Authors: Trixie Stilletto
So here she was, headed back to the scene of the crime, so to speak. She’d done her homework the night before and she was ready to get the scoop she needed—a personal interview with Robert Buchanan on the eve of his first event in the rowing competition.
Buchanan was a hero in the true sense of the word. He’d served in Afghanistan and Iraq in the War on Terror and had been awarded medals for valor. According to news reports, he’d saved three members of his squad and several civilians in action there, despite being injured himself. After his service and heroism, he’d returned home and used the physical training necessary for rowing to rehabilitate himself. That had been the beginning of his quest to become an Olympian.
No one had expected him to actually perform in the games though. The rowing team members had been training together for years, working toward this one shot at Olympic glory. Then the unthinkable had happened. The captain of the eights and one of the top-ranked scull rowers in the world had been injured in an automobile accident. The result had been a broken tibia and collarbone. Buchanan, as first alternate, had moved into the open spot for the eights and was competing in the singles sculls competition. The team was set again, and although this weekend’s finals were important, the real challenge would be in next month’s Olympics.
According to the experts in the events, nobody expected him to actually win a medal, but Annalisa had a feeling about the man. He had “hero” written all over him and she would have bet—if she ever bet, that was—that Buchanan was going to surprise everyone at the games. She was going to be ready to capture those moments before anyone else.
First, though, she had to get him to take her seriously. After yesterday’s tiny mishap, she was going to have to work hard today to reestablish herself as a professional.
She got off the tram when it arrived, being very protective of her camera bag. She jogged around a man dressed in a yellow-and-red tie-dyed shirt to get to the admission gate. He was carrying a bullhorn, a pair of huge binoculars and what appeared to be a large rolled-up vinyl banner. Within seconds she had her camera in position and had snapped a shot. She hoped the picture would be one chosen by editors around the nation for their photo feature pages. As her Uncle Vinnie had told her many times, no one did feature photos better.
She was a good feature photographer but she also wanted to be good at taking sports shots. She wasn’t a sports fan, but she loved the symmetry of athletes, the way their strong muscles and limbs worked like machines without missing a beat, the competition of the games they played.
That made her think about Buchanan. He was pure perfection, from a strictly photographic standpoint. She smiled and barely noticed how the tie-dye fan sucked in his protruding belly and grinned back at her. She turned to walk the short distance to the river.
Yes, if she continued to think her attraction to the rower was strictly photographic, she might even convince herself it was the truth. The biographical profile produced on each athlete for the media by the US rowing team gave all the specifics. He was six feet tall, one hundred and ninety-five pounds with black hair and blue eyes. He had scars on both knees and his left shoulder from injuries sustained while fighting in the Gulf. What the profile didn’t say was that his body was tanned nearly bronze from all the hours of training and that the scars on his knees were almost obscured by the dark hair on his legs. She had noticed that twice—once when he’d been standing on the boat launch yelling at her for falling into his boat, then again when he’d followed her back to the village. She’d also noticed that the scars on his knees were just tiny slashes against all that dark skin.
The scar on his shoulder was more prominent. The skin around it was also brown, but there was a large white strip where the staples to seal the wound had been. Yesterday she’d had the absurd compulsion to touch the scar on his shoulder with her lips. Now she shivered just at the thought of pressing her mouth against his hot, vital skin.
Yes, her attraction was strictly professional. She firmed her resolve. Sure, she wouldn’t mind getting to know the sexy rower in much more personal terms, but it would just have to come after she’d captured his story and given it to the WNO. She would take both stills and video to give to the newspapers and television stations that subscribed to the service—all the options they needed to run with it. But first she had to get into position to get the best shots.
Still, there was nothing wrong with dreaming and fantasizing about what it would be like to be involved with the sexy rower while she set things up for her shots. She felt the smile start to spread across her lips and winked at the fan. He gaped at her and her smile grew. She had an idea that Buchanan’s skin would feel warm and hard where it covered the layers of muscles that roped his arms. She could picture herself leaning over him, tracing then tasting his skin while he sprawled on her large, comfortable bed at her apartment in Atlanta. They could laze away a sunny morning or afternoon. She giggled. She didn’t know Buchanan, but she was a good judge of people and she was willing to bet her last photo memory card that he was the type who hadn’t lazed any morning away in longer than he could remember.
Annalisa hurried toward the venue with two things on her mind—getting the shot everyone would be talking about tomorrow, and seeing if she could convince Buchanan that he really needed to take time for at least one lazy morning of sex and fun.
* * * * *
He was stretching in the state of the art workout area that had been set up on the bank of the river. After his stretch, he planned to hit the rowing machine for a quick twenty-minute workout before getting out on the water for the real warm-ups. Some would probably think he was crazy for using an electronic rower when he had all the rowboats he wanted just on the other side of the building’s block wall. But while the rowing machine couldn’t duplicate the actual tension of pulling his oars through the resistance of water, it was a good starter to get his heart moving and loosen the stitched-together tendons in his shoulder and scoring his knees.
He kept his focus strongly on warming up each of the major muscle groups he would be using as he worked with the machine. The only other thoughts allowed in his mind were visualizing what he planned for today’s heat. The pace of the race and the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses ran through his mind like a video.
But that was all shot to shit, because Scotty had just come through the door and while it had been open, Buchanan had seen her walk by the building. She was impossible to miss—blonde hair done up in a ponytail and so many curves that she ought to come with warning signs. But it’d been the huge backpack and the camera slung around her neck that had been the final clues. How the woman could make having a camera slung around her neck a fashion accessory was a mystery to him.
There’d been several photographers embedded with his unit in the danger zones in the Middle East. A few of them had even been women—not when they’d gone deep in-country, of course, but for some of the less intense missions. Not with a single one of them had the sight of a camera slung around the creamy white skin along the collarbone made his boys start to get hot and swell. Until this photographer had fallen into his boat yesterday.
He’d told himself after the debacle of following her back to the press area that what she did was not his concern. So what if she’d kissed him? Or barely kissed him. She wasn’t the hottest woman he’d ever known. Frankly she wasn’t even among the top ten in the looks department. She had scrapes and bruises on her arms and legs like a tomboyish preteen.
If he hadn’t seen her lack of coordination himself, he’d probably have figured her for being in an abusive relationship. He hated when people abused weaker creatures—animals or humans. He scowled again when he thought of her Pollyanna smile. She wasn’t weak. Despite his reaction when she’d fallen, she wasn’t short in the brains department either.
He’d been unable to help himself. After returning to his room, he’d punched up the internet and Googled her. She definitely had an eye and a talent for taking pictures. Seeing her work and thinking about those hands wrapped around the body of the Nikon and the ridiculously large lens had made him harder than a pike. After he’d taken his second cold shower of the night, he’d resolved that she wouldn’t enter his mind again. He wasn’t counting his dreams, because nobody could control where their mind went when they were asleep. But he’d been mostly successful in not thinking of her in any way, up until she’d walked past the center moments ago.
“Hey, man, what are you doing? Rowing yourself home and back?” Scotty slapped Robert’s shoulder. He looked down at the time and distance gauge on the meter.
What the hell?
He’d been rowing for nearly thirty minutes. At a rate of forty-six strokes per minute, it was as if he’d been sprinting for at least the last ten minutes.
“Shit,” Robert said.
“Yeah, man. I thought you were going to save some for the time trials today. Good thing you’re only doing the eights today, not the singles. But you’d better pump some electrolytes and take a cool shower. Your heat is in twenty minutes. We want you ready to go then.”
Robert nodded, reached inside the cooler they kept stocked and picked up his favorite sports drink. It was a low-sugar variety. He would have preferred simple water, but after screwing up the workout, he’d have to take this. He chugged half of the bottle and went to the door of the workout room. He was just checking out the venue, which was being prepared for the first of the time heats. There was already a sizeable crowd gathering in the bleachers, and to his left he saw another tram arriving, full of fans. Media members from all over the country were already in place. Photographers and the writers from the media center lined the course marked out on the river.
He glanced back at the media area, seeking one particular photographer. Some photographers were still milling about the center, while others had already set up their equipment along the bank of the river. He couldn’t see her but he knew she was there somewhere. He could feel her presence, much like he used to be able to feel the bad guys when on a mission. Of course, that famous intuition had failed him at the most important moment of his life, so why he was counting on it being right now was anyone’s guess.
He muttered a frustrated curse and turned away from the door.
, he thought. He didn’t really give a good goddamn where she was, as long as she stayed the hell out of his way. The heats for the eights were the first step on a path he’d set for himself. He’d have his teammates with him on this hop and he wasn’t about to let them down. That meant focusing completely on the job at hand—coming up with the fastest time in the heat and starting them on the quest for Olympic gold. Anything else was simply unacceptable.
The young man turned at Annalisa’s question. He was tall, thin and running on adrenaline and—from the grease stain on his tie and the fried-cornbread smell—fried catfish. He was one of the best sports writers her uncle had on staff, and although she had never met him personally, Annalisa had read all his articles on rowing the night before. Seeing him now, she couldn’t help grinning.
“Yeah. You aren’t the normal WNO shooter. Where’s Jody?”
Annalisa smiled to cover her blush. She wasn’t about to admit that she’d told a little white lie that morning and sent an email to the World News Organization’s top photographer pulling him off the rowing trials and sending him instead to the track events.
So she’d signed into her Uncle Vinnie’s email account and perhaps had misrepresented herself a bit? It wouldn’t matter in the long run and no one had to know in the short term.
“Oh, they pulled him off this and sent him to the track. I’m the backup.”
“Makes sense. I probably wouldn’t even be here myself if it weren’t for the fact that Buchanan is filling in. The US doesn’t really have a chance at winning the gold next month, but Buchanan is a feature story. Between competing in the eights and sixes, where he’s a competent rower, he’s being thrown to the wolves in the singles.”
Annalisa nodded as if she had a clue what this guy was talking about. “Well, I was figuring on getting some shots of all the teams but focusing heavily on Buchanan’s group. Do you want anything special from my shots to go with any of your planned stories?”
The writer nodded. “Come on—we can walk to the press center and I’ll tell you. We definitely want a ton of shots of Buchanan. Since he was only an alternate before the accident, we don’t have very much on file. Except from when he won the Medal of Honor, but I know the boss will want something less formal for this. Especially if he flops or is an unexpected hit.”
Annalisa smiled. She could understand that, but she had a feeling about Robert and it had nothing to do with him flopping. She walked beside Wojtanik and pretended interest as he prattled on about all manner of things, all the while thinking about the things she’d felt when she kissed Robert the night before.
All she’d intended had been an impetuous thank you. Who would have known that such an innocent little move on her part could set her blood on fire as if she’d touched a hot strobe light?
After leaving Wojtanik, who’d headed to the reporters’ area to watch the race, Annalisa was still thinking about that little kiss and the way his hand had rested on her waist. She settled herself on the ledge underneath the bridge overpass above the competition venue. They’d been strong hands—not entirely unexpected, since they were attached to arms and shoulders that were roped with muscle from his hours and hours of work on the boats.