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Force Play Tea

My latest novel ‘Force Play’ will be available November 9 from Dreamspinner Press. So of course I’ve blended a tea especially for the book. This tea is perfect for summer, taken hot or iced. Assam–an elevated basic black–with berry and rose essences, and a burst of colorful sprinkles for fun. Like fireworks after the home team wins the game!

forceplay_tea

Find it at Adagio fine teas.

And to go with it, here’s a TEAser!


Chapter One

IT WAS the mother of all hangovers. The grandmother. Harmon was aware of precious few things and willed each to disappear: the acidic dryness of his eyes, the intense pounding in his head, and the burning knot at his core, making him feel like he was going to vomit.

He whined and tried to figure out what was going on, where he was, and what had disturbed his misery.

Harmon discovered if he pressed his forehead down and in, the roaring in his ears muffled to dull instead of clanging. He breathed in as deeply as he dared, then held it, and heard pounding that wasn’t coming from his head or heaving guts.

“Go away,” he slurred, lying face-planted in what he’d determined was carpet.

But the knocking persisted, here and there punctuated by the doorbell, until Harmon forced himself onto his palms, then staggered to his feet. He sealed the back of his hand over his mouth and lurched into a wall. Then he decided to stay there as dizziness assailed him and the rancid sourness in his stomach climbed his throat.

“Kiel? Kiel! I know you’re in there! Open the damn door!”

Harmon winced. The angry voice sounded like his agent, but he had no clue why Trent would be here. It was the All-Star Break, and Harmon was most definitely on break. He hadn’t been voted to the team and he told himself he didn’t care. He was in a nosedive midway through the season. But he was also bound to a contract with a high-profile, high-priced team, so it wasn’t like Trent would come calling to talk to him about potential trade options.

Propped up by the wall, he slid his way to the door. He’d figured out by now he was at home—his luxury high-rise apartment secured by a mint contract in the Bigs a year ago. That was when he was still a top-ranked prospect who played a mean third base and hit for power. Last season he’d stormed into the majors and made a name for himself.

He had an explosive, showy rookie year playing. He was explosive and showy too, and so long as his performance on the field matched his antics, the fans ate up every bit of his show. These days the home crowd booed his plate appearances and yapped about him in sports blog comment sections.

This was his sophomore season, and he scuffled, watching his batting average drop and drop while his playing time on the field followed. Media outlets started calling him a fluke, a cancer in the clubhouse, and his teammates resented him for being a huge paycheck with nothing to back it. He felt acute shame and inexplicable powerlessness because he couldn’t pinpoint or fix his decline. Instead he hid his anxieties with arrogance.

Harmon was lean and strong, a physical powerhouse thanks to endless hours running drills and lifting weights. Sensitive and eager to please, he was also quick-witted and could be easily likeable. The sensitivity had been drummed out of him as he was molded into a prototypical baseball superstar, the eagerness to please manipulated into results. For years he cranked through drills and training—from T-ball to Little League to the only freshman on high school varsity. He picked a college most likely to be scouted from, and as soon as he had a contract offer, moved onto the majors. Now he was an enigma of known talent and skills he couldn’t deliver on and a guarded personality no one enjoyed.

He jammed his shoulder against the doorframe and unlocked the condo’s door. Trent burst in past him and slammed it shut again.

“Just what on God’s pretty green earth were you thinking, Harmon?” Trent’s skin was an awful puce color under his spray-on tan, his high temper and nerves showing in every agitated movement. He raked a glance up and down Harmon—blood-shot eyes, two days’ worth of stubble, unsteadily leaning against the wall—then huffed and stalked across the room.

Trent threw the curtains open and midday light flooded in. Harmon shielded his eyes, grumbled as he detoured through his gleaming, never-used kitchen for an energy drink, and then dropped onto his couch. It was uncomfortable and incredibly stylish. Trent stood there fuming.

Harmon shook his head and drank half the can in one long, sloppy swallow. He had no idea why Trent was here, never mind what would have his agent so pissed off. His subpar play shouldn’t even matter to Trent. Payday would come, regardless of his recent backslide into painful mediocrity.

“You could have at least answered your damn phone.”

“Don’t know where it is,” Harmon offered and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He peered at his shirt and remembered putting it on for dinner. He thought that was most probably last night. He had no memory of the meal and what happened after—how he’d gotten back and why he’d been passed out, dead to the world in his living room. There was no explanation in mind for why his agent, of all people, should be here looking ready to throttle him.

Trent squeezed the bridge of his nose, then rooted around a messy side table, found the remote, and turned on the TV. It blared, and Trent flipped to one of the all-sports networks. When the advertisements ended, one of the anchors hosting a roundtable talk show nodded.

“Stay tuned for our picks to win the Home Run Derby and a pitching breakdown from both sides of the league, but first, more on our top story of the day. This has taken not only the baseball world by storm, but has sent ripples of surprise and speculation throughout professional sports and beyond.

“All season we’ve been wondering: what is wrong with rookie phenom Harmon ‘Hawk’ Kiel? New revelations about the controversial star infielder might finally give us some insight. It would appear that not only is Kiel out for the All-Star Break, he decided to be out in a big way! After bumping and grinding at a local hotspot, he turned up at ManCover, an upscale gay bar infamous in the city. That’s when this happened and these pictures, uploaded to a fellow reveler’s Twitter account, went viral.”

Images flashed on the television, and Harmon’s entire existence narrowed down to a fine, tenuous point. He stopped hearing the pounding in his head, the television, and Trent’s continued tirade. His hands went numb, and his whole body became weightless and cold.

The pictures were blurry, and he was unkempt, but it was unmistakably him. His dark hair, usually slicked and styled, was an unruly mop. The stare of his usually sharp and quick brown eyes was unfocused. His cheeks, usually high with color from mischief or exertion, were blotchy and sweaty. Interested onlookers with cell phones made the most of his drunken inhibitions, his who-even-cares attitude, and the undeniable draw of his celebrity. His shirt hung unbuttoned, and his pants were clinging low on his hips. In one picture he grinned and pointed with a lazy hand at the back of some guy’s head buried in his exposed lap; in another he was kissing a man he didn’t recognize while getting a good handful of ass.

There were more pictures, accompanied by captions from the citizen photographers, but those went past without Harmon seeing. None were X-rated, but it was undeniably more than a rowdy good time being had. Harmon blinked and suffocated wordlessly. He could hear his strangled breath, the way it echoed in his chest, and the hitch that stuttered as his pulse sped while his insides churned. He swallowed several times and began to turn inside out.

Harmon let his drink fall and ran to his nearest bathroom, puked, and didn’t stop.