It’s just not the image we want the Mavericks to portray.
My cheeks burned as those words played on a continuous reel through my mind. The team was gone for the night, the athletic training room was quiet, and I was officially terminated.
Surprising that they didn’t have anyone watching over me. I might smuggle out Maverick baseball team memorabilia in the rolls of my stomach.
I tossed a wad of gauze into the box sitting on my already empty desk. How convenient that the owner had stacked two empty ice-pack boxes outside the room by the time I got here.
Grabbing the box of flexible bandages that were technically purchased by the private team that used to employ me, I packed those, too. Call it a bonus. All I was going to get out of the last three years of my life was a box of taupe bandages.
Not the image they want to portray. I snorted. They’d never fire a man for that reason. I could do as many push-ups as the new recruits fresh from the college, or the guys hanging up their cleats for careers that didn’t end in ruptured ACLs or torn rotator cuffs.
An eight-minute mile. Three pull-ups. And thirty fucking burpees without needing a break.
But I’m not the image the team’s owner wanted to portray.
They could kiss my plus-sized-depending-on-the-brand ass. When I went to school for athletic training, there were no rules that said I had to be a micro-me in order to perform my job well.
I bet first baseman Len Foster complained to his daddy when I didn’t dive into his bed after he slapped my ass.
Maybe I shouldn’t have slapped him back. He was the owner’s son, after all.
It didn’t matter that the “about your weight” talk plucked every insecurity of mine. Or that I was extremely active to compensate for the pint of high-octane ice cream I was known to occasionally have for supper. Or that I’d had three other job offers when I accepted this one.
I was good at what I did. Size fourteen-sometimes-sixteen or not. Thigh gap or not. I was a damn professional and the word of an old enough to know better, too spoiled to care sexual predator tanked me.
The three other guys I had turned down and berated for trying to inappropriately touch me probably encouraged Len to complain to his dad.
Pausing over the stack of training plans, my lips curled into a snarl. Maybe Coach Sam-tall-dark-and-brooding Ortiz complained to his boss I didn’t clear his players soon enough after injury, nor did I fail to school young men who should’ve learned better manners.
Coach “I’ll take care of it, Ms. Bergeron” Ortiz. He rarely said anything more to me other than to ask about how a certain player was doing. Coach Ortiz was frustratingly professional and only minimally interacted with me.
I swear the guy hated me. That steely dark glare. The way he seemed to clock every movement, as if calculating the jiggle of my ass cheeks like he timed his guys around the bases. The way my body heated when I knew he was watching me. How aware I was of him when he was in the same room. It took way more discipline than was respectable to not stare at him—or, heaven forbid, bat my eyelashes when he spoke to me.
“The Big O,” as some of the guys called him behind his back. Since Coach Ortiz never cracked a smile, I’d love to see who called him that to his face. Would an eye twitch? A muscle clench in his chiseled jaw? Might the flat line of his thin lips curve downward?
Maybe a part of me was curious. Had he earned the nickname? And if he had, was it because he gave himself a big “O,” or his partner?
A warm flush spread through my body. I bet with that intensity, he could make his partner hit a note so high, they could sing the next National Anthem.
Shaking my head to get rid of the image, I focused on packing. My training plans were dumped into the box next. They’d paid me to design them. Therefore, I’d introduce the outlines to a nice shredder.
And it’d derail my thoughts of orgasms and the coach. Coach Ortiz and sex shouldn’t go together as deliciously as they did in my head.
As the coach of the local semi-professional baseball team, Sam Ortiz was somewhat of a celebrity. A local boy done good.
Meanwhile, I would probably have to move, and no one would remember who I was.
The door opened behind me.
I spun around, brushing the strands of hair that had wrestled free of my ponytail out of my eyes. I should’ve left my gaze obstructed.
Six feet and two inches of athletic perfection stood in the doorway. For once, Coach Ortiz wasn’t wearing his maroon ballcap with the bold, obnoxious M on it. I wish he was. His dark hair shone under the glare of the fluorescent lights, and the way he’d brushed it to the side gave his hard edge a professional flare.
The black Under Armor shirt he wore clung to his broad chest. I’d seen how trim that waist of his was when he’d shown the guys a batting swing.
Maybe I lived for the way his body twisted, and for how one split second, his shirt had lifted to show a glimpse of hard abs.
Right. I’d gotten fired. And he might’ve been behind it. It wouldn’t be the first time a grown man in my profession looked at me with derision. I was supposed to drink protein shakes and be perky and deferring.
“Coach Ortiz,” I said coolly, throwing my shoulders back for good measure.
My body was natural and healthy. I claimed genetics and I could’ve done a helluva lot worse. A stocky dad and a wide-as-she-was-tall mom who lived to ninety-two with all of her own joints intact. My attitude and my wavy brown hair came from my mom, but I was Body by Dad. Average height, thick build, powered to thrive during feast or famine. And ice-blue eyes—which were the only body part I ever got compliments on.
Putting snark into my words, I asked, “Are you here to make sure I don’t steal the silver on the way out?”
He stepped all the way inside, his loose gray sweats not making a sound, and pushed the door closed behind him. “In a way. Mr. Foster just told me what happened, and I offered to see you out.”
I cocked my head and hoped he didn’t see the three ACE bandages I’d packed under the box of medical tape. “As if it was a surprise.”
Confusion touched his eyes. He could control his expression and his body, but those eyes… Every once in a while, I caught a heavy emotion swirling in them, but I could never identify it.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
That voice. Deep, rumbly. A hint of an accent. The players gossiped, and I’d learned he was born and raised here though his parents cheered at the games in both Spanish and English. He must be in his mid-thirties. A good ten years older than me, and he’d been with the Mavericks since they formed eight years ago.
I’d heard a lot about Coach Ortiz. Hanging on every detail about him seemed to be a side effect of my unwanted attraction.
He was still looking at me, waiting for me to answer.
Right. I wasn’t supposed to like him. “You didn’t approve of my hiring, and I can’t help but wonder if you didn’t have something to do with my firing.”
His dark brows dropped, and he stepped forward. The line his lips usually formed was now a frown. “Why would you think I’d get you fired? You’re the best trainer I’ve ever worked with.”
“I-I— Because of my appearance.”
His hot gaze trailed down my body, leaving a wave of heat behind it. It was all I could do not to squirm—in a desperate, needy way.
His voice dropped to a dangerous rasp. “Is that why Mr. Foster fired you?”
“I’m not the image they want,” I croaked. He was even closer now, so close that the heat emanating from his hard body took the chill out of the room.
“Then Mr. Foster is stupid.”
His frank words registered. Coach Ortiz never said a bad word about his boss, never hinted that he was upset with a decision Mr. Foster made.
“You…didn’t get me fired for slapping Len?”
Dark clouds tumbled in his golden eyes. “What did Len do?”
My breath stalled and I nearly swooned. Not why did I slap Len, but what did Len do.
I’d heard a lot about Coach Ortiz, but I didn’t know him. He was fiercely protective of his players and had seemed dismissive of me. Not my professional opinion when it came to his team, just me.
“He grabbed my ass.” Again.
Coach Ortiz’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll take care of Len, Ms. Bergeron. Is that really why Mr. Foster fired you?”
“He literally said it was an image thing.” Len could’ve complained. A new, cuter trainer could’ve applied. Or I was getting too expensive and they wanted another fresh-out-of-school grad to pay shit wages to.
“That’s bullshit. I’ll talk to him.” He advanced farther.
My ass hit the edge of my desk as I scooted back to make room. He was barely a foot away. I had to tip my head back to look up at him.
“I don’t want to work for him.” I was in danger of panting now. How could the man not smell like sweat? It was April. Spring training was in full swing and he was rolling out an intoxicating soapy smell.
“Why did you think I’d get you fired, Ava?” His question was a mix of hurt feelings and curiosity.
Ava? What happened to Ms. Bergeron?
His gaze caressed my face, dipped to the V of my moisture-wicking shirt. Covering my cleavage could be challenging. I usually wore a sweater with this performance tee, but it was hanging off my chair where I’d thrown it after packing the first box.
The heat in his eyes sent my pulse skyrocketing. Did he find me attractive? Or was cleavage his thing in general?
“I thought you disapproved of my attitude and my appearance. The way you’re always glaring at me…” The way he never flirted with me like many of the players. Some of it was fun teasing, some of the athletes were serious and disappointed when I turned them down, but none of them dismissed me like Coach Ortiz.
The corner of his mouth lifted a bare millimeter. “Have you been watching me?”
“I…” Yes. All the time. “You’re hard to miss. They don’t call you the Big O for nothing.” Pressing my lips together, I cursed myself.
A dark brow cocked, and his lip hitched higher. “What do you call me?”
“Coach Ortiz?” My squeak was humiliating. I was too afraid to move. I didn’t know this Coach Ortiz, but my body wanted to. Badly.
“You don’t work for the Mavericks anymore. Why don’t you call me Sam?” He swayed forward an inch, tipping his head down like he was going to nuzzle my ear. “Ava.”
My name on his lips, spoken like a wish—I melted. Plopping my butt on the edge of the desk, I was glad I’d packed it first.
Okay. If we didn’t work together anymore and were now on a first name basis, I wanted answers. “S-Sam. Why did you only ever glower at me?”
“I was trying not to get an erection.”
Sucking in a gasp, I waited for his laughter. He had to be teasing. My time wasn’t spent wishing I had a different body. I lived the fullest life possible with the magnificent body I had. Genetics or chocolate, I didn’t really care, and I couldn’t control what others thought. But I refused to think poorly of myself.
But Coach Ortiz—Sam—wasn’t laughing. His pseudo-smile had died and he had that look again. The one he claimed was to keep himself from getting an erection.
Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look.
My gaze dipped down. His iron-gray sweats were tenting. This was a dream. I passed out from stress, and I was experiencing a fantasy.
My tongue darted out to lick my lower lip. His hawk-like eyes tracked the movement.
“Sam, what are we doing?” I’d been fired. I wouldn’t be toyed with, too. Not by the man who starred in my daydreams.
He blew out a gusty breath. Mint wafted across my face, and it was hard not to lean in and sniff him. I’d expected a salty sunflower seed smell. The team plowed through seeds like an endorsement from the company would get them to the majors.
“I know that I’ve wanted to kiss you since I first saw you.” He worked his jaw, like he was afraid he’d said too much. “When Mr. Foster told me the news, I was afraid I’d missed you.”
One of his hands landed on each hip. He dragged me forward until I teetered on the edge of the desk. I instinctively widened my legs to make room for him, wanting to stay in the cocoon his heat created around me.
Oh…this was too good. His mouth was inches away, and I was helpless to do anything but clutch at his broad shoulders and wait for his mouth to claim mine.
No, I wasn’t helpless. I was so damn needy that if he didn’t move faster, I was going to scale his strong body and take what he was offering. The change in him was so sudden, I feared I was imagining it.
Or that he wasn’t serious. “Are you playing me?”
He pulled back slightly. “No. I never lie.”
I nodded. His lips touched mine, soft but unyielding.
Was this really happening? Staid, stern Coach Ortiz was kissing me. And just like that, I didn’t care about getting fired.
His tongue licked along the seam of my lips, and as soon as I opened, he devoured me. Our teeth clashed, our tongues tangled as we moved, taking it farther, harder, deeper.
Kissing wasn’t enough.
He must’ve thought so, too. Cool air glided across my back as he lifted the hem of my shirt. Big hands came around and cupped my breasts; a deep rumble vibrated through his chest.
When he gently squeezed my peaked nipples through my bra, I moaned. The sensation danced along my spine, down to my sex, until my walls clenched with unrequited want.
He broke the kiss. I slowly opened my eyes. Was this the end? Had he only been interested to see how far he could take it?
But I wouldn’t untwine my legs from around him until I knew for sure.
“I want to see you.” He swallowed, like he was having a hard time speaking. “With your shirt off.”
Yesss. I was in it to win it. I was unemployed with a new mortgage to pay, but this made it not suck so bad.
As my shirt crept higher, I gripped his wrists, caught with a sudden case of self-consciousness.
He took it like a challenge and straightened. I was about to drop my legs when he slapped a hand on my knees. “Stay.” He ripped the shirt over his head.
The move messed his hair up in a way that made him look like a cologne model rolling out of bed. And whoa.
I trailed a finger along his firm pecs, down to his navel, dipping with the valleys his abs created. A smattering of hair spread across his chest, enough that I wanted to nuzzle it, but the trail that began above his waistband was intriguing.
I wanted to follow it. Hooking a finger in his pants, I was about to pull them down when he stopped me.
“It’s your turn.”
I sucked in my lower lip and nodded. Which bra had I worn today? Unless I was running, I passed up the uniboob sports bras and opted for feminine comfort. But they had to be padded. Nipping out in front of a team full of young men got me nowhere.
I raised my arms and the shirt whispered over my head. Simple, tan, scant lace trim. But newer. If I knew this morning what I’d be doing now, I’d have pulled out the red one.
From the hot look in Sam’s eyes, it couldn’t have been better. How could this man who made me feel so small and insignificant with his—apparently feigned—indifference, make me feel like I had just been announced some dude magazine’s sexiest woman alive?
His dipped and nibbled along my collarbone down to my cleavage.
My head dropped back. Soft, searing lips scattering kisses along my chest was more erotic than any previous experience I’d had—not that I could remember any right now.
I cupped his head to me while he skimmed his fingers around my rib cage and unhooked my bra.
My heavy C-cups were freed and my tan lingerie hit the floor.
He moaned and his hot tongue brushed across my skin. His fingers dug into my hips as he descended. One of my aching nipples was sucked into his mouth.
Hissing, I arched into him. Nipple play had never been my thing—or so I had thought. With each tug and pull, I ground harder into the desk. A rasp of his tongue made me writhe against him.
And when I thought I might actually come, he released it and paid the other side due homage. His hands traveled farther down, tucking into my pants and cupping as much of my butt cheeks as he could, nearly lifting me off the desk.
“God, Sam. I had no idea.”
He lifted his head, his eyelids hooded. My wet nipple glistened.
“Had no idea, what? That I’m a red-blooded male under that whistle?” He kissed my neck and used his teeth to graze the sensitive skin. “You acted like I didn’t exist, like nothing about me got to you.”
“I was trying not to get an erection.”
He chuckled softly. “So did you?”
“I waited until I got home.”
“Fuck, Ava.” He rested his forehead against mine, but his eyes were open, looking down at us.
I could get a case of the coverups, but he’d seen what I looked like and from the hard length prodding against my core, he liked it.
So fuck it.
“I want to sink into you and not stop until you’re screaming my name.” I was ready, but he didn’t move.
“Coach Ortiz?” He scowled at my use of “coach.” Had I thought this man wasn’t expressive? “Um, what’s stopping you?”
“Would you think I was moving too fast?”
He asked that when I was wrapped around him like kinesiology tape? “We’ve worked together for three years.”
Nibbling along my jaw, he stopped to say, “And I don’t have any protection.”
“My purse is in the box on the floor at your feet.”
He straightened, the surprise in his gaze matching the hopefulness. “Serious?”
“I want to see if you’re as good as I imagined.”
“Ava,” he groaned. “Have you really had a thing for me this whole time?”
“So bad. You?”
“I think you can feel that I have.”
I leaned up to drag his ear lobe between my teeth. “Then get my purse.”