"Sometimes a player's greatest challenge is coming to grips with his role on the team."
In honor of March Madness, here’s an excerpt from One Night in Memphis, my latest WIP (featuring the non-alpha hero I mentioned yesterday). Here, the H/H meet for the very first time, on a basketball court, appropriately enough.
[Dakota is our heroine, Sarah her best friend. Gunnar is Sarah’s neighbor and the reason they’re at the courts in the first place. And Ethan, well, Ethan is our lovable, wounded hero…]
“Far one,” Gunnar said to Sarah, motioning as they crossed the grass. He broke into a jog and headed for a group of guys huddled in the middle of a basketball court fifty yards away.
Dakota looked around the park. Six courts, five pick-up games going on. Lots of long legs and lanky arms and sweat-soaked t-shirts stuck to muscular backs. Lots of trash talking, too, from the comments she heard around her.
They took the long way around, past a stone fountain, cheering families, bikini-clad women. Past a set of swings and some slides. Past smooth cement ramps where kids in bandanas skateboarded. Over it all, the sun beat down, its yellow face sliding toward the western horizon.
Someone whistled close by, and she turned, startled. Ten feet away, ball propped on one hip, stood a stocky, redheaded guy. Thick freckles covered both arms like a tattoo. He winked at Dakota and gave her a once-over. “Hey, good-lookin’.”
Sarah tugged at her wrist. “Ignore him. He’s an ass. He’s here every weekend, hits on anything that walks by with boobs and a pulse.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Got room for two more,” the guy called after them. “Or we’ll be over at Doc’s Pub later. You should come by.”
When Dakota looked back over her shoulder, he jerked his chin in her direction. For a moment, he looked as though he was about to say something else, when one of his friends jabbed a hand at the ball from behind him. It spurted from his grasp and rolled away.
“Hey!” The guy turned around, hands fisting.
Dakota turned back and was about to follow Sarah when a basketball bounced near her feet. It slowed as it hit the grass.
“Can you get that?”
She stopped at the voice. Still masculine, though different. Not the obnoxious rasp of the redhead. Soft-spoken, almost. Polite. Kind.
She turned, and in that moment, the world tilted under Dakota’s feet. A guy she hadn’t noticed before stood at the edge of the pavement: medium height, dark brown hair, flushed cheeks. His chest heaved as he panted with the effort of the game. He smiled, sort of a crooked grin that lit up only half his face. Still, it worked its way under her skin, until she felt her cheeks burn. For God’s sake, stop staring at him, she told herself. He’s just a guy. Ordinary. Not even that tall, or good-looking, or built. She reached down and picked up the ball, rough and rubbery under her fingers.
Dakota took a few steps in his direction. Now she could see the color of his eyes, a greenish shade that reminded her of the lake back home, in early evening when the sun was right. Those would make a girl stop and stare, she thought, a second before she saw the sadness coloring the pupils. Sadness and distance and--what else is that? She tried to read the other emotion there and failed. Maybe he isn’t completely ordinary after all.
“No problem.” She bounced the ball over to him, and he caught it on the second hop. Strong fingers, she thought, even as she told herself not to look.
He smiled again, wider this time, and something inside her lit up. “You aren’t from around here.”
“You can tell?”
“It’s your voice.”
“Oh.” She felt herself redden. “No accent?”
“A northern accent.”
“Yeah, well, I flew in today. Just visiting a friend for the weekend.” She put one hand on a hip, liking the sound of his voice. Wanting it to continue. Wanting him to come closer.
“That’s too bad.”
“That I’m visiting a friend?”
“That you’re only in town for the weekend. Memphis deserves a week or two, at least.” He studied her for a moment longer. Then one of his buddies yelled something, and he glanced back at the court. “Well, have a good time while you’re here.”
“I’ll try.” Dakota dug her toes into the grass and waited a moment, watching the way his back flexed as he jogged away. I wonder if he’ll turn around.
“D!” Sarah called. “Come on!”
Oh, well. She backed away, one slow step at a time. Good-looking, she thought, in a different way. Not the type I usually go for. But definitely good-looking. Maybe I ought to be watching that game instead of Gunnar’s…
Make sure to stop by tomorrow for Writers' Wednesday!!