killer curves
THE SINS OF HIS PAST
Silhouette Desire
ISBN 0373767021


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the sins of his past

Only once before could Deuce Monroe remember being speechless. When he’d met Yaz. He’d shaken the great man’s hand and tried to utter a word, but he’d been rendered mute in the presence of his hero, Carl Yastrzemski.

But standing in the warm April sunshine on the main drag in Rockingham, Massachusetts, staring at a building that had once been as familiar to him as his home field pitcher’s mound, he was damn near dumbstruck.

Where was Monroe’s?

He peered at the sign over the door. Well, it said Monroe’s. With no capital “M” and a sketch of a laptop computer and a coffee mug next to it. But the whole place just seemed like Monroe’s on steroids. In addition to taking up way more space than he remembered, the clapboard had been replaced by a layer of exposed brick covered in ivy, and three bay windows now jutted into the sidewalk.

At least the old mahogany door hadn’t changed. He gripped the familiar brass handle, yanked it toward him and stepped inside.

Where he froze and swallowed a curse. Instead of the familiar comfort of a neighborhood bar, there was a wide-open area full of sofas and sunlight and...computers?

Where the hell was Monroe’s?

The real Monroe’s – not this...this cyber salon.

He scanned the space, aching for something familiar, some memory, some scent that would embrace him like his long lost best friend.

But all he could smell was...coffee.

They didn’t serve coffee at his parents’ bar. Ice cold Bud on tap, sure. Plenty of whiskey, rum and even tequila, but not coffee. Not here, where the locals gathered after the Rock High games to replay every one of Deuce’s unpredictable but deadly knuckleballs. Not here, where all available wall space was filled with action shots from big games, framed team jerseys, and newspaper clippings touting his accomplishments and talent. Not here, where –

“Can I help you, sir?”

Deuce blinked, still adjusting to the streaming sunlight where there shouldn’t be any, and focused on a young woman standing in front of him.

“Would you like a computer station?” she asked.

What he’d like is a Stoli on the rocks. He glanced at the bar. At least that was still there. But the only person sitting at it was drinking something out of a cup. With a saucer.

“Is Seamus Monroe here?” Not that he expected his father to be anywhere near the bar on a Tuesday morning, but he’d already tried the house and it was empty. Deserted-looking, actually. A little wave of guilt threatened, but he shook it off.

“Mr. Monroe isn’t here today,” the young lady beamed at him. “Are you the new software vendor?”

As if.

He sneaked a glimpse at the wall where mom had hung his first autographed Nevada Snake Eyes jersey at the end of his rookie season. Instead of the familiar red number two, a black and white photograph of a snow-covered mountain hung in a silver frame.

“Do you have a phone number where I can reach him?”

She shook her head. “I couldn’t give you that, I’m sorry. Our manager is in the back. Would you like me to get her?”

Her? Dad had hired a female manager?

Then a little of the tension he’d felt for the last few weeks subsided. This was the right thing to do. It took a career-ending injury caused by monumental stupidity, but coming home to take over the bar was definitely the right thing to do.

Obviously, someone had already exploited his father’s loss of interest in the place and made one too many changes. He’d set it all straight in no time.

“Yeah, I’ll talk to her,” he agreed.

She indicated the near-empty bar with a sweep of her hand. “Feel free to have a cup of coffee while I get Ms. Locke.”

Locke?

That was the first familiar sound since he’d arrived in Rockingham. He knew every Locke that ever lived in this town.

In fact, Deuce had just had an email from Jackson Locke, his old high school buddy. A typical ‘what a jerk you are’ missive laced with just enough sympathy to know Jack felt Deuce’s pain for ending a stellar baseball career at only thirty-three years old. Jack’s parents had moved to Florida years ago...so that left Jack’s sister, Kendra.

Deuce swallowed hard. The last time he saw Kendra was the week he’d come home for his mother’s funeral, about nine years ago. Jack’s baby sister had been...well, she’d been no baby then.

And Deuce had been a total chicken scum-bag and never called her, not once, afterwards. Even though he’d wanted to. Really wanted to.

But it couldn’t be Kendra, he decided as the hostess scooted away. Back then Kendra was weeks away from starting her junior year at Harvard. Surely the Hahvahd girl with a titanium-trap brain and a slightly smartass mouth hadn’t ended up managing Monroe’s. She’d been on fire with ambition.

And on fire with a few other things, too.
     This Locke must be a cousin, or a coincidence.
     He leaned against the hostess stand – another unwelcome addition to Monroe’s – and studied the semi-circle of computers residing precisely where the pool table used to be.

Someone had sure as hell messed with this place.

“Excuse me, I understand you need to speak with me?”

Turning, the first thing he saw was a pair of almond-shaped eyes exactly the color of his favorite Levi’s, and just as inviting.

“Deuce?” The eyes flashed with shock and recognition.

He had to make an effort to keep from registering the same reaction.

Was it possible he’d slept with this gorgeous woman, kissed that sexy mouth that now opened into a perfect “o” and raked his fingers through that cornsilk blond hair -- and then left without ever calling her again?

Idiot took on a whole new meaning.

“Kendra.” He had absolutely no willpower over his gaze, which took a long, slow trip over alabaster skin, straight down to the scoop neck of a tight white T-shirt and the rolling letters of Monroe’s across her chest. All lower case.

The letters, that was. The chest was definitely upper case.

A rosy tone deepened her pale complexion. Her chin tilted upward, and those blue eyes turned icy with distrust. “What are you doing here?”

“I came home,” he said. The words must have sounded unbelievable to her too, based on the slanted brow of incredulity he got in response. He took another quick trip over the logo, and this time let his gaze continue down a tiny waist and skin tight jeans hugging some seriously sweet hips.

He gave her his most dazzling smile. Maybe she’d forgiven him for not calling. Maybe she’d stay on and work for him after he took over the bar. Maybe she’d...

But, first things first. “I’m looking for my dad.”
She tucked a strand of sunny blond hair behind her ear. “Why don’t you try Diana Lynn’s house?”

Diana Lynn’s House? What the hell was that? Had he gone to assisted living or something? “Is she taking care of Dad?”

That earned him a caustic laugh. “I’ll say. Diana Lynn Turner is your father’s fiancée.”

“His what?” Men who had pacemakers put in a year ago didn’t have fiancées. Widowed men with pacemakers, especially.

“His fiancée. It’s French for bride to be, Deuce.” She put a hand on her hip like a little punctuation mark to underscore her sarcasm. “Your dad spends most of his days – and all of his nights – at her house. But they’re leaving tomorrow morning for a trip, so if you want to see him, you better hustle over there.”

Deuce had been scarce for a lot of years, no doubt about it. But would his father really get engaged and not tell him?

Of course he would. He’d think Deuce would hate the idea of Seamus Monroe remarrying. And he’d be right.
“So, where does this Diana Lynn live?”

She waved her hand to the left. “At the old Swain mansion.”    

He frowned. “That run-down dump on the beach?”    

“Not so run down since Diana Lynn worked her magic.” She reached into the hostess stand and pulled out some plastic menus, tapping them on the wood to line them up. “She has a way of livening everything up.”
     Oh, so that’s what was going down. Some kind of gold digger got her teeth into the old man. He hadn’t gotten home a moment too soon.

“Don’t tell me,” he said with a quick glance toward the pit of computers to his right. “She’s the mastermind behind the extreme makeover of the bar.”

“The bar?” She slid the menus back into their slot and looked in the opposite direction – toward the bar that lined one whole wall. “Well, we haven’t been able to close long enough to rip the bar out yet.”

He didn’t know what word to seize. We or rip or yet.

“Why would you do that?”

She shrugged and appeared to study the bank of cherry wood that had been in Deuce’s life as long as he’d lived. He’d bet any amount of money that the notches that marked his height as a toddler were still carved into the wood under the keg station. “The bar’s not really a money maker for us.”

Us, was it? “That’s funny,” he said, purposely giving her the stare he saved for scared rookies at the plate. “Most times the bar is the most profitable part of a bar.”

His intimidating glare didn’t seem to work. In fact, he could have sworn he saw that spark of true grit he’d come to recognize right before some jerk slammed his curve ball into another county.

“I’m sure that’s true in other business models,” she said slowly, a bemused frown somehow just making her prettier. “But the fact is, the bar’s not the most profitable part of an Internet café.”

He choked a laugh of disbelief. “Since when is Monroe’s an Internet café?”

“Since I bought it.”

He could practically hear the ball zing straight over the left field fence, followed by a way-too familiar sinking sensation in his gut.