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WILD CARD -Adriana French.png
WILD CARD -Adriana French.png
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Excerpt: Wild Card

(c) 2022 Adriana French

Chapter One


Snow is falling and, for whatever reason, the sight of the silvery flakes clinging to the pines outside the window calms me. Nothing else seems to help me relax anymore. Alcohol doesn’t work. I’m not into weed, or pills.


I only need the Montana chill in my bones to help me decompress after the most brutal baseball season of my career.


My lips curve into a satisfied grin. We did it. The Colorado Rockies won the World Series. Now I can take as much time as I choose to kick back and do whatever I want until next season.


My sister Scarlett, Greg Harmon and I, are sprawled out on the couch in my living room, half watching the pregame report, but mostly waiting for the football game to start.

“Did you know you’re getting married soon?” Scarlett blinks up at me and then peers down at her cell. She’s always been overdramatic, so I don’t give her more than a sideways glance. God knows what she’s reading.  


Greg, my best friend since third grade, grabs a handful of popcorn and takes Scarlett’s bait. “Who is it now?”

With a mischievous smirk, Scarlett flips her screen around and shows us an image of me and Kingsley Lockhart at Casa de Estrellas, my family’s estate in Texas.

“Really?” I sneer in disgust. The shot was taken last December after my mom’s annual winter bash. Kingsley’s clan and most of Greg’s were there as well, including his gorgeous sister Vivi, but it’s impossible to tell by the picture. “Where’s everybody else?” I groan and take a pull from my beer.

“The Kingsleys were at my parent’s house for dinner last night. You should’ve seen Kingsley in action.” Scarlett’s eyes grow wide as she fills Greg in, and I wish she’d drop the subject or at the very least, read the room. “She kept trying to talk you into sneaking off into a bedroom, didn’t she, Judge?”

“Rubbing salt in the wound, are you?” I hold my sister’s stare for a beat, and shift to Greg. “I brushed her off as best I could without being rude, but Kingsley was relentless.”

“Well, you have known her forever…” Greg says.

“Only because our parents are so tight, but I have zero interest in her. Don’t find her the least bit attractive.”

“Must be tough being a billionaire, with a World Series ring and all those women flinging their panties off and falling at your feet.” He teases.

Scarlett swipes her phone’s screen. “Looks like Kingsley is serious about you.” She shows me another picture Kingsley has obviously manipulated, and then another. “She’s making it look like you two are madly in love.”

“For fuck’s sake, don’t I have any say in this? Next time I see her, I’m going to nip this ludicrousy in the bud and since she refuses to take a hint, I won’t be as nice to her as I was last night.”

“You should check your Friendbook occasionally.” Scarlett mutters.

“It’s been so long I don’t even remember my password.” I reach over the cushions, gesturing for Scarlett to hand me her phone. “Do you mind?”

She waggles her brows and passes it to me.

Greg leans over, trying to see the screen. “Everyone’s pretty much lost their shit over you since you won the Series.”

“I didn’t win the World Series, The Rockies did. My team did. We all did.” Crap. I scroll through Kingsley’s Friendbook page. I’m in almost every post.

“Correction.” Greg contemplates me with pride. “When you threw that no hitter, and you secured your team’s wild card position in the playoffs. Your team then went on to win the World Series. The Rockies wouldn’t have had the chance to even compete if you didn’t get them into the playoffs first.”

I’m so fucking distracted by what I’m seeing on Scarlett’s phone. I’m getting a headache. I show Greg the screen.


“Look at that picture. These were all originally group photos of our families. Serves me right for standing next to her on the end. I made it too easy for her to crop everyone else out of the shot.”

“Guess it doesn’t help that Kingsley’s dad owns FriendBook,” Scarlett adds.

“You know Vivi’s working there now.” My chest tightens when Greg mention’s his sister’s name. I’ve been so consumed with baseball; I haven’t had the bandwidth to think of anything else. Unlike Kingsley, or any of the other women who are now suddenly into me because I’m in the limelight, Vivi has always appreciated me for exactly who I am, World Series winner or not.


She’s been my biggest cheerleader since she was seven. Which means I’ve been holding myself back from kissing her since I was nine. And all this time, I’ve managed to hide my attraction to her from Greg who would ring my neck if he ever found out. Vivi’s the baby of the family and I understand why the Harmon’s are so protective of her.


After they lost Tate, Greg’s older brother in Afghanistan, you can hardly blame them for trying to shield Vivi from any more heartache—but hurting Vivi is the farthest thing from my mind. Hell, it’s too dangerous for me to allow myself to think of any what-ifs with Vivi.

Over the last few years, my desire for her has grown in intensity, to the point where whenever I’m near her I get a hard on, which makes my attraction to her all the more challenging. “So Vivi isn’t living in Silicon Valley?” I casually press Greg.  

He shrugs his shoulders. “Nope. Friendbook stole her from Google, so she’s back home, at least for now.” My pulse quickens with the realization of her being within my reach again, especially now that the season is over. I keep my face devoid of expression so Greg doesn’t catch on. “She has to travel to Menlo Park and pop into Friendbook headquarters once a month, but she works remotely most of the time. Kingsley’s on her project team.”

“Well good.” Scarlett reaches for her phone and I pass it back to her. “Maybe Vivi can delete Kingsley’s posts.”

Greg shakes his head and downs another fistful of popcorn. “Vivi doesn’t have anything to do with content. She’s creating Friendbook’s virtual reality space, or programming something. Not sure. I’m too busy at the ranch to keep up with exactly what my brainiac sister does. But she has three gigantic monitors set up in the back room, with a special Wi-Fi system, a VPN. Top secret shit. Big league.” He sets his empty down on the coffee table and I dig into the icy bucket next to me and hand him a fresh beer.

Greg stares out the window while he pops the top open. My best friend is very good at many things, but Poker isn’t one of them. He has the sort of face that reads like a book, and there’s something cooking in that brain of his. “Tell you what.” And here it comes… “I might be able to get you out of this predicament with Kingsley.” With a shit-eating grin, he turns and narrows his dark eyes on me.

“I’m all ears.”

“Vivi was just complaining that she doesn’t have a date for the Friendbook gala. She’s vying for a promotion and is positive she won’t get it unless she’s in a serious relationship.”

“What the hell kind of crock is that?” I snap, pissed that anyone would pull that archaic bullshit on her. She’s the smartest woman I know.

“Are we back in the fifties, now?” Scarlett scowls. “She doesn’t need a husband or a boyfriend, or girlfriend, or anyone to do her job.”

“I think the issue is she’s the youngest in her department. She’s only twenty-two.” Greg points out as if I’m not already well aware of every single fact regarding Vivi Harmon. The only reason I didn’t realize she was back in West Palomino was because of my insane season this year, but I would’ve found out on my own. “Vivi is competing with people a lot older than her. She needs to give the impression that she’s stable.”

“I can’t imagine how anybody would think Vivi wasn’t.” Scarlett points to our beer stash, and I hand her another.

“You’re not attracted to her.” Greg’s oblivious to how wrong he is. “And she sure as hell isn’t to you.” To be determined, but based on the way Vivi’s eyes lit up the last time I saw her, I sincerely doubt there isn’t a little room for persuasion. My filthy brain goes off on a tangent with ideas of how and where I would start seducing Vivi if she ever gave me an inkling of a green light. “So pretend you’re engaged to Vivi, and go to the company party with her next weekend. Problem solved.”

“Judge engaged?” Scarlett squeals and throws her head back with a laugh… “Oh my God, what I wouldn’t pay to be a fly on the wall at that party.”

“C’mon, Scarlett. Give me a break. It might be possible for me to settle down some day. I’m not that much of an animal.”

She lifts her head from the cushion and looks me in the eye. My sister has this annoying ability to raise only one eyebrow, the equivalent of a smart-ass smirk. “Interesting that the first word that comes to your mind to describe yourself is animal, isn’t it?”

I ignore Scarlett, and pretend I need a moment to respond to the best fucking idea Greg has ever had. “You sure your sister would be game for this?”

“I should probably run it by her first before you talk to her, but why wouldn’t she want to go for it? It’s a win-win. She moves up in the company, and you get Kingsley off your back. The party is at the Lockhart’s place in Whitefish.”

I bite down a smile and contemplate the irony of Greg setting me up with Vivi. I’ll have her all to myself ... and if he has a shit fit about anything, I can  remind him it was his idea. Talk about a win-win…

Chapter Two

“You sure you don’t have room for seconds, Vivi?” Mom’s comforting voice floats down the hallway of my cozy childhood home. 

From behind my desk, I holler, “Positive. I’ve already had seconds, and then some.” I laugh. The house is dinky, so I know she can hear me. With five siblings, my parents, and at least three relatives residing here at any time, the noise level is significant, and that isn’t even factoring in the animals or the racket from the tractors, the various chainsaws and hammers, the drills, the bikes, ATVs and trucks. And let’s not forget the diesel engines and generators, or the random shrieks just because. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s home. It’s stuffed with the aromas from Mama’s cooking too.


The mouthwatering spicy scent of her fried chicken lunch still lingers in the air. I’m looking forward to the smell of the freshly baked apple pie she’s making.

Harmon Ranch has been in my family for almost a hundred years. It’s one of the twenty-five largest ranches in Montana. Truth be told, my folks are having a hell of a time making ends meet and keeping the place running. As soon as I could manage, I moved home so I could pay rent. They wouldn’t accept a dime from me unless I was living here, so I’m back in the main residence with Mom and Dad. Greg and Tiana live here too.


My oldest brother, Cole, lives in a separate building on the land with his new bride, Sophia. My brothers Stephen and Cade have their own mini ranches on the property. There’s plenty of room for everyone. My cousins Ford, Scout and Cullen are all piled in a bunkhouse at the far end of the main ranch.

With my three computer monitors and special lightning-speed private internet, I can thankfully work anywhere. I’m out of the way in the back, using an office that doubles as my bedroom so I’m not taking up any extra space, and Friendbook paid for the apparatus I’m using.

I crack my knuckles, lean closer, and enlarge the photo on the monitor in the middle. I click it again to make it full screen—all the better to see the blonde curls and sunshiny smile of Kingsley Lockhart, my high school class’s prom queen. Her uber-wealthy dad owns the company I work for. Kingsley’s on my project team.

My crush, World Series ace pitcher Judge Parker, and his buffed-to-perfection body are standing next to her. The Parkers are billionaires, in another stratosphere of wealth compared to mine. I met Judge the year he and my brother Greg were on the same summer league baseball team. Greg can talk the hide off a cow, so they didn’t waste time before becoming best friends.

Back then, the Parkers lived in Texas full time. When they’d go home at the end of summer, I’d count the months until May when Judge and his family would return. To say Judge Parker is gorgeous wouldn’t even scratch the surface. I’m sure every one of his facial features fits that golden ratio—the one that every perfect face apparently has—but it’s the whole Judge Parker package that wallops you over the head. He’s well over six two, probably four or five, but I haven’t kept track. After I reached five three and stopped growing, all I know is Judge kept getting taller.

His ripped, sculpted body and broad shoulders get a head-snapping double take in any room he enters. Like his brothers, he has that Parker swagger, but there’s just a scooch more strut in Judge’s stride. His big, elegant hands can palm a baseball and throw it accurately at lightning speed like no other. I’ll bet every woman he meets wonders what else he can do with those hands, not to mention his fingers.

And when his light brown dreamy stare finds you, you can forget what planet you’re living on sometimes and, if you’re not careful, drop your panties then and there. You’d do anything to make him smile. Once you see it, you can’t help but grin right back. And if he’s smiling so hard his dimples are showing, throw your hands up in the air. It’s best just to surrender. He’s got you now. There’s no fighting that smile.

He’s smiling now in the photo, but I can’t see his dimples. His muscly arm is casually draped around Kingsley’s slender shoulders. She’s taller than me, so her head comes right above his neck. Does he like taller women? I study the photo and plainly see the Parkers’ magnificent estate, Casa de Estrellas, behind them. Her windows gleam, reflecting a golden Texas sunset. I was at that party and can’t remember seeing them alone together once that day.

They make a cute couple, I determine, sinking deeper into my ergonomic chair. Never imagined Kingsley was Judge’s type. But things have changed. Since his team won the World Series, Judge is a hot commodity on the celebrity circuit, so I guess Kingsley’s right up his alley.

“There they are. The happy couple.” My brother’s voice cuts through the silence behind me. I swivel in the chair to him. “I’m not interrupting, am I?” Greg gestures to my computer.

“No.” I turn back to my desk. “I’m finished for the day, was just goofing off.”

“Spying on Kingsley and Judge?” His dark eyebrows lift in a suspicious arch.

“What are you, a detective now?” I huff. “Hardly.” I quickly minimize the screen. “I couldn’t avoid those two if I tried. Their pictures are plastered all over Friendbook. I was looking for details about the party in Whitefish.”


“Then my timing is impeccable.” Greg drags the chair from the corner and parks it beside me before taking a seat. “Judge was complaining about the same thing. Kingsley’s going overboard with those photos and it’s pissing him off.”

“So they’re not getting married?”

“Ha. She’s one brick shy of a load if she thinks that. They aren’t even dating. Bottom line, they’re friends, like you and Judge.” Greg smugly folds his arms over his chest and levels his mischievous blue-eyed stare on me. He pauses for added dramatic effect, and I roll my eyes, wishing he’d get to the point. “Which is why Judge has agreed to go to Whitefish with you next weekend.”

I silently repeat the words, letting them filter through my brain because I’ve obviously missed something in the translation. “Say that again.”

“Judge is coming to the Friendbook gala with you next weekend.”

I bolt upright in the chair like I’ve been drenched with a bucket of ice water. “Why on earth would he do that?”

“Because I told him you needed a date.”

My head cracks down the middle. I’m seeing double. “You told Judge I’m desperate for a date?” I grab the nearest file on my desk and fling it at him.

“Whoa!” He laughs. “Did I hit a sensitive spot?”

“Talk about being a brick short of a load! You’re two pickles short of a barrel. Porch light’s on, no one’s home. Too many cobwebs in the attic.”

He holds his hand up for me to stop. “You realize you sound like you’re fifty years old when you spout Grannie’s lines.”

“I can’t help it. I’m livid,” I say. My brother needs to buy a clue. How could he betray me like that? I drop my head, unable to face the traitor. “Shit. You made me sound so pathetic. I’m making almost two hundred grand a year, okay? I’m smart. And I sure as hell am not desperate for a date. There are at least ten guys who’d love to go to that damn gala with me.” Okay, that was a bald-faced lie, but it hit the mark.

Greg tilts his head with a patient smirk, like he’s allowing me to let off steam and I’m the one not making sense. “I’m aware of how successful you are, and I’m proud of you, Vivi. I only want to help you go as far up the ladder as you can at Friendbook.”

I eye him suspiciously.

“Hey. You’re both desperate, okay? Kingsley isn’t taking the hint that Judge has zero interest in being more than friends. And you were moaning to me the other day about how you’ll never get that promotion unless management thinks you’ve settled down with someone.”

I sniff. “Which is something the company would never admit, but still true.”

“So, if you both go to the gala together and pretend you’re engage—”

“What the holy hell?” I rub my forehead, and then give up trying to ease the tension. Greg shouldn’t be talking behind my back, never mind trying to be some idiotic matchmaker. “What a shitshow.” I moan, covering my face with my hands.

“Come on now, don’t be upset.” Greg pries my fingers off my cheeks, and I reluctantly straighten with a seething stare. My blood is boiling. No one makes decisions for me. I’m the boss of my own life. Luckily for Greg, I would never stoop so low and hit anyone … but if I ever did want to get down and dirty, he’d be the first person I’d smack upside the head.

“Engaged?” I sound shrill, octaves rising with my blood pressure. “Me, engaged to Judge Parker? Have you lost your ever-lovin’ cockamamie mind?”

“Relax. I said pretend you’re engaged. Judge would be the last person on earth to commit to anything, so don’t you worry. Besides, I’d kill him if he ever tried to lay a finger on you.”

My boomerang brain immediately questions my brother’s reasoning from the opposite perspective. What would be so wrong with being engaged to me? Why would you be mad at Judge for touching me? I decide to keep my mouth shut. If I get my brother off track, he’ll never finish his story. “The plan is … what?”

“For Chandler Lockhart to see that you two are a couple about to be married. With Judge’s popularity now, you’ll have that promotion in the bag, and Judge benefits too. Kingsley will get the message loud and clear that he isn’t interested in her, and she’ll move on to her next victim.”

“This situation still isn’t good. There’s no way we can pull this off. What the hell am I supposed to do on a date with Judge?” In all the years we’ve known each other, we’ve never been alone together. Perhaps in a room somewhere for five minutes, but never out in the wild.

“You’ll talk, Vivi.” My brother rakes a hand through his thick brown mop. “You’ve been out on dates before, obviously. You dated that nerd Todd for a year.”

I let the swipe pass. Yes, Todd was indeed a geek. And boring. And had a minuscule penis. And didn’t know how to go down on me. And also spent too much time on his phone. But I digress …

“Judge and I lead such different lives. He’s a sports phenomenon now. What do I know about what it takes to win the World Series? And I’ll bet he doesn’t have the foggiest idea about what I do either. Besides, I can’t imagine Judge doesn’t have a million dating options. Why me?”

“One—because I asked,” Greg answers smugly. “Two—you’ve known each other for almost a lifetime. Three—with his celebrity status these days, people are dying for him to make a mistake so they can tweet about it. Judge can’t ask some random person to help him out with a fake engagement.” I stay silent and let my brother explain. “Everything’s different since he won the World Series. He isn’t into Kingsley. She isn’t taking the hint, and you want a promotion. I thought I could help, but never mind.” Greg gets to his feet and throws a frustrated hand up on the way to the door.

I didn’t realize Judge was in a real bind. “Wait.”

Greg pivots and leans against the doorframe. “You were saying?” His brows furrow as though they were individual smart asses.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to discussing the situation with Judge,” I say primly, so Greg doesn’t get the wrong idea. “As long as we’re both on the same page, maybe it wouldn’t be so awful to have someone escort me to the party.”

The corners of Greg’s mouth turn up in a lopsided smile. He doesn’t say I told you so, but that’s what he’s thinking.


“My work here is done. I’ll text him your number. You two can take it from there.”

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