Authors: Trixie Stilletto
“What do you mean?”
Now Robert laughed without humor and sat up. “Haven’t you heard the one that sex takes the edge off? It’s one of the many taboos of athletics.”
Annalisa frowned. “Really? I would have thought great sex would make you relax and pump positive endorphins into your muscles or something.”
He shook his head. “Jesus, what was I thinking? I shouldn’t be here now, doing this.”
Annalisa began to get worried. She wouldn’t have thought Robert was one to believe something like that, but she didn’t want anything she’d done to keep him from reaching his dream.
“Well, I think what we need is to get you some food and fluids,” she said. She reached for the phone and the folder the hotel provided with the restaurants and amenities nearby. She punched in the number for room service and the wait was short. She pondered the menu and started ordering what she thought should be enough to feed an army but would probably only replenish the calories he’d used in his heat. She added one more luxury at the end with the fresh fruit and whipped cream.
When she replaced the phone, she grinned over at him then maneuvered so she was sitting on his lap. His arms came around her, holding her against him.
“Well, I agree wholeheartedly about finishing second,” she said. “The food should be here in about thirty minutes, which should give me time to massage those muscles so they don’t get stiff.”
There was one spot she was most interested in, and it wasn’t a muscle, but she could wait—for a little while at least. She got off his lap and smiled. “Why don’t you lie on your stomach and let me get to work?”
He did as she asked and she got onto the bed beside him. She started on his arms and worked her way up to his shoulders. She concentrated on the texture of his skin where it stretched over his muscles. She was having trouble reaching the middle of his back, so she moved to sit on his butt. He grunted and she stopped.
“Am I hurting you?” she asked, appalled.
“Not exactly,” he replied.
She smiled when she heard the need in his voice. She leaned forward so her breasts brushed against his back, then kissed her way up his spine. When she got to the deep dip between his shoulder blade and his spine, she let her fingers trail up and down.
“You’re amazing to touch—almost as amazing as you are to photograph,” she said. “But I’ve never seen such an attractive back.”
She heard a sound from him that sounded like a purr. She hoped it was from pleasure.
“I really do think I need to take a picture or two of you,” she said. She wasn’t about to leave him, even to get her camera, but it was on her agenda to convince him to let her photograph him nude—and soon. “I wish I knew what this was called,” she added as she moved her fingers over the bunch of muscles just below his neck.
“Trapezius.” His voice definitely sounded strained. She smiled and moved her fingers to the left and dug in just a bit.
“Rhomboid major.” There was a bit of gasping too. She would have been worried except that her heart was speeding a little and she was enjoying the game too much to let anything interrupt it.
Annalisa continued to work her way down his back. She moved from her perch on his butt to back beside him on the bed. She reached for another condom from the bedside table. As she unwrapped it, he turned onto his back. She put the condom on with minimum fuss then slid her leg over his hips and positioned herself so she was poised above his hard cock. “Let’s see who finishes first this time.”
He began playing with her nipples, pulling her into a deep sexual haze so that on his first push into her she was already flying high. When they were both groaning with ecstasy, the fall across the finish line was a dead heat.
It was a perfect day—sun shining, the temperature hot but not stifling. The crowd was milling about and discussing boats and teams with an excited buzz that sounded to Robert like a swarm of bees moving in from a distance. He felt great—limber, relaxed and ready. He also felt as nervous as hell. He wasn’t a great believer in superstition. He didn’t believe in luck and he knew his body was in better shape than at other time in his life.
That said, last night he had broken one of the most often quoted and believed rules for athletes in any sport. He’d had mind-blowing, life-altering sex.
No, he didn’t believe in the superstition, but the fact of the matter was that he was at an age when most people wouldn’t be competing at this level. And he’d done things, and in positions, that he honestly hadn’t accomplished since his college days. He was lucky he hadn’t pulled a muscle—or worse, reinjured his shoulder with those mattress gymnastics.
If he failed today, Robert knew he would always wonder why the hell he hadn’t waited to get involved with Annalisa until
Today was the single sculls Championship. As a last-minute replacement, no one other than him had expected him even to make the second round, much less be prepping for the US title. He felt a smile widen his face.
But there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that today’s finish would be anything other than a win.
“So, you have a huge shit-eating grin on your face, lad,” Scotty said, punching Robert lightly on the arm. “Are you feeling that confident about the race?”
Robert tried to make his expression serious. He hoped this man, who was more friend than coach, wouldn’t see the truth. He had a feeling that although his friend had been telling him he needed to relax and live a little, Scotty hadn’t meant him to do it the night before the finals.
“I feel good about the race. I think I can take him.”
“Excellent. I know you can take him,” Scotty said. “But here’s what I want you to do. Hold back a little. Don’t go a hundred and ten percent at the start.”
Robert straightened. “That isn’t what we’ve been practicing.”
Scotty nodded. “I know. But I’ve got a feeling. I think Calhoun is hiding something. I was watching him warm up and something seems off.”
Robert assessed Scotty’s advice and cast a glance at his main competition, Joe Calhoun. He was a good guy and an excellent rower. He’d been a force in the rowing competition for the last five years, with no one coming close to unseating him as the top singles athlete in the world. Since the US team could take two rowers in each of the singles events to the Olympics, both he and Calhoun were already assured a spot in the games—this was about winning the US title. Robert wanted this for himself and to prove something to all the guys still fighting unnamed battles in forgotten places, all the other wounded warriors fighting their way through hell to recovery in military hospitals all over the country. Though there were three other rowers in the event, Robert felt strongly that it would come down to him and Calhoun for the Championship.
“You think whatever injury he has, it will cause problems at the end.” It wasn’t a question from Robert, just a quiet statement of fact.
“That’s right. I think he pulled his biceps yesterday. He’ll be a hundred percent for the Olympics, but today he’ll be trying to overcompensate at first, but the way he’s favoring that arm there’s no way he can last the distance.” Scotty’s serious look turned to a wicked grin. “Patience, my man. That’s what will win you a US Championship today.”
Robert nodded and started forward to lift his boat into the water. “Besides,” Scotty added just loudly enough for Robert to hear him, “I’m betting that if you win the title today, that little photographer will give you a medal of a different kind tonight. If she didn’t already burn you out last night.”
Robert’s only reaction was a slight hesitation in his steps. If Scotty knew the truth about his hook-up with Annalisa, he would be a lot more vocal than this. Robert wasn’t ashamed about being with Annalisa, just rocked at the lousy timing of it all. He’d never been the kind of man who couldn’t keep it in his pants or one to let sex keep him from completing his mission. It simply wasn’t the Ranger way. He tried to put the whole thing from his mind.
Still, as he put his boat in the water, stepped in, checked his oars and waited for the signal from the starter for the race to begin, he couldn’t help getting a semi-woody just thinking about what inventive ways Annalisa could devise to celebrate tonight.
He was still thinking about it when the horn sounded and that was why he didn’t immediately start his stroke. Calhoun was two and half lengths away from the starting line when he began.
Damn. Scotty didn’t mean I should take the whole damn race off. Perhaps I did blow my competitive edge in bed last night.
Annalisa held her breath when Robert’s competition in the sculls took a two-boat lead, even while she was shooting like mad. But then, as if he had been in a trance, Robert began rowing, his arms, legs and torso moving in a smooth way that was athletic, artistic and sexy as hell. His strength shot the boat forward and ate up the distance between him and his competitor in less than a minute. She kept shooting, automatically switching cameras to use the best lens to capture each movement, each moment, with the best frames.
Midway down the course, the two were neck and neck. Annalisa focused not just on their faces—though they were arresting, full of determination and focus—but also on the water dancing over the bow of each boat as it cut through it.
In another ten strokes, Robert had pulled ahead. She took a dozen shots of his face and twenty more of his competition, who had a look of intense pain and loss on his face.
Robert crossed the finish line a good two and a half lengths ahead of the other rower and threw his oar into the water. Annalisa snapped those shots in rapid succession and managed to get the defeated slump of the other man as his boat drifted across the finish line.
Through it all, Annalisa felt intense pride and joy in Robert’s accomplishment. She wanted to jump and scream like all the other fans, but that wasn’t her job, so she spun in her place above the water and managed to fire off a couple of crowd shots just for good measure.
* * * * *
Robert did the post-race interviews in the media tent, answering question after question. He felt elation but also felt a need to find Annalisa.
“This is Dennis Wojtanik from the World News Organization.” Robert looked at the small, round man with the sun-reddened face who was asking the latest question. “You’ve said that winning this race is really for all the Rangers still fighting in Afghanistan. What would you like to say to them right now?”
Robert looked around for Annalisa but didn’t see her there or among the gaggle of photographers clogging the space in front of the table. He shrugged off his disappointment and answered the question.
“Not just for the guys still fighting, but for my friends who were injured and are lying in a hospital bed somewhere,” he said. “They’ve been cheering me on from the first moment I started on this quest to get to the Olympics. They’ve given me the strength to continue to train and to learn from the best. Today’s win, being on the Olympic team…I owe it all to them. So really, today’s championship wasn’t won by me—it was won by all the warriors around the world.”
Annalisa wasn’t at the front with the other photographers. She’d taken the time right after the race to upload her pictures to her computer. After a few minutes to crop them, she’d sent them on to the photo desk. She’d texted her editors that the shots should be on their computers then packed up her equipment before heading to the media area. By the time she arrived it was mobbed and there was no way she could get to the front. So she’d listened to the interview instead. When Robert had finished answering Wojtanik’s question, the hardened media members broke out in spontaneous applause. She wiped at the tears gathering in her eyes and left quietly.
She wasn’t going to hang around, but he knew where to find her when he was ready. Now he needed to celebrate with his teammates and his fellow soldiers.
The celebration was great—loud and joyous—and included a video connection with some of the guys at Walter Reed. It didn’t take long before Robert realized something was missing. He looked around immediately for Annalisa and remembered that he hadn’t seen her at the post-race press conference, and she wasn’t at the pub, where the celebration had moved afterward.
He put down his drink, water with a slice of lime—just because one race was over, didn’t mean he was breaking his training regime—and turned to Benny Galway.
“Hey, can I get a lift?”
“Uh, sure. But why don’t you just take my keys? I’m probably going to be here awhile.”
“No, that’s okay. I may not be coming back. I’ll just get a cab,” Robert answered.
“Hey, but where you going? The party’s just getting started,” Benny called after him.
Robert didn’t answer, but Benny was only partially right. The party he wanted hadn’t even started yet.
* * * * *
Annalisa was restless. It had been two hours since Robert had won the US Championship and she was starting to wonder if he would even show up at her hotel. When she’d first left the venue, she’d driven down to her hotel and dealt with the last few tasks of her job, including a couple of phone calls. One had been from her photo editor, Jim Jones, who’d congratulated her on her shots and asked for clarification on one of her cutlines, a short description of the picture. When she’d arrived at her room and looked over all the photos on her memory card, she’d found another twenty or so unused shots, which she sent in as well. In the photojournalism business there was no such thing as too many pictures.