Barefoot William #4
Releasing April 28th, 2015
No One Expects a Curveball
For Rylan Cates, the gloriously sunny beachside town of Barefoot William may be home, but the pro baseball player needs to focus on spring training. Hiring a personal assistant to keep him and his four dogs organized for the next eight weeks is the first step—and Beth Avery is the perfect pinch hitter.
Beth is still looking for her place in the world, and a couple months caring for Rylan’s two dachshunds, his golden retriever, and a Great Dane named Atlas should shore up her finances before she moves on. Except it’s Atlas who won’t budge, pushing her toward tanned, scruffy, sexy Rylan every chance he gets. One more strike and she’s calling the dog out—unless she and Rylan admit that the attraction they’re feeling is a game-winning grand slam…
Ry was polite when he informed her, “I’m going on gut instinct alone in hiring you,” he admitted. “You seem nice, have an ability to adapt, and if you screw up, Atlas will let me know.”
“Atlas looks like a tattletale,” she agreed with a glance in the dog’s direction.
“I need someone immediately,” he added. “You’re standing before me. The job is yours if you want it.”
No hesitation. “I’ll take it.”
“How soon can you start?”
She glanced toward her PT Cruiser parked at the curb.
“I travel light. I’m temporarily living out of my car.”
She lived out of her car? That made him blink. He had no room to criticize her. He’d taken road trips in college. He’d lived free and easy until responsibility had forced him to grow up. Playing professional ball aged a man.
“I’ll grab my suitcases,” she said, cutting across the yard.
“I’ll help you.” He was right behind her. Atlas came, too.
“Will I get a ticket parked at the curb?” She cast a look over her shoulder. No other cars were on the street.
“I’ll get you a city parking sticker later today.” He saw the pained look on her face and guessed the reason. “There’s no charge.”
She released a breath. “I would’ve needed an advance on my pay otherwise.”
“You’re broke?” slipped out before he could stop himself.
Her lips thinned. “I’m on a tight budget.”
Before he could ask her any more questions, she jumped the dwarf Natal Plum hedge near the curb, and he was surprised she cleared it. He didn’t take her for athletic. He and Atlas hopped over it next. She circled to the rear of the vehicle, pulled a keyless remote from the side pocket of her shorts, and popped the hatchback.
He noticed her out-of-state license plate. She’d listed her permanent residence on her application as White Bear Lake, Minnesota, yet she had Missouri plates. A Hike Michigan bumper sticker and Arizona flag decal trimmed her bumper. Virginia is for Lovers and Property of Iowa, Hawkeye State stickers noted her travels. The lady was a nomad.
The pieces to her puzzle didn’t quite fit.
He was intrigued.
She pulled two suitcases from the Cruiser.
Rylan stepped back. He’d been so involved in reading her stickers, he nearly forgot his manners. He hung his T-shirt over his shoulder, and took the suitcases from her. Dingy gold hardware hinged the battered, scratched, and ancient brown leather. A man’s name was barely visible near one handle. Lou Vui. Her father, brother? Husband? He glanced at her left hand. She wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.
The cases were surprisingly light. He had expected heavier. She would settle in quickly.
“I inherited my house from my grandparents,” he told her as they headed up the driveway. “Frank and Emma lived here for twenty years before they moved rural. The empty lots on both sides belong to me, too. The cottage has four bedrooms—two up, two down. You can have the connecting rooms on the first floor. Bedroom, full bath, and office. My dogs have the run of the place. Close your door for privacy. Atlas is known to twist a doorknob with his mouth. He’ll also paw and scratch to get your attention.” The Great Dane could be pushy and persistent.
They climbed the steps to the porch and entered through the double doors. The dogs followed them. The dachsies and Rue took to their plush corduroy dog beds in the living room and waited patiently. They had manners. Atlas, not so much. The big dog was bumping Beth from the back. He was hungry and hurrying her along. It was close to lunchtime, and he expected her to feed him.
Rylan noticed it with a wry smile and looked around the entryway. His home was his sanctuary. It was where he could exhale and hang out with his dogs. He never took the peace and quiet for granted. The floors were dark Florida pine, as was the staircase to the second floor. The walls were stark white. “This way,” he said, moving down the hallway.
He nudged open a door with his foot and set her suitcases inside. He was pragmatic and didn’t buy anything he didn’t need. Except his McLaren. The splurge came from bonus money when he’d been traded from the St. Louis Colonels to the Richmond Rogues. It was his dream vehicle. He also had a Range Rover with washable mats to haul his dogs. He kept it parked in the garage.
He glanced around the guest room and wondered if Beth would feel at home. He’d furnished the room with a queen sofa sleeper, but had no idea if it was comfortable. She would find out at bedtime. A mirrored dresser leaned against the wall and a yellow-cushioned fan back chair sat in one corner.
“There are a few hangers in the closet,” he told her. For those few clothes she might need to hang up. Again, that puzzled him. “The dresser once belonged to my sister Shaye. The drawers have scented liners. Smell like flowers.”
“Nice. I like flowers.”
“Sheets, a comforter, and two pillows are stored in the old seaman’s chest used as a bedside table.”
“No gold or treasure?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Shaye had it refurbished. It once belonged to my great-great Uncle Cletis. He was a commercial fisherman.”
“I like antiques and family history.” Beth smiled. For the first time. A soft smile while she scrutinized the dresser with the decorative carved mirror. It was old, and the bottom drawer was slightly warped. But at least it closed.
He went on to show her the bathroom situated between the bedroom and the office. Functional, but not fancy. He’d supplied a set of blue towels. Shaye had suggested pear shampoo, a neutral olive oil soap, and a natural sea sponge.
Rylan next entered the office. Atlas followed Beth in. She didn’t seem to notice that every step she took, the Dane tracked her. He didn’t let her out of his sight.
He had connected with her, Ry realized, although she had yet to bond with him. In time she would, he hoped. Rylan’s closest friends and his entire family found the dog likeable. But clumsy. Because of his size, Atlas didn’t get invited to many social functions.
Rylan turned to catch Beth’s reaction to the work area. She was completely engrossed by the setup. He’d chosen an L-shaped, space-saver desk. Roller chair. High-end technology. A big-screen TV hung on one wall. Television relaxed him. He had several staged throughout the house.
“Check out the desktop. My password is Rogue. You’ll find a file labeled Obligations. My baseball and hometown commitments should be self-explanatory. I’m hosting a late-afternoon picnic at my house this Saturday for family, a few close friends, and team members. E-mail invitations were sent. Sixty guests, give or take. All adults. You’ll need to put it together. Five days should be enough time.”
She gave a slight start, but was quick to recover. “Do you want updates as I make the arrangements?”
He shook his head. “Not necessary, unless you hit a snag.” As an afterthought, he added, “Contact Shaye Saunders should you need assistance. My sister is good at planning. She’s coordinated charity benefits and boardwalk events. Her phone number and e-mail address are in the computer file marked Family.”
“Appreciated.” Beth breathed easier.
“I have a main house line and a business iPhone,” he went on to say. “I prefer text over a call when I’m away from the house. I’m not a man to talk on the phone for any length of time.”
She nodded. “Text it is.” Her gaze lowered then, lingering a second too long on his bare chest. Her eyes were a soft blue.
He didn’t mind her looking at him as long as she wasn’t into him. He had no designs on her. He stretched, scratched his stomach, and wrapped up the meeting. “As far as feed ing the dogs, choose a recipe from the Organic Canine Cookbook. The dogs like all the meals.” He turned then. “I need to get cleaned up. I’ll be back shortly.” He nearly tripped over Atlas on his way out. The Dane had dropped down beside Beth’s chair, still eyeing her every move.
Rylan took the stairs two at a time to the second floor. He planned to stick around long enough to get Beth through lunch. He didn’t care if the dogs got a bath or not, but food was a necessity. Especially for Atlas. He lived to eat.
Ry tossed his T-shirt in the clothes hamper, then dropped his board shorts and kicked off his flip-flops. He went into his bathroom, stepped into the shower, and set a hot, pulsing spray. Water sluiced and heated his skin. Loosened his muscles. He exhaled, giving thought to his afternoon. He had a lot to do.
National bestselling author Kate Angell lives in Naples, Florida. She’s an animal lover, avid reader, and sports fan. Bookstores are her second home. She takes coffee breaks at Starbucks. Her philosophy: Out of chaos comes calmness. Enjoy the peace. Please visit her on Facebook or at www.kateangell.com.
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