Wonder Boi Writes

Countdown to Heart Of The Game: 1 Week!

We are (less than) one week from the official release of Heart Of The Game!  I cannot wait!  Can you feel the excitement radiating from me through the interwebs? Or is that just static electricity from the winter weather?  Either way, spring is coming (someday), and so is baseball, and so is the latest lesbian romance novel from yours truly. You can pre-order Heart Of The Game now right here.  And if you aren’t sure yet about wanting to buy it (why not?), you can read on below where I share with you the first scene of the book (after the pre-game, which I shared last week).

This is the opening scene of the present-day part of the book, and our whole cast of major players are here for your introduction.  I sure hope you like them!

Top Of The First

You Can’t Win ’em All if You Don’t Win he First One

Sarah Duke stood in the first row of the stands with nothing but a low green wall separating her from edge of the field. She could have easily stepped over if she’d had to, but she didn’t. Instead she ran her fingers slowly over the press pass hanging from a lanyard around her neck. The little badge was her ticket to virtually any part of Busch Stadium. The small, laminated index card granted her access to even the field itself during batting practice. A thrill coursed up her spine as the security guard swung the gate open wide. She nodded gratefully in his direction, but the emotions clogging her throat prevented her from actually saying “thank you.”

Taking a deep breath, she stepped through the doorway. Her foot hovered only a second on the rising cloud of old memories before landing firmly on the clay of the warning track. She stepped slowly forward until she was almost directly behind home plate, enjoying the crunch of the dry ground beneath her feet. Then looking down, she kicked up a little cloud of burnt orange dust simply because she liked the way it settled across the toes of her shiny black shoes. It didn’t matter that she’d polished them earlier that morning. Nothing ever looked as good as it did with a thin sheen of ballpark on it.

She playfully scuffed up another little cloud of dirt, then glanced over her shoulder, still half expecting someone to scoop her up and carry her away, but no one paid her any attention. Not security, not the trainers or the grounds crew working at the edge of the field, not even the players gathered around the batting cage. Everyone was right where they were expected to be, diligently performing the task they’d been assigned, playing their part in this magnificent play, and now she was one of them. It might have taken twenty-six years from that first game with her father, but she’d earned her spot on this field. No matter what anyone else said or thought, she belonged here.

The crack of a bat drew her attention long enough to confirm the ball would land safely away from her, but, like a child, her focus wandered quickly to the next amazing detail. Stepping forward a few paces to the side of the batting cage and into foul territory, she crouched down between the dugout and the back stop pretending to eye the pitcher or the batter. Then, hiding another smile, she bent low and ran her fingers through the short grass. She relished the prick of the soft blades against her palms and wondered if there was any scent in the world more invigorating than freshly cut Kentucky bluegrass.

Behind her, the crowd filed into beautiful Busch Stadium. She could hear them now, their jubilant, anticipatory sounds filtering in through her sense of awe as they all clamored to get a better view of last batters to warm up. Those masses she’d waded through so many times were to her back now, and every person in the crowd would love to be in her shoes. The glee was almost too much to contain. She snatched up a single blade of grass, then, standing, released her grip and watched the grass flutter to the ground. She wanted to do it again, but press pass or not, she shouldn’t play around out there so close to such an important game.

Shielding her eyes from the afternoon sun, she turned and took in the mammoth stands of the stadium rising red and gray until she had to tilt her head back so far she almost toppled over. Expected attendance for the Cardinals’ home opener was over forty-two thousand people, teeming mobs of fans decked out in a sea of red and white. Already, hordes of young, and young at heart, stacked five or six deep around the wall closest to the dugout, each one jostling for a better position. They held hats and balls, trading cards and jerseys, in their outstretched arms as they called to the players still warming up. An autograph wasn’t likely forthcoming at this stage, since the players were as keyed up as the kids, but she didn’t blame the fans for trying anyway. She’d been covering the club every day for the last four weeks of spring training, and she still got the urge to ask for an autograph when one of her favorites brushed past on his way to the clubhouse. Of course, it wouldn’t do much for her credibility as a serious sports journalist to ask an interviewee to scrawl his name across her notebook, but she still thought about it occasionally.

Members of the grounds crew bustled around her as they began to clear the field. The final players and coaches had cleared out, and the crew was hauling away the batting cages. She recognized her cue to leave. Glancing at her note pad once more, she confirmed again that she already had everything she needed. She’d been at the park for six hours already. She’d submitted her pre-game comments half an hour ago, and they were likely already up on the website. The clubhouse and players were now off-limits to the media as everyone entered their final warm-ups. She had nothing left to do until she started her in-game Twitter feed once the Cardinals took the field. Maybe she’d comment on the Opening Day ceremonies, but even those wouldn’t officially begin for another thirty minutes. Eschewing her formal seat in the press box for the excitement down below, she decided to spend a few minutes being a spectator.

She flashed her badge, and once more the security guard swung the gate open wide. Ambling into the stands, she threaded her way through the crowd of boys around the dugout. Their numbers had dwindled significantly with the end of batting practice, but a handful of enthusiastic holdouts remained. They leaned on the rail and called out, “Hey, mister! Hey, mister!” at the batboy or the trainer or the security guard, anything to get a leg up on the competition. She admired their commitment. They all went after what they wanted, ceaseless in their efforts.

All except one of them.

A few feet back, a lone child sat in the seat closest to the dugout, but didn’t seem to pay any attention to the scrum gathered there. He was dressed like the rest of them in his white jersey and blue jeans. His red baseball cap and round glasses shaded his face, nearly covering the smattering of freckles across his nose. He chewed lightly on the end of his pencil while he balanced a notebook on his knees, a steady look of concentration creasing his otherwise youthful features. Why wasn’t he clamoring to be noticed like the others? He didn’t even glance in their direction when their noise level rose at the sight of a player entering the dugout. Instead his eagle-eyed focus remained centered on the outfield, or perhaps something just beyond.

She scooted closer and scanned the direction he was watching. There were no players in the outfield. Had something on the Jumbotron caught his eye? No, he wasn’t looking up quite that high. Was it the fans over the outfield wall? Curiosity got the better of her. She crept closer and bent down behind him, trying to match his line of sight. Maybe it was her reporter’s instincts, or maybe she was nosy, but she had to find out what could hold a little boy’s focus in such a chaotic environment.

His shoulders tensed and he turned slowly, suspiciously to look up at her, his little brow furrowed. “Am I in your seat?”

“No.” She straightened quickly and stepped back, embarrassed to have been caught trying to scoop a child. “You’re fine.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, uncertainly. “I can move.”

“No, really.” She laughed nervously as she realized how creepy she probably seemed to him. “I’m sorry. I should get back to work.”

His eyes widened in sudden recognition. “You’re Sarah Duke.”

“Yes, I am.” She squared her shoulders, inordinately pleased at having been recognized publicly for the first time and surprised that it came from a kid. Some of the players didn’t even know her yet, and she’d covered them for weeks. Of course some of them ignored her on purpose either because she was new or a woman, but her response remained the same in both cases. Hard work, dedication, and raw skill had answered every question ever raised about her over the years. It would prove the naysayers wrong here, too. This boy didn’t seem to require any convincing, though.

“I read your column on MajorLeagues.com this morning,” the boy said with a seriousness exceeding his age.

“Yeah? What did you think?”

“I think Molina is going to have a good year, too. Maybe MVP kind of stuff.”

She chuckled. “Glad we’re on the same page.”

“It’s bad luck to have to start against Cary Pistas, though, with the wind blowing in from right field.”

Duke glanced out to the outfield wall. While the flags on the third base side were barely stirring, the ones on the right side of the field were blowing harder, directly back toward the pitcher’s mound.

“Huh. You’re right, and it’s chilly, too, which will deaden the ball.”

He nodded thoughtfully, then flipped open his notebook and scratched a few marks in the top corner.

She peeked over his shoulder to see him add “game time temp” to an already elaborate heading with the date, start time, and opposing team. All things she’d already made note of on her own tablet.

“That’s not an autograph book.” She stated the now obvious.

“No, it’s my game notes.”

“Then you better add starting pitchers, too,” she said, amused once again by his seriousness. “When you review it next time the Pirates come to town, you’ll remember who started each game.”

“Thanks.” A sparkle of light shone in his dark eyes beneath lenses a little too big for his face. “Do you think Ben Cooper will have his good stuff today?”

She considered the question and then glanced at her watch. “You know, now actually might be a good time to get some inside info. Maybe I should head out to the bullpen and do some scouting.”

His shoulders slumped slightly, and a frown pulled at his smooth face. “Yeah, okay. Thank you for talking to me.”

He looked like a sad little puppy who’d been told to sit and stay. She wanted to pat him on his head. Instead, she arched an eyebrow questioningly. “You wouldn’t want to put a few notes in your book, would you?”

He hopped up eagerly. “I could come, too?”

“Well, it’s too late to go down on the field, but I know a good place out of the way where we could peek into the bullpen and make our own assessment of warm-ups if you want.”

“Yes ma’am.” He jumped up and grabbed his things eagerly, his excitement magnifying hers. She remembered being that age and loving the game so very much, but not being seen as part of it, or even worthy of having an opinion on the subject yet. She would’ve loved to talk baseball with anyone who would listen, much less someone who had inside information. Okay, maybe she was showing off a little bit, too, but she’d finally earned her dream job, with the access every kid craves. Who could blame her for wanting to flaunt that to someone who could appreciate it? She indicated a direction and happily loped on alongside the boy as he moved excitedly toward the end of their section.

She was about to steer him into the tunnel under the stadium when a voice sent her skidding to a stop.

“Joseph Landon Grettano, freeze right there.”

And freeze they did. The hair on her arms stood on end and the muscles in her neck tensed instantly as if a cold blast of artic wind had raked across her back. The boy whirled around, and his profuse apologies starting to flow immediately.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to run off. I got excited. It won’t happen again. You can trust me to sit closer on my own. I promise. I just, I met Sarah Duke.”

Way to throw me under the bus, kid. She turned around slowly to see a young woman raise her hand, cutting the boy off mid-sentence.

Her sun-kissed skin stood out against her white jersey, a bold contrast to the dark hair flowing freely down her back. Her stunning brown eyes smoldered, making her look older than she probably was. The curly-haired child perched on her hip didn’t do anything to highlight her youthful features either. Still, in another place, a beach, or a bar, she might have passed for a co-ed if not for the expression on her face, which couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than that of an angry mother.

The boy, Joseph Landon Grettano apparently, shifted quietly from one foot to the other as he awaited his sentencing.

“I trusted you, and you broke my trust. It’s time for you to come back with us until you can prove yourself to me again.”

“Yes ma’am,” he mumbled, hanging his head.

Duke felt guilty for getting him in trouble. She hadn’t thought her offer through, but how could she know he wasn’t supposed to run around the stadium? It wasn’t her fault he didn’t ask his mom first.

She quietly slid back, hoping to fade, unnoticed into the crowd.

“And you,” the woman said, slowly, deliberately turning her focus. “Who do you think you are?”

“Um,” she glanced down at her press pass, suddenly unsure of the answer to that question, “I’m Sarah Duke. I’m a sportswriter.”

“A sportswriter who lures little boys into dark tunnels?”

“No. I mean, yeah, but”—that sounded horrible—“not like that.”

“Seriously? You try to abscond with my child without telling me, then lead him into the underbelly of a sports stadium to some place I don’t have access to and cannot see.” She waved her free arm so wildly it flipped her hair over her shoulder dramatically. “And all you can say for yourself is, it’s ‘not like that’?”

“Uh, well.” She squirmed much the same way the boy had. Could anyone in the world stand a mother’s scolding when they knew she was right? “Look, I’m sorry. He was sitting alone and—”

“He was not alone,” she snapped. “I was ten rows back, and I had my eye on him the whole time.”

“Okay, fine. I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t know anyone one was watching him so you thought you could take him?” She shifted the younger child to her other hip while giving Duke a moment to realize how bad that sounded. “I should call the police on you.”

That was just what she needed on Opening Day. “I said I’m sorry.”

“When it comes to my kids, sorry doesn’t cut it. What were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t thinking, obviously.” She shrugged. “I’m a massive moron who wanted to do something nice for a kid who seemed, I don’t know, smarter, or more together, or just better than the rest.”

The women’s expression softened, so Duke plowed on. “He asked me some intelligent questions about pitching, so I wanted to show him where the pitchers warmed up. Clearly that was stupid of me.”

“No.” The woman sighed exasperatedly. “That was nice of you. You were stupid not to think he had a mother somewhere who would worry herself sick if he disappeared. You were stupid to think it would be okay for a stranger to take a nine-year-old boy into a tunnel at a sports stadium. You were stupid to—”

“‘Stupid’s bad word,” the child on her hip said around the two fingers in his mouth.

“You’re right, honey.” She paused to kiss him on the forehead, and for one second, her entire being transformed. The tension in her face relaxed. Every line softened as she closed her eyes and pressed her lips tenderly to his smooth skin. Then, as if exhaling all her anger, she blew out a heavy breath and asked, “Sarah Duke, do you have children?”

“No,” she said quickly.

“Then you have no idea what it feels like.”

“What does it feel like?” she asked, captivated by the change in the beautiful woman before her.

The woman raised her eyes, deep, dark eyes awash with fear. “Like I watched you pick up my heart and carry it into a place it might not return from.”

Duke thought she’d been sorry before. She’d certainly felt sorry while getting yelled at, but now with her stomach clenched and her breath caught in her throat, she understood true remorse. “I am so sorry.”

“Fine.” She sounded exasperated and tired.

“Fine?”

“Does this mean we can go now?” The older boy asked in a tone that suggested he already knew the answer.

“No,” his mother said. “You’re still ballpark grounded. You’re not to leave my side. Got it?”

The kid looked absolutely crestfallen but managed to mumble, “Yes ma’am.”

“It’s hot dog time?” the younger boy asked, clearly immune to the trouble his brother was in.

“Not until the third inning, honey.” His mom handled the non sequitur gently before she turned back to Duke. “Don’t you have work to do?”

“Yes ma’am,” she replied, then waited, unsure of what she should do. Had she been dismissed? Should she apologize once more? Offer to make it up to them somehow? Or run? Clearly getting out of there was the best option. Something about the woman’s disapproval and her son’s disappointment constricted Duke’s chest. “Okay, then I guess I’ll go. Really, I’m very sorry, to both of you.”

The woman said nothing. She didn’t even acknowledge her retreat. She’d clearly returned her focus to her family, leaving Duke on the outside of the circle.

Heart of the Game 300 DPI

Pre order Heart of the Game!

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February 26, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized

2 Comments »

  1. Hey Rachel, I sent you an email asking for you to send me the grand total on how much it would be to purchase an autographed copy directly from you via paypal (including shipping and handling) a week or two ago and never heard back from you. did you receive that email? Should I resend? I would like to order one before you sell all you have, I am a serious baseball lover and can’t wait to read this!

    Comment by onamarae | February 26, 2015 | Reply


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