What’s Next

THE PERFECT CATCH

Prologue

 

WALKER

 

Have you ever had the feeling when you walk into a room, you just know everyone hates you?

 

You can feel the animosity.

 

The distaste.

 

The unfiltered negative energy directed at you, wishing—hoping—you’d just disappear into nothing right there on the spot?

 

Try having that feeling when you’re walking into the batter’s box in a stadium with tens of thousands of people who actually hate you.

 

Who wear shirts displaying their anger toward you.

 

Who wave signs from the stands, screaming out why you suck and shouldn’t be playing the one sport you’ve played your entire life.

 

It doesn’t feel great.

 

And yet, I haven’t been able to muster up an ounce of care, which has only made matters worse.

 

The most hated player in baseball—that’s what they call me.

 

My attitude is shit.

 

My “bedside manner” is atrocious.

 

My interviews are lackluster at best.

 

My relationships with the coaching staff and my teammates are mercurial.

 

And recently, this year, my stats are a fucking dumpster fire.

 

Why am I so moody?

 

I can waste a week of your time unraveling that Pandora’s box, but one of the main reasons is I have to play baseball with the one person I thought I’d never have to play with again: Penn Cutler.

 

The All-American heartthrob—the media’s words, not mine. I think the dude is a giant douche. I’ve thought that ever since we were small. We grew up in the same town. We played on the same teams—little league all the way through high school. We’ve worked magic on the field, Penn being the pitcher, me being the catcher. We’ve won title after title together, and yet, we hate each other.

 

Hell, hate isn’t even a strong enough word.

 

Abhor.

 

Seniors in high school, I’d thought that would be the last time I had to deal with his smug face. He was off to California to pitch, and I was headed to Florida to catch. The era of Penn and Walker came to a close, and I was the first one to throw some goddamn confetti in the air when it happened.

 

But you should never celebrate too early. Before I knew it, we were both in the minors, then the majors, floating between teams until the Bobbies penned us both: same year, same team.

 

Life was fucking over.

 

The media ate up the reunion, and Penn, being the camera whore that he is, played it up for the flashing lights and the live mics. Arm draped over my shoulder, offering to the fans what kind of presence the dynamic duo could bring. And we did. We have. We’ve dominated.

 

But as Penn’s stardom rose, mine clunked and clambered down.

 

I accepted it. The limelight has never been my thing.

 

I prefer to be a hermit. I prefer to keep my distance. I prefer to do my damn job and then go home. I don’t need any of the extra fanfare that comes with being a professional baseball player.

 

Apparently, that’s not good enough though, because rumors are being tossed around.

 

Forced retirement.

 

The front office wants me traded or wants me out.

 

And I’m not ready.

 

The only way to get them off my back?

 

Clear up my image. You can imagine the monumental feat that would take, given how everyone I interact with despises me. But I took it head-on because I’m desperate to play, desperate to stay in Chicago.

 

And how hard could it be?

 

Famous last words, right? Especially when the Bobbies decide to set me up with their newest PR nightmare fixer.

 

To her, Penn’s the absolute golden boy—beyond reproach, charming, brilliant, and, of course, charismatic.

To her, I’m the absolute leech—beyond redemption, reprehensible, unpleasant, depraved, and, of course, demoralizing.

 

This girl’s compassionate, beautiful, has a heart of gold, and is everything I’m not, and she has me by the goddamn balls. I’ve never met anyone like her. I’ve never wanted a woman as much as I want her.

 

Of course, there’s the no fraternizing with the players rule. Because what’s a story without a fucking HR nightmare ready to unfold?

 

But oddly enough, that’s not the worst part. No, the worst part is how she sees Penn and how she sees me. And I have no clue how to change that or how to change me.

 

Basically, I’m screwed.

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