Hold Onto the Stars by Tracy Broemmer
CJ Everhart peeked to her right when she heard the muttered outrage. Maybe the guy next to her was on his phone. Why else would he grumble about the Tigers loading the bases? They had trailed the White Sox for the entirety of the game, and now with bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the eighth, they finally had a chance to at least tie the game, if not take the lead.
But the guy’s phone was face-down on the bar, and his fingers curled loosely around the bottom of his nearly empty pint glass. His eyes were on the TV hanging in the corner of the bar, and the look on his face was not pleased.
CJ eyed him curiously. Gray t-shirt. Worn black ballcap, the bill with a permanent curl, like he had a habit of bending it. As if he sensed her watching him, he cut his gaze to her suddenly and caught her staring.
“Walks’ll kill you.” He shrugged.
CJ couldn’t argue with that. No one who knew baseball would argue that.
Still, she should say something. Right? Intense brown eyes lingered on her, waiting for an answer. CJ ignored the tiny prickle of awareness in her belly and parted her lips. And said…nothing.
Mouth so dry she felt like she had been sucking down a glass of sawdust instead of her favorite IPA, she simply gaped at the guy.
Really, CJ? Speechless? You grew up surrounded by men of all ages, you ran around with more guys than girls in school, and now these eyes render you speechless?
A roar from a table of guys in the far corner of the bar drew the stranger’s attention back to the TV. Feeling both relieved and disappointed, CJ turned back to the remains of her dinner special. She felt like she had swallowed a balloon and told herself she ate too fast as she nudged the plate away. Without asking, Sam, the bartender grabbed her empty glass and pulled a refill for her. She nodded her thanks when he replaced it and then turned her attention back to the TV.
The Tigers had tied with a long flyball to center, but she looked up in time to see the lead-off batter take a called third strike to end the inning.
“Nice,” she groaned and sipped her beer. “Guard the plate, man.”
Her phone buzzed with an incoming text. When she saw Violet Craine’s name on the screen, she pulled the phone closer over the bar to read it.
How do we feel about blind dates?
CJ snorted softly. She heard the guy to her right chuckle. Fingers hovering over the screen, she peeked at the guy again. Eyes glued to his phone, he didn’t notice this time.
We don’t do blind dates. We don’t do dates. Remember?
She took another drink and watched the floating dots on her screen, waiting for her friend’s response.
Me, not you. Leslie’s trying to set me up. Should I say yes?
“Dude, are you kidding me?”
The low grumble pulled her attention away from her phone. The stranger’s head was tipped back again, gaze on the TV, his face a mask of frustration. The Sox’s lead-off batter for the inning trotted down first base line as the right fielder moseyed in under a lazy fly ball.
“One away.” The guy shook his head and glanced at her again. “Totally worth the millions he gets per year, right?”
She looked back at her phone without responding. Violet was waiting for her answer. Violet who most definitely wanted to date and find Mr. Right and get married.
And have babies.
Before that thought seeped in through her brain and settled in the pit of her belly, CJ set her glass down to answer the text.
Go for it. Why not?
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” the guy next to her groaned. “He always swings at the first pitch.”
CJ tipped her head and looked closer. This time, when he turned to her, she looked at his cap rather than getting caught in his gaze like a deer in headlights.
“You’re a White Sox fan?”
“Maybe not after throwing away a four-run lead like that.”
CJ grinned and turned back to her phone.
Will you go with? Hang out at the bar in case it’s a bust?
Violet’s last relationship had been intense, complete with a jealous, possessive boyfriend. Their last date had ended at the diner with him throwing his fists at a guy who looked at Violet one time too many, and Madge had thrown the ex out of the diner.
CJ put her phone down in exchange for her simple black Kate Spade wallet and pulled out a twenty.
“Nice.” The guy sounded pleased now. CJ lifted her eyes to the screen in time to see that the Sox had the go-ahead run on first. She tossed the cash down for Sam and sipped from her beer, attention on the TV now.
“Really, guys?” she mumbled when the next batter laid down a perfect bunt and the third baseman picked it up barehanded to wing the ball at second. He would have had the runner out, but the throw sailed wide of second by two feet. CJ sighed and shook her head as the lead runner moved up to third.
She slipped off the bar stool and picked up her glass to drain it. The stranger flicked his eyes to her and then back at the TV.
“You’re leaving? In the top of the ninth?”
She grinned. Sure, the game was tied, but the Sox had every chance to go up by a run with the next batter, possibly more, and she was ready to head home. After a long day, she was hot and more than ready to shower and relax.
The guy picked his glass up and tipped it toward her.
“You’re dry.” She scooped her wallet up, grabbed her phone, and patted the pocket of her cargo pants. Satisfied that her keys were there, she took a step away.
“Drink one with me?” he suggested and lifted his empty glass toward the TV. “Watch the last inning? I’ll buy.”
“Thanks, but I need to go.” She shook her head. Violet would kill her if she knew she had turned down a beer with this guy. His eyes alone would ensure Violet’s threat of violence. His intense eyes, the yummy scruff on his angular face, and his thick dark brows were overkill. One guy shouldn’t get all the good features, should he?
“Well, pretty Tigers fan, it was fun to hang out with you.”
Her cheeks flushed at his compliment, but she didn’t respond. CJ called goodbye to Sam and threw her hand in the air to wave when the guys at the corner table hollered a goodbye at her.