Authors: Cheryl Douglas
Book One in the Texas Titans Series
Copyright © by Cheryl Douglas
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, including photocopying, graphic, electronic, mechanical, taping, recording, sharing, or by any information retrieval system without the express written permission of the author and / or publisher. Exceptions include brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Persons, places and other entities represented in this book are deemed to be fictitious. They are not intended to represent actual places or entities currently or previously in existence or any person living or dead. This work is the product of the author’s imagination.
Any and all inquiries to the author of this book should be directed to:
Strike Out © 2013 Cheryl Douglas
Smashwords License agreement
This ebook is for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this ebook with another person, please purchase any additional copy for each reader. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Strike Out - Book One
When professional baseball player, Zach Foster, agreed to go into business with five of his best friends, he didn’t expect their little sports bar to evolve into a national chain, spanning fifty states, but it did. The business helps to fill the void in Zach’s life during the off-season, but when he closes his eyes at night, he still can’t forget the girl who left that gaping hole in his heart when she left him standing at the altar without so much as a note to explain her disappearance.
Lauren ‘Rennie’ Alexander would do anything to fulfill a sick child’s wish. Not only is it her job, as director of the Sky’s the Limit Foundation, but it’s her passion. So when one of her volunteers brings her a letter scribbled in crayon, complete with an application from the little boy’s loving parents, Rennie is ready to make another dream come true. Until she realizes that sick little boy’s dream is her worst nightmare. He wants to meet his hero, baseball player, Zach Foster. The same lying, cheating, jerk who broke Rennie’s heart. It’s seems Rennie has no choice but to take one for the team.
Lauren Baldwin, or “Rennie” to her friends, smiled when she saw her fiancé’s number flash across her screen. They were getting married the next day and had promised not to call or see each other the night before. But she was gratified to know he missed her as much as she missed him. She could scarcely believe that tomorrow she would be Mrs. Zach Foster. That had been her dream since she first laid eyes on the All-Star pitcher in the tenth grade.
“Hey you,” she said, a slow smile spreading across her face as she waited to hear his husky voice telling her he missed her. She frowned when she heard Zach’s brother’s voice instead. She was about to hang up—realizing he’d pocket dialed her again—when what she heard made her freeze.
“I still can’t believe Ramirez was stupid enough to get his girlfriend knocked up,” Zach said, laughing.
“Don’t laugh,” his brother, Kevin, said. “You could be in his shoes soon enough.”
“Not a chance in hell, man,” Zach said. “You know my motto: no glove, no love.”
“Yeah, but you and Rennie are getting married tomorrow. You don’t think that’ll change?”
“No way. I’ve got more important things to worry about than having a kid.”
“Yeah,” Kevin said, chuckling, “like winning the World Series, huh?”
“That’s gotta be my primary focus.” Zach sucked in a deep breath. “I can’t let anything or anyone distract me from that.”
Rennie’s hand covered her stomach as tears slid down her cheeks. He didn’t sound anything like the man who’d asked her to marry him, who’d been planning a future with her and claiming
was the most important thing in the world to him.
“I still can’t believe you’re getting married tomorrow,” Kevin said. “What the hell changed your mind? One minute you’re telling me you’re years away from making that kind of commitment, and the next thing I know, you show up at the folks’ 4
of July barbeque announcing you’re engaged.”
“You know the way Rennie is,” Zach said. “When she gets something in her head, she doesn’t let go until she gets her way.”
Rennie felt a familiar wave of nausea wash over her. He was implying she’d pressured him into marrying her.
She’d talked about it a lot, but only because she believed he wanted it as much as she did.
“Yeah, I know,” Kevin said. “She’s something else all right.” He asked a question Rennie was almost afraid to hear the answer to. “You love her though, right?”
Silence that stretched on too long made her heart plummet. “Yeah, sure, I love her. What kind of question is that? We’ve been together forever.”
“I still can’t believe you’re marrying your high school sweetheart. You’re the most valuable pitcher in the majors right now. You could have any woman you want. Are you sure you don’t wanna take more time and make sure Rennie’s really the one?”
Rennie’s stomach pitched and rolled. She couldn’t believe the men she’d loved and trusted all of her adult life—one like a brother, the other her lover—were talking about her as if she was someone they barely knew.
“I told you, I love Rennie.”
“Yeah, but what’s gonna happen when she pressures you about kids? Are you gonna cave then too?”
“Hell no!” She heard the clink of glass followed by muttered curses and laughter. Rennie could tell by their voices that they’d been drinking. Not that it mattered. She knew that every word Zach spoke was the heart-breaking truth. “That’s where I draw the line. No kids for me.”
Rennie’s hand covered her stomach again as though she feared her unborn baby may hear the truth: his father didn’t want him. She’d planned to tell Zach about the baby on their honeymoon. She had hoped her pregnancy would be a welcome surprise. Turns out, she was the one surprised.
“Someday maybe,” Zach said, sighing. “When I’m done with baseball.”
“That could be a long while.” Kevin coughed. “You really think she’s gonna wait that long?”
Zach chuckled. “What choice does she have? It takes two, right?”
“I guess. What happens if she tells you she’s taking the pill and she’s not?”
“Man…” Zach laughed, and Rennie heard what sounded like his palm hitting a slab of wood. “You think I’m stupid enough to leave it up to her? Hell no.”
So he didn’t trust her either? Rennie sank down on a bench seat at her parents’ coffee shop. She’d stopped by to see her little sister and to make plans for later. Jackie and the rest of her bridal party were spending the night at her apartment so they could get to their early morning salon appointment without worrying about stragglers detaining them. Jackie was serving customers behind the counter. Judging by her expression, she could tell something was wrong.
“Man, I know Rennie,” Kevin said. “She loves kids. I can’t imagine she’s gonna wanna wait that long to have one of her own.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Zach said. “I’ll handle my soon-to-be wife’s maternal instincts.”
“Oh yeah?” Kevin chuckled. “How you gonna do that?”
“I’ll buy her a puppy.”
The two men laughed uproariously as Rennie ended the call. She never wanted to hear their voices again.
“I can finally take a break,” Jackie said, sliding into the booth across from her sister. She was in her first year of college and as innocent as Rennie had been back then. Looking at her was like looking in a mirror, and she reminded Rennie of how many years she’d wasted loving the wrong man. “Hey, are you okay?” Jackie reached for her hand. “You don’t look so good. Are you feeling sick again?”
Rennie hadn’t told anyone about her pregnancy. She wanted to tell Zach before she shared it with her friends and family. “I’m okay.” She faked a smile so she wouldn’t worry her sister. “I’m gonna head out now. Okay?”
“Sure, I’ll catch up with you in a couple of hours. I just talked to the rest of the girls, and they should be at your place by then.”
Rennie knew faking her way through the next eighteen hours would be torture, but she was determined to make Zach suffer.
Zach shifted his weight from one foot to the other, casting nervous glances over his shoulder at his brother and best friends. Where the hell was Rennie? The ceremony was supposed to have started half an hour ago. According to Jackie, while at the salon that morning, she’d told her sister and friends she’d forgotten something at home and asked the limo driver to take her back to her apartment. But she promised to be at the church well before the ceremony. Being late wasn’t like her, especially not for her own wedding.
Zach looked around at the expectant faces filling the church from wall to wall. Many of them looked almost as nervous as he felt. Especially the parents of the bride and groom, who shared a questioning glance before they offered Zach a reassuring smile.
Kevin stepped forward, whispering in his brother’s ear, “Man, I think you’ve been stood up.”
Fear rendered him speechless as his mind toyed with the worst-case scenarios.
That seemed like the least plausible option. He and Rennie were solid. She wanted their marriage as much as he did. He cringed when he thought about the things he’d said in a drunken stupor last night. Thank God Rennie would never know about the conversation he’d had with his older brother. He hadn’t meant the things he’d said… except about having a baby. He wasn’t ready to be a father, at least not until he’d taken his team to their first World Series.
A man wearing a black suit and hat entered the church and made eye contact with Zach. Zach didn’t want to walk down the white aisle. He knew if he did, the news he received would be bad. He could see the nervousness on the stranger’s face, as if delivering bad news to the hometown hero would make him public enemy number one.
“Do you want me to see what he wants?” Kevin asked quietly as the guests began to note his presence.
“No, I got this,” Zach said. The knot of fear in his stomach grew with every step he took. He had to know what had happened to his bride, and his gut told him the man had the answer.
“Mr. Foster,” the middle-aged man said, offering his hand, “do you mind if we step outside for a minute?”
Zach shook his hand, noting they were clammy. “Sure.” Leading the man outside, Zach noted the black limo parked at the curb. “Is she in there?” Even as he asked the question, he knew she wasn’t. Rennie was a stickler for tradition, and she wouldn’t want him to see her before the ceremony.
The limo driver stopped him with a heavy hand on Zach’s shoulder. “She’s not in the car. I took her to the airport.”
“The airport?” Zach faced him as the dread burgeoning in his stomach erupted into full-blown fear. “What are you talking about? Why the hell would she go to the airport? We’re supposed to be getting married.”
Raising both hands in a gesture of helplessness, he said, “I don’t know. She told the other ladies she forgot something at her place and had to go back for it.”
“I know that,” Zach said impatiently. “But why the hell did you take her to the airport?”
“When I took her back to her apartment, I waited outside. She came back out a few minutes later wearing a sundress and rolling a suitcase. She said she needed me to take her to the airport.”
Zach swore softly, raking his hands through the light brown hair he’d taken great care to style, wanting Rennie’s wedding photos to be everything she wanted. “I don’t understand. Why—”
“Perhaps this will explain.” The driver held out a folded sheet of blue paper. “She asked me to give you this. I’m sorry.” Zach stared at the note, almost afraid to touch it. He pressed it into Zach’s hand.
Zach watched the man walk down the steps toward the waiting limo, and the small square of paper scorched his hand as reality sank in.
Rennie was gone
. She’d left him at the altar to explain to their families and friends that, for reasons he would never understand—no matter what her note said—she didn’t love him enough to marry him.
“Hey, you okay?” Kevin poked his head out of the carved doors. “What is it? Is she running late?” Zach ran a hand over his mouth, unable to find his voice. “What the hell’s going on?” Kevin walked down the stairs toward Zach.