The summer games settlin.., p.23
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.23

           R.S. Grey
 

  “I’m not going to listen to him.”

  I smiled. “You’re different than any woman I’ve ever met.”

  I could practically hear her smile as she spoke. “Don’t you forget it.”

  Dave sighed on the phone, bringing me back to the topic at hand. “You only have a few days left before the games are wrapped up. I’ll get my team on Caroline, and in the meantime, I need you to keep your head focused on swimming—if not for your sake, for Andie’s.”

  CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

  Andie

  “ANDIE, SIT OUT for these next couple of drills.”

  “But I can—”

  My coach shot me a glare. “Not a request.”

  I balled my hands and ignored the pain in my wrist as I headed for the bench. It was three days until the final game and Coach Decker was still treating me like I was made of glass. She’d forced me to sit out of warm-ups, so instead I’d jogged around the field, sending defiant glares her way with every lap I completed. Since then, she’d excused me from nearly every other drill. My legs would fall off if I ran another lap, so I had nothing left to do but sit on the bench like a loser.

  “Line up ladies!” she shouted, directing everyone’s attention back to practice.

  I turned away and popped the top off my water bottle with more force than necessary.

  I’d already done double my usual cardio and there was another hour left of practice.

  “Andie, just rest.”

  I resisted the urge to flip her off and tossed my water bottle on the ground. Times of rest had become my most agonizing, because the burn I felt while being active helped take my mind off the crush of the world. Coach Decker was either coldhearted or genuinely oblivious to how painful it was to attend practices for a team I was no longer a part of.

  TWO HOURS LATER, I dragged myself back to my condo, more frustrated than ever. I wished I could have called Freddie to tell him about my day, but he was at his races, probably winning races and breaking records. I’d seen on the news that he already had two gold medals to his name. What a life. Instead, I settled on a phone call with my mom.

  The phone rang twice before she answered and went straight into her sentence. With her, the phone calls never really started. In her mind, we were talking all day, every day.

  “Andie, Meemaw is just beside herself. The ladies at the bridge club are talking about kicking her out of the group.”

  “Well, we’re all suffering.”

  “You and Freddie are the talk of the world. I thought it would settle down after that ping pong player got caught doping, but you guys are still the bigger story.”

  “Well I have that Sports Illustrated party tonight. I’ll try and calm things down a bit.”

  She sighed heavily. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to go to that thing? It seems like you’ll only add fuel to the fire.”

  “The PR team said in the mind’s eye, you’re only as guilty as you act in public. So if I hide out for too long, people will assume I have reason to.”

  “Well you need to be careful.”

  If even one more person told me to be careful, focus on soccer, or stay away from Freddie, I’d rip my hair out. Fortunately, a musical knocking sounded on my bedroom door before I could tell her that.

  “All right, I’ve got to go now, Mom.” I opened my bedroom door, surprised to find Georgie in the living room. She was wearing short denim cutoffs and a loose tank top. She’d pushed her sunglasses onto her head to keep her long brown hair out of her face, and resting in her arms were two cartons of takeout, the smell of which immediately made my mouth water.

  “Sweetie, I’m not done. I was going to—”

  “I’ll talk to you later.”

  “Promise me you’ll focus on soccer, and if you are with Freddie, be sure to practice safe—”

  Oh, Jesus.

  I hung up on her and eyed Georgie tentatively.

  “I come with gifts,” she said, holding up the takeout. “First, some Chinese food, as interpreted by Brazil. There was a language barrier, so I’m not sure what I’ve ordered. Fortunately, I’ve also nabbed a bottle of wine to help us wash it down.”

  I laughed. “Oh boy…”

  Before I even invited her in, she stepped inside my room and kicked the door closed with her foot. I had half a mind to turn her away—I didn’t really feel up to company—but she’d already taken up residence on my floor and pulled open one of the cartons. Salty, spicy goodness wafted around my room and I knew there was no way I’d be asking her to leave. I was starving. I hadn’t had lunch yet and I was avoiding the food court at all costs. I’d planned on begging food from Kinsley or Becca, but this was much more convenient.

  “How’d you get in my condo?” I asked as I took a seat across from her on the floor.

  She was already sitting cross-legged and tearing into one of the cartons with chopsticks. She had noodles sticking out of her mouth when she titled her head toward the living room.

  “Through the door,” she said in a tone devoid of sarcasm.

  I made a mental note to berate my roommates for leaving the doors unlocked.

  “Here, eat up,” she said, passing me one of the takeout cartons. “It looks like chicken fried rice, but I can’t be sure. Anyway, are you…all right?”

  I shrugged.

  “Freddie told me Caroline gave that photo to the press. That’s part of why I’m here; he wants to make sure you’re doing okay.”

  I kept my gaze on my rice. Georgie had called Caroline all sorts of names when I’d first met her, but I had no clue if she was genuinely friends with her or not. I called Kinsley and Becca names all the time, but they were the closest thing I had to sisters; maybe that was how she felt about Caroline.

  “Just so you know,” she continued after I didn’t offer up a response. “Excluding the fact that it’s my brother, I thought that photo was very sexy. Everyone on the internet is obsessed with you now.”

  I narrowed my eyes. “Obsessed with their hatred of me.”

  She laughed. “Some of them, but when you start to dig into the blogs and hashtags, you’ll find that there’s a quiet contingent that’s quite besotted with you.”

  I shook my head. “Well, no more photo talk, seriously.”

  It’d only been one day since the story broke and I still didn’t have a real grip on my emotions. I’d crashed early the night before and slept in as late as I could. Having a solid eight hours seemed to help, but my eyes were still puffy and the story still wasn’t anywhere close to being my favorite topic of conversation.

  “Freddie mentioned that Sports Illustrated party is tonight. Do you have to go?”

  I frowned. “Sadly.”

  She nodded. “Caroline is going too. She told me about it at breakfast.”

  I paused with my chopsticks midway to my mouth. “You had breakfast with her?”

  “Yes.” She laughed. “Have you forgotten that she was commissioned by my mother to be my chaperone while I’m here? We’re staying in one big suite at the hotel and everything.”

  My eyes widened. “Lock your door at night.”

  The jab slipped out before I could stop it, but when I glanced up to Georgie, she didn’t look offended. She was smiling.

  “Don’t worry, I have been. I always knew Caroline was a bore, and the fact that she’s bonkers isn’t that surprising. It actually came as somewhat of a relief to know that there is something going on in that alarmingly sized skull of hers, even if it is just plotting and scheming.”

  “You two weren’t friends in London?”

  Georgie’s eyes nearly fell out of her skull. “I’d rather cut my right arm off than loll around with Caroline. Her idea of a fun Friday night is reorganizing her closet and then sipping on a bit of bubbly while she watches her laundry spin.”

  I laughed. God, it felt good to laugh again, especially when my new archenemy was the butt of the joke.

  “I’m actually sort of glad we’re sharing the suite though because
now I can keep better watch over her.”

  I nodded. “Good point.”

  “For instance, I know she’ll be wearing a killer dress to the event tonight.”

  My glaze flitted over to the two dresses hanging up on my closet door. Sometime during practice, a designer had dropped off dresses for Kinsley, Becca, and me to wear to the party later. It was a glamorous affair, and something I had been looking forward to before C-Day 2K16. (i.e. the day Caroline released the story to the press. Also, to be clear, the C stands for Caroline, not for the other “c” word, though it would be fitting in this instance…)

  “Are those your options?” Georgie asked, pointing to the garment bags. I nodded. One was a white dress with simple beading and an A-line fit. The other was black and short, with a strapless bodice and a loose skirt that hugged my hips when I moved.

  “What color is she wearing?” I asked.

  “Pale pink.” She feigned a gag. “The woman has the whole ‘innocent virgin’ act down pat. I swear.”

  I narrowed my eyes. “Looks like I’m wearing black then.” My PR team wanted me to dress conservatively and the white dress was a better option, but there was power in the color black. Caroline wanted me to cower and hide, but I wasn’t ready to run just yet.

  Georgie clapped her hands together and then reached forward to yank the Chinese food carton out of my hand.

  “Hey! I was eating that.”

  She shook her head. “Nope. No more Chinese. If you’re going to that event with Caroline, you’re going to look bloody hot.”

  I wanted to remind her that I worked out multiple times a day, that I could eat anything I wanted while I was training, but she was already pushing to stand up off the floor.

  She eyed my appearance. “A little makeup and a bit of hairspray will be good for you…maybe a good scrub as well.”

  She scrunched her nose.

  “What? I was training,” I said, brushing stray hairs away from my face.

  “Guess it doesn’t matter anyway.” She shrugged. “My brother fancies you, sweat and all.”

  My chest tightened at the mention of Freddie. “Right,” I said, glancing away.

  I didn’t want to talk about Freddie. I didn’t want to consider how handsome and sweet he was. Until he got things settled with Caroline, there was no point in daydreaming about him. Unfortunately, it seemed like there was no forgetting Freddie—especially not when I had his sister sitting across from me, shooting me a smug smile.

  “He’s been a mess the last two days, trying to focus on swimming as much as possible. Caroline has tried to get in touch with him nonstop, but he’s been ignoring her calls. She moaned on and on about it during breakfast.”

  “Does she realize you know she’s crazy?”

  Georgie shook her head. “I’m keeping up appearances. Y’know, the whole ‘friends close, but enemies closer’ thing.”

  “Good.” I dropped my bag on the table. “I’m getting in the shower.”

  “Fine, I’ll go down and get us something less bloating to eat.”

  I waved over my shoulder.

  “Don’t forget to moisturize! I’ll help with that rat’s nest on your head when I get back! We don’t have any time to waste.”

  “Georgie, it’s only 2:00 PM. The event isn’t until 6:00.”

  She sighed, exasperated with me already. “Exactly! We’re already running behind.”

  I was still in the shower when she got back, but she didn’t let that stop her. She sat on the other side of the curtain and talked to me about the event.

  “Good news,” she said while typing on her phone’s keypad. “Fred just asked if I’d attend the party with him tonight. He said it’d be fun for me, but I think he’s just hoping to put a buffer between him and Caroline.”

  I worked the conditioner through my hair. “Good, I’m glad I’ll have an ally.”

  “I didn’t bring a dress, though.”

  “You can wear the white one hanging on the door.”

  She laughed. “Good, someone should look more angelic than Caroline. She’ll hate that.”

  CHAPTER FORTY

  Freddie

  A BLACK TOWNCAR pulled up in front of the complex and I held the door open so Georgie could slide into the back seat. We were running behind for the Sports Illustrated party—the medal ceremony and interview after my last race had run over on time—and Georgie was anxious to get there.

  “Come on, Fred,” she said as I bent down and slid into the car after her. “We’ve got to hurry or we won’t arrive before Andie.”

  She was checking her phone, probably texting Andie that very minute. I wanted to lean over and add my own message, but I held off and glanced up at Georgie instead. She looked so much older than when I’d left her in London a few weeks earlier. In her white dress and heels, it was almost easy to forget that she’d once been my snot-nosed little sister. I could still recall her running after my mates, trying to land a solid punch or kiss. (More often than not, it was the former.) She was always such a confident bugger growing up, and it hadn’t dimmed with age. Even now, no one could stand in her way if she set her mind on something.

  “You look pretty, Georgie.”

  She waved me away and kept texting.

  I laughed and glanced out the window. “How did Andie seem when you left her?”

  Georgie had texted me to let me know she was getting ready with Andie. The fact that the two of them had become friends definitely made my life easier. I was in the middle of my races and away from my phone most of the day.

  “What?” Georgie asked, sliding her pale green eyes to me. “Do you mean to ask if she was moaning on about how much she missed you and all that?”

  I smiled. “A little bit of moaning never hurt anybody.”

  “Well that’s too bad. She went on about a dozen or so footballers she’d like to romp around with.”

  “Georgie…”

  She groaned. “Fine. Actually, she’s smitten, though God knows why. She’s much prettier than you and could have any bloke she fancied, with half the trouble.”

  “Have you ever thought maybe she finds me good-looking and worth the trouble?”

  She narrowed her eyes on me as if trying to assess me in a new light, then shook her head. “No, that’s not it. She must really like the accent. Or maybe it’s the gold medals.”

  “Thanks for the vote of confidence, G.”

  She reached out and touched my hand. “In all honesty, I really like Andie. She’s funny and beautiful, and you and her really appear to be meant for one another.”

  Flashing cameras drew my attention away from Georgie before I could agree. The driver had pulled up in front of the event space and suddenly I found myself faced with another red carpet. The Olympics were trying enough—what with fifteen races (heats, semifinals, and finals) taking place over six days—without all the extracurricular events they piled onto us night after night. At the end of it all, more than wanting to party and celebrate, I knew I’d crave a decent weekend back in my flat in London: no press, no cameras, no intrusive questions. Just time alone with Andie.

  The driver opened the back door and I stepped out then reached back to lend Georgie my arm. They’d started shouting my name the moment our car had pulled up, but with Georgie in tow, the frenzy kicked up another notch.

  “Georgie who are you wearing?!”

  “Who designed those shoes?”

  I pushed her ahead of me on the carpet, letting her taste the limelight for a little while. At home, the press couldn’t get enough of Georgie. She was the youngest member of the Archibald family, and after the deaths of our father and Henry, the press were keen to see Georgie unravel into the emotional wild child. She did generally assume rules didn’t apply to her, but she had a better head on her shoulders than most adults.

  “I’m proud of you, Georgie,” I said, leaning in and giving her a tight hug.

  For once I was glad the cameras were firing. I’d have appreciated a copy of that
photo, if only because Georgie wasn’t a fan of public displays of affection and there was a fifty percent chance she’d pulled a sour face as soon as I hugged her.

  “What an adorable family reunion.”

  I released Georgie and turned to find Caroline standing a few feet away, dressed as if she’d just stepped off the top of a frilly cupcake. Her light pink dress looked like something a year one student would wear to a dance recital. To solidify the look, she’d added on a delicate pearl necklace.

  “Caroline!” the cameraman called.

  She turned to pose for photos and I used the opportunity to push Georgie toward the end of the red carpet. There was a group of reporters hovering near the entrance, and though I wished I could ignored them, one of them shouted out a question about the betrothal that I couldn’t ignore.

  “Did she forgive you, Freddie? Are you still set to marry Caroline?”

  I motioned for Georgie to continue on inside and then I turned toward the cameras. If I wanted to shut Caroline down, this was the simplest way. Live television couldn’t lie.

  “Freddie! Could you tell us any details about the wedding?”

  “There will not be a wed—”

  I felt a hand hit my lower back as Caroline swooped in to interrupt me.

  She coughed, a light airy ahem that made my stomach churn. “We’re still working through this challenging time, and we would appreciate it if you would respect our privacy.”

  “Are you two engaged?” they asked anyway.

  “No,” I answered.

  Cameras fired.

  “Is the wedding off because of the cheating scandal!?”

  She laughed again and shook her head. “If you’ll excuse me, I really must speak with my fiancé.”

  “There is no wedding,” I continued, staring straight into one of the cameras so my words couldn’t be misconstrued. “There is no betro—”

  “Freddie!” Caroline shrieked, suddenly on the brink of tears. “Please don’t do this.”

  Her hand was pressed to her stomach as if she were about to be sick, and then there were actual tears slipping down her cheeks.

 
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