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Perfect Catch(8)

By´╝ÜSierra Dean



“Aaanyway. She won’t date players. Massive conflict of interest. Can you imagine an umpire dating players? Nope. No one would take her seriously. Not to mention she’d probably get fired.”

Alex figured Emmy might be editorializing, considering her own plight to be accepted as a woman in baseball—something that had been well publicized—so she was somewhat biased. But in Alex’s experience, most dating rules could be bent, if not broken entirely.

“You didn’t get fired,” he countered.

“No, but they did have to rewrite the fraternization rules, didn’t they.” Emmy gave him a patient smile. “There aren’t any umpire rules against it, I just know Alice won’t date colleagues.”

“Like I said. It wasn’t a date. She was just being nice.” In the back of his mind, though, he wondered what it meant that Alice had mentioned it to Emmy at all. It obviously implied the evening had been worthy of note. Didn’t it?

Alex shook his head. He had to stop thinking about things the way a middle-school girl with a crush might. His sisters had royally screwed him up, asking him for male opinions on things throughout high school. He’d begun looking for deeper meaning to all female actions because he’d seen into the twisted logic of his sisters’ minds, and it had made him question everything.

He had discovered at a very early age women rarely said outright what they were thinking, and there was often deeply nuanced subtext to everything they did. Too bad knowing this didn’t make it any easier to understand what the hell they were thinking at any given moment.

“For argument’s sake, though. How set in stone is this rule of hers? Really?”

“It’s so set in stone it could be an eleventh commandment.”

“Sorry, bro,” Tucker said, in a show of masculine solidarity.

The path looped back around, and the hotel loomed in front of them. As they slowed to a walk, Alex’s skin beaded with sweat in response to the relative chill of the late-February air. Today marked the first day of training for pitchers and catchers, with the remaining players making their appearances the following week. He and Tucker, as well as the team’s two other catchers and the roster of pitchers and hopefuls, would all be neck-deep in training exercises for the next seven days.

It didn’t leave a lot of time to worry about whether one woman would or wouldn’t be willing to date him.

In fact, dating should have been the last thing on Alex’s mind.

That Alice’s no-ballplayer rule bothered him so much was a bad sign. He would throw himself into training until it stopped nagging at him.

Women. Even when he couldn’t have them, they were driving him crazy.





Chapter Five

On the plus side, there was no way anyone would mistake Alice for a woman in her uniform. The bulky shoulder pads under her polo shirt ensured even her ample bosom was masked, and she resembled a linebacker more than anyone’s mother.

She smoothed the powder-blue shirt over her stomach and tucked it into the hideous, pleated black pants the league insisted on. Polyester, while easy to chuck in the washing machine, didn’t lend itself to breathability. She wasn’t outside yet and was already loathing the material. A layer of sweat coated her skin, and she wiped her forehead on the shirt’s sleeve.

Gross.

Alice took a seat with the three male umpires who would be calling the game with her. Donovan, the crew chief, was in his early sixties, and she’d known him for most of her time in the league. He was a gruff, unsmiling man with a tidy gray beard, but she adored him. He didn’t take bullshit from anyone, and the first time someone had called Alice a dumb bitch in a game, he’d thrown the guy out so fast the player’s head spun for days. After that he’d told her not to take crap from anyone, that she was one of the boys now.

Since then, she’d been treated as a near equal, at least by the long-time league umps. Every year, though, one of them retired and got replaced by some new up-and-comer. Aside from Donovan, the other two men calling the game were strangers to her.

The redhead who’d introduced himself as Heath didn’t seem impressed or dismayed by Alice’s presence, but the blond guy, Karl, kept shooting her uncertain glances. Not hostile, per se, but definitely uneasy.

Alice was used to it.

She intentionally played down her more feminine attributes. Her long hair was tightly braided to appear shorter, and her bangs were pinned back from her face. She’d opted to wear no makeup except for a little concealer under her eyes, and thanks to her pale blonde eyebrows and lashes, she had nothing to make her stand out as too womanly.

But it was impossible to keep all things under wraps. She wasn’t the heroine in a Shakespearean comedy, she was a woman, and she wasn’t trying to pretend otherwise. She liked to make things comfortable for the men she worked with, though, as well as the players. Having a woman on the field was foreign territory for most of them, so she did what she could to make it easier. She wanted them to learn to accept her presence. If not for her, for the women who might follow her.

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