I turned on my heel and went back downstairs without posting the rest of my fliers. For the first time I felt nervous about a softball game. Nervous about what he’d think of our small-town amusements and about whether I was going to be able to keep my panties on and still win this war.



Going to a local softball game to see the factory team play the first match-up of the season was not on my carefully formulated list of things to do while I was assessing the viability of the plant. But nothing would keep me from going just to see Maggie. She was irresistible all the time, but when she was fired up over something she believed in, like keeping this factory open, she was even more delectable.

Did I feel conflicted? Yes. Because what was in the Hadley Corporation’s best interest was opposed to my own best interest or at least the interest of what my dick wanted. I had actually toyed with the idea of keeping the factory open, juggling some numbers just to make her happy, to help this town and do some good. I couldn’t do it. I was raised better than that, by a single mom who suffered a lot and never put her own selfish wants above her duty to others. I owed it to myself to uphold my integrity, to be honest and aboveboard even if it meant making the personal sacrifice of not getting to be with Maggie. Which sounded fine and sensible until I saw her again.

The sight of her in a tight yellow t-shirt that hugged her ample breasts was enough to make my mouth water and my knees go week.

A guy next to me said hello.

“I’m Luke. The girl on the end there is my wife Sarah Jo. You’re here with Maggie?”

“I’m not with Maggie. She invited me here,” I said, grumbling.

“The cheerleaders are all independent women, trust me. My wife used to run the lumberyard. Nobody bosses these girls around. It takes a strong man to win one over.”

“I don’t have a chance, man. I work for Hadley.”

“The corporation, not the plant,” he nodded. “Everybody in this town knows who you are and why you’re here. I guarantee you if you shut that plant down, she’ll be the first one lighting a torch to come after you.”

“Tar and feather me?” I said, making a bad chicken joke that got the frown it deserved from Luke.

We made polite small talk for a few minutes before the girls started to make a lot of noise.

“Now, the girls are hilarious once they get going here. The other team will about crap themselves over some of the stuff they say. It’s beautiful. I mean, it’s not elegant, so you gotta get over that if you have any hang-ups about women acting like ladies and shit.”

“Nah. I had a single mom. She’d stop working long enough to beat my ass if I said anything that stupid,” I said. “Plus, I like that Maggie isn’t afraid to speak her mind. It’s just not that simple.”

He nodded. “You have to decide what’s important.”

“I know what my job is here,” I said.

“I’m not sure you get it. You may think I’m a total stranger, but we have a lot in common.”

“People in small towns sure are friendly,” I deadpanned.

“Tell me when I’m wrong. You’re good at your job and pride yourself on doing it well. You don’t know why you can’t leave this woman alone, but she’s all you think about. There are at least three very practical reasons to walk away from her and not look back, like major reasons that screw up your life and hers. Now we get to the part that if you go for it with her, then you’re letting a lot of people down as well as your own sense of duty and honor.”

“What are you, CIA or some shit? Seriously that was creepy. How did you do that?”

Luke laughed. “You have to tell her how you feel about her. Admit it to her.”

“I’m not in love with her. It’s just lust.”

“Oh, you’re still stuck in that stage?” Luke shook his head. “Call me in a week then.”

“In a week I should be done here and long gone.”

“That’s what you think, buddy,” he said.

Luke got up to go talk to an older man holding a baby in a sunhat on his knee. He picked up the baby and kissed her chubby cheeks. He had a daughter with Sarah Jo. There was no damn reason that should make my chest hurt.

The game was getting started, co-ed teams from the chicken plant and a fish plant over on the other side of Pendleton. The Feathers wore yellow shirts and had a mascot, some poor bastard in a ratty chicken suit that looked like Big Bird had been on a drunken bender. The fish stick team wore blue shirts, and their mascot didn’t look any better, some guy with blue knee socks and sneakers on with a baggy fish suit that went to his knees, his face sticking out between the flapping fake gills. It was a total shit show right down to the local troop of scouts hawking unsold cookies that were about to expire. Why had I agreed to this?

Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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