Too Hot to Handle: A Boys of Summer Novel
I’m sure you’ll find something suitable.”
    When the man left, she did as he suggested and flipped open the menu, wondering if Jake had known about the prank. She then remembered that he had asked her out this evening. That didn’t prove anything one way or the other, but only added to the annoyance that surged through her.
    Determination filled her as the waiter approached and she settled on vegetable antipasto, pizza, and a glass of wine. She would have a fabulous meal, enjoy herself, and stand her ground with the team. If they thought to shake her, they had another think coming.
    Jake pulled into the parking lot of the Moorestown Mall and cursed when he saw the time. It was almost nine o’clock. He’d meant to arrive at least an hour earlier, but the incident with Joaquin had cost him. As he strode into the restaurant, he saw Nikki sitting alone at a small table just inside the front door.
    She was staring at the wall, her expression sad, and Jake felt his heart squeeze as he observed her demeanor. An empty wineglass stood before her and she toyed absently with the stem while the other diners glanced at her curiously. A woman alone in a place like this was an oddity.
    Wasting no more time, Jake crossed the floor, his athletic stride allowing him to close the distance between them quickly.
    “What are you doing here?” Startled, she gave him a penetrating look.
    “I’m sorry,” he said simply, taking a seat beside her. “I meant to get here before you so I could explain—”
    “You knew about this.” It wasn’t a question.
    “Yes.” Jake couldn’t deny it. “I heard they were planning a prank.”
    “And you let them set me up, and didn’t say a word? You could have told me.” She couldn’t keep the accusation out of her voice. “You could have kept me from feeling like a prize idiot when I walked in here and realized I’d been ditched.”
    “I didn’t think it was my place to tell on them,” Jake explained. “If you remember, I tried to convince you to go out with me instead.”
    “I see. I shouldn’t have expected your loyalty to me would exceed that to your team.” She started to rise, obviously annoyed. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go—”
    “Don’t.” Jake put his hand firmly on hers. “You need to hear me out. This wasn’t just a joke, and the team wasn’t looking to deliberately hurt your feelings. They wanted to take Shaun out for a bachelor party and were afraid you would interfere.”
    “What?” Nikki’s brows flew up but she sank back into her seat. “But why would I object to that?”
    “Remember the tiki bar?” Jake gave her a knowing look.
    “That’s different!” Nikki protested. But when the waiter arrived with her pizza, instead of asking for a box, she tore off a large slice. When she saw him coveting it, she did an eye roll and then slid the plate to him.
    “I didn’t want them hanging out every night at the bar where the fans and press could see them,” she continued. “I wouldn’t dream of trying to prevent them from taking Shaun out!”
    “They don’t know that.” Jake shrugged. “To the players it’s all the same.”
    “So you think I’ve come down too hard on them.” It was an accusation.
    “I think if you want to build a rapport with them, you need to trust them more.” He waved to the waiter and ordered a red wine. “Let them know what you want to accomplish and why. Get them on the same page with you. Right now, they’ve cast you in the role of mean mommy.”
    “I’ve heard that before,” she admitted.
    “But it isn’t all bad news. They would never admit it, but they like some of what you’ve done. The food, the chiropractor…”
    “Really?” The cloud seemed to have dissipated around her as she absorbed his words.
    “Really. And you do have some support. Pete has been a real ally. He told them you didn’t rat them out about the baseballs. Or the croc. Believe it or not, it

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