Various States of Undress, page 1
Discovering true love while discovering your true self is not easy.
All strong young women who believe in themselves—this book is for you.
A special shout-out to my amazing former theater students,
who are living life on their own terms.
I did that too, so I’m not a bit jealous of you now . . . not much, anyway!
With gratitude to my new reader friends and supporters,
who have recognized pieces of themselves in the heroines I’ve created.
You’ve given me the ultimate reward—connection to you.
And to all my readers,
I admire you all and wish you many adventures to come!
About the Author
By Laura Simcox
An Excerpt from Holding Holly by Julie Brannagh
An Excerpt from It’s a Wonderful Fireman by Jennifer Bernard
An Excerpt from Once Upon a Highland Christmas by Lecia Cornwall
An Excerpt from Running Hot by HelenKay Dimon
An Excerpt from Sinful Rewards 1 by Cynthia Sax
An Excerpt from Return to Clan Sinclair by Karen Ranney
An Excerpt from Return of the Bad Girl by Codi Gary
About the Publisher
“DUDE, YOU GOTTA come see this! Like, right now.”
Brett Knox shook his head and continued to dry himself off. He didn’t answer Booker because when Booker yelled shit like that, it was usually pointless. A lot of the chatter in the Memphis Redbirds clubhouse was pointless, and Brett didn’t need the distraction, not when he needed to keep his head in the game. He’d been in the zone, playing back today’s win in his mind, when Booker had broken his concentration.
Brett wrapped the towel around his waist and wiped a circle of steam away from the mirror in the clubhouse shower room. The flat of his hand came away smeared with toothpaste shrapnel. “Dammit, man! I know you used this sink last. Can’t you clean up after yourself?”
“Can’t you take a shower without muttering baseball stats like a psycho the whole time?” Booker yelled back from the adjoining room. A second later, the rest of the team cracked up. “Hurry up,” Booker demanded. “Come look at this.”
“Hang on, asshole.” Brett ran his hands under the tap and dropped the towel. He went to his locker, squinting toward the end of the long carpeted room as he got dressed. “What the hell’s so important? Are y’all watching reruns of My Little Pony again? Save that shit for when I leave.”
There was a collective groan from the guys lounging on folding chairs in front of the TV. Brett grinned and ambled over.
“Why you keep bringing My Little Pony up, I don’t know.” Booker shoved lank, sandy hair out of his eyes and snorted. “I can’t control what’s on when I fall asleep in front of the TV, man.” This time it was the guys’ turn to laugh at Booker. Juan, an outfielder, snatched the remote from Booker’s hands and lobbed it to Drew, a rookie shortstop, who caught it with one hand. “Give it back, Meat!” Booker yelled.
Drew narrowed his eyes in response. Brett knew it was about time to give up calling the kid Meat. Every rookie had to endure it, but the season had started three months ago and it was getting old. Still, a couple of years ago, Brett had lived with the Meat title for a lot longer than that. He grabbed the remote from Drew and threw it at Booker’s chest. Booker caught it between two fingers.
“Yeah, Meat. Let’s get this over with.” Brett flopped onto a metal chair. “What is it?”
“I rewound this just for you, bro,” Booker responded.
Brett squinted at the blurry TV screen and then reached for his glasses on the makeshift coffee table. He needed to quit leaving them there, but when his contacts were in during games, he didn’t think about where the hell his glasses were. He spent every scrap of energy on playing baseball. “Hit ‘play’ already. I’m not in the mood for stupid shit today.”
The rest of the team gave each other sidelong glances and snickered.
Booker smirked. “You’re gonna lose it when you see this. Oh, and by the way? You’re welcome.” He held out the remote and clicked.
Brett grabbed a granola bar from the table and ripped the wrapper off with his teeth. A moment later, a familiar logo appeared on the screen. “Channel Nineteen News? Aw, man! I don’t want to watch high school baseball recaps on WHAP again.”
“It’s not recaps. Just watch.”
Brett spoke around a huge bite. “Sports coverage on Nineteen sucks. It sucked when I was a kid, and it still sucks.”
“WHAP is not that bad,” Drew interjected. He said whap as if it were an actual word, not the station’s call letters. The locals did that, too, and it had always driven Brett nuts. Lots of little stuff like that drove him nuts, although he knew he shouldn’t let it.
“Hey, Meat. Whap your trap shut and watch.” Booker leaned forward in his chair. “This is it.”
Brett crammed the rest of the granola bar in his mouth and trained his eyes on the TV. And then, cheeks packed full, he quit chewing. “Holy shit!” he mumbled, sending his chair clanging into a metal trashcan as he stood.
“I told you,” Booker said.
Brett grabbed Booker’s shoulder and stared at the picture of beautiful Georgia Fulton in the upper right corner of the screen. He tried to listen to the news anchor, but all he heard was blah-blah daughter of the president of the United States. Blah-blah internship. Blah-blah excited. About what? He forced himself to chew and swallow. Then he turned to Booker.
Snickering, Booker did as commanded. “Pay attention this time.”
“Yeah, well, it’s Georgia Fulton. Holy shit. You should’ve warned me.” He looked around at the guys, who were grinning up at him. “Don’t start. I’ll kick your asses,” he said quietly. They turned their heads back toward the television.
This time Brett paid attention to the anchor, Dave Burrows, who sat ramrod straight behind a desk and read more dramatically than usual into the camera.
“Channel Nineteen WHAP News is pleased—no, make that thrilled—to announce that we have a new member of our staff. Georgia Fulton, daughter of President Patrick Fulton, will be joining us this summer as an intern. Miss Fulton is a journalism major, a college senior who will graduate, no doubt with high honors, after completing her time with us. We are excited to have her aboard and look forward to her feature stories, including an upcoming series about local celebrities. Coming up next . . . what to do when your grocery bill is out of control. Stay tuned for shopping tips and your local weather.”
A commercial for laundry detergent popped onto the screen, and Brett stared at it, unblinking. His heart hammered, and he felt as if a 110-mile-per-hour fastball had just hit him in the gut. Georgia Fulton. Here in Memphis? He’d had a worship-from-afar crush on her for over a year. Most of his teammates lusted after celebrities—usually porn stars—or worse, jailbait-aged Hollywood actresses, but Brett was the odd man out. He lusted after the president’s daughter—the nerdy one, according to the paparazzi.
It had all started at a political fundraiser when her dad had been run
He couldn’t care less about politics, but after that night, he’d looked Georgia up online. What he’d learned—reading between the lines of several magazine and newspaper articles—had only fanned the flames. She was as smart as she was cute, and she loved cats. Brett loved cats, though he wouldn’t admit that to anyone. He was smart, too, which he had no problem admitting. And cute? He’d never heard a woman say otherwise.
Booker threw his head back and laughed. “Look, guys, he’s speechless! You should see your face, Brett. Oh my God, dude. It’s so funny. You know what’s even funnier, though?”
“What?” Brett croaked out.
“The fact that you haven’t put two and two together yet.”
Brett frowned. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Well, then, fill me in.” Brett stretched his stiff fingers and sat down heavily. “Damn. I need more PT on my catching hand.”
“Schedule it, then. I’m not giving you physical therapy.”
“I never asked you to. Now explain what I haven’t put together.”
Booker grabbed a bottle of water and took a swig. “Okay. So your dream girl is coming to town for the summer, right?”
Brett winced. “I don’t know if I’d call her—”
“Whatever, dude. You’re obsessed. Didn’t you tell me just yesterday that there’s something about her body and brains put together that winds your ass up?”
“I told you that in private, dickhead.”
Juan laughed out loud and shoved Drew, who also laughed, but nervously. He stood up and moved away from Brett, who was still flexing his fingers. Brett rolled his eyes. Like he would actually punch the rookie? The kid couldn’t be more than eighteen.
Booker did punch Brett in the shoulder, though. “Did you, or did you not say that she winds your ass up?”
“I don’t think I said—”
“You totally did. Ever since that fundraiser, you’ve been wrapped up in fantasyland with Georgia Fulton.”
Brett knew he hadn’t been able to mask his reaction that night, and the guys had been giving him shit about Georgia since. They’d left pictures of her in his locker. They’d hummed “Hail to the Chief” incessantly. One day, they’d even grabbed one of his jerseys and duct-taped the words “Georgia’s bitch boy” onto the front of it. Brett opened his mouth again, but Booker gave him a look that said I can see all the way through your bullshit. Brett let his shoulders sag. “Fine. I’m infatuated with a daughter of the president of the United States. I admit it and I’m a moron, so y’all can let it rest now. Happy?”
“Not as happy as you’re going to be.”
“Why? Because instead of being my dream girl somewhere out there, she will be a few miles from me instead? What’s the difference?”
Booker screwed the cap back on his water and set it on the coffee table. “Damn, you’re dense today. Look. What’s-his-name—the announcer guy—he just said that she’ll be covering a series on local stars. Who do you think those are?”
Brett shrugged. “BB King?”
“Come off it, dude. He’s a lot more than a local celebrity. Think almost famous. And that would be?” Booker answered his own question. “Our team.” He gestured at the guys and smiled, flashing a row of white teeth. “And who is the star player? The one headed for The Show?”
“Several of us could get called up to the big leagues,” Brett muttered, but his heart started hammering again.
“Yeah, but you’ve already been up to St. Louis, and it’s only a matter of time before you head back. You’ve got Rookie of the Year, World Series pennant, and Hall of Fame written all over you.” Booker paused. “Shit, your brother’s halfway there already, and his stats in the minor leagues weren’t as good as yours. You’re as good a catcher as anyone in major league.”
Brett shrugged again. All of that was true, but being cocky about it around Booker, whose career would probably end in the next couple of years, wasn’t a cool thing to do. Plus, he didn’t like talking about his embarrassingly brief stint last year with the St. Louis Cardinals, especially since the local media had made such a big deal about him joining his brother, Joe, in the big leagues.
Joe was a Memphis hometown hero—and he’d earned it. Brett didn’t want that kind of status until he’d earned it too, and, until then, the media could piss off. Especially WHAP. He looked at Booker, who was scratching his stubbly chin. “So what are you implying?” Brett asked, even though he knew the answer.
“I’ll bet you a hundred bucks and a noncreepy hand massage that within a week Georgia Fulton will be calling the clubhouse looking for you.”
“A hundred bucks?” Juan raised an eyebrow. “Why not make it two hundred?”
“Yeah. Good idea, Juan. I’ll take that cash and laugh while I’m doing it,” Brett said. “And just so you know, it doesn’t make me the least bit uncomfortable to get a massage from a guy named Booker the Hooker.” He pointed at Booker. “Don’t try telling me that nickname is because of your curveball.”
Booker laughed. “Of course it’s because of my curve, and at least it’s a better nickname than yours. Knox the Fox? Who the hell came up with that?”
“Some high school chicks. They chase me every summer.”
“Sucks to be a pretty boy, doesn’t it?”
“You oughta know.” Brett slapped Booker’s chest with the back of his hand and ambled back toward his locker. His heart still raced, and his mind was beginning to, as well. He needed to calm the fuck down. It was ridiculous to get so worked up over Georgia because she didn’t even know that he existed. What was he? Some kind of loser? No, he sure as hell wasn’t. He could snag almost any girl who crossed his path, and he took pleasure and pride in doing so little work to get them. He didn’t need the distraction of panting after the president’s daughter like an idiot. Baseball was his life, and it always would be. End of story.
The clubhouse phone rang. For a moment, everyone was silent and then the guys busted out laughing. Brett turned his head slowly and stared at the black boxy phone on the wall. “Shut up. It’s not her. Anyone wanna get that?”
“Uh-uh. My back’s fucking killing me,” Booker said. The truth was, nobody wanted to answer it because calls to the clubhouse usually weren’t a good thing. It was either the coach, Monty Ballard, or the general manager, Fred Shipley. Both men had no problem raising hell on the players. The phone rang again. And again.
“I’ll get it,” Drew grumbled. He walked over, his long skinny legs eating up the distance, and he snatched the phone off the wall. “Clubhouse.” He paused for a moment, and then his eyes went big. “Seriously? No, of course you’re serious. So I mean yes. Yes, sir. I’ll tell him.” He hung up and pointed at Brett. “Ship wants you.”
“What for?” Brett’s lips suddenly felt numb. When Fred Shipley called the clubhouse after a game, it was usually to tell a player to get his head out of his ass. Or worse. Occasionally the call meant that a player was being demoted to double A. Brett was in no mood to be shipped anywhere by Ship, and besides, he’d played great today. He’d gotten on base four times and racked up three RBIs. Shipley probably just wanted to pick at him, and Brett was in no mood for that either. All of his energy needed to be focused on moving up, not getting paranoid about moving down. “Actually, call him back. Tell him . . . tell him that I nee
Drew shook his head. “He wants you to go to the press box. Like, right now.”
“Huh?” Brett frowned. “You better not be playing a trick on me, Meat.”
“I’m not.” Drew shook his head again. “He said that before you head out, he wants you to go introduce yourself to a reporter. From WHAP news.”
There was silence for a moment, almost a reverent silence, and Brett felt the floor tilt a little beneath him. He grabbed the edge of his locker. It couldn’t be her, right? It couldn’t be Georgia. Even though he realized that he had things in common with Georgia, it was ridiculous to assume that they would ever meet. That cocktail party had been the only time he’d seen her in person, and he’d never expected a repeat. He let out a long breath.
Booker cleared his throat. “You owe me two hundred bucks, dude.”
“You don’t know that,” Brett retorted.
“Hey, Knox.” Drew walked over and gave Brett’s arm an awkward pat. “You owe him two hundred bucks,” he whispered.
Brett closed his eyes.
“You all right, bud?” Drew asked.
“Yeah.” Brett coughed and pushed his glasses up his nose. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Without another word, he took a deep breath, grabbed his toiletries kit, and headed for the sinks.
“Goin’ the wrong way!” Booker yelled.
Brett didn’t answer because he was focusing on putting his contacts in with shaking hands. He might not have a shot in hell with Georgia, but he wasn’t going to meet her while wearing his stupid glasses. He needed to hurry, too, before reality sank in deep. He couldn’t think about who she was; his only goal right now was to nip the situation in the bud and say no if she asked for an interview. He’d be his charming self, of course, but there was no way in hell he would allow her access to his life story. Not for WHAP.
A couple of years ago, when Joe had joined the Cardinals, WHAP had aired a feature, but it hadn’t been about baseball at all. Instead they’d focused on how Joe had risen above poverty to become a star. Brett had hated that embarrassing excuse for a news story, and he’d be damned if he got suckered into an interview with them, too. Joe had already left for St. Louis when his feature had aired, so he hadn’t been around to see the looks of pity on people’s faces. Brett had.