The summer games settlin.., p.19
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.19

           R.S. Grey
 

  “Tell me again why we have to go to this thing?” I asked.

  “Because while reporters aren’t allowed in the village, they still need something to write about. The committee thought this would make everyone happy. We get good food and they get interviews.”

  I smiled. “You already know what they’re going to ask you.”

  She offered up her best broken record impression. “When are you and Liam going to start a family? When will you get pregnant? Are you pregnant NOW?”

  I laughed. “It’s all anyone cares about.”

  “Including Liam,” she added, turning back to the mirror so she could finish her makeup.

  “What? Really?”

  She nodded. “He’s turning thirty soon and he thinks after the Olympics we should start trying. You know, uh, take away the goalie.”

  “Oh my god. I’m going to be an aunt.”

  She laughed. “Hold your horses, I’m not pregnant yet.” I guessed she could see that my face fell because she continued, “but I promise you’ll be an aunt when the time comes. Becca already claimed both godmother and fairy godmother privileges, but we might have an opening for you in the diaper changing department.”

  I laughed. “Well at least I won’t have to worry about anyone focusing on me during this stupid dinner tonight.”

  “Don’t be so sure, Andie. The Olympic season is the only time the whole of America really falls in love with soccer, and you’re the fresh face of the brand. You have millions of little girls looking up to you now, and even though you’re injured, the media will want to tell your story of perseverance.” She paused, applying her makeup. “Plus, you forgot one other person who will be focusing on you tonight—Freddie.”

  “Oh, he’s going?” I asked while I rifled through my makeup bag. I thought I was doing a good job of looking like I hardly cared. Freddie Schmeddie, right?

  “Mhmm,” she said, passing her blush off to me when it was clear I couldn’t find mine. “And I’m almost tempted to disinvite you because of it.”

  “What? I’ve spent the last hour getting ready with you. I DID MY HAIR.”

  Well, truthfully, I hadn’t done my hair. Becca and I had gone to the salon in the village after practice so a stylist could fix my hack job. In the end, I liked it. It was short, just at my shoulders, and it’d be much easier to style.

  “Do you know how rare that is?”

  “Andie—”

  “And I’m wearing a stupid cocktail dress!” I stepped back from the mirror and took deep, dramatic inhales to show her how tight the bodice of the dress fit. Each inhale only filled my lungs to like 2%. I’d probably pass out from lack of oxygen by the end of the evening.

  She laughed. “You look gorgeous and it’s too late to disinvite you, so just stick by me and ignore him. This isn’t the place you want to have a scene. There will be cameras and microphones everywhere.”

  I narrowed my eyes. “You sound like you have no faith in me.”

  “It’s not that, really.” She spun around and flashed me a small, sympathetic smile. “I’ve just seen Freddie Archibald up close and it’s clear that he has a way of separating a woman from her senses. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize a bomb looking for its fuse.”

  “Well tonight, I’ll only have eyes for food.”

  She eyed me skeptically, but I ignored her and turned to check my appearance in the mirror one last time. My blonde hair was short and sleek, like that of a secret agent. I’d applied a smidgen more makeup than usual and it was making my gray eyes pop. My tight dress was doing wonders for my cleavage, something I usually tried to avoid, but tonight, it felt right. I felt beautiful, albeit uncomfortable. But who needs to breathe when your boobs look this good, right?

  I turned to find my sky-high heels, the ones that made my legs go on for days, and then glanced back at Kinsley.

  “Ready when you are, baby mama.”

  “That is NOT funny!”

  KINSLEY HAD PREPPED me as best as she could on the way over, but as I stepped out of the cab and into the madness, I was still taken aback. There were so many reporters stuffed inside the press box that as Kinsley and I walked down the carpet, shouts and grunts could be heard over the snapping shutters. I smiled through the audible oooomphs and laughed when one of the photographers tripped on his way to the front of the line.

  “Kinsley!”

  “Right here!” the photographers yelled, vying for her attention. I stepped back and gave her the limelight, smiling just enough that I wouldn’t suffer from Resting Bitch Face in any of the photos; I’d learned that the hard way. I used to think I was invisible when the paparazzi were snapping Liam and Kinsley, but then one day my mom called and asked me why it looked like I was picking my nose on the cover of US Weekly. From that day on, I kept my hands tucked by my side and a casual smile plastered on my face.

  “Andie! Andie Foster!”

  I nearly swallowed my tongue when a few of the photographers turned from Kinsley and aimed their flashing cameras at me.

  I laughed like I thought it was a joke and waved them off.

  “No thanks, I’m okay.”

  “They’re not asking, Andie,” Kinsley laughed before reaching back to my hand. She tugged me forward and tucked me into her side. “Just smile,” she whispered out of the corner of her mouth.

  “This is a mistake,” I whispered back.

  But it wasn’t a mistake. The photographers wouldn’t leave us alone, and I couldn’t settle back into Resting Bitch Face until I was well within the confines of the banquet hall.

  I stretched out my jaw. “Jeez, pretending to be happy is hard work.”

  Kinsley laughed. “Now you know why I wear shades all the time. It makes it much easier to pretend they aren’t there when they snap photos.”

  I pocketed that bit of knowledge for later and then followed Kinsley through the party. Soft music played in the background and servers were walking around in black suits, serving hors d'oeuvres on silver trays. I reached for something that looked like a shrimp and then froze as half a dozen camera flashes went off in my direction.

  “Don’t put anything in your mouth that you can’t eat in one bite,” Kinsley warned, tilting her head toward the cameras. Jesus, I couldn’t even enjoy the food?

  The banquet hall was jam-packed with members of the press, all wearing official Olympic-sanctioned badges. Even if they hadn’t been wearing lanyards, they still stuck out like sore, pudgy thumbs compared to the athletes in attendance. We wove through the crowd and I kept an eye out for Freddie. She’d said he’d be there, but by the time we made it to our table, I hadn’t found him yet.

  “Looks like we’ll have to endure the press through dinner,” Kinsley groaned, reaching forward for her name card on the table. I was assigned to the seat next to her, but I couldn’t see the other name cards from where I stood. For all I knew I’d be sitting next to a Bulgarian shot putter. Joy.

  “I’ll go get us some drinks. Will you be okay here?” Kinsley asked.

  I made a show of rolling my eyes. “Honestly, I’m fine. What do you think? I’m going to run over and hump Freddie the first chance I get?”

  She smiled. “Either that or slap him.”

  As she left for the bar, I turned back to the crowd and recommenced my search for Freddie. It shouldn’t have been hard filtering through the balding reporters, but it wasn’t until there was a commotion near the door that I realized why I hadn’t found him yet.

  He’d only just arrived.

  He and Thom breezed into the banquet hall and every camera within a ten-mile radius turned and flashed in their direction. He stood for a moment in the doorway. His suit was tailored to his long swimmer’s physique and his smile was just wide enough to make my toes curl. He wore his suit with ease and confidence and even from across the room, I wanted to hump him. Sorry, Kinsley. I lied.

  He smiled good-naturedly for the cameras for another few seconds and then waved them off so he could step into the pa
rty. I stood frozen to my spot, watching him walk and recklessly hoping he’d eventually find his way to me.

  “Andie Foster! We meet again!”

  My name, spoken in a shrill English accent, forced my attention away from Freddie. Sophie Boyle, the sour-faced reporter who’d tried to interview me in the food court, was back, and she was standing behind a chair across the table from me. As if on cue, she reached for her name card and turned it around. Sophie Boyle was written in scrolling gold cursive.

  “Looks like we’ll be tablemates,” she said with a twisted smirk.

  I shook my head. We were the only two people at the table and I’d be damned if I stuck around to deal with her harassment. I turned, prepared to find the nearest bar, and stopped short right before I ran into Freddie’s wide, powerful chest.

  He reached out to steady me, but I stepped out of his grasp quickly, too aware of Sophie Boyle right behind us. She already suspected something was going on; we didn’t need to add fuel to the fire.

  “Andie,” he said, breathing life back into my name.

  “Excuse me—”

  Sophie Boyle cleared her throat behind me. “No need to be shy you two. Freddie, your name card is on this table as well. It looks like we’ll all be well-acquainted by the time they’ve served dessert.”

  I shook my head. “I need a drink.”

  Freddie followed after me and I didn’t stop him. The bar in the far corner of the banquet hall was dark, quiet, and most importantly, free of reporters. They were all hovering around the entrance of the room, ready to pounce on the next athlete that walked through the doors.

  “I came to see you the other day,” he said.

  I winced at the sadness in his voice. “It was a really bad day, Freddie—”

  “I know. How is your wrist?”

  “Not better yet.”

  He nodded. “I’m so sorry, Andie.”

  I brushed away his apology. We both knew I didn’t want to discuss my wrist.

  “You have to know that I’m ending this betrothal,” he said. “I wasn’t lying.”

  “I know,” I said just as we reached the bar. “I spoke with Georgie.”

  I put in an order for a ginger ale—though I would have loved a shot of tequila—and Freddie requested a water.

  “So you forgive me?” he whispered.

  I tried to conceal my slow-spreading smile.

  When the bartender turned his back, Freddie slid his hand around my waist and pulled me flush against him. He was impossible to resist—his chest, his thighs, his stomach. He was hard edges and toned lines, but his touch was soft and warm.

  “You look beautiful, Andie. This dress…”

  His hand slid up my stomach, pressing the soft material to my skin just above my navel.

  I swallowed and shook my head. The corner was dark, but not that dark. “Not here, Freddie, and definitely not now.”

  His brow furrowed. “Then when? I’ve been trying to reach you for the last two days.”

  I turned to glance over his shoulder, but no one was paying us any attention. “Have you spoken to Caroline?”

  He stuffed his hands into his pockets and nodded. “Yes. I told you I’d take care of it, didn’t I?”

  His brown eyes burned into me.

  “I want you, Andie.”

  My stomach flipped.

  “Do you hear me? I want you.” He leaned forward so that the next few words were whispered right up against my ear. “I choose you.”

  His hand was on my lower back, gathering me against him. There was no hesitation in his voice, no second-guessing. Just because Caroline was in Rio didn’t necessarily mean he’d lied to me.

  I pressed my hands to his chest and glanced up. “After the dinner, meet me back at your condo. We can talk there.”

  A slow smirk unraveled across his lips—we both knew we’d be doing more than talking.

  “Here are your drinks,” the bartender said with a bored tone. If he’d noticed our flirtation, he didn’t act like it. We reached for our cups and walked back to the table with a healthy distance between us.

  “There’s just one hitch: Caroline will be here.”

  My heart sunk. “Here here?”

  He nodded. “She was invited by the organizers after our families released the news of the betrothal. It would be bigger news if she didn’t show up, so we agreed that we would show up separately and ignore questions about the betrothal.”

  I frowned. “Am I missing something? If it’s over, can’t you just say it’s over?”

  He shook his head. “It’s not that simple. The press in England are ruthless. When the story breaks, it won’t be simple and it won’t be pleasant. I’d rather not deal with it until after I’m done swimming next week. She’s agreed to play along for now and keep the separation discreet.”

  My heart sank. Of course. Freddie hadn’t even started competing. He had his first race the very next day, and where most of the athletes were focused solely on swimming, Freddie might as well have been trying to put a stop to World War III. He didn’t deserve to have all this petty drama on his plate, and I was partly to blame for putting it there. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed and insecure, but I swallowed my doubts once again. If he told me he’d talked to Caroline, then he had. I could deal with our relationship being a secret for a few more days, especially when I took a moment to admire him as we walked back.

  I smiled. “I like your suit.”

  It was black and fitted, and with his British accent, it almost felt like I was flirting with James Bond himself.

  He pressed his hand to my lower back, guiding me to my seat. “I think you’ll like it more once I’ve taken it off.”

  My cheeks flushed. We were back at the table where Kinsley and Sophie were talking. Another few athletes had found their seats. If any of them had been paying close attention, they would have heard him.

  “Freddie,” I warned, trying to contain my blush.

  “Oh my goodness, finally,” a soft British accent spoke behind me. “This place is like a circus.”

  I spun toward the voice and inhaled a shaky breath as my eyes locked with Caroline Montague. Coifed blonde hair, discreetly sexy black cocktail dress, impossibly expensive shoes—she was hard to absorb in person, like seeing a Monet for the first time. Her plump lips spread into a smile as her eyes slid over Freddie, then she looked down, down, down, and paused when her gaze hit Freddie’s hand resting on the small of my back. I stepped forward to introduce myself, but she beat me to it with a harmonic string of practiced words and a smile that only made her more radiant.

  “You must be Andie Foster.”

  CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

  Andie

  THE ORGANIZERS OF the media dinner either had a very sadistic sense of humor, or they were setting me up for a hidden camera prank show; there was no other way to explain the seating arrangement. Out of all the tables in the banquet hall, I was assigned to the one with Sophie Boyle, Freddie, and Caroline. Worse yet, Caroline was assigned to the seat directly beside mine. When she’d walked up to find her name card, she’d smiled good-naturedly, but my body had filled with dread. I felt like the dirty mistress. Am I the dirty mistress? They weren’t even dating. They hardly knew each other. She had agreed to end the betrothal. So why couldn’t I meet Caroline’s eyes?

  “More water?”

  I gripped my napkin in my lap and stared down at my place setting, trying to think of how I could get out of having to sit through the rest of dinner. They hadn’t even served the first course yet, and they were still seating people across the room. I couldn’t do it. My stomach hurt and I was fairly sure that if I tried to eat anything, it’d just come right back up.

  “Andie,” Kinsley said, jostling my arm. “She’s asking if you want more water.”

  “Oh.” I glanced behind me to find a small woman with a pitcher of water in her hand. I’d guzzled down my glass when I’d first sat down, more out of nerves than real thirst. I grabbed my glass and
handed it back to her. “Yes, please. Thank you.”

  “Andie, you have to tell me more about your…soccer career,” Caroline winked, adorably adopting the American name for the sport. When she spoke, she pressed her hand to my uninjured forearm to get my attention. It should have left a mark when she pulled away, but there was nothing, no burn or scar to show how painfully awkward her touch was.

  “Umm…” I fidgeted in my seat and tried to pull the hem of my cocktail dress down. It wouldn’t budge. “What do you want to know?”

  “I’ve just always wished I could play a sport like that. You must be so talented.”

  Freddie smiled on the other side of her, watching her praise me. He had assured me Caroline knew nothing about our relationship, but I still would have given anything to disappear. The waiter handed back my water and I set it down beside my plate.

  I glanced up to find Sophie Boyle watching me with a small self-serving smile from across the table. She had a tape recorder set out right beside her plate and the small blinking red light served as a reminder that anything I said, she could quote in an article. That was the whole point of the media dinner.

  “Soccer isn’t so hard,” I said, swallowing past the frog in my throat. “I just started playing at a young age and it seemed natural, even back then.”

  “She’s being modest,” Freddie insisted.

  “Well it obviously keeps you in great shape,” Caroline said. I kept my gaze forward but I could feel her eyes on me.

  “Thank you.”

  “You must run ten miles a day to have a body like that.”

  I forced a laugh and reached for my water glass. Why was the attention on me? There were eight people at the table, six other athletes worth talking about, and yet everyone was happy to listen to Caroline.

  “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to put you on the spot,” she continued with an apologetic smile. “I’ve just been watching your games and I was so excited to meet you. Now I’m making a fool of myself.”

 
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