Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1)

BOOK: Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1)
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Perfection is

Just an Illusion

 

 

Rebecca Barber

 

 

Perfection is Just an Illusion

 

Copyright © 2015 by Rebecca Barber.

All rights reserved.

First Print Edition: October 2015

 

 

Limitless Publishing, LLC

Kailua, HI 96734

www.limitlesspublishing.com

 

Formatting: Limitless Publishing

 

ISBN-13: 978-1-68058-300-7

ISBN-10: 1-68058-300-X

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.

 

Dedication

 

For the boy who gave me hope.

Who grew into the man who saved my life.

You’ll never know it, but thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Anna

 

They sat across from each other. He was beautiful. He was amazing. His tight black shirt accentuated every contour of his body. Every muscle was tight and defined. His mahogany coloured cargo pants and brown shoes only emphasised his immaculate taste. He had almost overwhelming deep brown eyes outlined by long, thick, black lashes. His messy blond hair fell across his face. He was the perfect combination of sensuality and masculinity.

“More wine?” he asked politely in his deep husky voice, which had held her captive the entire evening.

She nodded with a smile and raised her glass. His huge hands lifted the bottle of Chardonnay and filled her glass carefully before refilling his own. At that exact moment she looked at him and saw clearly how much of the perfect gentleman he really was. She saw what a truly beautiful person he was, both inside and out.

Between them the table lay perfectly set. The red and white linen tablecloth was lined with a row of roses and candles along the window. The sterling silver cutlery had been polished to an almost unbelievable shine. The booth they were sitting in looked out over the river. The huge old willow trees lined the banks, their leaves bending down touching the water. Coloured lights reflected off the water as the moon glistened overhead.

She wore her heavy black overcoat, even at the table after quietly declaring she was cold. All you could see of her outfit was her thick black leggings that ran up her legs under her coat and her four inch high heel black shoes. Her hair was allowed to flow freely, framing her face. It was a mass of long brown spirals that ran halfway down her back. Her deep ocean blue eyes were fixed on his. He had her completely mesmerised. She had been completely bewitched by him.

They had arrived and with the help of a very chatty and witty young hostess, had by-passed the line and been whisked away into a very private and romantic booth in the top corner of the crowded restaurant.

Now they sat chatting about anything and everything. They seemed so content just to be in each other’s company. Only the waitress taking their order interrupted them. It was not a Michelin star restaurant by any means, but it was comfortable and understated. And for them, it was perfect. After placing their order and after he had signed an autograph for the starry-eyed waitress she disappeared back into the kitchen.

“Is that your phone?” he asked as the ringing disturbed their conversation.

Shrugging apologetically, Anna pulled it from her hand bag and clicked mute. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

“Don’t be. You can answer it if you want.” He smiled genuinely.

“You sure?”

He flashed his panty-dropping smile and nodded softly.

Sighing reluctantly, she picked up her phone. “Hello?” she answered politely, flashing him a sympathetic smile.

“Hey Anna! It’s Bronwyn.”

“Oh.” Instantly Anna became intrigued as to why after all this time she was ringing. She tried to remain friendly, but it wasn’t easy. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Well, I heard you’re back in town and we’re all at the club having a drink. Why don’t you join us?” Bronwyn recited stiffly. It sounded as though she was reading directly from a prepared statement.

Instantly Anna became wary. These were the people who had treated her like she was nothing the last time they had seen her. They always treated her as though she was expendable. They made Anna feel like she was worthless and could easily be replaced or made redundant. It was a feeling and a memory Anna had put behind her long ago. Until now. Now they were inviting her back into their lives. But for how long? How long would it be before they discarded her like yesterday’s newspaper? But Anna knew now things had changed. She had changed. Once they saw her they would never do or say anything to jeopardise her friendship again. She had something too important in her life now. Something they could benefit from. And he was sitting right across from her.

“Hang on a second,” Anna covered her phone and quickly explained. All her high school friends were downstairs having a drink and they had just invited her to join them.

Quickly James flashed her a seductive smile and whispered mischievously, “Tell them you’ll be there. I will be a surprise!”

Anna turned her attention back to the phone. “Sure, yeah. We’ll be there in about half an hour. I have got to run though, so I’ll see you soon.” Anna smiled sadly at James, who had become intrigued by the people who knew his fiancée as a teenager.

“Okay. See you soon,” Bronwyn hung up.

Anna had lost her appetite and began to push her food around on her plate. Suddenly eating was the last thing on her mind.

“What’s wrong?” James’s voice was full of genuine concern. Anna knew when James sounded concerned, he really was.

“What was I thinking? I can’t let them see me looking like this! And then I show up with you! When I was in high school with these people, I was just the fat girl who spent all of her time trying to fit in, but I couldn’t,” Anna spluttered as agitation consumed her. Her mood changed dramatically. Before the phone call she had been carefree and content just to be in James’s company but now she was looking back on the past and remembering who and what she had once been. It was like the light in her eyes had been extinguished with a single phone call.

“They’re going to be absolutely amazed by you, Anna. You’re intelligent and beautiful and you have so much more confidence in yourself now than you did when I first met you. Don’t worry about them. They aren’t in your life now, I am. What they say and think doesn’t matter. Only what I say and think does. And I say screw them. You’re not in high school any more. You’re all grown up and you’re happy and it shows. Anna, you have a warmth and radiance that projects off you onto everyone around you. They’ll see that. And you know what? Even if they don’t, it’s their loss. And just think, if they say something mean, I promise I’ll sort them out for you.” James laughed, lacing his fingers through Anna’s.

He really was remarkable. The warmth from his fingers and his beautiful words made her feel better and somehow even put the smile back on her face. They finished their meal, collected their things, and headed downstairs. She was nervous not only by what they would think about her, but what was even more terrifying was the thought of what they would say about James. None of them knew. Actually no one in the country knew with the exception of their parents that they’d even been dating. And now they were engaged. In a normal relationship it wouldn’t matter. They would be shouting their joy from the rooftops, but James and Anna’s relationship was anything but normal.

Anna stepped carefully down the stairs and saw them. There they were. All of them. Sitting around the table covered in empty glasses, chatting quietly. James was right behind her, with his strong hand resting gently on her hip. Anna felt a cold shiver run straight down her spine.

“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” Anna suggested nervously, as she tried to turn and head back up the stairs.

“It is. Now, I’ll go and get us a drink and you can go say hello. Then I will be there, right next to you. I promise. You can do this.” With a quick kiss on the top of her head he left her side.

“But…but—” It was too late. James had already disappeared into the crowded room.

Slowly she made her way across to where they were all sitting. Everyone was there; Bronwyn, Daniel, Grant, Matt, Johnny, Holly, Rick, Stephanie. Grant saw her coming. He stood up and grabbed another chair before embracing her in a tight hug hello. Then after hugs and kisses from everyone, Anna pulled over another chair and sat down nervously.

“Do you want a drink, Anna? My shout,” Grant bubbled enthusiastically.

“No thanks, I’m okay. Actually, James is just getting me one.” Anna balanced nervously on the edge of her seat. Forcing her hands under her thighs, she was fighting her every impulse to cut and run.

“Who’s James?” Bronwyn pounced quickly, never one to miss the opportunity to uncover gossip. Throughout high school, Bronwyn had been the gossip queen. She had to know everyone’s business, maybe to ensure she remained popular. She knew everything about everyone, and she had the ability to either make or break them.

“When he comes over please don’t say anything stupid or act funny around him. Please. I’m begging you. He’s just a normal guy like you and me,” Anna pleaded, wide eyed.

At the mention of the ‘normal guy,’ Anna couldn’t help but notice the wide, suspicious eyes staring back at her. It was obvious her comments had had the exact opposite effect than the one she’d been after. Instead of acting natural and normal, now Anna was worried what would fall out of their mouths. And what confused her more was why. After all, they’d all known each other for years, but now, all of a sudden, Anna didn’t trust them. Not as far as she could throw them.

But in the same moment the thought crossed her mind, James edged his way around the bar towards them. Daniel was first to see and recognise him. Anna watched on, horrified, as his mouth fell open, his eyes firmly fixed on James’s approaching figure. And slowly but surely, one by one, everyone else’s gaze followed.

Anna hated her home town in that moment. And she knew James would have as well. This was why they never went anywhere or did anything. The whole bar was watching him. Every move he made was scrutinized, and as he passed by tables, Anna was disgusted to notice conversations fell short. People stopped pushing buttons on the poker machines, and even the bar attendants froze mid-pour as the entire club fell silent. But to James’s credit and Anna’s delight, he continued to walk purposefully across the room, his head held high, and took his seat next to Anna, offering her a glass of mineral water and a reassuring smile as she made introductions.

Anna had never felt so many pairs of eyes on them at once. She felt them boring into her soul. So she did something she never would have done if she had been thinking straight. It was Anna’s greatest weakness; she was rash and impulsive. And when provoked, she tended to react first and think later. So she kissed James. In the middle of the crowded room, with hundreds of eyes fixated on them, she kissed him. It worked, luckily. Shocked people returned to what they were doing, leaving Anna’s cheeks burning. She could hear their names being whispered amongst patrons, but at least the staring and deafening silence was over. She heard rumours beginning to take shape, about how she—a nobody—had just kissed the superstar swimmer.

The silence had enveloped the group, and surely everyone had noticed. But it seemed to take forever for someone to break it. Anna had never been so grateful to Grant for starting a random conversation. The topic didn’t matter. Anything to take some of the focus off Anna was all right by her. Being the centre of attention was something Anna wasn’t used to. Sure, James had to deal with it every day, but Anna had never adjusted. Soon, she wouldn’t have a choice.

Surrounded by old friends, Anna was surprised to see people she once knew silenced. Usually they spoke their minds and were brutally honest, but today they were far too quiet for Anna’s liking. She knew them, and they her. And in that moment, while they continued to make idle chit chat with the swimmer the world recognised, Anna knew they had a million questions they were dying to ask. And she was already dreading the moment she’d have to face them. She was never comfortable with answering personal questions and highly doubted she ever would be.

Desperate for a break, Anna began scouring the room for a release. Someone, anyone she could talk to just to have a break from the intense scrutiny. A few tables over, a group of people seemed to be staring at her. It took Anna few moments before she could place them. It was a group of teachers from her high school sitting there having a drink and watching the drama unfold; a show Anna was now starring in.

James tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention and bring her back out of her own head. “Where’s the bathroom?” he asked.

Anna knew as soon as he was far enough away she would be bombarded with questions. Reluctantly Anna pointed him in the right direction.

“Be right back,” James said, kissing the top of her head as he rose and moved away.

Three, two, one, showtime,
Anna thought reluctantly. Three of her old teachers were headed in her direction.
Please hurry back, James
, Anna prayed silently.

But before the questions had a chance to begin the room fell silent once again as a news update came over the television. Somewhere in the bar, someone held the remote and decided now seemed like a good time to turn the volume up. It was then that Anna heard a very familiar voice–James. They were showing his press conference from earlier this afternoon. Of course they had to show it the moment James stepped away from her side.

“Coming up tonight in the late news,” the old decrepit broadcaster began. “Olympic swimming champion and world record holder James Thompson has today announced his engagement. Although he was reluctant to give away his bride-to-be’s name, he assures us wedding preparations are well underway.” Even though the newsbreak hadn’t yet finished, all eyes turned in a choreographed move from the television screen to Anna.

“It’s you,” Grant stated in no more than a whisper yet the whole bar seemed to have heard it. Anna’s heart felt like it was about to jump out of her chest and break through her rib cage. Where the hell was James right now? All Anna could do was to put her head on the table and hope the floor would open up and swallow her.

BOOK: Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1)
12.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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