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Perfect Catch(10)

By:Sierra Dean

After that phone call had ended, Alice wasn’t sure if they’d been talking about a dating prospect or a candidate for governor. Either way, Alice wasn’t sure how she was going to vote.

It was ludicrous for her to even consider spending time socially with Alex. Her position within the league made that troubling enough without bringing her personal reasons into the mix. Being an ump might have been the excuse she gave not to date players, but it was a legit excuse.

So why was Alex making her question things?

How did one night—and not a romantic night, either—make her wonder if she wasn’t being too rigid with the rules? Sure, he’d been charming, he’d been polite and he’d been amazing with Olivia. But that didn’t mean anything. Lots of ballplayers had a good game face. She didn’t know him well enough to have insight into what he was really like, and she was never going to get to know him that well.

Nope. No way. No exceptions.

Not even for the cute, dark-haired, too-cheeky-for-his-own-good catcher.

Alice settled into position a few feet behind third base, her braid tucked under her league-issued cap. No one gave her a second glance when she got onto the field. Thanks to the tricks she’d learned to minimize her femininity, it was unlikely anyone in the stands could tell she was a woman, and the players never scrutinized her too intently.

Heck, she’d called Felons games in the previous years, and Alex hadn’t recognized her at all. Mind you, she hadn’t been the home plate ump during those games. So if Alex was the starting catcher—which was probable—she’d end up standing less than a foot behind him for close to three hours.

Not distracting at all.

The game started, and Alice did her best to stay on task, calling all her plays perfectly, yet somewhere in the back of her mind was the nagging realization she was looking forward to Thursday’s game.

And her reasons had nothing to do with her job.

Chapter Six

“Could you be more tense?” Jasper DeMarco scolded, digging his fingers into the tissue between Alex’s shoulder blades.

Wincing, Alex tried to ignore the pain and relax, but the more Jasper assaulted him, the harder it got. “Maybe if you weren’t trying to pull me apart like a Christmas turkey, I wouldn’t be so tense.”

Jasper made a noise that sounded suspiciously like pfffffft and continued to work on Alex’s knotted muscles. “If you don’t loosen up, you’re going to pull something on your first at-bat of the season. I don’t think anyone would be too thrilled if that happened.”

Emmy, who was nearby working on the Felons first baseman Ramon Escalante, lifted her head and chimed in with, “Especially not your overworked athletic trainer who has to deal with someone else’s shin splints.” She prodded Ramon so he wouldn’t mistake her warning tone.

“Me? I am a perfect angel,” Ramon replied, his Dominican accent working its charms. Emmy smiled but quickly hid it under a serious look. She called Tannis, one of the therapists, over to continue stretching Ramon out. Once she’d wandered off to warm up Miles Cartwright, the game’s starting pitcher, Jasper returned to poking and prodding Alex.

“Seriously, you’re wound up tight enough I could play violin on you right now. What’s the deal?”

“Nothing. No deal.” Alex wasn’t sure there was anything up with him, but if there were, he wouldn’t particularly want to divulge the details with Jasper. He liked Emmy’s assistant well enough but wasn’t sure where he ranked on the trust scale. Jasper tended to be a bit chatty.

The last thing Alex wanted was anyone else knowing he might have a thing for an umpire.

In the week since full team warm-ups had begun—two since he’d first arrived in Lakeland—Alex had only seen Alice once. She’d come to the local bar to meet up with Emmy, the same place he’d met her for the first time the prior year. Though she’d sat at their table and Emmy had managed to seat Alice and Alex next to each other, nothing had transpired aside from polite chitchat. He’d asked her about Olivia, and she asked him how he was feeling going into the season, but other than that, they treated each other like strangers.

Alex wasn’t sure what he’d expected. They were strangers for the most part. Did he want her to behave like a friend towards him because they’d shared cheap pizza and he’d met her family?

Okay, maybe a little.

Where he was from, once someone had come to dinner with the family, they became an extension of the group. People his parents had only met one time would be treated like long-lost cousins. Whenever he or his sisters had friends over, his parents acted as if they suddenly had two or three times as many children, feeding and caring for the visitors like they were their own. Some of that had rubbed off on Alex. He liked to think if Alice were the one he’d had over to dinner, he wouldn’t treat her with such distance.