Most days she loved her job as the publicist for the Hot Zone, an offshoot of her uncle's sports agency that she copartnered with her sisters. And then there were days like these when she wondered why she always ended up handling the more high-maintenance players instead of turning them over to one of her sisters. Even if this high-maintenance player had ended up being her best guy friend.

Micki already knew the reason Annie and Sophie delegated the tougher athletes to her. You’re like one of the guys, Micki, and they respect you for it. She shook her head in frustration that had been building for a while, but she'd have to worry about her own image later. Right now she was worried about her client's.

'Hey, Micki,' one of the players called as she passed the first row of half-naked men and their open lockers.

She waved and kept walking, keeping her gaze straight ahead. When people asked how Micki could be so at ease around a men's locker room, she always countered with how could she not be comfortable since it was the atmosphere in which she'd grown up?

Micki had been eight, Annabelle twelve and Sophie ten when their parents had passed away. From then on, their uncle had provided them with the only stability they'd known. As the oldest, Annabelle had taken over as the mother figure and mediator whenever Micki and Sophie bickered, which had been often.

In an effort to keep their small family together, Annabelle had kept them both in line and attended to everyone's needs, often at the expense of her own. As a result, Annie had been close with both of her siblings but Micki and Sophie's relationship had always been more distant.

While Annabelle and Sophie had been girlie girls, Micki had latched onto Uncle Yank, tailing after him everywhere he went. Locker rooms included. Growing up with her sisters, Micki had been the odd girl out, a pattern that had continued in school, where she found herself trying to keep up with the boys, playing sports and challenging them with her knowledge of all games. In fact her comfort level never faltered with the opposite sex-as long as dating wasn't involved. Then Micki became out of her element all over again.

'Hi, Mick,' Juan Sierra said, flicking her playfully with a towel and reminding her of her mission to find her client.

'Where's Roper?' she asked him.

'Holding court at his locker.' Ricky Carter, the backup center fielder jerked a finger toward the back of the room, answering a question she hadn't directed his way.

Micki and Carter had never been formally introduced but she'd heard plenty about his cocky personality. She'd also caught wind of his certainty that he'd replace Damian Fuller by the end of the season. Micki held back a snort. She'd pay good money to see Ricky Carter fry to take on the team captain and come out whole. If Carter was lucky, he'd only be knocked down a few pegs. If he pushed too hard, he'd probably end up back in Triple-A.

That's how much his teammates respected Damian Fuller. That's how much his fans loved him as did most women, Micki thought wryly. Herself included.

Especially since their New Year's Eve kiss six months ago. She closed her eyes and could almost feel the star center fielder's lips on hers. It had begun as Micki's attempt to take him outside and sober him up before he made a scene destined to hit the papers. And it had ended up a kiss that had shaken her world and shown her what she was missing in her all-work, no-play life. Unfortunately, he'd either been too drunk to remember Micki's magic moment, or the kiss had meant so little to him he'd put it out of his mind. Worse, maybe he wanted to forget.

And why wouldn't he? The man was only seen with gorgeous women. The models, actresses, and even Playboy bunnies he dated were all well-endowed arm candy. All unlike every guy's pal, Micki Jordan. And so she'd been tiptoeing around the secret kiss and its effect on her ever since. Because that kiss had shifted Micki's perception of her world and forced her to face the unfulfilled feeling she had about her life.

Even Uncle Yank sensed she'd grown more edgy and restless lately and had begun to ask why. She didn't want to hurt him and so she refused to admit the truth. That Damian Fuller was the one man who made her wish she'd spent less time with her uncle and his friends and more time with her sisters as they'd locked themselves in the bathroom, laughing, giggling, putting on makeup and talking about boys.

Hanging out with Uncle Yank hadn't prepped Micki for flirting with men nor had it taught her how to be one of those females who automatically caught a man's attention in the ways that counted. Damian was drawn to overtly feminine women and his reaction to Micki or lack thereof, reduced her to feeling worse than an awkward teenager.

She tried to hide her frustration with herself and her lack of feminine abilities, and as long as she didn't deal directly with Damian face-to-face, she'd be successful. It helped that the Renegades players were generally Annabelle's clients and Micki could avoid the sexy center fielder.

Leave it to John Roper to misbehave and put her directly in temptation's path. So far though, she hadn't seen any signs of Damian and since she hadn't tripped or fallen over a bench, Micki figured he wasn't anywhere around.

She followed Carter's direction and found Roper freshly showered and joking around with reporters. She halted behind them and waited, not wanting to read him the riot act in front of the press and cause any more problematic headlines.

The New York press was an entity unto itself, creating celebrities out of athletes and saving headlines for the players' personal lives. Like their crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees, the Renegades players knew how to work the media and enjoyed keeping their names in the papers. None more than Damian Fuller, who frequently graced not only the sports sections but the gossip columns. His headlines kept him alive and vibrant in the public eye. If Damian had a slump, the fans came to cheer him out of it. He was a huge stadium draw and a necessary commodity to team management. Noting which woman he had on his arm, how often he'd dated her and when he'd move on was every New York columnist's favorite pastime. The difference between Roper and Damian was that Damian's press was always flattering.

As a friend, Roper was the best. As a client, the man was the ultimate pain in the butt. He'd hired her to help him maintain a masculine image yet he did everything possible to screw with her plan. He obviously liked the attention he received when he did something metro-sexual and outrageous, but they'd been over and over the need for him to keep a low-maintenance profile, and keep the media's focus on his baseball game.

'We're meeting in ten minutes, so wrap up the interviews.' Coach Donovan's voice boomed throughout the locker room and Micki knew she had a short time to knock some sense into Roper's head.

She cleared her throat and stepped into the crowd. 'I think Roper's finished answering questions for today,' she said, asserting her authority.

He scowled. 'But I was just-'

'Shutting the hell up,' a familiar masculine voice drawled. 'Unless you want your publicist to kick your ass,' Damian Fuller said, laughing.

His deep tenor sent Micki's body into sensory over load-her skin suddenly grew hot and prickly, her breath became heavy and her stomach churned with excitement. It might have been easy to ignore the other half-dressed men in the room, but not this man.

She tensed as Damian strode forward, sexy and sure. Freshly showered, he wore a towel hung low on his hips, revealing a tanned, muscular chest. His coarse hair had just the right sprinkling of gray.

Her breath caught and her throat grew dry. She was totally aware of all six foot three inches, 215 pounds of him. In a weak moment the day after she'd kissed those sculpted lips, threaded her fingers through that thick brown hair and scraped her cheeks against his short, scruffy beard, she'd read the stats Annie had in her press folder on number twenty-two.

Just thinking about that moonlit New Year's Eve turned her on all over again. She cleared her throat and glanced into Damian's chocolate-brown eyes but he barely acknowledged her presence. Her stomach plummeted and her heart squeezed painfully in her chest, yet somehow she maintained her composure. Micki schooled her expression so that nobody would view her disappointment or realize she'd been hurt.

'Sorry, people. No more questions for today.' Roper's voice drew her attention as he deferred to his captain and called an end to the impromptu press conference.

Before the media took off, Ricky Carter sauntered up to Roper and slung an arm over his shoulder. 'I guess good old Fuller's right about you, Roper. You're afraid your publicist will string you up by your-'

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