Roper rose and Yank felt the other man’s height close beside him.

“You want to know what’s bothering me? Where should I start? I could live with last year’s disaster if I thought I was definitely coming back, but we both know the shoulder’s not healing the way it should. That means my career may be shorter than we’d anticipated. Not a financial problem given my huge contract, right?”

“Unless you pissed it away…” Yank said, not at all serious.

“You know me better than that. But my family’s working hard at doing it for me.”

Yank blinked. “Ever hear just say no?

“You try telling them that.”

Yank wasn’t worried about Roper’s future. The younger man had come to him for investment advice and Yank knew he’d diversified wisely. But if his career was shortened due to injury and his family was going through his money like water, Yank could understand the man’s distress. “Slow ’em down, then,” Yank suggested.

“Yeah, I’m trying,” Roper muttered. “Do me a favor? Tell Micki I need time to myself. If she doesn’t quit worrying and sending you around to check on me, I’m going to let the Hot Zone go. Who knows? If I can’t play this season, I may not need a PR firm at all.”

Yank frowned. “Micki’s not worried about you as a client, you ass. She’s worried about you as a friend.”

“I know that,” Roper said, sounding more subdued and apologetic. “I appreciate her concern, but there’s nothing she can do unless she’s got a magic cure for the shoulder.”

Even Yank knew when to give a man space, and John Roper needed it more than Yank had realized. “I’ll make you a deal,” he said to the man he both liked and admired.

“What’s that?”

“Come to the party and I promise nobody will be talking business. You could use some time to relax. No media invited. What do you say?”

Roper remained silent for too long.

Obviously the man was tense and strung tight if he couldn’t bring himself to say he’d come to a party. “When was the last time you got laid?” Yank asked, voicing the first question that came to mind.

“None of your damn business.”

Yank chuckled at the quick answer. “Then it’s been too damn long.”

Yank had seen the symptoms in other good men, as well. Men who spent too much time alone and needed a woman in their lives. Not that he’d know…No sir, but he knew Roper needed a distraction from focusing on his World Series screwup or the start of spring training in February.

Too bad Yank had already hooked up his three nieces with solid men. But just because his girls were taken didn’t mean Yank couldn’t work his magic with Roper and another woman.

But who could he find to put up with a man who liked things orderly and neat, designer and upscale? He went through the women in his office, then smacked himself for being so dense. He should have thought of the female solution to Roper’s problems sooner.

Amy Stone, the niece of his partner, Spencer Atkins. She was feisty, pretty and single, and only an idiot could have missed the sparks between Amy and Roper at Sophie’s wedding. Roper’s date had been a bimbo but not an idiot, Yank thought, recalling the drink she’d spilled down Roper’s shirt and their immediate exit right afterward. And since Amy had just moved to the city and taken a position at the Hot Zone, she didn’t know many people in town. Yes, sir, Amy was his answer.

He didn’t intend to tell Roper, though. Yank loved surprises. “Come to the party,” Yank insisted.

“You’ll leave me alone if I do?”

Yank nodded. “Scout’s honor,” he said, raising his hand.

Roper shrugged. “Okay, then. Why the hell not?”

Yank tugged on Noodle’s leash, and as they walked out the door, Yank whistled, pleased with his handiwork.

J.D. met him by the car. “Why are you in such a good mood?”

“Because I’m not a Boy Scout and I never have been,” Yank said, laughing. John Roper was about to benefit from Yank being a lying, meddling son of a bitch.

AMY LOVED FLORIDA. SHE enjoyed the warm weather all year, the ease of never having to wear a winter jacket. It was one of the reasons she’d stayed down South instead of going away to college. She also was a person who appreciated comfortable surroundings, and her home and family in Florida represented the familiar.

Her father had died of a heart attack when she was young. But thanks to her mother and aunt, and her uncle’s frequent visits, she’d never felt alone or neglected. Still, she’d been old enough to remember her father and she’d always felt his absence in her life. While her mother was wild, spirited and free, her father had been more reserved, the epitome of good manners.

When she was a kid, she’d had some wild antics of her own, like when her father had insisted they give the puppy she’d found to the pound. Granted it was a no-kill shelter, but she’d wanted that dog, and to prove her point, she’d picketed-with signs-from the garage roof below her bedroom window. He had insisted she come down before she fell off, making his disapproval with her technique clear along with his fear for her safety. He preferred she use traditional, safe methods to make her point instead of alerting the neighbors and causing them to panic and call both him and 9-1-1.

She laughed at the memory, because it had been one of the few times she’d made use of her mother’s genes- the ones she usually kept hidden inside her. From that point on, she’d tried to please her father and rein in any wildness. Even after he was gone, Amy had never stopped trying to please him.

Being a social worker, helping out others in need, was something she knew her father would have been proud of. When she’d lost that job, thanks to one of her mother’s more outrageous stunts, she’d been devastated and she’d retreated home to lick her wounds. While there, she fell into the habit of looking out for her mother and her friends, again something her father would have approved of. She’d ended up as the social director of the seniors’ community and she had to admit the job had been a good fit for her.

But she’d spent enough time watching over her mother and she missed being with people her own age. Amy had woken up on her birthday and realized not only hadn’t she accomplished her old dreams, she’d forgotten to make new ones. Uprooting herself from the familiar was the first step in forging a new life. One that included a new career-with the Hot Zone thanks to her uncle Spencer and the generosity of the Jordan sisters in giving her a chance.

Now, on New Year’s Eve, she stepped off the elevator at the Park Avenue offices of the Hot Zone and glanced at the guests, the male ones in particular, and an immediate feeling of deja vu swept over her. Just like at Sophie and Riley’s wedding, she felt out of her element. Would she ever get used to being surrounded by buff, hot men? She hoped not, she thought, as she glanced around at her new normal.

The coat-check woman greeted her and took her jacket. A server offered her a glass of champagne, which Amy declined. She wanted a clear head for all the new faces and names she’d encounter, as well as access to her memories of those she’d already met at the wedding. Those memories were vivid. Especially the ones of John Roper and how disappointed she’d been by his deception. Of course, maybe he’d have told her about his date given more time.

And maybe he hadn’t leaned close enough to kiss her cheek, she thought, still disappointed by the outcome. No matter how much she wanted to believe he’d been as blindsided by their attraction as she’d been, that he couldn’t help but act on it, date or no date, she knew she was deceiving herself. In all likelihood, the man was exactly what he seemed to be-a guy trying to juggle more than one woman at a time.

The man was a superstar athlete, a celebrity who was probably used to women falling at his feet. Amy had grown up listening to her uncle’s stories of his famous clients. And Amy had inadvertently played the role of doting admirer. But that wasn’t who she was. Amy wasn’t into the glitz, glamour and fame celebrity brought.

She exhaled a stream of air, annoyed at herself for giving Roper any thought at all. She forced herself to focus to the holiday decorations that lingered from Christmas and the pretty silver balls hanging from the ceiling. A professionally decorated tree sat in the corner twinkling with lights that were sure to be taken down soon after the first of the year. The decor outdid anything she, her mother and aunt back in Florida had managed to set up in the clubhouse each year.


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