What goes up must come down.
It was as true of life as it was of physics. Every triumphant swing of the bat might send a ball sailing through the air, but eventually that ball came back to earth. So, too, the career of a baseball great could tumble down from the most towering heights.
That cheerful thought weighed heavily on Tucker Lloyd’s mind when he rolled out of his lumpy hotel bed and sauntered over to the window to inspect an already bright Florida morning. The sunlight looked different here than it did in San Francisco, more buttery, like it was warmer somehow. Granted, February in San Fran was far from warm on its best days, so maybe his opinion of the light quality was skewed.
His whole world felt a bit skewed.
Tucker ran his palm over a fresh crop of stubble on his jaw, his calloused skin snagging against the hair, and let the curtain fall back into place over the window, shutting him into darkness once more. There used to be a time spring training made him giddier than a teenager on a first date. The thrill of the early preseason weeks where rusty skills were honed sharp and coaches could test the water with new players had been the part of the year he looked forward to the most.
In the past it had reminded him of playing for fun, the good old little league days where a love for the game was rooted. Sure, spring training games mattered in their own way, but most of it was about brushing the cobwebs off and getting back into the swing of things. So to speak.
That excitement wasn’t there this year. Tucker’s arm ached from the mattress, which was a bad sign considering he was once the biggest-name pitcher for the San Francisco Felons and he’d just come off a year of recovering from Tommy John surgery to replace a worn-down ligament in his elbow.
He’d had to choose between early retirement and the surgery, and opted to spend a year of physical therapy and painful healing to get his arm back into throwing shape.
Now he was thirty-six and hoping he had a shot in hell of being a star pitcher again.
In any other job being thirty-six wouldn’t be a sign he was coming to the end of his career. But baseball was a different kind of job, especially major league ball. With teams recruiting right out of high school, Tucker was an old man in baseball terms.
In response to the thought, his joints groaned. He hadn’t played a single day of ball, yet his muscles were protesting like they’d been to hell and back.
A knock on his door yanked him out of his miserable, circle-jerk of a thought process, and he went to greet his guest wearing only his boxers. Whoever was knocking at six in the morning could deal with seeing his underpants.
“Goddamn.” Alex Ross, the Felons’ ace catcher, held a hand in front of his face and thrust a Starbucks cup in Tucker’s general direction. “It’s bad enough I have to get up at the ass crack of dawn, dude, I don’t need to see Little Tucker too.”
“First,” Tucker responded, grabbing the coffee, “there is nothing little about Little Tucker. And second, what the hell do you want?”
Alex feigned a hurt expression, his round cheeks sagging into a great imitation of a pout. The whole thing was ruined by the mischievous gleam in his brown eyes.
Tucker and Alex had been teammates for a decade, since Alex had come up from the farm league. In that time they’d learned to read each other like psychics, and it made them nearly unbeatable in games. It also meant Tucker knew when Alex was full of s**t. Which was about ninety-nine percent of the time.
But he’d brought coffee, so he wasn’t a total prick.
“What do you mean what the hell do I want? Has old age made your brain soft?” Alex took a swig from his own coffee and came into the room while Tucker searched for a T-shirt. “First day of training means first day of Alex and Tucker pretending to be healthy and going for a run every morning.”
Ah yes, that old kettle of fish. Last year the Alex and Tucker running club had lasted exactly two weeks.
“Can we not and say we did?” Tucker pulled a well-worn gray-and-orange Felons tee over his head. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he noticed the shirt had made his dark hair stick up worse than the pillow had.
“No such luck. Winter has made me paunchy.” Alex rubbed his belly as if this would prove his point.
“Being fat made you paunchy. Winter just made you pale.”
“Ouch.” Alex wasn’t really fat, but he was one of those guys who would never look trim and cut no matter how much he worked out. The roundness of his youth hadn’t faded, giving him a cherubic look that helped get him into a lot of trouble, but also made him stand out next to all the tall, lanky players who filled out the roster. At five eleven he wasn’t short, but with the other guys pushing six five, he didn’t exactly fit in either.
Tucker shrugged unapologetically but crouched in the bottom of the closet and rifled through his bag for some jogging shorts. Maybe a run would help loosen him up before practice. Something had to.
His blazingly white jersey, which was hanging from the rail above, brushed the top of his head as he dug into his suitcase, and he stopped to look up at it. In all capital block letters, black with the signature orange outline, the name LLOYD shouted out to him. Below that was his number, lucky 13. He ran a thumb over the bottom hem of the jersey, and in a warm rush, the excitement he remembered hit him. The flutter in his belly. It was still there, still driving him forward.
This would be a good year. It had to be, otherwise it might be his last.
“Come on, dude, don’t make me drag you.” Alex finished off his coffee and chucked the container at the garbage can in the corner of the room. It bounced off the edge with a loud metallic ping.
“Good thing you don’t play basketball.”
“Hey, I’m not the one who gets paid to locate.” He pointed a finger at Tucker and gave him a wink. “Now let’s get our asses in gear.”
Outside, the air was warm with a faint, lingering coolness that told Tucker spring was still new here, even if it was nicer than the temperature in San Fran. He and Alex made their way past the hotel to a running path the concierge had recommended. They weren’t the only ones craving a breath of fresh air, either. Tucker recognized a few familiar faces he’d seen for years across the infield green. There were nods of acknowledgment, but no one said anything.
After a few minutes of walking, Tucker reasoned that one of them should probably start, you know…running. He kicked up his pace, and in spite of a huffed expletive from Alex, the catcher managed to keep time. Tucker was six three, so he had to give his friend credit for matching his longer strides.
“You figure Calvin will…” wheeze “…have it in for us right from the start?” Chuck Calvin was the grizzled, no-nonsense field manager of the team who had a habit of screaming so much after games he was often reduced to a wheezing, asthmatic mess who could only swear and shake his head. He was a Felons legend, in spite of their long run of losing seasons.
Tucker chuckled and slowed his speed enough Alex wouldn’t notice but would be better able to keep up. “After the way we got trampled last fall? I’d be amazed if we don’t get fixed with those collars they use for yapping dogs. And every time we f**k up a play, we get zapped.”
Alex’s eyes widened for a fraction of a second while he contemplated the possibility of this. No one would put it past Chuck. Thankfully, Tucker was fairly certain they didn’t make those collars in human sizes.
He and Alex turned to cross a path when a blur of yellow and black flew at them from around a corner. A feminine shriek was the only warning they got before the cyclist came at them on a collision course. Tucker yanked Alex backwards, but he wasn’t fast enough to get out of the path. He closed his eyes and thought, Please God, not the arm.
“Smart, fun and sexy – Pitch Perfect is a home run of a book.”
— NYT and USA Today Bestselling author Lauren Dane
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“The best thing to happen to baseball romance since Bull Durham.”
— Ruthie Knox, bestselling author of Flirting with Disaster
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“This sexy story won’t disappoint, and readers will want to follow the other engaging characters for many books to come.”
— Publisher’s Weekly on Pitch Perfect
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“Pitch Perfect will thrill sports fans and romance readers alike… the perfect read for those long, lazy days heading into the post-season.”
— RT Book Reviews on Pitch Perfect
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— Nook Logan, 2004 Detroit Tigers Rookie of the Year
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“Pitch Perfect is head and shoulders above any other sports romance that I have read.”
— Jen, Fiction Vixen on Pitch Perfect
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“Sierra Dean makes a perfect hit with Pitch Perfect.”
— Fresh Fiction on Pitch Perfect
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“A book that starts with a slow-burn romance and ends up fast and furious. Highly enjoyable, sweetly sexy, and just the thing when I needed a pick-me-up!”
— Reading the Paranormal on Pitch Perfect
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“…The perfect read for a hot summer day either. Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, you’ll find yourself pulled into the story of how Tucker and Emmy get together.”
— Literary Nymphs on Pitch Perfect
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“As a baseball fan and former softball player, I enjoyed reading Pitch Perfect. Author Sierra Dean captured well the essence of the game and the companionship between the players.”
— Quince, Long and Short Reviews on Pitch Perfect