Covering All the Bases (For the Love of the Game)By: Jody Holford
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Liz Pelletier, Publisher
“It’s not about talent. It’s about heart.”
To Matt. I love you.
Isla Bennett didn’t feel the icy chill seeping through her clothes as she walked down the unfamiliar street in Nashville, Tennessee; she was numb all the way through. And it had nothing to do with the late December weather. Raindrops pinged against the ground and her body, like thick, heavy tears from the night sky.
She didn’t know how long she’d been walking when she stopped outside a pub with an overhanging portico. She looked up and read the sign. Salvation.
If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. It was only when she pulled open the heavy, intricately carved door and felt a blast of warmth that she recognized how cold she was.
Unsurprisingly, a soulful, country twang sounded through the speakers, and her eyes traveled to the band onstage before surveying the rest of the room. The mass of people filling the fairly small establishment surprised her. It was a Tuesday night, not particularly nice out, and right after the holidays. Clearly, none of this dissuaded the crowd.
Releasing the heavy wooden door so it shut behind her, she wove her way through the round tables. Men smiled at her. Women smiled, too, but Isla didn’t return any of their gestures. A gentle shiver racked her body as she made her way to the bar.
Get warm. Drink something strong. Then maybe she could think. Or act. Or something.
A long, rectangular bar, shaped like a U, took up one wall. Isla chose a stool in the corner, slid on, and set her purse on the bar.
Her hands shook as she pulled at her gray leather gloves. They stuck, like her icy fingers had formed a bond with the inside material. She tugged and pulled, knowing the upset tumbling around in her chest wasn’t from her stupid gloves.
“Can I help you with that?” The bartender’s voice was warmer than hot chocolate and thicker than honey. By the time her eyes traveled up over the plain black T-shirt covering a wide, sculpted chest and muscular arms, her insides had lost some of their chill. When her gaze landed on the speaker’s strong, square jaw and moved up to the hint of a smile on his full lips, her stomach warmed, and when their eyes met, heat all but flooded her veins. From six words.
Isla got lost for a moment in the kindness of his dark brown eyes. The man staring at her gestured toward her hands with his chin. She realized then that she was staring and still in the middle of removing the freezing articles of clothing.
“You good?” His eyes danced with humor, and for some reason, it was like a hug that she desperately needed. Or maybe just some perspective on an untenable situation.
“Usually, yes. Right now? Not so much.” She gave the gloves another yank, and the left one came off. It was easier to take the second one off with her bare hand. She set them on the bar top and rubbed her hands together.
He continued to stare at her, and the sizzle of attraction surprised her out of the fog she’d been stuck in for the last few hours. The bartender did something under the counter, his wide shoulders curling as he looked down, where she couldn’t see. A minute later, he put a mug of steaming water in front of her.
“Oh,” she said, staring at it. She wasn’t in the habit of frequenting bars, or even drinking for that matter, but she sure as heck needed more than hot water tonight.
He grinned, and Isla’s pulse stumbled. From a smile. “For your hands, Red.”
Isla wrapped her hands around the mug and nearly moaned out loud at the relief the warmth brought to her palms. Before she could thank him, a curvy blonde leaned over the bar, pressing her breasts together. Entirely unnecessary, seeing as her shirt doesn’t cover much.
Isla squelched the negative thought. It was no one else’s fault she was in such a hideous mood, and who was she to judge someone she didn’t even know? Still, when the blonde spoke, irritation prickled Isla’s skin.
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