Drunk-texting a grumpy soccer star?
Best worst decision of my life.
He’s a Keeper, a grumpy sunshine sports romance from Stacy Travis is coming May 24th, and we have your first look inside!
Especially when the player is the sinfully handsome, foul-mouthed Holden Sanders… my new library assistant.
The benched bad boy needed an image makeover, I needed to save my job, and his star status was just what the library ordered to raise awareness for our fundraising campaign. The press can’t get enough of Mr. Growly reading to kids.
It’s win-win and completely platonic.
Until I need a shoulder to cry on after drowning my heartbreak in too many margaritas. I only typed that invitation to his brawny biceps and perfect pectorals for fun–I never meant to hit send. Holden isn’t the kind of guy to care about tears and feelings, least of all mine. He’s made it clear good girls aren’t his type.
But he shows up–with his strapping shoulder, a box of tissues and a supersized bag of Doritos.
That’s when I realize there’s more to him than meets the eye.
One soulful, smoldering mistake of a kiss has me craving more, and the heat between us quickly builds to a blaze neither of us can control.
But I’m not the only one guarding secrets, and Holden’s might push us to the breaking point.
Even if I’m surrounded by books, I know better than to believe in storybook endings.
And yet, I want to believe… Because I know he’s a keeper.
He’s a Keeper is a standalone sports romance in the San Francisco Strikers series with a HEA.
Keep reading for a sneak peek inside He’s a Keeper!
When I reach the glass doors, I expect to see the irritable man outside scrolling on his phone or, if he really doesn’t understand the rules, walking to his car.
But he’s nowhere. Glancing back, I see Seth dutifully walking toward the story area, his shoulders hunched like I’ve sent him to the gallows. Still, he’s going. That gives me a couple minutes to track this man down. I should’ve asked his daughter for his name so I could yell it.
The library is a one-story building on a corner. A small square of grass sits on each side of the front walkway, which leads to the sidewalk where the city hasn’t trimmed the overgrown trees in years. The result is patchy brown areas where the grass doesn’t get enough sun and trees that block out the sky in places.
I head around the side of the building to where the tiny parking lot only has room for a handful of cars. My fugitive stands with a pair of preteen boys each holding a skateboard under one arm. All three stare up at one of the trees.
From my vantage point, I can’t see much except a whisp of what looks like orange fur on a high branch. The boys are doing their best to mask their nerves with a façade of bravado.
“Dude, you do it. I have a basketball tourney this weekend and my dad’ll kill me if I get injured,” one of the boys says, dropping his skateboard and stepping on one end so it flips back into his hand.
The other boy, who has a shock of blond hair, tosses his board onto the grass and cranes his neck toward the ball of fur in the tree. “Nah, he’s really high up. Dude, if he falls and dies, it’s totally your fault for letting him out.”
“I didn’t let him out. He ran out before I saw him.”
“Whatever. You were the one who opened the door.”
“You’re the one with a cat who’s too dumb to stay in the house.”
“Not. Helping,” the man scolds, turning his baseball cap around so the brim hangs over the back of his hair. Now I can see his eyes, though with the way he’s squinting at the tree, I can’t tell their color, just that they sit under aggravated brows.
It’s also crystal clear that my initial take on him was spot on—he’s so good-looking that he uses it as a hall pass to be a jerk. Even his stance, with his arms folded so his biceps pop and his shoulders pull at the fabric of his shirt, shows anyone within viewing distance that he knows what to do with hundred-pound barbells. And he does it.
“I don’t want him to die.” The blond boy wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans and takes a few steps closer to the tree, surveying the climb.
“He’s not going to die. Cats are ninety-five percent tiger. They have eighteen toes. They’re built for climbing,” the man says. “Plus, they have double the neurons in their cerebral cortex as dogs. They’re smart. Your cat’s only climbing as high as it’s safe.”
It’s like dinner theater seeing this brawny dude with the bad attitude rhapsodize about cats. I can’t tear myself away.
Suddenly, he jumps up and grabs the lowest tree branch and executes the most manly pullup, biceps rippling, as he hurls himself vertically, ending up in a squat on top of the fat horizontal branch. The legs of his jeans stretch taut over his thighs, and he balances like some kind of ninja. From there, he reaches for another branch overhead and does the same.
It’s like Tarzan with a zoology degree.
I inch a little closer to get a better view. The boys are fixated on him and don’t notice me until I whisper a question. “Do you know that man?”
“Nah, he’s just some dude who walked out here,” says the blond boy. “I hope he’s got extra toes too.”
“You know an awful lot about cats,” I call up to him.
From the way he flinches, he had no idea I was there. Holding on to a tree branch, he stuffs his other hand into his pocket and looks back at the cat, who’s taken the momentary distraction to scramble higher up the branch. “I almost fucking had it.”
“Hey. Children are present.” I put my hands over my ears to demonstrate, stuck in my library lady persona because, as I said, I’m bad with kids.
“Are you one of them, Mary?” He smirks. It’s not a bad look on him because it slightly looks like a smile. Except that the upturned corner of his mouth makes me want to punch it. And why’s he calling me Mary when I introduced myself to the group right before he left?
“Hardly.” I square my shoulders as though I need to prove to him that I’m not a child, which seems childish and makes me want to punch him again. “Anyhow, you can’t be out here.”
“I have no idea what that means,” he growls, stepping further along the branch, which looks flimsy under his weight.
He’s nearly twenty feet in the air and pretty close to the orange and white cat, which is no bigger than a grapefruit. It sits perched on a high branch meowing like it’s singing opera. Cute little thing.
I don’t have pets. It kind of goes along with my fear-of-kids thing. I worry the responsibility of caring for a pet might be more than I can handle. What if I forget to feed it for a week? What if I let it escape and it ends up in a tree?
But this cat has fate on its side because Tarzan scoops the small thing into his hand and tucks it into his chest. From the way his head is bent toward the cat, I can tell he’s talking to it.
Using his free hand, he deftly slips down to a lower branch and balances on it while he surveys the best path down. Lowering into a squat, he calls out to the boys. “You said you play basketball, yeah?”
“Sure,” one of the boys says.
“You’re going to catch this kitten like it’s a buzzer beater from downtown. You miss, you lose. Ready?”
The boys ready themselves, hands open, squatting like the ballers they want to be. “Ready. I’m open!” the blond boy yells, instantly in game mode.
The man drops the furry, striped body to where the boy grasps it surely in his hands. He scruffs it under the collar and tucks it under one arm while he and his buddy grab their skateboards.
“Thanks, man. You saved my bacon,” the blond one says.
As he swings from the lowest branch and lands in front of the boys, the man is already brushing off their appreciation. “You never have to worry about cats. They’re climbers. He’d have come down on his own, so if he does it again, wait him out. Don’t break a bone. Speaking of that, cats have more bones than people. They’re just small.” He spouts all this information sounding irritable and inconvenienced, as if anyone asked for an encyclopedia entry on cats.
“Cool, good to know.” The boys mount their skateboards and thank him again as he brushes some stray pieces of bark from the sleeves of his shirt.
Then his gaze locks on mine, and I notice the hardness in his steely gray eyes which have dark rims that look like they were drawn with charcoal pencil. They’re pretty but unyielding.
He stares at me like I’m the one who isn’t where I’m supposed to be.
“I need you to come back inside,” I say again. His eyes roam over me from head to toe and back again. He makes no attempt to hide his slow perusal of my form, and I feel a flutter in my belly that irritates me because I don’t want to react to him. I fold my arms over my C-cup chest.
“I’m sorry?” He cocks his head to the side like a dog who only hears words but doesn’t know what they mean.
“You need to stay in the library.”
“I don’t think there’s a law about leaving the library. Aren’t you the one who’s supposed to be inside? Who’s reading to the kids, Mare?”
The kids—as though he isn’t the biggest child among them.
“My name’s not Mary.”
What he doesn’t know is that I wrangle headstrong, hormonal teenage girls for a living, and if I can get them to work quietly, I can handle one unpleasant man-child. He doesn’t intimidate me. He does, however, beg me to spend a little more time staring at his strong jaw, even though he glares like he’s weighing the odds of murdering me and getting away with it.
I exhale a long breath, prepared to explain the rules, but my mind drifts to a subject that’s more intriguing. It’s not a problem when I’m alone, but when I’m having a conversation with someone, it can lead people to think I have focus issues.
Maybe I have focus issues.
Drifting back, I point at the man accusingly. “How do you know so much about cats? Are you a vet?”
He huffs a disbelieving breath, stuffing his hands deep into his pockets. “I have a cat.” His icy stare makes it seem like he’s unhappy about it.
“You have a cat?”
“I just said I did.”
I shake my head as if to knock the errant words from my ears because I can’t have heard him correctly. In no world does this tightly-wound grump take care of animals, unless he’s skinning them for their pelts. Which makes me worry for the safety of his cat. “You have a cat. As a pet?”
He squints his eyes, which causes the corners of them to crinkle, which seems strange until I realize they’re laugh lines that accompany another smirk. He observes me with his hands on his hips. “As opposed to…?”
“I don’t know, like maybe you’re planning to feed it to some larger animal. Do you also raise coyotes and watch them devour cats for sport?”
He mirrors my stance, and I can’t help but notice the bulge of his biceps when he crosses his arms. He looks sightly menacing, and I worry for a second that I’m poking a beast that’s best left alone. He shakes his head.
“I don’t know what kind of weird shit you’re snacking on behind the reference desk, but no, I’m not into torturing animals. Any other questions about my cat?”
“What’s its name?”
“Huh.” Is it wrong that I expected him to have a male cat? I picture him with a surly tomcat who hunts for mice with him in the dark. “Greta,” I confirm.
“Garbo. She’s a European Shorthair. Swedish. I like old movies.”
A Tetris block drops into place. “The DVDs. You were renting oldies?” It happens that our branch has a big collection of classic films on DVD, and some people come from across the city for them.
His brow furrows. “What?”
“A couple weeks ago. I ran into you?” What’s the use of pointing out that it wasn’t memorable? “Never mind. But if you’re a Garbo fan, I feel compelled to admit I always liked Romance better than Camille. I know that’s controversial.” I glance to the side, thinking about the two movies. When my attention drifts back, he’s studying me like I’m an oddity.
I’m used to that look. Yes, I’m the library lady who likes books—and even movies—more than people.
It’s why I get a perverse thrill at hiding details about my life and letting people assume what they want. If I admitted to a one-night stand here or there, there’d be questions. Assumptions. Maybe even invitations to hang out after work with some of the male faculty at school. Easier to let people assume I’m a sunshiny little hermit on my way to becoming a spinster.
What people think is irrelevant, which is why it surprises me when this guy picks up my conversational tangent like it’s normal. “Camille might be a tad overrated. I agree there. But Romance isn’t my favorite.”
“Which is your favorite?” I’m here for the talk about old movies. I kind of love it.
“The Kiss.” His gray eyes boring into mine until I can’t take the weight of his stare any longer and look away. I feel the heat rise in my cheeks and prickles of warmth crawl up the back of my neck. Must be hot out here.
When I recover my composure and look at him, he’s smirking like he knows the effect he has on me. “Anyhow, I gotta go.” He starts walking toward the parking lot, forcing me to move quickly to keep pace with his long stride.
“Oh. No. No, no, no. We have to go back. You need to stay inside the library.”
“Because it’s a rule. Parents stay.”
We reach the parking lot and he stops by the door of a sleek-looking Porsche. I half expect him to speed away without finishing the conversation, but he doesn’t pop the locks. “I’m not a parent. I’m here with my niece. We’re bonding.” His grimace and the irritated tone of his voice makes bonding sound as much fun as being stapled naked to a tree.
“It doesn’t matter. You’re her guardian. Parents, guardians, nannies, babysitters, uncles—all of those people need to stay if they bring a kid to the library. It’s not daycare.”
“Not my rule.”
Pressing his lips together, he glares at me like I’m a gnat he’d like to flick away. I offer him my most meaningful stare, which is challenging as my traitorous body cranks up the heat again when he looks at me – to say nothing about my pounding heart.
Stop it. He’s just a man. A normal human man.
Okay, he’s not normal. He’s spectacular, gorgeous, stunning—all the adjectives. But still, just a man. The wind chooses this moment to kick up behind me, pushing a bunch of flyaway strands out of my ponytail and into my face like runaway tumbleweeds, so for a moment, I can’t see if he’s decided to make a break for the fancy, fast car.
“Be a better guy than that.”
Something in his eyes shifts, softens, if only slightly. “Fine,” he says, turning back toward the library. “Not like I have any place to be.” I catch the sarcasm in his tone and the view of his broad shoulders as he swaggers back toward the door.
“It’s one hour. I’m sure you’ll manage. It’ll give you more bonding time, and if you really can’t stand it, the place is full of books. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite author.” I can’t help the brightness of my tone. I love books.
“I said it was fine,” he says over his shoulder, but his fierce, sweeping stride makes it clear he dislikes my terms. He walks ahead of me, so I’m forced to keep pace if I want to see his face, which is marked by a resigned lack of enthusiasm.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
I extend my hand, which he grips firmly before dropping it. I swallow hard when I feel an electric zing of pleasure erupt over my skin at his touch. Infuriating, traitorous skin.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Molly.” It’s not particularly nice, but I’m not about to alienate one of the few people at the library. I need about twenty more of him.
“Molly, huh? Given your whole spoonful of sugar vibe, I could’ve sworn it was Mary.”
“Nope, Molly.” I ignore the Mary Poppins reference. He thinks he’s so original.
He stares me down. “Okay, Mare. I mean, Molly.” He says my name slowly like it sticks in his throat. Charmer.
About Stacy Travis
It’s a rough world out there, and we all sometimes need a good, romantic beach read, even if we can’t make it to the beach. I’ve spent many lazy days walking the streets of Paris and other gorgeous European cities, and if I’m doing it right, I’m bringing you a dash of romance and a vacay fantasy.
I can’t sit still, so when I’m not hiking, biking or running, I’m playing a very average game of tennis. Background music for writing undoubtedly features some U2, Lizzo, Billy Joel, Pink, Taylor Swift, and Led Zeppelin. Not necessarily in that order. And if I could only eat one food group, it would be cheese. Or wine. Or bread. Are those food groups? Whatever.