Page 43 of The Singles Game

Isabel smiled.

‘I know, I’m hopeless if it’s not made out of Drymax,’ Charlie said.

Jake looked her up and down. ‘You look great, C. I’m glad you went with it.’

Isabel nodded furiously in agreement. ‘I heard Vogue went well today. They are terrific, aren’t they? Just so professional!’

‘Yes, well, they definitely have the fashion thing down,’ Charlie said. The photo shoot earlier that day had been a surprisingly fun time – great music, cool clothes, a handsome photographer, and an entire team of people doting all over her, doing her hair and makeup and choosing jewelry and accessories, all the time telling her how beautiful she looked. What wasn’t to like? In addition to Charlie there had been a professional swimmer, golfer, and soccer player, and the spread was going to highlight how these female athletes (all attractive, all blond except for Charlie, and all with less than 10 percent body fat) looked great in their skirts/swimsuits/cleats but could shed them all for slithery bias-cut silk sheaths or beaded mermaid dresses or frothy princess gowns and look even better. The shoot had been more glamorous than most of the others Charlie had done, where she was typically posing in a tennis skirt, sneakers, sleeveless top, and wristband. Usually, the only variables were her hair (in a braid, a ponytail, or down) and whether she was holding her racket in some faux swinging motion or keeping it resting against her leg, right below her jauntily pressed-out thigh. She’d done local fashion magazines and Sports Illustrated and a cool spread in GQ, but this? A Vogue shoot meant zero spandex; heavy on the makeup and labels; super-skinny editors racing around in sky-high heels; clouds of cigarette smoke and bottles of champagne. It had felt way more like a fun afternoon at a fabulous friend’s house than another grinding work obligation.

‘So … I hate to pry – it’s none of my business, of course – but inquiring minds will want to know …’ Isabel was blushing. Poor thing. She actually did hate to pry, which was one of the reasons Charlie liked her the best. A non-prying publicist was the rarest breed of all.

‘We planned to come together tonight, yes,’ Charlie said.

Isabel tucked the front of her brunette bob behind one ear. ‘I see. So, not to put too fine a point on it, but would it be fair to say you two are … dating? Together? I’m just not sure what to tell people when they ask.’

Jake opened his mouth and Charlie could tell he was about to make some crack about yesterday’s walk of shame. She shot him a death look and turned back to Isabel. ‘You know? I don’t think we’ve defined it yet. But it’s probably fair to say we’re seeing what happens.’

‘Got it,’ Isabel said, nodding furiously. Her phone buzzed and she looked down at the screen. ‘Looks like word is already out.’ The girl held the screen up for Charlie to read. The text was from Annette Smith-Kahn, the president of the WTA, and it read: Silver/Vallejo? For real? Please say yes.

They all laughed.

‘She’s upstairs right now entertaining some of the local South Florida VIPs,’ Isabel said. ‘And I can guarantee you, she’s very, very happy about the two of you “seeing what happens.”’

‘I should probably go up and say hello,’ Charlie said. ‘Jake, come with me?’

The next two hours were happy chaos. Charlie made the rounds and chatted with a bunch of the WTA staff, players, the usual mix of Miami celebs (all the Housewives, Marc Anthony, Tiger Woods), and of course Marco. They were treated like royalty, the king and queen of the palace ball, and Charlie couldn’t deny it was the most fun she’d had at a player party, ever. Miami was historically better than most, but typically the parties included overly healthy food, loud music, local tennis groupies, and the same rotating cast of characters. Attendance was mandatory, after all, but everyone wanted to depart for the hotel for a good night’s sleep as quickly as possible. ‘Tennis players may be hot, but they sure as hell aren’t partiers,’ Piper always said whenever Charlie dragged her to another player event. But tonight, despite her nerves for her early match the next morning and the slightly overwhelming amount of attention, Charlie was having a terrific time.

‘I have asked for my car,’ Marco said, leaning in close to her. ‘Do you want to leave with me?’ They were sitting next to each other on a banquette, sharing a plate of sashimi. Charlie was drinking her usual Pellegrino; Marco had enjoyed one beer when they first arrived and then promptly switched to club soda.

‘Arriving and leaving together?’ Charlie said flirtatiously. ‘What will people think?’

‘I do not care what they think,’ he said gruffly, and Charlie could feel the flutter in her belly.

She ran through the calculations. It was already a few minutes after nine. By the time they said their good-byes and reverse-walked the red carpet and made their way back to the hotel, it would be ten o’clock. Even a quick visit to Marco’s room would take a minimum of an hour, and she knew she’d need some wind-down solo time in her own room before she’d even be able to think about sleep. Considering her match was called for nine the next morning, and she’d already requested a wake-up call at six and a backup at six-fifteen, she knew what she had to do.

‘Sorry, I’d love to. But I’m playing first tomorrow. I’m going to hitch a ride back to the hotel with my brother.’

‘Your brother? That does not sound like fun.’ His lips curled into a boyish pout and Charlie nearly leaned in to kiss him right there.

‘No, it’s definitely not. But you know what will happen if we go home together.’

Marco slid his hand between the banquette and Charlie’s thigh and squeezed just so. ‘I do know …’

She groaned. Not audibly, she hoped, although it did seem like a few of the players sitting at the next table turned to look. Just as Charlie stood to look for Jake, Natalya appeared. She was wearing Charlie’s identical Thakoon dress, only Natalya’s was a spectacular shade of fuchsia, and she must have had it altered to dip lower at the cleavage and rise higher on the thigh. Her shoes were some sparkly confection with at least five-inch heels, another player no-no: undue stress on arches and ankles from stilettos? It was unheard-of. Except for Natalya.

‘Charlotte! Is that you in there? I didn’t recognize you without the usual floral thing. How très chic we are, no? Matchy, matchy!’ Natalya trilled, her Russian accent stronger tonight than usual. She turned to Marco and all but purred, ‘Hello, darling. Looking very handsome, as always.’