Relationship Status: Complicated
Professional baseball player Halo Todd doesn't like failure, but he can never turn down a challenge. Especially when there's a pretty woman involved. How else would he end up dressed as a rooster, helping a complete stranger compete on a wacky game show? Even when they're eliminated after the first round, Halo isn't about to lose the girl…
Alyn is stunned when gorgeous, generous Halo whisks her off for a dream vacation to the beachshe's been let down by friends and even family so many times, she's lost count. Later, he offers to lend a hand getting her vintage shop up and running. But his constantand ridiculouspurchases are the last thing she needs. How can she convince the stubborn man that she doesn't need his helpnot when all she wants is his heart…
Praise for Kate Angell and her novels
"Grab a beach chair, sunscreen, and a Kate Angell book for a great summer read!" Roxanne St. Claire, New York Times bestselling author
"Fast-paced. Fun characters." Lori Foster, New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
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No Breaking My Heart
By KATE ANGELL
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Kate Angell
All rights reserved.
"Be my boyfriend for one hour."
Halo Todd stared at the woman dressed in the chicken costume. At least, he assumed she was female. Feminine voice. Short in stature. Indeterminable age. She wore a padded yellow, feathered jumpsuit with orange leg covers and spiky chicken toes. The head cover had a red wattle. A sharp black beak.
Six-fifteen a.m. on a Monday morning, and she paced outside Jacy's Java, a popular coffee shop in historic Richmond, Virginia. Brick buildings and sidewalks. Gas streetlights and narrow avenues. A hint of dawn was on the horizon.
He'd purchased a double espresso in preparation for his drive south. The Rogues were about to begin spring training in Barefoot William, Florida. He played right field. It was the second week in February. Pitchers and catchers had already reported. Position players had another week.
The morning was chill. Fifty degrees. Overcast skies. A stiff wind blew from the north, ruffling the chicken's feathers.
Who the hell was she? He scratched his head, asked, "Do I know you?" He had, on occasion, slept with women and not known their names. He would have remembered a chicken.
She shook her head, and the red wattle beneath her chin quivered. "We've never met."
"Why me?" he asked. Amused. He wondered if his teammate Landon Kane was pranking him. But there was no one on the street corner other than him and the chick. No one hiding behind a parked car. No one recording a video for YouTube, as far as he could tell.
The woman clapped her hands, stomped her feet. Shivered. A few feathers flew. Apparently, the costume wasn't as warm as it appeared. "My boyfriend broke up with me last night," she said on a sigh.
Her man must not be into chickens.
Achoo. Her whole body shook. "I'm allergic to feathers."
Her jumpsuit was all feathers.
A second sneeze, and she went on to say, "You're the biggest guy to walk down the street. The last male costume for matching couples at Masquerade was an extra-large rooster. Cock-a-doodle-do me?"
His mind went to the gutter. Cock-a-doodle-do her sounded kinky. He had no idea what she looked like. Other than that the eyes visible through the slits appeared green. Her mouth was hidden beneath the beak. His curiosity got the better of him. "What's with the costume?" he asked.
"Go Big or Go Home."
"The game show?" No way, José.
"I have tickets. I stood in line for three days."
Go Big or Go Home was a popular television show. He'd watched it on occasion, during the off-season. While seated on the sofa, sipping a beer. The show got funnier as he worked his way through a six-pack. He'd be cheering for his favorite contestant when he crushed the last can in his hand.
Challengers lost their inhibitions. They made spectacles of themselves. Jumping, shouting, and waving signs to get the host's attention. Alex Xander encouraged them to riot. The louder, the crazier, the more out of control, the better. The costumed guests fed into the frenzy.
Halo had been born restless. There was no peace in his soul. He was familiar with wild and foolish. Raising hell. Sleeping around. Calling a friend for bail money. He lived in the moment. Just when he thought he'd reached the bottom of his craziness, he found there was a crazy underground garage.
Team Captain Rylan Cates constantly urged him to tone it down. To grow up. Halo had complete respect for Ry. He'd made the occasional effort. Yet acting normal never lasted long. More times than not his inner child came out to play. That kid played hard. Still, he kept at it. He'd made it an entire week without slipping. He felt mature. Momentarily sane.
A game show would flip his competitive switch. Winning was important to him, in all aspects of his life. He would have to abide by their rules. He'd have no say in the matter. The show was based on challenges as the contestants competed against each other playing various games. Some were mental; others physical.
Each day had a different theme, which varied from midway at the fair to three-ring circus, haunted house, rodeo, and jungle safari. No one knew the activity until the curtain went up. He'd be at the host's mercy. He had better things to do than parade around as a rooster.
"So, what do you say?" the chicken pressed, sounding hopeful. "Sixty quick minutes."
Quick minutes? It would be the longest hour of his life. One he could never get back.
"The television studio is six blocks east." She rolled back the orange mitt on her hand, glanced at her watch. A big-faced Minnie Mouse on a red band. She had a Disney heart. "The show films in the morning and airs in the afternoon. We have less than an hour to sign in. As it is, we'll be stuck standing in the back row."
The last row wasn't far enough away for him. "Sorry, I can't help you."
"Can't or won't?" she challenged, standing up to him. Chicken was brave.
"Won't." He was honest with her.
She pointed a hand claw at him, said, "The show's in its tenth season. This is anniversary week. Friday is for couples only. Winners in each segment take home cars, jewelry, and dream vacations. Fifty thousand dollars is the grand prize." She spread her arms wide and her chest puffed. He glimpsed the outline of her breasts for half a second. Small, high, and firm. A-cups. "Anything you'd ever want," she tempted him.
Halo wanted for nothing. He was set for life. Professional baseball had been good to him. He had a fat bank account and shrewd financial advisor. He owned the renovated lumberyard warehouse he called home. Unconventional, but comfortable, and party central for his teammates.
Construction had centered on the freight elevator that rose to the second floor. A wide balcony overlooked the lower level. He'd transformed the upper office space to bedrooms. Six total. A contractor had knocked out a section of cement wall that faced the James River and installed an enormous plate-glass window. Halo converted the loading dock to a four-car garage which housed his Hummer, TerraStar pickup truck, a 1955 red Roadster Corvette, and a forklift. His dad's forklift.
Generations of Todds had owned the lumberyard. His old man wanted Halo to manage the warehouse out of high school. Halo had resisted. He was a jock. A damn fine ballplayer. He liked the praise and attention that came with athletic ability. His sights were set on the major league.
He and his dad had argued. Their voices bounced off walls, echoed down hallways, and raised the roof. Lyle believed in legacy and family loyalty. Halo believed in himself.
He graduated high school, nabbing a sports scholarship to UCLA. The Rogues later scouted him, drafting him fourth round. He'd signed the contract. His father was livid. His only son had let him down. His mother called him selfish. Silence and separation took their toll.
In Halo's rookie year, his father had suffered a heart attack. The team was on the road, deep in a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays. Lyle passed away before Halo made it home. His mother laid blame on him. According to her, Lyle had worked himself to death. Despite his best efforts, the lumberyard was in debt when he died. Deeply so.
Halo couldn't go back; he could only move forward. He'd paid off the warehouse mortgage and all outstanding bills, then sold off the inventory. The scent of cedar and white pine, redwood and oak, were no more than a memory.
Deed in hand, he'd taken up residence. Richmond treated him well, even though his mother still held him at arm's length. The beach was his favorite vacation spot. Barefoot William on the Gulf Coast did it for him. That's where he was headed now, with a stopover in Atlanta, as soon as he walked away from the chicken.
He took a step back.
She moved forward, bobbed her head, as if to peck him.
He held up one hand, palm out, stopping her. "I'm leaving town, and have a long drive ahead."
She exhaled, shrugged, and her shoulders slumped. Defeated. Her voice was soft when she said, "Safe travels." She turned then, left him. The bottom of her orange leg covers dragged on the uneven brick sidewalk. The hem snagged on a rough, raised corner.
An unidentifiable guilt walked with him to his Hummer. He couldn't shake it. Why he felt blameworthy was beyond him, yet a part of him felt bad for her. A small, nagging part. She had tickets that would go to waste if she didn't find a partner. Couples Day was a big deal. He'd seen the advertisements on TV. The anticipation was huge.
Halo scrubbed his knuckles over the stubble on his chin. Shaving was not a priority. Not first thing in the morning. Not at noon. Not even before sex. His lovers never complained about his beard burn. He gave good orgasms. Satisfaction eased the redness on their breasts and inner thighs.
He picked up his pace as he crossed the street and climbed into his Hummer. The chicken was still visible from the corner of his eye when he keyed the engine. Then he drilled his fingers on the leather-covered steering wheel. Why was he procrastinating? That was unlike him. He made decisions on the spot. Some without forethought or consideration of possible consequences. He stuck to them.
Shifting into reverse, he backed from his parking place. Instead of heading south as he had planned, he turned east at the stoplight. Minimal traffic, so he was easily able to follow the chicken to her car.
She slowed beside a white Dodge Dart, rested her tail feathers against the hood. She leaned back, looked to the sky, appearing to pray for a hero.
Halo was no hero. Not even close. The game show would delay him. He had plans in Atlanta tonight that involved a female pilot and the penthouse suite at the Four Seasons.
He'd met Captain Susan Nolan when the Rogues played the Braves the previous season. His team and her flight crew had stayed at the same hotel. One night of hot sex, and they now hooked up whenever her flight plan crossed his. They left their clothes at the door. Walked around naked. Twenty-four hour in-house dining allowed them never to leave their room. They burned up the sheets. Checkout, and they took the elevator to the lobby. Sated, satisfied. Smiling. No strings attached.
His thoughts scrolled back to the chicken. He had his own mental game to ease his conscience. He played it now. He would circle the block, and if she were gone with his second pass, he wouldn't think twice about her. She'd be out of his life. If she still leaned against her car ... well, shit, he might reconsider wearing that rooster costume. Might.
He drove so slowly, killing time, that the cars behind him honked. More horns blared when he sat too long at a stop sign. He needed to give the chicken a chance to leave. Ten minutes later, he was certain she would be gone.
The coffee shop sat on the corner of the next block. He tapped the brake, stretching out the moment even farther. He slitted his gaze when he took a right at the light, not fully certain he wanted to witness the outcome.
A Caravan had pulled in behind the spot where her Dart had been parked. It blocked his visibility. He didn't see her immediately. In those seconds he felt an odd sense of loss, as if he'd missed out on something. Something he hadn't initially wanted, but did now. Because he couldn't have it. That was his way.
There was a flash of yellow feathers as the chicken squeezed between her vehicle and the minivan. Her costume added a roundness to her body that made it difficult to maneuver. She left feathers on the front bumper.
Relief rushed through him. Unexpected and undefined. Halo pulled his Hummer alongside her. Let it idle. The engine rumbled. He rolled down the passenger window. "Chicken," he called to her.
She glanced his way, was unimpressed. "You, again?"
"Yeah, me," he hated to admit.
"Are you lost?"
He'd found her. "Just passing by."
"This is your second pass."
She was observant. "You haven't found a partner." More a statement than a question.
She rested her feathered hip against her car door. "I've tried. I've been called silly, crazy, and told to get plucked." She sounded disappointed. "Game shows aren't for everyone. My loss."
He could help her win. There was something about this situation that sucked him in. He said, "Grab my costume and get in. I'll cock-a-doodle-do you."
She was so startled, she flapped her wings. "Why the change of heart?" she asked, as she opened her car door. She swung it wide, nearly scraping the side of his Hummer.
"Who the fuck knows?" he mumbled.
"It's a sixty-forty split, whatever we win," she said over her shoulder.
Chicken was screwing him. That didn't set well. He was about to make a fool of himself and wanted his fair share. "Why should you get more than me?" he wanted to know.
"I have the tickets." That said, she collected the rooster suit, locked her Dart, and climbed in beside him. "Gun it, Buster."
Buster? No one called him Buster
"There's a parking lot behind the studio building," she directed. "Take a left at the next alley."
The lot was packed. They circled the rows. Twice. The only remaining spaces were for compact cars. His Hummer would take up two. He'd get fined. Beside him, the chick now bounced on the passenger seat. Nervous and excited. Her feathers flew, floated to the floor mat. She sneezed. Twice.
"A van's pulling out two rows over," she noted.
He drove in that direction. Another car had also seen the parking spot. They were both headed toward it now. The Smart Car was closer....
Halo turned on the blinker, indicating the spot was his. The Hummer was big and intimidating. The Smart Car, small. Halo could see the whites of the man's eyes when he motioned Halo to take the space.
Halo pulled in, cut the engine. Then jumped out and shut the door. He flagged down the man, grabbed his wallet, and gave him fifty dollars. "Sorry, dude," he said. "Game show, and we're late."
The man stared at him. Recognition prompted his smile. "Halo Todd?" he asked.
Halo nodded, feeling uneasy. He'd hoped to enter the building, change into his costume, without any witnesses. Richmond was baseball central. The Rogues were visible in the community. He valued his fans. They paid his salary.
The man riffled through a stack of papers on the passenger seat. He passed Halo a blank envelope. "Can I get a quick autograph?" he requested.
Halo signed, Thanks for the parking place, along with his name. The man was pleased. "There are spots for compact cars near handicapped parking," he said. The man gave him a salute and headed in that direction.
The chicken was struggling to get out of his Hummer. She'd gotten in with a high hop, but it was a long step down in a bulky costume. He went to her. His hands at her waist, he lifted her to the pavement. She was a lightweight. He released her.
"Here," she said, handing him the rooster suit. "There are backstage dressing rooms inside."
He followed her into the building. Chickie walked with a purpose. Lady had wiggle. She sneezed every other step. She left a trail of tail feathers. A sign for the game show pointed toward a side door. The dressing rooms were at the end of a long hallway. Men's and Women's.
A pirate exited just as Halo entered. He dipped his head, not wanting to be spotted a second time. It dawned on him then that the chicken hadn't recognized him. Perhaps she couldn't clearly see him through her eye slits. That was a possibility. Or perhaps she didn't follow sports. A sin in his eyes. Baseball was All-American.
What did it matter? They were a couple for one hour. No more. No less. They had no plans to see each other after the show. Still, he wondered what she looked like without her costume. Male curiosity. He might never know. That bothered him a little.
A row of lockers lined the back wall in the room. He didn't need a locker. He would put on the costume over his clothes. A Henley pullover and jeans. He heel-toed his Nikes, slipped off his socks, then stepped into the white jumpsuit. Jerked it up. Grunted. It was lined and bulky. Cotton didn't stretch. He was six foot two and weighed two-fifteen. The rooster suit was too damn tight. The back zipper gapped several inches. Shit.
Off came the costume, followed by his clothes. He was fully exposed. That's when the door opened, and the chicken called in. "You ready? We only have ten minutes."
Excerpted from No Breaking My Heart by KATE ANGELL. Copyright © 2016 Kate Angell. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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