Authors: Dianne Venetta
Tags: #romance, #womens fiction, #contemporary, #romantic fiction
Copyright 2012 by Dianne Venetta
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I am most grateful to Dr. and Mrs. Seifer for
their personal experience with the events. Between them and Sandy
Seaton, parent to one of these amazing athletes, I gained valuable
insight into the emotions and spirit behind the games, the
competition, and the dedication required from start to finish.
As a native resident from Miami, I am fully
aware the University pool is
. However, the simple
truth of the matter is I could not subject these kids to the
heat—their skin would fry! Outside of the pool complex, most
scenery will ring true to those who know the area, from the
Biltmore Hotel to the Venetian pool, Little Havana to Coconut
Grove; these are the landmarks of my childhood.
On the medical front, I owe a debt of
gratitude to Neurologist Alexander Smirnoff and his wife Vickie.
They graciously took time out of their busy schedule to meet with
me and go over facts and scenarios for the medical scenes. He
reduced the complexities of brain function to simple terms I could
understand, and explained how medical personnel respond to certain
emergencies. Additionally he helped me understand the general field
of autism and the wide range of condition and form it can assume.
Suffice it to say, I couldn't have managed a credible story without
But the help didn’t stop there. No experience
with event planning myself, I enlisted the help of Joe Shipes, a
local event planner who generously lent his time and expertise for
the character detail of my heroine, Sydney Flores.
And my beta readers are indispensible! Thank
you Joanie, Sheri, Stephanie and Tiffany, in addition to the
helpful insight I received from agent Beth Miller and editor Kathie
This book is dedicated to my mother.
For her encouraging whispers and constant
presence when it mattered most
Arms crossed, Clay Rutledge watched the
six-foot brunette swing her arm back and in one fluid step forward,
punch the volleyball clear to the far corner of her opponent’s
court. A mammoth blonde dove for the shot but missed, the ball
kicking sand in her face as it passed. The whistle blew and the
crowded beach of spectators erupted in cheer.
“Way to go, Syd!”
Sydney Flores slapped hands high in the air
with her teammate. Clay couldn’t make out what she said. But then
again, a smile curved his lips, there was no need. He was content
to simply watch her. Even the blistering humidity of midday in
Miami couldn’t keep him from this scenery; the woman was power in
motion. Not only could she drill the ball with a ferocity that
looked like it would hurt if you were hit, but her legs were
incredible. Long and heavily muscled they were topped by the
fullest rear he’d ever seen on an athlete. Round and curvy, it was
almost unnatural on her athletic build. But sexy, garnering his
full attention as it peeked out from the bottom of her uniform. He
chuckled. The black bottoms and hot pink sports bra were more
bathing suit than uniform. And completely hot. He’d always known he
was an “ass man” as they called it, but
Hers was as fine as they came. “She’s really
good,” he said, moist heat gathering beneath his Polo shirt as the
sun baked his head and shoulders.
Beside him, Charlie Williston snickered.
“Told you you wouldn’t be disappointed.” He took a swig of beer
from his red Solo cup and continued to stare at the women.
“Most definitely not.” Clay found her to be
beautiful, from her heavy brown ponytail catching the sun as she
played, to the quiet sway of her shoulders when she walked across
the sand—as though each step were made with solid determination.
And she was intense. Clay couldn’t see her eyes behind the dark
sunglasses, but he imagined them blazing with the same fire of
competition he saw etched in the hard lines of her expression. He
turned to Charlie with sudden curiosity. This woman was his
coworker at JL Conventions, one of the biggest event planning
groups in Miami and picking up women at the office seemed a natural
extension for his pal. “Why aren’t you two dating again?”
He grunted. “Sydney won’t give me the time of
“This, coming from the smoothest operator I
know?” Clay suppressed a chuckle. “Why not?”
“She may be hot on the outside, but she’s the
Ice Maiden on the inside.”
Clay returned his gaze to Sydney, whose brown
skin glistened from exertion. “I find that hard to believe.”
“Trust me. If you can’t do something to
further her career, she ain’t interested.”
“Sounds to me like someone’s sore at not
scoring,” Clay remarked. From his vantage point, the woman was
totally hot. Catching the ball thrown in from an official, she
strolled back to the serve line with a strut of confidence that
appealed to him.
“More like I don’t have anything to offer her
career,” Charlie hit back.
“What are you saying? She only dates men who
give her convention business?” he asked watching her wind back for
the serve, but before hitting the ball, she checked with her
teammate’s backside first. Currently bent over, the slender Latin
woman stood center court with her hands pressed to her rear. Where
Sydney was full on the bottom, this one busted out of her suit from
the top. She gestured something to Sydney with her fingers.
“Or a promotion.”
Clay turned to face Charlie and let his arms
fall slack. “She’s dating your boss?”
“Used to, but not anymore.”
“Hmm...” Clay’s pleasure faded. He turned
from Charlie and back to her. Settling hands to his hips, he
pondered the revelation. He had no use for manipulative women,
though it didn’t prevent him from admiring the view. At the
whistle, she arched back, her wall of abs contracting as she
hammered the ball over the net. The hulky blonde on the opposing
team was quick and crushed the ball back. Sydney fell to her knees
and expelled an audible grunt as she returned the ball into the
net. Clay saw her mouth the words damn it as she smacked the sand,
then quickly jumped to her feet, ignoring the assist offered by her
teammate. No time for downtime in this match, he mused, his
attention glued to the sand clinging to her perspiration-slicked
legs. She was going back in.
Today was the amateur championship and
according to Charlie, a pretty big deal around these parts. The
place was jamming. Sponsor tents lined the courts creating a
perimeter; banners draped the width of them advertising everything
from beer and local restaurants to cable television and the
resident Chamber of Commerce. Beer flowed like water from makeshift
taps while bottled-water was freely dispensed to the athletes from
oversized coolers. Born and raised in South Carolina, he’d been to
Myrtle Beach but never witnessed a beach volleyball game. This was
a sport he’d remember.
Charlie’s coworker brushed the sand from her
body and looked up. Her gaze landed squarely on him. Pleasure
hummed across his senses. Hello,
She cast him
a definitive scowl and Clay pulled back. Maybe Charlie was right.
This one isn’t friendly
. He watched her jog around the net,
taking in the length of her—the formidable length of her—and a
smile formed on his lips. Maybe she just needed some warming-up
from the right heat source.
“Shake it off, Syd,” Alana said. “Shake it
Sydney grumbled under her breath. Yeah, she
knew the drill. But that blonde beast was beginning to piss her
off. Nailing the opposing team for “sport” wasn’t the goal here.
But catching sight of Charlie only added to her misery. Despite the
fact she’d repeatedly told him “no and in no uncertain terms,” the
man insisted on attending her games. She knew there was only one
reason for him to be here. The gawk factor. In her opinion, it was
the single “undesirable” element to the game. But league dictated
that both men and women wear bathing suits for competition games,
with the option of a hat and the occasional jersey. She’d rather
wear shorts and tanks, but they weren’t allowed. Period.
Skimpy attire lured in the spectators and
spectators paid the bills.
Charlie waved to her as she and Alana jogged
to the opposite side of the net. It was then she noticed the fellow
standing next to him. Tall, wiry build, sandy blond hair tousled by
the ocean breeze, his skin browned from the sun, he looked as if
he’d been plucked straight off the shores of Malibu. Normally a
solo viewer, she was surprised to see Charlie here with anyone let
“Great job, Sydney!” Charlie called out as
she passed. He winked and Sydney returned a glare from behind her
dark-tinted shades. Fool probably thought she was looking at
him—which she wasn’t. No way in hell! Charlie was one of the few
people in this world she actually detested. An ego the size of
China, the man couldn’t see past himself and his own desire.
Sydney took her position in the middle of the
court and suddenly felt self-conscious. Despite an athletic build,
she was cursed by an over-sized rear—one she couldn’t shrink no
matter how hard she worked and it stuck out from beneath her suit
for everyone to see. As the sun bore down on her back, she shook
the image from her mind. She didn’t know the new man in town so she
didn’t care and she could easily ignore Charlie. Better ignore him,
she thought, centering on the opposing player feet away from her
across the net. Decked out in yellow racerback top and square-cut
bottoms, the woman had to be pushing six-four and was built like a
cement wall. She played with every ounce of power one would expect
from such stature, too, slamming the ball into Sydney’s shoulder
last set. Damn thing left a mark!
Signaling to her partner, she flashed a nasty
smile to Sydney. Probably telling her teammate to aim for me, she
mused. Digging her feet into the hot sand, Sydney ground herself in
for the play.
Go ahead and try
. While she and Alana may be
half the density of these ladies, they were no neophytes when it
came to the game of volleyball. They won the last set and they’d
win this one. Sydney caught sight of Charlie whispering something
to his friend as he pointed to Alana. Most likely something to do
with the Brazilian cut bottoms and low-rise tattoo on Alana’s
Sydney pulled her focus back to the game, and
the woman with the ball. Sweat gathered across her brow as she
swung her arms low and methodically, awaiting the serve. At the
whistle, the woman made a devilish twist with her mouth and
pulverized the ball straight to Alana. Sydney spun around, caught
the rebound and whacked the ball over the net in a powerful arc.
Both women dove after the ball but missed, crashing to the ground
in a simultaneous slide across the court.
“Yes!” Sydney high-fived Alana with a quick
hug and whispered harshly, “Nail em’, Alana.” While her teammate
didn’t look capable, she could dish out a punishing serve. Winded
now, Sydney moved to front and center of the net. Pressing the
front of her hands against her lower back, she signaled Alana to
serve back, right corner, whereby she’d take the net. Glancing at
Charlie and his friend—both watching
now—a sliver of
annoyance cut through her. Ignore them. Alana’s generous breasts
would draw them back to her in no time.
Alana served twice, backed by an enthusiastic
home crowd. If they won this set, they moved on to the finals and
ultimately the goal of tournament win. The two had been practicing
for months for this day and she wasn’t about to let it slip away.
More than the financial winnings, Sydney wanted to lay claim to
champion status. It had been almost two years since her last
showing and she wanted people to know she was back on the circuit.
Breathing hard and deep, Sydney settled in for the next serve.