Hard and Fast (Locker Room Diaries)(3)

By: Kathy Lyons

The Bobcats had a real chance of going all the way this year. The pieces were in place. And if no one got hurt or stupid, it was a real possibility. We really could do it. Assuming my knees didn’t crap out. Or my very young teammates didn’t flake out. Speaking of which, where was our quick-as-lightning shortstop Jake, along with my cousin Ellie? They were supposed to have been here a half hour ago to take some of the media spotlight off of me.

Most guys loved it when they got press. Me? I hated every bit of it. It always felt like I was either supporting a lie—Oh yes, I love being a sex symbol—or creating a lie—I’m fit, I’m healthy, and my knees will last forever.

And speaking of uncomfortable problems, here came another one. Gia Kubic slipped into the room. She was the Bobcats’ perky publicist and the epitome of the awkwardness that defined my life.

My sister hated Gia. You’d think that since the two women had the same goal—making me look good—that they’d work well together. Nope. I wasn’t sure if Sophia was simply territorial or if she hated that I’d kissed Gia almost two years ago on New Year’s Eve, but she definitely had it in for Gia. In my defense, I didn’t realize Gia was a Bobcats employee. I thought she was our host’s neighbor. Either way, it wasn’t strictly against the rules, but it wasn’t a good idea, either.

Sophia had started on her “Gia sucks” campaign on January 1. She’d been at the party the night before and had let me know she’d witnessed my lapse in judgment. As nice as the kiss had been, Sophia was right about one thing—Gia did screw with my concentration. So from then on, I’d made it a point to keep myself as far away as possible from her.

And yet here she was, slipping into my interview with an apology on her beautiful face.

Damn it. That meant Jake and Ellie weren’t coming. I gave her a glare, even though I still smiled for the reporter. And I watched as her mouth softened in a depressed sigh. I knew she felt bad. It wasn’t her fault that Jake had bailed. But Gia had promised I wouldn’t be the only player in the spotlight today. And yet, here I was, all alone in front of the camera.

Don’t shoot the messenger.

I said that to myself a lot these days. Along with Play the game. Smile for the camera. And Publicity is a necessary evil.

Why, oh why did someone as smart and sexy as Gia have to make a living creating false images of people? Why did I want to shake some sense into her every time I saw her? And why was it that every time she opened her mouth, I wanted to stop her words with my lips? Answer—because I was a masochist. Because I liked hurting myself with memories of a single fantasy kiss on New Year’s Eve.

I was still lost in thinking about Gia—and our one kiss—when my sister noticed where my attention had gone. Damn it, I needed to be more careful. Normally, my sister was a smart publicist, but she got a bit irrational whenever Gia was around. And given that Sophia was already in a bad mood because her assistant had skipped town, this situation was ripe for disaster.

“Well?” Sophia demanded, interrupting the interview. “Where’s Ellie and that guy with the silly position? Jake, the shortstop.”

I winced. Good God, shortstop was one of the most vital positions in baseball, and she’d just demonstrated her ignorance of the game. Meanwhile, I watched as Gia’s face tightened. I could see she was biting back an angry retort. Unlike my sister, she knew how important Jake was to the Bobcats’ chances of winning the pennant.

“Um,” Gia said, as she smiled warmly at the redheaded interviewer. “I think it’s better if we just focus on Connor. This is his third year at the All-Star Game. He’s practically an institution, but he’s so modest, he rarely talks about himself. Why don’t you ask him about that behind-the-back catch he did last year? He’s been practicing it, just in case.”

The interviewer gave me a skeptical look, but was game. The diversion would have worked if my sister wasn’t insane when it came to Gia.

“You mean you screwed up and Ellie’s not coming,” Sophia growled. “Good God, how incompetent can you be? Connor, we’re done here,” she said, snapping her purse shut loudly. “I’ve got real publicity lined up and not this waste—”