I’m so excited that we are just about a month away from the Benched. I have some really fun things planned and I can’t wait to share them soon. In the meantime, I want to celebrate the fact that the book is done and ARCs are out in the world and to do so, I want to share the prologue and first chapter, to hopefully get you hyped for the release.
Don’t forget you can preorder your ebook copy of Benched at the following links:
Kindle / Nook / Kobo / Apple Books
There is going to be some news soon about a special signed book BOX and maybe even some news about an audiobook? Stay tuned! In the meantime, enjoy!
People often say that in small towns, everyone knows everything about everyone, but that isn’t always true. However, if you live in a town that is obsessed with its college baseball team and you just happen to be the coach’s daughter, then yes, people will know everything about you.
Santa Isabella is a town tucked along the central coast of California. For years, the town was known mostly for pulling oil out of the ground and not much else. But like most things, that didn’t last. The town needed to find something else to bring money in and that’s when the boardwalk was built, and the state college followed soon after. Santa Isabella became a tourist destination, and how could it not? It was just close enough to San Francisco for a day trip and was known for beautiful weather all year long. The small college town of Izzy was perfect—the best of both worlds. With ease, tourists could lounge on the sandy beaches and hike through the thick redwoods on their way out of town. Despite its small size, the town was full of tourists, from the very beginning of spring to the end of summer. They often outnumbered the locals but even then, the people in Santa Isabella found way to gossip about the tourists too.
Nowadays, it’s known for that very same college and for its baseball team, the Quakes. The Quakes won their very first college world series in the eighties and ever since, they’ve been the only thing that mattered in this town. Everyone lives and breathes baseball all year long. They camp out in the stadium during the season and count down the minutes until it’s spring again. The whole city is decked from the sky to the ground in green and black. The baseball players are rock stars.
Santa Isabella is where I grew up.
Santa Isabella is where I go to college.
Baseball was once the most important thing in my life.
Now, I’d do anything to avoid it.
I’m late. There is sweat dripping down my back—very attractive—and I’m almost afraid to glance down at my watch because it will tell me the level of trouble that I’m in. I’m not just five minutes late. I’m so incredibly late and I’m pretty sure that I’ve missed the entire practice. I don’t have a good excuse and I’m confident that my dad is probably going to kill me. Or make me participate alongside the boys during Hell Week. I can’t decide which one would be worse. On one hand, Hell Week would get me back on the field, doing what I love. On the other, the field was the very last place I wanted to be. It was a melancholy feeling and I briefly begin to wonder if there is leniency in Santa Isabella for the coach’s daughter being late on her first day of work before the season starts. Probably not, but I’m not going to think about that right now. I just need to get into that locker room.
I’ve spent so much time on this campus, yet I still have managed to get lost going from my English class in the McPherson building to the bookstore, and from the bookstore to the locker room. It’s honestly very easy to get distracted while on campus. I basically grew up right here, spent more days here on campus with my dad on the field than at my own home, yet I still am mesmerized at how gorgeous it is. California State University, Santa Isabella fits the bill rather perfectly for a university on a sunny coast—palm trees everywhere, people hurrying across campus in a pair of shorts and tank tops, and not one person is walking around without sunglasses framing their faces. Salt from the sea breeze is present with every new breath, and sometimes I think it looks like something out of a Hollywood movie, but on a much smaller scale.
Izzy might be popular with the baseball players but it’s still a relatively small campus, and I’m glad for that fact alone. I don’t need to be any more lost than I already am. I race past the main quad and shake my head when I spot an older classman lounging in a hammock strung between two trees. Of course. It’s January, the beginning of a new semester, but the sun is giving off a heat more suited to summer. My blonde hair is sticking to the back of my neck and all I really want right now is some good air conditioning and a cold bottle of water.
The thought of the air conditioning that is already pumping in the locker room spurs me to quicken my pace. I’m getting closer but I’m nearly ready to admit defeat—I’m too late at this point to salvage myself. Sure enough, the guys are already leaving the locker room by the time I get there, and that’s when I absolutely know for a fact that I’m going to get it. Dad runs a tight ship as coach and as his new assistant, I’m expected to be the perfect first mate.
I reach for the door handle, resigned, but it swings open before I can. I jump back and feel my face flush.
Jesse’s smile always hits me like an unexpected camera flash in my face. He’s a senior, the starting pitcher for the Quakes, my twin sister’s boyfriend, and someone that I actively try to avoid. This can be difficult to do, considering all three of us attend CS Santa Isabella. However, since I’m working for the baseball team, I don’t have much choice in the matter. Seeing Jesse is unavoidable at this point. “Hi Evie.”
“Hi.” The word traveling from my brain to my lips and out into the air in front of me feels like the most difficult thing I’ve done all day.
“You’re late,” he remarks. His hair is still wet from his post-practice shower and I can see the faint outline of his chest through his dampened shirt. Jesse has always been so distracting, and that’s no different now. His dark brown hair is sticking to his forehead and the back of his neck and is nearly black when wet. His shoulders are wide, hips narrow, and he has strong, muscled legs but its more than that. It’s his warm brown skin and the way his mouth turns up at the end when he’s teasing or the way his long fingers hold the baseball right before he releases a pitch.
It makes me feel out of control.
As a person who has spent the last three years doing everything they can to be in control, I don’t like it.
I bite my lip and force myself to look away. These are not good thoughts to have right now. This is exactly why I avoid face to face contact with him as much as possible. “I know. Is anyone else left in there?”
He shakes his head. “No. But, hey, when has that ever stopped you from going in there?” he winks at me.
I ignore the wink, walking past him to enter the locker room, uttering a soft ‘thanks’ as I pass. My heart is pounding wildly in my chest at the brief encounter. It’s been three years and I still manage to become nothing more than a walking sack of skin and organs with no brain around him. It feels like I haven’t changed a bit. I rush through the row of lockers, my mind wandering. I’m not prepared for whatever lecture my dad is going to give me, I have textbooks to buy and I don’t particularly want to wait in the long lines and the brief conversation with Jesse has totally knocked me off balance. I’m not on my game and I’m hardly paying attention to anything around me so when I take a sharp right, I hit something warm and solid. I stumble backwards, somehow managing to keep myself upright. “Shit, I’m sorry…”
I look up and immediately blush, turning my eyes immediately to the floor. Whatever I was about to say has died at the tip of my tongue and I realize that my mouth is wide open, and I shut it quickly, the flush on my cheeks deepening.
“Well, that’s okay, princess,” comes the answer. There is a twang to the unfamiliar voice. I want to look back up at him, but the fact that he was stark naked really talked me out of it. As in, hello-that-part-of-the-male-anatomy-that-I-tried-not-to-look-at-but-kind-of-seems-impressive-and-my-god-I-didn’t-want-to-see-that naked. “You’re one of the coach’s daughters, right? Evangeline, I’m assuming?”
I nod, my eyes glued to the ground and the suddenly fascinating pattern in the polished wood floors beneath my shoes. “Yeah. That’s me. Just Evie though.”
“You’re a little late. Coach was looking for you. I didn’t know anyone would willingly get on Coach’s bad side like that.” There is amusement in his voice. “You can look now, by the way. Unless the floor is just that interesting to you. It is a pretty pattern.” He’s practically laughing at this point.
I chance a glance upward and am relieved to see that he’s decent now if you can call someone like him merely decent. He’s gorgeous and he’s still damn naked. I don’t want to look at him…down below so I find myself studying his face. He’s unfamiliar to me so he must be new to the team. His dark hair is thick and styled in that perfectly messy way that looks like he hasn’t tried at all, but you just know that he’s definitely trying. His eyes are a deep brown, set against tanned skin—his skin is too pale without any clothes on for that brown to be natural—and a scattering of dark freckles across his cheeks. I’m tall but this guy practically towers over me, his chest just at eye level. He’s in shape, fit and muscled but also lean. He’s probably fast on the field. I’m considering what position he might play as my eyes skim over his tan chest, his abs and the dark hairs leading down to…I cough loudly and raise my eyes back to his.
He falters for a moment. “Whoa. Your eyes…”
“Yes,” I say almost monotonously, before he can continue. It’s the same reaction every time. “They’re weird, I know.” It’s an old thing, I can almost predict what people say about it at this point. Lucy and I are identical in all but one way. I was born with a rare mutation, heterochromia.
For some crazy, rare reason, I was born with one blue eye and one eye that was a mix of brown and blue. Lucy, on the other hand, was born with two normal brown eyes. Besides this minor difference, we are nearly identical. We are Mexican on our mother’s side and Spanish on our father’s side and I’ve always thought that we look like both sides pretty equally—dark, dirty blonde hair, light brown skin that darkens in the summer and brown eyes, mostly. We are both tall like our father, but our large breasts and wide hips are definitely from our mother.
The heterochromia is usually the first thing that most people notice about me and don’t get me wrong—it’s kind of cool. I don’t know any different either, but I do have moments when I’ve been incredibly irritated to be different. I feel like sometimes that people just stare.
Exactly the way this guy is staring at me right now.
“It’s really cool,” he says, finally, a casual lilt to his voice. “Heterochromia.”
I raise my eyebrows. “I’m impressed. They must have good schools in…” I paused, waiting for him to fill in the blank for me. I still didn’t recognize him, which could only mean that he was one of two things: He was either a freshman or a transfer student. After practically living and breathing baseball my whole life, members of the team weren’t exactly strangers.
“Kentucky,” he supplies, the wide grin returning to his face. He practically blinds me with that perfect smile.
I frown for a moment and then it dawns on me. “Wait, are you…”
The two of us jump at the loud, booming voice and turn around. Dad is standing there, watching us. The guy is wearing a towel but that’s it and it’s slung very low on his hips. He has the decency to look a little embarrassed and hitches the towel a bit higher. “Coach, I was just…”
“Why don’t you get dressed, Young?” Dad says firmly. He has a way with words, never straight demanding but always obeyed. His word is law in this locker room and on that field. “Next time, I better see you covered up around my daughter.
I turn around to hide a small smirk behind my hand as the he stammers out, “yes, sir.”
“Evie, in my office. Now.”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes and start to follow him. I look back once, and my eyes meet with the young player again. He winks at me and blows me a kiss. I look away, quickly, huffing into Dad’s office, slamming the door behind me.
Dad sits down in his chair, propping his feet up on his desk. He knows I hate when he does that to his desk, the coffee table at home, the dashboard in the car and so on but he still does it and I refuse to let it get to me. He’s smiling and I know he’s just enjoyed the little show of power he’s put on in the locker room. I’ve spent so much time in this locker room that the sight of half-naked baseball players doesn’t tend to send me into fits or anything.
Except when they look like that guy did. Damn it.
“Who was that?” I ask, covering a yawn with my hand nonchalantly. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about him. “Freshman?”
He shakes his head before answering me, when he does his answer is quick and almost snappy. I can feel the mild irritation radiating off him. “Austin Young. Shortstop.”
This information flips a light switch in my brain; suddenly the naked stranger didn’t feel so much like a stranger. When Dad and I had gone over who we thought would be the strongest players of the season, he had brought up that we were getting a new transfer this go-round. “Right. He’s the University of Texas transfer. He’s a junior, right?”
It’s so weird to get a transfer student, especially here. The team is hard enough to get on without trying to come in as a junior. It only made me more curious.
He nods in response. “Yeah. He was a good pick. He got more bench time than anything over there so he could get some real good play time, if he raises his batting average.” There’s a long pause before he continues. “That’s not important right now. Why are you so late?”
Damn it all to hell, I thought to myself. “Got lost,” I say, breezily. “It’s my first week.”
He narrows his eyes at me. I know that his athletes find him intimidating, maybe even a little bit scary, at times, but that’s laughable to me. He’s just my dad. Outside of the locker room, he looks like your average All-American dad—dark blonde hair, blue eyes, dad shorts, you know the drill. It’s my short, fiery Mexican mother with a temper that people are really terrified of, if I’m being honest. “You know where the stadium is; you grew up on this campus. Besides, it’s your second semester. How on earth did you manage to get lost?”
“It was the first practice,” I say. “I’m sure you didn’t miss me.”
“Not the point,” he answers, using his coach’s voice. “I hired you for a reason. Well, for many reasons. So, I need you here. It doesn’t look good for the team obeying me and being on time for practice if one of my own coaching staff members can’t be on time, especially since she’s my daughter. We had batting practice today and now I only have my own notes.”
Not to mention an entire coaching staff…
This time I really do roll my eyes. “I’ll be there tomorrow, okay?”
He sighs. “Fine.” He rifles through some papers on his desk and I wince again at the absolute disaster that is his office. How can someone who is so obsessive about his team be so unorganized in the office that he’s given to run the team? It literally makes no sense, but I’ve learned that arguing with him about it is a losing battle, so I say nothing. He finds what he’s looking for and hands it to me. “Our first away game is in just a couple weeks. I need you to start booking the rooms—make sure everything is all set, rooms are assigned and all that.”
I nod, tucking the papers into my folder. “Okay.” I start to stand up, but he stops me.
“Hey, did you get into that journalism class?”
I freeze and my heart drops from its normal place in my chest all the way into my stomach. “Um, no, I didn’t. It was full. Maybe it’s just a super popular class, which makes it hard to get into. Especially since I am a freshman after all.” I shrug casually, hoping he’ll drop the subject.
He doesn’t. Instead he frowns. “You need to get into those classes as a freshman, Evie. You’re a sports journalism major; you don’t want to fall behind. Do you want me to pull some strings?”
I’m actually undeclared at the moment, but he doesn’t know that. All it would take is a quick search on his computer to find that out, but my dad has been so sure of my career in sports writing and broadcasting for so long that he would never doubt that it would say anything else. “Dad, no. I’d prefer to just be a normal freshman here, okay? I’ll get all my general ed classes out of the way and then we can worry about the journalism classes, okay?”
Please drop it. Please drop it. I fidget back and forth for a moment until he nods. “All right, I guess you’re right. Just make sure to be on time, tomorrow, okay?”
I nod, firmly. “Of course. No problem.” I make my escape from his office. The locker room is empty now and I feel a little disappointed. I shake this off. Nothing good can ever come from a baseball player. Especially when they look like Austin Young…
© Sara Elizabeth Santana, September 2020