Staying On Top (Whitman University) (6 page)

BOOK: Staying On Top (Whitman University)
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“Are you going to stand there with your mouth hanging open or say hello?”

The indolent tone freed me of the thought that she might be a dream. It dumped me into reality, a place where this girl who lived halfway around the world did not belong. It also reminded me that she’d been pretty rough in her many refusals to my advances, and my dignity replied.

“I don’t typically say hello to people who let themselves into my private space without asking. Or being invited.”

She shrugged, an odd and out-of-place gesture in response to my statement. “Tea?”

“No, thank you.” 

“Would you rather have coffee? I ordered both.” 

And no doubt charged it to my room. “No. I don’t drink caffeine.”

“Ah, gotcha. I’ll remember next time.”

The shock of seeing her here started to wear off, and suspicion replaced it. It was so unlike me to not take things in stride or assume the best of people, and the subtle change made me hate Neil Saunders even more. In another life—five weeks ago—my assumption would have been that she had finally given in to her unvoiced desires and sought me out.

Sure, I would have wondered how she found me and how she weaseled her way into my room, but remaining friends with Quinn had taught me that the kids at Whitman had the kind of money that fueled the wet dreams of even my fellow tennis pros. Not to mention that Blair’s beauty and charm could probably talk some unsuspecting CIA agent out of a key to the White House.

“What are you doing in Melbourne?”

“I would have assumed your first question would have been about how I managed to get into your room.”

“Or find my hotel, but yes. The answers to all three of those questions are going to be necessary if you don’t want me to call security and have you hauled out of here.”

“I thought you liked me.” She pouted.

The curve of her bottom lip almost distracted me. Almost. “I barely know you. Which I’ve recently come to realize can actually be an issue.”

She sighed and then sipped the steaming cup of what smelled like vanilla chai. I’d spent enough time in Europe to discern my teas. After a few moments of silence she stood and stretched. Blair was all lithe movements and smooth skin, reminding me of a cat as she slipped past me and opened the doors that led out to the balcony. 

A whiff of citrusy perfume tickled my nose as I followed her into the balmy late morning. The sound of the waves crashing on the shore dove into my center and soothed the worry tightening my stomach, another reason I’d chosen this particular spot for the remainder of my rehab and downtime. When Blair turned, resting her elbows on the ledge of the wrought-iron balcony, my heart stammered in an attempt to find an even rhythm. Even though the hesitance in her gaze said her appearance had nothing to do with a romantic change of heart, it couldn’t stop the thought of how perfect she looked with the salty breeze toying with her hair.

“I’m not here because I changed my mind about dating you. I’m here because of what recently transpired between you and your accountant, Neil . . . Saunders, is it?” She smirked, but the mirth didn’t reach her dark eyes.

My heart stopped altogether. “How do you know about that? Who have you told?”

“Take it easy. I haven’t told anyone and I’m not going to. I know what happened because Neil Saunders is a pseudonym for big-time con man Neil Paddington.” She paused, watching me closely, then continued when she received silence. “And Neil Paddington just happens to be my father.”

She waited while the news sank in, looking strangely as though she was prepared to wince away from a swift punch but ready to stick her jaw out to meet it at the same time. Neil, who had conned me and ripped me off for over thirty million, was Blair’s father. It didn’t seem any weirder than anything else since he’d betrayed my trust, though, and I tried my best to stifle my confusion and surprise. 

The past several years, since my career really took off, I’d let other people handle the details of my life. Before that, I’d been much more involved and despite what people—probably including Blair—thought, I wasn’t a dumb jock. That I’d come off looking like an ignorant, trusting dumbass hurt almost more than losing the money. Almost. 

“That still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here.” It did sort of explain how she found me, since her father seemed to know whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. Her smile was explanation enough as far as getting into my room, but I planned to talk to the hotel manager about it at my earliest opportunity. Hot girl or not, letting people into my space was not cool.

“I want to help you get it back.”

“Get it back . . .” I repeated slowly, not understanding where this was going. “The money? Why? And, more importantly, how?”

“You might guess that I didn’t have the most fantastic childhood. My father is a ghost, even to me, and I haven’t seen him in over two years.” Blair tucked a piece of hair that was caught in the breeze behind her ear. Her fingers trembled and she took a deep breath before continuing. “I want to find him. You want to find him. I thought we could help each other out.”

“If you haven’t talked to him, how do you know I was one of his . . . cons?” I couldn’t bring myself to say “victim.” 

“I said I hadn’t seen him. The FBI is all over my ass—has been since before I could drive—to help them find and arrest my dad. I’m tired of this shit. Of being watched, of being treated like a criminal by association. I don’t want to deal with it anymore. But I
talked to him. He doesn’t keep his life or his cons a secret from me.”

“So you knew he was going to steal from me before it happened?” Just talking about the money made my mouth go dry. “How could you do that to me?”

“First of all, I barely know you, remember? Second of all, I don’t know the names of all of his marks. I know he’s been running long cons, mostly international, mostly high-profile clients, as Neil Saunders for the past four to five years. I saw the blip on TMZ’s radar about your credit card being declined and asked the next time we talked. End of story.” 

Her voice softened and she reached out a hand, resting it on my forearm. Despite the surreal nature of this entire conversation, my muscles twitched in response to her silky skin against mine.

“So, you find out some guy you barely know—and didn’t want to know, by the way—just lost the bulk of the money he’s earned with fucking sweat and time and a lot of other things I can’t bitch about, and your immediate reaction is to fly halfway around the world to ask me to join you on a manhunt for your father. Do you even have a clue where he is?”

A knock at the door interrupted her reply, whatever it was going to be, and she slipped past me back into the room. It took me aback, the way she moved purposefully through my space in her bare feet, but it also felt strangely as though it had been happening my entire life. As though the wrong scenario was one in which she
ordered multiple courses of room service without asking.

Blair signed the receipt and thanked the porter, then flopped back on the couch and put her feet up on the coffee table. “Could you be a dear and pour the champagne? I’m old-fashioned about things like that.”

“About pouring your own beverage?” I asked, more curious about her than ever.

I picked up the bottle of champagne and worked on the cork, my mind racing. Blair had grown up the daughter of a con man. What that entailed I had no idea, but she appeared a bundle of contradictions. The girl who butted her way into my room and spent my money, the one who didn’t pour her own champagne, the one who claimed to be bothered by the effects of her father’s enterprise, the one who wanted to help me.

She had said that, hadn’t she? That his criminal activities bothered her?

I shook my head, trying to clear it. The situation with Neil suggested that more caution was needed in my personal life, and as pretty as Blair was, as sincere as she seemed, and as much as I would really, really like to take her clothes off of her . . . who’s to say she wasn’t a chip off the ol’ block?

She shrugged in response to my question about pouring her own drinks. The thin strap of her sundress slid down her tanned shoulder and I forgot what was happening. 

It was a nice four seconds.

“I think that, while feminism has its merits, we’ve lost a few niceties along the way.” She took the flute of champagne from my fingers, smiling. “Like having someone bring us a drink and being okay with it.”

“I’m okay with it.”

I poured my own glass and settled in the overstuffed chair next to the love seat to keep some distance between us, unwilling to let the sparks I felt around her cloud my judgment. 

“So, what do you think? Do you want to help each other out?”

“There are many, many ways I can envision the two of us helping each other out,” I replied without thinking. “But as far as finding your dad . . . I mean, what good would that do?”

She ignored my suggestive statement. “We find him, we turn him in, the FBI helps you get your money back. It’s not that hard to figure out.”

Maybe not, but something bothered me. I couldn’t put my finger on what, and maybe it wasn’t anything at all. Maybe I was paranoid, and I should go ahead and count her appearance as a blessing fallen from the sky, but . . . “You would do that? Turn in your own dad?”

To her credit, she paused. Something flickered in her eyes, there and then gone before I could pin it down or even begin to figure out what caused it. In its place, a mask of indifference that I so did
believe, descended. 

“Honestly? I don’t know what I’ll do when the moment comes. But I want to see him, and if you know where he is you’ll have enough leverage to at least get your money back. Win-win, right?”

It sounded right. But also wrong. 

I mean, I wanted my money back. Badly. My still-questionable obliques scared the piss out of me—the idea that it could all be over in a moment and I’d be left with nothing. No way to make money, nothing to fall back on, since 80 percent of my life had been dedicated to this sport. Her offer tempted me, to say the least. 

“What’s your plan? Use the same private investigator you used to find me?” Another knock at the door closed her mouth, which was distracting as fuck. “Jesus, are we having a ten-course breakfast?”

“No. I was hungry after this stupid long flight but I didn’t want to waste any time. I’ll give you the cash, if you want, but I mean . . . you kind of owe me.”

you? Your father ripped me off—I’m guessing you’ll get your fair share of that sooner or later.”

“I don’t know about fair. That’s not really a concept near and dear to my father’s heart.”

She let in another porter, this one bringing waffles, fresh fruit, and biscuits with jam. Thank God no Vegemite, because as much as I loved this country, that shit was an atrocity.

“You think I owe you because you’re offering to find your dad. Except you have no idea where he is, either.”

“When did I say that? No one knows my dad and his habits better than I do—shit, no one else knows my dad and his habits at all. I can find him. I know it. But . . .” She cut her waffle, flicking a dubious glance my direction.

“But what?”

“I’ll need your financial details in order to lure him out of hiding when I find him.”

“I’m sorry, when
find him?” She went still, but there was no way that was happening. “I have six weeks off. If you’re going to find your dad, I’m going with you. And I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t give my financial details to Jesus right now.”

“You don’t have to do that, Sam. You can trust me. I’ll be faster on my own, and my dad’s defenses won’t be up if it’s just me, and . . .”

“You can stop talking. I’m coming with you.”

Annoyance tangled with frustration tightened the muscles in her face. Now she looked more like the Blair Paddington I’d met in Switzerland, the girl who had unwillingly lit such a fire of interest inside me. 

“No, you’re not. I’m going alone, and I can try to get your money back or not. Without your details, he has no reason to meet me, and I have no way to get your money back. I came to offer you my help, not to babysit you on a trek across the world.”

“Excuse me, but there would be no babysitting. I have contacts and friends in a dozen countries, speak five languages, and have the desire for justice on my side. In what way would I be a hindrance to you?”

“First of all, I didn’t invite you. Second, my father has pretty specific security mechanisms in place, and you’re pretty high profile, which means he could find you anywhere in the world in under ten minutes. How do you think I did it?”

“So, if that’s true, what makes you think he can’t find you even faster? You’re his daughter. If you take me with you, I promise to pull my weight and give you a percentage of anything I recover.” It was a last-ditch move, a shot in the dark, but my curiosity overrode everything else. 

I wanted to see how Blair would react to me offering her money in order to right a wrong. 

“I don’t want your money, Sam. What kind of person do you think I am?”

The breath I’d been holding gushed out of my lungs and I smiled at her. It seemed to take her aback, but the loosening of the tension in my gut felt great. If she was like her father, with little to no moral compass, she wouldn’t have turned down a fee. 

That’s what I’d have to believe to go forward. To at least trust her enough not to lead me down a dark alley and kick me in the nuts.

“So we’ll go together? Fly under the radar?”

She squinted up at me. “You know what that means, right? No fancy hotels, no room service, no staying with your friends or taking chartered jets. It’s going to be . . . different.”

“For you, too.” After a moment she nodded reluctantly. I grinned because I wanted to see if she would return it, and warmth spread over my skin when she did. “So, do you think we’ll need to wear disguises?”



“Are you
you want to come?” Blair asked me for at least the fiftieth time in the past twenty-four hours, pursing her lips as she slammed charging cords into her backpack. “I’m sure it’s not going to be good for your training schedule. And the time change is going to be a bitch to deal with when you come back for the start of the season.”

BOOK: Staying On Top (Whitman University)
10.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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