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I knew I needed to be firm and straightforward.
"You're going to be traveling a lot, Judd," I replied. "You're going to need to focus on your game, not worry about my job or Karrie's daycare."
"What are you saying, Sam?" Judd asked, his hands dropping down to his sides. "If I take this contract, we're over?"
My stomach clenched at the look on his face.
"Judd, it doesn't make any sense for us to have a long-distance relationship," I began. "You need to focus on baseball and I need to focus on Karrie. It wouldn't be fair to either of us to try and have a long-distance relationship."
Judd started to pace the floor, running his hands through his hair and over his face a couple times before stopping in front of me.
"What if I don't take the contract?" he asked, his voice desperate. "What if I come with you and get a job? A normal job?"
I took his hands in mine and looked into his face a" his sweet, gorgeous, pain-filled face.
"I can't let you do that, Judd," I said sadly.
"But, I love you, Sam!" Judd exclaimed. "I love you and Karrie. I want to be there for you."
If a heart could soar and break in two at once, mine did.
"I love you too," I replied as my throat clogged and my eyes burned with unshed tears. "That's why you have to go. You have to take that contract. If you don't, you will live to regret it. I can't stand the thought of you resenting me one day because you didn't follow your dream."
The tears began to flow when Judd leaned his forehead down and pressed it against mine. We stood there for a moment, eyes closed, holding hands, and crying softly together, both of us recognizing that I was right.
I woke up slowly, groggy from sleeping on the bus for the last sixteen hours. You'd think after six months of traveling on a bus I'd be used to it, but I found it too hard to get comfortable enough for a good night's rest.
The past few months had been some of the best of my life: training with my teammates, traveling with them, and playing with some of the greatest players out there.
My dad had made it to every game. He'd driven his car, stayed in cheap hotels, and ate his fill of game day food. He said he was exhausted by the end, but that he'd enjoyed every mile.
I'd never forget the smell of the hot dogs, the sight of the freshly chalked diamond, and the crack of the ball hitting my bat.
I knew I'd made friends that I would have for life, and I was so grateful to have had the experience.
Sam had been right about thata As the sun began to rise and shine through the bus's windows, I thought back to that day we'd said goodbye.
Sam had asked for a clean break. She didn't want to have a long-distance relationship where we were calling and writing. She thought it would be too hard for her and Karrie, and that it would distract me from baseball.
So, I hadn't seen or heard from her since that day. It had been really hard in the beginning, but I respected her wishes, and I think she was right. I had totally immersed myself in the season, getting to know the guys and honing my skills. Other girls had been the last thing on my mind. As far as I was concerned, I was still in a relationship.
Saying goodbye to Karrie had been the hardest part for me. She didn't understand that I was leaving for a long time, and I didn't try to make her understand it. I just held her and told her that I'd miss her.
I really had missed her. Although Sam had asked me not to contact her, I'd been unable to disappear from Karrie's life for good. I sent her a package every month filled with souvenirs I'd picked up at each game. I didn't know for sure that Sam gave them to her, but I liked to believe that she did.
And although she'd asked me not to, I included a small note for Sam in each package as well. I wanted her to know that she was still on my mind.
Tuck had ended up getting picked for a different team, and although we did play each other once, we didn't clear the air. He'd tried to engage with me after the game, and I wished him luck, but I wanted my life to be with Sam and Karrie. We were in different places in our lives now, and I guess I'd outgrown him.
The bus was about ten miles out from the station and my nerves began to get the best of me. I'd already said goodbye to my teammates and listened respectfully as my coaches tried to talk me out of quitting the league. But my mind was made up. I'd gotten to enjoy living out my childhood dream, and it had been everything I'd wanted and more.
Now I wanted to spend the rest of my life living out my adult dream.
I'd called Sam's mom to let her know I was on my way, and make sure Sam was around. I'd also asked her if Sam was seeing anybody. I wasn't trying to be a stalker, but I didn't want to look like an a.s.s.
She said Sam was single, and had been since the day I left.
After I unloaded my bag off the bus, I grabbed the first cab I saw and gave them the address that Sam's mother had given me.
I suddenly felt really hot, even though it was only about fifty degrees outside. My palms were sweating and my throat felt like it was closing shut.
s.h.i.ta What if she no longer felt the same way about me? What if she was happy in her new job and realized she had no place for a tattooed baseball player in her life?
f.u.c.ka I needed to breathe.
I inhaled deeply, exhaling slowly and closing my eyes as I tried to calm down.
The car started to slow and my eyes flew open just as the small blue house came into view. There was a little pink Big Wheel in the front, which caused me to smile. I was sure that Karrie was happy surrounded by people who loved her.
I thanked the driver and gave him his money, then grabbed my bag and stepped out of the car. I stood there for a minute, staring at the house and gathering my courage.
I walked up the path and set my bag down at the base of the stairs before walking up and knocking softly.
I realized that I'd probably knocked too softly for anyone to hear.
"s.h.i.t," I muttered, before raising my hand and knocking louder.
"I got it," I heard Sam yell, and then suddenly she was standing before me.
d.a.m.n, she was a sight for sore eyes.
Her red hair was a little shorter than it had been and framed her face, which currently held an expression of shock. I watched as the shock turned to joy and a smile took over her face.
Christ, she was beautiful.
"Judd!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
I didn't say anything at first, I just soaked her in. "I'm here for you," I stated simply.
"What?" Sam looked confused. "What do you mean? Are you on a break or something?"
"No." I shook my head and picked up her hand, holding it gently in mine as I caressed her knuckles. "The season's over, Sam. I'm not going back."
"What do you mean?" Sam asked. "Your dad said you were playing exceptionally well."
Sam turned red when she realized what she'd said, while hope blossomed in my chest.
"You've been checking up on me?" I asked happily.
"Wellayeah. I wanted to see how you were doing," she admitted.
"I'm glad," I responded. "It was a great season, and I'm so happy that I did it. You were right about that, but now I'm ready to start the life that I want."
Sam's breath caught and she brought her eyes to mine, as if trying to interpret my words.
"What life is that?"
"Our life, Sam," I said with a smile. "I'm grateful for the season and I'll remember it forever, but I'm ready to start our life together."
Sam opened her mouth then snapped it shut, waiting for me to go on.
"I know we haven't seen each other in seven months, and some things may have changed. You have a job, you and Karrie are settled in with your folks, and I've been gone, but I'm here to ask you to give us a chance. A real chance to make a life together."
"Butawe live in different cities. What will you do if you aren't playing baseball?"
"I've spoken to the high school here in town, and they're looking for someone to be their baseball coach and teach P.E. I have an interview tomorrow," I said, reaching my hand up to touch her cheek. I'd missed how soft her skin was. It was killing me not to kiss hera "I've found an apartment in town, a two bedroom. I've been saving the money I made playing ball, and with the salary I'd make at the school, it's very affordable. I don't expect you and Karrie to move in right away, but I want to be clear with you on my intentions."
Sam looked up at me, eyes wide. "What are your intentions?"
"I intend to marry you, Sam. I want to be a husband to you, and a father to Karrie, and to eventually have more kids, if you're up for it."
I held my breath as I waited for her response. It felt like time was ticking by slowly and I thought I'd go nuts. Then, within the next second, she was all over me. Her lips found my cheek, then my neck, and then finally landed on my mouth. I kissed her back with seven months of pent-up pa.s.sion.
I cupped the back of her head and leaned in, deepening the kiss and savoring the taste of her. The feel of her in my arms again was heaven. I moved my hands down to her waist and dug my fingers in, pulling her body against mine until we were flush against each other.
Sam pulled back and looked up at me, a dazed look in her eyes. "I hope you realize that that doesn't count as the proposal."
I laughed out loud, thrilled to be with her again, "Yes, ma'am. Does that mean you like my intentions?"
Sam smiled and nodded, "Your intentions are the best I have ever heard. Ever."
I kissed her again, greedily, feeling happier than ever before. Full of hope and excited about the future. I didn't think anything could make my life any better in that moment.
"Wait a minute," Sam said softly. "There's someone else who needs to hear your intentions. I gave her all of your packages and she has a picture of the two of you by her bed."
"Karrie," Sam yelled into the house. "There's someone here to see you."
I heard feet hit the floor, followed by the pounding of shoes, and then I saw her. Her curls were longer and she'd grown taller and thinned out a bit, but there was no mistaking that smile.
"Dudd!" Karrie squealed as she catapulted into my arms.
As I held her little body in my arms and looked over her head at Sam's tear-streaked face, I realized I'd been wronga"this was the happiest moment of my life.
The End Continue Reading for a Free Preview of Raine Thomas' Newest t.i.tle **Mature Content Warning**
This is a New Adult novel recommended for ages 17+ due to language, s.e.xual content, and mature subject matter.
Determined to overcome a dark and tragic past, college student Everly Wallace is only months away from earning her degree in physical therapy. She's consumed with school, caring for her ailing grandfather, and figuring out how to pay the next bill. The last thing she wants is a relationship, but it just might be the one thing she needs.
Major League pitcher Cole Parker hasn't fought for anything in his life. He went from a privileged upbringing to a multimillion dollar All-Star career. But when his pitching shoulder starts to give him trouble at only twenty-four years old, he faces the possibility of his injury becoming public knowledge and costing him everything.
In a desperate bid to save his career, Cole decides to hire someone to treat his injury, someone who will keep things off the record and out of the media. He finds the perfect solution in Everly. As mysterious as she is beautiful, she provides an enticing distraction from his pain. Soon, physical therapy is the last thing on his mind.
When an act of betrayal brings the truths they both fear to light, Cole will have to fight for the first time in his lifeanot just for his career, but for Everly's love.
Cole knew when he hit the first curb that he'd had too much to drink. He cursed as he jerked the wheel to bring the car back into the correct lane, nearly swiping a garbage can on the dark residential street. Pain shot through his shoulder as he righted the wheel, generating a more vicious curse.
You dumba.s.s! The thought penetrated the haze coating his mind. Don't ding the Maserati.
Focusing intently and clutching the wheel until his knuckles went numb, he registered he was less than a mile from home. He wanted to get there before he ended up with a DUI. Management would likely bench him for half the coming season if he screwed up like that.
His marinating brain decided this meant he should go faster. Get home quick before getting caught. He picked up speed, weaving along the back streets leading to his house. Thank G.o.d the downtown Atlanta nightclub was less than five miles from home.
Just as his driveway came into sight, the glaring lights of an oncoming car pierced his windshield. He slammed on the brakes and swerved to avoid the collision. The Maserati hit a patch of ice. The world spun as the other car pa.s.sed without impact.
The last thing Cole registered was the large bulk of a magnolia tree speeding toward him and the fleeting thought that his beloved car was about to get much more than a ding.
A persistent beeping sound brought him back around. He slowly opened his eyes. A speckled ceiling came into focus. One of the beeping sounds increased as he registered his surroundings. Sunlight filled the s.p.a.cious hospital room.
"Cole? Cole, honey?"
He glanced over at the sound of his mother's voice. She sat on his left side holding his hand. The moment he looked at her, she gave it a tight squeeze.
"Can you hear me, honey?" she asked. The tears in her brown eyes tugged at Cole's conscience.
Before he could answer, his dad's rumbling southern drawl filled the room. "*Course he can hear you, Brenda. He only has a concussion, for heaven's sake." He moved closer to the bed, towering over his wife. He put a rea.s.suring hand on her shoulder and caught Cole's gaze. "Crash sure didn't help his G.o.d-awful looks, though."
"Rick!" his mom gasped.
Cole found himself comforted by the normal banter. He hadn't yet looked down at his body, afraid of what he might see.
Lifting a corner of his mouth, he said, "Yeah, Ol' Man. You're scarring my sensitive psyche here."
His dad guffawed at that. "Well, at least she didn't call me Richard Dale Parker. Then I'd know I was in real trouble."
"You two," his mom censured, shaking her head. Her bob of sable-colored hair waved around her pretty face. She focused on Cole. "How are you feeling, honey? Do you remember what happened?"
"I remember," he replied, adding a private sort of. "And I feel fine, actually."
The answer surprised him. It had been a while since he last remembered being pain-free. For a terrifying moment, he feared he was paralyzed. But he moved his fingers and toes and felt the blanket and sheets against his skin. Lifting his arms, he tested for injury.
A movement just outside his room's door caught his eye. He spotted his brother Wyatt talking with someone wearing a lab coat. Though he tried, he couldn't read Wyatt's expression since he was mostly turned away from him.
"We told Avery not to worry about making the trip out here," his mother said. "The doctor a.s.sured us it wasn't serious, and I didn't want her to have to worry about Sam."
"Of course," Cole agreed, grateful his older sister wasn't hauling his five-year-old nephew across town at the crack of dawn. "I'll call her later. No need for all of the fuss."