The summer games settlin.., p.7
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.7

           R.S. Grey
 

  “I’m going to be honest,” I said, propping my hands on my hips. “We can be honest with each other right?”

  He nodded and for a second I almost told him how fucking good-looking he was, how much I wanted to maul him at that very moment, but I caught myself before the words slipped out.

  “This is literally the most boring thing I’ve ever had to sit through.”

  He frowned.

  “Sorry, I know form is really important, but I just want to swim.”

  I walked toward the pool and glanced down at the water, trying to ignore the tight tension radiating through my body. This was supposed to be a fun afternoon. I’d told Kinsley I knew what I was doing, but I felt anxious and hot and awkward. I couldn’t be my normal self while he was standing there nearly naked.

  “Andie?” he asked, taking a step toward me. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and I knew he was going to touch me, maybe try to brush my shoulder with his hand. I acted first, bent my knees, and dove into the water. If he touched me, it’d be game over.

  Freddie

  I WATCHED ANDIE dive into the water and then slipped into the lane beside her. Her mood had changed in the last few minutes. Had I actually bored her? Maybe I could have laid off the form talk a bit. Not everyone was trying to win gold, after all. I surfaced and looked out to find her halfway down the pool, swimming a lap faster than I’d expected. I inhaled and kicked off the wall to catch up to her.

  “I’m faster than a gold medalist!” she taunted once she’d reached the other side.

  I smiled and picked up the pace. My workout had been longer than usual, but being with Andie had reinvigorated me.

  “No! Slow down,” she shouted, kicking her feet faster to get away from me. She was making exaggerated splashes and I slowed, acting as though she really was beating me. Every few strokes, she’d swirl onto her back to see how close I was to passing her, and each time she did, I had to slow down more and more. Once we’d reached the starting point, she clung to the lane divider between us and shook her head.

  “Oh god, this is hard.”

  “That was only one lap,” I said, treading water beside her.

  I dipped beneath the lane divider so I could see her properly.

  “I’m in good shape,” she promised once I’d surfaced again a few feet away from her. “It’s just that I’ve already worked out today and my legs are a lot stronger than my arms.”

  I made a show of studying her biceps bobbing up and down in the water. “They look fit to me.”

  She grinned. “So, did I make the team?”

  “Definitely, although I’m not quite sure of any protocol for incorporating an American girl into Her Majesty’s Olympic men’s swim team.”

  I studied her smile as we spoke, watched as her cheeks flushed when she laughed. Her eyes held a sense of mischief as we treaded water there and I wondered if she was enjoying herself as much as I was. It’d been ages since I’d hung around a girl and had a laugh, so long in fact, that I couldn’t even remember it.

  “Well, let’s try one more lap,” she said. “I really think I can beat you this time.”

  I nodded. “Do you want a head start?”

  Instead of answering, she pointed over to the side of the natatorium with a puzzled look on her face. When I turned to see what had gotten her attention, she splashed a wall of water at my head and dove under the surface, swimming as fast as she could. I stayed where I was, watching as she made her way across the pool. I waited until she hit the other wall before I took off, and even then, I didn’t swim at my normal pace. We were lazy about it, swimming laps together. She tried to grab hold of my ankle under water, to sabotage me and slow me down, but she couldn’t grip tight enough. I pulled myself out of her hold and took off, always just a little too fast for her to catch up.

  “I can’t do it,” she said halfway through our final lap of the day.

  “What?”

  She nodded her chin toward the starting wall.

  “I can’t make it back. My arms don’t work any more.”

  I smiled.

  “Well, I guess you live here now.” I made out like I was going to swim away and leave her there, but she shouted after me.

  “No! Stop!”

  She could have pulled herself out of the pool and walked round the slow way, but I had a better, more selfish solution.

  “Hop onto my back. I’ll swim us back to the other side.”

  She narrowed her eyes at me and added a little smirk for emphasis.

  “I’ve seen enough movies to know where that leads.”

  I tilted my head as though I didn’t understand.

  She shook her head. “We shouldn’t cross that line. If I get on your back and you make out like we’re just casually crossing the pool, it’ll be a sham. I don’t want to turn this afternoon into something I’m going to have to feel sorry about later.”

  “Do you feel sorry about it now? Because I don’t. This has been the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

  She smiled. “Me too. So let’s not ruin it.”

  After we made our way back to the starting wall—me swimming back and Andie walking around the side of the pool—she and I sat on the ledge with our feet kicking up water. I passed her a spare protein bar and she tilted her water bottle in my direction to let me know I could have some if I wanted. There was nothing but silence while we caught our breaths. I could see her chest rising and falling out of the corner of my eye, but I kept my gaze ahead, too aware of how close her hand was to mine, too aware of the sound of her heavy breaths. She was right. The moment we touched, everything would change.

  “Don’t you feel bad inviting girls to swim with you?” she asked, breaking the silence first. “Other women might get the wrong idea, with you in those booty shorts.”

  “Booty shorts?”

  She laughed.

  “No,” I said, confidently. “I don’t feel bad. Not about this.”

  “Caroline might.”

  “I don’t really care what she thinks.”

  It felt weird to acknowledge that out loud, like I was taking the Lord’s name in vain inside a church or something.

  “Odd,” she said, sliding her eyes to me, “considering you’re about to be married to the woman.”

  “If I had it my way, I wouldn’t be.”

  I knew she probably suspected as much, but her brows rose in shock all the same. “So why don’t you end it?”

  “It’s not that simple.”

  “You already said that last night. I’m beginning to find that phrase really annoying.”

  “Truthfully, I was never supposed to marry Caroline. She was intended for my brother Henry.”

  “Wait. Seriously?”

  I nodded.

  “Were they in love?”

  “No.”

  She kicked up water with her foot.

  “What is it with you people and not marrying for love?”

  It did seem that way, though I hated to admit it.

  “It’s sort of a long story.”

  “Well, I still have half of this gross protein bar to get through, and you can’t swim for 30 minutes after eating, so spill.”

  I smiled. “Right. Well, my brother was the oldest child and the heir to our family’s estate. Caroline’s family—the Montagues—have been family friends for as long as I can remember and it was established early on that Caroline and Henry would marry.”

  “Why? To unite two powerful families? What is this, Game of Thrones?”

  I laughed. “Actually yes. But with no White Walkers or King Joffreys.”

  “Whew.” She smiled. “So then what happened? Why isn’t Caroline marrying Henry?”

  I glanced away and focused on the water rippling across the surface of the pool. I knew my answer would shift the mood of the afternoon, but I supposed it was easier to tell her the truth. “Henry died.”

  “Oh shit,” I heard her whisper beneath her breath. It didn’t shock me any more, but
I was sure she hadn’t been expecting that answer. Normal, healthy thirty-year-old men don’t just die out of the blue, but my brother had. Heart defect. The shock of it had only begun to wear off a few months back.

  I turned back to Andie to find her easygoing smile replaced with a look of shame. Her brows were crinkled and her lips were downturned into a frown I would have kissed away had I the right.

  “I’m really sorry for pushing the subject,” she said. “We were joking around and I ruined it.”

  I shook my head and scooted my hand toward hers, nearly touching it. “It’s all right. You wanted the truth and that’s the honest truth. When my brother passed a few years ago, the responsibility, the title, the estate, and everything that went along with it passed on to me—although it feels as if the job inherited me, rather than the other way around.”

  Her tone sobered. “And that’s how you got Caroline.”

  “So it would seem.”

  “You don’t think you could love her? Even down the line?”

  I’d mulled over that question a million times in my head, ever since the day my mother had suggested the betrothal. At times I could convince myself that Caroline was the one for me, but I’d never once deluded myself into thinking I could love her.

  “She’s…not my match,” I answered simply.

  “Your match?”

  “My soulmate,” I clarified.

  She smiled. “Your cheeks are red.”

  Of course the bloody minx would point out the fact that I’d gone red in the face. “Well I sound like a schoolgirl going on about this sort of thing.”

  She nodded and turned back to the pool. “If it helps, I really hope Caroline becomes your match. It would be sad if you ended up spending the rest of your life with someone you never truly loved.”

  I nodded and watched her turning small circles in the water with her toes. Her skin was still flushed from the workout and when I looked up, her smile was back but subdued, hanging at the corners of her mouth, ready to spring free if only someone could unlock it. I wanted to be that person.

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  Andie

  I WATCHED MY trainer Lisa tape my wrist, taking her time to get it right before our practice started. My wrist hurt a little more than it had the day before, but I’d been icing it after practice and there wasn’t much else I could do.

  “You really need to play it safe,” Lisa said as she pulled a small pair of scissors out of her pocket and cut off the excess tape. “Injuries like this seem minor, but they can flare up really easily.”

  I nodded, absorbing her warning. My wrist wasn’t the only ticking time bomb in my life. It seemed everywhere I went, I was walking on a minefield, Freddie included. The day before, after we’d finished swimming, I’d stood to towel off and get dressed and he’d invited me to get a quick bite to eat. He’d made it sound so casual—“supper at the cafe”—and I’d wanted to say yes, but I shook my head and offered up a firm no. I swore I was busy and he swore it was only dinner. Neither of us truly believed the other.

  I couldn’t quite work out Freddie’s motives in my head. Did he truly just need a friend? Did he find me as fun to be around as I did him? Or was he looking for more? Possibly even a way out of a betrothal he wanted nothing to do with? Whether intentionally or not, he was pulling me into murky water. A quick swim, a casual lunch—they were all things that would have looked okay on paper, but I knew better.

  “You’re all set,” Lisa said, tossing the roll of tape into her bag.

  I slid off her table and took a shaky breath.

  My team was already in the middle of the field, spread out for warm-ups. I took a spot in the back row and started rolling out the muscles in my neck.

  “Morning Andie.”

  I glanced up to find Liam walking toward me. He was in his coaching gear, his soccer shorts in place and his whistle around his neck. The notion that we were supposed to take him seriously had been hilarious to me when I first joined the team. Before he met Kinsley, Liam Wilder had been painted a notorious bad boy, but after a nagging knee injury forced him to retire, he returned to the life of a reluctant coach. He’d settled down with Kinsley, and with time really came into his own in a coaching capacity. Even so, there was no suppressing the fact that he was still young, tattooed, and incredibly good-looking.

  “How’s your wrist?” he asked, eyeing the tape.

  “It’s fine.”

  He nodded. “Good. Three days left before our first game; I want to make sure you’re ready.”

  “I am.”

  Training for the Olympics had been a fulltime job for the last few years. Once I’d earned a spot on the Olympic roster a few months earlier, I’d moved to L.A. and taken the spare room in Kinsley and Liam’s house. Every morning, I woke up and had breakfast by 5:30 AM. I joined my team for practice by 6:00 AM, and we would spend a few hours working through drills and reviewing game footage. After that, we’d get a short lunch break before reconvening in the afternoon for strength training and workouts.

  The only social life I’d had outside of soccer was fifth-wheeling on dates with Liam, Kinsley, Becca, and Penn. It was fun, but the days were long and regimented. That was part of the reason why I’d clung to the idea of Rio.

  It’d been months since I’d had any sort of real date, even longer since I’d last hooked up with a guy. Sure, there was Tinder and hundreds of other dating apps, but those things took time, which was always in short supply. Unless stolen glances in the grocery store checkout line count, I hadn’t so much as locked eyes with a guy since college.

  Swimming with Freddie had literally been the most interesting afternoon I’d had in months and that’s why I had to be smart, keep my distance, and maintain control of my heart and my head. It’d be too easy for the ground to crumble and wash away beneath us.

  Coach Decker started us on drills and I lost myself in practice. It felt good to run, sweat, and concentrate on something so simple. For three hours, the only thing I had to do was draw a line in the turf and keep a soccer ball from crossing it.

  “Good work, ladies,” Coach Decker said as we huddled together at the end of practice. We sat in a circle, guzzling water and trying to catch our breath. I ripped my shirt off over my head and tossed the sticky thing aside. The cold air felt good against my skin as I leaned back on my palms, listening to our coach. “You all are more than ready for the game in three days. Many of us know France well from last time around, so we know that they’re going to come out of the gate with speed and aggression, but if we stay focused, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t come out on top.”

  Kinsley leaned closer and bumped her shoulder against mine. I turned and she nudged her chin in the direction of the stadium doors. When I glanced over, it was just in time to see Freddie take a seat on the first row of bleachers. He was dressed down in jeans and a t-shirt, and he’d thrown his baseball hat on as if to stifle his shine. He smiled when he saw me glance over and my already rapidly beating heart pounded against my breastbone so hard I thought it’d be visible when I glanced down.

  He’d come to my practice.

  Why the fuck had he come to my practice?

  I turned away with the image of his sharp features burned into my memory.

  Coach Decker wrapped up, we broke from the huddle, and every single woman on my team took in Freddie Archibald sitting and waiting for me. God, he was good-looking. He had those old world, classic features, the kind of face that took generations of good genes to create. No matter how far he tugged that hat down on his head, there was no hiding his beauty.

  “I didn’t realize we’d invited a royal audience,” Becca said as I trailed her and Kinsley to the row of bleachers where we’d dropped our bags. I took my sweet time gathering my things and then dug into my bag for another shirt since mine was still sticky from practice. Fortunately, I had a clean Lululemon tank stuffed in there. I pulled it on before I turned to assess Freddie. Michelle and a few other rookies had gathered around h
im. Even Liam was over there, chatting with him about God knows what.

  Kinsley tried to catch my eye but I ignored her and tugged my bag over my shoulder.

  “Did you invite him here?” Becca asked, running to catch up to me.

  I shot her a glare. “Of course not.”

  “Well he looks really happy to see you.”

  He did. When I looked back in his direction, he’d stood and stepped past the group to get to me. Michelle watched me from over his shoulder with a curious frown. I ignored her and glanced back to Freddie to find a seductive smile stretched across his lips. Yesterday, I’d psyched myself up before joining him for a swim. I’d prepared the whole day, but this—him surprising me at practice—caught me off guard. I’d had no time to neatly compartmentalize him. He was there, standing in front of me, smelling divine and smiling down at me. At least his tush was safely under a pair of jeans this time.

  “I thought I’d arrive in time to watch you practice,” he said with a touch of disappointment that didn’t quite reach his smile.

  I looked back at the empty field. “Short practice, we just finished up.”

  “I can tell,” he said, reaching out to drag his finger across my sweaty bicep. Goosebumps bloomed beneath his touch and I inhaled a shaky breath before working up the courage to meet his eyes.

  “Yeah, you might not want to come any closer. I’m still pretty gross.”

  He tilted his head. “I didn’t mind yesterday.”

  Everyone was watching us. Kinsley and Becca had stopped to join Liam. Michelle and a few other girls were behind them, curious as ever. I didn’t like being the center of attention.

  “Did you need something? Or…”

  “Well I actually have a light day today. No interviews or anything.”

  My throat tightened. I couldn’t have this conversation in front of everyone. I reached forward and tugged his hand to pull him out of the practice facility after me. The sun hit my skin and I inhaled a breath of fresh air, happy to be free from the prying eyes.

 
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