Worth The Trade By Kristina Mathews

Monday, July 07, 2014

“That’s him. Over there.” Hunter Collins recognized her new left fielder by the body language, posture, and raw physical power of a professional athlete.

“The guy in the plaid shirt?” The limo driver shook his head in doubt. “Are you sure? He doesn’t look like no baseball player. He’s too tall.”

Marco Santiago was indeed tall. And dark. And—she hated to admit, even to herself—incredibly handsome. The expert tailoring of his shirt emphasized his broad shoulders, long, strong arms, and slender waist. Dark denim hugged slim hips, clung to muscular thighs, and she’d put good money on what they did to his taut backside.

His tattered duffel bag was slung carelessly over his left shoulder. A small leather case lay at his feet. The casual observer might interpret his relaxed pose as lazy, bored, or perhaps a little worse for the wear. But she’d watched him on the field enough to know he could spring into action with panther-like reflexes at the crack of the bat.

“He’s the one.” Her heart rate quickened. A little more than three months ago she’d inherited forty percent ownership of the San Francisco Goliaths. At twenty-seven, Hunter was the youngest president of one of Major League Baseball’s oldest franchises. She brushed off the pain of losing her father, focusing instead on her first official player acquisition. Together they would make their mark on the new era of Goliaths’ baseball.
As the driver pulled up to the curb, she noticed the slight change in Santiago’s stance. His shoulders straightened and he rocked back on his heels like he was ready to chase down a fly ball. There it was, the instinct that had her drooling over him for some time. As a ballplayer, nothing more.

Her driver got out, opened the passenger door, and Santiago ducked inside.

“Whoa, you scared me. I didn’t expect company.” He smiled at her, flashing a set of dimples and startlingly blue eyes. He let his gaze travel the length of her body, inspecting her, before nodding his approval. “But this might turn out to be a good trade after all.”

Excuse me?

“Are you saying you’re not happy about the trade?” He had no idea how hard she’d worked to make this deal happen. For the past few weeks she’d practically slept with her cell phone attached to her ear, when she’d slept at all. She’d tuned out the sports talk show hosts and beat reporters and bloggers who claimed she was too inexperienced to make a deal. As if inexperienced was a euphemism for female.

Not to mention the embarrassing and insulting offers initially given by the other team. They’d wanted her to give up half her farm system, thinking she didn’t know the wealth of talent she had in the minor leagues. But once they realized she actually did know what she was doing, they were able to strike a fair deal.

“It came as a surprise.” He settled into the leather seat. “Sure, I heard rumors. But there are always trade rumors this time of year. I really didn’t expect to walk into the clubhouse this morning only to be told I was no longer wanted in St. Louis.”

“You’ll be welcomed with open arms here in San Francisco.” Hunter gave him what she hoped was an encouraging smile.

“Is that so?” He looked her over as if she wore something low-cut and see-through. Or nothing at all. “So are you the welcoming committee? If they’d done their homework they’d have known I usually prefer blondes. But I can make an exception, just for tonight.”

He cocked one eyebrow up and drew his mouth into a grin that stopped just short of a leer.

“I don’t see why my hair color should matter to you.” She tried not to roll her eyes. He wasn’t the first athlete to assume the only place for a woman in pro sports was underneath him and naked. “Your last owner was fully gray. And the one before him was completely bald.”

At his stunned silence, she smiled and held out her hand.

“Hunter Collins. President and Managing Partner of the San Francisco Goliaths Baseball Club.” She avoided referring to herself as the acting president. A role she’d served in during her father’s long illness. Hell, she’d served in that role since she was old enough to read a box score.

Unofficially, of course. Henry Collins had always been the face in the meetings, the name on the contracts. But she’d been right there with him, working behind the scenes. This was as much her team as anyone’s.

“My new boss.” He gave her a firm handshake before sinking back into the seat and letting out a frustrated sigh. “Can we start over?”

He turned toward her, a forced smile on his face. The kind of smile he’d give a reporter after a tough loss.

“Don’t bother telling me how happy you are to be here.” She had to admit, she was more than a little disappointed. Why wouldn’t he want to be here? The Goliaths were a first class organization. Her father had saved the team from being moved to Florida. He’d taken on partners in order to build the state-of-the-art ballpark without using public funds. The fans came out to fill the seats night after night, and the ownership did its best to offer the fans their money’s worth, even though they hadn’t won it all. Yet.

“I am happy to be here. I just…” He ran his left hand through his hair. She didn’t need to check for a wedding ring. He was single, no family to uproot for the cross-country move.

“My flight was delayed. I lost half my luggage. And I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks. So I apologize if I seem less than thrilled.”