Second Chance Hero Excerpt

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Zach Pritchett. The one name I never want to see on my itinerary. Ever. But I’m not stupid and know the possibility of our paths crossing exists. I just refused to believe they ever would. I don’t care that the position I accepted places me in press conferences with professional athletes. There are one hundred and sixty-two regular season games. With a five-man pitching rotation, the probability of being in the same room with him is rather low. But as today proves, my odds are not favorable. Then again, when have they ever been when it comes to that man?

I close my eyes and try concentrating on the surrounding chatter. The buzz of well-acquainted sports journalists—the deep masculine chuckles and feminine laughs from people comfortable being here—fills my ears.

I’m so jealous.

Although, I shouldn’t be. I’ve put in as much, if not more, legwork as any other person in this room. I’ve earned my spot to be here.

As far as Zach goes? I’m seated in the fourth row toward the edge and highly doubt he’ll see me. Of course, I could shrink farther in my seat and hide behind the row in front of me. No matter what I do, I’ll still be nervous.

God, five years have passed, and my heart still can’t handle facing Zach. No way am I prepared to talk to him.

“Excuse me,” a masculine voice says.

A young, dark-haired gentleman with eyes the color of a mocha latte stands to my right. I’d place him around my age of twenty-seven.

“Sure.” I shift my legs to let him pass and try to pretend being here doesn’t freak me out.

Mocha Latte Eyes sits next to me and opens his briefcase. As he rifles through his belongings, I continue to stare straight ahead and act casual. But it’s almost time to start. Any second, I’ll be in the same room with the guy who shattered my heart.

Tiny sweat beads form on my forehead, and I casually raise my hand and dab with my fingers to soak up the evidence.

Sweet Jesus. I’m totally freaking out.

Dangerous thoughts infiltrate my mind. Stupid ones like what if Zach notices me and shows no signs of regret? Or worse yet, doesn’t recognize me. Or remember what we shared. I mean, my body has changed. I’m no longer that perky, slim college girl he let go. I’m not sure my fragile ego could withstand him passing over me. No matter how much I hate him.

The ball in the pit of my stomach tightens as I straighten my back. I’m so not ready to face him. Why, of all the assignments my boss gave me, do I get stuck in the same room as my ex?

New plan. Let everyone else ask the questions while I absorb the answers.

And believe me, there will be plenty of material to sort through with all questions directed toward Zach. After all, he swept into town and pitched a no-hitter against my beloved team, the Mets.

Asshole.

The man can pitch. Always could. Even in college. And what’s worse, his success proves we made the right choice to end things. That he made the right choice. I never agreed to end anything, but I didn’t fight to keep him either. Although, I tried once. Three months after he left me, I went to see him. A sharp pain slices through my chest at that memory.

Damn it. I’m not strong enough for this.

“Are you new to the Times?” Mr. Mocha Latte Eyes asks.

Jesus, girl. Quit comparing this guy to a latte. I must be in dire need of coffee. Or something stronger to relax my nerves.

“Not exactly, but this is my first assignment.”

I’ve been with the New York Times for almost five years now. It’s taken me awhile to get to the sports journalist position, and even though it wasn’t what I had intended to do, I’m grateful for this opportunity. But I’ll keep that information locked tight. No stranger needs to know my life story. No one does.

“I’m Brayden Hicks with CBS New York.”

He extends his hand, and when I shake it, his hand is warm and soft. Not at all like the callused ones I prefer. Like pitcher’s hands.

“Lacey. Lacey Stark. Pleased to meet you.”

“Pleasure’s mine. If you need anything, I’m here to help.”

“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.” I end with a warm smile and turn my attention to the front. Brayden seems nice, but I can’t focus on any other guy right now.

“Okay, we’ll have the coach answer a few questions, then open it up for the one you’re all waiting for, Zach Pritchett,” the media relations guy announces.

Brayden doesn’t say anything else and faces forward himself. My stomach churns. This interview will not be good.

I swallow my insecurity and watch as Coach McFay steps to the platform. A moment later, the blond-headed star pitcher waltzes in behind with his confident swagger. He always was a cocky bastard. That hasn’t seemed to change.

As Zach extends his arms to pull the chair out, his white shirt sleeves fit snug against those massive biceps. His six-foot-three-inch frame settles into the seat, and I can’t help but gawk. Damn, he’s filled out nicely since the last time I saw him. All lean muscle, he looks good. All hints of boyish features are long gone, replaced by a strong, chiseled jaw masked with stubble. He never did shave on the days he started.

I bite my nail as my focus shifts to his perfectly thinned lips. Oh, those lips that dominated every kiss. Spearmint floods my senses from the memory of that perfection, his greedy tongue claiming me. He always tasted of spearmint. Does he still?

No. No. No. I will not allow my thoughts to stray there. Zach Pritchett crushed me when he left, and I never fully recovered. I will not revisit that memory.

“What was the morale of the dugout?”

“At what part did you let the no-no enter your mind?”

Questions are flung at Zach, but he answers each one with the grace of a seasoned player. I’m not surprised; he’s always been good at everything he does.

Zach smiles and brings his large fingers to his chin. My body betrays me as my nipples harden and press against my bra, yearning for those big hands to caress my skin. Among other things. He sure could fuck. He brought my orgasms to a whole other level, and no one since has matched his skill. Or even come close.

That pisses me off more.

“What does the last out of a no-hitter feel like?”

To hell with these bullshit questions. How do you think Zach felt? He felt freaking fantastic. I need a question that gets to the heart of the matter. I’m sorry, Mr. Pritchett, but I know exactly what to ask. Your physical appearance and performance may have improved, but you haven’t shed your little habit. And I’ll be the one to call you out on it.

“Mr. Pritchett,” I shout. “Do you expect the pain in your left shoulder to be a lingering problem?”

Zach’s head snaps toward mine, our gazes locking.

Warmth travels through my bloodstream and heats places that haven’t been alive in months. Crap. I think I just messed up.