The summer games settlin.., p.10
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.10

           R.S. Grey
 

  I couldn’t get any words out of her as we stood up and straightened our clothes. She grabbed her purse and I downed my drink in one long pass, using the burn of the alcohol to bring me back to my senses.

  “Are you all right?” I asked as we headed back down to the second floor.

  She nodded and offered me a tight smile.

  We were nearly down the flight of stairs when I reached for her hand and pulled her back to look at me. Her mask was concealing so much of her face, but I could see the worry in her eyes. She wasn’t sure what would happen next—neither of us were—so I pulled her close and hugged her, whispering the only truth I knew.

  “I promise, I’ll figure this out.”

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  Andie

  I STARED INTO the mirror and tried to find something different about my appearance. I could have sworn something was off, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was. My hair, eyes, face—everything looked the same. Even my lips had gone back to normal. I’d lathered them in Chapstick after I got home in an effort to try and erase every detail of the club. It’d been idiotic, wild, and reckless. I’d wanted to taste madness and I had. It tasted like a hot British swimmer who was currently off the fucking market.

  God, I’m stupid.

  “Andie!”

  Kinsley’s voice boomed through the condo. She and Becca had been asleep by the time I’d returned from the club, but now everyone was awake and running late for breakfast. I turned and tried to find something to wear. My dress from the night before was crumbled on the floor, but the mask was gone. I’d ripped it off before leaving the club. With it in place, I’d felt like I could hardly breathe.

  “Andie!” Kinsley shouted again. “Are you coming?”

  “Yes!” I reached for one of our team t-shirts, shorts, and a baseball cap.

  I pulled the brim down low so I could hide my eyes and walked out to find Kinsley and Becca waiting by the door, ready to leave. They watched me in silence as I slung my workout bag over my shoulder and prepared my water bottle for practice. The bus would pick us up right after breakfast, so I wouldn’t have time to come back up to the condo.

  “You look guilty,” Kinsley said as she held the door open for me.

  Becca nodded. “Yeah, what did you do last night?”

  I shrugged and made for the elevator. “Michelle and I went to a club.”

  They glanced at each other as I pressed the elevator call button.

  “And?” Kinsley asked.

  “And nothing.” I glanced back at them. “What did you do last night?”

  She narrowed her eyes, clearly annoyed that I wasn’t giving her the whole truth. “Liam came over and we had dinner. Oh, and your mom called, so we both talked to her for a while.”

  I groaned. She’d left me a voicemail the day before but I hadn’t had time to call her back yet.

  “What did she want?” I asked just before the elevator doors swung open.

  “She wanted to know if you’d been kidnapped, and if so, whether or not your captors had brought your hand sanitizer along.”

  I laughed as I stepped in and found a spot in the front corner. “Sounds like her.”

  The elevator was completely full of athletes trying to make their way down to the food court, which meant I was momentarily safe from having to answer Kinsley and Becca’s questions about the night before. I wasn’t purposely keeping things from them, I just hadn’t had a chance to process everything for myself. If I told them what was going on in my head, it would sound like Ummmmmmmm…right. Well…you see…the masks…and then the kiss…

  I needed a few more hours in my own head, a few more hours of keeping Mascarada to myself.

  Once we’d arrived on the first floor, I was content to take in the insanity around the lobby. The opening ceremonies were set to take place the following day and the Olympic village was already in a frenzy over it. Committee members ran around the lobby, setting up rendezvous points and help stations for the people flooding in. Security guards manned the front doors, checking the credentials of everyone entering the building.

  We bypassed the lobby and headed for the food court, only to find it was just as crowded with guests arriving for the opening ceremonies. Athletes, coaches, and family members filled every available table, and every food station had a line that stretched for what seemed like miles.

  “Here, just hold on to my shoulder and I’ll pull us through,” Kinsley said, stepping forward and fighting her way through the crowd.

  It was impossible. We only made it three steps before hitting a wall of people.

  “Let’s split up,” Kinsley said, letting go of my arm. “Andie, you go grab us a table and we’ll find the food.”

  I nodded and set off, trying to weave through the crowd. I ended up roaming through the foot court twice before stumbling on a group of people scooting their chairs back and collecting their trash.

  “All yours,” the woman said, smiling as she cleared off her breakfast food.

  “Thanks.”

  I pulled out a chair, claimed the table, and then reached for my phone to text my mom. I couldn’t imagine what Christy and Conan would do if they were there in the food court with me. My mom would probably be spritzing everyone with hand sanitizer and my dad would be walking around trying to find someone with a shared love of sailing. They’d stick out like sore thumbs in their cardigans and summer whites.

  Andie: Kinsley said you called. I’ll try and reach you after practice later, but I have that cocktail party, so I’m not sure when I’ll be free.

  Mom: Cocktail party?

  Andie: It’s for all the flag bearers, so I have to go.

  Mom: Okay. Don’t worry, sweetie. Just call when you get the chance.

  Mom: Oh, but try and get that picture with Frederick for Meemaw! I’m sure he wouldn’t mind, just ask politely, and say it is for your scrapbook.

  Oh Jesus. I stuffed my phone back into my workout bag and tried to ignore lingering thoughts of Freddie as a shadow fell over my table.

  “Andie Foster?”

  I glanced up to find a microphone shoved in my face, the black puff on the end nearly tickling my nose.

  “Andie! How serendipitous that we’ve found you here!”

  The thick British accent belonged to a tall redheaded woman dressed in an ill-fitting navy pantsuit. According to the pin on the lapel of her jacket, she was a reporter for a TV station I hadn’t heard of. Directly behind her stood a lanky cameraman, angling his hulking over-the-shoulder camera in my direction. The light beside the lens was blinking red and I groaned at the thought of them bothering athletes before they’d even had their morning coffee.

  “Andie, I’m Sophie Boyle from Sky News—”

  I smiled politely and held my hand up to cut her off. “I’m sorry, I’m not doing any interviews. Thank you.”

  That didn’t stop her. My smile, however fake it was, only spurred her forward.

  “Well off the record then: How do you know Frederick Archibald? Are you two friends?”

  I angled my head, confused by her question.

  “We have reports that say he showed up to watch your practice yesterday. The two of you were seen walking out of the stadium together afterward. Is that not true?”

  The intrusive question and her thick British accent reminded me of Rita Skeeter, and the longer she stood there, the more annoyed I became. She was drawing attention to me; every table within a few yards was full of people staring in our direction. For what? Because a guy had watched my soccer practice?

  “My love life is none of your business. Are you and your cameraman fucking in the news van?”

  She reared back with wide eyes, clearly caught off guard by my brazen question.

  “Exactly. It’s not fun to be pestered about your personal life.”

  “That may be the case, but the world doesn’t care about Terry,” she said with an icy smile while pointing at the cameraman behind her. “They want to know about the person gal
livanting around with the man who was once England’s most eligible bachelor.”

  I felt a pang of annoyance for Freddie. If people like Sophie Boyle hounded me day and night, I’d lose my mind.

  “What is going on here?” Kinsley asked, sidling past Sophie to drop our food on the table. She didn’t wait for the reporter to respond; she angled her body so that she was blocking me from the camera. “Funny, I thought only athletes and their families were allowed in this section of the village. So, either the committee added ‘Bad Eye-Shadowed Reporters’ to the Olympic schedule, or you need to leave.”

  Sophie stammered and though I couldn’t see her any more, I imagined her squirming under Kinsley’s sharp stare.

  “No problem. We’ve already got everything we need.” She angled around Kinsley so I could see her bright red hair and dark, evil eyes. “Thanks for the interview Ms. Foster.”

  I kept my eye on Sophie as she led the cameraman out of the food court. With his camera clutched under his arm and her microphone hidden away in her purse, they could almost pass as two normal people.

  “Who were those people?” Becca asked as she joined our table, half turned around to watch Sophie walk out of the food court. “What the hell were they doing in here?” She slid a plate of food toward me.

  “Trying to interview Andie. They must have slipped past security during all the chaos.”

  “What’d they want to ask you?” Becca asked, sliding into a seat.

  I eyed the massive egg white omelet Becca had brought me. I’d been hungry earlier, but Sophie had replaced it with a bottomless pit of annoyance.

  “Andie?”

  “Oh.” I glanced up halfheartedly. “Just soccer stuff.”

  I didn’t have to look to know they didn’t believe me. What would Kinsley and Becca think of Sophie’s questions? I was making a name for myself in the soccer world—most people had never heard of me—and if that interview aired, I’d be splashed across the internet as the idiot girl at the Olympics focused on men instead of soccer. The Olympic slut, trying to steal Freddie from his beloved Caroline.

  “Andie, you okay?” Kinsley asked, reaching to touch my arm.

  I flashed her a big, fake smile and nodded. “Never better.”

  I COULDN’T SHAKE the dark cloud Sophie Boyle had cast over my day. Not even a solid practice and a long workout could pull my mind out of the black. I’d regretted kissing Freddie as I was kissing Freddie. I wasn’t delusional; I knew it wasn’t in my best interest long-term. I’d forced us to keep the masks on in hopes that it would help separate fantasy from real life, but Sophie Boyle had confirmed that wasn’t possible.

  Someone has seen us walking out of my practice together and the media had gotten wind of it. What were the odds they’d find out about the club too? We hadn’t been careful. We’d made out in the middle of the third floor. Freddie’s hand had been up my freaking dress for half the night.

  My stomach hurt just thinking about it. I had made the mistake of thinking Freddie was the only one needing discretion, but if the details of the club ever surfaced, I had no clue what it would mean for me. My career? Sponsorships? Even my personal relationships would take a hit if word got out that Caroline was his betrothed and I was just his whore.

  “Andie, how’s the wrist?” Liam asked after practice.

  We’d just broken from the huddle and I was working at unwinding the tape the trainer had worked so hard to apply a few hours earlier. It seemed like a never-ending process.

  “It’s fine. I think I’ll take something before the game just in case.”

  “Good idea.” He stepped closer. “Kinsley mentioned there was a reporter trying to interview you at breakfast?”

  My gut clenched just thinking about it. I glanced up to meet his eye, prepared to shrug off his question, but he was concerned—more concerned than I’d ever seen him. His eyes were narrowed and his dark brows were furrowed, forcing a crease down the center of his forehead.

  “As someone who has been where you are, I want to remind you that you’re here in Rio to focus on soccer.”

  I glanced down as a flood of shame washed over me.

  “This drama on the side, it seems fun and manageable, but I’ve seen athletes lose their sponsors over mistakes far smaller than the one you’re contemplating. You’ve been chosen as the flag bearer for the United States and that puts you in the spotlight. Any drama, any juicy detail they can find, they’ll print without hesitation.”

  I opened my mouth to protest, to argue that I hadn’t done anything yet, but there was no point in lying.

  “I’m not going to tell you what to do,” he continued. “I’m your friend as much as I’m your coach. I just think you need to keep your head in the game and leave everything else on the sidelines. You have your first game in two days and the opening ceremonies tomorrow. Make sure your interviews are good tonight at the cocktail party and leave your love life at the door.”

  I finished unrolling the tape from my wrist and threw the ball into the nearest trashcan so hard it drew the attention of a few teammates packing up their workout bags.

  Listening to Liam, dealing with Sophie Boyle, and living with my own self-loathing was enough to send me over the edge. I didn’t have an ounce of regret as I worded a simple, direct text to Freddie. I pressed send just as I stepped up onto our bus and found the first empty row of seats up front.

  Andie: Obviously last night was a huge mistake.

  He texted back right away and my blood boiled as I read over the three simple words.

  Freddie: No it wasn’t.

  The bus pulled off onto the road and I typed away furiously, trying to prove to him how naive he was being.

  Andie: You’re engaged for god’s sake, Freddie. I don’t care if you don’t love her. The WORLD loves her. And if anyone finds out about last night, it’s me they’ll go after.

  Freddie: I’m betrothed, not engaged. And it won’t be for much longer.

  He didn’t get it.

  Andie: You’re missing the point. I need to focus on the games, not embroil myself in an international scandal. I suggest you do the same.

  Freddie: I’ll be at the cocktail party tonight.

  Andie: Great. You stay on one side of the room and I’ll stay on the other.

  Freddie: No. I have nothing to hide.

  I didn’t bother texting him back. Clearly, he didn’t understand. I shoved my phone deep into my workout bag, so far down that I wouldn’t notice the buzz if he texted me again. I leaned back against the bus seat, stared out at the Rio de Janeiro landscape whipping by, and tried to figure out how exactly I was going to avoid him at an intimate cocktail party without causing a scene.

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  Freddie

  WHEN I’D LEFT Andie at the club, we’d been on the same page. We’d breathed the same air, felt the same things, and agreed that this thing between us wasn’t done—far from it. When I read her text after swim practice, I was shocked to find that so much had changed overnight.

  I guessed she’d had time to think on it and in the morning, our actions seemed to take on a new light for her. As for me, I’d woken up wanting her just as badly as I’d gone to bed wanting her.

  Which was why I had to ignore her text.

  She didn’t know what she wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want to miss.

  The cocktail party was something I’d been dreading the last few days. Any event where I had to dress up, plaster on a fake smile, and walk around like a twit answering questions from the press was an event I’d be all right with skipping altogether. But then I took another look at the invitation and saw Andie’s name printed beneath The United States of America. She had been chosen to be their flag bearer. They wanted someone new, with a fresh face and a perfect record. To the world, she was Andie Foster, beautiful American girl ready to take on the world from the front of a Wheaties cereal box. To me, she was more.

  I stepped out of the car that had shuttled me and fixed my suit jacke
t. It was a new one my PR team had packed for me and I wasn’t yet comfortable in the thick navy material.

  “So we’ll walk the red carpet, and you’ll answer a few questions and pose for a few photos.” The media consultant was telling me what to expect, but I was only half listening. I’d spotted Andie getting out of the car in front of me. It was pure luck. Fate. She extended one long leg from the back of the car and her own media consultant rushed forward to help her. He was a tall, skeletal bloke with a giant nose and a mobile attached to each hip. He held her hand as she stepped out of the car and I froze, taking in her simple blue cocktail dress. It was modest compared to what I’d seen her in the night before, but it didn’t matter. Her tan legs were enough of a distraction on their own.

  “Mr. Archibald, are you prepared to walk?”

  My media consultant stepped forward, trying to usher me forward, but I stepped past her grasp and headed for Andie. She didn’t notice me until I was there, taking her free arm in mine and gently pulling her away from her media consultant. Her hands were soft and shaking. I couldn’t tell if she was nervous about the event or about me.

  Her coordinator shook his head forcefully. “Ms. Foster is set to walk the carpet alone.”

  I smiled and nodded, acting as though I knew exactly what I was doing.

  “I’ve got her,” I told her coordinator. His jaw dropped and his gaze flitted frantically between us, but his protests came too late. I was already leading her around the corner, where a hundred photographers were waiting to snap our photo.

  “Stop it,” she hissed from the side of her mouth. She tried to pull back gently so that no one could tell, but I kept my arm wrapped around her lower back and dipped down to whisper in her ear.

  “I won’t let you avoid me all night.”

  “Let me walk the carpet alone and I promise I won’t.”

 
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