The summer games settlin.., p.22
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.22

           R.S. Grey
 

  My removal from the game was our team’s greatest weakness and Canada was going to try and exploit it. Coach Decker had run conservative defensive drills at the last few practices, but I still worried it wouldn’t be enough. If we lost this game, my rehabbing wouldn’t be necessary; there’d be no championship game.

  “This will be good for you,” Coach Decker said, nodding to me before the officials started the game.

  Good for me?

  Nothing about that day was good for me.

  An hour later, I leaned forward and gripped the edge of the bench. I was about to break off a chunk of the cold aluminum—either that or break my hand, whichever came first.

  “Girls, pick it up!” our coach yelled from the sidelines.

  Her shouts were tame compared to what I was screaming in my head. My team was playing like complete shit. After Michelle had missed three easy shots, Kinsley started trying to do too much by herself. Erin kept getting screened by her own defenders, and she’d let two goals sail past her in the first half. I knew she was trying her hardest, but it was clear that the chemistry and communication was completely off.

  Early in the second half, we got our act together defensively and started increasing pressure on the other end. I scooted farther off the bench, watching Becca kick ass with her practiced footwork to turn opponents and penetrate Canada’s side. Near the goal, she kicked it hard to Michelle, but missed the mark. The other team cleared the ball and effortlessly guided it back toward Erin. With no defenders left between her and the attacker, she charged forward and slid face first at the ball. I squeezed my eyes closed, but she’d miraculously made the save.

  We were down 2-1 and if we didn’t start picking up the pace, we’d be the first US Women’s National Team to miss out on gold since 2000, and the first to ever miss out on a medal completely.

  For the remainder of the game, I was in a constant state of panic. I stood, sat, paced, pinched my eyes closed, even covered them with my hand in the final minutes of the game. My worrying had been in vain though. We won thanks to Kinsley’s 11th hour heroics, which ended up being the only silver lining to an otherwise terrible day.

  I trailed after my team as they headed off the field toward the idling bus. They were elated, high-fiving and clapping each other’s shoulders. Kinsley and Becca had their arms wrapped around one another, and though I was happy for them, I couldn’t shake the dark cloud hanging over my head.

  The game had been entirely too close for comfort, but we’d pulled through and won by the skin of our teeth—well, they had won by the skin of their teeth. I had sat on the bench by the skin of my ass.

  I couldn’t conquer my bad mood. I wanted them to win, and yet when Erin had pulled through and blocked the last two goals, I’d felt useless. I was supposed to be an integral part of this team, and yet they’d shown they could win without me. I was working my ass off to rehab my injury for the championship game, but now there was a good chance they wouldn’t even want me.

  “Andie!” Kinsley shouted, waving for me to catch up to them.

  I tucked my head and joined them, letting them fold me in their arms even though I would rather have hung back by myself.

  “We’re going to grab dinner. Want to come?”

  I shook my head.

  “You guys go on ahead. I’ve got a training session with Lisa.”

  I wanted to go home, fall into bed, and never wake up again, but I couldn’t skip my training session. I dragged myself to the training center and changed into workout clothes. Lisa still hadn’t arrived by the time I was ready to start, but I wasn’t going to go out and look for her. I couldn’t stand walking around the village any more than I had to; the stares and whispers were getting worse, and I could only ignore them for so long. Fortunately, the training center was all but empty. It was the thick of the Olympic games and most athletes were out competing or watching the events.

  I pushed up onto the training table Lisa usually assigned me and dug around in my bag until I felt my phone. I’d purposely avoided looking at it all day, and as I powered it on, that decision was confirmed as a good one. I had thirty missed calls, fifteen voicemails, and forty-six text messages waiting for me.

  “Fuck,” I groaned under my breath, trying to triage the messages. I skipped over the texts from random high school friends wanting an inside scoop about the drama and opened an email from my agent.

  I’ve hired a publicist to handle the media backlash. We won’t lose sponsorships—this might even help you. We’ll get this figured out. Good luck at the game. -Holly

  I took a breath and scrolled down to open a message from my mom.

  Mom: When Meemaw asked for a photo, she didn’t mean that kind of photo. (Is it too soon to joke?) I’m sorry, sweetie. This will all pass. We love you. Call me.

  There were dozens more from her, but I dropped my phone on the table behind me just as I caught sight of someone walking into the training center out of the corner of my eye.

  I glanced up and my breath caught in my throat. Freddie stood in the middle of the doorway, frozen and staring at me. His chocolate-brown hair was damp and a few strands had fallen down across his forehead. His eyes were a dark mixture of shame and desire. I got the two mixed up as he stepped closer, tugging the headphones from around his neck and dropping them on top of his workout bag. He was in his swimming clothes, the warm-up outfit that made him look even more the part of the powerful Olympian.

  He stopped when he was right in front of me, but I pulled my gaze away from his eyes and focused on the center of his broad chest. I felt safe there, staring at that red, white, and blue jacket covering up his powerful body.

  “Andie, look at me.”

  I hadn’t expected the tears. Jesus, I’d cried all day. Couldn’t the world cut me a break at some point?

  “Andie…”

  He bent down to level his gaze with mine, and this time I didn’t look away. I let him see it all; the horrors of the day were written across my face, plain to see.

  “I can’t do this, Freddie.”

  He shook his head and reached out for me, but thought better of it and tucked his hands back by his sides. His full bottom lip was between his teeth. He was trying to think of a solution, but there was no way to fix this.

  “Jesus, she’s probably watching us right now for all we know.”

  Just the thought sent a shiver down my spine.

  He raked his hand through his damp hair and stood back to his full height. “She’s not here. Only athletes are allowed to enter these facilities.”

  “I’ve already made the mistake of underestimating her. I’m not doing it again.”

  “I’m taking care of it, Andie. Just don’t give up on me.”

  Too late.

  “I was falling for you, Freddie, but I can’t do this. It’s not worth it. The stories paint you as a sexy playboy, juggling two girls and your Olympic dreams, but do you have any idea what I’ve been called today?”

  He shook his head, wanting me to stop, but I didn’t.

  “Whore…slut...bitch.” He inhaled a sharp breath listening to the words as they slipped off my tongue. “That’s just page one. I’ve heard it all, and not just from the media. I can’t walk out of my room without someone whispering behind my back.”

  “Stop, Andie.”

  Was it hard for him to stomach? Poor Freddie.

  He reached forward to pull me off the table. I let him drag me out of the main training room and into a dim hallway before I stopped short and pulled out of his grasp.

  “You know what, Freddie? I came to Rio to win gold, not hearts. You know best of all what the Olympic village is supposed to be like. I wanted to have fun and focus on soccer, but you pushed and you pushed and you pushed and I let you…” My gaze swept across his features, across the high cheekbones that had seduced me, across the jaw that had made my knees weak, across the eyes I’d assumed always told the truth. I could read him like an open book if only I stared into those dark eyes. I
was breaking his heart.

  He pushed open a door off the hallway and pulled me in after him. He flipped on the lights and I blinked as my eyes adjusted. He’d pulled me into a messy supply closet.

  “I can’t let you leave, Andie. Not now…”

  I let out an exhausted laugh.

  “I’m not giving you a choice.”

  CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

  Freddie

  I RAKED MY hands through my hair and spun around to look at Andie. The effects of the day were etched across her features. Her red, puffy eyes. Her splotchy cheeks and messy hair. She’d been through hell and back and now she was pulling away from me. Of course she was pulling away. She wanted her old life back, she wanted the stories and articles to disappear, but that wouldn’t happen. Leaving me wouldn’t make that happen.

  I stepped forward and tilted her chin up. She resisted, the fire inside her not quite extinguished by the storm of the day. She’d been through so much. I could only imagine what her day had been like, but I wanted to make her feel better.

  “Let me erase it all,” I said, bending low and kissing the sensitive skin just below her ear.

  She shivered against my hand.

  “This won’t change anything, Freddie.”

  “Let me try…”

  Her eyes pinched close as I dipped down and trailed kisses along her neck. Her tank top was tight and I could see her nipples pebble beneath the surface. She didn’t want anything from the day, but she wanted me.

  “I won’t let her take you from me.”

  She shook her head. She didn’t believe me. All day the world had chipped away at her. My confident Andie was gone and in her place was a broken shell of a girl. I wanted to remind her what I saw when I looked at her. I needed her to remember that the gossip and the names didn’t define her.

  I gripped her arms in my hands and massaged them, loosening the clenched muscles. She was poised and taut after an entire day spent in fight-or-flight mode. I eased the tension out of her limbs. “These arms are so strong. They’re so powerful. They’re the arms of a woman who beat out hundreds—thousands to be where she is today.”

  She squeezed her eyes closed, but a tear slipped out then, trailing down her cheek. I brushed it away and kissed the spot where it had landed. I trailed my hands down her arms and bent down. She opened her eyes to watch me trail my finger up behind her Achilles tendon and around her calves.

  “These legs belong to the most confident, beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Do you feel how strong they are? Do you remember how hard you’ve worked for these?”

  She watched me worshipping her with her bottom lip tugged between her teeth.

  “Do you, Andie?”

  She nodded, hesitantly.

  “These legs are so beautiful; I could worship them every day.”

  The edge of her mouth tipped up; I was getting to her. I stood and dragged my hand up over her chest and pressed down against her rapidly beating heart.

  “This heart, Andie…”

  She let go of her bottom lip and inhaled a shaky breath.

  “I want this heart all for myself.”

  “Freddie…”

  I didn’t give her time to push me away. “This smile. This is what unwound me. I’m powerless when it comes to this smile.”

  I dragged my finger across her bottom lip. I could feel her breath against the pad of my finger and I wanted to kiss her. I wanted to steal that mouth and show her what she meant to me.

  “You’re confident and you’re funny and they don’t know that, Andie. You’re more than what they see.”

  She leaned forward then, pushing her body against mine and wrapping her arms around my neck. I cradled her against me and whispered in her ear. “I promise you that, Andie. You’re more than what they see.”

  She laughed. “Is that why we’re kissing in a supply closet?”

  I smiled and shook my head, slipping my hand into the waistband of her pants. “Just close your eyes.”

  She smiled sadly against my neck, easing her fingers into my hair. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with us Freddie.”

  I wanted to tell her everything would be easy from here on out, that we could be together and tell the world to piss off, but truthfully, I wasn’t any surer than she was.

  “Just give me this,” I said, kissing her neck. “This is all we need.”

  It was a lie. Secret sex in a broom closet wouldn’t sustain us for long. Andie deserved so much more, but it was the only thing I could give her that wouldn’t make things worse. I could make her happy for that one moment. I could drag her out of the terrible day and make her remember why the fight was worth it.

  My hands were everywhere, feeling her smooth stomach beneath her tank top and sliding up higher to palm her breast. I needed her more than I needed my next race. The water was soothing, but Andie lit me on fire. Her touch on my arms was enough to send me over the edge.

  “Kiss me,” she begged.

  I crashed my mouth against hers and hauled her up against my body. I picked her up and she wound her legs around my waist. I wanted to take my time and make love to her on soft sheets, but there was no bed and no time.

  I nibbled on her bottom lip until she opened for me. My tongue slipped past her lips and she moaned against me, sending vibrations down my throat. Her hand found its way down the front of my pants, so soft and warm I had to stifle a heady growl.

  “I need you.”

  “I need you,” she repeated as her hand stroked me up and down.

  I cradled her neck in my hands and dragged my finger across the center of her thighs. “I want you to come first. I want you to feel how good it can be with us.”

  Her fingers dug into the back of my neck, mimicking my movements. I spun my finger in a slow circle, working her up, and she circled her finger around the back of my neck, showing me what she wanted. She didn’t tell me she was about to fall; I could feel her falling. Her body shook against mine and I watched her unravel, fixated on her delicate features and the sensual way she came apart around me.

  “Again,” she begged.

  Eventually we slid down onto the floor. I laid back on the cold concrete and Andie straddled my hips. A single light bulb swayed back and forth overheard, casting Andie in bright light one second and then dipping her into the shadow the next. I gripped her hips and pulled her down onto me. Her mouth opened, but no sound came out. I thought I was hurting her, but she gripped my chest and moved up and down, taking our pleasure into her own hands.

  I watched her roll her hips as she glided herself onto me. Up and down she went as I gripped her tiny waist.

  “Fuck, Andie…”

  Her breasts bounced while she rode me. I wanted to taste them, but she fell forward and dropped her mouth to my neck with whispered moans. Her nipples rubbed against my chest; her soft cries told me how much it was turning her on. Her hands clawed at me as I wrapped my arms around her. I held Andie there, and her hips pressed down on me as I pumped into her harder and faster.

  There were no promises made in that dark closet, but everything we felt for each other was spelled out as clear as day. She lifted her head so she could stare down into my eyes. Her gaze flitted back and forth, trying to find something hidden beneath them.

  That was when I realized the only promise I could make was to myself.

  I would protect Andie no matter what.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

  Freddie

  “FRED, SHOULDN’T YOU be at your race?” my lawyer asked as soon as the call connected.

  “I’m headed to the stadium now.”

  “Jesus.”

  “Listen, Dave, I need you to start looking into this situation with Caroline. I need to try and get a handle—

  “Fred, you’re in the middle of the Olympics.”

  “And Caroline is doing everything she can to ruin my life.”

  “You’ve cut off communication with her, right?”

  “I haven’t spoken to her sinc
e two nights ago, at the bar.”

  “What about Andie? I’ve advised you to—”

  “I’m not going to cut off communication with Andie.”

  The night before, hours after the broom closet, I’d called her. I’d assumed she’d ignore it, but when the call clicked on and her voice filled my ears, I was filled with hope once again. We couldn’t talk long. She had an early morning practice and I had a race first thing.

  “I know I’ve already promised you a hundred times, but I will figure this out.”

  She didn’t reply.

  “Do you trust me, Andie?”

  “Of course, but I don’t know what you want me to say.”

  “Tell me you aren’t going to give up on us. Tell me this afternoon meant as much to you as it meant to me.”

  “Everyone is telling me to stay away from you.”

  “And is that what you want to do?”

  She sighed. “I should! Any sane person would have given up days ago. I’ve only known you for a little while, Freddie. This is crazy, what we’re trying to pull off.”

  I didn’t have a counter for that, because it was the truth. A sane person would walk away.

  “Tell me something good, Andie. Tell me something about your day that doesn’t include this shit.”

  She laughed. “Lisa gave me a hard time for being late to my training session.”

  I smiled. “Did she realize you were in the closet?”

  “No.”

  Even the silence was soothing.

  “I’m going to try and play in the final in four days,” she continued. “Lisa’s helping me get my wrist ready.”

  My brows shot up. “I thought you said the doctor—”

 
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