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Stealing Home: Chapter 28

I’M FAIRLY CERTAIN IF SOMEONE TESTED MY BLOOD RIGHT NOW, IT would be eighty percent coffee. I’m jittery, my hands shake. My heart hasn’t started palpitating yet, but one more cup might do that. I slept three hours on Wednesday night and caught two hours on the lumpy office couch last night. Meredith went home for a couple hours yesterday to see her kids but came back once she got them to bed. I don’t actually know how Dad is functioning; he’s slept even less than I have.

I managed to rope Mia into helping me pull some of the portfolios together after the sales staff crunched all the data. We haven’t had time to talk about what happened with Campbell, and I’m grateful. Not only will she be pissed, but if I have to lay it all out again I’m afraid I’ll change my mind.

I haven’t seen him yet—their bus got in super late last night—but knowing that I won’t be able to avoid him at the game tonight is a stronger kick than the coffee that Dad brews. And that’s saying something, because I think Dad’s been reusing the filters.

But first the meeting with Chestnut Oil Company. Dad has reviewed everything I’d written, passed it by the rest of our sales staff, and made a few adjustments. If we can get Mr. Chestnut to commit to signing a long-term naming-rights contract that will cover the cost of the needed renovations and the events center addition, then Black Keys can’t legally move the team until the contract expires.

I dash home long enough to shower and change my clothes—a red A-line skirt and a sheer white blouse with a silk camisole underneath. My hair is still wet, so I pull it up into the highest ponytail possible and tie it into a knot. It actually looks pretty good.

A shower and clean clothes don’t soothe my nerves. If anything, it makes the inevitability of this meeting that much more terrifying.

Mia’s sitting at my desk when I return to the office, fielding calls like she does ground balls. “You look great,” she mouths. “But—Buckley Beavers, can you hold? Thank you.” She digs into her tiny quilted purse that doesn’t look big enough to carry her phone and hands me a tube of lipstick.

Really, really red lipstick.

“Trust me.”

“Okaaaay.” I use the reflection in the side of her big water cup to apply it and look at her for approval.

She gives me a closed-lip grin but nods her head. “Oh, yeah. That makes you look at least … nineteen.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“You love me.”

I give her a hug around the chair. “I do.”

Meredith has set up the owner’s booth with tables for a fancy lunch spread. A rendering of the stadium with the events center addition sits on a tall wooden easel near the window that looks out over the field.

My palms are so sweaty that I don’t dare wipe them on my skirt for fear that they’ll leave smears on the material. I steal a napkin from the lunch table and dry them off.

Meredith radios from the parking lot that Mr. Chestnut has arrived, and Dad and I exchange a look.

“This is it,” he says, giving me a grin that’s bold and brave. The exact opposite of how I feel inside.

I nod, trying to send Dad all my positive thoughts.

Mr. Chestnut is an exact replica of Lucas, fast-forwarded twenty-five years. He’s wearing a suit, a shirt with French cuffs, and cuff links that sparkle with diamonds.

He shakes our hands and gets right down to business. “I have to say, I was very surprised when Ryan called to ask me about my interest in sponsoring a facility that could host camps for children with special needs.”

The look he gives me is more stern than friendly, and I battle the urge to crawl under the table. Instead, I say, “One of our players, Sawyer Campbell, brought up the possibility of using the stadium to replicate a program he’s been involved with back home in Georgia. He’s signed on to be the public face of Buckley’s branch, but we—”

“Need the cash to make it happen.” Mr. Chestnut glances toward the rendering, then back to my dad. “How much money are we talking about?”

My heart races like I’ve just finished my final kick of a five-thousand-meter run.

Dad passes him the portfolio, pointing out the different options, contract lengths, and pricing structures. Mr. Chestnut’s eyebrows jump into his hairline.

“You’re asking for a significant investment,” he says once Dad has finished his spiel. “It’s not something I can give you an answer on today.”

I knew hoping for an immediate response was too much, but it doesn’t stop me from deflating.

“Give me a week to run some things by my people,” Mr. Chestnut says. “We can reconvene then.”

Dad invites him to stay for the game, offers him some food for the road, and sees him to the elevator. All the good things.

I slump into the vinyl seat facing the field. Warm-ups are going to start any minute, and I need to get down to the field, but I can’t move. My knees don’t feel solid enough to hold me up.

Dad drops into the chair next to mine but doesn’t say anything. We sit in silence, staring out the window at the rich green and red, the perfectly straight white lines and bases, the deep blue of the outfield walls.

“Do you remember the time you tried to ride on the back of the four-wheeler that drags the warning track? You were what, seven?”

“Eight.” I hold up my elbow to show him the scar from being dragged along on the grate the field crew uses to smooth out bumps in the track. “Remember when we used the infield tarp as a slip-and-slide during that rain delay?”

Dad’s lip twitches. “Which time?”

The batboys and I skidded across the slippery, puddled surface during plenty of rain delays. But one year when the Beavers were playing for the championship, Dad had wanted to keep as many fans in their seats as possible—I never realized it was probably because he was hoping for concession revenue—and turned tarp-sliding into a game. He put on quite a performance, sliding penguin-style. The crowd went crazy.

He drops his hand over mine. “I know you were hoping for an immediate solution, but these things take time. What Mr. Chestnut said was still very positive.”

Tears well in my eyes, and one drips as I turn to look at him. “This is my home, Daddy.”

“I know, sweetie. And we’re going to fight for it.”

I rest my head against his shoulder, like I did when I was little and would fall asleep at the stadium.

“Do you think it’ll be enough?” I whisper.

Dad’s quiet for a minute. “I don’t know.”


CAMPBELL PLAYS BEAUTIFULLY. HE LAYS OUT FOR A LINE DRIVE, catching it with the lip of his mitt. He turns an amazing double play. He hits two home runs. He plays like he was never injured. Maybe better.

It’s no surprise that the reporters want to interview him after the game. I’m so, so lucky that a journalist has driven up from Beaumont and wants to interview Ollie for their “Hometown Highlights” feature.

“Why don’t you get the guys tonight?” I tell Mia as I move the inflatable sumo-wrestling suits from the back of the closet to closer to the door. Tomorrow is a double-header to make up for a rained-out game earlier in the season, and we have to prep for all the between-game entertainment. “I know you’re dying to see Ollie.”

“Aren’t you dying to see Campbell, too?” She looks up from the parts box where she’s trying to find the nozzle we use to blow up the suits.

“I’ll see him later.” I pretend to be super concerned with a patch on the seam, and she doesn’t question me.

Once she leaves to go get the players for their interviews, guilt sets in. It wasn’t a lie, exactly—I’ll see Campbell on the field tomorrow—but Mia’s going to be pissed when she finds out I’m hiding something from her.

She finds out much sooner than I expect.

The closet door swings open and hits the wall. “What did you do to Campbell?”

Mia’s standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips, wearing her avenging goddess face.

“I …” My mouth works like a goldfish’s, opening and closing as I search for an easy explanation. “Can you shut the door?”

She steps all the way into the narrow space and slams the door behind her. It’s a small room anyway, but her anger makes it seem even more confining.

I lick my lips and try to explain. “I should never have let myself get close to Campbell. It was unprofessional. And so I told him that there was never any chance for us.”

She waves her hands like a queen commanding me to continue, but I just shrug.

“That’s it? That’s your entire explanation?” She presses steepled fingertips to her lips and blows out a long, frustrated breath. “I’m going to say something that you’re not going to like.” She waits until I nod and then pushes on. “Your dad owns this baseball team. People are going to assume you got your job here because it’s a family business. Not because you work harder than anyone in the world. Not because you’re great at your job.”

“Well—”

“There’s no ‘well,’ Ryan. People are going to assume whatever they want because that’s what people do.” She drops on the floor beside me, her crossed knees almost touching mine. “What are you going to do when you take over the team someday and everyone believes it’s only because you’re Daddy’s little girl?”

“But everyone who knows me knows—”

“Exactly. Everyone who knows you knows that you work for the Beavers because you love it.” She takes the sumo suit out of my hands. “And are you going to let the opinions of people who don’t know you run your life?”

My heart climbs into my throat. “No,” I say, softly. This isn’t the first time in our relationship that I’ve wanted to be a little bit more like Mia. She’s smart and athletic and has an amazing family. But she also doesn’t care about anyone’s opinions. She’s always been unapologetically Mia. “It’s just … in this business, I can’t afford to have sponsors or employees or other ownership groups doubt me.”

“I know.” She frowns and her shoulders slump a little. “You took a huge risk going behind your dad’s back to find new sponsors, but sometimes the big risks are worth it.”

We’re not talking about baseball business anymore, and we both know it.

I pick the sumo suit back up, fingering the rough edge of the seam. “What did Campbell say?”

“He didn’t have to say anything. When he didn’t see you outside the locker room, the light in his eyes sort of flickered out.”

“Dramatic much?”

She pushes my shoulder. “You know what I mean. He’s usually so smiley, but then he looked so sad.”

I drop my head into my hands. Imagining Campbell’s dejected face is pretty much the worst. I deluded myself into believing that he’d be completely unfazed by what I said to him on the phone—that I’d be the only one hurting, that it was better for him not to have to think about me.

Sometimes the biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves.

“You can fix this, you know.”

“I still have to get through the meeting with Black Keys tomorrow.” I peek at her through my fingers. “Help me?”

She grins, plotting already. “Always.”

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