Covering All the Bases (For the Love of the Game)(6)

By: Jody Holford

Isla nodded. “I should find a place to stay for the night. Can you recommend somewhere?”

Confusion had him knitting his brows. “You don’t have any other family here?”

One side of her lips tipped up, drawing his attention. She had a gorgeous mouth. Full lips that, when they turned up in a full smile, stopped a man’s breath.

“No. Just my grandfather’s fourth wife, and she wasn’t keen on me sticking around. Which is understandable. She’s grieving. It’s hardly an ideal time to entertain a stranger.”

Liam’s family wasn’t perfect. Hell, his life wasn’t perfect, regardless of how the media liked to spin things. But family was everything, and he couldn’t imagine not being welcomed, no matter how removed the relation. His parents each had several siblings, and all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins were a tight-knit crew. Even spread out across the continent, they kept in touch and got together once a year for a huge reunion  .

“That’s lousy. I’m sorry.” His thoughts tumbled around in his head. The idea of sending her back out into the dreary night, alone, didn’t sit right. His heart raced because it seemed to realize what he was about to do before his lips formed the words.

“Listen, you don’t know me, and this might come out as strange, but there’s an apartment over the bar. It’s fully furnished. Talia could take you up there if you’re not comfortable with me showing it to you. The last thing you need after the day you’ve already had is to start looking for hotels.”

A particularly upbeat song came on their satellite station, and several patrons headed onto the dance floor while others wove their way through the crowds, visiting or heading for the bar. Despite the volume, it was getting late, and their big rush had already hit. Talia was on until closing and wouldn’t need him. But if Isla was more comfortable with his sister, he could stay and send Talia up with her.

Isla’s eyes widened and the hint of surprise mixed with innocence snagged his heart like an uppercut to the chin.

“Why would you do that?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“You don’t know me,” she said, her voice low.

He leaned closer, across the bar, maintaining eye contact. “That doesn’t mean I can’t help. And really, it’s nothing. Just a place to stay until you figure out what you’re doing.” And maybe I can spend a little time with you.

The blonde from earlier slid into the seat beside Isla, and Liam clenched his jaw. Dammit. He hated when people didn’t take a hint, and some of the groupies were more persistent than others.

His dating life had taken a hit once he returned to Nashville. He didn’t do relationships, because his focus was baseball. Not because he was a jerk or anything. He liked to date, just not repeat dates. In a big city like L.A., he was fairly anonymous and could go out with a woman without everyone knowing his business. But here, in his hometown, where his family lived, his sister owned a business, and he played for a professional team, it was trickier.

“How about one more drink for the road, cutie?” the woman asked, sending side-eye daggers to Isla.

Straightening, he crossed his arms over his chest. “Sorry. You’ve had enough,” he said, following through on his earlier words.

“Okay. How about a hot bartender for the road?”

Isla’s eyes widened and she bit her lip. She looked like she was trying not to laugh. Irritation warred with embarrassment, and Liam rubbed a hand over the back of his neck.

He hated being rude, but seriously, he’d been more than clear. “Nope. That’s not available, either.”

The blonde turned to Isla, her lips forming a sneer. “Guess your Sad Sally routine worked out for you.”

Liam started to shut the blonde down—Isla didn’t deserve that—but stopped himself when he saw the look on her face.

Isla had squared her shoulders and met the blonde’s gaze straight on. “I don’t have a routine. I favor a genuine approach. As do most people. But if you’re asking if he’ll be ending the night with me instead of you, the answer is yes. So maybe you should rethink your routine.”