The summer games settlin.., p.8
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.8

           R.S. Grey
 

  I let go of his hand as soon as I realized I still had hold of it. “Sorry, everyone was listening to us and I couldn’t take it.”

  He nodded. “I came to see if you wanted to have lunch with me. You haven’t eaten yet have you?”

  He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t show up at my practice and invite me to lunch. He couldn’t look like that and smell that good and be that nice without expecting me to fall. I really didn’t want to fall.

  I shook my head. “Actually, I’m going to the gym.”

  I thought that would end it, case closed, but he smiled wider.

  “Brilliant. I’ll bring the protein bars.”

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  Freddie

  OUT OF THE two of us, my brother Henry was always the one fit to take over as the heir to our family’s estate. He was born first and meant for the role, but even still, it was never a duty he tried to shirk. He enjoyed the old traditions: the stuffy etiquette rules that bored me, the hunts that lasted four hours too long, and the dinner parties that, to me, always seemed like a chore.

  As soon as I was old enough, I moved from our estate and rented a flat in central London. By the time I competed in my first Olympic games, the fate of our family had long been decided: Henry would follow in my father’s footsteps, take over the family business, and later, accept my father’s title.

  There was peace in the few years following my father’s passing. Henry ran the Farlington estate as he saw fit and I was free to swim. It was out of respect that Henry and I never discussed his duties. I pitied him for being shackled to our family’s title while I traveled the world doing as I pleased.

  When Henry’s heart failed suddenly, it was during a time in my life when I felt untouchable. I’d just finished up at the London Games and I had more medals to my name than most Olympians could ever dream of. I was dating and going out and enjoying my life in London when I got the call that he was in the hospital.

  The realizations about Henry’s sudden death came in waves. First, came grief: I had lost my oldest friend, my nearest idol, and the shield that held the weight of familial responsibility at bay. But it wasn’t until I stood at the wake, shaking hands with stuffy old friends of my father that I fully understood: my father’s legacy and my brother’s dream were now my reality. The mantle, meant to be worn and passed proudly, had become my own funeral shroud.

  My mother, grieving both a husband and son in the span of a few years, couldn’t be refused. For all I had lost, she had lost more. This gave her immunity to any protests as she strove to preserve normalcy for our family. I wanted nothing to do with that old world, but I couldn’t step aside and let things go to ruin. My mum wanted so much from me and I wanted nothing but freedom. I became a duke, but I wouldn’t move home, nor quit swimming. I would not soon become the caretaker for the estate, and I wouldn’t take over my father’s business. That was when she’d countered with Caroline. After everything I’d already turned down, she slid Caroline onto the table as if a betrothal was a compromise. In her words, it was ‘my contribution to the institution to which I owed everything.’

  I DROPPED MY weights onto the rack near the back mirrors and glanced up just in time to watch Andie step onto the mat behind me. I pulled my earbuds out and smiled. “I figured you wouldn’t come.”

  She and I had agreed on a time to meet up at the gym after her practice, but that’d been an hour earlier. I’d started my workout, lost myself in thoughts of Henry and my family, and slotted Andie as a no-show. Yet, there she was, dropping her water bottle beside mine and twisting her hair up into a messy ponytail.

  She shrugged. “Truthfully, I thought it’d be a better idea if I came after you were already finished, but I guess you’re more persistent than I thought you’d be.”

  I didn’t ask why she wanted to come after I was done; we both knew the answer.

  “I’d like to work out with you. It’s more fun with a partner,” I said.

  She propped her hands up on her hips and tilted her head. “Don’t you usually work out with Thom?”

  I nodded. “Sometimes.”

  “But not today?” she asked, her eyes scanning the gym around me.

  I smiled. “No. Sometimes you need someone with real muscle spotting you.”

  She shook her head and walked past me toward the weight rack, doing a poor job of concealing her smile in the mirror. She reached for a set of weights and took up residence on the mat a few feet away—far enough that I knew she wanted some space. It was no use though. The moment she’d arrived, other athletes scooted closer, pulled their weights to the edge of the mats, and lingered nearby her until she’d glance up and flash a smile or a nod. She had a gravitational pull about her and it was hard to keep my distance, especially since these fleeting moments were all we had.

  I was in the middle of a set of dead lifts, breathing heavy and trying to focus on my posture, when I caught sight of her out of the corner of my eye. She was at the corner of the mat watching me, and when I dropped the weights and took a deep breath, she stepped closer.

  “Impressive,” she said with one arched brow.

  The fact that she looked that sexy while sweating through her workout clothes was actually impressive.

  “Thanks.”

  “I just finished my first round and my legs feel like Jell-O.” She laughed, wiggling them out for emphasis.

  I glanced over at them, glad to have an excuse. They were long, toned, heartbreaker legs. “They look good to me.”

  She paused and cleared her throat. “Yeah, well I have soccer to thank for that.”

  “Football,” I corrected with a smirk.

  She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Listen, I need your help with free weights. I never do them without a spot.”

  I nodded. “All right, let me just finish up one last set.”

  She nodded and pulled up a bright blue medicine ball to bounce on while she waited. Her blonde ponytail swished from side to side and her smile was wider than it’d been all day.

  “Just going to watch?” I asked with a laugh.

  She smiled and bounced. Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. “Why not?”

  I swallowed down a shaky breath. Her workout top was damp and I watched as a single drop of sweat rolled down the front of her neck and disappeared down the center of her chest. She tilted her head, watching me watch her. Maybe it was the endorphins or the sweat or the cut of her tank top, but I found it hard to stay away. Why was it so hard to stay away?

  “Freddie?” she asked, pulling my attention away from her body. “All done?”

  I hadn’t even started.

  I stepped over the weights and waited for her to stop bouncing. Up, down. Up, down.

  She smiled and stood. “C’mon. The bench is over here.”

  Something changed after that, likely because she was tired of putting up a fight. We stayed together for the remainder of our workout. I spotted her when she needed it, trying my best to keep my focus on her form and not her body. The worst of it came when I was helping her with sit-ups. She was lying on her back and I was leaning over her, holding down her feet and knees to keep her in place. Had we been naked and back in my flat, the position would have meant something else entirely, and my brain was having a hard time separating fact from fiction, right from wrong.

  “Ten,” I counted as she sat up.

  Her lips came within inches of mine. I caught a whiff of her hair, something sweet and scented.

  She leaned back for another sit-up.

  “Eleven.”

  Her breaths came heavy and her cheeks were flushed. Her eyes held mine and she broke out in a cheeky little smirk after I counted away another sit up.

  “You all good there, Archibald?” she asked, falling back to the mat.

  “Brilliant. How about you, Foster?”

  She glanced away and laughed. “Peachy.”

  “Good, ’cause you’ve still got about twenty more.”

  She exhaled and sat up, coming within
an inch of my face. All I had to do was lean forward and her mouth would be mine.

  “Freddie,” she said, jarring me out of my intense staring contest with her lips. “You didn’t count that one.”

  “What number were we on?”

  She huffed out a breath and collapsed back on the mat. “You were the one supposed to be keeping track.”

  Bloody hell.

  “Andie!”

  I turned in time to watch Nathan Drake, Portuguese soccer player and all-around chum, walk up onto the mat, eyeing Andie like she was his salvation. I tightened my grip on her knees, feeling her pulse jump against my palm. Sure, I’d known Nathan since London and sure, he’d been fun to have around for a laugh, but now that he was stepping closer and smiling at Andie as she was edging out of my grip to stand and greet him, I decided I didn’t like him much. Maybe not at all.

  “You two, how you say, exercer together?” he asked, his heavy accent muddling the words. He pointed back and forth between us, but ultimately fixed his attention on Andie as if I didn’t exist.

  I stood up and stepped behind her. My shoulder nudged hers and though it was tempting, I didn’t reach out and wrap my hand around her waist. I had Nathan in height and weight. He was smaller than I remembered, and built lean for soccer. Jesus. I sounded like a caveman, even to myself. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d sized up another bloke.

  “Yeah, just finishing up, actually,” Andie said, wiping her hand across her forehead. She was sweaty and beautiful, and Nathan was just as aware of it as I was. He dragged his gaze down her legs and nodded with a smile like he was drunk on the sight of her.

  “Good. Good. Tonight we are—a few of us are going to dancing,” he said. “Do you want to come?”

  Andie glanced over her shoulder at me and then turned back to Nathan.

  “Are you inviting both of us?” she asked.

  Nathan—as if only then remembering I even bloody existed—nodded his head with a fake smile. “Yes. Yes, the more the marrying!”

  He was being overly enthusiastic, with a heavy nod and a thumbs up.

  “Oh, okay then. That sounds really fun. I’d love to go,” she said, making his day without even realizing it.

  “Freddie?” Nathan asked with a flat smile.

  If I said yes, I’d have to go and dance about like it was something I actually enjoyed. If I said no, Andie would be at the club alone with Nathan.

  I shrugged. “Not sure, mate. I need to take a look at my schedule.”

  He perked up at that, the wanker.

  I didn’t pay attention when he rattled off the details, but then he was waving goodbye and I had Andie’s attention again. She turned and flashed me a little smile, a nothing smile that told me she knew more than she was letting on.

  “You’re kind of territorial. Do you realize that?”

  No one had ever accused me of that before. I’d never acted the role of the jealous boyfriend. I narrowed my eyes, feigning confusion, and she shook her head.

  “Fine. Forget I said anything.” She waved back to the spot on the mat where she’d been doing sit-ups. “Let’s finish up so we can go get ready.”

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  Andie

  I’D PACKED A red dress in my luggage as an afterthought. It was short and skimpy, something I’d never wear in my normal life. I found it in an expensive boutique in L.A. and purchased it on a whim. It was hardly more than a few strips of well-placed fabric, but when I slipped it on in the dressing room of the upscale boutique, I felt sexier than I ever had in my life. It was short and thin, made of a light cotton material that didn’t cling to my skin. The front looked innocent enough, though it did hug my hips and cut off fairly high on my thighs. The real detail was in the back—or lack thereof. The dress was a halter that tied behind my neck and wrapped around my waist¸ leaving most of my back exposed. I’d tried to figure out a bra situation, but the saleswoman at the boutique had assured me you were supposed to wear it sans brassiere. I’d laughed in her face—seeing as how I didn’t do anything “sans brassiere”—but there I sat, in the back of a cab in Rio, letting the girls fly free. I glanced down again, trying to decide if I should cave and turn back to the village. I knew I wouldn’t though; I felt just as sexy as I had in the dressing room in L.A. The dress felt wild, I felt wild, and I wanted one night in Rio where I wasn’t a soccer player competing in the Olympics, but a twenty-one-year-old girl out for a night on the town.

  “What is this place anyway?” Michelle asked as we pulled up at the address Nathan had given Freddie and I at the gym. The building itself looked unassuming, nothing more than a warehouse really, and if there hadn’t been a line of people winding around the building waiting to get in the front door, I’d have assumed we were at the wrong place.

  “It’s called Mascarada,” I said, handing the driver a few colorful Brazilian bills before sliding out of the back seat after Michelle.

  Inviting her had been an afterthought. I’d wanted to go with Freddie, but I hadn’t been able to get ahold of him after the gym. We’d finished our workout and exchanged numbers. I’d asked him about the club; he’d shrugged and said he’d think about it.

  I checked my phone one last time as we walked toward the entrance of the club.

  Andie: Do you want to ride to the club together?

  Freddie: You go ahead. I’m not sure if I’m going.

  Andie: Do you want me to wait for you?

  I’d sent the last text an hour earlier and he’d never replied. I’d given up hope and invited Michelle so I wouldn’t have to go alone, and as the two of us flashed our athlete badges—Nathan had suggested it as a quick way to bypass the line—I wondered if maybe it was a good thing Freddie wouldn’t be there. I could find a new guy, someone to focus on who wasn’t already spoken for.

  “Do you two have masks?” the bouncer asked, handing our badges back to us. I slipped it into my purse and shook my head.

  “Are we supposed to?”

  “Go in and turn left,” he said, reaching past us for the next I.D. “You’ll find one there.”

  Michelle shot me a curious glance as we stepped forward, past the club doors. “What was he talking about? Masks?”

  I didn’t have to answer her because the moment we walked into the dark club, it made sense. The club was called Mascarada because it was an actual nightly masquerade. Everyone we passed in the foyer was wearing a mask that covered some or all of their face.

  “C’mon,” Michelle said, tugging my arm and leading me to the left where the bouncer had directed us. The hallway was packed with people trying to get to and from a small room at the very end. We pushed through the crowd and I stood frozen as I came face to face with masks in every shape, size, and color. Feathers, glitter, rhinestones, bows, lace. They were beautiful and exotic, and I knew I’d have a hard time picking just one.

  “Entra! Come in!” an older woman called from behind a small counter in the back corner of the room. She had white hair, tied up in a severe bun on top of her head. She waved everyone forward, trying to tame the crowd. “Find a mask and then check out with me before you leave.”

  Easier said than done.

  I reached for a white mask hanging on the wall just past the door. It was glittery, cheap, and a bit obnoxious, but I could hardly move in the room, and I didn’t care enough to shove through the crowd and try on others. Michelle reached for a blue one next to where I’d found mine, and we edged our way toward the back counter to make our purchases.

  It was ten or fifteen minutes before we made it to the front of the line. I’d been jostled and shoved more times than I cared to count, but when I dropped my mask on the counter and reached for the extra money in my small clutch, the woman manning the station shook her head.

  “No. No. This one won’t do,” she said, eyeing me over the rim of her glasses. Up close, she was even smaller than I’d expected. Before I could protest, she abandoned her station at the counter and disappeared into the crowd. I glanced
back at Michelle, confused.

  “Out of my way!” the woman shouted, though I couldn’t pinpoint where exactly she was located in the room. She was a sneaky little thing.

  People behind us in line eyed me with annoyance, but I shrugged and turned around. It was a few minutes before the woman sidled back behind the counter with a content exhale.

  “Here,” she said, dropping a new mask on the counter in front of me and reaching to grab the cash out of my hand. “Melhor. Better.” She was ringing me up before I’d even confirmed that I wanted the new mask, but I’d have been an idiot to turn it down. It was exquisite, the same red hue as my dress and made completely of brocade lace. It tied in the back with black silk ribbon and I didn’t even care to find out what it cost. I needed it. Maybe I’d even wear it for the first game. And the one after that too.

  Michelle helped me tie it once we’d made it back out to the hallway. The lace was soft against my skin, seductive even. I met my gaze in a hazy mirror hanging on the wall and silently thanked the woman for taking the time to find it for me. With my red dress, red lace mask, and confident smirk, I was hardly recognizable, even to myself.

  “All right, let’s go,” Michelle said once her mask was in place. “I need a drink.”

  I’d assumed the inside of the club would be less crowded than the mask room, but there were people everywhere. Even with three levels full of private tables, booths, and dark alcoves, I couldn’t take more than two steps without brushing against a random person.

  The masks had a heady effect on the entire experience. Even the bartenders wore them so that when I leaned in to shout my drink order to one of them, I couldn’t be sure he’d heard me. He whipped around to reach for a bottle of liquor and I glanced up, taking in the entire club. The space was shaped like a rectangle with three stories. The center of the room was open from floor to ceiling so that the people on the top floors could lean over the railing and watch the dancers. It was like surround sound for all of the senses.

 
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