Griff crouched low on the balls of his feet and rocked side to side. A single, clear bead rolled off his chin and darkened the scuffed, brick-colored surface between his shoes. He let the air out of his lungs and looked up. With a loud pop, a ball spun in his direction and dove sharply toward the ground in front of him. One jab step and an upward swing of his powerful left arm caught the fuzzy sphere at the height of its bounce and sent it screaming past the reach of a grunting, white-clad opponent.
“Nice shot, Griff.” Olivia winked at her partner as she backpedaled to the baseline to receive serve. “Haven’t played in a while, huh?”
Griff ignored the compliment. “When was the last time Nick strung this thing?” He knitted his brow and bounced the racquet strings on the heel of his hand. “Sucker plays like mush.”
“Love-fifteen.” The cultivated voice of Brock Rogers-St. John oozed across the net. “Enjoy it while it lasts, children.”
“Eat shit,” muttered Griff, toeing the chalk on the service line.
“What’s that you say?”
“Just tell your girlfriend to hit the ball.”
“Easy, Gri-iff.” Olivia said, just loud enough for her partner to hear. “Remember Ni-ick.”
Michael Griffin didn’t belong here. He didn’t want to belong here. He had crossed the gold plated threshold of the oldest and stuffiest yacht club in Connecticut only as a favor to his best friend. A combination of loyalty and a guilt trip born of an obscure drinking episode compelled him to agree to the match. Grudgingly.
“Yeah,” Griff said under his breath. “Remember Nick.”
He thought about the naked girl he’d left in his bed that morning, the effervescent coed waiting tables at the beach for the summer. He’d awoken to her face nuzzling his neck and his fingers gloved in the warm, moist crack of her ass. She caressed the round muscle of his shoulder while her lazy tongue tasted him between kisses on his chin and throat. She was way ahead of him, nipples poking his skin, crotch grinding on his thigh.
The fog of slumber lifted slowly. He drew a deep breath and twisted his hips and shoulders, smiling at the elaborate mess of electric blue hair unfurled across his chest. He probed between her pliant cheeks and found her puckered knot. She purred and pushed her knee forward, inviting his fingers to dip into the slippery heat of her sex.
He pulled her higher and they kissed, wet and noisy. Her breath carried the stale scent of sleep, and on her lips lingered the unmistakable taste of pussy. Wait. The hostess, he remembered. He tried to look around, still locked to her mouth.
She bit his lip, jolting him out of his drowse. “She left, silly. Concentrate on me.” A wiggled tail drew his fingers more deeply into her. He felt his cock begin to straighten and rise as she brushed his nipple with her thumb. Please. Hot breath in his ear. “I need you to put it in me now.”
That’s what I left, he thought, for… for what exactly? For my friend, he answered. For my fucking friend.
The leggy blonde across the net let loose a serve to Olivia’s backhand. Griff watched his partner set her feet, turn her shoulders, and with picture perfect form, send her return directly into the net. He chewed his lip.
“HAH! Fifteen all, people!” Brock pushed his tortoise shell glasses up the bridge of his nose and adjusted his wristbands.
“No worries, babe.”
Olivia was seventeen when Nick brought Griff home to meet his family. Seven years later, bouncing around on the Har-Tru surface in a clingy white dress that slid over her tanned thighs, she looked good enough to eat. That would never happen, he thought, turning around to see her lips tense and eyes narrow in concentration. She was Nick’s sister and that was that.
Nick had arranged the match more than a month earlier. He was to have teamed up with Olivia to have a friendly go at Brock and his fiancée, Sloan. He worked in the trust division of a Wall Street bank and had been cultivating the well-connected lawyer as a source of business for more than a year. The Lathams had been members of the exclusive club for generations and Nick hoped to impress the notoriously haughty blue blood.
The plan changed when Nick announced that he had injured his shoulder in a bicycle accident. That’s where his old friend came into the picture.
Griff looked up at the veranda. Three sets of enormous blades turned slowly above linen covered café tables. The edges of cocktail napkins lifted and fell, held in place by tall glass tumblers scored with icy trails. Seated in a wicker rocking chair, Nick hoisted his Long Island iced tea in a silent salute to his friend.
Griff hardened the corners of his mouth and shot Nick a lethal look. If there was one thing Griff hated more than a polite game of tennis it was losing a polite game of tennis.
He tried to remember the last time he had played. It might have been two years earlier when Nick had dragged him out for a weekend bacchanalia canlı bahis at some transitory girlfriend’s place in the Hamptons. He was pretty sure that was the last time he’d seen his racquet at any rate.
He had picked up the game in the teeming playgrounds of lower Manhattan where the Recreation Department lent prehistoric metal racquets to any kid who could produce a New York City school ID in lieu of a deposit. By the time he was thirteen he was making pin money by hustling paunch bellied accountants and off duty cops for five dollars a set on the public courts.
“SET!” cried Brock fifteen minutes later as Griff’s forehand missed long. The pairs stopped to towel off and take some water as they switched sides.
“I have to say I expected more out of you today.” Brock said, addressing Griff with a satisfied arch of his eyebrows. “Nick told us you were ranked as a junior.”
Griff slammed the cooler shut, suppressing the impulse to plunge Brock’s head into the watery ice for a friendly game of Bobbing for Gatorade. He lasered a poisonous glare at his friend, who was craning his neck on the terrace with a look of concern.
“Yeah, well, Nick talks too much.”
Brock glanced in Olivia’s direction and lowered his voice. “Well, I suggest you pick up your game if you hope to get a sniff of what lays beneath Miss Latham’s damp little tennis whites this evening.”
Griff could handle the thinly veiled condescension that had issued from Brock’s lips all afternoon, and he couldn’t care less that he was dismissed as irrelevant by the patrician asshole. He even found the lawyer’s prattle about prep school tennis championships more amusing than irritating. But the ugly remark about Olivia was a casus belli. He planted five iron fingers wide on Brock’s chest and stopped him dead in his tracks.
“You wanna run that by me again, champ?”
The color drained from Brock’s face. He swallowed hard, a forced smile pasted on his lips. “I… ah…”
“Oh, Brock doesn’t mean anything by it, Mr. Griffin,” Sloan cut in with a syrupy Charleston drawl. Her fingers touched the arm that prevented her fiancé from passing. “He has the most scandalous sense of humor.”
Tea green eyes cast a dazzling essence of light that distracted Griff. Sloan’s hand lingered long enough to gain his attention before she flashed a coy smile, and removed it from the knotted bicep. He allowed his gaze to dance over the swells beneath her featherweight top and the graceful cut of her thighs before removing his hand from her man. She pushed her blonde hair from her brow and pinched her lower lip between her teeth before following her shaken betrothed onto the court.
Sloan studied the stranger talking quietly to Olivia on the other side of the net. All she knew about the stand-in was that he had apparently achieved some small measure of celebrity playing basketball at a large university. He had befriended the incurably scrawny and devotedly un-athletic Nick during their undergraduate days. An improbable pair, she thought.
He was a specimen; that much was obvious. A complex network of lean muscle was visible beneath the microfiber shirt that clung to his sweat dampened core. His quadriceps nearly burst the seams of his shorts each time he bent a knee extending for a ball.
Olivia giggled at something Griff had said, and Sloan wondered if Brock had stumbled upon something with his crude remark. Could there be something physical between the Latham girl and the tall stranger? She scolded herself for the misplaced hint of envy.
She told herself to calm down. What she felt, the rapid heartbeat and the tight feeling low in her belly, was simply a biological reaction. The way Griff had looked at her, his obvious sexual interest, affected her the way nature had intended, nothing more. She had to admit he would make a desirable mate from a physical point of view. His dark, intelligent eyes and noble jaw line complemented a body built for speed and power. And what woman could resist wondering how much meat swung between those long, muscled thighs?
She’d only engaged in casual intercourse on a handful of occasions. Of course, that was over now. Even so, she would have enjoyed breaking this one in, she mused, never having bedded an unqualified stud. Sloan knew how to control men. If not for the small matter of her pending nuptials, she would train him to please her, yielding his exceptional body to her will. She imagined straddling his narrow hips, leaning back on her hands and grinding on his large erection.
“New balls.” Brock held up an optic yellow sphere as he prepared to serve.
But this is not the jungle, Sloan thought. While Brock may have lacked certain physical qualities, he possessed the raw material Sloan needed to shape her future. He was bright, articulate, and perfectly willing to push aside anyone in his way. The Rogers-St. Johns were the Brahmin of the legal universe, having begotten prominent jurists, scholars, and statesmen since bahis siteleri the dawn of the republic. His future was promising.
However, Brock needed a guiding hand, someone who could see three moves ahead without the opaque veil of emotion. Her family, with interests in tobacco and shipping, wielded significant power of its own. Together, she had concluded, they would get to the statehouse and beyond.
“Concentration, Sloan.” Brock tilted his head and narrowed his eyes at her as Olivia’s return skipped between them. “That was your ball.”
Sloan watched Griff move over the court effortlessly. She and Brock were winning the match but something was off. Griff was always coiled and poised for a ground stroke well ahead of even their best placed balls. When he lost a point, which he did at precise intervals, he was consistently a foot long or wide.
The match continued in predictable fashion. Their opponents played with enough skill to win, yet steadily fell behind. Sloan could see that Brock was delighted, no doubt already fashioning the story he would tell about how he had bested the all-conference star. She grew uncomfortable as he discarded his false bonhomie in favor of more biting commentary when victory appeared inevitable.
Stepping up to handle a short return, Brock fired an overhead volley directly at Olivia. She yelped as the ball caromed off her right arm.
“Game. That makes it five-two,” he said, tapping an extra ball over the net. “Your serve.”
“The fuck was that, dude?” Griff glared across the net, holding Olivia’s wounded wing in his hands. Sloan could see the ugly, scarlet mark below her elbow already beginning to swell.
“S’okay, it’s just a bruise, guys,” Olivia said with a quaver, blinking back tears. “I’ll get some ice on it when we finish.”
“It’s called tennis… dude,” Brock said, returning Griff’s stare. “And watch your language here. You’re not at home, wherever that is.”
“That’s how you like to play? Unload on a girl fifteen feet away from you?” Griff moved toward the net as Olivia tugged on his arm.
“Brock, I think you should apologize to Olivia,” said Sloan steadily, lifting her eyes toward the concerned, wrinkled faces on the veranda. “It was just a missed shot, right? Tell her.”
“Oh come off it! She said she’s fine.” Brock bit off the last word in an effort to keep his voice down. “Besides, Olivia understands. Don’t you, dear? She comes from the kind of family that knows what it takes to win. Look around this place.”
Griff stood at the net with his arms crossed, listening to the exchange. He raised his eyebrows in mock enlightenment and plastered a surprised expression on his face.
“Ohhhh… winning!” he exclaimed. “That’s what you’ve been doing for the last hour?”
He picked up his racquet and walked to the baseline.
“My serve, right?”
“Griff…” Olivia pleaded. “Forget it. I’m fine, really.”
Griff flicked his left wrist, sending the racquet spinning into the air in front of him. It rotated in a blur before the handle landed securely in his right mitt. His eyes never left Brock.
“You know, my left elbow’s been barking at me all day,” he said. “I’ll just have to try to get through this right handed.”
He tossed a ball high in the air, bent his knees, and unleashed a leaping serve that sizzled past Brock before he could react. The ball didn’t pop; it sounded like the report of a firearm. Couples on nearby courts stopped to watch.
Sloan suppressed a smile as she waved at a second service ace. So the son-of-a-bitch was playing with his off hand all this time, she marveled. She and Brock fared no better when it was again their turn to serve. She watched her increasingly desperate partner flail and lurch as if he were set upon by angry bees. He winced as Griff’s murderous ground strokes continued to zero in on him.
Part of her enjoyed seeing Brock get his comeuppance. It might actually do him some good, she thought. This was the man she would spend the rest of her life with and she was strongly attracted to his unfailing confidence, his unfaltering belief in his superiority. Still, she thought there was a valuable lesson to be learned here. Do not underestimate your enemies.
The set was tied in short order, five-five. Brock’s chest was heaving and the seat of his white shorts was covered with red clay dust.
“Why don’t we make this the final game, boys and girls?” It was Nick, standing courtside. He shifted nervously in his Tattersall vest and brown linen slacks. “Since Sloan and Brock won the first set, they’ll win the match if they take this one. If Olivia and Griff win, we’ll call it a tie. What do you say?”
The competitors looked around at each other in silence.
“C’mon, there’s a bartender in the clubhouse who’s just dying to meet you.”
“Of course, Nick,” replied Sloan, impatient at Brock’s hesitation. “That sounds like a marvelous idea.”
As canlı bahis siteleri the players moved back to their places, Sloan watched Griff. He had fixed Nick with a sideways look and one raised eyebrow. She saw Nick glance at her fiancé, who was busy wiping off a round, rust colored mark in the middle of his chest, and then back at Griff. He winked and walked away.
She understood. The game would be over in a matter of minutes. Griff had his friend’s permission to complete Brock’s thrashing. Far from being upset, Sloan appreciated the stratagem. Nick had enlisted the star athlete to feed Brock’s ego by losing to him in heroic fashion. She was certain now that the so-called bicycle injury had never occurred. If Brock hadn’t lost his composure he would have been savoring his fraudulent, two-set victory at that very moment.
Sloan didn’t mind the deception – not at all. Nor did she concern herself with the thumping her intended had been forced to endure. Served him right for his stupidity, she thought. What disappointed her was Nick’s failure to see his plan all the way through. He had allowed useless sentimentality, his brotherly instinct in this case, to keep him from accomplishing his goal. It was yet another sign of male weakness as far as she was concerned.
Brock bounced a ball three times and blew out a long preparatory breath. Across the net Griff was coiled low, shifting his weight from side to side. White teeth illuminated his broad, tanned face.
“C’mon, Princess, haven’t got all day.”
Griff sunk his hands deep into the pockets of his neatly pressed khakis and felt the price tag he had removed from his navy blazer just minutes before. The collar of his broadcloth shirt felt like a noose. How do people wear these things all day? He wondered. He took in the vast space that contained the bar.
The soaring ceiling, some thirty feet above his head, featured a celestial stained glass fresco of two-masted transoceanic racers flying upon stormy seas. The walls were covered with scale models of sailboat hulls climbing from the inlaid oak floors to the sculptured, Beaux-Arts moldings and arches overhead.
His party was standing among a grouping of sofas and wingback chairs in front of a carved sandstone fireplace. Still damp from the shower, he tucked his sandy blonde hair behind his ears and set out across an ocean of Tabriz and Kashan.
“Griff!” Olivia threw her arms around his neck and pulled herself high on the toes of her gladiator sandals. “Mmmm… you look so handsome dressed up this way. Smell nice, too.”
“Whoa… easy, Liv.”
He felt the crush of her soft breasts through the cotton dress. Not knowing where to place his hands, he looked at Nick, who just rolled his eyes. Griff refused to acknowledge the nascent surge in his loins while the fresh, firm body pressed tightly against him. Settling on her hips as a safe haven, he gently created space between them and planted a kiss on her forehead.
“Aren’t you two adorable?” Sloan approached them with liquid ease, champagne glass in hand. “How long have you been together?”
“We’re not.” Griff wrapped his arm around Olivia’s shoulder and she settled at his side. “Liv’s too smart to get mixed up with me.”
“We’re not together YET.” Olivia’s eyes twinkled up at him. “One day I’ll get my daddy to give him a sinfully extravagant dowry and he’ll just have to marry me.”
“It’s true.” Nick approached the trio with scotch in hand, trailed by a sullen Brock. “We think he’s been holding out for the place in Vail.”
“Vail?” Brock looked Griff up and down, his voice dripping with boredom. “Does he even own skis?”
Griff beheld the resplendent Mr. Rogers-St. John. He was bedecked in a burgundy striped regatta blazer over a starched white shirt and white gabardine trousers. His bow tie was an alarming collaboration of maroon and pink. And the last pair of white wingtips Griff had seen was on the feet of a seventy year old golfer whose bags he’d carried in his caddying days.
“Hey.” Griff lifted his chin at Brock. “How ya doin’ Gatsby?”
Nick cleared his throat and widened his pleading eyes at Griff. “Let’s all have a seat,” he said. “It’ll be a few minutes before our table is ready.”
“Please tell us, Mr. Griffin, what it is you do.” Sloan found her fiancé’s hand as she settled next to him on the sofa. “Nick has been so mysterious concerning your appearance today. Are you in banking as well?”
Griff looked back at Sloan. Poison, he thought. She was the apple Adam had pulled from that tree, dooming us all. Shimmering, straight blonde hair fell suggestively over the corner of one eye. Her mouth was perfect, like a remembered kiss. Pale, frosted lips were slightly parted, as if anticipating a smile.
He had observed her carefully all day. She played her part almost flawlessly, the winsome second fiddle to her virtuoso hero. Yet her bearing betrayed her; she couldn’t hide the aristocratic carriage and the discreet air of superiority. He saw it in the eyes that flashed at Brock, and the unheard utterances spoken into her hand with her head bent toward him. She possessed the most dangerous sort of ambition, he thought, the kind no one else could see.