Authors: Trixie Stilletto
Robert nodded. “And look at her. She doesn’t have a clue what she did. She’s trouble.”
“Yeah, but damn fine-looking trouble at that,” Scotty said.
“I don’t need that kind of trouble,” Robert retorted.
“Man, we all need
kind of trouble,” Scotty replied with a laugh. “Come on, son. I think I saw something before the last spin got interrupted. Might save you a tenth of a second next time down. Let’s take a look at the replay.”
Robert followed his coach into the long trailer where the video equipment was set up for the coaches, teams and media to view the last practice run. But first he scowled after the woman one more time. Despite the jokes Scotty made, Robert knew he did
need the kind of trouble she presented.
“Okay. They’ve got the video set up for us,” Scott said. “Here’s what I’m talking about…”
An hour later, Robert left the training area and stalked across the lot to where a tram had just arrived to take the remaining athletes back to the athletic village. The Holston, the venue for the rowing events, was about a hundred and fifty klicks outside Knoxville in the medium-sized town of Kingsport. Kingsport was also the site for the swimming trials, since it had superior indoor pools. All the athletes were being housed in quarters in a city park on top of a mountain. It made sense from a travel perspective and made for some tight friendships. Robert knew most of the guys were heading back to the cafe in the temporary village for supper and to flirt with the female swimmers. Robert figured he was too damn old to flirt, especially with a group of swimmers young enough to be his daughters.
That was the problem with being literally the old man on the team. Most people his age were either long out of the sport or coaching. One wise guy had suggested he would be a good candidate for the senior Olympics, since he was closing in on forty. Robert had spent his formative years training first to be a soldier, then a Ranger. He shook the thoughts of those younger days from his mind. That was then, this was now. And now he just couldn’t be bothered with flirting. Something fluttering in the breeze on the branch of a small bush caught his attention. He walked toward it without thinking.
It was half of a press badge. It had “Annalisa Webb” and “World News Organization” stamped across the top, with her picture below her name. Robert put it in his back pocket and told himself he would leave it at the information desk for her. He got on the tram back down to the village. When it arrived, instead of going to his room as he’d planned, he headed to the section reserved for members of the press. He’d see if he could find little Ms. Webb. He had an overwhelming need to be certain she hadn’t injured herself in that fall into the water. Then he could put her from his mind and focus on the job ahead of him—first rowing his way to a spot on the team, then competing and winning an Olympic gold medal.
* * * * *
Annalisa was nearly to the security point at the media center when she realized something was different about the lanyard hanging from her neck. She looked down and frowned. Not for the first time since that momentous summer when she’d been fourteen and she’d “flowered into a woman”, as her aunt Josie had called it, did she lament the fact that her most noticeable features stood out like beacons on a lonely shoreline. Her girls made seeing her feet a near impossibility and, along with the heavy camera and lens she always wore around her neck, had helped her chiropractor to pay for her son’s college tuition and a second honeymoon to Aruba.
She raised the lanyard and felt her mouth drop open. Damn it. Half her press credential was missing. Where had it gone? And what was she going to do? The organizers were very strict concerning credentials and what access was allowed when. Without a press pass, she’d basically be unable to do her job. She bit her bottom lip and tried not to panic. This wasn’t a disaster. All she had to do was retrace her steps. With a moment of clarity, Annalisa knew exactly where she’d lost the pass. It had been after she’d fallen into the canoe. The fall, combined with the proprietary way Robert Buchanan had grabbed her camera to keep it from getting wet, had put too much strain on the lanyard. Her worst fear was that the pass was at the bottom of the river. Maybe she’d been lucky and it had fallen on the ground.
Whatever had happened, Annalisa had one hope of fixing things. She had to take the tram back to the river and see what she could find. She turned, intent only on getting there as fast as possible, and ran straight into a wall of stone.
“Oomph,” she grunted.
“Ow. Damn it, woman, I swear you’re a menace.” Robert Buchanan was still scowling. Annalisa took a second to wonder if he ever smiled.
“Me?” she demanded. “I’m not the one sneaking up on people. And why were you following me so closely? Haven’t you heard of personal space?”
“Personal space?” he asked, a strange look on his face, part question and part disbelief.
She waved away his question because she saw what he held in his hand. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you! I just realized I lost that and was panicking a little trying to remember what had happened.” She shifted so her large camera bag with the monopod attached to the bottom with a Velcro strap went behind her hip. As she did so, the extruding monopod aimed itself at his left knee. She cringed and closed her eyes in horror, visions of knocking him out of the competition and single-handedly ruining America’s chance at winning gold in next month’s Olympic Games dancing through her mind. But his reaction time was…well, Olympic. He stepped back, caught the errant monopod with one hand and flipped it harmlessly away, glaring at her all the while.
“Jesus. ‘Personal space’, she says. You’re like a secret weapon. You took out three guys leaving the river. It’s a wonder you didn’t drown us both.”
Though he was glaring at her and treating her like a five-year-old, she smiled brilliantly at him. First, he was drop-dead sexy, even if he was as surly as a grizzly bear on a futile hunt for salmon. Second, he’d rescued her—or at least her press pass. To her, that was grounds for celebration. So she didn’t respond to his obvious error in blaming her for the accident, just gushed her thanks instead.
“It’s so great that you found my credential. They’re very particular about them and although I’m sure I could get another,” she wasn’t sure of any such thing but he didn’t need to know that, “it would probably have meant tons of paperwork and I would have missed my next assignment.”
She hesitated for a nanosecond then went with instinct. She leaned forward, getting close enough even with her oversized breasts to place a chaste kiss on his cheek. His hands were at her waist and held her in place, not letting her back quickly away as she’d planned. She got a close look at his fabulous blue eyes and felt as if she were falling into a cool, wet pool. Although it was only for a few seconds that he held her close, she was seriously considering taking another taste of him—this time of those stern lips, to see if she could coax a smile from them or taste the humming impatience there. His pupils widened and she knew one thing—he wanted her but he wasn’t going to lose control. At least not now. With a regretful sigh she prepared to pull away, just as he pushed her.
The combination of the two moves overbalanced her and the only thing that kept her from falling full against him was the pressure of his hand on her arm.
“Jesus. You’re unbelievable, lady.”
Annalisa righted herself and smiled again. “Thanks. You’d think having lived with this body since I was fourteen I’d be accustomed to it, but I’m kind of like a Weeble. I wobble but don’t fall down. Usually.”
He shook his head. Annalisa didn’t know why, so she asked. “Do you have water in your ears? I know I do after that fall. I tried to knock it out but I don’t think I got it all.”
He shook his head again, harder this time. “Water?”
“Yes. It happens a lot. There’s a new report that says ‘swimmer’s ear’—which is when water gets into the outer ear canal—affects adults almost as much as children. It can cause some intense pain if not taken care of.”
“I know what swimmer’s ear is. I’m not a swimmer. Rowers normally stay
of the water. That’s what the scull is for.”
Annalisa smiled again. “Oh, that’s good. So, thanks again for returning my pass. I really wish you’d let me buy you a cup of coffee or something. And of course I’d still love to set up that interview. My news organization would love to have an exclusive as you get ready for the finals and then the games. The fans would love it as well.”
Buchanan shook his head. Although he wasn’t smiling, Annalisa wanted to believe there was a hint of humor in his eyes. She really liked men who knew how to laugh, not only at life but at themselves too. She had a feeling about Robert Buchanan. Even though he was a bit of a grizzly on the outside, she’d seen a spark in his eyes. Her intuition was telling her that Robert had a highly developed sense of humor. He just didn’t show it.
“No,” he said, staring hard at her. “Try to stay out of trouble.”
He didn’t wait for her response to his order or his refusal as he backed away from her. She smiled once more and turned her back to him to go to the security checkpoint. She’d have to make her first stop the media center to see if they could either give her a new pass or fix her torn one. As she walked away, she hummed, thinking that she would have to be certain to return to the river the next morning to shoot the time trial.
* * * * *
There was something about that photographer that bothered the hell out of Robert. And it wasn’t just that he was certain she was going to be trouble. She was a looker, with long, blonde hair and witchy green eyes. The hair and eyes combination, along with a curvy figure that would have fitted on a pinup poster, made his dick ready to give a twenty-one gun salute.
But Robert had seen beautiful women before and they hadn’t swayed him from his mission or his duty for a single nanosecond. Never mind that he wasn’t on active duty any longer—giving one hundred and twenty percent to this competition was the most important mission in his life now. Horny or not, he shouldn’t be thinking about anything but the next race. And he wasn’t, except going so far as to track this woman down to return her press credential. Damn it, he should have just given it to one of the event volunteers, or even one of the paid staff members. Hell, he could have just left it at the venue office and they’d have returned it to her. He cursed under his breath. What the hell was wrong with him?
He walked with steely determination toward the shuttle stop to go back to the athletic dormitory section. The woman wouldn’t enter his mind again, he willed himself. He was here to do a job and for the remainder of his four days in Kingsport there would be only two things on his mind—winning the finals in the individual events he was entered into, and helping his team to post the best time in their events. After that, the next stop was the Olympics.
It was something he’d vowed to do. For all the guys at Walter Reed who had helped him to come back from the shoulder injury in Afghanistan that had ended his Ranger career. For all the guys still in harm’s way there and in other places where freedom was only a dream. Finally, Robert admitted, he wanted to win the gold for himself.
See? No room in his mind or life for one curvy and ditzy, blonde, trouble-making photographer.
As he walked, he put one hand to the spot on his cheek where she’d kissed him. Stupid, but it still felt warm. He didn’t even consider what she’d done a kiss, really. More like something a maiden aunt would bestow on a five-year-old. His mood was turning surly so fast and he realized he was scowling, especially since a couple of people stepped quickly out of his path. Damn if he couldn’t also feel tingling around the spots on his chest where her amazing breasts had rubbed against him.
, he thought.
If I keep this up, I’m going to have a hard-on walking down the street.
Jesus. He was acting like some idiotic pre-teenage boy. He shook his head and thought, ridiculously, that he felt some water sloshing around inside his ear canal. Damn it, he did
have swimmer’s ear.
Annalisa was on the tram to the river very early the next morning. She was determined to go back to the scene of yesterday’s mishap and prove to herself and everyone—not just Robert Buchanan—that she was a professional photojournalist who could handle her job. She’d decided after a sleepless night that, like the time she’d fallen off the horse as a child, she needed to get right back on it. This horse—the surprisingly complex rowing competition—was not going to defeat her. Yes, she’d made a tactical error trying to go out on the ledge to get the shot she needed. Truth be told, she still didn’t know what had happened. Her footing had been secure. She was sure of it. She had worn shoes with good rubber soles, so even if there had been some slick spots, she should have only slipped a bit, not completely fallen off.
But lesson learned and not to be repeated. Just before she’d fallen yesterday, she’d spied an even better and safer spot to get the aerial view she was looking for. There was a small landing on the underside of the spectator bridge about midway along the course. She was more than a little frustrated that she hadn’t seen the spot yesterday, but she wasn’t going to beat herself up over her mistake. Everyone made mistakes—the key was to learn from them.
Annalisa knew what other people thought about her. She’d heard the taunts of “klutz” from childhood. It had all started shortly after the deaths of her parents. Her Uncle Vinnie and Aunt Rebecca had taken her into their household and given her love, gentle discipline when needed, and security. More, they had given her the chance to find herself through photography. Even as a child with that kind of loving support, there had been taunts from the other kids. Her aunt and uncle had told her repeatedly that they didn’t believe she was a klutz, but Uncle Vinnie had a tendency to look after her as if she were one step away from sure disaster every day. That was part of the reason this assignment at the Olympic trials was so crucial. She needed to prove to herself, Uncle Vinnie and everyone else what her abilities were. Right now Uncle Vinnie, back at the main offices in New York, didn’t know about the accident yesterday. She was determined that he wouldn’t find out. More, she was determined to dazzle him in his role as both parent and boss, to show him that she had what it took to be a star in the business.