Field of Change (Book 3 of The Field Series) – Erotic Romance

Fiercely independent café owner Sophia Hudson successfully balances a thriving business with providing a loving home for her son, but when her one true love saunters back into her life, she can no longer guard the truth she’s hidden for years.

Professional shortstop and known playboy Mike Rosen has recently turned his life around. Arriving in his hometown to visit his sister, he walks into a café, floored to see the woman who broke his heart with a toddler-sized version of himself. Although hurt and angered by Sophia’s deceit, he’s determined to be part of her life—and his son’s.

While still loving Mike, fear and doubt consume Sophia. Plagued by those uncertainties, she struggles with Mike’s public life, unwilling to expose their son to it. The resulting emotional roller coaster barrels through love, passion, and pain as both Mike and Sophia accept something needs to change…but is either willing to sacrifice enough before it’s too late?

[Siren Classic: Erotic Contemporary Romance, M/F, HEA]

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DEDICATION

To my Boo and Bubby for changing my world in the most amazing ways.

To author C.A. Knoble. Thank you so much for your support and feedback, even though I was crazy nervous. Lol.

 

FIELD OF CHANGE

The Field Series, 3

 JACQUELINE ANNE

Copyright © 2017

Chapter One

 

Mike Rosen exited off the highway. The sun was just beginning to peak over the horizon as he navigated closer to his quaint hometown of Grandview, Michigan. He hadn’t been home since he signed his first major league contract with the Pittsburgh Buccaneers close to four years ago, but his sister, Jen, understood. Twelve years his senior, she was more of a mother to him than his own. His parents were always too busy with their business ventures, therefore rarely home. When he was younger, Mike often misbehaved hoping to draw their attention, but sadly, it never worked. As he got older, he grew to appreciate the bond he shared with his sister. It was Jen who helped him with his homework. She was the one who always encouraged him to go for his dreams of playing baseball and motivated him when he didn’t play well or thought about throwing in the towel. She was even the one in the backyard practicing with him.

He grinned at the childhood memory. Jen always tossed her light brown hair up into a ball cap and used a ratty old baseball glove she had found in the garage when his family had first purchased the sprawling estate. More often than not, she forgot to take off her apron before leaving the house. It was quite a funny sight for a young boy to witness.

So when Jen called and asked him to come home for a visit, he didn’t even hesitate or question her although he did toss and turn wondering if something was wrong. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only reason that kept him wide-awake.

The last time he was home, he ran into his childhood crush who was home getting her mother’s house ready to go on the real estate market. The reunion, which consisted mostly of private time, was one he wanted to continue, but she refused yet again. Despite picking up where they left off after graduation and their growing feelings for each other, she was dead set against a long-distance relationship. While Mike wasn’t even sure how they would make it work given their careers and travel schedules, he wanted to try whereas she wasn’t even willing. So he said good-bye to her, burying his feelings for her. Mike would never admit aloud that his broken heart was what sent him into a flirtatious world with women and having sex with them as he pleased. It was easy to do being a star shortstop, almost too easy, yet no woman ever came close to his one true love.

Thoughts of their time together had him squirming in his seat and his dick hardening, yet sadness and anger still stirred in his heart.

So, he decided to hop into the car in the middle of the night to make the six-hour trip rather than waiting another week for Thanksgiving. He wished the long drive would have cleared his head, instead he replayed the choices he had made in his life, particularly the ones that kept him up at night. After the first few hours of tormenting himself, Mike refocused his mind on the good in his life. While he missed his sister and the memories of his hometown, he found his new home with the Pittsburgh Buccaneers. The first few years were spent trying to impress everyone, mostly with his ego, while enjoying his newfound fame, but it changed for him this year.

Mike recalled the conversation he had with a teammate’s girlfriend, now fiancée. Graham, the Buccaneers’ catcher, was a good guy and a solid player. His fiancée, Jordan, a sports photojournalist, was something else. She was a strong, determined woman who put Mike in his place one night. Somehow, she saw a glimpse of the real Mike and her encouraging advice woke him up. That night, he went home to his empty, quiet Florida condo he had just for spring training and reassessed his life.

From then on, he completely focused his energy back on the game he had almost forgotten how much he loved, knowing it was a privilege to play professionally. Bedroom matters stayed in the bedroom, but it still never fulfilled him the way he longed for. He also began hanging out with his teammates more and formed a genuine camaraderie with them. He grew close with Graham Grayson and Jordan Roy and began volunteering with the Roy-Grayson Foundation, a nonprofit organization which helped kids play sports and trained coaches. He also got closer with one of their starting pitchers, Tyson Best, who was engaged to an artist named Cece Schmidt.

A lot of his friends were settling down. While he was truly happy for them, his own itch for that future was still nagging at him.

Would he ever find love again?

Mike made a right turn, driving down the majestic entrance way to the twelve-guest-room inn his parents purchased nearly twenty years ago. Situated on a great lake among a sandy beach and ten park-like acres, the responsibility of the stately bed and breakfast fell into the lap of his sister, and she welcomed it with open arms. As soon as she graduated from high school, Jen took over running the place while earning her hospitality and management degree. For graduation, her parents signed the inn over to her while apologizing for not being able to attend the ceremony. Mike had gone, showing her his support and how proud he was of her achievements. He never knew how she did it, all while taking care of him, and he never heard her complain.

He parked the car near the five-car garage, which was used to store all the extra supplies Jen kept on hand as well as anything needed to maintain the inn and the property. Above it, was a spacious three-bedroom apartment she added on when she married her soulmate, Will.

Mike glanced at his phone, noting it was breakfast time. It wasn’t the best time to arrive, knowing his sister would be busy feeding guests. He would either help, if needed, or stay out of her way.

He got his big duffel bag out of the trunk and headed up the walkway. It still had a few flowers blooming because of the unseasonably warm weather they were having. He stopped right before the front porch step and took in his surroundings. He missed this place in ways. Some of his fondest memories took place here—the swing on the front porch, fishing in the lake, and playing ball—all with his sister, guests, and the girl who broke his heart.

Never with his parents.

He let out a frustrating breath. It still bothered him as much as he pretended it didn’t.

Sounds of laughter coming from inside snapped him out of his thoughts. It was what it was. He was a grown man now and had done a damn good job making something of himself, with some help from his loving sister.

He pushed the door open and was greeted by the delicious scents of bacon, cinnamon rolls, and other breakfast fare.

“I’ll be with you in a moment,” shouted a familiar voice making Mike smile.

He placed his bag down in the corner of the foyer. When he looked up, he saw his sister coming around the corner wiping her hands on her cinnamon roll apron, the one he had given her for Christmas years ago.

“Michael! What an early surprise!” She embraced him in a warm hug.

“Hey, sis.” He hugged her back, returning every bit of love she gave him.

“I’ve missed you so much. Come, sit, and have some breakfast.”

“I miss you. You look wonderful.” He was so happy to see his sister absolutely glowing even with the demands of the inn resting on her shoulders.

Mike followed her into the dining room, which was only half full at the time. In a few more days, the place would be busting at the seams. The holidays were always crazy busy for the inn. For being a small business, Mike was pleased to see it was still prospering from years of referrals. From time to time, Mike would give his sister investment money to make improvements to the place. They were never necessary changes, but ways to keep up with high-end hotels and to make Jen’s life a bit easier with maintenance, a cleaning staff, and kitchen help.

He took an open seat and shoveled food onto his plate. The sight of the breakfast had his mouth watering and his stomach growling, especially after the lengthy drive.

“Coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

His sister poured him a cup and added a teaspoon of sugar, just how he liked it. He enjoyed his breakfast and chatted among the guests who were visiting, many of which came year after year. They asked him about baseball and the playoffs. Playing in the majors wasn’t a secret. In fact, his sister proudly showcased his team photo every year in the foyer even after he grumbled about it. In many ways, some of these people had become like family to his sister.

Once breakfast was over, Mike helped Jen clean everything up while they chatted about the upcoming holidays. Then, it was time for his sister to start preparing lunch. Mike offered to help her cut up vegetables for the soup she was making, but she sent him into town to get a sandwich wrap she was craving.

* * * *

Sophia Hudson hurried around the café. She was thankful her business was doing well and for the lunch rush every day, but really needed to think about hiring some more staff. During times like this, she needed more help at the counter and in the kitchen. Hell, she needed more sanity, and perhaps a glass or two of wine tonight. She said a silent prayer for all to go smoothly since two employees had already called in sick. She had to keep her eyes and ears wide open today and stay on top of things.

She opened the quick-serve restaurant a little over a year ago, taking a huge risk and a major career change. So far, it seemed to have been the right decision.

The menu for Fuel the Body Cafe was – simple, using a lot of the same ingredients but preparing them many different ways. Everything was healthy, delicious, and served fresh and quickly. She used a lot of the knowledge she gained while living in New York for a few years to watch trends in the food industry and in customer service. It wasn’t the business she was in at the time, but she always found it fascinating.

She grabbed a new batch of napkins under the counter to fill the dispenser. When she looked up, her eyes widened at the customer standing in front of her.

“Soph?”

“Mike?” Her palms immediately began to sweat as the beating of her heart kicked up a few hundred notches.

He had the same mussed-up dirty blond hair with a physique she knew he focused on developing—and perfecting. Despite her brain’s protest, her body was always fully aware of his presence, and her fingers were already twitching to touch his muscles. Standing before her in jeans and a button-down shirt, he was more gorgeous than the last time they were together. He had changed from a young guy to a man.

Every time they were together, he threw her for a loop. How could he still do that to her even with everything that had happened?

“What are you doing here?” she enquired while trying to fill the napkin dispenser. Her trembling hands were making her fail miserably at such a simple task.

“I’m visiting my sister. What are you doing here? I thought you were in New York City.”

“I-I was,” she stuttered as reality came crashing back. “Um, it wasn’t working out anymore.” She busied herself trying to focus on the damn silver box and was finally able to successfully refill it with napkins.

All sorts of emotions were plowing through her. She had to get a grip before her secret was exposed. She needed to get him his order and shuffle him out of there as quickly as possible.

“You went from modeling in New York City to working in a café?”

Her eyes nearly bulged out of her head. There was the slap in the face she was waiting for. The almighty baseball player had gotten off his royal throne to eat at a café. Her café. God forbid. His attitude reconfirmed why she did what she did and proved his career as a professional athlete had indeed changed him. It was sad how money and fame could transform someone wonderful into a cocky asshole.

Sophia received a modeling contract out of high school with an agency in New York. Her natural beauty and height set the tone for the career, so her mother constantly preached—more like nagged by constantly pushing her into beauty contests and setting up photo shoots. She had been tall since middle school and towered over the boys. It had always bothered her that few people took the time to see who she was as a person. She was talented, smart, and hard working. Mike was one of the few people who took the time to get to know her—the real her, but it didn’t matter anymore. He wasn’t the same person.

At one point, they were inseparable. After graduation, she walked away not wanting a long-distance relationship, knowing it would be too hard on the both of them. How could they possibly survive being apart after being so accustomed to seeing each other every day? It was hard at first, but she was convinced it was best for them.

Then she and Mike both happened to be in town at the same time a few years ago while she was getting her mom’s house listed. Yet again, they had a hard time resisting each other and spent most of the week reconnecting—naked and in bed. At the end of her visit, she stuck to her guns on the whole long-distance thing, knowing Mike wasn’t pleased with her decision. It was difficult to go through with, but Mike had just signed a contract with a major-league baseball team. Their travel schedules were about to get even crazier and she simply couldn’t see how it would work out.

Soon thereafter, she kept seeing photos of Mike in the tabloids with all different kinds of women along with raunchy headlines. He had become the manwhore of Major League Baseball and it broke her heart to see how he had changed.

When she got a big surprise, she debated for months whether – she should call Mike. She had picked up the phone a number of times, composed emails only to delete them, and written letters only to tear them up. Then she read an interview he had done where the reporter asked him about settling down and having children someday. He laughed and said, “I don’t want to be tied down. I’m too busy playing baseball and enjoying life right now.” His response broke her heart. She cried herself to sleep that night and the next morning she vowed to permanently move on, truly believing she was making the right choice. Her father never wanted a child, and after her mom found out she was pregnant with Sophia, he constantly reminded her of how she had ruined his life. Her mother could only take so much before she took Sophia and left. She didn’t want that kind of environment for her and her son.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way,” he corrected. His apology sounded genuine, but his words and tone before were just enough to get her to collect her thoughts and gain the confidence briefly suppressed by her nerves.

She straightened up. “Actually, I own this place,” she stated with pride. She had worked hard to start a new life and was damn proud of herself.

“What happened in New York City?”

Impatient patrons began to grumble behind him. Sophia didn’t have time to get reacquainted right now because she was already short-staffed.

She gestured for them to step aside to allow the next person to place their order. He followed her down the long counter until there was an opening.

She felt his eyes examine her. Her brown hair was still long and wavy just like the day she walked away from him, although it was braided today since she was at the café. She was curvier now. Things changed, but she was still healthy—firm in all the right places, soft in others. She knew a lot of girls who battled with their weight in the modeling industry, but she kept practicing healthy eating habits and exercised consistently while never overindulging.

When his gaze traveled back up her body, she tried to mask the array of feelings rolling through her. Exhaustion made it hard—plain and simple. She needed to be strong and get him out of there.

Her bright green eyes met his dark, mysterious ones. “My life changed,” she responded.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her son walking toward her. She wished he would be distracted along the way, praying to God she could avoid a conversation she absolutely did not want to have—not now, not ever. She kept her eyes on Mike until little Ryan pulled on the hem of her shirt.

“My crayon broke,” he said with a pouty face.

Sophia crouched down and consoled her son while fetching him a new box of crayons from under the counter. Coloring was his favorite thing to do while Soph was working. She stocked up on coloring books and crayons from the dollar store, and he was a happy camper. He would even give the customers some of his artwork, making them beam with delight. She was truly blessed to have such an amazing child.

“Thanks, Mommy!”

Sophia stood up and nervously smiled, secretly praying Mike wouldn’t ask more questions. Mike was standing there with his mouth gaped, completely stunned. It was clear her prayers weren’t going to be answered this time.

“My reason for the change.” She gestured to her son and began wiping the counter, hoping he would take the hint and see she was busy working.

He continued to stand there in shock and she instinctively shook her head, warning him off. She didn’t want to do this now or ever. This wasn’t what she wanted. They were fine. Better than fine.

“How old is he?”

Oh God, it is happening.

Her heart was beating so hard it sounded like thunder pounding in her ears, but Mike stood still, holding his ground, as he not so patiently waited for her to answer.

After what felt like an eternity, she finally replied. “Three.”

The look on Mike’s face displayed a collection of emotions ranging from stunned to angry and everything in between. Her café definitely wasn’t the place, but apparently it was going to be the time, and there was nothing she could do about it.

She tugged on his arm and pulled him out the back door, trying to avoid a scene in front of her customers.

“How could you not tell me?” he spat.

“He’s not your responsibility, Mike. He’s mine,” she affirmed.

Sophia could play it off like he was someone else’s child just as she had been doing all this time. She had stayed off social media once she quit modeling. She knew it would raise a million questions, and she hadn’t been ready to answer them. She still wasn’t. Instead, she practically fell off the face of the earth for a while. She stayed with her mom in Arizona until she decided she wanted to raise Ryan near where she had grown up. It was a charming town with a good, small school system, much smaller than when she went there. Most of the people she knew throughout the years had gone elsewhere as the town quickly become a popular tourist spot. Like her mom, many folks cashed out during the booming real estate market.

Ever since she moved back, she quickly changed the subject about who Ryan’s father was anytime it came up, which wasn’t often.

Her stomach rolled. No matter how many times she rehearsed this situation possibly happening, nothing could have prepared her for this moment. One look at Mike and her heart was aching all over again.

“And who else’s?” he asked with his arms crossed in front of him, displaying a stern expression of determination.

Her heart hurt so bad she didn’t answer. She couldn’t even look him in the eyes.

“Dammit, Soph. Just tell me,” Mike demanded. “Is he mine?”

As soon as her eyes met his, he grabbed her and pressed her up against the brick wall, devouring her mouth, swallowing her surprised gasp. He tasted just as she remembered—spicy and sweet. His tongue swept over her lips and she immediately opened for him, like they hadn’t missed a beat over the past few years, but they’d missed a whole lot of everything.

He parted from her, settling his forehead on hers, his lips just mere inches from hers. She felt his hot, quickened breaths coil around her like a blanket. Her mind going back and forth on whether she was warm and cozy or suffocating in his presence.

“Tell me. Please,” he pleaded with her in a whisper nearly breaking her heart all over again.

She knew he was battling with his own emotions. Every time they were together, there were no secrets between them. There couldn’t be since they were open books to one another, and there lay the problem. They weren’t together anymore and while she walked away from him, he made it perfectly clear he was happy enjoying his new lifestyle, one that didn’t involve her or a child.

Her next move would change her and Ryan’s life forever and she prayed it would be for the better. She closed her eyes and nodded as a single tear trickled down her cheek.


Chapter Two

“You knew, didn’t you?” he shouted at his sister as he climbed the stairs to her apartment.

Her husband, Will, was standing right by Jen’s side like he was protecting her. He couldn’t blame him, not that Mike would ever hurt his sister, or any woman for that matter, but his temper was on the edge of exploding.

He dropped onto the sofa in his sister’s apartment. He rubbed his hands over his face and took a few deep breaths trying to compose himself before he really lost it.

I missed three fucking years!

“I had my suspicions, Michael, but I wasn’t sure. I didn’t have all the facts. All I knew is she came home with a child, and the older Ryan got, the more he looked like you.”

As soon as he saw the boy, his heart stammered, immediately recognizing a bond Mike had never experienced before and couldn’t fathom. The kid looked just like him but had Soph’s dimples when he smiled. It was the greatest smile he had ever witnessed.

“Is that why you wanted me to come home?”

She shook her head and he noticed Will squeezing her hand.

“I want to sell the inn.”

“What?” How many more surprises could he take in one day?

“Michael, Will and I have been talking about this for quite some time. We want to buy a nice house closer to his job in the city.”

“What are you going to do?” He was taken aback by this news since Jen had always been all about the inn from the moment their parents signed the closing papers.

“Raise our babies,” she said while pressing a hand to her tummy, her facing glowing.

Three. Apparently he was going to find out three huge fucking things today.

“Wait. You said babies, as in more than one?”

“Yes. After some fertility treatments, we are having twins,” Will clarified with a proud, father-like smile.

Okay. Make that four.

His sister was having twins. Not one, but two kids—at the same time. Mike took another deep breath in and slowly exhaled, beginning to feel like he was hyperventilating. He was going to be an uncle—a positive. The inn was no longer going to be part of his family—a negative. He had a son. He shook his head in disbelief.

“I’m sorry,” he uttered. “I am so happy for you guys. I really am.” He stood and hugged them both. “Please don’t think I’m not. I’ve just had a lot thrown at me in one day. Actually, more like thirty minutes.”

Jen embraced him again. This time it was a motherly hug surely meant to comfort him. For some reason, he could always tell the difference. “Why don’t you grab the fishing poles and head out to the dock? Give yourself some time to wrap your head around things.”

He nodded, hoping the good ‘ole pastime would still work for him. “Sorry, I forgot to get your lunch,” he expressed, now understanding why she was craving the food she sent him out for. It hadn’t been a trap. She really did want the steak wrap with extra pickles.

Jen gave him a sympathetic smile, then batted her eyes at her husband. Will grinned, kissed her cheek, and left the house, presumably for the wrap his pregnant wife and their two unborn babies were yearning for.

Mike put on his coat, retrieved the gear from the garage, then walked down the path to the boat dock. He searched the tackle box for some lures he wanted to use and attached the first one. Listening to the quietness of nature all around him, he cast the line into the water. He hadn’t gone fishing since the one time he and his teammates chartered a boat on the Allegheny River, although most of them had done more drinking than fishing.

As he reeled the line back in, he couldn’t believe how his life had changed so quickly. It was practically turned inside out and upside down. He cursed himself for coming home again. Then all he could see was little Ryan’s precious face and felt awful for even thinking for one second that the trip home had been a mistake. While it conjured up memories of his past, ones he tried to keep suppressed, the knowledge he recently gained altered his life forever.

A splashing noise caught his attention. He cast the line again, closer to where he saw a fish jump.

The news of the inn surprised him, but the more he pondered the situation, the more it made sense. As a marketing executive in the city, Will was earning a good living which would allow Jen to stay home to raise their family. He knew the place was a lot of around-the-clock work, and she always wanted to have a hand in everything. While he was sad to see the place go, he was truly happy for his sister and brother-in-law. Mike was certain they were going to be fabulous parents if how Jen raised him was any indication. She never told him they were having problems conceiving. He wondered if she and Will had kept the problem private or if she didn’t want to bother him with it. She had always been there for him, and he felt like an asshole for not being there for her.

He felt like a bigger asshole for missing the first three years of his son’s life.

He brought the line in and sat the rod on the deck next to the bench. Years ago, fishing was a time when he could clear his mind. Right now, he didn’t feel like fishing while his life seemed to be spinning out of control like the line on the reel.

“Goddammit,” he yelled, his voice echoing off the rippling water, tears welling in his eyes. He frantically wiped them away, but they kept flowing. He couldn’t remember the last time he had cried. It was probably when he was twelve and he finally realized his parents didn’t give a shit about him. At the time, he let out his grief then picked himself up and moved on, determined to make something of himself. That was also the day he ran into Sophia on the beach. She was upset with her mother who wanted to enter her in some beauty pageant that Soph was completely against. She always preferred running around outside than getting all prettied up and sashaying around in a big-ass dress she absolutely did not want to wear.

Mike first noticed her natural beauty when they were in the fifth grade, always admiring her from afar. On that day, nearly two years later, he discovered how beautiful she was on the inside as they sat near the water’s edge for hours talking about their parents and their dreams. She told him about her father who made it clear he did not want to be in her life. She said she had accepted it, perhaps not knowing any different since she was so young when it happened. They shared tears of frustration which slowly turned into comforting laughter. She never judged him or called him a baby for being so upset. They somehow understood each other, a connection neither of them could ever explain.

As their friendship grew, so did his feelings for her. He kept his crush on her a secret for a long time, coming to her defense when boys picked on her because she was so tall. They hung out as friends here and there and started dating their senior year. When graduation came, they mutually parted ways even though Mike felt a piece of him was missing. They were young and had their education and careers ahead of them.

All those feelings and so much more came rushing back when he ran into her last time he was home. No matter who he dated, it didn’t feel right, but Soph always felt right and she broke his heart twice.

Mike’s chest heaved and the tears continued pouring out. He wasn’t sure if he was crying because he didn’t know what to do, if he was angry, or upset over the lost time. He was so damn confused.

His phone alerted him of a text from Jordan asking him where he was. “Shit.” He fucked up again, completely forgetting about the dinner party Graham and Jordan were having. He texted her back, apologizing and letting her know he was out of town sooner than he expected. Three seconds later, his phone rang. Of course Jordan would call even during their party.

He did his best to compose himself before answering. “Sorry about the last-minute change in plans.”

“It’s okay. We were worried about you since you didn’t show up. Everything okay?” Jordan asked.

Mike heaved a sigh. No, everything was not okay. Not even close. What was he supposed to say?

“Mike?” He heard a bit of rustling from the party and then it was quiet. “What’s going on?”

He remained quiet trying to process everything he learned today.

“Mike?”

“I have a son,” he blurted out, his emotions getting the best of him yet again.

“Oh. Want to talk about it?” she graciously asked.

“Jordan, you have a bunch of people at your house.”

“So what. You’re a good friend and it sounds like you need one right now,” she kindly offered.

She really was something else. Jordan had a way with words and was one of the most compassionate human beings he had ever met, but didn’t take any shit either. He was truly grateful for her and Graham’s friendship.

“His name is Ryan. He is three years old. I missed three fucking years of his life, Jordan. Three!”

“And the mother?”

Mike wiped away the tears again. He was certain Jordan could tell he was crying, but knew she would never judge him.

“She is the one who got away. The one, Jordan.”

Jordan was silent for a few moments. He would be too if one of his friends dumped this news on him. “Do you still love her, Mike?”

Mike contemplated the question with stinging eyes and a bleeding heart. There would always be room in his heart for Sophia, as broken as it was, yet there were a million questions scurrying through his mind. Now that he knew about his child, come hell or high water, he would be part of his life. Making it work, given their current situation and his past with Soph, was another story.

“I don’t think I ever stopped loving her.” The words rolled off his tongue with little regard to the anger and hurt he was feeling. He needed to talk to Sophia to figure out why she had kept his son from him.

“Mike, I think you know what you want and need to do. Given the circumstances, the details aren’t going to be easy to work out, but I have faith in you that you will make it work. Ryan deserves to have his daddy.”

Daddy. He didn’t want to be a father. No, Mike wanted to be a daddy, a man active in his son’s life and Ryan did deserve that. Every child did, even though Mike never had one in his life, nor did Sophia.

“Yeah.” He swallowed the lump in his throat, short on words. He knew Jordan and Graham deeply missed their fathers who had passed away entirely too early. They had been a major influence in their life, and Mike wanted to be that for Ryan.

“Mike, I’ll always be here for you, so is Graham and the rest of the team, whenever you are ready to tell them. Just remember, we’re your family, an unconventional one in many ways, but we are here to help or give you an ass-kicking when needed.”

He let out a gruff chuckle. “Thanks, Jordan.”

He disconnected the call and slid his phone back into his pocket. He had no idea what to say to Soph or how this was going to work. He was certain on one thing, he was going to be an awesome daddy from now on.

* * * *

Sophia nervously approached the inn. After hours of tormenting herself over what to do, and tears flowing like a damn river, she decided it was best to talk to Mike. Every time she closed her eyes, all she could picture was the hurt she saw in his eyes—the agony she put there. She always thought she had made the right decision by not telling him, letting him live the life he wanted as a bachelor and a professional athlete. Why would he want to be tied down with these kinds of responsibilities? But after seeing his reaction, she questioned her decision, realizing that she may have made a mistake—a fucking big one.

She also couldn’t deny how his lips caressed hers or how his strong body felt pressed against hers. She tried to clear those lusty thoughts from her head. They weren’t important. She had to focus on Ryan. Unfortunately, her body, along with her heart, was having a hard time following.

She rang the doorbell to the apartment over the garage. She heard footsteps descending the stairs, then Jen opened the door. Assuming Mike had told his sister, Sophia wasn’t sure how Jen would treat her.

Jen regarded her, clearly noticing her swollen eyes from the hours she spent crying. “Please come in,” she greeted, but Soph saw the distress in her expression.

Sophia followed Jen up the stairs then gestured to the dinette. Sophia took a seat opposite of her.

“I assume you are looking for Michael.” Sophia nodded. “He’s out fishing on the deck, at least that’s where he went hours ago.”

Soph went to get up and go find Mike.

“Sophia, please have a seat. Let’s talk for a few minutes.”

Sophia didn’t say anything as she took her seat again while Jen watched her closely. She knew Jen had been more like a mother to Mike over the years. Mike and Jen had always had a tight-knit relationship even though he hadn’t been home for nearly four years, at least not that she knew of. Sophia had spent so much time at the inn over the years, it was like a second home to her.

Once she moved back to Michigan, Sophia did her best to steer clear of the property and his sister, the memories simply too much for her, not to mention the knowledge she was withholding. She had run into Jen and Will a number of times at the café and in town, passing by with a quick hello, trying to avoid any questions. It was easy to do since Sophia was diligently working to make a new life for her and Ryan while being the best mother she could be.

“Sophia, I’ll be honest with you, I’m not quite sure what to say about all this.” Jen fiddled with a placemat then her eyes met Soph’s again. “Michael has had a lot thrown at him since he arrived this morning, more than he could have ever imagined and more than you even know.”

Sophia knew finding out about his son was like dropping a bomb on him, but by the look on Jen’s face, it wasn’t the only thing that transpired.

“He’s not handling this well. He needs time to think about everything. I will tell you, he won’t walk away from Ryan. You know how his relationship was with our parents, and I know my little brother. He would never do that to his child. I’m not sure why you never told him. Frankly, it’s none of my business. That is for you and Michael to sort out. I do hope that you are clear with your intentions and will make this—whatever this is—work for Ryan’s sake.”

Wetness seeped out of Sophia’s eyes. Jen reached for a tissue and handed it to her.

“I thought I was doing the right thing. My career was a mess after I found out I was pregnant, and his was taking off. Then all the tabloids…” She sniffled.

Jen reached for her hand and squeezed it. “I know Michael may have gone over the top at times with his newfound fame. Actually, that’s an understatement. It often appeared as if he was on the road to self-destruction. It worried me even when I visited him because he seemed…normal, like the little brother I helped raise. But even the interviews he did presented a totally different person, almost as if he was a stranger to me. We talked regularly on the phone like we always have over the years. I carefully questioned his actions and repeatedly expressed my concerns, but things continued and I obviously wasn’t getting through to him. At that point, I made sure he knew I loved him and was there for him, but I let it go, realizing he had to get  out of the damaging state of mind he was in.

“But this season has been quite different. He’s changed and matured. From what he tells me, he really looks at his team as a family and has grown quite close to a few of the guys and even some of their significant others.

“Whether you like it or not, Ryan is his family…and so are you.” Jen sighed heavily. “I just don’t want to see his heart break again, Sophia, but you have to give him a chance. Please keep that in mind.”

Sophia thought long and hard about what Jen had said as she walked outside. She didn’t want to break his heart, nor did she want hers to fall apart again. She knew she was the one who broke it off—twice—but she believed it was for the best given their situations. Then seeing Mike with dozens of other women, nearly shattering her heart every time, she was convinced it was the lifestyle he wanted to live—one she and Ryan didn’t fit into.

Sophia had no idea what was going to happen. Mike had his baseball career back in Pittsburgh and she had her café in Michigan. One way or another, she had to put those differences and her feelings aside because Ryan did deserve to have his father in his life. As regret began to sink in, she was starting to feel like an awful mother for keeping that from him.

She took a few deep breaths and forced herself toward the dock.