Ebook ISBN: B01I2BS6TK
[ BBW Contemporary Romance, MF ]
As the bullying of Adele becomes worse, Oliver finds it increasingly difficult not to intervene. Especially since he doesn’t agree that she’s fat and unattractive. He thinks she’s a seriously sexy woman, and would like to get to know her better. Much better.
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As usual, Adele Blackthorne felt the weight of gazes on her as she walked from the changing room to the steps to get into the swimming pool. She was used to it by now and had learned not to react, just to carry on as though she hadn’t noticed people staring and not-so-subtly nudging each other and pointing at her.
With a polite nod to Oliver, the lifeguard, as she passed him, Adele was grateful for his much more favorable reaction. If he thought she resembled a beached whale, he hid it much better than everyone else did. The warmth in his eyes as he nodded back even looked genuine. But she had no illusions—he probably slagged her off the moment he got into the staffroom, or home, talking about the fat woman who went swimming three times a week without fail. But for now she’d pretend he didn’t. Pretend he thought she was sexy and wanted to get lost in her abundant curves. God only knew she’d like him to.
It was true, she was a big girl and she was most definitely aware of it. Ever since she’d gotten to the age where her excess weight could no longer be called puppy fat, she’d tried to do something about it. Every diet under the sun, ridiculous amounts of exercise… nothing worked. Adele had grown so depressed in her teens that she’d become bulimic. Naturally she’d lost some weight that way, but she’d also made herself so ill that she’d had to be hospitalized. It had terrified the life out of her, and ever since then she’d resolved that she’d much rather be healthy than skinny.
Which was why she visited her local leisure center three times a week. She used the gym and sauna and went swimming. And every single time she went, she’d catch someone gawping at her. But because of the years she’d spent—especially at school—being called all the names under the sun, she’d developed an incredibly thick skin. She was happy and healthy—so healthy in fact that she could probably beat all of those skinny bitches at a swimming race. Of course she never offered, never called anyone out on their rudeness and ignorance, but it made her feel better to know that she was fitter and much more polite than them.
Slipping into the fast lane, she settled her goggles carefully into position—she hated getting water in her eyes—then lifted her legs to rest the bottoms of her feet against the end of the pool. Looking at the clock on the wall that counted seconds, she waited until the hand reached the top, then pushed off from the side and launched herself into the lane. It was quiet, so she had this section of the pool to herself. Her arms cut through the water, her legs flapped wildly and she did ten laps without losing any speed. Emerging from the water, she checked the clock again and was pleased to note she’d beaten her previous time.
She was just about to start another ten laps, when she heard voices from the other side of the pool. Voices that had clearly forgotten how well they carried on water. It was as though they were right next to her.
“God, I’m surprised all the water doesn’t jump out of the pool when she gets in. And the way she swims—she’ll cause a tidal wave one of these days.”
The spiteful words were followed by a trio of sniggers, and Adele gritted her teeth. Part of her wished that she could create a bloody tidal wave, so it would sweep those bitches underwater and drown them. The other part of her tsked at the thought. Ideas like that made her just as bad as them, just as unpleasant, just as cowardly.
Because they were cowardly—the way they spoke about her behind her back proved that. If they ever passed her somewhere in the leisure center or its car park, they never said anything, not one word. They’d just scurry away as fast as they could, then titter when they thought she was out of earshot. She hoped that just one time, someone would say something to her face, so she could retaliate, speak up for herself. There was no way she’d start anything—she didn’t want to add “confrontational” to the list of faults that the mean girls had obviously compiled about her.
Sucking in a deep breath, Adele launched into another ten laps, allowing the chilly water and the exertion of powering through it to burn away her irritation. Because that was all it was—irritation. She wasn’t angry. Anger was too powerful an emotion, and one that would be totally wasted on those ignorant women. She almost felt sorry for them, actually. If they had nothing better to do than to stare at her and slag her off all the time, then they clearly had very dull lives.
The thought cheered her considerably and when she completed her twentieth lap, she laid her forearms on the edge of the pool and hoiked herself up. Her back was pressed against the side, and from there she had a perfect view of the rest of the pool. Tugging her goggles down so they hung around her neck, she had a damn good look at everyone else. The small children and their guardians in the kids’ pool right at the other end of the enormous hall, the old people who swam so slowly as they chatted that she was surprised they stayed afloat, the relentless movement of the man in the medium-speed lane and, of course, the mean girls who were in the same sort of position she was but at the side of the pool rather than the end. The side that faced the lifeguard station.
Adele narrowed her eyes and watched them—the two waif-like blondes and a brunette—as they chatted and giggled, and it seemed for a change, not about her. They’d clearly changed the subject since their previous spouting of vitriol. Their focus was very firmly on Oliver as he sat on his lofty perch, surveying the pools before him, ready to jump in should anyone get into trouble. She often toyed with the idea of faking a problem just to get him into the pool and his strong arms around her. However, she knew that although he’d undoubtedly do his duty and help her, he’d never believe such a strong swimmer would need his assistance. Then he’d lose all respect for her and probably stop hiding his disdain for her so effectively. And the polite nods and smiles she got from him were the only thing—aside from the center’s top-notch facilities—that made the place bearable. She was sure that if the three witches—a nickname she’d secretly come up with for the women—had their way, there would be a sign on the main doors to the building saying “No Fat People Allowed.”
Well, fuck them. She had as much right to be there as they did and there was no way they were going to drive her out.
She continued to watch as the three of them gazed at Oliver, batting their eyelashes and flicking their hair around. No wonder none of them wore goggles or swim hats—they’d be covering up their best flirting tools that way.
Now, though, it was Adele’s turn to snigger—albeit almost inaudibly—as she noticed the reaction they were getting from Oliver. None. Nothing at all. Nada. She had no idea whether he knew what they were doing and he was just ignoring them or whether their antics had simply not registered with him at all. Either way, they were not very happy about it, and redoubled their efforts as his gaze focused on the deep end—the end Adele was currently in.
His attention lingered in her direction, so she decided to take advantage of it and gave him a little wave and a smile. Her gestures were returned with enthusiasm, which set off a whole new wave of craziness from the three witches and a bunch of furious whispers. Adele didn’t care. In fact she was incredibly amused by the fact that Oliver was ignoring three attractive, toned women in order to pay attention to her. Now if only he meant it in a more-than-friendly way, her day would be made. But although she frequently daydreamed about him returning her affections, she wasn’t kidding herself. If by some miracle the divine Oliver Shaw was single, then he certainly wouldn’t be looking to date a size twenty, nearly forty-year-old. He was hot, with dark, almost black hair and the most amazing blue eyes she’d ever seen. That, coupled with his smokin’ body, gorgeous deep voice and cute smile, meant that if he was on the market, he’d no doubt be after someone equally sexy—to create a couple that would turn heads for all the right reasons. One of the mean girls would be much more his style.
If that was the case, why on earth did he keep glancing in her direction?
Adele decided a visit to the sauna was needed. She’d never seen any of the three witches in there, so at least if she ended up with company, it wouldn’t be one of them. She doubted anyone would be in there, though. The sauna, for some reason, seemed to attract more men than women, and the vast majority of those men visited the gym early in the morning, presumably before heading to work. It was now 1.30 p.m.—the prime time for school parties, housewives, shift workers and people who worked whatever hours they pleased. Glad she was in the latter category—she was a chef, and part-owned a local pub-restaurant—Adele pulled herself from the pool with as much grace as she could muster and left the area, head held high.
She was a big girl physically and she could certainly be the bigger woman in this silent stand-off, the most mature.
The women were still so busy gawping at Oliver that they didn’t even notice her leave.
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