Perfect Pitch

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Reigning beauty queen Samantha Winger is launching her pet project, a music program for kids. All she has to do is follow the pageant’s rules—no smoking, drinking, or “cavorting” in public. That’s fine, until D.J. Thomas—God’s gift to baseball—throws her a wild pitch.  He slams her in an interview, and the video goes viral. Sam’s no shrinking violet. She parlays D.J.’s apology into a national T.V. appearance—and a very unexpected, very public kiss.

Soon, paparazzi catch the couple in a steamy make-out session, and Sam’s music program is on the block. The blazing hot relationship is threatened even more when D.J.’s son begs to trade in Little League for music class. Can Sam and D.J. sizzle past the sour notes and find their perfect pitch?

Perfect Pitch, the first volume in the Diamond Brides Series, is available as an ebook and in print. (Each volume of the Diamond Brides Series is a stand-alone hot contemporary romance and can be read on its own, without the other short novels in the series.)

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If you’d like to buy Raleigh Rockets gear, stop by Mindy’s Cafe Press Diamond Brides store!  There are T-shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, and more!

<<< Chapter 1 >>>

No good text ever arrived after midnight.

Samantha Winger’s phone buzzed against her nightstand, waking her from restless sleep. She groaned, knowing she should have turned off the buzzer. Would have turned off the buzzer, if she hadn’t been so exhausted when she’d climbed into bed.

She’d spent the day in a series of meetings, each less successful than the one before. Time was running out. She had eight weeks left to track down funding for Musicall, her fledgling charity to offer music classes to all North Carolina school kids.

Flexing her calves, Samantha tried to fall back to sleep. She had almost succeeded, when her phone buzzed again. And then, like a hornet’s nest knocked from a tree, a dozen more messages screamed for her attention. Swallowing a curse, Sam fumbled for her phone.

She squinted at the screen, trying to make sense of the jumble of letters and numbers. It was the same sequence, sent by half a dozen people. Touching the link, she automatically launched a video.

The picture was grainy—someone had clearly been filming their television. The sound wasn’t great either. But Sam could make out a good-looking guy staring at the camera, a broad smile across his face beneath his navy blue baseball cap. His close-trimmed hair was blond, and his eyes were a shocking sapphire blue. He rubbed a broad-fingered hand against the hard line of his jaw, and then he grinned.

“I get it,” he said. “I do. Everyone came to the ballpark expecting to see Braden Hart pitch. Instead, Braden’s got the flu, and the crowd ended up with me. It’s sort of like thinking you’re going out on a date with Miss America and getting stuck with the Summer Queen instead. No wonder they booed when I took the mound. But I’d like to think they felt better when I delivered a perfect game.”

The pitcher laughed and flung up his arm, fending off an icy shower of sports drink from a pair of laughing teammates. The camera angle jerked, and the video cut off abruptly.

Stuck with the Summer Queen.

Sam shivered, as if she’d received her own ice-filled shower. Another two texts arrived, and she pressed the little arrow on the screen, forcing the video to play again.

Yeah. It didn’t get any better the second time. Or the third.

Another message came in, with a new link. Catching her breath, she touched the screen, only to see the pitcher grin and laugh, over and over again, as one line looped in endless repetition: “Stuck with the Summer Queen.”

Sam tossed her phone onto the bed. Who was this guy, anyway? And why was half the world up at this hour, anyway, to forward a million links to the video?

Grabbing the crocheted afghan from the foot of her bed, Sam dragged herself into the living room. She tugged the blanket closer around her shoulders as she opened up her laptop. Typing in a quick query, she ignored the browser’s prompt offering of the two videos, along with a slew of other recordings.

DJ Thomas, that was the pitcher’s name. Daniel Junior, she quickly read, son of Hall of Fame pitcher Dan Thomas. A seven-year veteran, useful in the bullpen when they needed long relief.

Sam clicked over to social media. DJ Thomas was already a trending topic. The guy had saved the Rockets in a big way, going from boos to cheers in nine perfect innings. The story was going viral, even as she watched the screen scroll by.

Great for him. Yay for the Rockets.

Stuck with the Summer Queen.

Sam knew she should stop watching. She should go back to bed, get a good night’s sleep.

Because the morning would come far too soon. The morning, and an inevitable phone call from the North Carolina Summer Fair. Ten months into her one-year reign as Summer Queen, Sam knew exactly how the game was played. By morning, she needed to have the perfect response—funny and sweet, and absolutely, completely, one hundred percent family-friendly.

No one would expect anything less from the Summer Queen. No one would expect anything less from Samantha Winger.

 * * *

“You are so screwed.”

DJ stopped short at Zachary Ormond’s words. The Gold Glove catcher leaned against his locker, one foot up on the bench in front of him as he shook his head in mock sorrow.

DJ tightened his fingers on his son’s shoulder and pointed the boy toward the equipment room. “Go ahead, Trey. Those helmets aren’t going to polish themselves.”

“Aw, Dad. Do I have to?”

He squelched the automatic flare of frustration. When he’d been a kid, he’d loved every minute he’d spent in the clubhouse—polishing helmets, lining up cleats, organizing the bats for every player on his father’s team. DJ had seen every day as another chance to prove himself to his father. He might not have been allowed to play on the major-league field—yet—but he’d been damn sure he was the best batboy the team had ever seen.

It never would have crossed DJ’s mind to backtalk when he was ten years old. Especially not with another player watching. “Trey,” he warned.

The kid actually had the nerve to flash a pleading smile toward Ormond. But the catcher shrugged and nodded toward the helmets. Trey sighed as if he’d been told to hike the entire Appalachian Trail with a hundred-pound pack on his shoulders, but he headed off to his chores. DJ waited until his son was out of earshot before he asked, “What the hell?”

Ormond jutted his chin toward a newspaper, folded on the bench by his foot. “Check out Life.”

DJ dug out the relevant section.

“Page three,” Ormond said helpfully.

DJ flipped the paper open. His attention was immediately claimed by a full-color photograph of a hot red-head, her long hair framed by some sort of diamond crown thing. Her green eyes glistened like she was about to cry, but the grin on her full red lips made it clear any tears she shed would be for joy. Her shoulders were bare; he could just make out the neckline of some fancy dress.

Crown. Tears. Dress.

“Oh, shit,” he said.

“Meet Samantha Winger,” Ormond said. “North Carolina’s reigning Summer Queen.”

DJ skimmed the brief text of the story—his name, picked out in bold, next to the beauty queen’s name. There was a one-line summary of last night’s game, and DJ’s quip from the on-field interview. The last line in the article slipped a sliver of ice into his chest: “Miss Winger could not be reached for comment before press time.”

“Shit,” he said again.

Ormond laughed. “With any luck, the front office won’t even notice,” he said.

Back in Coach’s office, a phone began ringing. DJ glanced at Samantha Winger’s picture again, and he swallowed hard. His lips were dry, as if he’d just finished running some sort of marathon. Maybe he could duck into the equipment room, help Trey with the helmets. With the shoes, too. And maybe there were a few thousand loads of laundry to do. Anything to avoid answering to Coach about the article.

Right. Like that was going to happen. Inevitably, the door to Coach’s office opened, and Mac, the pitching coach, stuck out his head. “Junior!” he barked, and DJ snapped to attention. “They want to see you upstairs. Now.”

DJ scrambled for an excuse. “I was just about to watch film from last night’s game.”

“Now!” Mac said, slamming the door before DJ could even begin to think of another delaying tactic.

“You poor bastard,” Ormond said, shaking his head.

“What do you think they want?” DJ pulled his eyes away from the photo of the woman he had insulted in front of every baseball fan in North Carolina. Damn. They’d had the national broadcast last night. Every baseball fan in the country.

“You poor, poor bastard,” was the only answer Ormond offered. The catcher’s laughter followed DJ out of the locker room.

<<<>>>

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