Alarm bells went off instantly. How could Todd possibly know about Marco? Neither one of them had ever so much as flirted in public. They didn’t talk at player parties, or give more than an obligatory nod toward each other in the lounge or player dining. Charlie had told only Piper about Marco, which was low-risk from a confidentiality standpoint: having only played college tennis with Charlie, Piper was completely removed from the whole professional circuit. Instead, she was happily ensconced in a fabulous bungalow near Venice Beach with her boyfriend, who was a doctor, and her interior design company was beginning to get all the right attention. Piper was thrilled to hear the juicy details, but there was no way she would broadcast them to anyone. Charlie knew for a fact that Marco had told no one. They were never late for practices or matches. Except for that random first night in Palm Springs, they never drank or partied. Both of them took great care to keep their occasional trysts under wraps: neither wanted the attention from the media or, arguably worse, their fellow players, should the news get out. Besides, it wasn’t like they were dating. It was all very occasional. Very casual. It was what Charlie had come to expect from the kind of guys she met, and Marco was certainly no exception.
Charlie walked through the gate that Todd held open and headed straight for the seats by the umpire chair. She kicked off her flip-flops, pulled on socks, and began to methodically lace her sneakers. ‘What other reason could there be?’ she asked, trying to keep her voice light.
‘Oh, I don’t know. Maybe an extra-enthusiastic hola from a certain Spaniard?’
In her shock Charlie completely forgot to play it cool. ‘How did you know about that?’
‘Well, well. So something did happen. I hoped so, but I wasn’t sure.’ Todd’s self-satisfied smile was unsettling.
‘You hoped so? What does that mean?’ What she wanted to say was My sex life is really none of your business, but ironically she still felt like they didn’t know each other well enough to be so direct.
‘Start stretching,’ Todd said, checking his watch. ‘Dan will be here in ten minutes and I want you ready to go.’
Immediately Charlie dropped to the court and began her usual routine of hamstring and calf stretches. ‘Seriously. Why would you hope something happened with Marco?’
He began to laugh. ‘I can’t think of anything better than you and Marco as a couple. All that shiny black hair and those blue eyes and long, tanned limbs? He’s the fucking king of men’s tennis and you can be his queen. It’s like Steffi and Andre getting together, only with two gorgeous people. Tennis royalty. Just think of the magazine covers.’
‘Weren’t you the one who explicitly prohibited me from dating? Who said that if I wanted to play seriously again, I had to promise no relationships?’ Charlie had almost laughed when Todd spelled this out during their hiring negotiation: she’d been flattered he even thought a boyfriend possible. Clearly he didn’t realize what her last five years had looked like.
Todd pushed on her lower back as she folded chest to thighs and pressed both her palms into the ground. ‘Who said a damn word about relationships? I’m talking dating. Or whatever you want to call it. Showing up and leaving events together. A red carpet here and there. Some full-length feature articles on how well matched you two are.’
‘How romantic,’ Charlie said drily, although even his definition of a fake relationship sounded pretty damn great.
‘You both travel too much to maintain anything real, you know that. I know that. And Marco most definitely knows that. But smile for the cameras when you’re already in the same place, hold hands, show off those bodies, and whatever you choose to do behind closed doors is your decision. So long as it doesn’t interfere with your training. Just no sex the night before a match, okay?’
‘You want me dating Marco because it’s good for my image?’ Charlie asked, incredulous.
‘I want you dating Marco because it’s great for your image,’ Todd corrected. He checked his phone. ‘Where is that kid? He’s two minutes late.’
Charlie wanted to ask Todd if he knew about her and Marco’s history and the fact that last night wasn’t the first time, but she didn’t want to reveal anything he might not already know. Deciding to fish a little, she said, ‘Why Marco? He’s not the only good-looking top-ten player.’
Todd motioned for her to begin stretching her upper body. ‘That’s true. But he’s definitely the most high-profile. And let’s just say I had a feeling you would … how should I put this? Hit it off.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Exactly that. And I was right. A simple request to the hotel for connecting rooms, and it sounds like you two took care of the rest. Of course, that’s none of my business, but I have to say, you do look to be in good spirits this morning.’
‘You did not!’ Charlie said, almost unable to process what he had just said.
‘Oh, I sure did. Dan! Over here, you’re late!’
‘Sorry,’ Dan said, glancing at his watch. ‘It’s only a minute.’
Todd glared at him but thankfully spared them both the whole ‘If you’re not early, you’re late’ spiel, and they all took their positions: Dan and Charlie on opposing baselines, Todd at the side, holding on to the net.
‘Other side!’ Todd barked the moment they each began to bounce in place.
Charlie sighed and jogged to the sunny side of the court. Todd insisted she always practice on the side with the worst conditions – sun, wind, shadows – since she wouldn’t have the luxury of choosing during a match.
Dan hit a few easy forehands and backhands to warm her up, but within five minutes he was whacking them hard and fast. It always amazed her how a guy an inch shorter could hit the ball so much harder than she could. She was still getting used to having a hitting partner. Marcy, as an ex-pro, had always acted as both coach and practice partner, and even in her late thirties could still give Charlie a run for her money. Dan was twenty-three and had recently graduated from Duke, where he’d played first singles. At Todd’s insistence Charlie had hired Dan to travel with her, and she could definitely see her game improving from hitting against a man every day. In the couple of weeks they’d been practicing together, Charlie was already better at returning deep baseline shots.