Billionaire Boss's Secret BabyBy: Brittney Brooke,Jessica Brooke
“Hey, Mila, don’t throw it so hard. You know I’m a shitty swimmer,” Claire squeals as the Nerf football flies past her outflung hand and splashes behind her.
I laugh as I tread water, my long brunette curls fanning out around my shoulders like a bundle of water snakes. “Don’t be such a wimp, Claire. Put some effort into it,” I shout back.
“I’ll give you effort,” Claire puffs out as she lunges for the ball where it bobs in the choppy water a meter or so beyond her reach. “But I’m saving it for the office. My strength is better spent dreaming up the next brilliant design for a client, not horsing around in salt water.” At last, her fingers close around the spongy orb, and she hurls it back at me in a single motion.
I catch it inches in front of my face. “I agree. You’re not winning any quarterback awards with an arm like that,” I tease.
“Oh, get over yourself,” Claire says with a grumble, spitting water in all directions. “I’m an artist, not an NFL hopeful. And I’m not part fish, either, like you.” She turns and paddles her way toward shore. “If we stay in here much longer I swear I’m going to grow scales. I’m going to dry off and bag the last rays of this magnificent Australian sunshine.”
“Landlubber!” I call after her, tossing the football into the air and flipping onto my back to kick it with my foot as it comes down. The last rays, indeed. We’ve been on vacation in Australia nearly two weeks, and I can’t believe our time is almost over. In a few days, it will be back to the grind for both of us at our design office in New York City.
I bounce the ball off the top of my foot and punt it back into the air. I watch Claire’s slim figure emerge from the waters of the Pacific Ocean and stride onto the sand of the world-famous Bondi Beach, her skimpy, neon-orange bikini clinging tightly to her wet skin. Every man on the beach is gawking at her, including the tanned, blond hottie who turns his head in her direction from his perch atop his lifeguard tower.
Damn my best friend and her traffic-stopping bod. I’m not jealous, exactly; Claire and I have known each other forever, but I did wish my own physical roadmap was a little straighter and a little less hairpin curves. Standing side by side, I was the hourglass, while Claire was the swinging pendulum. And she had a set of cans even a porn star would envy. I have great tits, too, but not the Barbie doll waist and legs to go along with them like Claire. Maybe the hunky lifeguard liked a girl with a little more meat on her bones and afro-esque curly hair. Will he stare at me the same way when I stride onto the beach from the watery depths? I wonder.
While I love the ocean and Claire the terra-firma, both of us are artists at heart. Right out of college, Claire and I started our own graphics and interior design business called Church & Strait—a melding of our surnames, Mila Churchwood and Claire Strait. It had been a financial stretch to set up shop in the heart of New York City, but to attract the kind of clientele we wanted, New York was a no-brainer. We’d worked hard, and this little holiday down under was our self-imposed reward; and for me, a much-needed balm to soothe away the pain of losing my mother. It’s been a year, but I’m still coming to grips with the fact I am now officially an orphan.
The Nerf ball hits me on the head and splashes down in front of my face. I wince as saltwater lands in my eyes, and I squeeze them shut on reflex. Upon opening them, I see the ball drifting out of reach on a receding wave. My eyes still sting, but I move toward it, determined not to let it escape out to sea. I paddle over the swells, but the ball maddeningly seems to move farther away from me with each stroke.
I kick against the pull of the waves, suddenly realizing how much stronger the undertow is, just these few yards out from where Claire and I had frolicked earlier. I know I should start back to shore, but the ball starts moving toward me on a big swell, so I stop swimming to let it come to me. The swell becomes a dark wall of water as it rises, my little ball caught in its grip. I turn and swim away from it, realizing that if I can catch the wave just right as it breaks, I can body surf into shore like a pro. Maybe that will impress the nice-looking lifeguard?
I feel my body rising with the tide, and I stroke harder to keep speed with it. It’s stronger and faster than I thought, and instead of being lifted into the crest of the wave, the watery wall engulfs me with a fury, pitching me forward into a crazy somersault. Underwater, I struggle to regain control over myself, the surreal quiet of the ocean surrounding me, filling my ears. I lose my sense of direction, not knowing which way is up or down. I can’t feel the sand beneath my feet; I don’t know how deep I am. I’ve never known panic in the water before, but it’s introduced itself now. I need air. I need to get to the surface.