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“Lena Hunt, you’ll be my wife for a week.”
Being married to a celebrity may sound like a dream come true but it was never mine.
And it looks like my story as Mrs. Boyle is just beginning…
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I take off my shirt before heading to the edge of the pool. The breeze blows against my sweat-coated skin. The cyan surface of the water glitters under the afternoon sunlight seeping through the glass panels of the ceiling above. The smell of chlorine drifts up to my nostrils.
As I stretch the muscles of my shoulders, my thoughts wander to my childhood, when I first started swimming. Back then, I only did it because the water felt nice. Then I started doing it for other things–for records, for medals. Still, the anticipation of being in the water remains. Each time I stand at the edge of the pool, excitement ripples through my veins. It doesn’t matter if there’s no one watching, if there’s no one swimming in the next lane. It’s always been about me and the water.
I slip my goggles over my eyes and prepare to take the plunge. But my phone rings. I almost ignore it, but then I remember I’m expecting a call.
With a frown, I backtrack to the table where I’ve left my phone and my water bottle. I pick up the phone and lift my goggles over my swim cap to glance at the screen.
The call is from Mickey, my stepmother. I wasn’t expecting it to be her, but I guess I should have been. I’m sure she’s heard about what I’ve done by now.
I tap the screen and hold the phone to my ear. “Mickey.”
“Riley, please don’t tell me you’re really going to be on that stupid show.”
Her disappointment travels clearly over the line. I can imagine her with her painted eyebrows bunched up in the middle of her forehead, her crimson lips in a pout and her French manicured nails tapping on the surface nearest her. She’s probably at her book club, trying to pass herself off as smart even though she can hardly spell my name, or at Bergdorf Goodman, buying another pair of Jimmy Choo shoes that look just like the ones she already has just so she can have something new on her Instagram account to make her friends blush in envy, or at some fundraiser, donating some of my father’s money so she won’t feel so guilty about spending the rest of it.
I place my other hand on my hip. “Fine. I won’t tell you.”
“Why, you–” She stops to draw a deep breath, confirming my suspicion that she isn’t alone. When she speaks again, she sounds calmer. “Your father isn’t going to like this.”
And what he thinks is all Mickey ever cares about.
“Of course not,” I agree. When did he ever like anything I did?
“You’re just doing this to spite us, aren’t you?”
I lean on the table. “Sorry to disappoint you, Mickey, but believe it or not, I have better things to do than crush your expectations.”
“Why are you doing this, then? Hmm?”
I shrug. “For fun.”
“Also because an old friend called in a favor.”
“Fine, then. Have your fun. Just don’t forget your agreement with your father.”
Like I ever could. A man on death row does not forget the date of his upcoming execution.
“There’s still a month before my birthday. Filming for the show will be over way before then.”
“It better. I’m throwing you a grand birthday party.”
Is that what she’s worried about?
I frown. “To celebrate the beginning of the end of my life? How thoughtful.”
“Oh, grow up, Riley,” Mickey admonishes. “And while you’re at it, why don’t you grow a new pair of balls, because the ones you have seem to have withered from the chlorine.”
On that insult, she ends the call.
I let it go as I put down my phone. She may be a billionaire’s wife now, but once a bitch, always a bitch.
But man, I wish she didn’t nag so much.
I put her words behind me as I put my goggles back on. Then I jump into the pool.
As the water swallows me whole, the rest of the world melts away. All I can see is blue. All I can feel is the cold caress against my skin. As I break the surface, my arms and legs begin to move on their own, each stroke and kick propelling me forward. I lose myself to the rhythm, to the adrenaline pumping through my veins.
This is the thrill my body craves for. This is what I’ve trained it for.
My hands touch marble and I turn, increasing my speed on the second lap. My muscles burn fuel. My lungs savor every gasp of air.
When my fingertips graze the cold tiles a second time, I stop and straighten up. The soles of my feet fall flat against the bottom. For a moment, I just stand there with my shoulders rising and falling, my mouth gaping as I catch my breath. Then I pull off my goggles and my cap.