Authors: Kelly Collins
© 2016 by Kelly Collins
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
hen MJ Summers
called me and said, “Let’s do a Summer Games series,” I was ready to jump on board. I’d work on anything she asked me to. And so,
became a thought, and then a few words, and then a story.
Stories don’t happen without the help of a village. This one in particular was tough because I knew very little about gymnastics. Everything I knew I learned from watching it on television. In order to present an educated perspective, I contacted a young man who had competed at the elite level in men’s gymnastics. Thank you, Nick Guadlip, for answering my endless questions. You were such a delight, and I am grateful that you gifted me your valuable time.
Another part of that village includes an editor, and I want to publicly thank Sadye Scott-Hainchek for her editing work. Sadye has worked on several of my books, and her input and insight have been invaluable.
A big thanks to Jacqueline Sweet for her work on the cover. It’s super awesome and embodies the essence of
Without readers I’d have no one to write for, so thank you for your continued support of my work. I have amazing readers and fans. Hugs to my priority reading team, whose members tirelessly read and review my books. Your time is valued, and I’m always humbled that you gift me with hours of your life.
Nothing happens in my life without the love and support of my family. Jim, Nik, Alec, and Gabby, you are the reason I breathe. Thank you for being the amazing people you are.
had never worked
a day in my life, and yet I was exhausted, worn through and through.
“Alec, get your head in the game, son.” Coach Nick walked over to me and pushed my feet closer. “You’re not dismounting a pony, you’re sticking the perfect landing. It has to be flawless. Do it again.”
I let go of the breath I’d been holding. In five days, I’d be on a plane to Rio. Chalk covered my palms while I went over the vault routine in my head. Front handspring off the board, two and a half twists, high and tight, stick the damn landing.
One hop and I was on my way, running down the mat at full speed. I had perfect form until I landed. You feel it when it’s perfect, and you know exactly when it goes wrong.
Nick was yelling before I hit the ground. “Same thing every time. I’m telling you, you’re over-rotating. You do it on the vault, you do it on the floor. Pull out faster.” He ran his hand over his balding head. I was sure that if you asked anyone, they’d tell you he’d had hair until he started coaching elite gymnasts. “Again,” he yelled.
It took three more vaults before Nick let me loose, and then he only did it to save the few hairs he had left.
“See you tomorrow, Coach.” I picked up my bag and started for the door.
“Bring your A game.”
The problem was, my A game was more of an A minus lately. Sure, I’d made the USA Gymnastics team. They’d chosen five gymnasts, and I was at the top of the list, but my life was complicated, which made preparing for the competition difficult.
Just as I was exiting the gym, Bryn entered. She ran her hands from my chest down to my balls, which she cupped with a smile. “Your house or mine tonight?” She pushed her lithe body against mine and kissed me.
I love that lip gloss she wears.
“Mine. Mom’s not doing well, and I want to stay close for as long as I can.”
“Sure thing. What can I bring?”
I wanted to say “condoms and lube”—Bryn had an insatiable sexual appetite—but her teammates were walking by us, and I’d never embarrass her that way. “Just bring yourself. Say eight o’clock?”
She nodded and disappeared inside.
How fucking lucky could one guy get? I was dating the captain of the USA Women’s Gymnastics team, and she was sizzling hot. This was going to be our year. At twenty-one, I was considered old for a gymnast. At twenty-two, Bryn was also supposedly past her prime, but we’d spent our lives dreaming of gold. She was going to the Games for the second time, while this was my first. She said it was all luck, but my mom disagreed. Luck, Mom said, was when skill collided with opportunity.
I hurled my gym bag into the bed of my truck. My teammates loved busting my balls about its size. They said I bought a big truck to compensate for my little dick, but I always told them I needed a big truck bed to carry my enormous stones. I never minded their teasing; we were like a family, and that’s what family did.
* * *
ifteen minutes later
, I entered the gates to my home. No matter what Mom said, I believed in luck. Look at my life. One lucky sperm swam its way to the right egg, and I was created. Being born into the Maes household was a windfall. My father owned Maes Construction, an international green builder with assets all over the world. To say my family was rich was an understatement. My family’s wealth fell in line with the Rockefellers’, the Waltons’—hell, maybe even the British royal family’s. We had money, but it wasn’t our focus. As a family, we made it our goal to not be known by what we had, but what we gave. Wealth was a wonderful thing, but it didn’t make you happy. In spite of what most people thought, it didn’t solve most problems, and it sure as hell didn’t cure cancer.
I parked my truck in the garage and entered through the kitchen.
Our housekeeper, Beth, was blending what she called green magic. It was a mix of greens, protein powder, multiple vitamins, and various juices. Despite its thick texture and unappetizing green hue, it was tasty.
She poured the drink into two glasses. “Are these ready?” I swiped at the blob that was dripping down the glass and licked my finger.
Yum, strawberries. Nice.
“Wait now,” Beth scolded, her British accent still strong even after the decades she’d spent in the U.S. She was well into her fifties and had been part of my family for longer than I had. She was like my second mother.
“How is she today?”
Beth’s shoulders slumped forward, which told me everything I needed to know. Today was a bad day.
She put the glasses on a tray and prettied each one up with a slice of orange, a straw, and a tiny paper umbrella. “Take these up and sit with her, Alec. She’s been waiting for you to come home and talk about your day.”
The tray felt heavy in my arms as I made my way to the east wing of the house. The sun rose in front of her window and set in front of mine. Her room was dim, and the only sound in the room came from her labored breaths and the oxygen pump that sat by the bed.
Her back was to me, and her breath heaved in and out between the spurts of air that forced her lungs to expand. I tiptoed into the room and whispered, “Mom?” If she were sleeping, I didn’t want to disturb her.
“Oh, Alec. You’re home.” Her voice smiled when she spoke. It was one of the things I’d miss the most when she was gone. “Come here.” She inched herself into a sitting position and patted the bed beside her.
“Beth made us smoothies.” I sat the tray on my lap and handed Mom her drink. She’d sip at it, but rarely would she drink the whole thing. That’s why Beth filled it with extra protein and vitamins.
The scrunch of her nose made me laugh. She looked more like Dobby, the house elf from the Harry Potter series—if he were human, had cancer, and wrapped his head in a red bandana.
“Drink up, beautiful. You’ll need your strength to hear me complain about my day.” I tapped the bottom of my glass so the unblended strawberry would fall into my mouth. Like usual, Mom took a few more sips and handed me her leftovers.
This was what we did every day after I returned from the gym: We sat in her bed, drank our smoothies, and talked about life. Sometimes we reflected on our favorite memories. Sometimes we made up stories about a future we’d never experience, but mostly we talked about my travels to Rio de Janeiro, and how proud she was that I was getting a chance to chase my dream.
“We don’t complain, Alec. We conquer.” Her hand slid around my arm, and her head rested on my shoulder. “Now, tell me what went right with your day.”
We settled in. I spoke, and she listened. “I’ve got the rings down. The high bar is a breeze. I’ve made the adjustments to my routine on the pommel horse, and that’s coming along fine. As you know, I can do the parallel bars in my sleep.”
She lifted her head. “So the problem is the vault and floor exercise?” She raised her boney hand and tapped my head. “It’s in your head, honey. You’ve convinced yourself that you’re not good at those, and so you’re creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
My neck ached from the tension of the day. “I’ve got enough upper-body strength for two men, Mom. I excel at the events where I can utilize my strengths.” I flexed my guns for her to see. “But I’m not a great tumbler, and who knows what’s going on with the vault.” Rolling my neck in circles, I eased the knot that had lodged itself in my shoulders from relentless attacks at the gym.
“Alec, don’t let stress steal your dreams.” I could tell she was in pain, but she kept talking. “You don’t become an elite gymnast by not being a great tumbler.”
“No, you become an elite gymnast by spending your life in a gym instead of doing the things normal kids do.”
“You’re a Maes. There’s nothing normal about you. Now turn on
Game of Thrones.
I’ve been waiting all day to see the new episode.” My mom had a crush on Tyrion Lannister, and yet she said
We snuggled together to watch a show that bore no resemblance to our reality. At five minutes to eight, Beth buzzed the intercom.
“Alec, Bryn is here to see you.”
Mom groaned. She wasn’t a fan of Bryn, but she never said much.
“Can you send her up?” I knew she would want to say hello to my mother. I looked into Mom’s tired eyes. “She’s a good person, Mom.”
“Oh, Alec, I’m sure she’s good for someone. She’s just not good for you.”
“Mom, I don’t want to argue with you. Give her a chance. You know how I feel about her.” I wanted my mom to like her. Bryn was the only solid thing I had right now.
“I know, sweetheart.” She patted my leg and looked up in time to see Bryn bounce into the room.
“Hi, Mrs. Maes, how are you feeling?” Bryn walked over to the bed and leaned in for an air kiss. Bryn wasn’t warm and fuzzy with other people; she reserved that part of herself for me.
“Tired.” My mom yawned and stretched. “I’m tired.” She scooted down the bed and burrowed into her pillow. “Alec, your father should be home in a bit. You two go and enjoy each other.”
My mom wasn’t stupid; she knew that the minute we hit the west wing of the house, we’d be naked and fucking like wild monkeys. That’s what young, virile people did.
God knows life was uncertain, and it was rarely fair. Sometimes the pain was so bad that I just needed to forget for a few minutes, and sex helped me do that.
I pulled the yellow comforter around my mom’s shoulders and gave her a kiss. She’d be out the rest of the night.