Determined to overcome a dark and tragic past, college student Everly Wallace is only months away from earning her degree in physical therapy. She’s consumed with school, caring for her ailing grandfather, and figuring out how to pay the next bill. The last thing she wants is a relationship, but it just might be the one thing she needs.
Major League pitcher Cole Parker hasn’t fought for anything in his life. He went from a privileged upbringing to a multimillion dollar All-Star career. But when his pitching shoulder starts to give him trouble at only twenty-four years old, he faces the possibility of his injury becoming public knowledge and costing him everything.
In a desperate bid to save his career, Cole decides to hire someone to treat his injury, someone who will keep things off the record and out of the media. He finds the perfect solution in Everly. As mysterious as she is beautiful, she provides an enticing distraction from his pain. Soon, physical therapy is the last thing on his mind.
When an act of betrayal brings the truths they both fear to light, Cole will have to fight for the first time in his life…not just for his career, but for Everly’s love.
Cole knew when he hit the first curb that he’d had too much to drink. He cursed as he jerked the wheel to bring the car back into the correct lane, nearly swiping a garbage can on the dark residential street. Pain shot through his shoulder as he righted the wheel, generating a more vicious curse.
You dumbass! The thought penetrated the haze coating his mind. Don’t ding the Maserati.
Focusing intently and clutching the wheel until his knuckles went numb, he registered he was less than a mile from home. He wanted to get there before he ended up with a DUI. Management would likely bench him for half the coming season if he screwed up like that.
His marinating brain decided this meant he should go faster. Get home quick before getting caught. He picked up speed, weaving along the back streets leading to his house. Thank God the downtown Atlanta nightclub was less than five miles from home.
Just as his driveway came into sight, the glaring lights of an oncoming car pierced his windshield. He slammed on the brakes and swerved to avoid the collision. The Maserati hit a patch of ice. The world spun as the other car passed without impact.
The last thing Cole registered was the large bulk of a magnolia tree speeding toward him and the fleeting thought that his beloved car was about to get much more than a ding.
* * *
A persistent beeping sound brought him back around. He slowly opened his eyes. A speckled ceiling came into focus. One of the beeping sounds increased as he registered his surroundings. Sunlight filled the spacious hospital room.
“Cole? Cole, honey?”
He glanced over at the sound of his mother’s voice. She sat on his left side holding his hand. The moment he looked at her, she gave it a tight squeeze.
“Can you hear me, honey?” she asked. The tears in her brown eyes tugged at Cole’s conscience.
Before he could answer, his dad’s rumbling southern drawl filled the room. “‘Course he can hear you, Brenda. He only has a concussion, for heaven’s sake.” He moved closer to the bed, towering over his wife. He put a reassuring hand on her shoulder and caught Cole’s gaze. “Crash sure didn’t help his god-awful looks, though.”
“Rick!” his mom gasped.
Cole found himself comforted by the normal banter. He hadn’t yet looked down at his body, afraid of what he might see.
Lifting a corner of his mouth, he said, “Yeah, Ol’ Man. You’re scarring my sensitive psyche here.”
His dad guffawed at that. “Well, at least she didn’t call me Richard Dale Parker. Then I’d know I was in real trouble.”
“You two,” his mom censured, shaking her head. Her bob of sable-colored hair waved around her pretty face. She focused on Cole. “How are you feeling, honey? Do you remember what happened?”
“I remember,” he replied, adding a private sort of. “And I feel fine, actually.”
The answer surprised him. It had been a while since he last remembered being pain-free. For a terrifying moment, he feared he was paralyzed. But he moved his fingers and toes and felt the blanket and sheets against his skin. Lifting his arms, he tested for injury.
A movement just outside his room’s door caught his eye. He spotted his brother Wyatt talking with someone wearing a lab coat. Though he tried, he couldn’t read Wyatt’s expression since he was mostly turned away from him.
“We told Avery not to worry about making the trip out here,” his mother said. “The doctor assured us it wasn’t serious, and I didn’t want her to have to worry about Sam.”
“Of course,” Cole agreed, grateful his older sister wasn’t hauling his five-year-old nephew across town at the crack of dawn. “I’ll call her later. No need for all of the fuss.”
“You’re one lucky son of a buck,” his father said, the words drowning out the machines in the room. “If you’d been going even a little faster…”
The guilt resurged. Cole prayed that wasn’t moisture he saw in his father’s gaze. His dad never cried.
Wyatt saved him from responding when he entered the room. After looking between each of them and quickly assessing the situation, he said, “Mom, Dad, why don’t you have a word with Dr. Rosen about Cole’s aftercare? Then grab a cup of coffee and a muffin or something. Put it on my account.”
As a cardiologist on staff at the hospital, Wyatt would make sure their parents were taken care of, Cole knew. They nodded and Brenda bent down to kiss Cole’s forehead.
“You’re my baby, you know,” she murmured. “You’re not allowed to scare me like that.”
He winced. “Sorry, Mom.”
She ruffled his hair and let his dad lead her from the room. Wyatt closed the door behind them.
Seeing Wyatt’s expression when he turned back from the door, Cole groaned. “Don’t start with me.”
“Don’t start with you? That’s asking an awful lot when you’ve been a complete dumbass.”