Главная Fool Me Twice
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It is a very Wattpad-esque book, with predictable twists and endings. The POV change is easy to miss, and the main male character is a stereotypical male obsessed with sex and football, while she is Not Like Other Girls, for she drinks straight whiskey and is a "no-nonsense woman" which she had the urge to remind us every few pages. A cute book to kill time. It's not tough to read, but it is a bit painful. Overall.. it's okay. I hated it.
10 February 2021 (23:48)
This book is amazing. A mix of conflict, heartbreak and redemption! The characters are well developed and wonderfully written. I didn’t want this book to end!!
16 June 2021 (04:48)
it was a pretty fun book. i wouldn't say that it was particularly amazing, mainly due to the fact that it was rather predictable. as an avid wattpad reader, i think that it was pretty good in that sense.
27 October 2021 (08:34)
I liked the easygoing story
24 June 2022 (20:07)
FOOL ME TWICE CARRIE AARONS Copyright © 2020 by Carrie Aarons All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Editing done by Proofing Style. Cover designed by Okay Creations. Do you want your FREE Carrie Aarons eBook? All you have to do is sign up for my newsletter, and you’ll immediately receive your free book! CONTENTS Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Epilogue Do you want a free book? Also by Carrie Aarons About the Author Prologue Henley She had picked a light blue dress. Normally, if you’re being laid to rest, the family opts for black. Normally, the outfit would be reserved and bland, something that wouldn’t draw attention to the fake color in your cheeks … or be ruined as you were lowered into the earth. But, I guess normally, one wouldn’t actually pick out their own funeral attire at the age of eighteen. That was Catherine though, always wanting to be prepared. I remember the day she picked it, that she made me go online shopping from her hospital bed. It was morbid and made me want to vomit, but the first dress she pulled up was one meant to make me laugh. The dress was skin-tight and leopard print, and wouldn’t have cover; ed her ass cheeks. It looked like something one of those reality TV skanks would wear at a jungle-themed party. It did the trick though, broke the ice as I began cackling into Catherine’s bald skull. After that, I insisted on finding the perfect dress for her to wear when we said our final goodbye. And dammit, we had found it. My best friend laid in her casket, two days over the age of eighteen. Someone, I think her mom, had picked the perfect shade of blond wig to memorialize her with. She’d lost all of her hair during chemo, but right now, as I looked at her, she looked like the old Catherine. The one I met at dance class when we were four. The little girl I had my first sleepover with and was my first call when my parents finally caved and let me get a cell phone at the age of thirteen. Catherine was the one I cried to when my first boyfriend broke up with me, and I was there for her when her parents got divorced a year into her first recurrence. She knew me better than anyone, and I her. And now she was gone. I’m so goddamn mad, so heartbroken, that I could just about slap her right now. How dare she leave me? And how dare she pick a dress so beautiful, it only makes the jagged edges of my heart crack more. The dress is the color of the ocean off some enchanted, exotic island. So blue and crystalline that it’s almost translucent. It’s more of a prom dress than something a person should be buried in, but I guess since Catherine didn’t get to go to her prom, it’s only fitting. The cap sleeves are made of lace, and the A-line skirt is laid right down to her simple gold flats that I know are under the casket lid, because I helped pick those out too. If I pretend, it can almost be like she’s Snow White, waiting for true love’s kiss to wake her up. If only that was possible. You think you’re prepared for it … the death of someone you love. But you can’t know. You can’t know the kind of dagger, the dull kind inserted slowly into the muscle that the world views as the symbol of love. It rips apart every piece of flesh, every nerve, every vessel, every synapse. I thought I was prepared, I thought I could take the weight of Catherine’s death, but as I stand here, looking at my best friend in the hours before I never see her face again, I want to ruin something with my bare hands. Tear down the world, scream at God. There is no reason for this, none at all. Who the hell decided a bright, gorgeous, hilarious teenage girl should be taken from the world at an age like this? Who said I can survive without her? I’m stalled, standing here in front of her too long. I can feel the eyes on me, the sympathetic ones, the reproachful ones, the pairs from my parents and Catherine’s that are watching my every move, waiting for me to explode. The list is in my pocket; I made sure to stuff it deep down into the lining of the beige pea coat that falls past my knees. Even though it’s a cloudless May day and we’re in the church, the one we made our first holy communions at together, I’m freezing. My bones are frigid, rattling together like they’ll never get warm again. My fingertip rubs against the worn paper. The ruler-sized notebook paper with three hole punches that Catherine ripped out of one of her school binders last year. She’d written the list in her scrawled cursive only a week after the doctor delivered the news that her cancer was back for a third time. We knew then, what little time we might have. So my best friend wrote a bucket list: 1. Go skinny dipping 2. Travel to Paris 3. Complete the local hot wing challenge 4. Road trip to the ocean 5. Send out a message in a bottle 6. Dye my hair 7. Have sex 8. Camp out in a tent 9. Go bungee jumping 10. Get revenge on Lincoln Kolb We crossed off a bunch before Catherine got too sick, and the trip to Paris was done with her parents as one last goodbye trip. I think they knew that this time would be the last as well. The night before she died, she called me into her hospice room and I laid down on the bed, pressing my cheek to hers. Without saying anything, she handed me the list. I knew what she wanted me to do. So now, as I bend down to place one last final kiss on her forehead, I rub my fingers over the notebook paper. This summer will be dedicated to crossing items six through nine off of Catherine’s bucket list. And when the first semester of my college career starts in August, so will the plan to take down the one guy who broke my best friend’s heart. 1 Lincoln Three Months Later “Fuck, it’s a fantastic morning to be a fantastic stud.” I snicker at the statement as my sneakers pound across the pavement. My best friend, Janssen, isn’t wrong, it’s a fucking beautiful day. The perfect kind of scene for the first day of a college semester; bright, with sunshine streaming through every tree leaf and the smell of fresh-cut grass stinging our nostrils as we jog a brief five miles through campus. Warchester University, the place I’ve dreamed of attending college since I could throw a damn spiral. They have the top football program in the state of North Carolina, division one, and last year they played in a championship bowl game. I’ve idolized the players who’ve run these paths, played in the stadium, and gone on to national league fame. And now, it’s my turn. Lincoln Kolb, national champion quarterback of the Warchester Bulldogs. Can’t you just see it now? “It is. But who said you’re the stud?” Derrick asks, his breath coming out as if he’s merely sitting on the couch. I’m not out of shape by any means, but we’re on mile four and I fucking hate running. It’s why I’m a quarterback. I run short distances, and my arm is the one that makes me the big bucks. Well, not yet, I guess. And not that I care about the money. I’d throw a football for a living if you paid me in pizza, which isn’t a bad deal now that I think about it. But I’ve been working on my endurance this summer, gearing up to fight for my spot as QB number one. The senior currently occupying the position isn’t declaring for the draft, and although he’s won Warchester a bowl game, he’s just okay. Me? I’ve been written about for years as the second coming of Peyton Manning. That job is mine, and I don’t care who I have to defeat to get it. “Chill, gentlemen, there can be two studs.” I hold up my palm, glad that my fitness watch dings with a notification that our run is almost over. “Meaning, not three?” Janssen pouts. I shake my head, the bun I tied up at the top of my skull bouncing, our pace intensifying as we reach the last leg and hook a right onto the main path through campus. “Nah, you two can be the studs. I’m the big fucking man on campus.” My smile stretches across my entire face as I hold my biceps up in a flexing position, showing off as we encounter more students. I notice the way their eyes stick to me, both men and women, and I don’t shy away from it. Being the center of attention has always been one of my favorite past times. “You’re a dick.” Derrick smacks my arm, causing it to falter from its position in the gun show right now. Janssen, who is one of the cornerbacks, runs to the right of me while Derrick, the starting tight end on the university team, runs to the left. We’ve been doing this run on weekday mornings for a month straight, ever since pre-season began, and now that the campus is filling up with other students, it’s a bit harder. Because … distractions, man. As we coast to a walk in the quad, I can’t help but let my eyes linger over all of that exposed flesh. Freshman girls, upper-class girls, tan, skinny, curvy, short, tall … all of these gorgeous co-eds sunning themselves and goddamn, it’s a fantastic day to be a fantastic stud. See, a lot of people view me as this cocky, arrogant asshole. Like I walk around with big dick energy and spit words that way too. I probably do. But if you’d seen half of what I have in my life, you would be the same way. I don’t take one day for granted. I don’t leave any opportunity to be selfish, or take what I want, on the table. I don’t hesitate to use a pickup line, ogle sexy girls, have another beer, go another round in bed, or to throw a fucking sweet Hail Mary pass. You never know if you’ll be breathing in the next second after this one. Which is why I take every chance those precious seconds give me. “So, which group are we going to hook up with first?” Janssen rubs his hands together. We’ve been living in the empty dorms for a month now, no girls in sight, and we’re all horny bastards right about now. We’ve had our time to get the lay of the land, sneak our way into the best bars, and check out the coolest houses off campus. Now it’s time to solidify ourselves. I wasn’t joking about the big man on campus thing … I’m fucking ready to own that title. “Them,” Derrick says before I can answer. He nods his chin in a typical bro salute to the group of four blondes in tiny-ass bikinis. I groan as one flips over, the thong of her bottoms inching farther up those beautiful round cheeks. My cock twitches in my pants, and good lord these girls are smoking. God, I need to get laid. It’s not healthy for a man to abstain for an entire month, much less an entire day. But just as I’m about to head over there to chat them up, my phone vibrates in my pocket. Pulling it out as Janssen hands me a water bottle he must have gotten from someone, I unlock the screen. It’s a text from my dad, something about another hearing date. My smile falls as I read it, knowing that there is even more shit to come in the next couple of months. My parents have been trying to adopt my cousins from my mother’s sister for almost a year. Aunt Cheryl has never been the greatest mother in the world, but about two years ago she started dating her drug dealer boyfriend and the situation got too dangerous for the kids to stay. Now, the prick is trying to convince her to take them back, probably so he can use them or manipulate Cheryl more. Tyla, my four-year-old cousin who loves Peppa Pig and unicorns, and Brant, an eight-year-old with the same penchant for football I had at that age, belong with us. Growing up, it was just my brother, Chase, and I. He’s six years older than me, and lives in Chicago now, but we’re still close. Our extended family was small, so when Tyla and Brant came along, it was like having more siblings in the mix. Except, they were younger and hung all over us and we freaking love them more than ourselves. I would never put them in harm’s way, and fire burns through my veins every time I think about what a shit parent my aunt is. Who would actively put their children in a dangerous situation? Who would pull them from a safe, loving home because of their own selfish reasons. It makes me want to spit nails. But I can’t worry about that now. The best way to show up for them is to play my hardest, study my hardest, and have a lot of fucking fun in between. Making it out of Warchester as the number one draft pick, and then signing a major rookie contract, is my number one goal. That’s how I provide a better future for them. If this court case drags out, my parents will need the money, and I’ll do whatever it takes to help them adopt my cousins. “Bro, keep up. We need to invite at least half of the girls on this lawn to our party tomorrow night.” Derrick raises an eyebrow to me like I’m stalling. Shaking my head to clear the thoughts, I slap a big grin on my face. “Oh, hell yes.” I’ll have a knockout practice today, solidify my spot as the game one starter, and then get hammered tomorrow night, and hopefully fall into bed with one of these hotties. Goddamn, this year is going to be fucking awesome. 2 Henley Look at him, strutting through campus like he’s got his dick in his hand, and every girl wants a taste. Jesus Christ, he’s preening more than a world-class peacock. I pull my sunglasses down to the bridge of my nose, peering over them as Lincoln Kolb swaggers his way through the Warchester Campus quad. There are two other bros flanking him, big beefy guys who wear the same smug, shit-eating grins as their leader. How the guy is already a legend, by the way guys fist bump him and girls fawn as he walks by, escapes me. It’s like that scene in Beauty and the Beast when Gaston sweeps into town. All of his idiotic, adoring fans practically crawl on their knees in his wake. Only this time, Lincoln Kolb may be their god, but I’m here to bring him crashing back down to earth. Warchester University is the typical idyllic college setting. Perfectly green grass, massive oaks shading the exact right portion of brick and ivy-covered buildings. Benches, donated by each graduating class since the late eighteen eighties, lining the quad that is filled with students. It has its various clubs you can join, fraternities and sororities to pledge, and majors that vary from early childhood education to sports marketing. The weather is balmy for the end of summer in North Carolina, and there are more than a dozen girls in bikinis sunning themselves as Lincoln and his goonies leer over them. Warchester wasn’t my first choice. Wasn’t even my second. I had my sights set on a liberal arts college in the middle of New York City. It has a kick-ass photography program, and the city provides the perfect canvas for the type of street, close subject photography I like to shoot. I even got in, back before Catherine died and my whole life changed. But this was my promise to her. And to fulfill every last task on her bucket list, that meant keeping Lincoln Kolb in my sights. And now, that’s exactly where he is. Not that I am going to act on it just yet, and not that Warchester is a bad school by any means. They have a decent photography major, and this semester there is even a visiting professor who worked for National Geographic. So I could kill two birds with one stone; focus on bettering my photography skills while also crossing off the biggest item on Catherine’s list. See, Catherine might have been my best friend, but it just so happens our houses stood next to each other, on the dividing lines of two towns. While I grew up in Little Port, Catherine lived in Winona Falls. Meaning we went to different schools, even if our bond was unbreakable. Which meant we went to different high schools, and I wasn’t present when Lincoln Kolb dumped her in front of the entire seventh-period lunch crowd a week after she told him she’d been diagnosed with cancer again. The fucker. I could literally go over there and wring his neck just thinking about it. The anger in my bones over Catherine’s death, over how unfair it is, still rages like a forest fire with no chance of being extinguished. And when I think about the guy who wronged her so horribly, who embarrassed her while her body began to fail on itself ... I understand now how people commit murder. That’s why I knew I had to come to Warchester. It sounded villainous, my plan, but it’s not unlike anything Lincoln Kolb and all the other fuckboys out there like him have attempted. Manipulate the opposite sex into falling for them, falling into their bed, and then completely shatter their world when you admit that they were nothing but a hole and a good time. Except I had to take this one step further. Catherine was half-blind for the guy, which means I have to make him fall in love with me. I have just enough piss and vinegar flowing through my veins to make it happen. There just needs to be a clear-cut plan, and then it should all fall into place. Lincoln and his cronies are walking my way, making a beeline for the group of giggling freshman about to take their cover-ups off for all to see. “Ladies, interested in a party tomorrow night?” The brawny, olive-skinned guy flanking Lincoln’s right side says. Lincoln’s eyes are so wolfish as he approaches, I half expect him to start humping one of these willing participants right in front of the entire quad. “Of course!” they all singsong in unison. I have to try my best to swallow the snort. At least I can roll my eyes behind my sunglasses. But talk of a party, now that has me interested. Scooting a little farther over on the bench, I listen in. “It’s at the football house over on Hudson, tomorrow night. Five dollars at the door for the keg, but mention my name, Lincoln Kolb, and I’ll see what I can do for you.” God, he’s so cocky. It’s freaking irritating the way his voice, smooth like the first cup of morning coffee, slides down my spine. It’s deep and just a little bristled, and clearly, I’m not the only one affected. “Well, we’ll just have to see what we can do for you.” A brunette in a cherry red bikini leers at him. Jesus Christ. “What’s your favorite drink?” The other guy walking with them, another football bro, can’t tear his eyes away from the girl in the white two piece’s ass. I mean, it’s pretty hard for everyone’s eyes not to direct there, it’s a piece of dental floss thong that I wouldn’t even dare wear on a nudist beach in the South of France. “A buttery nipple,” she deadpans, fluttering her eyelashes so many times it should knock an eyeball loose, and I almost have to applaud her. That kind of sexual confidence in the middle of the afternoon with no drinks in one’s system, that I know of, is bold. That level of obvious desperation is one I’ve heard about in college, but hadn’t yet witnessed. This girl all but invited him to suck on her tits in the middle of the quad. “Mine too. Or well, I prefer blow job shots most days. Or Jell-O shots, because I can work my fingers.” He wiggles his digits in front of her face. And there you have it, folks. If I didn’t already think most men were perverts, and a lot of the chicks here wanted to land on their backs, I do now. I can’t contain the snort that works its way through my throat and am not fast enough to swallow it. The sound comes out, and I quickly redirect my sitting position, trying to look off in the other direction. But then a shadow falls over me, and I know I’ve been busted. “And what’s your favorite drink?” The timbre of his voice makes my teeth clank together, because goddamn it if I didn’t just get a little wet. Part of me keeps my vision directed down into the course catalog I have in my lap, pretending to not hear him. “Let me guess. You’re a white wine spritzer kind of girl.” His tone is haughty and all-knowing, and I wish I could slam the thick spine of the book in my lap right into his crotch. “Hm?” I ask, pretending to only just realize he’s there, but not looking up. From the corner of my eye, I see his foot tap once, then twice — an insecure tic. Pretty boy isn’t used to being ignored. “Your drink of choice? I’m asking because apparently buttery nipples and blow jobs don’t seem to be your thing.” Neither of us miss the way he leaves the word shot off the end of both of those popular liquor drinks. And it should be illegal the way the word blow job sounds coming out of his mouth. “Jim, Jack, or Johnny.” I sneer up at him, too annoyed to care that he baited me. And it’s true. Growing up in a North Carolina town that was nearly on the cusp of being rural, my father taught me that you don’t drink unless it’s a strong whiskey. “It’ll put hair on your chest,” he always said, and I would cringe. Later on, after Catherine died and he snuck a fifth of Jack into my room, I understood why that was a good thing. My hair and most of my face are shaded by the large sunhat I wore out here, along with the sunglasses obstructing his view of my face. I’m thankful I decided for an incognito look, not only because it makes me more mysterious, but because it gives me ample time to inspect the god-like specimen in front of me. Lincoln Kolb … shit, it should be a sin to look like this guy. You know when you read about guys in books or watch movies and they claim tall, dark and handsome? This guy exceeds all of those wimps by a hundred miles. His body is a mass of lean muscle, broad shoulders, tapered waist. His body is both the kind of pickup truck you want to get on your back in, and the sleek sports car that turns you on to the point of climbing over the gearshift. He has thick chocolate-colored hair that usually falls past his shoulders; today it’s up in a man bun. It shouldn’t be attractive, but goddamn him, it’s making my mouth water. Lincoln’s face is all defined jaw and chiseled cheekbones, with one boyish dimple just barely there on the right cheek. Those lips are things women inject themselves with fillers to get, and then there is the ultimate panty slayer. His eyes. One blue. One green. They’re so brilliant and interesting that it’s impossible not to get lost in them. And it’s not even fair that they’re rimmed with such thick, almost-black lashes, they put my own to shame. I guess it doesn’t suck that the guy I’m going to seduce and suck the life out of, like I’m a black widow spider, is fucking gorgeous. At the end of the day, good sex is a bonus and there is no way Lincoln Kolb could be bad. It would be such a damn shame. I see him trying to check me out, to see what’s going on under the hat, glasses, and loose sundress I’m sporting. I know my body is a good, no, great. I’ve always been pretty confident, and decent genes plus a love to lose myself in a run have served me well. I don’t miss the way Lincoln’s eyes blaze a trail up my bare legs. “Well, Jimmy, maybe I’ll see you at my party tomorrow night.” I guess I have a party to go to. Unfortunately for Lincoln Kolb, he has no idea the door he just openly invited me to walk through. 3 Henley By the time I make it back to my dorm room, my roommate has arrived. I know this because as I stand outside my door, about to swipe my ID card to unlock the electronic lock, I can hear the bump of the bass from a Rick Ross song pounding through the metal. It’s not my favorite type of music, but even I have to admit it has a certain swag that I can’t help nodding my head to. When I finally take a breath, knowing I’m going to encounter the human I’ll be sharing space with for the next nine months, I open the door and walk in. A very slim, taller than average girl with a waterfall of silky straight candy pink hair is standing on top of her designated bed, hanging a poster of Jimi Hendrix on the wall. Compared to my striped gray comforter and black-and-white photo print I took of the Venice Beach boardwalk when I visited California, her side of the room is bursting with color. A comforter that matches her hair, topped with lime green pillows. She’s replaced her desk chair with one of those clear plastic chairs that looks like it’s floating on air. There is a mass of photos of what must be her friends and family plastered to the wall above her desk, and another five classic album posters join Jimi Hendrix next to her bed. “Hey,” I throw out, hoping my voice carries over the Bose speaker vibrating on her desk. She whips around, and I’m struck by the teal blue nose ring and gorgeous, cat-like features. “Oh, hi! I didn’t hear you come in. Shit, sorry if this is too loud!” She scrambles down and somehow makes it look graceful. My roommate looks like Misty Copeland, beautifully long limbs and soft, darkened skin. Her finger slams down on the volume button on her speaker as she smiles at me sheepishly. “No worries at all, it’s a good song.” I nod, trying to sound cool. In all honesty, I just want this to be easy. Going in, I knew I probably wouldn’t find my next Catherine. Shit, just thinking the thought feels like a slap across my own face. The sting of losing her, of disrespecting her memory or replacing her … I hate it. But I do need this to work. I need my roommate to be relaxed and not get in my way on the quest to ruining Lincoln Kolb’s life. And not having to tiptoe around a person I’m living with would be a nice bonus. “Sweet. I’m Rhiannon.” She sticks out a hand, and I notice her nails are the exact same shade as her nose ring. For someone who appreciates color ratios and odd pairings, I would love to take a photo series on my new roommate. Not many people could pull off these color combos so boldly, and with such grace, but Rhiannon does. I shake her extended fingers. “Henley. I hope it’s okay I took that side of the room.” She shrugs. “Totally cool, I’m really not picky. Except about my music. Do you like rap? Because if not, we’re going to have a problem.” Part of me can’t help but laugh at the way she states her preference as if it’s a fact everyone should live by. I think I’m going to like this girl. “I like it, although I’ll tell you now I’m not super educated on it. I’m more of an easy listening slash pop girl myself, but I can hang.” God, I sound like a seventy-year-old grandmother who doesn’t know how to use Spotify. Rhiannon nods, assessing me. “We can work with that. By the end of this school year, you’ll have at least four Tupac songs memorized.” “Goody.” I half laugh, half roll my eyes. Our cinderblock dorm room looks like a picture in opposites. Rhiannon is a pastel and neon cloud of color, where my side is pretty stark of any personal touches and done in swatches of gray and white. Somehow, it kind of works. We’re in one of the nicer dorms on campus, and thank goodness this floor isn’t co-ed because there is something disgusting about sharing a public bathroom with boys. “So, what’s your story, Henley? Do you despise color or something?” She’s surprisingly upfront, and it catches me off guard. I haven’t encountered many girls like myself over the years. I’m no-nonsense, bullshit-proof, and rarely take a liking to someone at first impression. I’m not sure why, I had a good childhood and plenty of positive reinforcement. Maybe it’s just how I’m programmed. Aside from Catherine, I only had surface friends back in my hometown. Which makes part of this whole scheming to break Lincoln Kolb’s heart thing sit uneasy in my stomach. I’m not a liar. Hell, I can barely let a white lie slip when someone asks if something looks good on them and I know it doesn’t. Or when my mom asks if dinner is good, I have to bite my tongue and plant a super fake smile on my face … lord, the woman is an angel in many areas but food is not one of them. But the final task on Catherine’s bucket list requires almost undercover-level disguise; I’m not this person, I don’t con other people from the truth ever. Yet this asks for so much deceit. “I’m a photography major, and I love black-and-white subjects. It’s a weakness that unfortunately seeps into my closet and design choices.” I shrug. There, that wasn’t a lie. At least with Rhiannon, I can attempt to be myself. She nods. “I dig that. Honestly, it kind of suits you. So, photography major, that makes sense. How long did it take you to get here?” “About an hour? I live in North Carolina, so pretty close by. How about you? And what’re you studying?” I flop down on my bed as she walks to her clear desk chair, folding her long limbs into a yoga-like pose. “I’m from Florida. Took me a plane to get here. But this was the best recording industry program on the East Coast that I could get into, so here I am.” Rhiannon starts flipping through vinyls she retrieves from a bag. “So you want to go into music?” I assume. She shakes her head. “Nope. I want to find musicians. The next Beyoncé. The next Bruno Mars. I have an ear for this thing. I know everyone trying to muscle their way into A & R says that same thing, but I swear it’s like my sixth sense.” I’ve only known her for a few minutes, but I’m inclined to believe her. “That sounds like such a cool job.” “And a hard one. It’ll take a lot of blood and sweat, and maybe a few blow jobs, to get where I want,” she deadpans. It takes a second for the slow smile to spread over her lips, and then we both crack up at her sardonic joke. Honestly, her climb into music manager stardom sounds a little like my mission to make this college’s big man on campus fall in love with me. “Anything else I should know? Jealous boyfriend from home who will be visiting? Do you smoke?” She eyes me, half-joking. I hold my hands, as if I have nothing to hide. “No boyfriend, men are horrible beings. I don’t smoke, unless you’re into a weed brownie now and then. In that case, I’m down. I don’t snore, or I haven’t been told I do. I binge seasons of Vampire Diaries and Parks & Rec, although I’ve seen them all already. And I will always be in for a late-night taco order.” Rhiannon walks over to me, extending her hand for a high five. “My girl. Tacos are the thing that will bond us, of this I’m sure. As long as you like extra hot sauce on yours.” “Wouldn’t have them any other way,” I second. Walking back to her side, she pulls a bottle from the depths of her suitcase. “So, when are we getting drunk?” “I do have this party we could go to …” 4 Lincoln The house feels like it’s on fire. An inferno licks up my back as I make my way through the mass of sweaty bodies, noise, and heat and confusion coming from every angle. It’s the best kind of chaos, but fuck, didn’t someone think to open a window or crank the air up? “Linc, grab me a beer!” Derrick calls through the noise, a girl’s ass pinned to his front. I already have about three shots of bourbon in me, and I’m feeling loose, but in control. Technically, this isn’t my house yet, and I don’t want to make an ass out of myself in front of the upperclassmen. Especially since I’m the young guy coming in trying to be their driving force, their inall-but-the-title captain. As a freshman, I won’t get that title. But as their soon-to-be quarterback, I need their respect. It doesn’t mean I can’t have a great time, though. The amount of hot girls here tonight, some that would literally drop to their knees to service one of the guys on the football team, is insane. I’ve never seen so many beautiful women in a room together. And aside from that, there is an epic game of beer pong I’m about to start running on a table in the living room. My best friends are here, and I’m bonding with other guys on the team. College is so fucking awesome. Walking to the kitchen to grab Derrick and myself large cups of foamy beer, I can’t help but drink in all the chicks barely covered in scraps of clothing. My dick tingles in anticipation; it’s been a month and a half of long preseason hours and no hot sex. I feel like a goddamn celibate, and I know many of the guys on the team feel the same as well. It’ll be a fuck fest in here tonight for sure, and I can say with one hundred percent certainty that I’m bringing one of these fine ladies back to my dorm room tonight. When I finally make it to the keg, lots of suggestive glances following me, I pull two red cups from the stack and cut the line. No one protests, I’m already a known face and name here. I don’t plan on abusing that privilege, but I’m next up on the beer pong table and I don’t plan on missing that opportunity. It’s not until a swath of golden hair and the scent of spicy citrus catches me that I pause, looking over the girl next up in line. “Want a beer, sweetheart?” I puff my chest out at the blonde waiting for the keg. She slants me a look that says Don’t use a nickname on me, buddy, and then her lips curl up in a sneer. “I thought I told you I only drink the three strongest men in the bunch.” Fuck, her voice. Like smoky heat that licks right down to my balls. It’s gravelly with a hint of sweet, just like the top-shelf whiskey she’s mentioned. I want to drink from her lips, to hear that voice moan my name as I’m buried fully inside her. And if just this girl’s voice can have me sporting a semi despite the shots of bourbon I’ve already downed, then her face could make me come on sight. She’s an absolute knockout. All tanned tight curves like one of those girls who’s into hot yoga and working their ass on the stair stepper. She’s average in height, which means I have to tip my chin a fair amount down to peer into her cleavage, but I’ve never cared about coming off as a leerer. They’re great tits, full and perky, and she’s showcased them in a tight white dress that leaves little to the imagination. I wish I could ask her to turn around, because her ass has to be equally as great. She has these full, cherry-red lips that are almost too big for her face. Dick sucking lips, if I’ve ever seen them. Light brown eyes, the color of the sweetest kind of tea on a hot summer afternoon. A beauty mark just above her upper lip on the left side. And that hair. Fucking hell, that hair. Thick and falling in ropes of unruly blond curls down her back. Most of the girls in here have tamed their hairs with hours of those dildo looking tools they store in their bathroom, but you can tell this one kept it all natural. I want this mass of curls around my fist. I want it falling over my chest as she rides me. Then it clicks. “You’re the girl from the quad. The one who snorts at buttery nipples.” This description makes her crack a smile. “I can’t say it’s the worst moniker ever, but it will be sure to turn some heads if I introduce myself like that in my classes.” Wit. I like wit. My dick stirs even more, because if this girl can actually hold her own against my ego, the sex might be that much more incredible. “You could just tell me your name, Jimmy.” I quirk an eyebrow, giving her my best cocky smile. Her caramel eyes twinkle as we spar with words. “A lady never introduces herself first.” Someone behind her clears their throat, clearly anxious to make it to the keg, and I take the opportunity to touch her. With my hand on her back, I gently nudge us to the side. We stand in a mostly empty party of the kitchen, some of the noise filtered out by the ancient wood paneling on the walls. The football house has seen better days, and someone could have said that same thing twenty years ago. In all honesty, the house is disgusting. It’s a party shack filled with amenities to host better parties. A two-story beer bong that snakes through the front hallway from the balcony above. Giant speakers in the living room, connected to a DJ booth that stays up all hours of the day and days of the week. Mattresses in the basement for … guests. I don’t even want to know what’s on those, but there are people desperate enough for a bone that will go down there and use them. “That was bold.” My new curly girl smirks. “Huh?” I say, lost in her eyes and lips now that we’re so close. “Touching a girl without permission. In this day and age, I could probably have you tarred and feathered for that.” “Tarred and feathered.” I can’t help but let a laugh boom out of my throat. “Who even says that?” She crosses her arms over her chest, which only serves to draw my attention to her chest more than it already was. “I do.” “I think I deserve to know the name of a girl who speaks like a nineteen hundreds southern belle.” I wink, knowing that my charm is dialed all the way up. Now she smirks, unable to contain her smile, although I can tell she doesn’t want to let it slip. “And I didn’t know hulking jocks even knew what southern belles spoke like in the nineteen hundreds. I’m a woman by the way, and my name is Henley.” Ah, I got her. Determined now, from her answer, I push forward. “So, you know I’m a jock?” “We’re at a football party, and you cut the line for the keg. Either you have a death wish, or you’re one of the chosen ones here.” Henley scowls, and I think idly that her name is far too pretty for a girl with such a saucy mouth. Henley sounds like the name of a woodland fairy, or a princess in one of those paranormal movies. This blond bombshell looks like she could fight an entire kingdom of douchy jocks, and it makes her that much more tempting. “Lincoln Kolb, quarterback.” I extend a hand with a shit-eating grin on my face. Henley eyes it as if I might have had that hand up another girl’s skirt tonight, but then finally shakes it. The moment our palms touch, a sizzle runs from my fingers up my arm and vibrates out to my entire body. “Henley Rowan, hater of buttery nipples.” Her gorgeous round eyes crinkle with sarcastic laughter. “Play pong with me,” I offer, not letting her hand go but mentally kicking myself. I promised Janssen we’d run the table, and it’s always a bad move to try to seduce the chick you’re trying to bang by offering up a pity game of beer pong. Chicks were never as good as me, especially me, and we’d most certainly lose. But I know that if I walk away from Henley right now, I won’t find her again. “Can’t. I’m here with my roommate.” She shrugs as if she has no problem saying no to me. That doesn’t happen often. “Tell her to join us.” The innuendo isn’t lost on Henley, and she narrows her eyes. “I’m not sure where …” She trails off and swings her gaze in the direction of the DJ booth as the song changes. A slamming rap beat powers through my chest, and when I follow her line of sight, I see a sexy as fuck pink-haired girl all but pushing Kenny, our designated beat master, out of the booth. “That your roommate? Looks occupied to me,” I whisper smugly in her ear. I don’t miss the shiver that moves down her back at my proximity. Swatting me like an annoying fly, she capitulates. “Fine. But no one is taking any clothes off. It’s not that kind of game. And try to keep up. I don’t want to make the new quarterback look like his arm is weak as shit.” I lag behind her for a second, a laugh caught in my throat, as I watch what just might be the feistiest creature on two long tan legs stalk toward the pong table. Oh, hell yes. This night just started getting good. *** Two hours later, after we’ve dominated five games of beer pong, danced until my cock couldn’t take the friction any longer, and downed a secret bottle of Johnny Walker I’d stashed in the fridge, I finally convince Henley to leave the party with me. I’m halfway to desperate that I consider bringing her to the basement, but this is the kind of girl that, once I get her naked, I plan to have my way with a number of times. I want her in my bed; I want privacy and space to taste every inch of her, multiple times. That’s what I feel like doing with this mystery of a woman who beat every opponent in pong and scored more shots per game than even I did. She wasn’t lying when she said I should keep up. I’m almost contemplating whether she shouldn’t be playing for our university team. Henley is magnetic, with her flirty eye contact, slim curves, cool-girl persona and overall badassness. I couldn’t have picked a better chick to end my celibate streak with. She lets me grasp her waist as we walk, the drinks in us making us sway and giggle. Her skin smells like freshly squeezed oranges, maybe the blood red kind because Henley has this sort of spice or zest about her. I can’t get close enough to her, yet she’s an enigma. Either shrugging me off or coming so close that her lips all but brush my jaw. I can tell she’s baiting me, but I don’t fucking care. I could have taken any girl at that party home, but this is the one I know will be … well, fucking orgasmic. Since she told me off at the keg, even in the quad yesterday, I could tell there was a chemistry that would make sex between us one of the funnest things I’ve done in a while. Getting off is great, but having a rowdy, sweaty time while doing it makes it all that much more satisfying. The two towers that flank either side of the quad we cross into stand like gleaming beams in the night. They’re made up of twelve floors each, filled with horny and drunk students at this hour. Certain rooms are lit up as we stare into the night, others are dark. Whether that’s due to hooking up going on inside, or the roomies still being at various parties throughout town, your guess has a fiftyfifty chance of being correct. “I’m in East tower,” she says, her unruly curls flashing in the glints of moonlight. “I’m in West. I think you should come to West tonight.” Wrapping my arms around her waist, I finally pin her into place. My tongue darts out, licking my own lips, as I gaze at hers. Shit, I’m really into this. I want to know what she tastes like. “And yet, I think I should go into East. Alone. Seeing as how I just met you. I don’t even know your middle name.” Henley gives me a sardonic grin and wiggles out of my embrace. My hand trails down her arm, lacing my fingers through hers when it reaches them as I refuse to let her go easily. “It’s Stallion,” I joke. “Come to East tower and I’ll show you why.” Henley cringes as she laughs. “God, that was cheesy. Does that usually work for you?” I shrug. “Usually, I don’t have to work at all.” She’s silent for a moment, our eyes locking in a battle of wills and something … bigger. “Good night, Stallion.” Breaking our interlaced hands, she brushes her nail over my bicep, and the sensation causes all the hairs on my neck to stand up. As she struts away, a slow, swaggering thrust of her hips to each side, I can’t help but thrust a fist in my mouth. Fuck, that ass beneath me would have been the best kind of reward tonight. She thinks she won this round, and maybe she did. Henley has the upper hand, but I don’t admit defeat for very long. If ever. “See you soon, Jimmy,” I call after her. The nickname causes her to stutter, and it’s such a small movement that she thinks I don’t notice. I do. As I walk away, backward so I can make sure she gets inside—and also watch her ass shimmy—I like to think that she’s wearing a goofy grin because of me. 5 Henley The bright openness of Warchester’s communications building mesmerizes me as I push through the doors. Even though it isn’t my top choice, I have to admit, the draw of the communications school is a strong one. Warchester’s Parc School of Communications is top rated in the state, not to mention the country. It has a ton of grants for student projects, a TV/radio program that feeds directly into two of the highest rated cable stations in the world, and a photography studio that I could live in if it wasn’t frowned upon. My schedule is chock-full of photography classes, both theory and mechanics as well as live subject courses. And for the first time in the last few months, I can immerse myself in my favorite thing on earth. When I’m behind the lens of a camera, the rest of the world falls away. Whether I’m capturing human subjects, landscapes, or just wandering while capturing life in motion, it all lights my soul on fire. I get to take a snapshot in time, give life to a moment or a feeling that could impact those that view it for decades to come. I know a lot of students avoid the eight a.m. courses, but I’m a morning person. And being in this building during a slow time of day is pretty darn peaceful. Sunlight spills through the wall of windows that makes up the front of the communications school, while art deco chairs are grouped into clusters around solid wood coffee tables. Classroom doors flank the hallways farther in, and flatscreens hang on every wall, displaying student video, journalism, or photography work. Checking the schedule written in my planner, I locate room 423 and enter. I’m one of the first students to arrive in Photography Through the Ages, so I pull out my phone to check my messages. I threw it in the front pocket of my cognac leather backpack this morning, along with the bucket list Catherine wrote. It might sound dumb, me carrying it around, but I wanted to have a piece of her with me on my first day of college classes. After all, this would have been the place she attended college. Typing in my passcode, my cell comes to life, the photo of the white deer I took in my parent’s backyard the background on my phone. I have no messages, no missed calls, and one notification on Facebook. Opening the app, I see that Rhiannon has tagged me in yet another photo she’s posted to social media. My roommate has a curated feed, along with her flawless Instagram, and she makes me look good in even the earliest of morning selfies. This morning, she insisted we snap a pic together before heading off to our first classes at Warchester. Her bubble gum locks are smooshed up against my unruly curls, and I look happy but plain next to her. Other than that, I don’t have any new activity on my feed. I half expected Lincoln Kolb to stalk me, friend request me, or get my number from someone who does those kinds of things for the jocks on this campus. I have him right where I want him. Well, not entirely, but it was a damn good start. I had him eating out of the palm of my hand, there is no doubt that when I agreed to leave the party with him, he thought I’d be on my back, in his bed, underneath him. God, part of me had wanted to do it. To catch him hook, line, and sinker, because I’m great in bed. Sure, I’ve only had two partners, but I enjoyed myself, tried some sexy things and only had shouts of satisfaction at the end. Another part of me wanted to know what it would be like, sex with Lincoln. I know what I’m on this mission for, but having sex with one of the most gorgeous male specimens I’ve ever encountered isn’t a terrible side perk. He’s got to be fantastic, I can tell by the shit-eating, cocky grin he had on his face most of the night. But it’s too soon. Give the milk away for free, without strings attached, and he’ll never buy the cow. And by the time I’m done with him, Lincoln will be paying for this woman like I’m Kobe beef. “This seat taken?” someone asks, and I pull my bag off the table space in front of the empty chair. “Nope,” I say hastily, scooting to let them into the seat. The room is not unlike any of my high school classrooms, save for the smart board and the community table. It’s shaped like a half-moon, with about twenty chairs pushed in around it. Aside from me and my new neighbor, there has to be maybe a dozen other students who’ve filed in. “I’m Jamie.” The girl who sits down next to me smiles. She’s got this gorgeous auburn bob and sparkling green eyes. Part of me wants to get her in the sunlight and photograph the glint on her irises. That’s how my brain works, which I guess is kind of weird. Jamie has freckles across her cheeks and nose, and she’s pulling a leather-bound notebook from her black satchel. “Henley.” I nod. “You’re a photography major?” I can’t assume everyone in here is, because this is just an intro class and I’m sure people think it will be easy when they see it in the course catalog. She shakes her head. “No, I’m undecided. But I’ve always liked the idea of photography, and so I thought I’d give this class a shot. How about you?” Part of me bristles. It sours my mood to hear that people just want to give photography a shot when it’s the thing I’ve strived to do since my parents bought me my first DSLR. But I guess I can’t fault her, and I actively choose to shoo the thought from my brain. Catherine always did say I was too negative. “Sounds like a good plan. I’m a photographer, through and through. If my parents didn’t insist on me earning a college degree, I would have just started my own business and begun shooting weddings or something.” Jamie smiles. “Well, then we’ll have to partner up when we study. That or I’ll just copy off your test. But I make a mean cookie, so you may want to consider the teammate offer.” I’m usually a lone wolf, hence why photography is my chosen passion. I operate in a solitary manner, not answering to anyone or having to go by another’s schedule. But something in me, or maybe because Catherine’s list is in my bag, makes me bend. “Cookies are a form of payment in my book. You’ve got a deal.” Just then, the room goes from a dull roar of conversation to almost silent, and the professor walks to the front of the room. “Please, don’t stop on my account. Seriously, guys, this is college. Not high school. I’m not your overlord, and I don’t care what you call me as long as it isn’t Professor or Mr. Mullins. Kyle, please. So I guess, just call me Kyle.” Kyle, as I shall now refer to him, looks like he was plucked out of a Brooklyn coffee shop. He’s probably in his mid-thirties, with tight black skinny jeans, a white T-shirt that probably cost a hundred dollars, and a ratty beanie cap even though it’s almost ninety degrees outside. He’s trying to give off this relaxed, easy guy vibe and I hope to God that it’s actually real. And that he actually knows his shit when it comes to photography. “I know we have some specified photography majors in this class, and some who are considering declaring. This course is going to be a comprehensive lesson in this mode of art through the ages. Just so we all get to know each other, and you assume I know what I’m doing, I was a travel photographer for over a decade before going into teaching. I was the resident photographer at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, traveled the Alps over a six-month period for a BBC project, and visited Barbados during Carnival to do a piece for Travel & Leisure.” Well, shit, this guy just proved that he knows his stuff in about twelve seconds flat. And with the publications he’s tied to, he probably has some great internship connections. The Warchester photography program just got a whole lot more intriguing. 6 Lincoln “Second team, you’re up!” Coach Daniels’s voice booms across the practice field and I jog hastily out, head angled down as if I’m about to fully charge an impending army. I may be second team today, but with the aggression and determination in my muscles and bones, that won’t last for long. We’ve been out here for almost two hours already, watching the first team run through drills. It’s true what they say, that everything gets bigger as you move up. The playbooks are thicker; the linemen are scarier, the wide receivers seem to jump all the way to the moon. Good thing football is my lifeblood. It’s the thing I care most about in this world. Since the second I picked up the oblong, brown leather ball with its white stitches when I was five years old, this has been it for me. The smell of the turf sprinkled with morning dew. The way it burns off in the heat so that the wavy lines look like a mirage in the desert when you look across it. Each thud of a practice pad, or clink of a helmet as the strap is popped in. The intricate, almost dance-like routine of each play, of each option to that play. “Kolb, I want to see that arm. Let’s run some different routes, and lob ’em out there,” Coach says. I’ve envisioned playing for Coach Walter Daniels since I was a boy. He’s the most winningest coach in all of North Carolina and has been for the last decade. In terms of college football, he’s brought six national championship trophies back to Warchester, and has produced countless big league players in his almost fifteen years of coaching this team. The man demands excellence, but I’ve heard he isn’t unreasonable and harsh like some other coaches are rumored to be when you get to this level. “Yes, sir.” I nod my head, ready to show them all what I can do. My confidence in my abilities is unwavering. Not only do I know I’m the best, but I put the practice where my mouth is. I’m the first one in, last one out. I carry equipment the same as everyone else, do extra reps in the weight room, and memorize the playbook until I can write each one out without my notes. In order to be the best, you have to be the best at everything in this sport. So, I am. And yes, I have an ego. But it only serves to make me better. If you don’t think you’re the best, why the hell would other people think that? “Matthews, down the field.” Coach points his finger all the way to the end zone of the practice field. Archie Matthews, a junior and arguably the best wide receiver in the college ranks currently, takes off in a sprint down the field. I get in position, eyeing him and the center about to spike the ball to me. Being a quarterback is all about multi-tasking, remembering your plays, reading the field, watching the defense, and throwing the ball where it’s supposed to be before your teammate even gets there. And by the time the ball is in my hands, my fingers flexing like they’ve done thousands of times over the stitches, I know right where Archie will be when he needs to turn over his back shoulder and catch the ball. My sixth sense tingles and I launch my left arm back, all the tendons and muscles trained on exactly how to launch the perfect spiral. Without another thought, I let it go, a smug grin coming over my lips as it sails through the air. At the moment I predicted he would, Archie turns, his foot crossing the line into the end zone, and the football lands perfectly in his hands. He secures it, burns off the sprint, and then jumps up. “Woo, that boy has an arm!” Archie, who is about a head taller than my six-two frame, claps his massive hands around the ball. I give him a nod like I know that I do, and I can feel the eyes on me. I’ve got their attention now. After throwing at least two dozen more routes with different spins, options, and fakes, I miss all but two. It helps that these are some of the best receivers and tight ends in the country; Warchester only recruits the best. Practice is called a little after that, and we’re all dripping sweat. It’s one of the last afternoons in a North Carolina August, and damn does it feel like the pits of hell. “I have so much jock itch, my balls need an ice bath.” Archie walks funny as he falls in line with Derrick and me. “Dude, tell me about it. Not to mention, my cup is two sizes too small. Gotta ask them about getting me a magnum cup.” Janssen smirks as he walks backward in front of us to face our trio. Derrick throws a towel at his face. “Shut the fuck up. We all know you’re sporting a roll of pennies in there. Remember that brunette he got with?” “The townie?” I snicker, because Janssen had been so fucked up he didn’t realize he was trying to bang a cougar maybe fifteen years older than us. “Yep.” Derrick nods. “He could barely get it up.” Janssen scowls. “I had five shots of whiskey, no shit I couldn’t get hard.” “It happens to the best of us, my friend.” Archie claps him on the shoulder. “Just not me. Or any red-blooded male I know.” We all crack up at my best friend’s expense, until Coach Daniels interrupts us. From across the field, he calls my name and waves a hand, ushering me over. “Catch you guys later,” I say to the group, then jog to where Coach stands. “Good work out there today, Kolb. You’ve got a good arm, but we can improve your footwork. I’d like to start working you in with some of the first team guys, so tell Phil tomorrow that you’ll be shadowing them.” Phil is the team’s offensive coordinator, and rumor was he was getting called up to the big leagues next year. “Thank you, Coach. I look forward to learning and getting more starts.” I don’t leave that part out, because we both know I’m gunning for the job. “Being a great football player doesn’t mean anything if you don’t act like a leader. I’m not saying you’ve shown me otherwise, but I expect my players to be both good athletes and great men alike. Nice work today; hit the showers.” He dismisses me and I’m smart enough not to say more. I’m behind the team, so by the time I take my shower and throw on clothes to head to class, I’m the last one out. It’s nice to have the quiet, to not have to shoot the shit or pretend to be macho for a minute. I thrive in groups, but sometimes being alone is what I need. I’m headed to my play and leisure course, which sounds like a lot of bullshit, but is required for my physical education teaching major. That’s right. My fallback is becoming a gym teacher. Which, let’s face it, is never going to happen. I can’t think it actually will. I’m going to be playing football until my body gives out on me, which is hopefully twenty years from now. Any other outcome is not acceptable. Across the quad, I spot a familiar figure. Crouched down low, with an old-school camera pressed against her face, is Henley. Her curls are piled in a mass on her head, secured by two pencils, and fuck, if that isn’t the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen. Just pulling one out like a Jenga piece would make the whole thing unravel, and wouldn’t that be a sight to see? She’s snapping away, of what I’m guessing are shots of the quad. What does she see? And why does she have to have that sexy pout, like she’s chewing on her tongue, while she does it? I suddenly have the urge to chew on that tongue. “Henley Rowan.” I whistle in a low, appreciative tone as I walk to her. Her head snaps up from her camera screen, and I see it in her eyes, that split second of panic. She’s contemplating making a run for it. And then, in the next breath, she’s cooling her features. More than likely, she thinks I didn’t see that. This is a girl not used to being caught off guard, and I like that I rattle her. Those full cherry lips slide into a smirk. “Lincoln Kolb, what a surprise. I thought they keep you in the locker room and only take you out for games. Wasn’t aware you actually knew how to get to academic buildings.” “Oh no, they let us out to eat and fornicate, too.” I wink. Her eyes flash with amusement. “Good to know. Go on, fornicate. I’m busy with something.” The nails on her hands are polished a dark purple gray, and they twist different buttons and circles on her camera. “You like photography?” I venture a guess. Not sure why I’m asking. Maybe it’s another way to get her to come up to my dorm room. Because damn, with a mouth that can verbally spar that well, I need to know what it can really do in the bedroom. Her whiskey-colored eyes roll so hard, I’m afraid they might fall out of her head. “I don’t like photography. It’s my career. My passion. The thing I want to do with my life.” That honest answer hits me like a punch to the gut. Since I’ve known this girl, she’s done nothing but flirt with, chastise, and taunt me. Hearing the thing that she loves most … well, it’s like football for me. I get it; I get that soul deep need to do it. “What were you taking photos of? What out here is interesting?” Suddenly, I’m invading her space, sitting on the bench she and her equipment are occupying. Henley grabs at her lenses and the bag they go in, acting like my grubby paws might break one. “You wouldn’t get it.” And just like that, I’m shut out. But I don’t go down that easily. No, something about this girl has wedged itself under my skin. And whether she be a splinter or the warm fuzzies, I want to know why. “Well, you can’t sit out here and play paparazzi forever. Why don’t you—” Just as I’m about to swoop in for the kill, convincing her to have lunch in the dining hall with me, my phone vibrates at my thigh. Shit. Nine times out of ten, if I’m in a situation where my penis will be rewarded, I’d ignore it. But as I glance at the screen and it reads Dad, I know I can’t just send it to voice mail. There was a hearing today, and I want to know what the outcome of it was. “You know what? I have to run. Maybe I’ll see you around, Jimmy.” I use the nickname I gave her back on the first day we met. Henley looks a little shocked before I turn on my heel and walk off, and maybe it’s a good thing I had a call come in. Because I think I just took that upper hand back. 7 Henley Staring at the box of hair dye in my hands, my mind starts to go into panic mode. “I really don’t want to do this,” I tell Rhiannon as she snaps a rubber glove on her hand. My roommate looks like she’s about to give me a rectal exam, or maybe I just feel like that. I hate that Catherine had this on her bucket list, that I have to paint my virgin locks a different color. But I made a commitment, and college rebellion and all that. Catherine would be proud of me; she could barely get me to put my curls through a straightener. Unlike ninety-nine percent of teenage and twenty-something girls, I have always loved my natural hair. The color, the thick, ropy curls, the way it seems to take on its own presence in humidity. I love my hair, and the fact that I’m about to dye it scarlet fever red, as the box says, really freaks me out. “Oh, stop it. The dye will wash out in the shower tomorrow morning. You wouldn’t even let me get the good stuff, so quit being such a chicken bitch.” Rhiannon rolls her eyes. In the week since classes have started, we’ve eaten almost all of our meals together, joined the Habitat for Humanity club on campus, and she’s begun schooling me on all things hip-hop and R&B. I’ve really grown to like her; she both makes me laugh and doesn’t put up with shit. We’re very similar in our blunt approach, which normally doesn’t work in a friendship, but for us, it does. And forming a bond with Rhiannon only makes me miss Catherine more. What would our college years have been like? Visiting each other’s schools, possibly studying abroad together, talking on FaceTime about our new crushes or how drunk we got last night. She knew me inside and out, and now that she’s gone, it feels like an expanse has opened up in my chest. I’m not sure anyone or anything will ever be able to fill it. “Okay, let’s just do this before I change my mind.” I blow out a long breath. “Plus, think how amazing you’ll look at the CEOs and hoes party. You’ll be like that sexy secretary on Mad Men, with her silky red hair and huge tits.” Rhiannon points a gloved finger at my chest. “I don’t have huge tits.” I cross my arms over my chest, and it serves to highlight her point. She raises one eyebrow as she shakes the dye bottle and squirts the first batch onto my scalp. It’s cold on my skin, and I’m not sitting in front of the grungy mirror of our dorm room because I didn’t want to watch this in real time. “Um, honey, you have like Emily Ratajkowski tits. Perky, huge, stick out in that supermodel way from your chest kind of tits. It’s no wonder football guy was trying to get into your bra at that last party.” “Who Lincoln?” I ask, trying to sound nonchalant. “Um, yeah, Lincoln. I don’t even like jocks, and I could drool over that. He’s too much of a hunk, too meaty, for me, but damn, if he offered I’d probably take the ride for one go round. Why didn’t you jump on that? You know I would be cool with a scrunchie on the door.” I feel it as Rhiannon slathers another goopy hand on my head. She works the dye into my roots, down my long, long locks, and I can feel this side of me come out. When I wash this out, when I let her style my hair, I’ll look like a completely different person. Along with the high-waisted black lace underwear, no bra, and oversized suit jacket I’ll be wearing with black pumps tonight; Lincoln Kolb won’t know what hit him. Theme parties have never been my thing, but tonight, a racy thrill runs up my spine. It feels naughty to be so bad, so secretive and deceptive. That sounds terrible, but a dark part of me is really enjoying this. He tripped me up, and he knows it. I was too busy and hyped up about my first photography assignment for Kyle’s class, that I didn’t notice him. I didn’t have my game face on. And for that, I’m pissed at myself. Yes, photography is what I want to do with my life, but I need to finish Catherine’s list on my way there. This is the top priority right now, and the fact that he just got under my skin really frustrates me. But tonight, I’m going to change all that. I have to bring in the big guns, and a themed party with lots of alcohol is just the way to do that. “Oh, would you? Does that mean I can expect a scrunchie on the door?” I look back, raising an eyebrow at her. She smirks. “Maybe. I have this guy back home though … it’s kind of on and kind of off. He may come visit, but we haven’t ironed out the details. So, no, I guess no random scrunchies, but I’ll tell you if there is a scheduled scrunchie.” “Oh, I want to see a picture of this on-and-off boy. But to answer, maybe. Maybe I’ll put a scrunchie on the door. Though, I don’t like to shit where I sleep.” This makes Rhiannon laugh so hard, she snorts. “Girl, I knew I liked you.” I nod. “It’s easier to do my business, get my orgasm, and be on my way. If the guy is clingy, or worse, drunk, then he stays the night in your bed. Those extra-long twins are small as it is, so hell no do I want a sweaty dude smelling of alcohol hogging my cover.” At this point, I almost have Rhiannon in tears. “Jesus, you’re like one of those bugs who eats its young.” “Just honest.” I shrug. “All right, honesty queen. Time to rinse this out. And then, I’m going full curling wand on your ass.” Oh, goody. Can’t wait to see how different I look. At least it’ll take Lincoln by surprise and possibly give me the upper hand. *** There are way too many dudes in pimp hats here. I’m not sure who thought a CEO wore a black top hat, but someone here clearly sent a memo and these frat bros and jocks took notice in full force. Shirtless guys in tux pants, girls in librarian skirts with bras and fake glasses—this surely is a theme party at its best. And after slamming a tequila shot with Rhiannon immediately after walking through the doors of this random frat house off campus, I’m ready to find the target of my mission. Lincoln stands along the wall, talking to a group mixed with both guys and girls. He’s edible in black fitted suit pants and a white button-down that has two too many buttons open. An untied tie hangs from the collar, and he looks like his secretary just fucked him on top of his desk. The thought has me squeezing my thighs together, and the friction is so delicious. It’s been since before Catherine’s funeral that I hooked up with anyone, and my horny meter is at its peak. Sauntering over, I can feel the eyes on my tits. They’re bouncing free, everything above my navel visible in this oversized suit jacket. Thank God for double-sided tape. I wiggle into the group until I’m pressed against the wall next to him. Either he didn’t notice my arrival or he’s already too drunk to care, but Lincoln doesn’t even look my way. “Hey, Stallion,” I say, only for him to hear. His head turns, taking me in. Those eyes, one blue and one green, have no hint of familiarity there. He drinks in my face, my hair, my cleavage, and down to the six-inch heels Rhiannon convinced me were a good idea. “Holy shit … Henley?” His face lowers closer to mine, his lips just inches from my mouth. I nod, a smug smile gracing my lips. “Did I catch you off guard?” This was my plan. Throw him for a loop, make everything about me unpredictable. Because if there is one thing guys like Lincoln love, it’s an unpredictable girl. They love the chase, the adventure, the insanity. How fun is it to be with a girl you’re not sure will remain the same in the next second? “Your hair. It’s … different.” He eyes me skeptically, and suddenly, we’re not standing in the group anymore. I’m not sure when he gently pushed me farther down the wall, so we could be in our own little bubble. But when I glance up, his elbow is propped against the wall, shutting the rest of the party out. I nod, because boys are morons when it comes to noticing beauty trends. “It is.” “I don’t like it,” Lincoln states matter-of-factly. My jaw drops a little with shock and at his rude bluntness. “And that’s supposed to matter? Last time I checked, you have no say over what I do. With my body or otherwise.” I feel my blood pulse with rage. How dare this scum of a human, who dumped my best friend over cancer, make comments about my appearance? Lincoln reaches out, his large hand catching my elbow. The touch sends lust plummeting low in my belly, and I hate both of us for it. “Henley, that’s not what I meant. It looks great, anything would look great on you. I just … I love your hair. All of those blond curls. I’ll miss them.” And there, in the middle of a noisy, rambunctious college party, Lincoln Kolb melts a piece of my frigid heart. He used my name; he complimented me on something I love about myself. And even though he’s only met me a handful of times, he’s claiming he’ll miss them, which implies he’s going to see me again. I get it now, why he’s so dangerous. This charm, whether it’s an act or the real thing, he’s got it down to a science. The way he makes eye contact with one blue, one green, hypnotizing you into believing him. The small gentle touch, the whisper of his husky voice … He’s a dangerous man, and I need to keep my head clear and my focus sharp. I shake him off, the contact of his hand to my arm breaking. “It’s temporary, should wash out in the shower. But, I think it’s sexy. I’m thinking about keeping it.” “Everything you do is sexy. You don’t have to worry about that.” His eyes dilate, and I don’t miss the way his tongue darts out to wet his lips. The heat of his gaze is like a branding iron moving down the center of my chest, and when he leans over on his tiptoes, I swear I feel the shadow of his fingers skimming my most private parts. “Well, I enjoy being someone different, even if it’s just for the night. How about I show you who I am?” My intention coming into this party was to get physical with Lincoln. It was time. If I held out for too long, some other girl would come along and suck his dick. Boys like this are easily distracted. But if I gave in too soon, agreeing to make on base, any base, the first time we met well, my plan would have been over before it even started. Without letting Lincoln get another word in, I grab his hand, our fingers lacing. Anticipation flutters in my stomach as I locate the stairs in search of, at least, an unoccupied bathroom. If one of the bedrooms is unlocked, that’ll be even better. 8 Henley As soon as we make it to the top of the stairs, Lincoln is all over me. From behind, his big hands wrap around my waist, kneading at the suit jacket covering my skin. I melt into him, wanting nothing more than to grind against the erection I feel so rigid at my back. If I don’t find us a private space in the next three seconds, we’ll be giving whoever floats up here from the party below a show. Giggling and moaning as Lincoln affixes his mouth to my neck, nibbling the skin there, I move awkwardly with him at my back. Jiggling each door handle as we move farther down the hall, each one not budging an inch. About three doors from the end of the hallway, one finally gives way, and we stumble into a small full bathroom. The sink and toilet are practically on top of each other, and I don’t even want to open the shower curtain to reveal the disgusting boy filth inside. But at this point, I couldn’t care less. My heart is pumping an overload of lust into my veins, and that thing that Lincoln is doing to my ear has white spots popping at the edges of my vision. Turning at the same time he pulls me flush up against him, I’m ready to explore all the dangerous that is Lincoln Kolb. The bastard is grinning right before his lips descend on mine, and in the split second before he kisses me, I put my brain in check. This is for Catherine. I will not develop feelings for this man. Sex and connection are separate entities, and Lincoln will never see the true nature of my emotions. In order to go through with this, I need to put ice around my heart. And freeze it I do in that moment. His lips take mine in a moment of domination and surrender, the dance of a woman and a man in full play. Lincoln’s hands reach down, slipping beneath my suit jacket and covering both ass cheeks. He kneads them, spreads them, as his tongue invades my mouth. I give over control, let him take me where he wants us to go, as I fist my hands in those beautiful locks. The kiss goes from a discovery, a searching exploration, to fucking with our mouths. It’s hot and heavy; the bathroom suddenly feels like a sauna, and sweat slicks my skin. Breaking off before this all moves too quickly, I slap a hand to the bare skin exposed by his undone buttons. “No sex.” I hold a finger up at him. I see it, that flicker of disappointment at not being able to put his cock inside me. I’m not saying I’m not disappointed, but this is both a measure to protect myself and to coax him into coming back. If you make something off-limits to a man, or a football jock with the mentality of a ten-year-old, he’ll crawl at your ankles until you give it to him. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t do this.” He turns me so that I face the mirror, those gorgeous features watching every muscle of my expression. Slowly, he brings his hand up, caressing my cheek and then skimming down my neck. His fingers brush over my collarbone, and I swallow, realizing I’m absolutely parched. But before I can catch my breath, or try to swim above the hazy fog of lust settling firmly over my senses, Lincoln strikes. That large, callused hand settles right over my heart, in between my breasts. He’s touching my bare skin, so close to the nipples that could cut steel at this moment, watching my face as he undoes me. I can barely breathe, every inch of my flesh buzzing with arousal. If he cups my breast right now, I know my panties will flood with desire. “You’re a fucking knockout.” He breathes in my ear, our eyes never breaking connection in the mirror. I lean back into him as he slides his hand in, rolling a nipple between his thumb and forefinger. Shuddering, the sensation only serves to create more friction between my legs as I grind against Lincoln’s tented pants. He’s so hard, I can feel the pulse of the head of his cock beneath the material. I want to unzip him, feel the hot weight of him in my hand. Because as much as I’m doing this to further my plan, to get revenge on Lincoln, I’m a woman. I have needs. I want to have fun and let loose in a bathroom at a party. These are supposed to be the wildest times of my life, and I’m ready for them. Before I know what’s happening, Lincoln’s hand is passing the elastic of my underwear, moving down until it finds the wet, swollen nub between my thighs. “Oh my God,” I moan as he circles his forefinger around it, rubbing in the spot that makes me see stars. “That’s right, watch what I do to you.” His deep vibrato echoes through my skin. Lincoln watches me as his fingers invade me, as he works me higher and higher, my knees shaking. His other arm holds me around the waist to keep me from falling. His lips work my neck, my arms reaching back to grip onto those sexy, lumberjack locks. I’m squirming, my climax building to a height it’s never reached before. The moment he pushes another finger inside me, I feel the wire snap, and with it, all of my control. “Come on my fingers, Henley. I want to taste them hours after we leave here.” His shameless dirty talk throws me over the edge of the cliff, a brick tied to my ankles. I come in puffs of breath, moaning into the air of the bathroom. Lincoln watches my face so intensely, it’s like he’s studying this portrait to paint it from memory. He doesn’t remove his fingers as my orgasm coats them, the pressure of those thick digits only prolonging the shudders that wrack my body. The high of my orgasm still sings through my muscles, but I know what I need to do. Not only do I want to feel him, to taste him on my tongue, but I need to leave Lincoln craving. A stellar blow job is just the way to keep him coming back for more. I turn quickly, dropping to my knees before him and working his belt. He doesn’t protest, doesn’t say that I don’t need to repay him. Yes, he’s a scumbag from the rumors I’ve heard, but he’s also a hot-blooded male who isn’t going to turn down a chance to be sucked off. He’s not the gentle, eagerto-please guy. He knows his power, his ego, and he brandishes them like a sword. In seconds, I have him in my hand, the full, throbbing heat of him enormous on my palm. With an anaconda like this in his pants, no wonder he walks around campus like the whole world can see his cock. “Fuckkk …” Lincoln breathes as I deep throat him in one swallow. Having no gag reflex really comes in handy when you’re trying to seduce a known player and ruin his life. I suck at him, pulling him into my mouth with just the right amount of suction. I let him grab my chin, tangle his fingers in my newly dyed hair, and curse obscenities above me every time I lick that certain spot just by his balls. In a matter of minutes, I can feel his knees begin to shake, and the curses come more frequently. “I’m going to come. Fuck, Henley, I’m going to …” Lincoln explodes down my throat; the salty taste not a welcome one, but I can bite back the initial disgust of it. No girl ever likes to swallow, and if they tell you otherwise, they’re lying. But I’m no coward, and when I set out to do a job, I finish it. Every drop he gives me, I swallow, relishing his husky growls and the way his wild eyes come undone as he looks down at me. As I stand, the alcohol wearing off, I’m aware that I need a stiff drink to recover from this encounter. Because Lincoln Kolb is as good as they say, and part of me wants to do this over and over again. Even in a dingy bathroom. I notice the way he doesn’t kiss me after I blow him, which is basically the equivalent of a fuckboy saying he doesn’t want feelings involved. Damn, that was fun. And as I grin at Lincoln in the mirror behind me, his thick fingers that smell of me running through those gorgeous brown locks, I take pride in the satisfied, exhausted smirk on his face. I, once again, have him right where I want him. 9 Lincoln I wipe the condensation from the mirror. Every single one of my muscles ache, from the cords in my neck to the flexors in my ankles. We had a gym session today that could have kicked JJ Watt’s ass, and I’m a guy who likes to pride himself on being in shape. I know I said it before, but college is a whole different ball game. Or playing field. Or whatever sports metaphor you want to use to describe it as really fucking hard compared to high school. The trainers here are at the top of their game; they know which muscle to work to get you throwing better, running better, winning fucking championships. But it doesn’t come without full-body paralysis after, thus the forty minute, scalding hot shower I just took. At least it’s the middle of the day, and everyone else is in classes. I’ve witnessed a few fights over the showers on my dorm floor, and I’m in no shape to kick someone’s ass for bitching at me about using all the hot water. As an athlete, my school schedule is a joke. I take the minimum amount of credits each semester so that it can look like I’m working toward graduating, even though I’m going to declare for the draft my junior year. My courses consist of education seminars that a monkey could pass, and I barely have to attend before the professor puts an A on my paper. I’m a decently smart guy, memorizing entire playbooks isn’t for dummies, and I could probably take on more challenging material. But I don’t want to. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is play football and sidetracking from my dream will only mean both areas of my focus would suffer. So, I don’t split them. It’s why I’m alone on the dorm floor while everyone is attending two p.m. classes. The football team is done with our second workout of the day, and I’m so fucking pumped for this weekend. Our first game. I haven’t been named the starter, but I’m hoping Coach Daniels will let me get a rep or two in. Over the past week and a half, I’ve been rotating in with the first team, and my numbers don’t lie. I’ve hit pass after pass, aced every drill they asked me to. During our scrimmage the other day, I beat Wayne Tivan’s passing yards by fifty, and that was with the B squad. Wayne is the junior starting quarterback who played for Warchester all season last year. He’s decent, but he’s not me. Soon enough, I’ll be leading the university’s team to victory. For now, I just have to focus and keep my head on straight. In the mirror, my scar gleams a bright, nasty red after being exposed to such hot water for such a long time. I run a finger down it, thanking God I haven’t had to explain it to anyone just yet. Especially Henley. That girl has no weakness, and the last thing I want is sympathy from the spitfire. I wouldn’t be able to bear seeing pity in her eyes when she finds out I was the kid in elementary school with cancer. The one who missed six months of school for chemo, the one they had fundraisers for, the little boy whose shaved head appeared in his second grade yearbook. She didn’t get a glimpse of it, seeing as the only thing I could manage to get off my body was my pants and boxers before succumbing to Henley and her scarlet-haired seduction. Fuck, who knew that even without those blond curls to grab onto, I’d be so fucking attracted to her that I’d have to actively stop myself from blowing my load too soon. Jesus Christ. Her mouth, those lips, the perfect suction she created. The way she almost growled my name as I added another finger inside her and made her come all over my hand. Just thinking about the way she tossed her head back, those light brown eyes rolling … It gets me hard as a steel pipe just thinking about it. I might need to get back in the shower to finish myself off, let the hot spray wash the come away. This is the type of girl who could get me in trouble. Because we hooked up, we got all of that sexual chemistry out of our system. Even if I didn’t lay her down and lay into her, I got my nut off and that was usually enough. I’m beginning to realize that one time will never be enough with Henley Rowan. We went at it in the bathroom at the CEOs and hoes party two days ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. I want to track her down, drag her back to my dorm, but I know how desperate that looks. She barely talked to me after we left that bathroom and had the nerve to sidle up to some other dude at the flip cup table. Henley stayed at the party with her roommate for probably an hour or two after our hookup and never spoke to me or looked my way once. Usually, I was the one to brush someone off after a hookup. I kind of felt used by her. And that feeling pissed me off, along with the fact that it gave her the upper hand again. It might make me look clingy, finding her after she clearly wanted a one and done, but I know I won’t be able to keep away from her. There are bigger fish to fry, though. After my post-shower routine, I head back to my room, deck out in Warchester football sweats, and plop down on my bed with a protein bar. Picking up my cell, I hit the speed dial for Mom’s number. “Honey! I miss you!” she screeches when she picks up the phone. My mom is one of the kindest, most affectionate people to ever walk the earth. She’s one of those moms who would have homemade snacks for us the minute we stepped off the school bus. My mom is the glue that holds our family together, both tough and also flowing; she can be the dictator when she wants, but gooey and lovey ninety percent of the time. She and my dad created the perfect childhood for Chase and me, and now they were trying to do the same for my cousins. “Hi, Ma, I miss you, too. You guys are coming to the game this weekend, right?” Even though there was a small chance I’d play, my parents had already promised to bring Tyla and Brant to see me in uniform at Warchester for the first time. My little cousins were so excited, and my parents only matched their enthusiasm. Chase would be here, too, but his wife was eight months pregnant, and getting a flight from Chicago this close to the baby just wasn’t possible. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world, buddy. How you feeling?” There is a clatter in the background, and I just know she’s getting the snacks ready for my cousins to come from school to. I miss home in the way you miss an old movie you really love. The nostalgia of it, the familiarity and routine that never changes. I mostly miss walking in the door and having those rug rats tackle me. They’ve had a tough life in their short years, and all of us are only looking to make it better. “I’m fine, just ready to play. How are Tyla and Brant? How did the hearing go?” My voice is so anxious, I can’t even hide it. Mom takes a deep breath, because she knows how fired up I can get about all of this. “Lincoln, there really hasn’t been much progress since we called two weeks ago—” “Come on, Mom. Just tell me.” I try to reason with her. Before I left for school, Mom and Dad sat me down and told me that I didn’t have to be invested in every second of the custody battle. That they wanted me to focus on having fun at college, at playing as well as I could. That they could handle all the legal issues with my cousins. I know they can, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want updates by the second. She sighs again, but I know she’s going to tell me. “Aunt Cheryl was there this time. None of us expected her to show up, but apparently she could stay sober enough for a few hours to appear like a viable option for the children’s parental guardian. Seeing as she hasn’t shown up for months, and that Donny was in attendance, they didn’t grant her anything further than one supervised visit a month. But it’s going to be another two weeks until we can re-up our guardianship, so I am prepared for a fight.” Anger, so hot and blinding, hits me square in the chest. “They allowed her visitation with that fucking criminal sitting in the courtroom? They know his rap sheet!” “Lincoln, watch your mouth,” Mom warns, and then sighs. She does a lot of sighing these days. “And yes, they did. I have no idea why the legal system favors some of these parents, although it breaks my heart that Tyla and Brant can’t have the love of their mother. But considering who she is, I want them with me. I just … I never thought she’d turn out this way.” Cheryl is her baby sister, the youngest of four, and has always had issues. From what Mom has told me, her sister got involved with drugs at a young age and just never stopped. It’s been years of neglect, abuse at the hands of their mother and her boyfriends, and passing off to family members for Tyla and Brant. I wish Cheryl would just go away, just put the final nail in the coffin of her relationship with her kids. For their sake. Now, the court-appointed year of guardianship my parents won is almost up. They wanted to adopt my cousins legally, to finally get them out of my aunt’s care, but it’s at this very moment she has decided to fight for them. It’s all a farce, all for show or for manipulation, who really knows. “They can’t grant her her rights back,” I say firmly. “They shouldn’t, but it isn’t up to us. We just have to keep providing a loving home for Tyla and Brant, and hope that the law and the universe are on our side.” Mom’s voice is cautiously hopeful. It’s all we have—hope. And that can be a dangerous thing. 10 Henley “Okay, obviously, you know this is the shutter button. And this is how you adjust the focus. I can teach you a little more about lighting on Photoshop later.” Jamie straightens my camera, coming up close to a group of wildflowers. We chose the arboretum on campus to shoot our first project for our Composition of Photography class, which we shared as well as Kyle’s class, because of the easy canvas and beautiful landscape. Taking photos of flowers and plants wasn’t as challenging as people, and it always provided for a pretty picture, no matter the lighting. I was helping her, teaching her some of the photography basics, and she was turning out to be a natural. I didn’t often let someone borrow my camera, but there was something about Jamie that I just trusted. Maybe it was because her soft-spoken sarcasm reminded me of Catherine, but I’d let her get her shots first. And then, I’d take some more difficult angles to really wow our professor. I might be helping Jamie, but I was here to show off what I could do. The dye Rhiannon convinced me to go with is nearly out of my hair. There are just a few tips at the end still blazing with the fire of scarlet red, and I can’t wait for them to leave. Because those scarlet tips keep reminding me of what I did the other night with Lincoln Kolb. And how I can’t stop thinking about it. How I can’t stop thinking about how he knew the exact right way to make me come. Or the way his breathy grunts and curses filled my ears, made me feel like that Ariana Grande song, “God is a Woman.” I have to stop thinking about him like this. I have to let fury rule my brain, and my heart. Now that the hair dye task is complete, I only have four more to go. 6. Dye my hair 7. Have sex 8. Camp out in a tent 9. Go bungee jumping 10. Get revenge on Lincoln Kolb Number seven goes right along with number ten, and although Catherine never cashed in her virginity card before she passed, I already have. So I guess I could cross that off, but I’ll amend it to be sex with Lincoln, as I’m pretty sure she would have lost it to him if it hadn’t been for her cancer recurrence. How strange to think that Catherine would have been claiming the penis I touched in a bathroom on Saturday night. Sometimes, in all of this, I forget how much she was into him. She’d talked about dating Lincoln Kolb for ages before it happened, and while she was with him, it was like sunshine and rainbows every day. I can still remember the look on her face when she told me he broke up with her. The bastard was going to get what was coming to him. Aside from the two biggest ones left, I had camping and bungee jumping. Neither one of which I was looking forward to. “All right, I think I got it. Can we take a snack break now?” Jamie whines. “I’m in.” I pick up my iced coffee, downing it in a satisfactory gulp from the straw. “God, why is coffee so good?” “Nectar of the gods. Pairs perfectly with a sea salt chocolate chip.” She hands me a cookie from her bag. I take a bite and audibly groan. “Oh my God, did you make this?” She nods. “Yep, whipped them up in the common room kitchen this morning.” “Jesus, this is what you need to be doing with your life.” I point at the cookie, which is now almost half gone. “Thanks, but it’s so hard to get into pastry, or baking. Plus, everyone’s goal in that industry is to like, own their own business or open up a shop. Or be a foodie Instagramer. It’s so saturated.” I snort, motioning for her to pass me another. “And what do you think the photography industry is? Beautiful photography accounts on Instagram are like Starbucks in New York City. Spit and you’ll hit one every time.” Jamie chuckles. “Yeah, I guess.” “I’m serious, though. I could start photographing some of your treats. Put them on IG. See what happens. It’s dumb not to go for something you love. Believe me, life is too short.” My voice must take on some odd note, because she eyes me cautiously. “You okay?” I shrug, emotion suddenly overcoming me. It’s weird, grief. Some days, I’m fine. I can go hours without thinking of Catherine. And then other days, I cry if I get a whiff of what I think is the perfume she used to wear. Or when I’m looking at a certain color wall, and it reminds me of the time we splattered paint all over her bedroom to make it look edgy. “My … I lost someone close to me at the end of the school year, just before graduation. It’s … some days are better than others.” It feels good to tell someone, even if I don’t specifically talk about Catherine. No one at Warchester knows what I’m dealing with under this tough exterior, and my chest heaves open in relief at admitting a small part of it to Jamie. She touches my hand. “I’m so sorry. If you ever want to talk about it, I’m here.” It’s a simple statement, a small show of camaraderie. But it makes a big difference. “Thanks.” “In the meantime, I have a walnut blondie recipe I’ve been wanting to try out. Want to come help me make it, maybe take a few free marketing photos for your portfolio?” She crosses her fingers. “If I get to taste test, I’m in.” I nod, smiling. I may never find the friendship I had with Catherine, but it’s turning out that there are other females out there who may understand me just as well. 11 Lincoln Another Friday night in college, another party. Only tonight, I’m not drinking. During season, we’re not allowed to drink the night before games, and honestly, we really shouldn’t be drinking the week before either. Saturday, after the game, is the only party night we’re allowed. But no one is going to go running to coach if one of the players has a beer at the end of a long Tuesday. I can’t help it if I’m supposed to be here in support of the team, at the team house off campus, and there is a party going on. None of us are drinking, most of us are looking for a hot chick to hook up with to calm our nerves before game day, and parties just keep your mind off of stressful shit. The place smells like sex and sweat, and I won’t lie, I could go for a hot fuck right now. Except, my dick is an asshole. Because the only girl he seems to want won’t give him the time of day. I can’t take my attention off her. I’ve been keeping an eye on Henley all night. It’s not a coincidence she keeps showing up to the parties she’ll know I’ll be at. If she didn’t want to encounter me, she could go to another party, or try to sneak in underage at the bars. So I don’t understand why she won’t come over here, or why she’s pretending not to see me smirk across the dance floor when our gazes collide. We’ve not spoken or seen each other since the night in the bathroom, not that I haven’t tried. I’ve gazed around the quad each time I’ve passed through, looking for her. I suppose I could have gone through some channels to get her number, but I didn’t want to look too desperate. The moment she makes a move, her red cup in hand, I know it’s my time to strike. I step up to the keg, where she’s about to fill her cup. “If you can fill that with no foam, I’ll let you keep pretending you’re not looking at me across the party. If not, you have to kiss me again.” Henley doesn’t even flick those big brown eyes up at me. I’m glad her hair is back to its normal color, the blond of a dimming sunset. It’s the color you look out for over the horizon, and I want it on my pillow, in my sheets. “I’m sorry, who was watching who across the party?” I see the tilt of her lips through the curtain of her hair. I step into her space, not caring that I’m the one desperately trying to pursue her. “Pour your beer, Jimmy.” “I can’t with you distracting me, Stallion,” she quips. “Ah, so I do get under your skin. I wasn’t sure I could weasel my way in there.” Banter is our foreplay, and I’m ready to get to the main attraction. Henley’s thumb presses the top of the tap, beer spilling from the faucet, and we both watch in anticipation. The cold, carbonated liquid fills her cup, and I want to tell her to go faster. It feels like time all but stops, because damn, I want the foamy head to appear on the top of that drink. “Careful now, looks like you’re tilting it too much,” I tease, trying to make her mess up. Henley’s slim wrist rotates on her cup, pulling it up just a second too soon, and voilà, a foamy sea covering the top of her beer. “Oh, damn. You lose. Guess you’ll have to kiss me now.” I pucker my lips. “What if I wanted to lose?” she challenges, spite dancing in her eyes. “Then I guess you have to kiss me, babe.” I puff out my chest, a cocky grin stretching my lips. Henley rolls her eyes. “I’m not your babe.” “What, you don’t like that nickname?” “I thought my nickname was Jimmy.” She folds her arms, and I want to rip off the tiny white tank top she’s wearing. “And you know mine is Stallion.” Henley eyes me, and I can’t read her expression. Without breaking our stare, she tips the cup to her lips and chugs, her long black eyelashes batting against her cheeks. She doesn’t stop until the last drop is drank, and then tosses the cup aside. And leans up on her toes to kiss me. Right there, in front of the entire party, blocking the line to the keg, she slaps her hand around the back of my neck and claims my mouth. It’s sexy and badass, the way she picked up my gauntlet and ran away with the prize. Because neither of us lost in this little bet … oh hell no, no one’s losing as she melts into me and I feel the blood rush to my cock. Someone whistles, and I hear the catcalls begin. “Come back to my room with me.” I break away but keep my mouth on hers. “You’re drunk,” she says. “I haven’t had a drop of alcohol. Are you drunk?” “I had one beer.” Her eyes flick up at me, assessing, searching. “I’m not a gentleman, Henley. I want to fuck you so hard that you see stars. If you want that, which I know you do, come back to my room with me.” There is a distinct possibility she could say no. I’m half expecting her to turn me down, because she’s shown no indication outside of that one hookup in the bathroom that she wants or needs me. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to her; I’m used to girls, both here and back in my hometown, pursuing me. I’m used to girls throwing themselves at me, I’m used to having the pick of the litter. That sounds fucking awful, but I’ve been an attractive athlete my whole life, I know that I have a draw. It’s just the way things are, I didn’t make up the rules. But with Henley, I’ve finally encountered the hard-to-get girl everyone has always warned me about. The one who won’t be impressed by me, or beg to fall into bed with me. Henley is elusive, mature, feisty and just downright confusing. Why is it that all men want the one woman that confuses them? “Let’s go. Before I change my mind.” I barely register her words before Henley is dragging me out of the party by the arm. Wait a minute, she’s going to come to my room? Shit, I better bring my sexual A-plus game. 12 Lincoln We barely talk on the way back to our conjoined tower buildings, mostly because I’m terrified I’ll spook her. I’m shocked when she turns to come into West tower with me, instead of brushing me off like the last time I walked her home from a party. “If your sheets are dirty, I’m leaving.” She chuckles, but we both know she’s not joking. It’s a good thing I have a mother who taught me to do laundry. Well, that … and that I haven’t slept with someone since I got to Warchester. First, it was because of preseason, and then it was because I was trying to convince this girl to have sex with me. By the time we reach my door and I swipe my ID to unlock it, my heart threatens to beat out of my chest. Because this isn’t just any girl, and that feels strange to me. I’ve been trying to get Henley alone for almost three weeks now, which for me is a long time. Sure, I had the odd high school girlfriend, which really didn’t mean much. We’d hookup at parties or go to the movies or eat half-price appetizers at Applebee’s on Friday night. No, I hadn’t been this determined about a girl in a long time, and even though we had no promises between us and this probably wasn’t going anywhere, I was into her. For more than just her looks. So, fuck, I really wanted this to go well. I know I have the moves on the mattress, I’m not doubting it. But what if Henley likes something I haven’t tried on a girl yet? What if she’s not into certain positions, or wants me to turn the fucking lights off. I hate it when girls want me to turn the lights off. Half the fun of fucking is seeing what I do to you when I do it. “So, this is the ultimate bachelor cave.” Henley walks around my room, her finger trailing over my dresser and desk. I square my shoulders, ego firmly back in place. I know how to play her body like a damn guitar, and I suck at instruments. In the bathroom last weekend, I made her come harder than any girl I’ve ever had my fingers in. Fuck, was that sexy. Walking up behind her, I sweep the curtain of blond curls aside to reveal her bare neck, nothing but a spaghetti strap covering her all the way down on her shoulder. “That’s right.” My lips find the spot that made her shiver last weekend, and I lick it. Sure enough, as if on cue, Henley quivers against me, her response making my dick spring to life. Slowly, I feast on her neck, hitting every citrus-scented spot I know makes her weak. A small laugh comes from her throat as I make my way to her shoulder. “How are we going to fit in that bed together? How do you even sleep in that thing?” She points to my bed, the same extra-long sized twin every college student gets issued in their dorm room. I chuckle, because she has a point. “Part of me thinks they make them that small so when we’re getting busy, we have to get real close.” And without further ado, I spin her, pick her up, and deposit her so that she’s sitting on my bed, legs spread open. Before He