Better Than Gold – Chapter One

London, 2012

Will McLachlan hadn’t eaten junk food in about a decade, but the gold medal in his pocket said he could have a sodding hamburger. He’d waited until most of his crewmates were off getting drunk, flashing their hardware in an attempt to get laid. Winning on home soil meant they’d be heroes tonight, and Will bet they’d turn that into more than one willing lass apiece.

Even if he had been one for hook-ups, he was too old for that shit. These Games were the end of the line for him, so thank God they finished in a shower of gold.

He chuckled. Figure of speech, that. He wasn’t giving God all the credit for this one. It had been an eighteen-year slog of sacrifice and insane training. And he’d be feeling today’s race in every thirty-three-year-old muscle in his body for a week.

Carrying his tray through the nearly deserted restaurant in the athlete’s village, he inhaled the cracktastic smell of grease and settled at a table. It was a travesty that a fast-food restaurant sponsored an event celebrating excellence in sports, but for tonight, he’d indulge. The only other person nearby was a brown-haired woman in a Canadian warm-up jacket sitting three tables over. She had a pretty, heart-shaped face that looked somewhat familiar. A blissful smile tugged at her lips as she chewed methodically, eyes closed.

She took another bite and moaned. The sound vibrated straight to Will’s dick. He choked on a sip of root beer. Ow, that burns. He coughed, trying to clear the fizzy liquid from his airway.

Her eyelids flew open. She jerked her head in his direction.

He crammed a fry in his mouth, though quite frankly he couldn’t taste a thing. All his senses had shorted out the second she’d leveled her golden-hazel gaze on him.

Jesus fuck. He waved an excuse me hand. “Sorry. Don’t mind me. You sounded like you were enjoying yourself.”

She winced. “Um, yeah. Eating my feelings.”

He sent her a half-smile. “Bad day?”

“Definitely not as good as yours.” Her mouth curved down and she stared at her half-eaten burger.

He arched a brow. “Yeah?” He wasn’t going to be a wanker by agreeing. If she’d had a shitty result, he didn’t want to rub his success in her face.

“You were phenomenal,” she blurted. A charming shade of red flooded her cheeks.

His neck heated and he rubbed at his nape. “Well, thanks. But it’s a team effort.”

Picking up her tray, she crossed to his table and plunked down across from him. “My brother rows. I know how crew works. And the stroke rate you set in the final 500 was the reason your team won the race. You deserve that medal.”

He flattened his hand on the table to stop himself from rubbing his neck again. She’d thrown him, knowing his race in that detail. He grinned. “Thanks for noticing. Were you watching on the telly or something?”

She didn’t match his smile. “No. I was there.”

“Cheering on Canada?”

She shrugged.

“They have a good team. I bet most of them will be back in four years.”

“I know.” She picked up her drink and swirled it, making the ice rattle. “But I won’t.”


She reached into her pocket and dropped a bronze medal onto the table with a thunk. “This is as good as it’s going to get for me. I’m trying to convince myself that I should be happy with it. Maybe in a month or two I will be. But for now, I just keep thinking about how I didn’t run my best race yesterday.”

“That sucks.” He made a sympathetic face. Nothing worse than falling short on your goal—he’d rowed enough races to understand her disappointment only too well. He hated seeing unhappiness flicker in her eyes.

Her hazel-brown irises matched the batch of twenty-five-year whisky that his grandfather hoarded like unicorn tears. Something about the familiarity of both that golden color and her pain pulled up an urge to do something, anything, to turn her night around for her.

He liked a little romance with his sex, so stealing into one of their dormitories to rip each other’s clothes off didn’t suit.

It could suit.

Yeah, no. Any time he’d let his cock do the thinking for him, he’d ended up hurt or lonely.

But she looked hurt and lonely. Heartbroken, really.

Risking his own morning-after disappointment might be worth it to see those eyes light with pleasure rather than be shadowed in defeat.

Her mouth turned up at the corner. “It does suck. As did my media appearance today. The CBC had to feature Cam and me—big deal, siblings making the podium within a day of each other. So I pretended to be happy. You probably know what that’s like, coming up with positive sound bites when you really want to tell them to get their fucking cameras out of your face.”

He sat back in his chair. That’s who she was—Cameron Stewart’s sister. Ellie? Emily? No, Evie. A distance runner. Shite. Her brother didn’t just row, he rowed on the Canadian national team. And this morning, Will had beaten him. “I—I get that.”

She picked at her fries, separating the crisp from the soggy and nibbling at a particularly limp one. “Why aren’t you celebrating with your crew?”

“They’re busy flirting and drinking. And I feel like a bloody granddad when I’m out with them.”

“You don’t look like a granddad.” There was that rosiness again, marking her neck and cheeks. She got a what-do-I-have-to-lose look on her face. “And I’m betting you know how to flirt and drink.”

“A wee bit.” He reached across the table and ran his thumb down her wrist. Her muscles twitched under his touch. Luck’s on your side today. Go for it. He wove his fingers in hers. “But I’m out of practice.”

She glanced down at their linked hands. “I think you’ve got flirting taken care of.”

“Join me for a drink and I’ll be two for two.”

The corner of her lips twitched. And that felt like almost as much of a win as his golden race.

Christ. The craving to turn that hint of a smile into a full grin consumed his gut. He was nothing if not a competitor, and with his racing career over, he had nothing but time.




What was that movie line, “He had me at hello?” Well, Will McLachlan had Evie at, “Sorry, don’t mind me.” Let’s be real—he could have anything he wanted as long as it was accompanied by that resolve-melting, lilting accent.

In fact, later tonight, she was pretty sure he was going to have her in his bed. Naked.

Like most of the guys at the Games, he was built and too delicious for his own good. He could probably snap his fingers and a dozen pairs of panties would land at his feet.

Evie wasn’t in the mood to be predictable.

She wanted to see if she could make him drop his underwear—shorty boxer-briefs, she was betting—on her command.

One glorious night to make up for the Dumpster fire of the past twenty-four hours. Tonight was about forgetting that a lifetime of training had culminated in four minutes and eleven-point-five shittily run seconds. About enjoying the spark of lust with a guy with the body of a god. About not thinking about tomorrow or the next day, or the closing ceremonies, or heading home to a lifetime of paying off what she owed for the chance to earn a fucking bronze medal.

Honestly, if she showed up for the closing ceremonies without having had a fling with a hot athlete from a rival country, she’d probably have that fucking bronze medal yanked.

And focusing on a pair of eyes as green as one of the Scottish lochs Will had no doubt cut his rowing teeth on sounded way more fun than dwelling on the reality of boarding a plane for Vancouver having done less than her best.

He ran his thumb over the fleshy mound at the bottom of her thumb, and her mouth dried up. Jesus. He was too fucking potent. Pecs so cut they cast shadows on his Team GB T-shirt. Sun-streaked hair curled over his ears. An earnest glint in his eye suggested he was one of the good ones.

Not that she needed to worry about his non-physical attributes much—if this was going to be anything, it would be a one-night deal. Time to focus on his pretty factor.

“This can’t be the best food London has to offer,” she speculated. “I want something memorable. If you were taking a girl out for a classic, pub experience—like, you walk in the door, and the fire’s blazing and the pints are flowing, and you have no idea what decade you’re in—where would you go?”


“Yeah, hypothetically.”

The combination of satisfaction and anticipation that lit his eyes stole the breath from her lungs. “I deal better in reality. If you want the answer to your question, you’ll have to come with.”

Talk about an irresistible invitation.

She nodded, a shiver of excitement, of doing something illicit, running up her spine.

Sure, they were allowed to leave the athletes’ village. She’d been jealous of all her teammates with early scheduled races who’d been touring around London for the last week. But still, when he took her hand and led her toward the nearest Underground station, it felt like sneaking out.

Will kept Evie equal parts riveted and laughing for the twenty-minute tube ride, sharing exploits of training with his crew and being a professional student. He’d accumulated a Ph.D. in Political Science along with his gold medal, and she wasn’t sure which accomplishment impressed her more. But it was when he started talking about his family that she flopped against the train seat in a daze.

“Sorry, your grandfather’s a what?”

His neck flushed. God, that was cute. So easy to tell when he was embarrassed. “He’s a distillery owner.”

“No, not that part. You called him ‘the earl’—he’s in the House of Lords?”

“If you want to get technical about it. Come on, this is our stop.” He tugged her hand, the one he hadn’t let go of since they snuck out of the athletes’ village.

Her earlier excitement thrilled through her again as she followed him down an escalator and into a quiet London borough. Dim lighting and quintessential row houses stretched lazily down a curved street. No hint of the mad energy that swirled through the Olympic village and the venues. A five-minute walk, marked by the kind of comfortable silence that usually took months to develop, had them approaching the entrance to a tiled underpass running beneath a major highway.

He squeezed her hand and his eyes glinted. “Race you?”

She dropped his hand and shook out her limbs. “Your winning ways are coming to an end, golden boy.”

“We’ll see.”

“The only thing you’re going to see is my back running away from you.”

“I’ve had worse views, Evie.”

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