Safe at Home

Safe at Home

A No Ordinary Family Novel - Book 2

Single mom, Megan Ross, loves her job with the Houston Astros. Handling player promotion, press relations, community events provides a steady salary so she can support her young son and herself. She’s shaken, however, when top management hands her a tough assignment--sweetened with a financial bonus.

Her mission: Brian Delaney. Help the staff get this starting pitcher to be consistent on the mound. Which is tough to do when she thinks he’s a total screw-up, just like her ex-husband. Her unique background, however, might help make it happen. Still, it’s a long shot. And she’d sweat for every dollar of that tempting bonus if she takes Brian on.

Talented Brian Delaney loves the game, the fans and having a good time. He can also pitch and thinks he’s in control. But sometimes, the past catches up with him…

As for working with Megan? It’s a big joke. The woman’s like an over-wound watch, ready to spring loose. She’s been on his radar for a long time--hard to miss those fantastic legs –but he’s never made a play. Maybe his opportunity has finally arrived. The cool professional could use some shaking up. All he has to do is pitch his case and not strike out.

Chapter One

An organized mess.

Megan Ross stood behind her desk and reviewed the colored folders, calendars, lists and the dozen printouts she’d need for the coming week. She preferred blending manual and electronic methods when creating her schedules. Each worked for her, and to succeed, planning ahead was key. She needed a road map to ensure the public events for the Houston Astro players were a success every time the men interacted with their fans and supporters. If they screwed up, she’d have to make it right with all involved. She’d done that in the past—but, fortunately, mishaps didn’t often happen.

A majority of the athletes were professional in all aspects of their career. Including public relations. One or two, however… just overgrown boys. A pair of green eyes came to mind, and her mouth tightened in frustration. Brian Delaney had so much talent but was so undependable on and off the field. She never counted on him showing up for a planned event. He was just a guy riding on good looks and an arm—when he used it. She shook her head at the waste. If she ever stopped to think about what could go wrong in her job, she’d have a meltdown.

Chuckling and dismissing the idea, she sat in front of her computer and began filtering appearance requests. She loved working for the Astros, and she loved her position as Player Promotions and Events Coordinator. Adding to her good fortune was a recent opportunity for promotion to manager. More money, more responsibility. She’d updated her resume and thought she had a good shot. In her competitive world, however, she didn’t count on it.

When her desk phone rang, she saw Dave Evans’s name on the readout. The team manager. She and Dave had a good rapport, communicated well, but didn’t often overlap in their functions. Curious, she picked up the receiver and leaned back in her chair.

“Hey, Megan — come on up to my office for a minute. We’ve got a little something for you, just up your alley.”

“We? Okay, you’ve got my attention. I’ll be right there.”

In fact, she’d run. Cooperation and a positive attitude were the keys for a single mom to enjoy job security and support her son.

With a smile on her face and a laptop under her arm, Megan quickly made her way up one flight to the fifth floor of the building, historic Union Station, home of the Astros and Minute Maid Park. She waved to Carla Weston in the outer office and knocked on Dave’s doorframe as his door was open. He waved her in.

“Scott and Rick are with us today,” said Dave, nodding toward the general manager of the organization and the pitching coach.

“Now you’ve got me very curious,” said Megan, after greeting the men and taking an available chair. She was also a bit concerned. Two of the men directly coached players, while the third reported to the owner of the team. She didn’t fit in with this group.

“We’re glad you could join us,” began Dave.

“Well, of course.” She looked from one face to the other. “None of you seem too happy, so…” She gulped, a horrible thought entering her mind. “Am I in some kind of trouble?”

They all spoke at once, but she was attuned to Dave’s voice. “Not at all, Megan. In fact, just the opposite. We’ve got a little situation with the team.”

“Not with the team, with a player,” added Rick, the pitching coach.

“Which, of course, affects the team,” added Dave, rubbing his lip, an action which Megan had seen over the years.

She leaned forward, focusing on these decision-makers. “So, what can I do to help?”

“And if that isn’t the perfect opening,” said Dave.

“It’s your show,” said Scott Cohen. “I’m here only to observe. And report back to Harold. The club is not just a business to him. The man loves the game and takes an interest in every player we’ve got.”

She nodded. The team’s owner was famous for caring about every part of the organization, including the players. Maybe especially the players. But she still didn’t know where this conversation was heading.

Rick started pacing. “As I said, we’ve got a player…a lot of talent, but…” He shook his head. “I’m not getting through to him.”

“Then something’s wrong,” said Megan, “and not with you. My ear is to the ground. The pitching lineup appreciates you.”

A glance passed between the two managers. “Told ya’ she’d have a notion about it,” said Dave. “She played women’s softball at University of Texas. On scholarship, too. Made a name for herself. She knows the game.”

A lump took root in her stomach as a pair of sparkling green eyes again came to mind. She glanced from the pitching coach to Dave, the team manager. Might as well throw the elephant into the room.

“Brian Delaney,” she said.

She had fun watching their jaws drop. “Why are you surprised? He’s just as unreliable for public events as he is on the mound. I obviously have no clout with him and am certainly out of ideas. Sorry.” She began to rise.

Dave held up his hand like a traffic cop, and she sat down again. “Brian Delaney is either brilliant or a screw-up on the mound.”

True. She’d watched enough games to see both. But could a pro team afford to have a clown in the lineup? Three pair of eyes were on her. “What?” she asked. “What can I do about him?”

“We think it’s an attitude thing. Not a skill thing.” Dave steepled his hands, elbows on the desk. “We want you to…to be his handler for the rest of the season. Figure out what makes him tick, get him to show up for every practice.” The man didn’t look too happy himself when he met her eyes. “Megan, the boss upstairs has a gut feeling about the kid.”

Feelings. The sport was built on feelings. And performance, of course. She preferred the statistics route herself. “With all due respect to Mr. Weber, Brian Delaney was drafted out of college, so he’s not a kid anymore, at least not in a baseball sense. At this point, have you considered trading him? If he’s a problem that doesn’t want to be solved, you might as well cut the team’s losses.”

Dave shook his head and leaned toward her from across his desk. “We need him right now. After last night’s game, we’re down to three starters. Damn tendinitis! We’re calling up two players from the minors, of course, so we have our roster of five starting pitchers. Delaney’s one of that five and the only left-handed one we have.” He paused, stood and slapped the desk. “I repeat, we need him, Megan. It’s either now or never. Can we develop him into all that he can be on the mound, as well as help the team maintain an honorable standing in the league?”

She was being pulled under. Hope and frustration swirled through the air. Heck, they were all frustrated. But the men were looking at her for hope.

“No technical training involved,” said Rick. “I’ll handle that, but with you in my corner, we might get different results.”

“I-I’m not a miracle worker.”

Dave opened a top drawer. “Your resume’s right here. You’re smart. You’ve played the game, you majored in psychology and communications…”

She held up her hand. “But I’m not a psychologist. I just love the game! But speaking of…has he spoken with the shrink yet? Our sports doc is really good. He knows how a ball player’s mind works.”

Dave’s eyes fell. “He won’t go. Says he doesn’t have a problem. He’s doing his job.”

She jumped from her seat. “He won’t go? Just like that? For crying out loud, fine him! Maybe if he’d stop cruising the clubs every night and get some sleep, it would help. Does he think he’s Babe Ruth? That guy caroused, but when he played ball—he played to win!”

Pacing now, she wondered why she’d allowed her own emotions to kick in. Was it because she hated to see wasted talent, or something else?

“He’s paid fines twice already, without an argument,” said Rick quietly. “He’s an untapped keg of potential. If I only had the key to…” his voice trailed off.

“We’ve invested a ton of money in him,” said Scott, the general manager. “Either he comes through or I’ll recommend cutting him.” His gaze touched on each of them. “My job is telling Harold the facts and providing a well thought-out opinion. In the end, he’ll make up his own mind.”

“We don’t want to cut him.” Dave said immediately. He glanced at Megan, then looked away, then back at her. “There’s one thing he does like,” he said.

“Oh?”

“Yeah. He likes women. And he likes you.”

“Women? I can believe.” But liking her? Impossible. Brian Delaney didn’t know she was even alive. “If the players like me, it’s because I speak their language, and I don’t waste their time.” Her voice softened. “And believe me, I take their camaraderie as a big compliment. In general, the guys trust me. They come through at the hospitals, charity events…”

The three men nodded in unison, and Megan fought to hold back a chuckle at the sight. Just for the moment. The situation, itself, was not funny at all.

“We have a hunch, Megan, that you can pull this off,” said Dave. “Rick and I would totally support you.”

She studied each man now. They weren’t kidding around. She had her career to consider. The possible promotion. And her reputation as a professional within the organization. Of course, soon her resume would read: baby-sitter to spoiled brat, Brian Delaney.

“A hunch?” she repeated. “Well then, that’s the bottom line in our world, isn’t it? Hunches, feelings, superstitions, jinxes, aligned planets, auras, and lots of woo-woo.” She smiled to include herself in the observation. “I’ve lived with those ‘hunches’ all my life, too. And that fool does have oodles of talent.”

“So, you’re in?” asked Dave.

“Let’s hope his womanizing doesn’t apply to me—or I’m out.”

“Agreed.”

“By the way,” said Scott, “speaking of bottom lines. Did we mention the bonus that goes along with this special assignment?”

She sat taller. “I’m all ears, my friends.” A single mom never turned down a chance to earn overtime.

“Ten thou for the try, and another fifteen for the get. If you turn him around, Megan Ross, that’s twenty-five thousand beyond salary and holiday bonus.” The general manager was speaking for the owner. It seemed everyone was as serious as death about this ‘assignment.’

She slowly exhaled the breath she’d been holding. Their generosity was nothing to sneeze at. Her ex was totally out of the picture. A real charmer with no sense of responsibility. Not unlike Delaney, she supposed.

“We would have mentioned it earlier,” said Dave. “But we all played the same hunch on you, and we all won.” His grin stretched across his face.

She chuckled and shook her head. “Might have known.” More than ever, she felt at one with the organization. She’d earned their respect before doing a day’s work with Delaney. Now she’d have to retain it.

##

Brian Delaney glanced at his watch as he ran up the five flights to Dave Evans’s office. Three o’clock. And the game started at 7:05 that night. He took a moment to catch his breath at the top of the stairs, content with the timeframe. He’d be able to make a prearranged visit at the hospital and be back for pre-game warm up. After last night’s trouble with Travis Watson’s arm, Brian wanted to be in good form that night—for the team’s sake—in case they needed him. Actually, Brian felt awful about Travis, too. No pitcher wanted to be laid up with tendinitis. He’d come through for a friend.

He jogged to Dave’s office, called out a “yo” to Carla and stopped at the doorway to stare at the best pair of legs in Houston. So glad she often wore sundresses! Megan Ross not only had legs, she had a body, face and a personality to boot. The total package. He enjoyed rattling her.

“Hey, y’all,” he said, after knocking on the door. “Is it a party?” He turned to Megan. “Good to see you…I think. Or am I in trouble again?” He paused. “Was there a photo shoot or something I missed?”

“Nope,” she said, shaking her head, blonde hair swirling on her shoulders. “But we will be working together. Why don’t you have a seat?” She turned to Dave. “You’re up. Time to explain the plan.”

Brian didn’t like the look that passed between them, didn’t like the sound of the word “plan.” And he didn’t like the four-to-one odds. He continued to stand near the doorframe and leaned against the wall. His hand went into a pocket of his baggy cargo shorts and cupped one of the baseballs he always had with him. A habit he’d acquired since moving to Houston.

As he listened to the “plan,” he began to relax. It had to be a joke. He waited until Dave ran out of steam.

“And to think, my ears weren’t even burning as you spent all this time talking about me,” he began. “Probably because you were just having fun. So, let’s put it to rest. First of all, as lovely as Megan is, I don’t need a baby-sitter. And second,” he said, stepping further into the room, “baseball is about having fun! For the fans and the players.”

If Dave Evans’s eyes opened any wider, they’d pop out. “Do I look like I’m having fun?” the man growled.

“Well, maybe I can help you out there. Help you relax more.” Brian took the ball out of his pocket, then reached for another and a third from the opposite pocket. He tossed one ball into the air, then added the second, then the last. For thirty seconds the room was silent as all eyes watched him juggle the three balls.

“God, his eye-hand coordination is fantastic,” whispered Rick.

Brian smiled inside, kept juggling, and spoke. “I do take the game seriously. Check the stats. Don’t I have the best record in the league for fewest stolen bases allowed?” Of course, he did. Catching runners was a hoot.

He heard mumbled agreement and juggled himself toward the door. “Sorry to break this up early, but I’ve got a date…with a very special lady.” His heart squeezed for a moment as one by one, he caught each ball.

Turning at the doorway, he added, “I can’t disappoint her.” He jogged back to the stairwell.

##

Silence reigned for half-a-minute after Brian disappeared. Dave spoke first. “What just happened here? Does anyone know what just happened in here?”

“That was Brian being Brian,” said Megan. “Doing what he always does—having fun.”

“At whose expense?” asked Dave.

“And who’s the special lady?” asked Megan. “Maybe she’s the key to unlocking him.”

“No girlfriends that I know of,” said Rick. “And I’d probably know if there was someone.”

“Ditto that,” said Dave. “His whole family’s back east though. His brother’s with the Red Sox. Maybe we should’ve drafted him instead.”

“We needed a pitcher, not a fielder,” said Rick.

Interesting. She hadn’t thought about his brother or his family, for that matter. She knew little about them, had never been curious. She knew the married players’ wives and many of their children. They went to the games and most of the women played in the annual wives’ softball game each year, which she coached. But as for the single guys…she didn’t know much. They seemed more self-contained. Or maybe they just preferred keeping their private lives…private.

“I’ll leave you three to figure out the details,” said Scott, “and I’ll brief Harold on our game plan.” He turned to Megan. “Do your best, but don’t make sacrifices you wouldn’t ordinarily make.”

“Huh?”

“You’re part of the team, too, Megan. Play it safe.” He waved and left the room.

“I’ll second that. Delaney’s a playboy, so keep your guard up,” said Dave.

“You’re concerned for nothing,” said Megan. “I don’t make the same mistakes twice.”

“You’ve got a great kid, though,” said Dave. “So that wasn’t a mistake.”

“My son,” Megan began, and to her surprise, started choking up, “is the best child in the world.” A new thought struck her about this assignment. “I need to keep Delaney away from Josh.” She walked back and forth. “I’ll have to figure out...”

Dave’s hand went up again. “Slow down a minute. This whole project might not last very long at all. Think about Sandy Koufax. It took him six years — six years, Megan—before the whole game clicked for him and his brilliance on the mound showed up as no-hitters and perfect games. Brian Delaney is just about at that same point.” He looked at her and shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe…?’

She tilted her head back. “From your mouth to God’s ears, as my mom always says. With Delaney, we really will need divine help to perform an attitude adjustment or…should I say, a baseball miracle?”

“Ha! You’re right. I hope you have a direct line to the bigger boss upstairs .”

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