Out of bounds the summer.., p.8
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       Out of Bounds (The Summer Games #2), p.8

           R.S. Grey
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  “Here’s your why,” she said, holding the morsel out to me. I watched the steam curl off the top as I pulled it out of her hand and slipped it into my mouth.

  I resisted an audible groan. Fuck. “It’s all right,” I lied as I chewed the delicious bread.

  She frowned. “Yeah right. I would be willing to bet my life this is the best banana bread you’ve ever had.”

  I arched a brow as she got back to work stirring ingredients in a mixing bowl. It looked like by the end of her baking session, we’d have enough bread to host a community-wide bake sale.

  “Let me try some more,” I said, pointing to the banana bread.

  She smiled. “Only if I’m allowed to keep using your oven.”

  I stared between her and the bread. On one hand, I really liked my privacy. That’s why I’d put the team in the guesthouse in the first place. On the other hand, I really fucking loved banana bread. I shrugged and reached behind me for a plate in the cupboard. “Whatever. Just make sure to clean up after.”

  She grinned and turned to the refrigerator to grab a carton of milk. “Want some?”

  When she turned back to hand me the carton, I noticed two things at once. First, Brie wasn’t wearing a bra. I hadn’t noticed at first because her tank top was loose and Brie was petite, but then she shifted and I caught the outline of her breast beneath the loose material. Suddenly, I was fully aware of the fact that Brie was a beautiful woman, standing bra-less in my kitchen. Instead of dwelling on that fact, I had to force myself to focus on the second thing that caught my attention: she had a little tattoo running horizontally across her ribcage. I caught the edge of it and leaned forward to capture her arm to hold it up so I could see it clearer.

  “What’s that? Ink?” I asked.

  She glanced down to where I was looking. Thin black letters barely peeked out of the armhole of her tank top.

  She smirked. “Yeah. It’s a tattoo.”

  She was mocking me.

  “I can see that. Aren’t you a little young for a tattoo?”

  She narrowed her eyes, annoyed. “I’m twenty.”

  “What does it say?” I asked, ignoring her glare.

  She reached down to move the loose material aside and I struggled to resist the urge to skim my knuckle across her skin. It looked so soft there, creamy white, not nearly as tan as her arms and legs. The scrolling tattoo started an inch away from the bottom of her breast and stretched horizontally toward her back. It was so subtle and small, I would have missed it had I not been so close.

  “Unbreakable,” I read.

  She nodded.

  “Does it have a meaning or did you just like the movie?”

  She laughed and shook her head. “It’s a reminder to myself.”

  “Huh, I like it,” I said, dropping her arm so I could pour myself a glass of milk and try to compartmentalize Brie in my mind. In the gym, it was easy. There was a buffer between us. There were other people around us, other people to focus on and coach. There in my kitchen, as I took a seat across the island and watched her bake, I had to keep reminding myself she was there to use my oven, nothing more.

  She stuck her finger in to taste the batter in the mixing bowl and smiled. I found myself smiling with her before realizing what I was doing. I wiped my mouth and took another bite of banana bread.

  “What’s that?” I asked.

  “Blueberry muffins.”

  My brows arched with interest.

  She glanced up and the morning light caught her eyes, brightening the dark brown to an alluring golden hue. She smiled. “Don’t worry. You can eat these too.”

  She finished stirring the batter and bent down to root through the cupboard beside the stove, most likely looking for a muffin pan. I was about to tell her to stop looking—I didn’t have one—when she leaned forward and I caught a glimpse down the front of her tank top. I could see the full curve of her perky breasts, the same creamy skin I’d wanted to touch a moment before. She shifted lower and I nearly caught sight of her nipples. Another inch forward and fuck.

  “Brie,” I said, voice low.

  Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

  Her head whipped up and a few more strands of brown hair fell out of her braid. I was about to tell her to go home and put a bra on, but I didn’t want to embarrass her or admit I’d been looking. Christ. The whole situation was wrong. It’d been wrong from the very start. I should have spoken up on day one, should have kicked her out the second I walked downstairs, but instead she was in my kitchen, encroaching on my space and pushing me to the brink of self-control.

  “What?” she asked, standing back up. “Is it not good?”

  Seriously? Was she seriously asking me about fucking banana bread? Either she was clueless or more innocent than I could have imagined. I shook my head and pushed away from the island. I needed a long run and a night out on the town. I needed a good reminder of what a woman my own age felt like. I didn’t want Brie—she wasn’t even an option. I just wanted to get laid.

  “Just have this mess cleaned up before practice,” I said, taking my plate of banana bread and carrying it up the stairs.

  “You’re welcome by the way!” she called out after me.

  She’d broken into my house, woken me up before my alarm, made a mess of my kitchen, and now she was demanding a fucking thank you?

  It was hard for me to believe she was oblivious to the effect brought about by her body wrapped in that loose tank top. If she wasn’t oblivious—if she knew what she was doing—she was lucky I didn’t call her bluff, push her down onto the dirty counter, and rip that loose material that separated her breasts from my lips. She was probably used to testing her maturity and newfound confidence around hesitant boys closer to her age, but the lesson to be learned was that unlike boys who are intimidated by feminine boldness, men like me are inflamed by it.

  I took a deep breath, shook my head, and erased the notion from my mind. Brie was only twenty, and I knew the young gymnast lifestyle didn’t leave much time for her to learn manipulation games like that. More than likely, she wasn’t just oblivious to the effect she had on men.

  She had no fucking clue.

  Chapter Eleven

  Brie

  Bringing armfuls of baked goods back to the guesthouse guaranteed I was officially the MVP of my gymnastics team. Everyone jumped at me like rabid dogs when I pushed through the front door. I even caught an elusive smile on June’s lips when she bit into a warm muffin on her way upstairs, which almost made up for her lack of direct gratitude.

  I hadn’t fully thought through my plan when I broke into Erik’s house that morning, and at first he’d seemed less than enthusiastic to see me in his kitchen, but it’d gone better than I expected. He didn’t kick me out right away. He actually tried to have a conversation with me, asked me about my tattoo, and touched my arm as if he didn’t completely despise me. Sure, he could have stayed a little longer before walking away and demanding I clean up the mess, but it’s not like I expected him to become my friend overnight.

  I didn’t even dwell on his exit; I focused on what it’d felt like when he’d bent low to inspect my tattoo. His breath had hit my bare skin and I’d shivered, though I don’t think he noticed. I’d glanced down to make sure he couldn’t see my nipples hardening beneath my tank top, and fortunately, the material was loose enough to hide the evidence of what his proximity did to me. It was easier that way, easier to push the sensation aside and chalk it up to the fact that I hadn’t had sex in nearly a year.

  All in all, the morning had gone well in my mind. I’d had the chance to bake and after dropping off the baked goods on the kitchen table and changing for practice, I realized I felt calmer than I had in days. I’d made dozens of delicious, perfectly shaped muffins and suddenly, I felt like I had control over my life again. Just as I suspected—carbs were magic.

  We headed to the gym and beat Erik there by a few minutes. By the time he joined us, we were warming up for our workout. I tried to catch his eye, to
continue our conversation from his kitchen, but he wouldn’t look at me. He stood off to the side of the mat and sipped from a thermos. I walked over, trying to continue the forward momentum we’d started in his kitchen.

  “Did you change your opinion after finishing your banana bread?” I asked, hopeful. “Was it the best you’ve ever had?”

  He pushed off the wall and brushed past me.

  “Time to get to work.”

  My smile fell as Lexi shot me a confused glare. Did he just ignore me in front of everyone?

  Yes.

  Yes he had, and he continued to ignore me through the remainder of practice. It made absolutely no sense. What had crawled up his butt since he’d left the kitchen that morning? When he needed to speak to me, he spoke to the group. “One more routine.” “One more pass.” “Everyone needs to keep their form tighter on their dismounts.”

  “Everyone or just Brie?” Molly whispered under her breath.

  I shot her a smile as I rechecked my grips.

  “Who’s up?” Erik asked, clapping to get our attention.

  “Brie,” Lexi volunteered.

  He nodded and took a step back. “Let’s go.”

  It was as close to a direct order as I’d get from him. I clapped excess chalk off my grips and walked up to take the bars, trying to catch his eyes. He wasn’t watching me. His attention was on the high bar. How can he coach me if he can’t look at me?

  I shook my head and jumped to the lower bar to start my routine. My hands hit the wooden bar, skimming across the surface as I transitioned my kip, split my legs, and tightened them together over my head in a handstand. I rotated around and around, feeling the strength in my arms. My first release move was simple, transitioning from low bar to high bar, but midway through my routine, I had a release on the high bar that required a spot. I half expected Erik to ignore me, but he stepped up onto the mat just before I finished my giant. I released the bar, finished a full twist, and reached back for the bar. I could feel him under me and when my hands made contact with the high bar again, I sighed with relief. I didn’t want him to have to catch me if I fell.

  After that, my routine was nothing but smooth sailing. I dismounted, twisting for a double front with a half turn, and took a baby step on the landing. It was hardly a deduction, but I knew Erik wouldn’t let it slide. My gaze shifted to him. He nodded, no smile present on his stupidly handsome face. “Now without the step.”

  I rolled my eyes and brushed past him. If that’s all he was going to critique then I was wasting my time. I loosened my grips and walked off the mat. If I’d competed that routine in the Olympics, I would be walking away with gold and he knew it.

  Through the rest of practice, Erik did his best to avoid me, so I followed his lead and did my best to ignore him as well. I was content to work on my skills, relaxing into a rhythm I hadn’t found since arriving in Seattle. By the time the lower level gymnasts started to trickle into Seattle Flyers, the rest of my team was ready to go home. Practice was officially over and we were all sweaty and tired, but I wasn’t quite ready to pack it in for the day. I was working on my standing full on beam and I hadn’t landed enough to satisfy me.

  “We’re going to head back to the house,” Molly said, heading over to where I was resting near my beam.

  I nodded. “Would you mind coming back for me later? I just want to stay for a little while longer.”

  She told me to call when I was ready to be picked up and then I went back to practicing on my own. Another few hours passed. By the time I was confident in landing the trick, the sun had already set; I hadn’t realized how long I’d been working out alone. I just needed to stick one more and then I’d call Molly. One more and I’d feel good.

  I knew better than anyone that gymnastics was about repetition. I didn’t compete a skill until I’d stuck it a million times in practice. If I could land it when I was bone tired, covered in sweat, and ready to collapse, I could land it in any circumstance. Solid practice and repetition was the only way to feel confident when a thousand pairs of eyes were focused on you, and the Olympics wouldn’t just be thousands. I’d have to compete this standing full in front of millions.

  My coach back in Texas had lent me his copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers after a particularly frustrating practice. After reading about the relentless intensity of Mozart sweating at the piano bench, the Beatles grinding in Hamburg, and Bill Gates programming at Lakeside, most people take away the notion that one must spend 10,000 hours practicing something before greatness can be achieved. My coach commended me for taking it a step further: it doesn’t matter how many hours you put into your craft if you’re staying in your comfort zone. Gymnastics is an evolving sport. Skills that earned gold medals in the 90s would get you laughed off the competition circuit today. I had to keep pushing myself further, defying the odds by competing skills that had seemed all but impossible only a few years earlier.

  I had to continue to push myself if I wanted to be the best, which is why I was still at the gym long after my teammates had gone.

  I pushed up onto the beam and took my position in the center. My left foot was positioned a few inches in front of my right. My toes were pressed into my left arch. I rooted down through my legs, reached my arms overhead, and just then, the lights flickered overhead. On, off, on, off, on.

  I paused and glanced up to see Erik standing against the far wall near the entrance of the gym. His arms were crossed over his chest. His inky black hair was messier than usual, as if he’d spent the day tugging his fingers through it in annoyance.

  “Let’s go. I’m locking up.”

  I’d been so ensconced in my own training, I hadn’t realized the entire gym had completely emptied out. How late is it?

  “Just one more,” I said, holding up my finger.

  He flicked the lights off again, leaving me in darkness. “No. You’ve done enough. The beam will still be there in the morning.”

  I wanted to argue. How does he know if I’ve done enough? He hadn’t been watching.

  He flicked the lights back on—as I knew he would—and without missing a beat, I bent my knees, whipped my arms behind me, pushed off my toes, and pulled through for one more standing full. My feet hit the center of the beam for a perfect landing and I smiled.

  The lights flickered out again.

  “Fine. Have it your way.”

  I heard him open the door to the gym and then slam it closed behind him.

  The asshole wasn’t going to turn the lights back on, which meant I had to feel around in the dark for my gear. I vaguely remembered where I’d left my gym bag, but my shoes and shorts weren’t with it. I groaned and felt around, eventually giving up.

  I was barefoot when I pushed the gym door open.

  Erik was leaning against the wall, waiting for me.

  “Feel good to ignore your coach?”

  I smirked. “Great, actually.”

  “You could do that full in your sleep. The last thing you need to do is push yourself too hard and get injured this close to the games.”

  I rolled my eyes and turned to the parking lot. His beat-up truck sat alone.

  “How were you planning to get home?” he asked.

  I dug around in my gym bag for my cell phone. “Molly.”

  He grunted and pushed off the wall. “Let’s go. I’ll drive you.”

  The ride was tense to say the least. He didn’t turn on the radio and he wasn’t offering up conversation, so I stared out the window and watched the pine trees whip past us. My phone vibrated in my hands and I glanced down to see it was my mom calling.

  “Take it,” Erik said.

  I didn’t ask why he was being nosy. I swiped my finger across the screen and smiled when my mom’s voice filled my ears.

  “Brie!”

  I tilted my head so Erik would have a harder time hearing our conversation. “Hi Mom.”

  “You sound tired.”

  My head fell back against the headrest. “I am.”
r />   “Did your coach keep you at practice until just now? I’ve been trying to reach you for the last few hours.”

  “No. No. I was working on beam and lost track of time.”

  She laughed. “Why am I not surprised?”

  We turned from the main highway onto a gravel road. By my estimate, we still had another ten or fifteen minutes until we arrived back at the house—too long to sit in silence with Erik—so I asked my mom about her day.

  “Oh, it was good, babe. Lots of work. You know how social services can be. Most of the time it feels like an uphill battle.”

  “Have you put any thought into where you want to celebrate when I get home?” I asked, trying to get her mind off work.

  “Brie—”

  “Mom.”

  “Let’s not talk about this right now. What else is going on? You’re enjoying Seattle, right? Coach Winter isn’t pushing you too hard?”

  In the gym or in real life?

  “He’s fine.”

  “Just fine?”

  I was aware of him listening a few feet away from me. He was most definitely taking in every word I said, and I decided there was no point in letting the opportunity go to waste.

  “I mean, I’m used to mean coaches, but he definitely takes the cake.”

  Erik grunted in the driver’s seat.

  My mom sighed. “I’m sorry, honey. Just a few more weeks and then you’ll be done and you can take a much deserved break. No more mean coaches.”

  I inhaled her words. I couldn’t wait to take a break; I couldn’t remember the last time I wasn’t working out in the gym every day.

  “He’s pretty cute though,” she continued with a laugh. “I know I shouldn’t say so since I’m your mom.”

  I laughed and leaned closer to the window. “No comment.”

  The truck jerked into park and I jerked forward. I hadn’t realized we were so close to home.

  “We’re here,” Erik said with a hard tone.

  I glanced over to see him staring out through the windshield, sharp jaw set tight, eyes narrowed. He was annoyed. What else is new?

 
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