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(Bottom of the Ninth, book 5)
Jean C. Joachim
Bobby Hernandez, Second Base (Bottom of the Ninth, #5)
BOBBY HERNANDEZ, | SECOND BASE | (Bottom of the Ninth, book 5) | Jean C. Joachim | Chapter One
Books by Jean C. Joachim
About the Author
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A Moonlight Books Novel
Bobby Hernandez, Second Base
Bottom of the Ninth series
Copyright © 2017 Jean C. Joachim
Cover design by Dawné Dominique
Cover Art Photography: Kristi Hosier, Photography
Cover Model: Jesse Brenner
Edited by Sherri Good
Proofread by Renee Waring
All cover art and logo copyright © 2017 by Moonlight Books
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
To the great baseball players who made me fall in love with the game.
To the late Marilyn Reisse Lee,
my dearest friend.
Thank you for your support:
David Joachim, Steve Joachim, and Larry Joachim.
“Is that you?”
Anita Mendoza tossed an open copy of the magazine, Celebs ‘R Us, on her desk.
“Don’t play with me, Elena. Are you that woman, in the picture? The one who dumped a drink on Bobby Hernandez?”
Elena Delgado sat across from her boss, editor-in-chief of Hoy, a New York City Spanish-language newspaper. The young reporter crossed and recrossed her legs. She shifted in her seat.
“Are you?” Anita leaned forward, eyes blazing, brows drawn down.
“Okay. Yes. That’s me.”
“What the hell?”
“He was being obnoxious. Coming on to Tina.”
“Tina? That flirt? And I suppose she had nothing to do with it? He just wandered over from the bar and hit on Tina?”
Elena looked down at her hands. “Well, no. Not exactly.”
“I didn’t think so. Why did you take her there? You know how she is. Every time she sees an attractive man, she has to add him to her list.”
“She’s only eighteen. She wanted to meet him.”
“And how did you know where he was?”
“I looked him up on the Internet. The Hide-Out was listed under ‘favorite places’.”
Anita shook her head slowly. “You have a temper, Elena. You’re going to have to curb it.”
“I was only protecting Tina.”
“You want to protect Tina? Take her to a movie.”
“I’m sorry. I’m not sure what the big deal is. The picture only shows my back.”
Anita sat back, an inscrutable smile on her face.
“I know that look. Whatever you’re thinking, forget it.” The young woman waved her hand.
“Yesterday I received a reply to my request.”
“What request?” Elena asked, sweat breaking out on her forehead.
“To interview Mr. Hernandez.”
“What?” Elena rose halfway out of her seat.
“That’s right. He’s an important member of the Hispanic community. He’s risen to the top, worked hard, used his talent, and has succeeded. He’s a role model. And we’re going to interview him.” Anita smiled.
Elena plucked a tissue from her pocket and mopped her face. “Some role model, hitting on young girls.”
“Tina is eighteen. She could have walked away.”
“Fine. You’re giving the story to Luis, right? He loves baseball.”
“Nope. I’m giving it to you.”
“What? Oh no, you’re not. I’m not interviewing that jerk.” Elena shook her head.
“Oh yes, you are. I don’t need some suck-up to interview this man. I want a real reporter. One who will ask the hard questions. And that’s you.”
“No, it isn’t me.”
“Oh yes, it is. And this story here,” Anita poked the magazine, “just confirms what I’ve thought all along—you have guts and are not afraid to speak up. You’ll get an in-depth interview. One that goes beyond the surface and the adoration. Yours’ll be worth reading. That’s why you’re doing the interview.”
“I’m not interviewing that man.”
“Then you’d better call unemployment,” Anita said, her voice low.
“You’re kidding, right? You’d fire me over this?”
“Damn right I would. I’m the boss, Elena. And if you can’t respect that and take the assignments you’re given, then you can damn well work someplace else.” Anita’s lips compressed into a thin line.
Elena recognized that look. There was no arguing.
“What a great opportunity to apologize for humiliating the man in public! He’s very attractive, you could do worse than to spend a couple of hours in his company,” Anita said, sitting back, twirling her pen.
“Yeah, yeah. If you say I have to do it, I will,” Elena said, tamping down her anger.
“Here,” the boss lady leaned forward, holding out a piece of paper. “The front office gave me his cell. Get going. Make it a long interview. We’ll do it as a two-parter. Get more bang for the buck.” She laughed. “Bang! Eh, Elena? I doubt that’ll apply to you though, right? Unless it’s a bang in the head with a baseball bat.”
“Don’t rub it in. No, I don’t like him. But I’m a professional. I’ll do the interview.”
“Good. Have the rough draft on my desk in ten days,” Anita said, picking up her phone.
That was Elena’s signal to leave. She pushed up from her chair and headed back to her cubicle. Her heart sank. Last thing she wanted was to see that asshole, Bobby Hernandez, again. Fortunately, the story in Celebs ‘R Us gave Anita a plausible excuse for Elena to object. Then she’d never have to admit the real reason to her boss.
Though it had happened five years ago, the memory of that day was as sharp in her mind as if it was yesterday. Elena sat back, rested her heels on the waste paper basket and sucked on a pen as the image came into focus. She had shown up at the big house where Bobby had lived with his family. Still in college, she needed a great interview for her journalism class.
Sure, she should have called first, but Bobby’s sister, Carina, hadn’t given her his number, just his address. The white mansion, with “Carrington” on the mailbox, was daunting. Elena was still a young woman from the Dominican Republic, trying to make her way in the States. College had been a big step and she had worked damn hard to earn it.
She recalled her nerves kicking up as she rang the bell. A servant opened the door. When she asked to see Bobby, the man had brought his father instead. She’d mustered all the courage she had to tell him why she was there.
Arthur Carrington had made a face and stood, blocking the way.
“Bobby doesn’t have time for interviews with college girls. Now if you were a real reporter that would be different.”
But Elena hadn’t given up so easily. She explained that she was a friend of Carina’s. Color heated her face at the memory of the scene. Mr. Carrington had pulled out his wallet and peeled off a hundred-dollar bill and waved it in front of her face.
“Here you go. I’m sure this will help you out. Pay for your train ticket home.”
“I don’t want money,” she had said when she had found her voice.
“Bobby doesn’t want to have anything to do with the D.R. He left there a long time ago. Left it behind. He’s an American now. So, please, leave him alone. How about two hundred?”
She shook her head.
“Does Bobby know you’re offering me money to leave?” Disbelief echoed in her voice.
“Of course. He’s working out now and requested not to be disturbed. I’m simply following his wishes. Please, take the money and run along.”
Humiliation overwhelmed her. Emotion gathered inside. Angry tears threatened. Turning her nose up at his bribe, she had had to leave before she broke down. She trekked the two miles to the train station, in shock. Carina had been her best friend in high school. Though Elena never knew Bobby, she had had a connection to his family through his siblings. She guessed he didn’t care.
Tossed away like an empty milk carton, Elena burned with rage the entire ride back to the city. When she returned to her tiny, rented room near City College, she wept bitter tears. Then she turned her back on Arthur Carrington and Bobby Hernandez, forever.
She blinked back moisture as old feelings resurfaced. She had to admit to herself, throwing the drink on Bobby hadn’t only been about his hitting on Tina. There was some personal revenge involved, too. Did it make her feel better? Nope—because he had no idea who she was or why she tossed the Cosmopolitan on him.
Now she had to call him and set up an interview. She’d rather be interviewing Attila the Hun or Adolf Hitler than Bobby Hernandez. She had rent to pay and still owed on college loans, so she couldn’t afford to lose her job. She refilled her coffee to wash away the acrid taste of the groveling she’d have to do to get him to speak to her. With a pad on her desk and pen ready, she dialed.
“Hello?” A deep voice answered.
“Yes. Who’s this?”
“I’m Elena Delgado, calling from Hoy.”
“The Spanish-language newspaper? You agreed to do an interview?”
“Oh, yes, yes. Sorry. What can I do for you?”
“I’d like to schedule an interview, at your convenience.” She shut her eyes and chomped down on a pencil.
“That’d be great. The front office said to expect a call. I’m on the road this week, but I’ll be back on Monday. Hmm, night game on Tuesday. How about Tuesday morning?”
“Fine. What time and where?”
“How about ten? At the stadium? I’ll meet you at the entrance.”
“Works for me. See you then.”
“Yeah. And thanks. What did you say your name was?”
She hung up and hid her face in her hands. Angry, nasty words stuck in her throat like a burr under a saddle.
“I need this job, I need this job, I need this job,” she chanted to herself.
Luis, the copy boy, popped his head in. “You all right, Ms. Delgado?”
“You sure you’re okay? ’Cause you don’t look okay. You look like you could wrestle a bear with your bare hands.”
* * * *
Tuesday morning, Elena woke up cranky. Her cell rang. Maybe that jerk is calling to cancel? It was her sister.
“Chica, today’s the big day?”
“Yes, Maria,” she said, tired of explaining to her sister.
“You’re interviewing the monster?”
“Yes. Look, I’ve got to get dressed.”
“What are you going to wear?”
They had a brief discussion about which blouse and suit in Elena’s wardrobe were most professional. She opted for her interview uniform—navy blue suit, white ruffled blouse, and black pumps.
“You’re sure the blouse has a high neck? I wouldn’t want you to distract him with a tempting view.”
“Yes, I’m sure. Thanks for the advice. If I don’t get off the phone, I’m going to be late.”
Elena made coffee, showered, and dressed. She lived in a small townhouse apartment where Harlem met the Upper West Side. She’d been lucky to find the quirky residence, with a big, rounded window in the living room and a view of the garden in the back. She kept the place immaculate like her mother had taught her.
She boarded the subway and, ignoring appreciative male glances, checked her watch. At five-three with long, shiny, black hair and an hourglass figure, Elena attracted attention wherever she went. Adding to her allure, she radiated the confidence of a woman who had a solid grip on her career.
It was a short walk to the stadium. A few puffy clouds marred an otherwise beautiful, blue sky. The sun shone and the air was just the right temperature. It was June, her favorite month, bringing a smile to her lips.
When she rounded the corner, heading for the main entrance, there he was. According to Wikipedia, Bobby stood six feet, weighed about one ninety, had black hair, dark eyes, and was born in the Dominican Republic. He lounged by the kiosk, leaning against it in a careless attitude, chatting with the person inside.
Lean, handsome, and sexy as hell in his sweats, the second baseman was a treat for female eyes. Elena swallowed. Hating him was easy, finding him attractive wasn’t. He laughed and smiled, not yet noticing her. She studied his expression. Easy, relaxed, friendly and with his thousand-watt smile—she got what Tina had seen in the man.
Eating crow for Bobby Hernandez rubbed her the wrong way. Apology? He owed her one, big time. But here she was, trapped, having to kowtow to get the arrogant man to give her the time of day. A new burn of resentment flamed up. Sure, that’s Bobby Hernandez, rich, entitled, privileged—the man who had everything. And here she was, the woman who had worked her way up, pinching every penny until it screamed bloody murder.
In addition to his own fortune, Bobby’s father was wealthy. Elena’s dad didn’t have much, except a house full of kids. She was the third born, after her two brothers. Bobby’s father had protected him from her. Elena’s dad had ignored her, scoffed at her efforts to get ahead, and advised her to find a rich husband, instead.
She gave her head a shake. According to Grandma Sophia, comparisons never did anyone any good. She’s the one who had encouraged Elena to get away and make something of her life. She had lived to see her beloved granddaughter graduate college, but not long enough to see Elena win a plum job. Her mother had been overwhelmed, caring for the children and the house. She had wished her daughter well, but Elena had believed she was secretly happy to have one less mouth to feed.
As she approached the entrance, she pasted on the brightest smile she could muster. Slowing her gait, she watched the second baseman. Bobby’s attention was still on the man in the booth.
He turned to face her. “You!” His brows shot up.
“I’m Elena Delgado,” she said, extending her hand. “Reporter from Hoy.”
“You’re the reporter? You’re dangerous. You assaulted me at The Hide-Out. You don’t have any liquor on you, do you?” He backed up.
She sensed heat in her cheeks. “No, no. I don’t. I’m so sorry about that.”
“You didn’t have to get violent. I was only flirting. I wasn’t going to take her in the back alley and rape her or anything. Geez. She’s too young for me, anyway. Just thought I’d give her a thrill,” he said, approaching cautiously.
Give her a thrill? Why you smug bastard.
“I thought she was a fan, not your little sister.”
“She’s not my little sister. She’s an intern at the newspaper.”
“I deal with groupies all the time. They don’t usually come with female bodyguards.”
Anger boiled up inside her.
“Look, I’m here to do an interview. Can we cut to the chase?”
“Sure, sure. Why don’t we go into the clubhouse and sit down? I can offer you a cup of coffee if you promise not to throw it at me,” he said.
She threw him her most charming smile. “As long as you promise not to flirt with me, you’ll be safe.”
“I don’t know. With a woman who looks like you, that won’t be easy.” He took her elbow, but she eased out of his grasp and followed him inside.
* * * *
Bobby showed the lovely reporter into the cafeteria. He poured a cup of coffee for her, then held out a chair. He sat opposite and narrowed his eyes. What does she want from me?
“This is your meeting, Ms. Delgado, shoot.”
She pulled a pad and pen out of her purse and trained cold eyes on him.
“You’re from the D.R., right?”
“Born there, yes.”
“How come you’re living in a big house owned by a man named Carrington?”
Bobby’s head snapped back as if he’d been slapped.
“What does that have to do with my baseball career?”
“That’s what I’d like to find out.” Her gaze met his. Impersonal, probing, and verging on hostile, her eyes bored right through him.
“First of all, I’m not living there anymore. I have my own place, not far from the stadium.”
“Who is this man named Carrington and what is he to you?” She took a sip of coffee.
“He doesn’t have anything to do with my life. Let’s talk about baseball. Don’t you want to know how long I’ve been playing?” He shifted in his seat.
“That’s the kind of interview that’s probably been done a thousand times. I could find that superficial garbage in Wikipedia. I’m here because we want a more in-depth piece, Mr. Hernandez. I want to know all about the man behind the player. What drives you? How did you get from a poor neighborhood in the D.R. to here?”
Bobby rose from his chair. “I don’t think this interview is a good idea. I’m sorry to waste your time, Ms. Delgado, but I’ve changed my mind. Can you find your way out? Have a good day.” He headed for the door, anger steaming in his blood.
“No! Wait! Wait,” she called, running after him, her three-story high heels clicking on the tile floor.
He stopped and turned. As she ran, her hair and breasts bounced. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see much of her chest, which was blocked from view by ruffles and a severe jacket. Her hair invited his fingers, which he fastened at his hips to keep them out of trouble. This was not a chick he could touch without getting his arm broken. She probably had a can of mace in her purse, too.
The last thing he needed was his past splashed all over the pages of this newspaper. Bobby Hernandez was a private man. He hadn’t even come clean with his teammates and he wasn’t about to share his story with a stranger. Make that a hostile stranger, if he read her right. He didn’t need a woman not afraid to throw drinks or ask nosy, prying questions. He looked for an escape.
“If I don’t get this interview, I’ll lose my job.” She panted.
“That’s not my problem. If you needed it so bad, why did you come on like an enemy tank, firing missiles? Why didn’t you approach me in a polite, respectful manner?”
“You already made up your mind about me, didn’t you? And you wanted to trap me into saying something embarrassing. Right?”
He watched as her cheeks pinked.
“Well, think again. If losing this interview costs you your job, it’s your own fault. I won’t talk to anyone who’s got it in for me.” Before he could move, he felt a tug on his sleeve.
“You’re right. I’m so sorry. Everything you said is correct. I can’t be a very good journalist if I jump to conclusions and let that interfere with my work.”
“You’re just saying that to get me to change my mind.”
She trained apologetic big, brown eyes on him, and he almost melted. Considering himself the king of second chances, he’d cut her some slack. Besides, in another minute, she might start to cry, and that would destroy him. After glancing at his watch, he spoke.
“Look, I have to get some practice in this morning. Why don’t you think things over, prepare a list of questions and text them to me? I’ll look them over and if they’re okay, then we’ll reschedule.”
“Oh, thank you so much, Mr. Hernandez.” She beamed at him. “Thank you.”
“Everyone deserves a second chance. I don’t want you to lose your job because of me. And it's Bobby,” he said, extending his hand.
“Elena,” she replied.
He gave a quick nod, then ambled off toward the field. Where could he take her for their next meeting? The stadium was so cold and impersonal. When was the last time he’d met a smart, attractive Hispanic woman? He couldn’t remember.
After practice, Bobby caught an early dinner at Freddie’s, the bar & grill run by Freddie’s nephew, Tommy. He sat at the Nighthawks’ table with his buddies from the team.
“Saw you talking to a chick today at the stadium,” Skip Quincy said.
“Yeah. A reporter chick.” Bobby took a bite of his burger.
“Sure, sure,” Skip nudged his friend. “A reporter, right. Where’d you meet her? The Hide-Out?”
Bobby’s eyes popped. “How the hell did you know?”
“That’s where you meet all your chicks.” Skip refilled his glass with water from a pitcher on the table.
“No, no. it’s not like that. She’s the chick who dumped a drink on me. Turns out, she’s a reporter, too. And she’s assigned to interview me.”
“Very cozy. Payback time,” Jake, the third baseman, said.
“I thought so at first, but I’m gonna give her a chance.”
“I bet you are. Start your interview in the bedroom,” Jake said, his eyes glittering with mischief.
“Shut the fuck up, asshole. It’s not like that. She’s working. Gotta respect that.”
“A working girl?” Skip laughed.
“Not that kind of work. Geez. You guys are fucking this up.” Bobby shoved two fries in his mouth.
“Come on. Finish. We gotta go.” Skip glanced at his watch.
The men cleaned their plates and paid Tommy, leaving a generous tip. They piled into Skip’s car and headed back to the stadium for the night game. They were playing the Baltimore Badgers. Dan Alexander was pitching.
Bobby grabbed his gear and joined the team for the national anthem. The men took the field. The first batter was Herman Gonzalez. Bobby always wondered what kind of first name that was for a Hispanic man. Herman was fast, fast as lightning, and quickly became known as “Speedy” after the cartoon Looney Tunes mouse. He’d led the league in stolen bases the last two years running.
Bobby prayed he’d strike out, but no, he beat out a ground ball to short left field. The infield repositioned themselves, as the Badgers’ first baseman came up to bat. Matt Jackson, the Nighthawks’ catcher, caught Bobby’s eye. He motioned him to move back.
Careful not to be in the line of the runner, in case he was stealing, Bobby took two steps back. He called to Skip, the ’Hawks’ shortstop. Skip backed up a little and Bobby inched closer to second. It wasn’t if Speedy was stealing but when. Bobby opened his glove to be ready for a short toss from Skip. He checked over at first and Nat Owen, first baseman, was right behind Speedy, keeping one eye on Gonzalez and the other on the pitcher.
Speedy was known for rattling pitchers by taking huge leads. This time was no different. Dan checked on the runner, looking cool as he glanced over. Then he gave the sign that he was throwing, and fired to the first baseman. Nat’s mitt, chest high, was open and even Bobby could hear the ball smack the glove. Speedy dove back to the bag, making it by a fraction of a second. The field was dry and he got a face full of dust.
“Eat dirt,” Bobby mumbled in the runner’s direction.
While he wiped his face on his shirt, Speedy shot him the bird behind his back so the umpire wouldn’t see. Bobby ignored him, faced home plate, his knees bent, and his glove open in front of the letters on his shirt. He was ready for anything.
Dan pitched and the batter connected. Bobby kept his eye on Speedy as he raced for second. Skip was moving forward almost before the ball was hit. He fielded it on one bounce. Bobby’s foot made contact with second base. He raised his glance to Skip, who tossed the ball right to him. The second he felt it in his glove, he turned to see Speedy sliding in, cleats aimed high.
“Fuckin’ bastard,” Bobby muttered, pivoting away from the runner while keeping his toe on the bag, and then firing to first base.
“Out!” The umpire called.
Bobby managed to hit Nat’s mitt, just right. The first baseman was stretched as far as he could toward Bobby. The runner wasn’t quick enough and Bobby’s throw got there a fraction of a second before the Badger.
“Out!” the umpire called.
Speedy got up and dusted himself off, shooting a hostile look at Bobby.
“Next time I’ll break your balls like a couple of Easter eggs,” he spat.
Bobby grinned. “Fuck you, Not-so-Speedy asshole.”
Herman took a swing at Bobby, who tried to duck, but wasn’t quick enough. The Badger glanced a blow off Hernandez’s jaw and he went down. Skip leaped on Gonzalez. The umpire ran over, but the teams had cleared the benches like lightning, pouring onto the field, a hostile, angry mass. Brawling base-ballers littered the infield.
It took several minutes before the umpires and the coaches broke up the melee. The umpire threw Speedy Gonzalez out of the game. The trainer examined Bobby’s jaw.
“Move it around,” Vic Steele said.
Bobby moved it back and forth, opened and closed his mouth. He gingerly touched his skin around the jawbone and detected a swelling.
“You’re gonna look like you have the mumps for a couple of days, but I don’t think it’s serious,” Vic said.
Anger burned through Hernandez. He wanted to beat the shit out of Gonzalez. He’d have to wait until next time. This was the first of a three-game series, so he’d have another chance.
“Great.” Bobby shook his head.
“You good? Wanna come out and put some ice on it?”
“No. Let’s just get the goddamn third out,” Bobby replied.
“Okay. I’ll have ice for you.”
Vic left the field and play resumed with a pinch runner taking Speedy’s place. Dan fired away and struck out the next batter. Bobby met Vic in the dugout. The trainer handed him an ice bag. A few other players needed them, too. An assortment of black-eyed and bruised players sat on the bench.
“That little hump,” Skip said. “We’ll get him tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Skip. For jumping in.”
“No worries, buddy,” Skip said, giving his friend a high-five.
Nat went to the batter’s box and Bobby warmed up in the on-deck circle.
Nat hit a blooper into short center field and outran the throw to land on first. Bobby came up. His jaw ached, his temper smoldered. He narrowed his eyes at the pitcher. Barely able to control himself, he jumped on the first pitch with all he had. The sucker flew into the second-tier seats in center field. A home run!
His anger disappeared like a puff of smoke, replaced with an inner glow of satisfaction. This was the best way to fuck over the Badgers, beat the crap out of them on the scoreboard. He loped around the bases wearing a shit-eating grin on his swollen face.
His teammates greeted him at home plate with chest bumps and high fives. Although it hurt to smile, he grinned like a chimp. He leaned out of the dugout and peered at the Badgers, but couldn’t locate Speedy.
“Probably sent to the showers. Fined, too, I’ll bet,” Bobby muttered to himself.
“Way to go! That’ll show those assholes they can’t fuck with the ‘Hawks,” Jake said, patting Bobby on the back.
He sat back and picked up the ice bag. It was a lot softer, but he held it to his face anyway. A sense of satisfaction swept through him. Jake was right. Now the Badgers knew who was boss.
* * * *
After a five to two win, Cal sent Bobby to the doctor to have his jaw checked out. They took an x-ray and determined it wasn’t broken, he was free to go, with instructions about putting more ice on it when he got home.
Most of the team had already pulled on street clothes when Bobby opened his locker.
“When you seeing that chick again? The reporter?” Skip asked.
“She’s gonna send me some questions then we have to set something up. I’d like to take her out, but not to something too fancy. Don’t want to scare her off,” Bobby said, pulling out his suit.
“She already thinks you’re a player, right?” Nat asked.
“What do you mean, maybe? The woman threw a drink on you. Because she thinks you were after her friend.”
“Okay, okay. She thinks I’m a player. Yeah, no bar, where she thinks I’m gonna hit on her,” Bobby said.
“You aren’t gonna hit on her, are you?” Skip asked.
“No, asshole! It’s a fuckin’ interview.” Bobby threw his cap in his locker.
“Don’t want her to think you’re loaded, either, do you?” Jake piped up.
“Look, fuck off! Okay? I don’t need you stickin’ your noses in,” Bobby shot back.
“I heard Tommy talking. They’re doing brunch at Freddie’s on Saturdays and Sundays. Starting this weekend. Take her there,” Skip suggested, as he lounged against the wall.
“That’s the first good suggestion I’ve heard from you dickwads,” Bobby said, stripping off his uniform and heading to the shower. As he scrubbed off the dust and sweat from the game, his thoughts turned to Elena’s body. Her curves intrigued him, sparked his imagination—and those eyes! She was spunky—spunky girls make better lovers.
But her temper? A girl who throws drinks? What if he did something in bed that she didn’t like? Would she throw a lamp at him? He frowned as he soaped up his head. She might be dangerous. And what about his privacy? She was a reporter—didn’t that mean she made a living telling people’s secrets? He’d be damned if he’d confide in her.
Like anyone, Bobby had his secrets and he had no desire to have them made public. Plucked from his mother at the tender age of ten, he was brought to the United States to train to become a professional baseball player. Thrust out of the only home he knew, little Bobby moved in with the Carrington’s as a replacement for the son they had lost to a drunk driving accident.
Within the blink of an eye, his whole life had been turned upside down. That’s how it seemed to him. One minute he was living in a poor neighborhood in the Dominican Republic, surrounded by a loving mother, father, and noisy, younger siblings, and the next he was in a quiet, lonely room of his own with two older strangers. He’d adapted. Bobby took pride in his ability to adjust to reality and put up with whatever life tossed at him.
As soon as he turned twenty-one, he got a place of his own. A few years ago, he’d taken over supervision of his money from his guardian, Arthur Carrington. Bobby had hired Verna Carruthers, whose son played football for the Connecticut Kings, to manage his money. Word had it that she was wise and honest—the safest person to trust with his money. It had been the right decision. Bobby had to learn to manage his life, had to trust himself to make good informed decisions. With Verna’s help, he’d learned about investing and he’d increased his net worth.
This young woman presented an intriguing puzzle. After he dried off, he checked his phone. Sure enough, there was a text from her with a list of questions. He smiled. This was going to be the most interesting interview he’d ever done.
He slipped on his boxers and suit pants, then picked up his phone.
“Hi, Elena. Got your list of questions. They look okay. How about we get together this Sunday for brunch?
“Yeah. There’s this place called Freddie’s. It’s a Nighthawks’ hangout.”
“Near the stadium?”
“Yeah. Can you meet me there at eleven?”
“Brunch is on me.”
“Or I can expense it.”
“Whatever. See you then.”
She hung up. He finished dressing. Once he got home, he opened his phone. It might be a good idea to look at the list of questions. He laughed. He had to be careful because this chick was too sharp to be taken in and too ambitious to leave his secrets alone. He opened a bottle of water and looked in the mirror. Was little Bobby Hernandez from the D. R. up to the challenge? Damn right he was.
“Bring it on, Elena Delgado.”
* * * *
At eight, a knock on the door didn’t disturb Elena. She was expecting her best friend, Francie Whitman, who lived in the studio apartment one flight up. She tapped once, then entered clad in a nightshirt and terry robe. The women flew back and forth to each other’s apartments to celebrate, commiserate, watch a movie, share leftovers, and exchange books. They were best friends.
Francie raised a hand in greeting as she made her way to the kitchen. She filled a cup with coffee, then sat cross-legged on the sofa.
“Ready for the fashion show,” she said, taking a sip.
“I just wanted your advice,” Elena replied.
“I can’t believe you’re going on a date with Bobby Hernandez! He’s an instant orgasm.
“It’s not a date. It’s an interview.” Elena popped bread in the toaster.
“Really? Then why did you call me for an opinion on what to wear?”
“I want to be appropriate, professional.”
“Bullshit. It’s a date and you want to be sexy,” Francie continued.
Elena put her hands on her hips. “It’s not a date! I hate Bobby Hernandez and wouldn’t go out with him if you paid me.”
Francie’s eyes glittered and she grinned. “I don’t believe you.”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
“No. An avoider. You’ve met him in person now, twice. He’s so drool-worthy. Come on, Elena, loosen up. That crap happened years ago. Forget it.”
“You didn’t live through it. It was humiliating.”
“He probably didn’t even know. His father said he was working out.”
“His father said he did know,” Elena insisted.
“You’ll see him today. So, ask him, okay? Get the facts. In the meantime, I love that orange sweater.”
“This one? It’s too low cut,” Elena said, tossing the garment on a chair.
“I know.” Francie wiggled her eyebrows.
Elena felt heat in her cheeks. “Stop it!”
“I can’t help it. You’ve been alone for a long time now.”
“I’m fine. I have my work.”
“Work is not enough.”
“Look who’s talking. When was the last time you had a date?”
“That’s not fair. I just got dumped,” Francie said, frowning.
“Jonathan moved to the west coast. He didn’t dump you because he didn’t like you. He got a job as a screenwriter. It’s just geography.”
“Really? Then why didn’t he ask me to go with him, huh?”
Elena stared at her hands. “I don’t know.”
“That makes two of us.”
Elena pulled on a pair of snug jeans. “I don’t think I need a suit. It would be weird on a Sunday morning. Maybe my best jeans?”
“Yes, yes. And the orange sweater?”
“It’s more of a melon color. And it’s out. Cleavage.”
“Tempt him into answering all your questions.”
“He’s already agreed to answer my questions. I could wear a straitjacket and he’d still have to talk to me.”
“If you wore a straitjacket, you couldn’t write down his answers,” Francie responded.
Elena threw a small pillow at her friend.
Orange sweater, orange sweater,” Francie chanted.
Elena slipped it on and faced the mirror. “It’s too low.”
“Add a scarf. Here, let me,” Francie said, disappearing into the tiny bedroom. She returned with a gauzy, mulit-colored, chiffon print scarf. “Try this.”
Elena wound the long, elegant accessory and tied it. She took another look. “This covers most of it.”
“So you give him a little peek. A preview.”
“No preview! No main event, either! He’s my enemy, not my lover and never will be.”
“Who once said to me, ‘never say never’? Could that’ve been you?” Francie batted her eyes, affecting a pose of innocence.
Elena cracked up, sinking down on the sofa next to her pal.
“Okay, you win. Orange sweater.”
The girls split the toast and finished the small pot of coffee. Elena added ankle boots and a jeans jacket. Francie gave her a hug and a thumbs’ up.
“Go get him, tiger.”
“I’m a journalist, Francie. A professional.”
“Okay, okay. Do the writing thing, then get him to ask you out.”
“You’re such a romantic,” Elena said, shaking her head as she locked her front door. It was a pleasantly cool, bright day, she donned sunglasses. On the subway, she pulled out her notebook and her list of questions. There were ten, maybe she should add more.
She was curious about his offer to take her to brunch. She hadn’t exactly been nice, barely polite, yet he came back. Didn’t quite seem like the guy she had already crossed off her list. She dusted off her memories, which stoked the fire of anger inside. She must never forget who he really was and what his father had done to her. She pushed open the door and went in.
* * * *
After his shower, Bobby rubbed his face as he studied himself in the bathroom mirror. To scruff or not to scruff? His was a little long. It was as easy to take it off as to trim it. Maybe even easier because he didn’t have to worry about evening it out. He hit the “on” button on the radio. The song Born That Way came on. He identified with Lady Gaga and sang along as he spread lather on his cheeks. Was he sprucing up for Elena? No way, this was an interview, not a date. If she took pictures, he had to look his best. He always slapped on aftershave, nothing special.
Padding into his spacious bedroom, he opened the closet and searched for his “lucky” shirt. It was blue and he’d worn it for every occasion where he wanted to shine. There it was, fresh from the cleaners, still in the plastic. He grinned.
He nabbed his gray flannel pants and navy sports jacket and laid them on a chair. When he finished dressing, he combed his hair. The aftershave’s manly scent wafted up to his nose. Damn, he smelled good! He did a quick run of a soft cloth over his black loafers to buff up the shine and was ready to roll. He smiled at a final check in the mirror, where a good-looking dude grinned back.
He arrived at Freddie’s before Elena. He had the advantage, being first. He scoped out the room and picked a quiet table where he had a view of the door. About ten minutes after he had been seated, she sauntered in. Damn, she looked hot. Her black, straight hair hung loose and swayed from side to side. The tight jeans gave him a clear outline of what they covered. And the sexy orange sweater—what the fuck? He spied some skin above the neckline, a touch of cleavage teased him.
Red lips, a long scarf, adding class to the outfit, topped her off perfectly. She dazzled. But he had to keep his cool. Hell, if he could face Scuddy Figueroa, ace pitcher for the Boston Blue Jays, without losing it, he should be able to keep it together with Elena Delgado.
He rose from the chair as she approached. Before he could pull out hers, she grabbed it and did it herself.
“Liberated woman here.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean any offense. I was raised to be polite.”