Authors: Donna Kauffman
Tags: #Tennis, #Sports Industry
Only now there was nothing for her to win. And the companies who'd signed her to represent their products for the past decade were naming new faces. Fresher faces. Her window of income opportunity was rapidly shrinking and public perception could shift on a dime. Maybe she'd been shortsighted in assuming her endorsement deals would continue to finance her cash flow, but it was too late to shift gears no
w. Besides, what else was there
Two years ago, at the age of twenty-seven, retirement had been relatively imminent, but not immediate. She'd thought she'd have a few years to plan things out, to think ahead, make sure she was secure when she left the tour behind, future plans all laid out. Well, her shoulder had had other ideas. One flying lunge on the hard courts at the U.S. Open the summer before
last had changed everything. She'd landed smack down on her right shoulder, her serving shoulder, decimating the previous three repair jobs and abruptly ending her career. Not that she'd initially accepted that assessment. Or that of the surgeon who had tried his best to repair the damage one more time. It had taken nine months of grueling, heartbreaking rehabilitation before she'd finally been forced to admit that her shoulder wasn't ever going to recover to the point where she could compete on a world-class level again. The damage was too extensive.
She'd wanted it so badly, had focused so exclusively on returning, refusing to believe otherwise, she'd sort of let everything else go. Assuming, wrongly as it turned out, that she'd get it all back on track when she returned to the tour. To the only life she'd known since turning pro at sixteen years of age. And now she was on the verge of losing everything.
She looked at the small silver plate currently sitting on the second shelf in a glass trophy case that took up a fair amount of wall space on the front wall of her living room. It was the last one she'd ever earn, but it was a big one. There were four others just like it, each a smaller replica of the actual Wimbledon trophy, the Rosewater Dish, which stayed at the All England Club. With her name engraved on it five times, next to and around some of the all-time greats of the game.
All of whom probably invested their winnings,
she thought with a scowl,
and were still comfortably living off of them today.
Still clutching the phone, she turned her gaze back to the courts below and once again tried to ignore the painful pang. Not the lingering one in her shoulder. The new one, somewhere in the vicinity of her heart. "You need to handle this better, dammit," she whispered, putting voice to a fear that had been growing rapidly as one sponsor after another walked away.
Fear was not in her vocabulary.
Yet here she was, scared shitless. And not a soul to turn to.
The one thing she still had in her favor was that the world at large generally assumed she'd wi
sely invested the multimillion-
dollar fortune she'd amassed over the decade she'd spent in the pros. She'd bought this place for her twenty-third birthday and felt quite the grown-up at the time. There followed the flat in Paris, the summer house in the Hamptons, and that quaint little place outside of London that was so perfect and private when she was warming up for the grass-court season. And, of course, there were the cars. Some women collected shoes or jewelry, and they certainly had their place. But Tess was of the decided opinion that houses needed accessorizing, too. Eve
y home should have one or two flashy vehicles parked out front. Sometimes three. Matching luggage was optional. But heavily recommended.
All of it, except the property on which she stood, was now gone. She pressed her forehead against the glass. So fast. It had all happened so damn fast. If her father or her older brother Wade ever found o
She shuddered. How often had they hounded her about long-term financial security
About hiring investment counselors and bui
lding a strong stock portfolio?
But honestly, she'd made the money, why should she give it to someone else to spend for her? Spending it was half the fun. Okay, almost all of the fun. Next to actually winning it.
And her family certainly knew that when anyone tried to tell her what to do, she'd almost always do the opposite. Which made keeping a finance manager about as hard as keeping a coach. She was stubborn to a fault and a rebel to the end.
"Well, rebel," she muttered as she caught her reflection in the plate glass, "the end is currently staring you in the face. Not a real attractive picture, is it?"
Her cell phone rang just then, startling her. She didn't want to talk to anyone right at the moment. Maybe ever. She resolutely turned awa
y from the view of the courts…
and that lingering twinge of instinctive guilt she still felt because she wasn't out there right now pract
icing. There were no mor
e tournaments. No more escaping from life's more serious issues by immersing herself in a hectic tour schedule. For some it was grueling, an impossible pace to maintain without burning out. Not for Tess. For her it had always felt like her private domain, her own little kingdom, which she thoroughly enjoyed ruling. Just her and her racket.
Tennis was the love of her life. Her absolute soul mate. Whether it be hard courts, grass, or clay, standing at the base line, looking across the net at the only thing standing between her and yet another victory, was the only time she felt completely, utterly at home.
So how dare her soul mate abandon her like that?
Shopping, she decided instantly. That's what she needed, A little retail therapy. Window shopping, she amended, remembering her maxed-out credit cards. She glanced down as her cell phone continued to chirp the theme from Pink Panther and noticed the incoming number. She hurriedly flipped it open, a smile already curving her lips. There was one person in the world she always wanted to talk to, no matter what.
"Hey there, brat, what's happening? Whipping asses and taking names like your big sister taught ya?"
"Not everyone considers a tennis court a battlefield." Bobby chuckled and she immediately felt herself relax. "But aye, aye, mon
the enemy has fallen again this week."
"That's my baby brother! Where are you, anyway?" She knew exactly where he was. In London, playing the Queen's Club tournament, a tune-up for Wimbledon. Why she bothered to pretend otherwise, especially with Bobby, she didn't know. Habit at this point, she supposed. A good part of last year had been spent solely focused on trying to heal enough to get back to the game, and it had been emotionally difficult
keeping track of the tour results, knowing her ranking was sliding into oblivion as each week passed her by and everyone was accumulating points but her.
But when she'd realized last fall that her withdrawal from the tour was permanent
she'd gallivanted around the globe as if she hadn't a care in the world, as if she barely had time in her oh-so-busy life to keep track of something as mundane as tennis stats. That was
last year, after all.
But privately, she'd watched. And kept track. Still did. And it was like a dagger in her heart even now, every we
ek when the rankings came out…
and her name wasn't on the list. And wouldn't be ever again.
The outside world believed her life was a whirlwind of excitement, with offers simply pouring in. She'd read rumors of advertising campaigns, book deals in New York, Hollywood calling, begging her to consider a movie role she'd be perfect for. And she did her damnedest to let everyone think it was the truth, too.
If only. The sad thing was, that scenario was exactly what she'd expected her retired life to be all about. She'd honestly had visions of sitting back and sifting through the mountain of offers that would surely come cascading in, having the luxury of picking and choosing the best project for her. She'd be booked at least six months in advance, of course, right down to every lunch and every dinner.
Instead, she was sweating bullets day and night, praying for a solution to her money problems before the truth came
and ruined any chance she had to
life back on track.
"Actually, that's why I'm calling you," Bobby said.
Tess heard uncertainty in his tone, and immediately tensed. "W
hat happened? You're not hurt ar
e you? Does Wade or Dad know?"
He laughed again. "Jeez, you're worse than Mom was, you know that? Who'd have thought? If the world knew that beneath that tough bully exterior you were really just a big mushy marshmallow—"
Maybe she'd still have an income,
she thought morosely. "They wouldn't believe it," she told him flatly. "And I bitch because I care, Besides, you know I promised Mom I'd look after you on tour."
"Yeah, I made her the same promise about you."
"Oh?" Tess said, honestly surprised. "First I've heard of that little deal." Their mother, Cissy McNamara, a young phenom herself, had briefly been a top-ten player back in the day. She'd retired from the tour only a few years after joining it, shortly after marrying Senator Frank Hamilton and getting pregnant with Wade. With a few trophies of her own already lining the mantel, she'd happily spent her remaining years raising her three kids, watching with enormous pride as her only daughter took up where she'd left off. She'd succumbed to ovarian cancer six years ago, right as Bobby was entering college, forgoing the pro tour until after he got his degree.
Every member of her family, in their own way, still suffered from the loss. Cissy had been the center cog from which all Hamilton family members operated; the determined, grounding force that held her strong and too-independent-to-her-way-of-thinking clan together. She'd been right, as it turned out. With her gone, they'd been cast adrift, and were pretty much making it up as they went along.
If she knew the mess Tess had made of her life
well, she wouldn't be exactly shocked. She was the only one, save for Bobby, who'd really understood Tess and accepted her faults and all. Had Cissy not married and left the tour early on, chances were she'd have been the Tess of her generation. Still, Tess hated feeling like she'd let any of her family down, especially her mom.
"So," she asked, forcing a bright note into her voice, "Mom asked you to watch after me? Sort of like putting the canary in charge of the cat."
"Yeah, I know." Bobby's dry laugh lifted her spirits like nothing else could. "Like I had a hope in hell of living up to it. You're not exactly baby-sitter-able. Hell, if Wade or Dad can't keep you pinned down, what chance do I have?"
Little did he know he was probably the only one who did have any sway over her. He was the biggest soft spot she had. Of course, she wasn't going to tell him that. "She was probably just trying to make you feel more mature. Give the baby of the family some responsibility."
"Hey now, I can be responsible."
Like she hadn't a
eady gotten that earful from Wade and her father. It didn't matter that she wasn't playing anymore.
Bobby already has a financial manager
his portfolio. Bobby has kept the same coach now for eighteen months and look how his game has improved.
Yeah, she knew how responsible he was. A shame she couldn't hate him for it. "Well, I'm still gonna boss you around no matter how much bigger your portfolio is than mine."
"Actually, that's why I'm calling."
Her stomach squeezed. Had he found out? She forced a laugh. "I don't need stock tips, Bobby." She needed an income before she could worry about how to invest it. "But thanks—"
"This isn't about money."
She tried not to let him hear her major sigh of relief. "What, then? Oh, God, what'd I do now?" She'd long since learned that she didn't have to actually
anything to get blamed for something. Hell, she didn't even have to be on the same continent half the time. Trouble had a way of finding her even when she wasn't looking for it. Admittedly, this was probably because there had been a number of years when
she had been. "I swear, I haven't left the area in days. It wasn't me. I didn't do it. I've never even met him. The baby isn't mine. Whatever."
He laughed. "Relax, you didn't do anything." He paused. "This week, anyway."
"Har har. So spill it already."
"I was calling to tell you that your baby-sitting, bossy-older-sister days are numbered. Someone else has applied for the job of telling me what to do."
"Oh? What, Wade is going to be the boss of you now? This can't be true. He'd have to lighten his client load so he only has to try twice as many cases as a mere mortal. Or does Dad have an offspring we're not aware of?" She could make the joke because there was no way the "esteemed gentleman from California" had ever done, or would ever do, anything remotely untoward. The craziest thing he'd ever done was marry the little darling of tennis, Cissy McNamara, emerging phenom and party-circuit regular.
Bobby snorted. "Oh yeah, that's it. And even if aliens did inhabit his body long enough for him to do something that unlikely, Mom would prove there is such a thing as reincarnation, just so she could come back and kick his cheating, lying ass. He'd never have risked it, anyway. Think of the damage to his pristine, much vaunted political career."