A Holiday Novella in the Play-by-Play Series
An independent woman falls happily under the influence of hard bodies, pounding surf, and the embracing Hawaiian sun in this Play-by-Play romance from the New York Times bestselling author of All Wound Up.
Victoria “Tori” Baldwin is a successful sports agent whose career has always come first. She enjoys her work, her clients, and, on the occasional free night, a love life that’s short, hot, and uncomplicated.
While unwinding over Christmas in Hawaii, she chances upon a surfing competition, and all the lean hard men that come with it—especially Alex McConnell, a young surfer at the top of his game, and Ben Reynolds, ex-surfer and Alex’s business manager. The physical attraction Tori feels to these two completely different men is off the charts. They’re smart, sexy, and the nights are filled with the hottest passion Tori has ever felt.
Soon, Alex and Ben will move on to the next big wave and Tori will head back east. But as the days and nights go by, Alex and Ben’s feelings for Tori start to swell. Tori’s feeling it, too, and for the first time ever, she’s thinking twice about the men she’ll leave behind.
It won’t be long before this hot threesome has to decide if the romantic wave they’ve been riding is nothing more than a vacation fling, or the kind of love that could change all their lives forever
Victoria Baldwin determined it had been six months, three days, four hours and—she looked at her phone and calculated—approximately seventeen minutes since she’d last had time off.
She was damned overdue. She normally took holidays more frequently. Working in the sports industry for fifteen years should have netted her vacation time whenever she wanted it, but being a sports agent meant that sometimes you had to work your ass off, and this had been one of those brutal kinds of years.
Not that she was complaining. Picking up a few new clients had meant an uptick in her bank account, which allowed her to take these getaways. So she’d suck it up and do the hard work when it was necessary.
And now she had three weeks off. She could already feel the stress melting away.
She’d vacationed all over the world, from Mexico to Fiji to Europe to Asia to every island in the Caribbean, but she always loved coming back to Hawaii, and especially the island of Oahu. It was the flowers. She loved the smell of the flowers here, and the staff at her favorite hotel on the north shore were incomparable.
She’d been lucky to get in on such short notice. They were booked solid for the international surfing competitions that would start in a few days. Plus it was also the Christmas holiday. But they’d made a suite available for her, knowing she was a preferred customer and she tipped very well.
She threw on her swimsuit, then put on a pair of shorts and a tank top over it, laced up her shoes, lathered up the sunscreen and grabbed her sunglasses. First item on the agenda was a run on the beach. It was the perfect way to release stress and unwind.
She’d landed late last night. When she’d arrived at the hotel she’d done nothing but strip naked, fall into bed and pass out. The time change would play havoc with her for a day or so, but she was used to travel and changing time zones. She needed to acclimate.
She made her way to the lobby, noting the holiday décor. A giant tree stood in the corner, decorated in hues of glittering green and red. The twinkling lights definitely helped to wake her up and put her in a Christmas mood.
At home in New York, it had snowed before she left. Here, it was a balmy seventy-five degrees. Oh yes, she much preferred to spend her Christmas holiday in a warm climate.
She walked through the open-air lobby and onto the sandy beach.
It was a beautiful morning, warm and with a glorious sunrise that made her damn glad to be on vacation. Instead of gulping down caffeine and rushing off to an appointment or to catch a plane, she inhaled a long, solid breath of sweet-smelling air, stretched and set off on a run. She started at a slow jog, adjusting to her surroundings, enjoying the sounds of the gulls as they flew overhead hoping for a seafood breakfast.
She ran every day, not only as a way to keep her body in shape, but also because she liked the way it made her feel. Drawing in oxygen, and the exhilaration she experienced when she dug in hard and pushed her body to its limits was something that never got old.
The waves were rolling higher than what she was used to. Then again, she wasn’t typically here in December. She’d always come to Hawaii in the spring or summer, so the waves this time of year were new for her.
When she saw several surfers grab their boards and paddle out to tackle those waves, she was in awe to see humans battling Mother Nature. She wanted to stop and watch, but she needed to get her run in, so she pushed past, taking deep breaths and digging her feet into the sand.
When she’d gone a mile, she stopped, took a breather, grabbed the water bottle she’d strapped to her hip and drank, then walked for a few minutes, taking a couple of deep breaths, readying herself for the run back. By the time she made her way to the spot where she’d seen the surfers enter the water, there were at least five more. She saw two of them catch a wave at the top and drop down underneath a big wave that rolled over them.
She stopped, jogged in place and watched them as they rode it out all the way to shore.
“Ready to catch a wave?”
She startled, so engrossed in the surfers she hadn’t noticed the guy who’d walked up and was standing right next to her.
He looked like a surfer himself. He was young—younger than her, anyway, but not as young as the two she’d seen out on the water. Early thirties was her guess.
He was also very hot, with gorgeous, sun-streaked blond hair.
Oh so sexy. He wore dark sunglasses and had a killer smile.
“No, I was out for a jog and happened to see them on my way down the beach and back up.”
“You here on vacation?” he asked.
“I am. Just got in last night, so stretching out my stiff muscles. Are you here for the surfing competition?”
“Yes. Alex McConnell.” He held out his hand.
She shook it. “Victoria Baldwin. You look a little old to be a surfer.”
His lips curved upward. “Do I?”
Well, shit, Tori. Nothing like opening your mouth and insulting the guy.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean that. I mean, you’re not too old to surf. Or do anything, quite obviously. Just look at you. Your body is totally hot, and dear God, those abs and . . . I’m going to stop talking now.”
That made him laugh. “All complimentary things. Do keep talking. Nice to meet you, Victoria.”
He had an ease about him, a confident air, plus a sense of humor. She liked that. “Do you compete a lot?”
“I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.”
She laughed. “You’re still a kid.”
He arched a brow. “Hardly. And we’re about the same age.”
He had no idea how old she was, but it was nice of him to say that.
She’d kept moving to keep her heart rate going. He’d started walking with her and she didn’t mind. As eye candy he was gorgeous. And she did enjoy some good eye candy. She intended to have a good time this vacation.
So far—excellent start.
“What do you do when you’re not on vacation, Victoria? Or do you go by Tori?”
She loved the way he said her name. “Either one is fine. I’m a sports agent.”
He stopped. “Sports agent, huh? That sounds like a fun job.”
“It is. It keeps me very busy, but I love it.”
“How long have you been doing that?”
He tipped his glasses down and she got a glimpse of beautiful sea-green eyes. “No shit.”
“So you started when you were a kid?”
“And you’re full of it, but thanks for the compliment.”
“I’m not full of anything. I always mean what I say. You’re gorgeous, Tori.”
They arrived at the steps of her hotel. “This is where I’m staying.”
“I was going to have breakfast. Would you like to join me?”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
“Unless I’m keeping you from getting in the water?”
“No. I’ll do a run again later. I was already in the water earlier.”
They headed up to the outside restaurant. Tori ordered juice, yogurt and fruit. Alex ordered bacon and eggs. And coffee. She definitely wanted coffee. Now that she’d had her run, she was hungry, and fortunately, the food arrived quickly.
She watched the waves as they ate.
“Would you like some bacon?”
She waved her hand. “No, thank you.”
She laughed. “No. I like meat just fine. But I do like a light breakfast, and meat in moderation.”
He popped a piece of bacon in his mouth. “Must be how you stay so slim.”
“Thank you. I like to run.”
“I like to run, too. When I’m not chasing a wave I’m usually on the beach taking a run.”
They had things in common, despite the age difference. She liked that.
“So where do you live, Alex?”
He smiled. “I live wherever there’s a wave, but I try to get back home now and then, usually just for the holidays.”
When she gave him a long look, he said, “Home base is in San Diego. My parents still live there.”
“Thanks. But I don’t get there as often as I’d like. I travel all over for work, as I imagine you do. I don’t suppose you see your parents a lot either.”
She laughed. “That’s true. I do travel a lot. I have a sister in Virginia I visit when I can. Our parents are both gone now.”
“And where do you live?”
“In New York.”
“City girl, then.”
“Very much so. Have you ever been?”
“To New York? Yeah. Great city. It has a killer energy.”
She took a sip of her coffee and nodded. “That’s what I love about it. Being there invigorates me.”
“And what brings you to the islands?”
She leaned back in her chair, cup in hand. “Utter exhaustion. While I love my job and the travel and the fast pace, if I don’t get away from it now and then I suffer burnout.”
“So you come here to escape.”
She nodded. “I take time off every December. I go to a lot of different places, but it’s usually a tropical island. I like the ocean and the beach, someplace where I can turn my phone off and let my mind relax. Get away from the job, you know?”
Alex looked out over the water. “That is my job out there.”
“I suppose that’s true. To me, it’s so calming. But to you I imagine it’s very high energy.”
“The best high there is.”
She liked this guy. He was charming, intelligent and extremely good-looking. It was obvious he was attracted to her. She always approached an island vacation fling slowly. One never knew who one was getting involved with, so she stepped in cautiously.
“You come out here before the competition starts so you can practice?”
“Yeah. Get a feel for the waves, see how they’re climbing. The Pipeline is one of the most dangerous competitions.”
He nodded. “The Banzai Pipeline is where the water and the coral bend the water to form what looks like a tubular wave. The swells can reach over twenty feet.”
She arched a brow. “And you surf those.”
“They’re some of the best. But also the most dangerous because of the reef.”
She shook her head. “You men and your extreme sports.”
“Women surf them, too. And you represent athletes. You know how it goes. We have to do what drives us.”
“Or you’re simply driven by these insane competitive urges and nothing stops you.”
He grabbed a few of her grapes and popped them into his mouth. “Maybe.”
“Maybe I’ll come watch you.”
“I’d like that. And maybe you’ll have dinner with me tonight.”
She liked his confidence. “Maybe I will. Where are you staying?”
She arched a brow. “Really?”
“This hotel is pricey.”
He laughed. “Do I look poor?”
She laid her hand on his. “No. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean . . .”
“Relax, Victoria. It takes a lot to insult me. Turns out I’m kind of an international superstud on the surfing circuit, so I’ve got enough coin to afford to stay in a nice shack like this.”
She really had to learn to stop judging people on appearances. Just because he was more than a few years younger than her—and a surfer—didn’t mean he wasn’t successful and a moneymaker.
She obviously needed to do a little research into Alex McConnell. “I appreciate you giving me a break. I’m not usually such an uppity bitch.”
“I think you’re beautiful. And honest in your opinions. I like honest women. You’re refreshing after some of the ones I’ve been with.”
“It sounds like you have some stories to share.”
“Honey, I’ve been with some beach bunnies that would make your eyes pop out of your head. Yeah, I’ve got a few stories.”
“You’ll have to share them with me.”
He looked at his watch. “That’s a conversation we’ll have after dinner. I need to run.” He stood and signaled for the waiter.
“I can take care of that.”
He winked at her. “So can I.” He signed for the bill, then leaned down and pressed a kiss to her cheek. His breath was warm, and she had to admit she liked the feel of his lips against her skin. “Come find me later, Tori. I’ll be in the water.”
As he wandered off, Victoria smiled.
This was going to be interesting.