Playing With Fire

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Non Sexual Favors


I’m not sure what’s more alarming, the frightened look in Holli’s hazel eyes or the fact that she needs to be distracted from whatever put it there.

One thing I do know? I’ve seen that look before and once I’d realized where, it’d taken everything in me not to lock Holli in my condo and go find Anderson to demand information.

But it’s not my place and I know it would only undo the weeks of headway I’ve made with her. Still. She shouldn’t have to live like a spooked animal, jumping at her own shadow.

Suddenly, everything makes sense. The ball caps and nondescript clothing, her skittish behavior every time the phone rings. Holly isn’t just trying to blend in to avoid her brother’s fame, she’s hiding in plain sight. And I’d bet my entire contract it has something to do with her ex-husband.

“So, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I asked you for a distraction,” she says, giggling.

I park the car in the lot and turn to her. Even in black leggings and a hoodie, Holli’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen and while my game with her has been shit up until this point, my opinion is trustworthy. I’ve met all kinds of women through every facet of my job. Groupies, reporters, publicists, agents, fans, wives and girlfriends… but none with eyes that aren’t exactly brown or green, but a perfect relationship between the two. None with a smile that widens too far or the smattering of freckles on both cheeks.

Holli’s not quite the girl next door or the wild child, but somewhere in between. I just need to get her out of her head and away from her phone.

I hold my hand out. “No phones.”

She hesitates.

“Holli, I’m not going to look through it, I’m just going to turn it off.”

“What if Andy calls?”

I close my eyes at her lie. Shit. “Where does he think you are right now?”

“I’m not a child, I don’t answer to my brother,” she says, rolling her eyes.

“Good. Then he won’t freak out if you don’t answer for a while.”

Holli exhales, then places her cellphone in my hand. “Where are we again?”

I shut it off then put it in my pocket. “You don’t recognize this place in the dark?”

“You made me close my eyes as soon as we drove downtown and said I couldn’t open them until you parked. This isn’t where you dismember me and hide the pieces right?”

I shake my head and step out of my car. Holli grabs my hand when I open her door and the urge to kiss her is so damn strong. But there are cameras everywhere. Even in the parking garage.

It was near impossible not to take her up on her unspoken offer. Only, Holli hadn’t wanted sex, she wanted an escape and if it were anyone but her, I might have obliged. But when I’m with her again, I want her present with me, not running from another man.

At best, the guy was an asshole. Holli did say they hadn’t divorced amicably. But at worst? That’s the part I’m trying really hard not to focus on.

“You seriously have no idea where you are?” I ask, pushing her forward.

“No clue.”

“And you call yourself a fan? Jesus,” I tease.

Holli whips around to look at me, then scans the parking garage. She slaps a hand over her mouth when she sees the familiar decorum. “We’re not going in.”

It’s not a question, but I answer anyway. “We are.”

“Lucas,” she whispers. “This is…”

“Come on.” I hold out my hand to her and she takes it.

“How in the world?” She asks as I lead her to the elevator that will take us from the parking garage to the East Exit where Mikey, my old college roommate will be waiting.

I shrug. “My freshman roommate owes me a favor.”

She narrows her eyes at me the entire way up, but the undercurrent of excitement makes me glad I didn’t make the wrong choice. Sex would’ve been great, but it wouldn’t have truly taken her mind off anything. An hour, maybe two later and she’d be back to worrying about her ex and I’m just selfish enough to want her to think about me instead.

I lead Holli through the stadium platforms that lead toward spectator seating until Mikey comes into view.

He jogs toward us, grinning his easy smile and Holli grips my hand. “Is that…?”

“Sutton! Long time, no see.”

I snort, releasing her grip to greet one of my oldest friends. “I saw you two weeks ago in Oregon. On my television screen.”

“I wasn’t aware you were such a fan.”

I roll my eyes. “This is the real fan. Holli, this is Michael Foster Jr., my freshman roommate from Arizona State.”

“Nice to meet you, Holli.”

He holds out his hand but she doesn’t take it. She just blinks. “Do you really play the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill during batting practice?”

Mikey laughs. “Why is that always the first thing people ask?”

“It’s Celine Dion for my brother,” she replies, grinning. She shakes his hand.

“Your brother play baseball? Or just superstitious?” He asks.

“This is Holli DeLower,” I inform him and Mikey’s eyes go wide.

“No shit?” He whistles. “You’re brave.”

It’s my turn to laugh. “Believe it or not, Holli here is more your fan than mine.”

He raises a questioning brow.

“Actually, more like his dad. Michael Foster Sr. is a legend. More regular and postseason home runs than any other player in the NL East, ’95 World Series ring, and completely scandal free his entire nineteen year career. His rookie card was my graduation present.”

Mikey chuckles. “On that note, I’m going to start the pitching machines. The clubhouse might not be empty yet since we just finished a game, but we can circle back if you’d like to see it.”

I turn to the blonde at my side, practically bouncing on her heels. “Holli?”

“Wait? We get to see the batting facility?” She asks, looking back and forth between me and Mikey. Her excited smile makes my heart skip too many beats to be healthy.

“I’m collecting on a ten year old favor.”

Her nose wrinkles adorably and I hide my smile when Mikey flips me off as he charges ahead of us.

“What’s the story behind that?” She asks. We follow Mikey through the maze of the stadium.

I lean into her, breathing in her sweet scent—like strawberries and cream— and just because I can’t resist touching her anymore, I rest my hand on her lower back. “Mikey crashed his dad’s Porsche and I used to work at a mechanic shop as a receptionist in high school over the summers. My boss was the only mechanic in town that would do the labor in time for his dad to get home.”

Holli smiles. “You’re just everyone’s friendly neighborhood hero.”

“Yeah, not exactly.” I hadn’t helped Mikey solely out of altruism. He had offered to pay me, but I’d wanted something a lot more valuable. A connect. I wasn’t sure how I’d use it or when, but I knew if football didn’t work out, I’d need rec letters or an edge to get into medical school and one thing professional athletes see more than the inside of hotels, are doctors.

Mikey leads us inside the large training facility that houses a bank of sectioned off batting cages on one side and a full patch of turf on the other.

“Alright guys, I’m setting you up in the last bay. Holli, I got you a titanium. They’re lighter than the wood.” He grabs our gear, leads us to the batting cage sectioned off by what looks like a tarp, on the end. Then he turns to me. “Try not to break anything.”

I salute him. “Yes sir.”

“And don’t fuck in here. Probably sounds like a good idea. It isn’t. Not unless you want to bribe Greg not to sell your sex tape to TMZ.”

“Greg?” Holli asks, her cheeks flushing.

“The security guard who monitors the feeds,” he explains. Mikey looks at his watch. “Alright, you got forty five minutes. I’ll be back to lock up.”

I shake his hand and he jogs off. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” He yells on his way out.

Holli grabs me by the shirt when he clears the doors. “Oh my god, Lucas!”

“Is that a good ‘Oh my God’ or a take-home-now ‘Oh my God?’”

She shakes her head. “More like, this is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me, ‘Oh my God.’”

I hide my frown, deciding I like Holli’s ex lesser by the second. I reach for the button attached to the cord that controls the on and off switch for the pitching machine. “Well, we have forty five minutes to hit all these balls. You ready?”

Holli grins, reaching for the titanium bat Mikey left for her. “Hell yeah.”

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