An athlete on the verge of greatness.
A woman who hit the lowest point in her life and fought her way back to the top.
Twenty four year-old Kieran Stone, the country’s number 1 swimmer, has loved one woman all his life – only to have that love unreturned. He has resigned himself to the reality that when it comes to love, he will never be someone’s first choice.
Twenty three year-old Brynn Tanner, sister to the country’s number 2 swimmer Milo Tanner, has emerged from her own battle and won the fight. But to Milo, she remains his little sister.
Here’s the thing about fate – it can be a cruel master.
When Kieran and Brynn are brought together by an unlikely circumstance, it sparks an attraction that neither of them are prepared for, but neither of them can control.
Three fragile hearts. Two fierce rivals. One woman forced to make a choice.
How do you choose between the one you would fight for and the one you once lived for?
Holiday Shopping with Kieran and Brynn
“Honey we could have ordered everything online and just have them delivered to us…” For the fifth time, I stated my case, “Now we’re stuck in these long lines.”
Brynn ignored my diatribe. She’s been ignoring me for the past half hour.
She kept circling the store, comparing her coupons (she called them deals) to the items on the shelves, the walls, and basically, everything inside in this awful mess of a place.
I’ve been carrying this tiny shopping basket and so far, she’s only put three things inside it. For the past hour and a half.
Okay maybe I’m exaggerating. It sure felt like it though.
A tiny squeal left her mouth as she stopped in front of the baking display aisle and bent down.
Oh dang, her ass looked mighty fine in those super skinny jeans she’s started wearing – Ava’s influence no doubt.
“This is it Kieran!” she exclaimed, “We’ve hit the motherload!”
Hallelujah. Now we can leave.
She was holding the stainless steel whisk and ladle…Hold on, we woke up early this morning for a bunch of whisks and ladles? What the hell?
“We’re here for those?”
She pursed her lips, raised an eyebrow, and zoomed her ocean-colored gaze on me, “Well Mr. Stone, I did not say you had to be here with me. As a matter of fact, I tried to dissuade you into coming with me. It’s you who insisted and kept saying, ‘It’s okay honey. I’ll brave those mad shoppers for you.’”
Crossing her arms over the green coat she was wearing, the precious whisks hanging awkwardly on the side, she added, “If you keep complaining, go back in the car. Get some sleep and I’ll be there as soon as I’m done.” Looking at the diamond wrist watch I’d given her for her birthday, “By soon I mean in about three more hours.”
Without waiting for my response, she placed three sets of the whisk and ladle inside the shopping basket, turned her back from me, and walked away.
Dang. Now I’m in the doghouse.
She’d wanted me to stay home but I didn’t want her shopping alone during the craziest shopping days of the year. Her best friend Ava was in Moscow. They usually went Christmas shopping together. I’ve seen Brynn looking at the computer numerous times in the past weeks and writing notes on her phone on what she wanted to shop for.
“Is that you Kieran Stone?” A woman almost screamed behind me. I looked around and gave her a smile. She put her phone up and took a picture of me. She was joined by teeny-boppers, ladies who looked like they’d slapped on a tub-full of makeup this early in the morning, and some guys who were probably their husbands or significant others. Guys who were dragged to this shopping frenzy like me. Well, fine, Brynn didn’t drag me. I had insisted.
In a matter of minutes, a small crowd had gathered in a circle around me. I signed my name on the slips of paper, napkins, but politely refused to put ink on what looked like a used tissue. I felt slightly agitated and distracted because Brynn had walked away from me and I really should be apologizing to her right now. I’d hate for her to go wandering out and about without me, when I had promised her that I’d do this with her.
I loved what I do. Swimming. Collecting medals. But there’s a part of it that I constantly struggled with – fame.
I’m happy that I can inspire people to reach their dreams, achieve their full potential. And I have no problem signing my name if it made them happy.
But when the press started glorifying me, projecting my image into something akin to the legends of the sport, I found myself retreating from the spotlight.
I measured success by my own standards. My own records against my own time. If it happened to be that I surpass precedent records, then that’s great.
I’m not a legend. Not yet.
As the crowd around me grew larger, a small hand clasped on my left arm. It’s the hand I knew by heart. A hand I cherished with everything I have.
“I’m here.” She whispered against my left ear, her vanilla scent assailing my senses.
Amid the huge crowd that has yet to thin out, she’s the person who could block it all out for me. Outside of the water, she’s my calm.
The thing with Brynn is that she just knows when to be there for me. I didn’t have to call or look for her, she’s just there when I need her the most. I could sign hundreds even thousands of autographs if I knew she was here safely by my side.
I paused signing, catching a glimpse of the security personnel hovering in the back, most likely ensuring that everything was okay. Tucking the small shopping basket on my right elbow, I tugged on her waist, pulling her closer on my side. I kissed the top of her head and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
She tilted her head up, love and understanding shimmering in her blue eyes, “I know.”
The holiday music was playing inside the store, slightly muted by the buzzing of the crowd around us. I acknowledged the gracious thanks from young and old alike as I signed autographs. Now and again, I eyed Brynn on my side, she was laughing, smiling, and talking to my fans like they’ve been friends forever. I even heard some of the women comparing recipes with her.
The store manager came out to greet us and helped move the crowd to the corner of the store so as not to cause further disruptions to the flow of shopping inside the store.
When the crowd had thinned to five people, a little boy wearing a blue USA Swimming t-shirt asked me to pose for a picture with him. I moved to the side and bent down so I could be at his level.
“When I grow up I want to be like you.” his brown eyes reflected admiration, his tiny hands lifting in the air, asking for a hug.
His mom, who was carrying two big shopping bags, chimed in, “You’re his hero. He watches the Olympics because of you.”
Hugging him back, I said, “I’m gonna let you in a little secret, buddy.”
His ears perking up, he whispered, “What?”
“You do your best in everything that you do and make your mom happy.” I stated, mussing his hair a bit. “That’s the key to winning.”
“Yep.” I replied. “And of course, you gotta practice a lot.”
“Of course duh.” He high-fived me and left jumping happily in his mother’s hold.
After the last of the crowd left, Brynn pointed to a spot in the store. “The mistletoes are over there.”
Grinning, I said, “You wanting a kiss honey?”
She leaned closer to me, standing taller, her loose blonde hair brighter against the dark green coat, “I don’t need an excuse, a mistletoe, to kiss you.”
She pressed her mouth closer to mine, giving me a slight peck, fully aware that while we both wanted to do more, we were outside, in public.
“I love you.” I said against the brush of her lips.
“I love you too.”
It didn’t matter how many times I’ve heard those words coming out of her mouth. Each time felt special, just as meaningful as the first time she’s said them.
She loved me for me. There was no doubt about it. All facets of me. The athlete, the man, the sometimes annoying, impatient boyfriend.
I loved her for her. Every side of her.
The generous nurse.
The obsessive baker.
The amazing woman, survivor.
And one day, maybe someday soon, she will be, Brynn Marie Stone – my wife.