Give Me Liberty
Luke had to run to keep up with Lib as she jogged toward the softball field. Their team was up first, and he joined the other players on the bench, quickly changing into his softball cleats.
“You’re batting third, Luke,” the team captain told him. “‘Bout time you guys showed up. I was starting to think we’d have to forfeit the game.” He grinned. “To tell you the truth, I almost wish we had. It woulda been much less painful. The Falcons are going to tromp us into the ground. Anyone taking bets? Are we gonna get shut out again by these guys?”
“Milt, you’re supposed to tell us that we’re going to win,” Lib said from where she sat further down the metal bench. “Come on, guys, we can beat the Falcons. It’s just not going to be as easy as the last four games.”
“We are on a winning streak,” one of the outfielders said.
“I don’t know,” Milt said dubiously, watching the first batter strike out. “We’ve never beaten the Falcons yet.”
“Joanie, get on base,” Lib shouted to the next batter. “Luke’s up next and he’s gonna hit a triple. He’ll bring you home.” She turned and grinned teasingly at Luke. “Right?”
Luke met her eyes steadily, holding her gaze as he stood up and picked up a bat. “If it would make you happy,” he said, “I’d do damn near anything.”
The players on the bench let out a collective “Oooh,” looking from Luke to Lib and then back again. Someone started chanting that old playground song about Lib and Luke sitting in a tree.
Lib felt her cheeks heat up. Good grief, what was wrong with her? She was blushing like a school girl. And naturally, Luke noticed.
He grinned at her, warming up the muscles in his shoulders and back by swinging the heavy bat.
There was a sound as the ball hit the wood of a bat, and Lib leapt to her feet, her embarrassment forgotten as she watched Joan run for first base.
She watched him step into the batter’s box, digging in slightly with the toe of his cleats, lowering his center of gravity for balance, and bringing the bat back. He wore a faded pair of baseball pants, and the stretchy fabric hugged his muscular legs and derriere. It was undeniable. Luke Fulton had an incredibly cute butt.
As if he knew what she was thinking, he suddenly stepped out of the batter’s box, and turned and looked at her. And grinned.
“Hey, Lib,” he said.
The umpire was exasperated. “Luke. Get to it here, will you?”
Lib stood, crossing to the wire mesh fence that protected the team from stray balls.
“Does it have to be a triple?” Luke asked. He tapped the sides of his cleats with the bat, then made sure his T-shirt was tucked into his pants. “Can I hit a home run?”
She crossed her arms. “Oh, please,” she said. “Be my guest.”
Luke smiled, positioning himself over the plate again. The look on her face told him if he did something dumb, like pop up to right field, she’d tease him about this for the rest of his life.
But he knew this pitcher. This guy occasionally let go with a perfect floater — nice and soft and straight down the middle. And Luke knew if he hit a home run, his team would get jazzed. Ty Bartlett was up next, and he was another power hitter – but a total head case. If Bartlett thought they were going to lose, he’d strike out. But if he thought they might win–
The pitcher let go of the ball, and Luke knew he had a real chance at hitting it over the wall. He felt strong. He pulled the bat back farther and swung, feeling the power in his shoulders and arms. It felt good. He felt good. For the first time in years he felt really good, and it had nothing to do with being close to his goal of buying back his land. It had nothing to do with the land at all. It was all about Lib. She made him feel alive. She made him feel–
The force of the bat hitting the ball jarred Luke’s entire body, and the crack! was so loud, it hurt his ears.
The ball was brilliant white against the darkening evening sky as it rocketed in a high arc toward center field, but Luke didn’t watch it. He didn’t run toward first base. He didn’t even walk. He simply stood at home plate and lowered his bat to the ground.
His mouth was dry and his hands were shaking and it had nothing to do with the fact that he’d just hit a home run that dropped a good fifty yards outside of the center field fence.
He turned and looked at Lib.
The rest of his team was going nuts, jumping up and down and shouting, but Lib was still standing at the backstop.
“Show off,” she said and smiled at him.
If he wasn’t certain before, her smile clinched it for him.
He was in love with Liberty Jones.