The Perfect Catch

by

Joanne Rock

He didn’t think coming home would mean falling in love

Outfielder Calvin Ramsey returns to his Texas farm home after being released from his team, an unexpected surprise sure to tarnish the family baseball legacy. But when he finds a sexy stranger acting as the temporary caretaker for his childhood home, all thoughts of baseball disappear.

She won’t fall for another player

After losing her savings to a swindler ex-boyfriend, Josie Vance moves to Last Stand to start fresh where no one knows her unhappy past or the con that bankrupted her. But her peaceful healing time evaporates when the homeowner’s son arrives and throws himself into life on the farm—and charming Josie. She can’t risk an affair that draws attention to her or her past. Especially not when the public’s fascination with the baseball-playing Ramsey clan is at an all-time high. Can she keep her secrets, her low profile, and her heart too?

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Calvin Ramsey had experienced some surreal moments in his career as a professional baseball player.

Getting drafted in the first round and snagging a signing bonus that a wise investor could live off for decades.

Playing for half a season with one of his brothers in the minors before reaching the bigs, where he would don the same number his father wore as a pitcher in the major leagues.

Advancing his team in the playoffs with a walk-off homer two years into his career.

He wasn’t an everyday starter, but he’d been a difference maker. A utility player who could fill in at five positions admirably, and provide some pop off the bench with a clutch pinch-hit.

But this afternoon, seated in the sports car he’d rewarded himself with after five years in the majors, Cal wasn’t sure if he’d ever felt anything quite so surreal as this. He stared out over the half-empty players’ parking lot while the guys who’d been his teammates just yesterday were starting to enter the building for another day’s work. They would be facing division rivals again tonight, the second game in a week-long homestand. And they’d be suiting up without him.

After arriving at the stadium, he’d been told to report to the general manager’s office. And every second since then had felt like an out-of-body experience. He hadn’t been sent down to the minors, which considering his slow start and tweaked hamstring would have been understandable.

Nope.

He’d been released. Designated for assignment and put on waivers for any one of twenty-nine other teams to claim. In the weeks to come, he could be picked up by any other team for next to nothing. As of today, he was the special of the week—the player put on the major league clearance rack, so to speak. Though uncertain if another team would pick him up, he was certain that at best his future would be as a journeyman utility guy.

But right now, with his batting average the worst it had been in his entire career, there was a chance he’d be out of baseball for good.

Calvin Ramsey, son of a storied baseball family with a pitching legend for a father, first of his name to lock down a seven-figure signing bonus, had just been given the boot. The kicker was that he hadn’t even been remotely worried about his roster spot. He was only a spot starter, but for a half-decade he was a proven commodity off the bench, a fan favorite for timely pinch-hits, and perhaps most importantly, well liked in the locker room. He was the teammate most likely to dump the Gatorade bucket on that day’s hero after a win, accepting of his role in the dugout, and genuinely supportive of all his teammates, regardless if their struggles meant more playing time for him.

He’d worked his ass off to gain a roster position. He’d won his arbitration case in the off-season and locked down a bigger contract after a career year. But, as his father always said, it wasn’t about what you did last season. A team needed you to perform now. And he hadn’t. In baseball, there was always someone younger, stronger and faster ready to take your spot. Cheaper, too. Some wet-behind-the-ears rookie would get his first major league at-bat tonight, courtesy of Cal’s hitting slump.

If he sat here much longer, he would hear the sounds of batting practice getting underway. The crack of the brand-new Louisville Sluggers as they launched balls into the still-empty outfield seats. The occasional clink of a ball off the batting cage while the hitting coach worked with someone new on going with the pitch. The usual shouts and ribbing of the twenty-four other…make that twenty-five other guys, who were on the field.

Sounds he wasn’t ready to hear.

Tipping back against the headrest, Cal couldn’t even wrap his head around where to go next. After devoting every summer of his life to baseball since he was old enough to run the bases, he seriously considered just walking away from the game. For good. He’d collect his salary this year either way.

At almost thirty years old, he didn’t much feel like jumping through hoops to impress a new team anymore. Maybe he needed to take a summer for himself. Help his grandfather out with the farm that had been in the family for generations—a business doomed to die with the old man since Everett Ramsey’s descendants had gone into baseball instead of farming. How many times had Gramp asked him to take over Rough Hollow Farm and Orchards?

It was too soon to make that call though. Because underneath the sense of surreal floating around him, Cal was seriously rattled. Right now, he was going to drive home and put his house on the market. Pack up his things and put them in storage since his time in Atlanta was done. After that? He was not the kind of guy to sit by the phone and wait for a call that might not come. There was a good chance he’d toss his phone out the window and just keep driving. His agent would track him down one way or another if any offers came through.

Sooner or later though, he needed to return home. His real home in Last Stand, Texas, where a dose of the Hill Country would remind him of his roots. Because in Last Stand, the Ramseys were first and foremost a farm family, most notable because they traced their local heritage back to 1856 when Virgil Ramsey built a home and barn and called it Rough Hollow Ranch.

Cal needed that brand of reality in a life gone off the rails. He just hadn’t known how much he needed it until today. For now, he shut down his phone because he damn well wasn’t ready to talk to anyone. Or maybe it was to prevent himself from seeing any sports news about his career going down in flames.

Turning over the engine, he cranked the tunes and lit out of the parking lot like his ass was on fire. He had a house to sell. And, in time, a life to resurrect once the wrecking ball finished tearing down the old one.

End of Excerpt