Friday Sampler: Binding Arbitration by Elizabeth Marx



In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Friday’s Sampler is an excerpt from Binding Arbitration by Elizabeth Marx. It’s a love story and a sports story all wrapped up in a romantic package.

As Kirkus Reviews said: Marx’s romance is full of twists and turns, some expected, and some not, with an emotionally complex central conflict, lively (though at times infuriating) characters and a carefully drawn Chicago setting.

The Story

Through the corridors of the WindyCity’s criminal courts, single mother Libby Tucker knows exactly how far she’ll go to save her cancer-stricken son’s life. The undefeated defense attorney is prepared to take her fight all the way to the majors.

Circumstances force Libby to plead her case at the cleats of celebrity baseball player Banford Aidan Palowski, the man who discarded her at their college graduation. Libby has worked her backside bare for everything she’s attained, while Aidan has been indulged since he slid through the birth canal and landed in a pile of Gold Coast money. But helping Libby and living up to his biological duty could jeopardize the only thing the jock worships: his baseball career.

If baseball imitates life, Aidan admits his appears to be silver-plated peanuts, until an unexpected confrontation with the most spectacular prize that’s ever poured from a caramel corn box blindsides him. When he learns about his son’s desperate need, it pricks open the wound he’s carried since he abandoned Libby and the child.

All Libby wants is a little anonymous DNA, but Aidan has a magical umpire in his head who knows Libby’s a fateball right to the heart. When a six-year-old sage and a hippy priestess step onto the field, there’s more to settle between Libby and Aidan than heartache, redemption, and forgiveness.

The Sampler

Aidan 2:15 p.m.

Elizabeth Marx
Elizabeth Marx

Survival instinct is the reason I initially refused this meeting. Exposure being the next justification, because a potential scandal was the last thing I needed right now. I paced the sidewalk in front of the plate glass window, refusing to glance at my own reflection. I was avoiding the consequences of the only game, in thirty odd years, I hadn’t seen to completion.

Curiosity is what lured me here, like a die-hard Cubs fan to the seventh inning stretch. I wanted to face her and ease my conscience by laying all the blame on her locker room floor. I glanced at my watch and pitched myself across the threshold.

“Palowski,” the bartender sneered from behind a beer stein she was polishing, as if she were expecting me.

Gutheries was a local hangout two blocks from the ballpark in Wrigleyville. While I’d been here before, it wasn’t a regular haunt. I enjoyed the earthiness of its roughly carved bar and rugged, wide-plank flooring, but I lived in Lincoln Park, and neighborhood bars are a dime a dozen in Chicago.

The soft Irish ballads playing in the background gave me the impression I’d stumbled into an Irish wake, which wasn’t reassuring. Whiskey fumes and fish-n-chips filled the air, threatening to bring the bile up from my stomach. I shook off my nausea and concentrated on the sepia photographs that hung on the plastered, white-washed walls. The turn of the century photographs ran the gambit from immigrant families in tattered clothes to beefy brutes in the stock yards slaughtering cattle right off boxcars. The vast majority of the images appeared to have last been cleaned during that same era.

I was waiting at the ascribed place, at the assigned time like a cosseted school boy. I retreated to a table farthest from the surly barmaid, keeping a direct bead on the door.

Strike one. The ump grumbled.

“What’ll it be, glitter-boy? The bartender focused on the trash bags in her hands, instead of looking at me.

“Pale Ale.”

When she returned, she banged the beer on the table, a spray of foam danced across its top sloshing onto the sleeve of my coat. No napkin, no nuts, no apology. The feeling she’d like nothing more than to incinerate me along with the trash at the rear of the establishment snaked up my spine. She returned to her post in the watering hole and snapped the pages of the Tribune up in front of her, effectively obstructing me from her line of sight, but I heard her whispering into her cell phone.

A few gulps of beer later the small silver bell at the top of the frosted glass door chimed on a blustery wind. A tall woman, whose expensive boots looked like they’d never step foot in a place like this, swept through the entry and forced the door shut. She shook off her trench coat exposing a navy suit. Her lengthy chestnut hair was pulled back into a chic French twist with a silver barrette exposing a classic profile.

Her briefcase strained her delicate features, but at the same time anchored her, if only for the hesitant moment between each determined stride. I couldn’t pull my eyes away, as I stared at her from behind my shades. My pulse accelerated.

The woman took in the interior with a wide sweep of her head as the lenses of her glasses lightened. It wasn’t until she started toward me with her boots clicking the hardwood that I realized this ravishing woman was the one I never thought to see again.

That would be a curve ball.

All these years later, I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of a full recollection of time spent with her. That might’ve required admitting I’d never scratched my itch for her out. All the numerous women, every shade from platinum to strawberry- blonde, couldn’t dish out half the heartache a wild-haired brunette cutter had put me through with her flaming green eyes and a mouth so lush it made my tongue ache to taste it.

I swallowed a long swig of beer, the steely grain helping me bottle my reaction. I attempted to reconcile what I was seeing with what I had expected. She still had it, more of it–that special something some women have that first draws men’s attention–then buzzes their brains into crushed barley.

She hesitated in front of the table. I refused to stand and I didn’t remove my Oakleys. Let her stare at her own likeness, while I took my time studying the perfectly sculpted lines of her face, which lead to a defiant chin.

Libby tossed her briefcase between us on the tabletop, as if that paltry item could provide a barrier between us. I grinned at the thought of it until my dimple ached.

She perched on the edge of her chair.

I spun my beer bottle on the graffiti-riddled wood.

I watched her green eyes blink in agitation, her opal skin blanched to ivory and her overly generous lips flattened out. She threaded her hands together like an angry teacher about to reprimand an unruly school boy. We stared each other down.

“You’ve grown even more beautiful with time.” I saluted her charms with my bottle, arching a brow in challenge.

Her eyes enlarged for a second; the rest of her demeanor was a veiled mask of harnessed hostility. “Smarter too.”

She’s cute, cute, cute for a cutter,

She ain’t easy to fluster.

I ignored the ump’s baritone. Libby’s calm demeanor gave the distinct impression that she was an Elizabeth now. “You always were too smart for your own good.”

I thought I saw an instantaneous spark of pain, but then her eyes bored into me. “Obviously not, or we wouldn’t be having this exchange.”

“Does that say something about me, or you?” I grinned.

“Whatever, I don’t care to rehash the past. And thank you, but no, I don’t care for a drink.”

“I don’t see what else we would have to talk about.” I shuffled in my seat, making to leave like a rude jerk.

She put her hand on the sleeve of my leather jacket holding me in place with those serious eyes, which I had been able to read once upon a time. “Don’t you?” A red flush crept up her neck, as she jerked her hand away, shaking it.

“Why don’t you dispense with the mystery, and tell me what you want? Just be prepared to get in line like everyone else.”

Libby swallowed. Whatever it was, she wasn’t any happier about asking, than I was about waiting. She fished around in her briefcase and pulled out a computer printed form. “All I need is a blood sample.” She pushed it toward me with a perfectly manicured hand.

My eyes went to the title on the form and my hands clinched the beer bottle. She held out all this time never asking for anything. I was about to get my biggest one-year paycheck, and somehow she not only knew the exact figure, she wanted a share. She thought I owed her something. I pushed the lab form back at her. “Why on earth would I want to do that?”

Her long dark lashes met her cheeks and her voice wobbled over words that had much of the emotion sucked from their core. “Because my child is dying from Leukemia, and you might be the only chance he has to live through the rest of this year.”

Strike two.

It was the second sucker punch I’d received today. My chest felt like someone had dropped a two hundred-pound barbell across it, when I didn’t have a spotter. When I caught my breath, I took in her serious bearing. Whatever I had anticipated this meeting would be about, it wasn’t some concocted story to see me again or even to blackmail me. She might’ve tried to check the volatility of her words, but the fear that washed her face was right below the surface, ready to erupt from her quivering lips.

She blinked in rapid succession before looking at me. She was angry and hurting and there were other emotions I couldn’t read in her fathomless eyes. But none of that could appease the beast raging in me. “You kept the kid?” I seethed.

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