Home > The Game Changer (The Perfect Game #2)

The Game Changer (The Perfect Game #2)
Author: J. Sterling

Not a Dream


I opened my eyes the next morning, half terrified that it had all been a dream… albeit a beautifully hot, sweet, romantic dream. My gaze quickly fell on Jack, sprawled on the bed next to me, looking so content as he slept. The mere sight of him made my heart beat in double time, and I resisted the urge to wake him for round two. Or was it three? All the emotions from last night jumbled within me and before I could fully process them, I realized I actually felt happy. Apparently happiness had been eluding me for months now.

My new reality flooded my brain. Jack had appeared at my door last night after six months of no communication wearing a Mets jersey and holding a dozen red roses. He looked me in the eye and told me he was sorry, that he loved me, and that he would earn my trust again. I couldn’t believe he was standing there, and it took everything in me to not fall apart at the mere sight of him. I wanted to take him back into my life, but I needed to know that this time it would be forever.

And now he was lying next to me in bed. I had questions about why it took him so long to get here and why he never contacted me, but honestly, at that moment, none of it mattered.

At least, that’s what I tried to tell myself.

My questions could wait, but I knew they couldn’t wait for long. I didn’t have it in me to let things slide without an explanation. And honestly, Jack still had a lot of explaining to do.

Slowly, I rolled out of bed, trying not to wake him. I had just put my feet on the floor when he flung his strong arms around my waist, pulling me back into bed.

“And where do you think you’re going?” Jack breathed against my neck.

“Wherever I want, it’s my apartment,” I fired back with a laugh.

“I didn’t say you could leave the bed.” He sounded so determined, I couldn’t help but snicker.

“I don’t need your permission,” I shot back, and he rolled on top of me before kissing the tip of my nose.

“You have no idea how much I’ve missed your feisty attitude.”

“Well, I haven’t missed the way you try to kill me with your body weight. Ugh, get off.”

“I’m trying.” His face twisted in a devilish smirk as he slid his hand up the length of my bare thigh.

I swatted his shoulder before rolling my eyes. “You’re such a pig.”

“Yep. But I’m your pig.” He leaned down, pressing his lips against mine. Instinctively, I turned my head from him, narrowing my lips into a tight, impenetrable wall. Jack leaned away from me, rolling onto his side. “What’s wrong?”

I smiled, covering my mouth with my hand. “I can’t kiss you like that in the morning. I have to brush my teeth first.”

He nodded his head in agreement. “You do smell like a dragon.”

My jaw fell open, but I quickly snapped it closed, trying my best to breathe as little as possible. “I do not. Shut up!”

He laughed, and I lost myself in his gorgeous dimples. I’d missed those.

“I’m kidding, Kitten. You smell like roses.”

“How I ever missed your annoying attitude is beyond me.”

“No, it’s not. This is what we do. You’re a pain the ass, and I put up with you.”

“Oh. My. God.” I pushed myself up from the bed, throwing him my best dirty look before I scurried out the door.

“I’m teasing! You’re a f**king angel for putting up with my shit.”

“That’s right, I am, and don’t you forget it!” I shouted from the hallway.

I brushed my teeth in my tiny, one-person bathroom before returning to the bedroom. Jack hadn’t moved a muscle. His blue eyes locked on mine, sending chills of anticipation shooting through my veins. It was crazy how I both loved and hated the effect he had on me. I hated the way he knew what he did to me. But I loved the way he made me feel.

I should probably seek psychiatric help.

Holding back a sigh, I sat on the edge of the bed before reclining on my side and turning to face him.

“What’s the matter, Kitten?” He furrowed his brows, two lines forming between them.

“Nothing,” I lied.

“I know you better than that, Cass. What is it?”

“I just wanted to ask you something.”

“Anything,” he said, his tone sincere.

I hesitated, unsure if I wanted to broach this subject already. He had just gotten here. I had just taken him back. But my mind was relentless. It wouldn’t stop with the constant demand for answers, and I knew I’d never fully be content until I had them. “What happened after I left California to come to New York?”

“What do you mean?”

“Come on, Jack. It took you six months to get here. Six months!” My tone sounded harsher than I intended, and I watched as he shifted his gaze away from mine. He exhaled slowly and ran his hands through his dark hair.

“I’m sorry, Jack. I just need to talk about this, or I’ll bury it inside me and eventually explode.”

He looked at me, a small, rueful smile on his face. “No, you’re right. You deserve answers.”

“Do we have time? I mean, do you have to go the field today?” After all, he was a professional baseball player, and the season was in full swing.

“The team’s on the road. They flew me here to get settled instead of flying me there. I have to report in tomorrow morning at ten.”

“OK. So, we can talk about this now then?” My pulse raced as nerves filled my body. Jack was here, with me, in my bed. He loved me, and he’d never stopped. So, why was I so nervous?

“What happened after I left for New York?”

“Do you want a play-by-play for the entire six months? I might end up boring you back to sleep.”

I rolled my eyes, and he frowned. “Just tell me the good parts.”

“If this were a story filled with good parts, Kitten, I would have been here a long time ago,” he teased, reaching out to caress my cheek with his thumb.

I leaned into his hand and closed my eyes, lost in the comfort his touch provided. “I meant the parts that made you take so long. Give me the CliffsNotes version,” I asked softly, unsure of what words would follow.

Jack snuggled me against him, and began to tell me the story.

And just like that, she was gone. But not before saying the two f**king words that plagued my nightmares. This girl always asked me to “prove it,” to prove my love and devotion for her. I deserved it after everything I put her through. She didn’t trust me anymore.

I wouldn’t trust me either.

It’s ironic though, right? That I was the one left standing all alone in a parking lot that time. I swear if my heart could have leaped out of my chest and into my hands, it would have. I imagined that for a moment… the blood trickling through my fingertips, splashing onto the concrete below as I watched it slowly pound out its last beats before stopping altogether.


My life does not make sense without this girl. And now she’s gone.


How is it that I’m always losing her?

I unbuttoned my game jersey and let it fall around the top of my uniform’s sliding pants. I glanced behind me toward the apartment door at the top of the stairs and slowly started to make my way there, my cleats clanging loudly on the pavement with each step. I wasn’t ready to go back to the hotel with my team. Not right then. They’d be celebrating the night’s win, and I needed to grieve the night’s loss.

The vision of Cassie disappearing from view in that taxi played over and over again in my mind. I closed my eyes, willing the hateful image to disappear. The sound of feminine laughter and my brother’s familiar voice woke me from my Cassie-filled daze.

“Oh shit. Jack?” Melissa’s sympathy came through loud and clear, both in her eyes and in her tone.

I glanced up at Cassie’s best friend standing on the stairs with my little brother. Dean was only a couple years younger than I was, but he’d always be little to me, even if he did almost match my height. My eyes were heavy, my head pounded, and I simply nodded.

“Come on, bro, let’s get you inside.” Dean wrapped an arm around my back and propelled me up the cement staircase as Melissa unlocked the front door to her apartment and stepped inside.

“Did you see her?” she asked, tossing all her crap on top of the kitchen table.

“I saw her,” I responded coolly, adding my hat to the mess as I dropped into a chair at the table.

“Well, what the hell happened? What did she say?” she demanded, gesturing wildly.

“She left.” I shrugged. “She’s moving to New York.”

“Well, of course she’s moving to New York,” she said, her voice turning cold.

Dean placed a hand on my shoulder, before explaining, “Melissa just means that Cassie has to start living her life for herself. She has to make decisions that have nothing to do with you.”

The words hurt like hell. I jerked my head up, glaring at my little brother. “I know that. You think I don’t know that?”

“Do you? Do you really, or did you think she’d just leap into your arms and you’d live happily ever after?” Dean shot back, his voice filled with accusation.

A quick huff ripped from my lips, and I smiled sheepishly. “I thought there might be some leaping,” I admitted, shrugging one shoulder.

Melissa’s usually sweet mouth twisted into a snarl. “That’s bullshit, Jack. You expect her to give up her career because you asked her to?”

“I didn’t ask her to give up her career. I just figured she’d at least talk to me. Postpone her flight. Give me a f**king chance.”

“Like the way you gave her a chance before you married that skank?”

“Melissa,” Dean chastised softly, touching her arm in a way that somehow managed to erase the anger from her face.

My chest tightened and my jaw clenched as Melissa’s assumptions pierced me like the daggers they were. “You think it didn’t f**king kill me to leave Cassie that night? All I wanted to do was stay with her, beg for her forgiveness and—”

“But you didn’t! You didn’t stay with her. You left her crying in a parking lot alone while you left with that bitch!” Melissa screamed as she released every ounce of frustration she’d built up on behalf of Cassie, her recrimination drilling into my skull and my heart.

“I know what I did!” I shouted back, my neck throbbing. “You think I don’t f**king know what I did? I have to live with it every second of every day. I f**ked up, OK? We all know I f**ked up!” I slammed my palms against the table and watched as some loose change rattled and rolled onto the carpet below, bringing back memories of my first date with Cassie. My mind filled with the image of her sitting across from me in that small booth in the back of the restaurant. I remembered pulling the paper bag from my jacket and pouring the quarters out onto the tabletop, proud of my cleverness, as several rolled onto the tiled floor below. All of the memories that used to bring me joy now filled my heart with pain.

“It’s not enough to just know what you did if you want to make it right. You have to know what it did to her,” Melissa said, her voice starting to soften.

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