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Sparks fly as sports center manager Stephanie meets rookie pro bowler Kurt. They are irresistibly drawn together, falling in love hard and fast. Their encounters are tastefully hot, their conversations humorously bantering. Stephanie is outgoing; Kurt is shy but sexy as hell. Their romance plays out against the exciting PBA Tour, drawing the lovers into their new life as they simultaneously struggle to overcome a tragedy in Kurt’s past. Tired of formulas? The new Alpha Female Romance Series offers delicious fun throughout. Alpha Female—Romance you can believe in.

Who will be interested in this book? Readers who like sexy romances (tastefully done--not raunchy), romance readers who like to go bowling (but it's not necessary to have knowledge about bowling to enjoy this), and readers who want romance that is believable instead of just following a boring formula.

Scorpio Love

(Sneak Preview from Chapter One)

Searching impatiently for a spot, Stephanie circled a second time and finally spied a car emerging on the next aisle. As she hurriedly maneuvered her Mustang, competition appeared when a small RV punched it from the opposite direction. Hastily accelerating, she grumbled, “Shit!” as the interloper beat her to it.

         

Glancing scathingly at the man who emerged, she resumed her search, prowling the row closest to the building for a third time. She approached the entrance slowly, eyes alert, and was further irritated as the parking space thief appeared at the edge of the crosswalk just in time to force her to wait while he sauntered across.

         

Grinning broadly, he called out, “That’s the breaks!”

         

I should have run him over, Stephanie thought as she finally pounced on a space, heading for the entrance of the Tahoe Pines Bowling Center, where she’d worked for the past year. It was the beginning of her weekend off, and she was in a hurry to get out on the lanes. She was trying to boost her average by the thirty additional pins she’d need for the pros, which featured far more challenging “sport” lane conditions than the average person ever experienced. Bowling establishments oiled with easy patterns that encouraged high scores and thus more business; regional and pro tournaments oiled with varying complex patterns that challenged participants to the max. Stephanie’s 201 average on regular conditions translated only to about 180 on sport lanes. It wasn’t enough.

         

In the meantime, she settled for a job that kept her close to the action and offered fringe benefits. She smiled to herself as she strolled purposefully into the lobby, her habitual good humor returning as she anticipated an entire morning of undisturbed practice. The place was packed, and only the pair of lanes she had reserved remained vacant.

        

Stephanie headed straight for the control desk, noting with renewed annoyance that the man who owned the camper was leaning on the counter, talking to her boss, Larry. She had paid him little attention in the parking lot, but now she saw that there was something familiar about him. He was about 5’10” and lanky but not overly slim. His hair was dark brown, almost black even, and thick to the point of unruliness. He was dressed sharply in a pair of black Levi’s with an olive-green dress shirt tucked in, yet he appeared so casual with no belt and longish hair brushing his collar that he could have been one of those TV models, except that he lacked the baby-face demeanor and boasted a slightly hawkish profile more like that of a classic Bronte hero.

 

She was blank on prior meetings, though. One arm resting casually on the counter, the angular lines of his physique lithe and relaxed, the man exuded such blatant sensuality that hair prickled the back of her neck as she approached. She met loads of men every week and would not have forgotten this one. Dismissing her glimmer of recognition as fanciful, she overheard the two men’s conversation as she drew close enough to hear it over the noisy buzz of activity.

        

“Sorry, Kurt,” Larry was saying, “but there aren’t any lanes open right now. The waiting list is short, though—won’t be long.”

“What about 19 and 20?” the man questioned as his eyes swept the 40-lane expanse and noted the vacant pair of lanes. “Down for repairs?”

         

Uneasy, Larry replied, “No, those are reserved for our assistant manager, who should be here any minute.” Then, spotting Stephanie as she reached the desk, he added with relief, “Ah, here she is now.”

         

“Hi Larry!” she said brightly. “Switch on my lanes, would you please?” Pretending she hadn’t heard their exchange, Stephanie deliberately ignored the stranger. She was anxious to get started, and besides, the last thing she needed was another blast of testosterone seeking her out to watch, or worse, ask if he could bowl with her. He would hang on her every move, chattering while she was trying to concentrate and telling her what a good bowler she was, for a woman.

“Perhaps you’d consider sharing?” The man addressed her directly, and now she had no choice but to face him. Turning, she brazenly stared him down. Straight on, his face had a depth to it that drew her gaze right into his piercing green eyes. They stood immobile for a moment, and Stephanie was aware that he was checking her out as well.

         

“After all,” he continued as if their mutual appraisal hadn’t occurred, “you have two lanes all to yourself while I have none.” His devastating smile almost belied her impression that he was prepared to argue about it if she refused. Shit, Stephanie thought. She was a sucker for a good smile.

       

“That’s the breaks,” she replied sweetly, tossing her thick mane of auburn hair as she looked up at him with mischief sparkling in her eyes. Then his green ones locked imploringly with her brown ones, and her revenge was spoiled by the fact that his gaze was so disturbing that she could barely continue meeting it. There was something about the way he was looking at her which gave her the urge to do anything he asked.

         

Averting her eyes to glance hastily at her boss, she was irritated by his disapproving surprise at her refusal and the gleam of warning in his eyes which seemed to be ordering her to accept the man’s offer graciously. She couldn’t understand it. Larry knew she preferred to practice alone and had never before attempted to control her off-duty time. Yet now he was suddenly taking sides with a stranger, and between the expectant stares of the two of them, she was beginning to feel like a spoiled brat.

“Fine,” she grumbled, “but the least you could do is introduce yourself, since I don’t make a habit of being picked up by strange men.”

         

“Do you make a habit of being picked up at all?” he shot back in amusement.

         

Damn, she thought. She’d intended to put him in his place, but as his eyebrows rose slightly, she knew even before she’d heard his retort that her comment would have the opposite effect. And now he was laughing at her, too.

         

Larry fidgeted nervously and quickly seized his chance to intervene before the atmosphere became hostile. “Let me introduce you, then. Stephanie James, this is . . .”

 

 “Kurt,” the other man interrupted smoothly. Stephanie’s eyes narrowed suspiciously because she was sure that ‘Kurt’ had purposely prevented Larry from revealing his last name. “And now that we have the formalities out of the way,” he went on, “why don’t we get started.” Giving Larry a wink unnoticed by Stephanie, he grabbed the handle to his bowling bag, and wheeled it off toward their lanes.

 

“Who does he think he is?” Stephanie demanded of Larry, her eyes blazing.

 

“Don’t you know?” he asked in a surprised voice.

 

“No, and I couldn’t care less!” she stated emphatically, but she grinned for Larry’s sake, knowing he hated uncomfortable situations. He was a pleasant man, fifteen years her senior, and he made it a point to get along with everyone. His quiet reserve sharply contrasted Stephanie’s outspokenness and occasional temper, but as manager and assistant manager, they complemented each other perfectly in their working relationship.

 

“Well,” Stephanie said, “I guess I better go change my shoes and get my balls. I wouldn’t want to keep ‘Kurt’ waiting.” Larry suppressed a smile as she marched off toward the locker room.

         

While Stephanie was changing into her bowling shoes, it occurred to her that Kurt whatever-his name-was might be a lousy bowler. Nothing would please her more than to go out there and show him up. But then she recalled the double-decker bowling bag that he’d wheeled down to the lanes. Crappy bowlers didn’t carry around that sort of equipment. Well, at least maybe he wouldn’t be a pain in the ass. Smiling smugly, she approached the lanes, hauling her bag behind her with a happy bounce in her gait, her red tee shirt molding a curvaceous figure and her brown hair glossy from a fresh brushing. She looked good and she knew it.

         

He eyed her appreciatively when she joined him. She stared boldly back, suggesting, “Want to warm up before we start the scorekeepers?”

         

“Great,” he agreed, stepping up onto the polished floorboards while Stephanie unpacked her balls. He stood toward the back of the approach, holding the ball low near his right hip before pushing it outward and gliding toward the foul line, his swing steady behind him as he built momentum and harnessed his strength into a powerful release and smooth follow through.

         

“Ah,” she realized aloud. “Kurt Hoffman.” Though she hadn’t placed him earlier, she now recalled him from the Pro Bowler’s Tour. He was a rookie who’d won two titles in his first season. She had seen him on the televised finals a few times.

         

“Yes,” he admitted with a somewhat pleased grin.

         

“Why didn’t you say so?” she asked.

         

“I didn’t want to spoil the fun.”

         

“Is that what it was?” she laughed.

         

“Absolutely,” he advised intimately. Then he smiled at her, not with teasing arrogance as before, but with a real smile of dazzling sincerity.

         

Returning it with one of her own, she felt her stomach flip as their eyes sought one another for several moments more than necessary.

         

“Mmmm . . .” he murmured. It was almost below audible level, but she felt it as much as heard it. It ate up the space between them like a promise.

         

My god, she thought as she set her equipment on the ball return rack. She was twenty-six years old and had enjoyed her share of men, but none of them had sparked such an intense immediate response. This one would soon be her lover—she knew it as surely as she knew that they would bowl together with a chemistry rare for strangers.

         

Picking up her strike ball, she began warming up, thinking about the strategies she wanted to work on. In tournament qualifying, you moved to a new pair after every game and had to establish your strike line all over again. And the pro conditions were more challenging than a house shot, the lanes being oiled with numerous difficult “animal” patterns such as Shark, Scorpion, and Cheetah, each of which called for entirely different shooting strategy than the others. There was no such thing as finding a line and keeping it, because even under the best conditions, the line changed with every few balls rolled as they first carried the oils further down the lanes and later ate up the oils and dried out the lanes. You not only had to adjust; you had to anticipate as well.

 

Stephanie was great at adjusting but was trying to improve her anticipation skills. It was too tempting to continue throwing exactly the same ball over and over when you were striking with it. Without the anticipation, you’d soon miss a strike and likely leave a difficult spare as the ball began to hit the pocket too lightly or dive into the nose of the headpin. That missed strike could cost ten or twenty pins off the total score.

         

Kurt had already mastered the art of anticipation; you couldn’t succeed as a pro without it. As Stephanie watched him, she enjoyed his style. It was classic. Many of the young bowlers these days threw wild, wide hook shots that smashed the pocket from a sharp angle and increased pin action, but these youngsters depended so heavily on strings of strikes that they often blew spares and occasionally even dumped their balls into the gutter. Worse, some were completely bad-tempered. Fifteen years back, you rarely saw people kicking ball returns or yelling aloud at their bad shots. Not only was it poor sportsmanship; it was disruptive to the other bowlers. Stephanie despised these sorts; they whined like babies and set a rotten example for upcoming youth.

         

Just then Kurt missed a spare by less than an inch, and Stephanie confirmed with satisfaction the self-control she remembered about him from the television appearances. They touched their closed fists together momentarily—the standard consolation gesture—and then Kurt paused quietly a moment to consider his mistake and make a mental adjustment.

         

But as they finished warming up and set the scorekeepers, a twenty-something gorilla on an adjacent lane cursed loudly as his ball missed the headpin. Having already psyched himself out of his own concentration, he threw wide on the spare ball as well. Hearing him yell an F-word at the foul line while he stared down the standing pins as if to blame them, Stephanie watched with narrowed eyes as he turned and kicked the ball return viciously.

         

As he reached the counter behind the settee area, where Stephanie was sipping her iced tea, she said, “Excuse me, but this is a family bowling center full of children, and your language is inappropriate, not to mention that you’re damaging the equipment.

         

Slugging down more of his beer, the guy spat out, “Yeah, and maybe you’re just some stupid bitch who oughtta mind her own business.”

         

Holding her tongue, Stephanie eyed him for a moment with distaste as she debated on the best action.

 

Hearing the man’s slur, Kurt turned to watch. He looked as if he wanted to jump to her defense, but they both knew that would cause a scene and maybe start a fight. Instinct kicked in, and Kurt waited to see how she would handle it. 

Meanwhile, the creep went back up for another shot. This time he smacked the headpin straight on and left a 7-10 split. A sensible bowler would shoot calmly for one pin to get the best count possible out of the mistake. But this guy, though keeping his mouth shut the second time, deliberately wasted his shot and lofted his ball way out, so that it landed with a huge thud on the polished surface a third of the way down the lane. Then as he came back again, he smacked his hand against the computerized console so hard that the scores on the screen above his head vibrated into a blurry fuzz.

         

“Excuse me a minute,” Stephanie said to Kurt. There was only one way to deal with this. Walking up behind the front desk, she didn’t bother Larry with the problem. He hated confrontations. Nor did she want to create a scene with the rude guy. That would only encourage him to become more violent.

         

Picking up the in-house phone line, she rang the rear of the building where the machinery was and spoke briefly to Hank, who was on duty back there. Then she gave instructions to Tyrone, the desk attendant, and returned to the lanes.

Kurt looked at her questioningly and she said quietly, “Wait for it.” A moment later, just as the rude neighbor’s ball rolled up, the rack on his lane, in process of resetting, abruptly dropped all its pins with a crash. Then the sweep came down and the lane light went out.

         

Complaining loudly, he called the desk on the intercom, and Tyrone came down to the lanes. “Sorry,” he advised the customer. “We’ve been having trouble with this pair all week. It might take up to an hour to fix the problem.”

         

“Then get me another lane,” the guy demanded.

         

“There aren’t any,” answered Tyrone. “We’ve got a doubles tournament coming in this afternoon, and we’re closing each pair down as it’s vacated. We have to oil the entire house before the warm-ups.”

         

“This place sucks,” the creep spat out, throwing his accessories into his bag as he sat down to change shoes.

         

Tyrone turned his back on the guy, grinning at Stephanie as he returned to the desk. Then a moment later the unwelcome neighbor stomped out the side door, and peace was restored.

         

“Good one,” Kurt congratulated with admiration.

         

“I wanted to belt the jerk,” Stephanie confided, “but over the past few years I’ve learned to control my temper and not argue when it will do no good.”

         

“So you have a temper, huh?” Kurt prompted her softly, moving in closer as if to justify the need for confidentiality.

         

“I do, actually,” she admitted. “But not over trivial stuff.”

         

“What does piss you off, then?”

         

“Why?” she prompted.

         

“Because I want to know more about you,” he answered. “I mean . . . I want to know you . . . deeply,” he amended, adding in almost a whisper, “inside.”

         

Studying him for a moment, she saw the look in his eyes and decided she wasn’t mistaken. “You’re coming on to me,” she accused quietly.

         

“I didn’t intend to,” he apologized, not appearing sorry.

         

“No?” she persisted.

         

“Well . . . maybe I was. I just can’t seem to help myself.”

         

His irresistible admission tugged at her gut. But was it the truth?

         

“How do I know you’re not just handing me a line?” she retorted playfully, watching his reaction.

         

“Do you want honesty?” he asked. “It might sound conceited.”

         

“I always want honesty,” she insisted.

         

“Okay,” he agreed. “The truth is that the women kind of like me, you know? I don’t go after them. In fact, I’m sick of pushy women crawling all over me, brushing their breasts against my arms and spewing out innuendos. I always feel obligated to laugh and take it in stride when they crowd my personal space and almost make my flesh crawl. Honestly, they pursue me. I don’t hand them any lines . . . I don’t really even know any lines. Actually, I’m kind of shy.”

         

“Oh, now I know you’re handing me a line,” she teased, “because you don’t seem that shy to me.”

         

“That’s because you’ve inspired me—and because there’s a difference between merely choosing to enjoy what’s offered and experiencing true desire; that is, there’s a difference between sex and . . .” he trailed off for a minute, finally concluding, “. . . whatever this is.”

         

“What is this, then?” she prompted in a sultry whisper, delighted when he turned slightly red.

 “Whatever it is,” he whispered back, “it’s hot . . . it’s crazy hot.”

         

Offering him an evil smile, she reached up to brush a hand across his cheek and just barely graze his lips with two fingers. She felt his involuntary response immediately as he pursed them to kiss her fingertips, which she withdrew in the same stroke.

         

His face registered the shock of desire, and she was inwardly elated as she reminded him teasingly, “You’ve known me only thirty minutes.”

         

“That can’t be,” he objected softly.

         

“No,” she agreed, tearing her gaze away as she stepped back up on the approach to bowl. Aware that his eyes were still on her, she stood still momentarily to settle into a concentrated stance. Then she began her approach, floating on the pleasant sense of pressure, aware the moment she released the ball that it would slam the pocket solidly.

         

“Nice one,” Kurt acknowledged as he stepped forward to join her.

         

They became more professional then, as they practiced for almost two hours. It was odd, but despite their chemistry and the desire electrifying the air between them, they bowled together with total concentration, almost as though caught in the rhythms of dancing or making love.

After six games, none of which Stephanie had won, she declared, “I’m going to beat you this time!”

 

“Loser buys lunch?” he offered.

 

“You’re on,” she agreed, secretly glad that he had arranged to lunch with her regardless of the outcome.

By the ninth frame, they were almost tied, both with strikes up and Kurt just one pin ahead of her. Stepping forward for his tenth, he struck cleanly on the first shot but left a ten pin on the second. Picking it up, he grinned at her. She needed a double to beat him.

“Don’t let the pressure get to you now,” he teased.

“Don’t you worry about it,” she laughed back. “I never choke under pressure.”

And with that remark hanging in the air, she threw a perfect shot and smashed the pocket. Grinning widely at him as she walked back, she grabbed her powder bag, wiped her ball down with her towel, and prepared for the crucial one. Stimulated by the good-natured fun of the competition, she released the second ball with every ounce of power she possessed, sliding smoothly at the foul line, her follow-through dead clean. She knew she nailed it the second it hit the floor.

“Bravo,” Kurt applauded, as she smiled at him ecstatically. And just for fun, she ripped the pocket on the final shot as well.

“Great game,” he praised sincerely, looking up at her 268. “Looks like I owe you lunch.”

“I’ll go stow my gear and meet you at the desk,” she responded, heading for the lockers and then to wash up.

Approaching the counter five minutes later, she saw Kurt already there and almost stopped in her tracks just to look at him as she floated on the high of their new acquaintance. He glanced up and saw her just then, and they grinned absurdly at one another.

“Tyrone, could you put those games on my account, please?” Stephanie asked as she reached the desk.

“I already paid for them,” Kurt told her.

“You didn’t have to do that . . . I get twenty free games a week plus discounts on extras.”

“Too late,” he advised. “So, where do you want to go for lunch? I don’t know the area, so I’ll leave it up to you. What kind of food do you like?”

“Oh, seafood or Chinese or veggie . . . doesn’t really matter. There’s a Chinese restaurant near my apartment, if you like.”

“Great,” he agreed as they walked toward the exit, where Stephanie stepped ahead of him to hold open the heavy glass doors as he wheeled his gear out. “Let me get all this stuff put back in the RV.”

“Did you buy that for the tournament circuit?” she asked.

“Yes,” he answered. “I sometimes fly to the east coast tournaments, but I like driving whenever I can. So I invested in this. It’s a great little rig. Want to see inside?”

“Sure,” she agreed as he unlocked the side door just behind the passenger seat. The RV appeared more spacious than an old-fashioned camper with a back entry. And as she stepped in, Stephanie noticed that it was immaculate. To her right were the front seats with a large windshield, presently covered with a sun shade, straight ahead of her was a small kitchen set-up, to her left was a table with upholstered bench seats, and at the back was a double bed with what she presumed was a bathroom in the corner. “It’s great!” she agreed, pleased with how clean it was inside.

“It’s a small one,” he answered modestly, “but it’s just me, you know?”

“Is it?” she asked, turning to face him and noticing that he’d pulled the door shut behind them.

“Does it matter?” he returned, staring back at her.

“Can I tell you something, Kurt?” she asked softly, moving a little closer to him.

“Shoot.”

“It does matter,” she answered. “I don’t care where you’ve been. I’m not the jealous type and I don’t play games. In fact,” she drawled seductively, “you’ll find that I’m totally uninhibited.” Their eyes were locked and he’d slipped a hand around to the small of her back. “Except for one thing,” she added, knowing she had to get this out before he kissed her.

“What?” he obliged under his breath, barely holding back.

“Monogamy,” she whispered in return.

She saw him wince. “You were married,” she stated, sure of it.

“Yes.”

“And she cheated on you?”

“Yes.”

“Is it over?” she ventured.

“Totally.”

“And there’s no one else?”

“No one that matters.”

“Well, in that case,” she continued, pressing up against him, “let’s see what we can do to make you feel better.”

At that moment their lips met, and fire shot straight down from Stephanie’s chest into her loins. They kissed deeply and she thought she would explode from the pressure bursting at her insides. “Oh, my god,” she groaned when they momentarily drew breath, staring hungrily at one another as their hands wandered recklessly and their bodies fused together in desperation.

“Damn you,” Kurt hissed at her accusingly as he buried his face in her hair.

Smiling into his chest, which was arched slightly away from her because he was bending over somewhat, she ran the palms of her hands slowly downward from his shoulders. He shivered as she traced his contours with her fingers, but just then they heard voices outside the RV, where someone was getting into another vehicle.

“Shit, we’re in a parking lot,” Kurt grumbled. “We’ve got to get out of here. I want it to be better than this, totally private. Spend the evening with me, Stephanie. Have dinner with me, invite me back to your place, seduce me.”

“You haven’t even given me the lunch you owe me yet,” she joked. “Follow me to my apartment and we’ll drop off one of the vehicles.”

“Okay,” he agreed, still breathing hard. Then he asked, “Where are you parked?” and they laughed as the thought of their initial meeting passed between them.

“This will make a great story someday,” Kurt joked. “Guy steals girl’s parking space, so she gets revenge by stealing his heart.”

“Is that what I’ve done?” she returned happily.

“Do you believe in Fate?” he responded.

“I’ve been counting on it,” she replied as he leaned to kiss her goodbye with tenderness. But seconds later desire began flaring again.

“GO!” he begged.

“I’m gone!” she yelled back, fleeing out the door.

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