The summer games settlin.., p.6
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.6

           R.S. Grey
 

  I tossed another t-shirt aside. “Because I have to go swimming.”

  “Right, so just wear that bikini you have behind you.” She was pointing at the skimpy light blue one. “It’s very Rio.”

  I slapped my hand over my eyes and shook my head. “Yes, obviously. That’s the problem. My boobs look too good in that one. I need one that says ‘I’m boring and unavailable’ which I figured would be right up your alley.”

  “I’ll have you know that Liam still thinks I’m really sexy. Just because we’ve been married for a few years doesn’t mean our sex life isn’t still amazing. Just yesterday, we tried this new thing where I spin—”

  “NOPE. NADA. NOPE.” I held up my hand to stop her from continuing. “You can stop it right there. I don’t need to hear how gross you two are in the bedroom.”

  “Fine, but I’m sorry, I don’t have a nun’s habit for you to wear to go swimming. Just wear that bikini like a normal person.”

  I moaned really loudly, hoping it would scare her away, but it didn’t work.

  “Who are you going swimming with anyway?”

  I paused with a t-shirt gripped in my hands. “No one.”

  “BECCA! GET IN HERE.”

  “NO!” I shouted.

  There was no time to prepare. Before I could run and lock myself in the bathroom, Becca and Kinsley had worked their dynamic duo voodoo magic on me. Becca had my hands pinned to the floor and Kinsley had my feet. I tried my hardest to thrash them off me, but it was no use.

  “Who are you going swimming with?” Kinsley asked again.

  “You’re not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition,” I replied.

  “Stop changing the subject! With whom do you plan to swim?!”

  “No one! I like to swim laps every now and then!”

  She shook her head. “Becca, go fill up a cup. We’re going to have to waterboard her.”

  “NO!”

  “Kinsley, I think that’s a war crime, even in Rio,” Becca warned.

  “Well if she likes the water as much as she claims, it shouldn’t feel like torture.”

  “Let me go and I’ll tell you! I promise.”

  “Tell us and then we’ll let you go,” Kinsley countered.

  “Ow, my wrist!”

  Becca was technically holding my bad wrist and though she wasn’t really hurting it, my ruse still worked. She loosened her grip just enough that I could break free and twist out of their grasp. I jumped off the floor and reached for something to throw at them in case they came near me again. A cleat was the first thing I grabbed for, but Kinsley was faster. She yanked my favorite t-shirt off the floor, the Harry Potter one with a picture of Rupert Grint across the front and the words “King Weasley” underneath.

  “Tell me or Ron gets it.”

  I narrowed my eyes. “You wouldn’t dare.”

  She stretched the material near the neck, just enough to show me she was serious.

  I dropped the cleat and held my hands up in surrender.

  “Fine, you death eater, I’m going swimming with the duke.”

  They exchanged a knowing glance and then Kinsley let my t-shirt drop to the floor. I ran for it and picked it up, confirming that Ron was indeed unharmed.

  “Why would you go swimming with him? He’s betrothed to another girl.”

  I rolled my eyes. “I know that. But there’s been a development.”

  “Go on…” Kinsley implored, clearly waiting for some kind of explanation.

  “Truthfully, it’s because we—he—made a little bet about it at poker night. He told me he wasn’t good at poker—which was a huge lie by the way—and I lost. So, now I have to go swimming with him.”

  They did another one of those “oh dear, this situation doesn’t look good” glances.

  “Would you two stop? Nothing is going on. And even if something was going on, it isn’t me that is initiating it.”

  I wasn’t even lying. Freddie and I had played a few hands of poker the night before and it’d been fun to let my hair down and relax. I knew he was betrothed and he knew I was too cool for him, so there was no pressure. We could just be friends. Super hot, super not interested in each other friends. I didn’t see the problem.

  At the end of poker night—after I’d called him out for being a cheating asshole—he’d laughed and reached for one of the cards on the table. He scrawled something on it and then Thom shouted out for him, telling him he was heading home for the night. Freddie pressed the card into my palm and then turned away. I stood there, watching him leave, ignoring the slope of his muscled back and shoulders as he walked through the door.

  When I turned the card over, it read, 1:00 PM - Central Natatorium Training Complex.

  He didn’t even bother asking me if I was free to swim then. Clearly I had to go, if only to reprimand him for assuming, and to tell him that if there was a next time (which there wouldn’t be), he should ask me about my schedule first.

  I explained this to Kinsley and Becca and they both shook their heads.

  “That makes no sense,” Kinsley said. “You’re going because you think the man will look good in the pool.”

  Becca nodded. “And you want to see him shirtless. You’re reverse Ariel; you’re trading your human legs for a mermaid tail so you can kiss him.”

  I gasped. “What? No. That’s preposterous.”

  “You’ve never used that word, so I know you’re lying.”

  “Right well, thanks for the love you two. Must get ready now. Chat later.” I shooed them both out of my room—a bit forcefully at the end since Kinsley is strong for her size. She tried to hold on to the doorframe and dig her heels in, but I pushed her out and then locked the door as quickly as possible.

  “You’re only fooling yourself!” she shouted back.

  I couldn’t hear her over the sound of me telling myself how smart it was to go for a swim. Really, as my big sister on the soccer team, Kinsley of all people should have been encouraging my interest in cross-training.

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  Freddie

  INHALE. STROKE. STROKE. Inhale. Stroke. Stroke. I sliced through the cold water as I felt the muscles in my arms start to protest. I’d finished my workout a few minutes earlier, but I kept swimming. It was the best kind of burn, the slow-spreading reminder of how close I was to competing in another Olympic games. I kicked hard, touched the wall, and sprang up out of the water to check the timer. I’d finished half a second faster than my last circuit.

  “Good work, Archibald,” Coach yelled from across the pool.

  I pulled myself out and shook off water like a mangy mutt.

  “Think you could manage a break?” Thom asked. “Your arms will fall off before the games have even started.” He threw my towel at me and I reached out to catch it before it landed in the pool. He’d already showered and changed, which meant I’d stayed in the pool even longer than I’d assumed.

  I shrugged. “Feels good. I haven’t had that good of a go since arriving.”

  “Yeah, well you’re already crushing my time, and I’m the fastest bloody swimmer in the world. I think you could manage a breather every now and again.”

  I wrapped the towel around my neck and walked to my bag so I could check my mobile. There was a text from Georgie waiting for me.

  Georgie: Mum tried to phone you this morning, but I hid the charger for her cell. She was stomping around and having a fit. She’ll never find it in Chester’s litter box. I hid her hideous canary red lipstick there the other day as well. The woman should thank me—she looked like a cherry tart.

  I smiled and typed back a reply.

  Freddie: I owe you one.

  “What are you doing now?” Thom asked. “Off to the gym?”

  I shook my head and tossed my mobile back onto my bag.

  “I actually have plans.”

  “What? Who with?”

  I shrugged. “No one.”

  My mobile buzzed in my bag again and I reached for it as a way ou
t. “Actually, I’ve got to handle this straightaway.”

  I made it seem like an important email, but it was just Georgie texting me back. It worked though; Thom wandered off and I shouted that I’d see him back at the flat. I knew he’d interrogate me later, but I could work up a proper excuse by then.

  Georgie: Oh no. Mum found the lippie.

  Georgie: AND SHE PUT IT ON. You should have seen the look Chester gave her.

  Georgie: Also she found her charger. Prepare yourself…I think I hear her trying to ring you from the front room.

  She wasn’t lying. I’d barely closed Georgie’s text when my mum’s call popped up on my screen. Bloody hell. I had to answer it. It was better to get it over with. Besides, Andie wasn’t due for another few minutes and all the swimmers had left the natatorium. I was alone with time to kill, so I swiped my finger across the screen, took a breath, and answered.

  “Hello Mum.”

  “Frederick!”

  She and Caroline were the only people who ever called me by my full name. I despised it. Henry had been named after my father, which left me to inherit a moniker from my great uncle, a stuffy bloke with red cheeks and a belly so round I used to wonder how he fit into the chairs in our dining room. He’d moan on about etiquette and the ‘old ways of British aristocracy’ any chance he got. In other words, he was a real bore and someone I hoped to never become.

  “I’m thrilled to have caught you. Are you busy at practice?”

  I wrapped my towel around my waist and took a seat on the bench.

  “No, I’ve got a few minutes. How are things in London?”

  She sighed heavily as though I’d just asked her to open up during a therapy session. “Dreadful. I’ve got Georgie driving me mad, but you know how hard it is to stay cross with her.”

  I smiled. “Nearly impossible.”

  “Precisely. And well, I’ve already begun planning the winter ball here at the estate. Of course with your upcoming engagement, it needs to be more lavish than ever before. I’m thinking of bringing on a party planner to help with everything.”

  My chest tightened.

  “Right.”

  “It’s a significant event, Frederick. When Henry passed so soon after your father, I wasn’t sure how we’d manage. Whether you like the title or not, you must bear it. You are the Duke of Farlington and your marriage to Caroline is just what this family needs. She’s been reared for this since childhood and she’ll make a wonderful duchess one day. She’s familiar with running an estate and her family is so close to ours. It couldn’t be a more perfect union.”

  I leaned back against the wall and stared up at the ceiling, listening to her go on.

  “And speaking of Caroline…I know you’re busy with your races, so I’ve asked her to accompany Georgie to Rio, to make things easier on you.”

  I sat forward with a start. “What do you mean? You’ve invited Caroline to Rio?”

  “Georgie’s only eighteen. She needs a chaperone, and it’s not as if you’ve got the time. I would go myself, but I have too much to do here.”

  I dropped my head in my hands and squeezed my eyes closed. “I wish you might have asked me first, Mum.”

  “Oh Freddie. She’s going to be your wife. It’s time you start actually spending time together.”

  We had spent time together. I’d known Caroline my whole life. She had been a fixture in our house for as long as I could remember, but she was never someone I imagined myself marrying—and neither had Henry for that matter. Their betrothal had been just as arranged as ours, but Henry had accepted the responsibility without a second thought. He was the dutiful heir I could only try in vain to be.

  Honestly, I thought my mum had it in her head that Caroline and I would marry even before we’d arrived home from Henry’s funeral. It was my duty and there was no way around it.

  It was three weeks before I left for Rio—I’d been in the middle of heavy training—when she’d come to me with the idea of the betrothal. She’d known exactly what she was doing. I was too busy to devote my attention to anything but racing. I’d told her to table it until after the Olympics, but she took my indecision as resignation. She’d made the decision and there wasn’t room for negotiations. Caroline and her family were informed before I’d even entertained the scenario.

  I still had my head in my hand, listening to my mum, when the door to the natatorium opened. I glanced up to see Andie stride in, and whatever dark cloud had formed over me during the last five minutes vanished. She walked in wearing her team’s warm-up gear: windbreaker pants and a jacket. She had her workout bag slung across her shoulder and when she looked up and saw me, a slow smile spread across her face.

  “Freddie,” my mom continued. “I know you’ve a lot to think about right now, but just know that I’m arranging everything in your best—”

  “Mum I’ve got to go.”

  I hung up before she could respond and stood to greet Andie.

  “Before you say anything,” she said, “I came straight from practice.” She pointed to the mess of hair atop her head. The usually light strands were damp with sweat and her cheeks were still flush from her workout. She wasn’t wearing any makeup and I swept my gaze over her features quickly, trying to commit the pink shade of her bare lips to memory without her noticing.

  “I hope you’ve worn a bathing suit under that thing,” I said, gesturing to her track pants.

  She smirked, glanced over her shoulder to the empty natatorium, and then reached for the zipper of her jacket. I averted my gaze as she undressed, though I didn’t know why. Force of habit, perhaps.

  She cleared her throat and I glanced back toward her, laughter spilling out before I could stop myself.

  “What in the world have you got on?”

  She was wearing a tight blue spandex top that covered her arms down to her wrists and zipped up the center of her chest until it ended at the base of her neck. It looked like what surfers wore during competitions, and the bottom was even worse: baggy red board shorts that cinched above her waist and fell below her knees, turning her figure into an amorphous blob.

  “What is that?”

  She smiled. “A swim shirt. I found it in the gift shop on the way over. And the trunks are to dispel any assumptions of…impropriety, should we have any spectators.”

  “Right well, the place is deserted,” I said, waving to the empty natatorium. “Besides, you can’t possibly wear those trunks to swim. They’ll pull you down like an anchor.”

  “No. They’re light.” She proceeded to hop up and down to prove her point. “Look. See how high I can jump?”

  My smile spread wider as I shook my head. “Please tell me you’ve got a normal swimsuit on under there.”

  She leveled me with an annoyed gaze. “Fine.”

  With a sigh, she tugged the slip-knotted drawstring and the baggy shorts fell to the ground, revealing light blue bikini bottoms. Thin strings tied on either side of her slim, tan hips, and I took in the sight with a heavy inhale. The tight swim top stopped just below her belly button, revealing the last few inches of her tiny waist. She had an athlete’s body, lithe and strong, but there was no denying she was all woman. She’d put on the swim shirt to hide herself, but instead it served to accentuate the outline of her breasts, full and tempting. She was bloody gorgeous and I needed to get in the cold water straightaway.

  “Maybe I should have had you keep the trousers on,” I said, standing up and tossing my towel to the side.

  The sooner we hopped into the pool, the better.

  She laughed. “This was your doing, remember? You made the bet.”

  Her words reminded me that in travelling down this road, I was betting on much more than poker.

  Andie

  TRYING TO SLYLY check out Freddie in his swim shorts should have been an Olympic sport in itself. The moment he stood up and shed his towel, I turned my head but simultaneously developed one lazy eye, which pointed at Freddie regardless of which way I looked.


  When he stretched by the edge of the pool, I lost motor function and suddenly couldn’t remember how normal people stood. Do they hold their weight on both legs or just sort of casually lean on one? Crossed arms? No that looks angry. Wait, what are arms for again? I let the now meaningless limbs fall limply to my sides and pretended to listen to Freddie as he went on about proper freestyle form. I didn’t care about swimming form, I cared about his form. He had the most powerfully fluid body I’d ever seen, like a modern day gladiator. Every square inch of him was made up of layers of tight, coiled muscle. Thick biceps gave way to broad shoulders. His defined upper back and strong shoulder blades tapered to a slimmer waist, but my gaze had to stop there. He was wearing those tight spandex shorts Olympic swimmers wear. The navy material sat low on his hips, slicing his Adonis Vs in half when he twisted around to make sure I was paying attention. To maintain my own sanity, I kept my gaze on the top half of him—though even that wasn’t really a safe zone.

  “See how my head stays at 45 degrees?” he asked.

  I shot him a thumbs up and tried to ignore the feeling of my heart pounding against my breastbone.

  The spandex shorts were basically a form of cruel and unusual punishment. He paused then, noticing the color in my cheeks. I assured him I was paying attention but I wasn’t. I was staring at his butt. I’M SORRY OKAY. It was just there, testing the elastic capacity of the spandex, and I couldn’t help it. It was the most glorious butt I’d ever seen and I couldn’t take it for another second. My self-control had reached its limit, and like the clownfish in Finding Nemo, I thought, I’m going to touch the butt. My hand twitched and started to drift toward him.

  “All right,” I squeaked, clasping my loyal hand around my traitorous one. I was going to lose it soon if we didn’t jump in the water. “I think I’ve got it; let’s get in.”

  “I haven’t gone over the mechanics of the full stroke,” he argued, glancing back at me over his shoulder. Every time he moved, I caught a new angle, a glimpse at his quadruple abs or his strong biceps. A woman can only handle so much.

 
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