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Cleat Chaser

By´╝ÜCelia Aaron

KYRIE


THE CRACK OF the bat echoed around the half-full stadium. Nikki hissed. I looked up from my Kindle and caught a glimpse of the runner speeding toward first base as every head on the field craned up to watch the ball’s flight. It soared into the stands beyond the left field wall, and the runner slowed his pace, taking each base with unabashed swagger. I returned to my book.

“That guy has been talking shit about the Ravens for the entire off season and now he gets a homerun?” Nikki took an angry bite of her hotdog, getting mustard and ketchup in her blonde locks. This was on top of the beer she’d already spilled on my jeans. The scent of fresh dirt, green grass, and popcorn mixed with the hops to create a smell that could be bottled and sold under the label “eau de ballpark.”

“Nik.” I shook my head and clicked my e-reader off. “Here.” I grabbed a napkin and wiped the condiments from her hair. “You eat a hotdog like a third-grader.”

“That’s not what Braden said last night.”

I stared at her. “You just turned a grade school insult dirty.”

She grinned and wrinkled her nose at me. “You loved it.”

I returned her grin. “I did.”

“That’s why we’re besties.” She turned back to the field.

I followed her stare as the runner rounded second base. He slowed even more as the spectators quieted. Easing down the white chalk line in the dirt, he rounded third base wide, his feet skirting the flawless emerald grass. He raised his arms in the air, egging on the crowd as he showboated his way around the field. Boos erupted from the stands.

Braden, the catcher, tossed his helmet and stepped forward, blocking home plate. The runner finally sped his pace, dashing toward the catcher.

“Oh shit, Braden’s about to get in trouble.” Nikki squealed with excitement.

My eyes widened as the runner charged right into her boyfriend, who turned at the last second and threw a shoulder into the runner’s chest. Both men tumbled to the ground.

“Get him, baby!” Nikki dragged me to my feet.

They fell into a tangle, kicking legs and swinging arms as the crowd roared. The pitcher sprinted from the mound and grabbed Braden, pulling him up and away from the angry runner. Braden was still swinging and cursing as the larger man wrapped his arm around his chest and wrenched him backward. The runner got to his feet and saw an opening. Shoving the shouting umpire aside, he swung at Braden, connecting with the side of his head.

Nikki screamed and I leaned forward, lacing my fingers through the net behind home plate. The pitcher—tall, broad, and extremely pissed off—shoved Braden aside and landed a haymaker on the runner’s jaw that sent him flying back into the dirt. His arms were still straight out when he fell. He was out cold. The crowd cheered and Nikki grabbed my arm, forcing me to jump up and down with her as she crowed.

“Way to go, Easton!” Nikki screamed.

The pitcher glanced up, took a look at Nikki, then moved his stare to me. My breath hitched. Even though he was too far away for me to see the color of his eyes or pinpoint the exact shade of his hair, I knew he was attractive. He didn’t look away, just kept his eyes on me, ignoring the yelling umpire and the bloodied Braden.

Surrounded by thousands and with Nikki screaming like a banshee at my side, it was only he and I for a brief, stolen moment. Goose bumps rose along my arms, and I dropped my eyes, breaking our connection.

The pitcher flexed his hand as the players cleared the benches. They streamed out onto the field in an angry river, spitting obscenities and sunflower seeds. Another small scuffle erupted as several players got into a shoving match. The umpires tried to break it up. The opposing coaches trotted out and argued with each other and the home plate umpire.

After several tense moments full of aggression on both sides, the umpires separated the teams. The runner was ejected from the game and it looked like Easton was about to get the boot, too. After some particularly heated words between both coaches and the home plate umpire, he was allowed to stay. The home crowd cheered as Braden and Easton bumped gloves.

Once the players and the coaches scattered, the crowd settled and the game began again. I tried to keep my eyes on my Kindle, even as the Ravens scored and the pitcher, Easton, gave up no more hits. But I kept making furtive glances to the pitcher’s mound and stared for a little too long at the enormous screen along the side of the stadium when it showed a close-up of him.

Even more handsome than I thought, he had deep blue eyes and light brown hair. He never smiled, just stalked from the dugout and did his job. The tension rose in the crowd every time he threw a pitch.

Throughout the top of the ninth, Nikki was digging her gel nails into my arm and shaking the hell out of me after the first two batters struck out. I gave up reading, especially since I’d been going over the same sentence since the bottom of the eighth. Easton drew my gaze, his form calm and collected as he nodded at Braden.

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