In desperate need of a life make-over after a terrible divorce, librarian Mallory Cruise signs up to coach her daughter’s recreational softball team. So what if she doesn’t have an athletic bone in her body? It’s the change her therapist suggested. There’s only one problem.
Her co-coach, Jason Henry, a widowed jock popular among the single ladies who’s made it clear Mallory grates his nerves. He’s an arrogant jerk who knows a lot about softball but nothing about women.
Mallory just needs to prove herself. And she does, in a horrible flip of the lineup that costs them the game. The softball moms band together and are ready to tie her to the fence during batting practice. They won’t stop until Mallory’s out of the picture.
And the only one who can save her is Jason.
Will Mallory strike out at coaching the same way she struck out in her marriage? Or will Jason rescue her when she needs it most?
Targeted Age Group:: 18-45
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
As a mother of three daughters who have played softball on many levels, including college, how could I not write this book? I've spent the equivalent of months in the hot, beaming sun cheering on my girls play fast-pitch softball and at the same time dealt with the politics of competition.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I wanted to have characters that contrasted, i.e. one needed to be extremely skilled and the other completely green. I also loosely considered various coaches I'd come across in the past as well, though none of my characters are based on one particular person.
Mallory Cruise had never touched a softball in her life, but that wouldn’t stop her from coaching the 10U Girls’ Softball team at the local recreational center. Nothing would—except possibly the weather.
She stared out the window at the torrential downpour, positive the local weatherman had cited a zero percent chance of rain. Because if he had mentioned even a small probability, she’d have brought an umbrella. But she didn’t. So now she waited inside her minivan for the heavy rain to pass.
“Can’t we just go home?” her daughter, Ella, asked as she picked at a scab on her leg.
Mallory tapped her hand. “Leave that alone, and no, we can’t. Today’s the last day to enroll.”
Ella threw her head against the passenger seat, dislodging the large ribbon tied around her ponytail. “But I’ve never played softball. I might not like it.”
I might not either, Mallory mumbled under her breath. But it was worth a try, something with a purpose, something different. And no, she had never coached. But she could learn. The internet was full of self-help videos and informative articles. Besides, this had nothing to do with her athletic ability. This was about expanding her horizons and making a new life—post-divorce—as the therapist had suggested.
She turned around to Ella and patted her fine auburn hair. “But how will you know if you don’t try?”
Ella crossed her thin arms over her chest and poked out her lips.
Ignoring her, Mallory turned back, pulled out her phone, and checked the time. Only twenty minutes left to sign up. She opened the weather app and checked the radar. The abundance of red, green, and yellow splotches covered the county for miles. No way would it disappear in time.
Desperate, she grabbed the morning newspaper from the backseat for herself and passed Ella her Good Housekeeping magazine. “Looks like we have to make a run for it.”
Mallory jumped out of the van and into a puddle that left a pool of water inside her nude-colored flats.
“I hate the rain,” she mouthed, squishing her way to the door of the recreation center.
The newspaper ripped inches shy of the awning. Rain drenched her hair, washing bitter hairspray into her eyes and mouth. She spit, wiped her face, then pushed through the double doors into the building. Once inside, she glanced Ella. The magazine had protected her hair but not her clothes.
Ella held out both arms. “I’m wet.”
“We both are.” Mallory took the mushy magazine from Ella and tossed it into a nearby trashcan, leaving behind a trail of puddles with each step. Then, she made her way to the sign up window, pausing quickly to grab her ID from her purse.
A young girl with purple hair and neon braces leaned close to the glass partition. “May I help you?”
Before Mallory could answer, a man, who had drool potential with his towering height and overachieving muscles, jumped in front of her.
“Yes. I’m here to sign up for the coaching position,” he said, flaunting his dry clothes and lack of manners.
Mallory worked her way back into the young girl’s sight. “Excuse me, I was here first. I’d like to coach my daughter’s 10U softball team.”
“Technically, I was here first because you weren’t ready. You can’t block the line until you get your stuff together. It’s rude,” he said.
His full lips, draped over a slight overbite, would have enticed her under normal circumstances, but thanks to his lack of human skills, she resisted. “I’m sorry I prefer being prepared.” She wrapped her arms around her waist, sending water splashing onto the vinyl tiles.
He smirked. “You should dry that up while I handle this.” He turned to the young girl whose eyebrows had now raised two inches. “Can I have the paperwork, please?”
As much as Mallory wanted to go off on him, tell him where he could shove his overinflated self-worth, she contained her emotions. It was best to set a good example for her daughter.
“Me, too,” she said, raising her hand. As if what? This wasn’t school.
The purple-haired girl shuffled through a stack of folders while they both waited.
From the corner of her eye, Mallory glanced the man’s gloating look painted on his perfect face. She didn’t have to wonder if he played sports. She knew. He had the typical jock demeanor, crew cut, muscles for days, wide stance. Nothing special, unless one worshipped the clichéd tall, dark, and handsome jerk-type.
Turning her gaze to his daughter, who was tossing a softball into the air and catching it with her bare hand, Mallory tried to guess her age, thirteen or fourteen maybe? With the biceps and height—a good five inches taller than Ella—she had to be close. No way was she ten, or eleven, which was great. It meant their children wouldn’t be on the same team. She couldn’t imagine having to bump into him more than once in a lifetime.
The young girl passed both of them a clipboard with a packet of papers attached, then asked for their IDs. He had to go retrieve his from his truck.
Mallory giggled to herself as she filled in the blanks. Halfway through, Ella tapped her arm. “What is it, sweetie?”
Ella leaned forward and whispered, “I don’t want to play. Can’t I do something else instead?”
Mallory noticed Ella’s eyes angled towards the man’s spiral-haired daughter, who had now taken a seat on the metal chairs by her dad. “I promise, it’ll be fun.” She lowered her voice. “And don’t be intimidated by that girl. She’s much older than you.”
Ella’s forehead wrinkled. “No, she’s not.”
“Trust me, she is. Moms know these things.” Mallory continued filling out the form.
Ella leaned her back against the cold chair and sighed. When Mallory finished signing her name on the last line, she returned her clipboard at the same time the jock turned in his. The young girl smiled and time-stamped them both, then passed them back their IDs.
Mallory tucked it into her purse before draping her arm over Ella’s shoulders. Together they trudged towards the exit as the quiet hallway echoed the sound of the water squishing in their shoes. Mallory looked out the window and tensed at rain, now falling faster than before.
“Hey, hold up,” shouted the nameless jerk.
In a slow, revolving turn, she faced him.
“I’m Jason. Jason Henry.” He offered a strong hand.
Practicing her best manners, she shook it. “Mallory.”
He grinned, staring down at her from a foot above her head as his beefy hands smoothed his wavy, black hair. “About that back there, I’m sorry. It’s been a rough day and I…”
She wanted to give him the same verbal scolding she would issue a misbehaving child, but opted against it. It was an apology, and she should accept it. It didn’t mean she had to like him. “No worries. Have a wonderful day.”
She pulled the door open and braced herself for the downpour.
“Let me help you guys. Stay here, Lexi,” he instructed his daughter as he opened the umbrella above Mallory and Ella’s heads. He walked them to the van.
Once inside, Mallory gave an obligatory wave and mumbled goodbye. Sure, she’d admit him walking her and Ella to the van was somewhat redeeming, but it didn’t make her like him any better. She put the key in the ignition and glanced behind her at a very unhappy Ella.
The sight weighed on Mallory’s heart. Ella had been through so much. They both had, first with the divorce, and then with her ex-husband moving to another state—then him telling Ella he’d be too busy traveling to get her over the summer. And while Ella didn’t know who he’d be traveling with, Mallory did, because it was the same woman he had left her for two years ago.
She reached back, taking Ella’s hand, and squeezed. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m nervous, too. But consider how much fun this will be for us. I’ve already been thinking about the team colors. I’d love a chevron pattern using turquoise and pink—or zebra stripes and lime green?”
The possibilities were endless.
Ella’s mouth dropped. “Seriously, Mom? Do you think someone like Lexi would wear that?”
“Her,” Ella said, gesturing towards the oversized chunk of metal with dual back tires making its way out of the parking lot.
“Oh, his daughter? No, but older girls aren’t into fun colors.”
Ella rolled her eyes. “Lexi is ten, Mom. She’s in my class.”
Mallory slid her hand away from Ella’s and then lightly wrapped it around her neck. “Sweetie, why didn’t you tell me that sooner?”
Ella’s eyes locked onto hers. “I tried,” she said, stressing each syllable.
“So what are you saying? He’s my competition?”
A smug expression covered Ella’s face as she nodded. “Now can I join something else?”
Mallory wanted to quit, but quitting defeated the purpose of joining. Then again, the thought of facing him again shook her insides.
“Ella,” Mallory said as she let go of Ella’s hand and reached for the gear stick. “Sloth and Chunk will not intimidate us.” And yes, she recognized in no way did that man resemble Sloth.
“Who?” Ella asked, digging into her pocket and pulling out a piece of candy.
“Sloth and Chunk, the guys from the Goonies.” Mallory noticed the confused look on Ella’s face. “No worries, it was before your time. What’s more important is that we won’t back down. This is our time to shine.”
Ella held up a piece of candy where Mallory could see it. “Can I eat this?”
I’m glad you share my enthusiasm. “Sure,” Mallory said, pulling out of the parking lot. “Why not?”
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