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Gwen slipped inside and closed the door quietly behind her. The din of the bar was completely gone, the makeshift arcade peaceful and familiar with its glowing lights and dark screens. The center of the room was dominated by a large pool table, but the walls were lined with pinball machines and traditional stand-up games, and even an old two-seater racing game called Taxi-Kart. She’d loved that thing growing up, though it had been hard to find someone to play with.
Gwen squealed and whirled around, smacking her elbow on the door and fumbling with her other hand to find the knob. It took six terrifying seconds for her eyes to focus and spot Ty approaching from the far corner, adding chalk to the end of his pool cue. Gwen’s vision cleared enough for her to see the rack of cues hanging on the wall, the table set up to play. She glanced around, paranoid.
“I—Sorry,” she said, knowing the blonde woman from before had to be there somewhere. “I didn’t realize—I just came to—”
Ty set the chalk on the edge of the table. “Do you play?”
Gwen frowned and peered around more carefully. She couldn’t see anyone, but there were plenty of places to hide.
Ty answered the unasked question. “I’m alone.”
He smiled as he shrugged out of his jacket and rested it on top of a pinball machine. “Because I wanted to be. Why are you?”
Gwen’s heart had returned to a mostly normal rhythm. “Same reason,” she admitted. “I’m a bit of a loner. This is a lot of people.”
“Yes, but they like you.”
Ty laughed and picked up his cue. He bent over and took aim, breaking up the balls. Two solids rolled into corner pockets. “Well, there are millions of reasons to like me,” he said. “But most of them have dollar signs in front.”
“Ah. Well then, I only have two hundred and six reasons to like me,” Gwen replied.
He laughed again and shifted around the table to make his next shot. “You don’t play?” he confirmed, waiting for her to shake her head before sinking another ball.
“Not pool,” she clarified. “But…the rest.”
“The rest? Of the room?”
“Yeah. I played when I was a kid. They used to have these games here before they changed ownership and I played then, too.”
“Me too,” Ty said. “I have the top score on Donkey Kong.”
“No, you don’t. Someone named—”
“My name’s Hitman.”
Gwen stopped. The top scorer on Donkey Kong was named Hitman, but— “Connor’s nickname was Hitman.”
“I borrowed it. Red ball, corner.” He sank the red ball.
“Are you kidding?”
“Have you met me? I never joke about winning.” Ty sank the final ball and straightened. “Let’s play. Any game you like. But I’m not going to take it easy on you because you’re wearing my T-shirt.”
She turned to show him the back. “This is Escobar’s shirt.”
“But you have one at home, right?”
“No,” she lied. She had two.
He grinned and pulled a five dollar bill out of his wallet, approaching the token machine. “Are you in? It’s okay if you’re afraid, I’d totally under—”
“Taxi-Kart,” she said.
His grin widened as he collected the tokens. “I was hoping you’d say Taxi-Kart.”
And even though Gwen had played the thing a hundred thousand times before, it was only as she walked to the game that she realized what she’d done. She’d picked the only machine in the room that was a two-player enclosed game, better suited to children than adults, one of whom was 6’1”, 210 pounds, and one of the most famous athletes in the world.
They faced each other from opposite sides of the machine, Ty looking laughably childlike as he rolled up the sleeves of his overpriced white shirt and cracked his knuckles. Gwen smirked as she stepped out of her heels and rolled her neck. Then they slid into the too-small space, tiny plastic seats, fake doors boxing them in, two screens with steering wheels jutting out, and cold metal pedals for their feet. From this close Gwen could smell Ty’s soap and shampoo, feel the heat from his bicep against her arm. His fingers tickled her palm as he passed her coins, and their knees bumped when they leaned forward to slip the tokens into the slot.
The game’s opening screenshot was of a kamikaze taxi careening up on two wheels as it veered around a corner, and large red letters flashed on top of the image, taunting and teasing: ARE YOU READY?
Don't hate the player...
Gwen Scott wants to love her job with the Charleston Thrashers, the MLB team she’s worshiped since she was a kid, but she can’t. Hateful colleagues and mind-numbing work make her days unbearable—until her head for baseball gets her exclusive access to the Thrashers’ clubhouse and she comes face-to-face with Tyler Ashe, the team’s sexy shortstop and baseball’s most ineligible bachelor.
Ty has sworn off relationships in order to focus on his all-star career, but with his best friend gone, his team struggling, and the press blaming him for every loss, the most recognizable man in the majors is in a slump. Until he starts spending his time off the field with a stern blonde who recites baseball stats for kicks and sees through his arrogant façade.
As the Thrashers’ season gets into full swing and Gwen adjusts to her new job, their fun banter and friendly teasing turns into stolen kisses and countless steamy nights. The team’s strict policy against player-staff relationships throws a curve ball into the mix, but they can’t hide from their feelings any more than the most famous man in baseball can hide from the spotlight…
Approximately 89,500 words.