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EXCERPT after the cut...
Andrea Spring blinked in the morning light. The sun streaming in her window warmed her face, and she rolled over to escape it, her arm reaching to find…nothing. Neither Brad Moreno nor Eric Olson lay next to her.
Remnants of the dream from which she had awakened teased her consciousness, and she pushed back the tears that threatened. That short-lived waking dream—the three of them together—ended two weeks ago when she bid farewell to her lovers. Cursing herself for the uncharacteristic sentimentality, she beat her fists on the bed.
Andi glanced at the clock and felt a moment of panic before remembering that she was on vacation. Not by choice, either. Her boss teased about changing the locks on her office door if she didn't take some of her accumulated time off. Sharon claimed that Human Resources insisted it be off the books before the end of the quarter, but Andi knew the impetus behind those threats rested with Jay David. He denied it, of course. Her best friend might be the only one aware of her fragile emotional state, even though she doubted he understood the depths of it.
Regardless, the fact remained that she desperately needed time to adjust to the self-induced void in her life, and she had not used any of her vacation for going on four years. Human Resources probably did have a fit when they looked at how much time she'd accumulated.
Rolling to her feet, Andi slowly made her way toward the small kitchen. A familiar luxury greeted her. The coffeemaker, with its preset timer and water filter, was the same top-of-the-line Krups model she enjoyed in her downtown Chicago condominium. The beans were fresher here, though. She decided she would finish her first cup before showering. Maybe even the entire pot. And perhaps she'd even skip the morning shower and go for a swim instead. No reason not to, really.
Andi went to the door and opened it. The management delivered her Chicago Tribune, although a day late, and the newspaper awaited her on the small porch. Only as she looked up did she remember her lack of clothing. Sitting on their own porch, the elderly Swiss couple in the adjacent bungalow smiled appreciatively at her, and the matron lifted her coffee cup in salutation. Their whispered conversation carried on the morning stillness, audible over the sound of the waves hitting the beach a few yards away.
"I remember when you looked like that, my dear."
"Oh hush, you old flatterer. I never looked quite that good. If we were younger, though, we could invite her over for… dinner."
Andi hid her smile and retreated into her own space, certain they had no idea she understood German.
For all the modernity of her life, Andi still loved the traditional feel of opening The Tribune and reading the news in print. The Internet was great for most things, and she adored her new Sony Reader, but sometimes she wanted to spread out the paper and see the real headline above the fold. She flipped the paper over to get a look at the news from the Windy City, far from this tropical paradise.
Her coffee mug hit the hardwood floor and cracked, the smooth, black luxury of the local Kona forgotten. Andi felt the pushed-back tears of her awakening begin to roll down her cheeks. They were tears of joy, tears of pride, and tears of irony. Mostly though, they were tears of loss.
She clenched her fists at her side, willing herself to regain control. The newspaper dropped into the spilled coffee, its wetness spreading across the headline that read: Cubs Re-Sign Top Two Free Agents.
Her time of running away came to an abrupt end. She had to go home and see her boys… even if they refused to speak to her after what she'd done to them. The wounds might still be too fresh, the loss too immediate, for any form of interaction.
Andi picked up the paper. The moisture hadn't yet penetrated to the sports section. She placed it on the table, then hurried to get a towel. After she cleaned up the mess and tossed the Kona-soaked front page in the trash, she poured herself a fresh cup of coffee and grabbed the phone. It only took the front desk a few moments to confirm her plans, and she knew from experience and reputation that they would take care of the rest. One side benefit of never using her vacation money was that when she finally did escape, she spent it like people who neither knew nor cared how much more travel cost on a whim.
She thought about calling Brad or Eric. With the news already a couple days old, the idea made her feel somewhat hypocritical, especially since she insisted upon no contact with the outside world while in Maui. Brad—if he thought of her at all, and she certainly hoped he did—wouldn't think the news had reached her. Eric would assume that she knew all about it, but not expect a phone call, their arrangement having always been that way. She decided to delay congratulations until she saw them, although the manner of those congratulations would differ dramatically from their expectations of a few weeks ago.
Andi sat down with the sports section, spreading it across the table in front of her. This time, no tears came. She read the story with a different perspective than she formerly possessed. There was a time when Andi considered such things tedious. A ballplayer's contractual status meant little in comparison to her physical interest. However, when she became emotionally involved with her boys, she picked Jay David's brain and combined his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport with her own business sense. She now enjoyed a much better understanding of the business of baseball.
The story made it sound as though the signings, announced together, surprised the team's management. They obviously feared losing Brad to the Yankees or Red Sox, who were indulging in their annual bidding wars. Bradley Moreno, who worked toward it since throwing balls made out of old socks and electrical tape on the mean streets of his youth, deserved the contract, but he probably left millions on the table by signing so soon. As the year's premier available pitcher, his agent undoubtedly advised him to wait for a couple of the other starters to sign. Desperation from the remaining suitors would have driven up the price dramatically. The article indicated he signed for far less than his perceived worth.
Eric's decision came as less of a surprise on his part and more of one on that of the Cubs. They valued him, no doubt, but rumors had him going back west to stabilize the late-inning woes that plagued the Dodgers the previous year. Chicago wanted him, but most believed they wouldn't match the L.A. money. Even uncertainty generated by an offseason surgery to smooth rotator cuff cartilage failed to drop his price into the range the Cubs thought they could afford.
The wheels clicked in Andi's brain. She knew how effective the two men could be when they teamed up, and she knew that they would both greatly enjoy making the suits sweat the potential to have both players return—but only as a package deal.
She sought confirmation in the accompanying picture: Brad at the press conference, flanked by his best friend Eric and his pitching coach, Mark Hamilton. It was the first time she had seen all three together since game seven of the National League Championship Series, a far less happy occasion. Here, they looked more like the strong, confident, sexy men she knew well. Men who shared a secret. Immediately, she knew that not only had Brad and Eric worked to make this happen, they had enlisted their enigmatic coach in the plot. The bond between them made each more powerful on his own. Each of the three could shake any woman's world. The last not the least, if she knew men. And Andi Spring most definitely knew men.