The Sweet Spot

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Helen Anne texted Giovanni—three times—and when he didn’t answer, she stalked to the weight room to peek through the rectangular window, where several guys where working out. She recognized most of them by their faces. But the guy with his back to her, the guy with a complicated maze of muscles rippling and flexing beneath his bare, bronze skin—she recognized him by something else, something that fluttered in her stomach and stuttered in her breath. Sweet Jesus.

“Helen Anne?”

Her heart skipped a beat as she turned to face the statuesque African-American woman standing behind her.

Pauly Byrne, the Aces’ pitcher and only female playing in the Independence League, wore a workout bra, basketball shorts, and a genuine smile. “How are you? It’s good to see you again.”

They’d been in shared company a few times over the last two years, and every time Helen Anne struggled to reconcile this model-caliber beauty with the take-no-prisoners beast who took the mound. “It’s good to see you too. Are you excited for the season?”

“Pumped,” Pauly said, and then she glanced behind Helen Anne to the weight room. “Were you waiting for someone? Is Sam in there?” But then she noticed Helen Anne’s yoga pants, Aces’ T-shirt, and running shoes, and her smile broadened. “Or are you here to work out?”

“No. I, uh, well, I’m actually … I need to talk to Giovanni Caceres,” she said. “He’s supposed to be dancing with me in a school fundraiser.”

“That’s awesome!” Pauly reached behind Helen Anne and pulled open the door, before Helen Anne had the good sense to stop her. “Gio, you have a visitor.”

Pulsing music filtered into the hallway, and way too many pairs of eyes flashed in Helen Anne’s direction, including Giovanni’s. His blank face clouded the minute he saw her.

Great.

“Thank you.” Helen stepped aside so Pauly could enter the gym, and when she did, Giovanni exited. Without his shirt.

The flutters in her stomach rose to the base of her throat, but they were balanced out by an annoyance building in her head. She had exactly one hour to devote to dancing before she needed to head home, shower, and be at the bookstore for a shift change. “You forgot, didn’t you?”

He was clean-shaven like he’d been the other day, tan without effort, and his lips were perfectly shaped and pleasantly pink. His coppery brown eyes crinkled as he smiled, and she gave in to impulse, stealing a peek at his chest. Chiseled, defined, and glistening with sweat. Yowza.

“What can I say?” His smile turned arrogant with the knowledge she’d been checking him out. “I was really into my workout.”

Wait a minute. Did he just pulse his pecs? Ick.

Helen Anne steeled her gaze. “I know between my sister and the windshield, you’ve been cornered into dancing with me, but this fundraiser is important to a lot of people, especially the kids, a lot of whom look up to you. If you can’t be serious about helping someone other than yourself, then forget about it. I’ll find somebody better.” She turned to leave.

“Wait.” His brusque voice stopped her mid-step. “There’s no way in hell you’re going to find somebody better than me.”