Some Like It Scandalous – Taking One for the Team
Richard caught the ball on the rebound and sent it slamming toward the wall. Armand pivoted and nailed it with a backswing. They played silently, only the sound of the ball thwacking off their rackets or rebounding off the wall filling the court. He shut off all the distractions—the security standing around the court, placed in obvious positions with their black-suited backs to him. He closed down the niggling desire to call his security to check on Anna, or better still, call Anna himself.
He shut it all off. Sweat soaked through his shirt and stung at his eyes. His lungs burned as he twisted, turned and caught every volley Richard lobbed. But it all halted when Richard missed his swing and the ball bounced off the safety glass behind him.
“Two-one.” Richard tucked his racket under an arm and walked over to claim the water bottles from the wall holder. He tossed one to Armand underhanded and unscrewed the other to drink. “So, how did it go last night?”
Armand took his time draining the bottle. “It was fine. Another game?”
The attorney stared at him. “Fine? You stalk the woman? You talked about her for years and then conspicuously avoided any mention of her for longer? Then you demand she meets with you and move her into the penthouse? And it was fine?”
Bouncing the ball once, Armand pointedly took aim and sent the ball at the wall. Richard barely caught it and drove it back. “What’s up?”
“Nothing. Playing.” He smacked it hard and sent it up and flinging back. Richard jerked hard to the left and smacked it on the rebound.
“That woman had more on her mind than just talking—what happened?” Like a bulldog with a bone, Richard wouldn’t let it go.
“We talked about her leaving.” Armand nearly missed and his hamstring burned as he overcompensated. Flexing his toes inside the shoe, he and Richard danced side to side, slicing, cutting and backhanding the ball. Every hard slap of the ball to his racket loosened the landslide of tension sitting on his chest.
“Couldn’t have been easy.”
“It wasn’t.” He’d thought it would be—hashing it out, hearing it from her exactly why she left him all those years ago. But that scar turned out to be hiding a bloody, festering wound. He wanted to strangle her. He wanted to kiss her. He wanted to keep her close, make up for all that lost time, and he never wanted to see her again—because if she wasn’t with him, she wasn’t in danger.
The conflict oozed through him like a cancer, eating away at his good judgment and common sense.
However, Richard didn’t seem satisfied. “And?”
“And nothing.” Armand’s turn to miss the ball, he swore and paced around in a circle trying to catch his breath.
“Yeah, I see your nothing and call bullshit. What happened?” Richard picked up the ball and held it hostage while he took another drink.
“It’s not important.” He dismissed the whole matter with a wave of his hand.
Richard snorted. “You know, I can stand in front of the press all day and spin the ‘they’re just good friends’ line all you want—in fact I just did. But you’re not fooling me.”
“Let’s play.” He didn’t want to discuss it, not even with Richard.
“Yeah, okay—we can play when you stop playing aloof prince.” His oldest friend bounced the ball once, then twice, but didn’t serve. “Talk to me.”
“It doesn’t matter, Richard. In a few days, we’ll have the situation sorted out and she will go back to her life and I will go back to mine.” Perhaps a ski trip—or a cabin on top of an icy remote mountain—as far from sunshine, California and Anna as he could. It would take some time to get her out of his system again, but he’d managed it once.
“Man, what are you doing?” Richard rarely fell back on slang unless he was genuinely concerned.
“I am fixing what I shouldn’t have broken.” Armand eased the pressure on his hamstring and stretched.
“So, what happened? She tell you no?”
“No.” Armand shook his head and walked over to claim another bottle of water. “She said she loved me.”
“That’s great.” Richard patted him on the back but halted when Armand gave him a baleful look. “Well, isn’t it?”
“No. Anna isn’t cut out for this life—for the responsibilities and requirements. She certainly doesn’t need to be in the line of fire. Like I said, in a few days, we’ll have it sorted out and we can all go back to our lives.” He snatched the ball out of Richard’s hand and set the water bottle down. “And that will be the end of that chapter.”
“You love her.” Richard’s words cut through Armand and he missed his serve.
“Damn it.” He blew out a breath.
“Yeah, you love her. You don’t curse. And you never miss a serve.” Richard caught the ball and bounced it against the ground, catching it. “So…what happened?”
“I love her more than my own life, but I don’t trust her.” He stared at his best friend. “She has one foot out the door. She hasn’t wanted to be here from the beginning—and if I hadn’t been an ass, she wouldn’t still be there now. And she needs to be out the door. It’s safer for her.”
“Maybe she wasn’t thrilled about seeing you again in the beginning—but I saw how she looked at you last night. I remember that look. Don’t let this go because you don’t think you deserve—”
“Enough, Richard. It’s done. I should have realized that she made the right choice all those years ago and buried it then. But I will not be a fool twice.”
“That’s the prince talking. Where’s my friend? You know, the guy who gets drunk once a year and reminisces about her?”
“He’s sober and the truth is not as attractive as the fantasy. And that’s all she can ever be.” The ache in his soul ballooned open. He wanted to trust her words; he wanted to believe that they could make it work this time—a clean, fresh start—but this wasn’t a fresh start or a particularly clean one. Old wounds infected them both and new challenges were always waiting on the horizon. He’d put her in harm’s way, close quarters and familiarity did the rest. As soon as her life went back to normal, he wouldn’t have a place in it. As it should be.
“You’re an idiot.” Richard served and they went back to the game. Thirty minutes later, Armand buttoned his shirt in the private locker room. His security always arranged for one. Richard’s membership meant he could use any he pleased, but he left Armand alone until after the shower.
“I’m going to say this to you once.” Richard sat on the edge of a bench and tied his dress shoes. He would return to his office, while Armand had to go back to the tower.
“Really? I thought we’d discussed it a few times already.” The prince spared him a look in the mirror before looping the tie around his neck.
“I talked, you didn’t listen. A man in love isn’t usually the most reasonable of people.” Richard stood and reached for his own tie. “You less than most—but you forget, my friend, I was there when she left. You kept it together for everyone, you leaned on your duty and your honor so hard. I thought you were going to forget how to be a person. She hurt you. She’s a bitch—”
“Watch your tone.” Armand’s gaze narrowed.
“Why? She’s just going to leave. Why does she deserve any kind of special treatment? Granted, she has a sweet ass but if the bitch couldn’t handle—”
Armand’s fist flew and connected with Richard’s jaw. The impact burned through his arm and his knuckles caught on fire. The attorney stumbled back two feet and bounced against the front of a locker.
Shaking his hand, Armand continued to glare. “You don’t look at her ass and you don’t call her names.”
Richard laughed and rubbed his face. “Thank you for making my point for me.”
“You’re an asshole.” Damn Richard for playing him—but he’d always known exactly what buttons to push and when to call Armand on his bullshit. It didn’t make the pill of truth any easier to swallow.
“I’m paid to be an asshole, but for you? No charge.” Stretching his jaw, he winced. “Look, you tell yourself whatever you need to in order to sleep at night. But you haven’t looked at a woman the way you look at her since she left. You haven’t done crazy, impulsive shit without her either. You have a chance to make it work now. She knows who you are—she knows what you are. Go for it. If she leaves, she leaves. But don’t make that the easy choice because you’re afraid.” Grabbing his jacket and slinging it on, Richard sighed. “Look, I have to be in court this afternoon. I’ll call you later, swing by for a drink. But think about it. You wanted this chance—you have it. Don’t piss it away because of fear.”
“Rick.” Armand stopped him at the door. “Thanks. And sorry about hitting you.”
“You’re welcome, and no, you’re not.” He grinned.
“No. No, I’m really not.” The hollow laugh felt good and he sat on the bench Richard abandoned. Alone, he stared at the three swelling knuckles on his right hand.
Richard returns in Some Like It Deadly with his own story! Releasing August 25th, now available for pre-order!