Authors: Trixie Stilletto
Annalisa Webb is a photographer, determined to get the very best possible shots of the Olympic sculling team and make her boss proud. But she doesn’t bank on her clumsiness landing her in an Olympic sportsman’s lap—literally.
Ex-Army Ranger Robert Buchanan is going for the gold—not for himself, but for his wounded comrades and those who’re still putting their lives on the line every day overseas. When curvaceous, quirky Annalisa loses her footing and nearly drowns them both, he wants her immediately.
But Robert knows that losing his heart might mean losing his medal. He has to prioritize success over sex. The only problem is that if he loses Annalisa, he doesn’t know whether he can count himself a winner at all.
contemporary erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave
She measured the distance between the outcrop and the water below her. It was ideal. The shadows would meld beautifully with the sunlight and she’d never get a better shot.
She framed the shot in her viewfinder, inhaled and held her breath to keep the camera steady. One, two, three, she counted. The canoe came into the frame with the athlete manning the oars. His rugged face was a study in concentration. She paused for one more second, but before she could trigger the shot she was freefalling from her perch toward the water.
The next thing Annalisa Webb knew, she was sprawled in the canoe…no, they were called boats or sculls, she reminded herself.
“What the hell?”
Those were the first words out of the mouth of the angry man holding Annalisa in his arms. She had fleeting seconds to notice his black hair and hypnotic blue eyes then she looked at her camera. At least the Nikon was high and dry, for the moment. She started to move her arm, sincerely hoping she could get the camera into its protective backpack before anything else happened.
“Damn it! Don’t move!” His eyes were furious and she really didn’t like his tone. Then she realized the boat was tilting left and right.
“Um…” She couldn’t help it. She had a bad feeling and she had to protect her Nikon. She had a backup body at the hotel, but the high-powered telephoto lens would be harder and more expensive to replace.
That was as far as he got before he lost the battle to keep the boat upright. It tipped, dumping Annalisa and the angry man into the cool water of the Holston River, the site of the United States Championship rowing competition, the final tune-up for the summer Olympics Games. She gasped in shock as the water enveloped her. She could swim, but the combination of the surprise of her fall and the weight of her equipment caused her to flail wildly.
Her camera hadn’t dropped to the bottom of the river, thank God. It was still securely around her neck. But she knew it wasn’t good for it to be getting so wet. She finally managed to use one hand to keep herself afloat while she lifted the camera out of the water with the other. She wasn’t concerned about the items in her backpack—it was waterproof—just the camera and its lens. As she fiddled with her camera, a noise beside her drew her attention. The rower, one Robert Buchanan, was treading water beside her. His short hair was the perfect foil for his ruggedly handsome face with the slashes of black brows, currently furrowed in a frown. His strong, brown arms were keeping him afloat easily. The purplish-blue ink of the Army Ranger tattoo on his chiseled biceps drew her eyes repeatedly, as did the way the fitted red, white and blue tank uniform shirt outlined his pectoral muscles. She licked her lips, when what she really wanted to do was take a bite of the delicious flesh revealed by his outfit.
“Are you all right?” His tone was curt but she couldn’t really blame him for that.
She swallowed a mouthful of water and coughed a bit. “Yes,” she managed.
“Good. You’re an idiot.” She didn’t know him, but his attitude was one of disdain. Granted, he was all wet too, and was no doubt feeling embarrassed about turning over his boat, but she didn’t think he should be talking to her that way.
“Now wait just a minute.” She started kicking and dog-paddling her way to the shore one-handed. “I don’t think…”
“No, that’s obvious. You don’t think. Going so far out on that ledge was precarious. Anybody with eyes and a lick of sense could tell the water has eroded the rock beneath it. And it was in the damn warnings about the venue,” he stated as he kept pace beside her, even when she knew he could have probably been to the shore and back twice by now. His strokes were strong, even and sure, his dark tanned arms flashing easily in and out of the water.
Though he was certainly a better swimmer than she, he wasn’t trying to keep a nine thousand dollar lens from ruination while doing it. As if he could read her mind, he reached for the camera, lens and all.
“Give me that. The rate you’re going, we’re both going to be senior citizens before you get to shore.” Now his voice sounded condescending and insulting.
She would have protested his tone and his help, but he took the camera and held it high as if it weighed nothing. She wouldn’t have admitted it, but her arm had been about to wilt holding the ten-pound lens in addition to her camera to keep them above water. Funny how she hadn’t noticed the lens’s weight when she’d been shooting. Annalisa had thought water was supposed to be buoyant.
Rather than further put her foot in her mouth, Annalisa concentrated on swimming with the loaded pack on her back. She was breathless by the time they reached the shore. They’d been close to the edge of the river when she’d fallen, so she took the time while swimming to figure out what had happened. She knew she had been well back within the safe range on the ledge. There’d been other photographers up there too, but she’d gotten there first and had chosen the best spot. She tried to replay the whole incident in her head, but all she could remember was what she’d seen through the camera’s viewfinder.
“Thank you for rescuing my camera,” she said when her feet were planted on solid ground once more, and he handed it to her. “I have other bodies, but the lens is special.”
“How did you get so close to the edge?” Buchanan asked.
She paused in the act of wringing some of the water from her white cotton T-shirt and answered by lifting the plastic-encased press credential she wore around her neck. “Press,” she said. “I was well behind the danger line but that was before all the other shooters got up there. I guess I moved a little too far to the front anticipating the shot. I’m Annalisa Webb, with World News Organization. I’d love to hook you up with one of our writers, at your convenience, for a one-on-one about how you feel your training is going and your hopes for the games.”
Annalisa knew it was going to take a lot to get other members of the sports media to take her seriously and now, when word of her fall got around, it would be nearly impossible. She didn’t even want to think about the furious call that would be coming from her Uncle Vinnie. She put
out of her mind. If she could score a private interview with the most elusive and secretive member of the US rowing team, maybe it would put the kibosh on the backlash before it got started.
He seemed enthralled by the way she was twisting her shirt, but he snapped back to attention at her suggestion.
“I don’t do interviews. Ever.” Each word was perfectly spaced with a second’s beat between them. Her uncle had tried the tactic with her before, but it hadn’t had the same chilling effect Buchanan’s words did. Still, she wouldn’t reach her goal if she gave up so easily.
“How about we get together at the Tennessee Cafe for coffee, say three today?” she tried.
“No. And stay away from the water. If I catch you near it again, I’ll have your access severely limited by the officials.”
With that pronouncement, he stalked away. It was only then that she realized the dunking had made her shirt nearly transparent. He, and the spectators who had been watching the whole affair, had gotten an eyeful. She sighed silently and gathered up her gear. She wasn’t out, she was just down. There was always tonight.
She started to walk away and was met by Jason Hull. He was a photographer for the British Press Association, the WNO’s main rival. Annalisa had known Jason for years and suspected he’d always been attracted to her. Since they very rarely shot the same things, she’d been able to ignore it rather than having to tell him to buzz off. This weekend they were both shooting this event and he’d been following her around the whole time.
“Hey, are you all right?” Jason asked. She noticed how his eyes kept straying from her face down to her chest and she crossed her arms self-consciously.
“Oh, fine. I don’t know how I fell off,” she said. “Was I that close to the edge?”
Jason shrugged. “I don’t know. I was shooting down at the water’s edge. I wasn’t going to break the rules, especially for a practice run. You know, if you break the rules, it’ll make it harder for everybody else as the Championship tournament goes on.”
Jason was an okay photographer, but he sometimes got a whiny, preachy sound to his voice that was very annoying.
“I wasn’t the only one up there,” she said. Something about him saying he hadn’t been up on the ledge bothered her, but his next words scattered the concern.
“Yeah, but you were the first,” he said. The pitch of his voice was approaching a fingernails-on-a-blackboard screech. “The officials at the games take security and safety seriously. If you aren’t careful, they’ll take away your access. Then what will you do?”
“I hardly think one little accident will cause that,” she said, moving away, now thinking only about getting rid of Jason. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go and check out my equipment.”
She left Hull still talking about revoked credentials and thought again about getting an exclusive with Buchanan for the WNO. If she could do that, no one would be revoking anything.
* * * * *
Robert half listened to the teasing from his teammates, most of his concentration on the shapely backside of the woman who’d landed in his lap and almost succeeded in drowning them both. There was something about her that had him rubbing the back of his neck. He dropped his hand and scowled first at it then at her.
He’d always had good intuition and it’d saved him and his unit’s butts in dangerous territory on more than one occasion. And he had a feeling about that woman. She was trouble, as sure as his name was Robert Buchanan. He didn’t want or need trouble. All he wanted was the time to do what he’d been training for, for years—compete in the Olympics and win a medal. He owed it to his buddies who were still at Walter Reed, trying to rebuild their bodies before they could make a new life. He owed it even more to his buddies who would never have a chance at a civilian life.
“Come on, L.T.—you gotta admit that was one for the record books,” said Scott O’Halloran, who was a Marine, a friend, one of the coaches of the US Olympic Team and Robert’s personal mentor. He was fiftysomething but still as trim and fit as he’d been when he’d humped his way across the Falkland Islands as part of a recon platoon responsible for mopping up that problem. His graying buzz cut and sun-wrinkled, always smiling face hid a mind that had a tactical genius about competitive rowing. Robert knew he’d have never have been even close to making the Olympic team if Scotty hadn’t been at his side.
“Easy for you to say. It wasn’t your ass getting wet,” Robert grumped. He kept one eye on the woman and couldn’t help but wince as she picked up her humongous camera pack, slung it over a shoulder and in the process nailed a nearby spectator right in the gonads before marching off. He frowned as he noticed the way the other photographer, who’d bounced up to her like a puppy looking for approval, watched her walk away. Her wet T-shirt revealed that her front was outstanding, but her truly fantastic butt, now shaped by wet nylon shorts, was jaw-dropping fine. “I think that broad is a menace. How the hell did she get so close to the event area?”
Scotty shrugged. “Press can go anywhere. Get used to it—it’ll be worse when we actually get to the Olympics.” His eyes followed the woman as well and he grinned. “Looks as if you were lucky you only got dunked. That fan there is probably going to have to put the family jewels on ice for the night after taking such a direct hit.”