open for her, and she snuggles into the seat. “Oh, it’s so warm in here!”
I hustle to my side of the car, praying, Don’t break down again. I left the car running to help my chances. As I back out of her driveway, I boast, “Vlad’s got a good heater.”
Her eyebrows scrunch. “You named your car Vlad?”
Her head tilts.“What kind of car is this?”
“Chevy Impala. A very old Impala,” I add.
After a few seconds, her giggles fill the car. “Vlad the Impala!” She snorts. “You’re a genius, Colt.”
My dad was the clever one who came up with the name, actually. My smile fades. This will be our first Christmas without him.
We arrive at my teammate’s house and climb out of Vlad.
Her mitten envelopes my glove. “Are you okay?”
I realize I haven’t spoken the entire car ride. “Great.”
The worried look in her hazel eyes remains, sparking a stab of guilt in my chest. My denial wouldn’t impress my sport psychologist.
“Just thinking about…my dad,” I admit.
She slows her stride. “Holidays must be tough.”
I cringe. After meeting her at a charity softball game in September, I’ve already cried once in front of her, on Thanksgiving. Not cool.
The kicky beat of a pop song draws my attention to the house, where my teammate stands in the now-open doorway. “Turner!” Nate hollers. “Get your ass in here.”
Nate is a senior, like me, and my favorite pitcher to catch. Check that—Andie’s my new favorite pitcher. I lead her into the house.
“Hey, Andie.” Nate snatches her hat off of her head as she crosses in front of him.
She spins around and yanks her hat back, right before elbowing him in the gut.
“Oof.” Nate doubles over, but his grin lets on that she went easy on him.
Andie tosses her coat and hat onto the growing pile on the floor. “Don’t get grabby,” she tells Nate as she shakes out her hair.
This. This is why I love being with an athlete. Andie’s low-maintenance vibe is a total turn-on. After my coat joins the outerwear mountain, I follow her into Nate’s house.
Nate also plays wide receiver, so there’s a mix of baseball and football players trash-talking their way through video games in the family room. Andie ignores their beers and heads toward the two-liters of soft drinks in the quieter kitchen. I’m scooping ice into two cups when I hear my name.
A blond guy close to my height sidles up to me. “Congrats on your full ride, Colt. You’re going to UF, right?”
I shake his hand. “Yep. Thanks, Alex.”
“Well, I guess I don’t have to introduce you guys.” Andie shrugs.
Her brother keeps looking at me as he tells her, “Pour me one too, Andie.”
Her eyes flare as she fakes a curtsy, but she does pour soda into the third cup of ice I’ve scooped.
“I hear you could go straight to the bigs, though,” Alex continues. “The Reds want you. What’s your deal?”
I take a sip of coke. “Florida’s a lot warmer than Cincinnati.”
“California’s warm, too,” Alex says. “But I’d give my left nut to be in the NFL.”
Andie glances at his crotch and smiles as she hands him his drink. “Not much of a sacrifice.”
Alex glares at her, then returns to lecturing me. “Don’t waste this opportunity, man. You could get injured in college ball, flush millions down the toilet.”
I swallow as he stares at me. I wish he’d shut up. “I want to play in college first.”
“But, why?” Alex shakes his head. “That’s stupid.”
Andie steps in front of me, wedging herself between us. “Back off, Alex.”
“Why?” He frowns at her. “I’m just trying to help him.”
She looks at me over her shoulder, blinking up at me. As she holds my gaze, I realize I’ve been holding my breath. I exhale and pull her back into me, feeling her warmth as my hand rests on her hip.
“Colt doesn’t need your help,” she tells Alex. “His dad left early for the NFL, and he always regretted not finishing college. He always wanted Colt to get a degree. So, Colt’s doing what’s right for him and his family.”
Alex lowers his drink as his face falls. He retreats back a step. “I heard what happened to your dad.”
I hate reactions like these.
“I’m sorry, man.” Alex shakes his head. “I’m an ass.”
A football player calls for Alex to join them, and it’s like he can’t get away fast enough.
Andie turns around after he leaves. “Wow. I’ve never heard him admit he’s an ass before.”
“There’s a first time for everything, I guess.”
She grins at me as she cocks her head toward the family room. “Like the first time I whoop you in Fortnite?”