Together they lifted the shell free and lowered it right side up into the waiting cradle. As Becca checked the rigging, she said, "You told Freddie."
Milo shrugged. "Was it a state secret, then, your rowing?" "I see you haven't lost your talent for sarcasm," she countered, although for Milo, who used sarcasm the way other coaches might use a battering ram, the comment had been mild enough.
"He was concerned, and I can't say I blame him. You can't keep on this way. Not," he added before she could draw breath for a heated protest, "if you want a chance of a place in the semis, much less at winning."
"What?" Glancing up in surprise, she saw that he was no longer frowning, but regarding her speculatively.
"In spite of what everyone says," Milo went on, "I think it's possible that you can win in the trials, maybe even in the Games. You were one of the best rowers I've ever seen, once. It wouldn't be the first time a rower your age has made a comeback. But you can't keep up this half-arsed business. Rowing after work and on weekends, doing weights and the erg in your cottage - oh, I know about that. Did you think a few beers would buy you silence in a place this incestuous?" He grinned, then sobered. "You're going to have to make a decision, Becca. If you're going to do this, you'll have to give up everything else. It will be the hardest thing you've ever done, but I think you're just bloody-minded enough to succeed."
It was the first time that anyone had given her the least bit of encouragement, and from Milo it meant more than from anyone else. Her throat tight, she managed to say, "I'll - I'll think about it." Then she nodded at the shell, and together they hefted the boat above their heads, maneuvering it through the narrow gate, and gently set it into the water beside the launch raft.
She slipped off her shoes, tossing them to one side of the raft. Then she retrieved her oars, and in one fluid movement she balanced them across the center of the shell while lowering herself into the sliding seat.
The shell rocked precariously as it took her weight. The movement reminded her, as it always did, that she sat backwards on a sliver of carbon fiber narrower than her body, inches above the water, and that only her skill and determination kept her fragile craft from the river's dark grasp.
But fear was good. It made her strong and careful. She slipped the oars into the locks and tightened the gates. Then, with the bowside oar resting on the raft and the strokeside oar balanced flat on the water, she slipped her feet into the trainers attached to the footboard and closed the Velcro fasteners.
"I'll wait for you," offered Milo. "Help you put the boat up."
Becca shook her head. "I can manage. I've got my key." She felt the slight weight of the lanyard against her chest. "But, Milo..." She hesitated. "Thanks."
"I'll leave the lights on, then," he said as she pushed away from the raft. "Have a good row."
But she was moving now, letting the current take the shell out into the river's center, and his words barely registered.
The world seemed to fall away as she settled into a warm-up rhythm, working the kinks out of her shoulders and the stiffness from her thighs. The wind bathed her face as it blew steadily downriver. Between the wind and the current, she would have the advantage - at least until she made the turn round Temple Island, and then she would have both wind and current against her as she rowed back upriver.
Her strokes grew longer, deeper, as she watched the arched golden lights of Henley Bridge recede in the distance. She was moving backwards, as rowers did, judging the river by instinct, and she might have been moving backwards in time as well. For an instant she was the girl who had seen an Olympic gold medal within her reach. The girl who had let it slip away.
Excerpted from No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie. Copyright © 2012 by Deborah Crombie. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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