Main The Play (Briar U Book 3)
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Yeap l like ? this story coz
10 April 2021 (13:07)
This one is top of my list for favorite! The ending made me laugh so hard
28 November 2021 (03:26)
I can't open any of these books once downloaded ??
28 December 2021 (00:29)
I'm unable to read books, I'm glad that I found such app where all books available but when I got download, it's not going Open. I don't why even though I try laptop to but isn't working please let me know how can read books. It would be great help of you.
14 January 2022 (14:57)
Zzzz , You can download an app called ; Reader on playstore :) Helps read different formats available on this website, also lets you organize your books ;)
16 January 2022 (20:54)
Contents The Play 1. Hunter 2. Demi 3. Hunter 4. Demi 5. Hunter 6. Hunter 7. Demi 8. Demi 9. Hunter 10. Demi 11. Hunter 12. Hunter 13. Demi 14. Hunter 15. Demi 16. Demi 17. Hunter 18. Demi 19. Demi 20. Demi 21. Hunter 22. Hunter 23. Hunter 24. Hunter 25. Demi 26. Demi 27. Hunter 28. Demi 29. Hunter 30. Demi 31. Demi 32. Demi 33. Hunter 34. Demi 35. Demi 36. Hunter 37. Demi 38. Hunter 39. Demi 40. Hunter 41. Demi 42. Demi Epilogue Reach Out Author’s Note The Chase: Preview Other Titles by Elle Kennedy About the Author Get ready for another binge-worthy romance from New York Times and international bestselling author Elle Kennedy! She’s the player he never saw coming… What I learned after last year’s distractions cost my hockey team our entire season? No more screwing up. No more screwing, period. As the new team captain, I need a new philosophy: hockey and school now, women later. Which means that I, Hunter Davenport, am officially going celibate…no matter how hard that makes things. But there’s nothing in the rulebook that says I can’t be friends with a woman. And I won’t lie—my new classmate Demi Davis is one cool chick. Her smart mouth is hot as hell, and so is the rest of her, but the fact that she’s got a boyfriend eliminates the temptation to touch her. Except three months into our friendship, Demi is single and looking for a rebound. And she’s making a play for me. Avoiding her is impossible. We’re paired up on a yearlong school project, but I’m confident I can resist her. We’d never work, anyway. Our backgrounds are too different, our goals aren’t aligned, and her parents hate my guts. Hooking up is a very bad idea. Now I just have to convince my body—and my heart. To Sarah J. Maas, for your support and enthusiasm. And for reminding me why I write. 1 Hunter This party blows. I probably should have stay; ed at home, but these days “home” is like living on the set of a Kardashian reality show. Thanks to my three female roommates, it’s estrogen overload over there. Granted, there’s a helluva lot of estrogen here at the Theta Beta Nu house, but it’s the kind I’m allowed to be attracted to. My roommates are all in relationships, so I’m not allowed to touch them. You’re not allowed to touch any of these women either… True. Because of my self-imposed abstinence, I’m not allowed to touch anyone, period. Which raises the question—if a tree falls in the forest and you can’t fuck anyone at the sorority-house party, is it still considered a party? I curl my fingers around the red Solo cup that my friend and teammate Matt Anderson just planted in my hand. “Thanks,” I mutter. I take a sip and make a face. The beer tastes like water, although maybe that’s a good thing. A nice incentive to not consume more than one. Morning skate isn’t until ten a.m. tomorrow, but I was planning on showing up at the arena a couple hours early to work on my slapshot. After last season’s disastrous end, I vowed to make hockey my top priority. The new semester starts Monday, our first game is next week, and I’m feeling motivated. Briar didn’t make it to the national championship last year and that’s on me. This season will be different. “What do you think about her?” Matt discreetly nods toward a cute girl in tiny boxer shorts and a pale pink camisole. She’s not wearing a bra, and the outlines of her beaded nipples are visible beneath the silky material. My mouth actually waters. Did I mention this is a PJ party? Yup yup, I haven’t had sex in nearly five months and I’m kicking off junior year at a party where every single woman in attendance is wearing next to nothing. I never claimed to be smart. “She’s smokin’,” I tell Matt. “Go make a move.” “I would, but…” He lets out a grumbling sound. “She’s checking you out.” “Well, I’m closed for business,” I answer with a shrug. “Feel free to go over there and tell her that.” I poke him good-naturedly on the arm. “I’m sure she’ll view you as an adequate consolation prize.” “Ha! Fuck off. I’m nobody’s second choice. If she’s not dying to hook up with me, I’d way rather find someone who is. I don’t need to compete for a woman’s attention.” This is why I like Matt—he’s competitive on the ice, but off of it he’s really decent. I’ve been playing hockey my entire life, and I’ve had teammates who wouldn’t even blink at stealing another guy’s girl, or even worse, hooking up with her behind his back. I’ve played with guys who treat our hockey groupies as disposable, who’ve shared girls like Tic Tacs. Guys with zero respect and terrible judgment. But at Briar, I’m fortunate to play with some stand-up dudes. Sure, no roster is without a douchebag or two, but for the most part my teammates are good guys. “Yeah, I don’t think it’ll be too hard,” I agree. “The brunette at two o’clock is already boning down with you in her head.” His brown eyes widen in appreciation as they land on the curvy girl in the short white nightie. Her cheeks flush when their gazes meet and then she smiles shyly and raises her cup in a silent toast. Matt abandons me without a backward glance. I don’t blame him. The living room is packed with girls in lingerie and guys in Hugh Hefner pajamas. I hadn’t known this was a theme event, so I’m in cargo shorts and a white wife-beater, and I’m good with that. Most of the dudes around me look ridiculous in their get-ups. “Having a good time?” The music is blaring, but it’s not loud enough that I don’t hear the girl. The one Matt had originally been checking out. “Yeah. Nice turnout.” I shrug. “DJ is pretty good.” She sidles up closer. “I’m Gina.” “Hunter.” “I know who you are.” Sympathy creeps into her voice. “I was there for the conference championship against Harvard, when that jerk broke your wrist. I can’t believe he did that.” I can. I fucked his girlfriend. But I keep that to myself. It’s not like I did it intentionally, anyway. I had no clue who that girl was when I slept with her. Apparently she knew who I was, though. She wanted to get back at her boyfriend, but I didn’t know that until he launched himself at me in the middle of the second-most important game of the season, the one that determines who goes to the Frozen Four, the first-most important game of a college season. The broken wrist was the result of a tackle to the ice. The Harvard asshole didn’t intend to break it, but it happened, and just like that I was out of the game. And so was our team captain, Nate Rhodes, who was ejected for fighting while trying to defend me. I snap myself out of the past. “It was a shitty way to end the season,” I say. Her hand finds its way onto my right biceps. My arms are looking huge these days, if I do say so myself. When you’re not having sex, working out is imperative for your sanity. “I’m sorry,” Gina purrs. Her fingers gently glide over my bare skin, sending pinpricks of heat through my arm. I almost groan out loud. Sweet fuck, I’m so horny that a woman caressing my arm is giving me a semi. I know I should brush her hand off me, but it’s been so long since I’ve been touched in a non-platonic way. At home my roommates are constantly pawing at me, but there’s nothing sexual about it. Brenna likes to mockingly smack or pinch my ass whenever we pass each other in the hall, but that’s not because she wants me. She’s just an asshole. “Want to go somewhere quiet and talk or something?” Gina suggests. I’ve lived on this planet long enough to be able to decode what “talk or something” means in girl speak. 1) There won’t be much talking. 2) There’ll be a lot of “or something.” Gina couldn’t have made this clearer if she were holding up a sign saying DO ME! She even licks her lips as she voices the question. I know I should say no, but the idea of going home right now and jacking off in my bedroom while my roommates marathon old seasons of The Hills isn’t too appealing. So I say, “Sure,” and follow Gina out of the room. We end up in a small den that contains a couch, a couple of bookshelves, and a desk against the far wall under a window. It’s surprisingly empty. The party gods have taken pity on my celibate ass and provided us with the kind of dangerous privacy I should actively be avoiding. Instead, I’m on the couch and letting Gina kiss my neck. Her satin camisole rubs my arm and it’s almost pornographic how good the barely there friction feels. Everything is turning me on these days. I got a stiffy watching a YouTube ad for Tupperware the other day because the MILF in the ad was peeling a banana. Then she chopped it up into bits and placed the banana pieces in a plastic container and not even that horrific symbolism could dissuade me from jerking off to Banana Woman. Give me a few more months and I’ll be fucking the apple pies my roommate Rupi bakes every Sunday. “You smell so good.” Gina inhales deeply, then exhales, her warm breath tickling my neck. Her lips latch on once more, a hot, wet brand against my neck. She feels good in my lap. Her shapely thighs straddle mine, her satin-clad body warm and curvy. And I have to stop this. I made a promise to myself, and to my team, although none of them asked me to do it and they all think I’m insane for even attempting abstinence. Matt flat-out stated he doesn’t believe that me setting aside my sexual urges is going to impact our hockey games in the slightest. But I think it will, and for me it’s a matter of principle. The guys voted me captain. I take that responsibility seriously, and I know from personal experience that I have the tendency to let women mess with my head. Screwing around got me a broken wrist last year. I’m not looking to repeat that. “Gina, I—” She cuts me off by pressing her lips to mine, and then we’re kissing and my mind begins to spin. She tastes like beer and bubble gum. And her hair, which falls over one shoulder in a thick curtain of red curls, smells like apples. Mmmm, I want to eat her up. Our tongues dance and the kiss grows deeper, hotter. My head keeps spinning as lust and unhappiness war inside me. I’ve lost all capability to think clearly. I’m so hard it hurts and Gina makes it worse by rubbing herself all over my crotch. Thirty more seconds, I tell myself. Thirty more seconds and then I’ll stop this from going any further. “I want you so bad.” Her lips are fused to my neck again, and then, fuck, her hand slides between us. She cups my cock over my shorts and I almost weep with pleasure. It’s been so long since a hand that didn’t belong to myself touched my dick. It feels criminally good. “Gina, no,” I groan, and it takes all my willpower to remove her hand. My cock protests by leaking precome all over the inside of my boxers. Her cheeks are flushed red. Eyes glazed. “Why not?” “I’m…taking a break from all that.” “From what?” “Sex.” “What about it?” “I’m going without.” “Without what?” She looks as confused as I am miserable. “Without sex,” I clarify glumly. “As in, I’m not having it for a while.” Her brows crash together. “But…why not?” “It’s a long story.” I pause. “Actually, it’s not a long story at all. I want to concentrate on hockey this year, and sex is too big of a distraction. That’s pretty much it.” She pauses for a long beat. Then she touches my cheek and sweeps her thumb over the stubble on my jaw. She licks her lips, and I almost come in my pants. “If you’re worried that I’m going to want anything more, don’t. I’m only looking for a one-night thing. My course load is insane this semester and I don’t have time for relationships either.” “It’s not a relationship issue,” I try to explain. “It’s sex in general. Once I have it, I want to keep having it. I get distracted and—” She cuts me off again. “Fine, no sex. I’ll just suck you off.” I nearly choke on my tongue. “Gina—” “Don’t worry, I’ll get myself off while I’m doing it. Blowjobs turn me on so much.” This is torture. Pure torture. I swear, if the military needs any ideas on how to break someone? Give them a hard-up college guy, throw a hot chick on his lap, have her tell him how she wants nothing but no-strings sex and offer him blowjobs because it turns her on so much. “I’m sorry,” I manage to croak. Then I accomplish the even more difficult feat of easing her off my lap and getting to my feet. “I’m not in a good headspace for…any of this.” She stays seated, her head tipped back to stare at me. Her eyes are wide with incredulity and a touch of…I think it might be sympathy. For chrissake. Now I’m being pitied for my celibacy. “I’m sorry,” I say again. “And just so you know, you’re the hottest girl at this party and my decision has nothing to do with you. I made myself a promise back in April and I want to keep it.” Gina chews on her bottom lip. Then, to my surprise, her expression takes on a glimmer of admiration. “I’m not going to lie,” she says, “I’m kind of impressed. Not many guys could stand by that conviction in the face of my hotness.” “Not many guys are as stupid as I am.” Grinning, she hops to her feet. “Well, I guess I’ll see you around, Hunter. I’d like to say I’ll wait for you, but a girl has needs. And obviously they don’t align with yours.” With a laugh, she saunters out of the den, and I watch her sexy ass sway with each step. I rake both hands through my hair and then release a silent groan into my palms. I don’t know if I should be proud of myself or kick my own ass for this ridiculous path I’ve chosen. For the most part, it has helped keep me focused on hockey. I take out all my sexual frustration on the ice. I’m faster and stronger than I was last season, and there’s almost a desperation in each shot that I snap at the net. The bullets hit their mark, almost as if in tribute to my suffering dick. An acknowledgment that his sacrifice must be honored. It’s only until the end of the season, I reassure myself. Seven more months, which will put me at one full year of celibacy once I cross the finish line. And then I’ll reward myself with an entire summer of sex. A sex summer. A dirty, decadent, endless sex summer… Oh Christ. I’m so tired of fucking my own hand. Granted, I’m not helping my cause when I do idiotic things like opening myself up to temptation with gorgeous sorority girls. For the first time in a long time, I’m dying for classes to start. Hopefully I’ll have so much work this semester I’ll be drowning in it. Homework, extra ice time, practice, and games—that’s all I’m allowed to focus on. And definitely no more sorority parties. Avoiding temptation is the only way to keep my head in the game and my dick in my pants. 2 Demi “Lock it,” I order as my boyfriend Nico shuts the bedroom door behind us. Just because my sorority is hosting tonight’s party doesn’t mean my room is open to the public. The last time we threw a party and I forgot to lock up, I went upstairs to grab a sweater and walked in on a threesome in progress. One of the two guys had even committed the atrocity of using my one-eyed stuffed panda Fernando as a pillow to shove under the girl’s bottom. You know, to create easier access for the double penetration that was about to commence. Never again, Fernando, I silently assure my childhood friend as I move him onto the nightstand to make room for my boyfriend. Nico falls backward onto the bed, covers his face with his arm, and releases a weary breath. He missed the party because he had to work, but I appreciate that he made the effort to come over after his shift instead of going home to the studio apartment he rents in Hastings. The little town is a ten-minute drive from the Briar campus, so it’s not super far. But I know it would’ve been easier for him to go straight home and crash. “Tired?” I cluck in sympathy. “Dead,” is his muffled reply. His forearm shields his eyes from my view, which gives me the opportunity to admire his body without getting teased for it. Nico has the long, lean build of a basketball player. Although he played point guard in high school, he didn’t land any college basketball scholarships, and he was never good enough to go to the NBA. I don’t think he cares much. Playing ball was something fun to do with his high school buddies; his real passion is cars. But though he doesn’t play sports these days, he’s still in great shape. He gets a good workout hauling boxes and furniture at the moving company where he works. “Poor baby,” I murmur. “Let me take care of it.” Smiling, I start at the bottom of his body and work my way up. Pull his sneakers off, slide his belt from its loops, peel his pants down his legs. He sits up to help me with his hoodie, then collapses back down. Now he’s bare chested, wearing boxers and socks, with his arm over his face again to protect his eyes from the light. Taking pity on him, I turn off the main light and flick on the lamp on the bed table, which emits a pale glow. Then I settle beside him, clad in the black silk nightie I wore for the party. “Demi,” he mumbles as I start kissing his neck. “Mmmm?” “I’m way too tired for this.” My mouth travels along the angular line of his jaw, rough stubble abrading my lips. I reach his mouth and kiss him softly. He kisses me back but it’s a fleeting caress. Then he gives another tired moan. “Baby, seriously, I don’t have any energy. I’ve been working fourteen hours straight.” “I’ll do all the work,” I whisper, but when my hand slides down to his crotch, there are no signs of life down there. His junk is a limp noodle. “Another night, mami,” he says sleepily. “Why don’t you put on your creepy show or something?” I swallow my disappointment. We haven’t had sex in more than a week. Nico works on the weekends and several nights during the week, but he has tomorrow off so this is one of the rare Saturdays when we could actually stay up late fooling around if we want. But he hasn’t moved a muscle since he lay down. “All right,” I relent, rolling over to grab my laptop. “The latest episode is Children Who Kill, but I don’t remember if I made you watch the one before that—Clowns Who Kill…?” Nico is snoring softly. Wonderful. It’s Saturday night, there’s a party raging downstairs, and it’s not even ten o’clock. My hot boyfriend is sound asleep in my bed and I’m about to watch a show about murderers. By myself. Living the college dream. Woo-hoo. To make matters worse, this is the last stress-free weekend we’re going to have in a long time. The fall semester starts on Monday, and my schedule is intense this year. I’m pre-med, so I need to excel and then some during my last two years at Briar if I want to get into a good med school. I won’t have nearly as much time to spend with Nico as I’ll want. I shoot a quick glance at the snoring lump beside me. He doesn’t seem bothered by our impending lack of quality time. But maybe he’s right not to be. We’ve been dating since the eighth grade. Our relationship has had its ups and downs over the years, with some breaks along the way, but we survived every single hurdle, and we’ll survive this, too. I crawl under the covers, a feat of skill because Nico’s heavy body is weighing down the other side of the blanket. I position the computer on my lap and load the next episode of my favorite show. I want to say I watch this series solely for the psychology component, but…who am I kidding? It’s fucked up and I love it. Ominous music fills the bedroom, followed by the host’s familiar British monotone informing me that I’m in store for sixty delightful minutes of children who kill. The rest of the weekend flies by. Monday morning brings with it the first class of my junior year, and the one I’m most excited about—Abnormal Psychology. Even better, two of my good friends are also taking this course. They’re waiting for me on the stone steps of the massive ivy-covered building. “Gawd, you look hot!” Pax Ling throws his arms around me, pulls back to smack a loud kiss on my cheek, and then reaches around to pinch my butt. I’m wearing denim shorts and a striped tank top, because it’s a million degrees out today. Not that I’m complaining about the summer spilling over into September. Bring on the heat, baby. “The things those shorts do to your legs, babe,” Pax gushes in approval. Beside him, TJ Bukowski rolls his eyes. When I first introduced them, TJ wasn’t a fan of Pax’s outrageous personality. But he eventually warmed up to Pax, and now they have a love-hate friendship that makes me laugh. “You look pretty hot yourself,” I inform Pax. “I love the shirt.” He flips up the collar of his pea-green polo. “It’s Gucci, bitches. My sister and I were in Boston this weekend and spent a little too much money. But hey, worth it, right?” He does a quick spin to show off his new shirt. “Worth it,” I agree. TJ adjusts the straps of his backpack. “Come on, let’s go in. We don’t want to be late for the first class. I hear Andrews is a strict prof.” I laugh. “We’re fifteen minutes early. Don’t worry.” “Did you seriously just tell Thomas Joseph not to worry?” Pax demands. “That’s his default mode.” He’s not wrong. TJ is a walking, talking ball of anxiety. TJ glowers at us. He doesn’t like being made fun of, especially about his anxiety, so I reach out and take his hand, giving it a warm squeeze. “Don’t sulk, hon. I like that you’re a worrywart. Means I’m never late for anything.” With a slight smile, he squeezes my hand back. TJ and I met in freshman year when we lived in the same dorm. My roommate had been absolutely unbearable, so TJ’s room became sort of a sanctuary for me. He’s not always the easiest person to get along with, but he’s been a good friend to me from day one. “Waaaaaiittt!” The female shriek pierces the breezy morning air. I turn my head to see a petite girl sprinting down the tree-lined path. She’s clad in a knee-length black dress with big white buttons running down the middle. One arm is thrust skyward, waving what looks like a plastic food container. A dark-haired guy pauses near the steps. He’s tall and noticeably fit, even while wearing a bulky gray hoodie with the Briar U logo on it. A frown creases his handsome face when he realizes he’s being chased. The girl skids to a stop in front of him. I can’t hear what he says to her, but her response is loud and clear. I think she might be one of the loudest people I’ve ever encountered. “I made you lunch!” Smiling broadly, she presents the container as if she’s handing him the Holy Grail. Meanwhile, his body language conveys annoyance, as if what she’s actually handing him is a bag of dog poop. Seriously? His girlfriend made him lunch and he’s not throwing his arms around her in gratitude? Jerk. “I hate that guy,” mutters TJ. “You know him?” I can’t hide my dubious expression. TJ doesn’t hang out with many jocks, and the guy we’re looking at is one hundred percent a jock. Those broad shoulders are a dead giveaway. “That’s Hunter Davenport.” Pax is the one who speaks, and I instantly recognize that tone of voice. Translation: oh-em-gee I want to lick that boy up. Sure enough, he’s got a dreamy look in his eyes. “Who’s Hunter Davenport?” I ask. “He’s on the hockey team.” Nailed it. I knew he was an athlete. Those shoulders, man. “Never heard of him,” I say with a shrug. “You’re not missing out. He’s just some rich prick jock,” TJ says. I arch a brow. “What do you have against him?” TJ doesn’t normally bash student athletes. Or anyone, for that matter, aside from the occasional jab at Pax. “Nothing. I just think he’s gross. I caught him banging some slut in the library last year. Fully clothed, but with his pants pulled down revealing half his ass. He had her right up against the wall in one of the study rooms.” TJ shakes his head in disgust. I’m disgusted too, but more so with my friend’s rude representation of Davenport’s companion. “Please don’t use that word,” I chide. “You know I’m not into slut-shaming.” TJ is instantly contrite. “Sorry, you’re right, that wasn’t cool. If anything, Davenport was the slut in that scenario.” “Why does anyone have to be a slut?” “I want to be his slut,” Pax says absently. His gaze remains glued to the dark-haired hockey player, who’s still bickering with his girlfriend. The girl keeps pushing the Tupperware into his hand and he keep pushing it back into hers. I think he’s saying he won’t have time to eat, because her answering screech is, “There’s always time to eat, Hunter! But you know what, fine. Go hungry. Forgive me for trying to offer you nourishment!” Grinning, I cup my hands around my mouth and holler, “Just take the fucking lunch already!” Davenport’s head swivels my way. He gives me a deep frown. The girl, on the other hand, beams at me. “Thank you!” She shoves the container in his hand one last time and flounces off. Her kitten heels snap like tap shoes against the cobblestones that comprise most of the historical campus. Hockey Boy is glowering as he stalks toward us. “You have no idea what you just did,” he growls at me. His voice is deeper than I expect, with a cute rasp to it. He lifts the container. “Now we set a precedent. She’ll be making my fucking lunch all semester.” I roll my eyes. “Wow, forgive her for trying to offer you nourishment.” Sighing, he starts to move away. Then halts. “Oh hey, how’s it going, man?” he says to Pax. My friend’s jaw drops to his white tennis shoes. They look new too, so I guess the shirt wasn’t the only thing he picked up in Boston. “Hi,” Pax blurts out, clearly stunned to be singled out. “You were in my Alternative Media class last term. Jax, right?” To my disbelief, Pax nods stupidly. “You in this Abnormal Psych class, too?” “Yes,” Pax breathes. “Cool. Well, see you in there.” Davenport claps Pax on the shoulder before sauntering up the stairs toward the building’s entrance. I stare pointedly at my friend, but he’s too busy gawking at Davenport’s ass. “Hey Jax,” I mock. “Earth to Jax.” TJ snickers. Pax snaps out of his trance. He gives me a sheepish look. “He fucking remembered me, Demi. I wasn’t going to correct him after he remembered me.” “He remembered Jax!” “That’s me! I’m Jax. I now live life as Jax. Hunter Davenport said so.” I smother a sigh and glance at TJ. “Why are we friends with him again?” “I have no idea,” he replies with a grin. “Come on, Jax, let’s escort our lady to class.” I enter the lecture hall sandwiched between the two boys, my arms linked through theirs. The bulk of my friends are male, a fact that my boyfriend has come to accept. In high school he wasn’t too thrilled about it, but Nico’s never been a controlling boyfriend, and I think he secretly likes how well I get along with his friends. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got girlfriends too. My sorority sisters. Pippa and Corinne, who I’m meeting for dinner tonight. But my guy friends do outnumber the girls, for whatever reason. Inside the cavernous room, the boys and I find three seats together in a row near the middle of the room. I notice Hunter Davenport one row ahead of us at the end of the aisle, hunched over his phone. “Gawd, he is perfection,” Pax groans. “You have no idea how often I’ve fantasized about luring him over to the D-side.” I pat my friend on the arm. “Maybe one day. I have faith in you.” The room fills up, but all chatter dies when our professor enters at nine o’clock sharp. She’s a tall, slender woman with short hair and shrewd brown eyes behind a pair of square black frames. She greets us warmly, and goes on to introduce herself, her credentials, and what we can expect to learn this year. I’m pumped. My father is a surgeon and my mother used to be a pediatrics nurse, so it was inevitable that I’d wind up in a medicine-related field. It’s probably programmed into my DNA. But surgery and nursing never interested me. Since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to the mind. I’m especially fascinated by personality disorders. By destructive patterns of thinking and how they impact an individual when they interact with the world. Professor Andrews discusses the specific topics we’ll be covering. “We’re going to see how abnormal psych was dealt with in the past and how modern approaches to it have evolved over the years. Clinical assessments and diagnosis will play a large role in our studies. Also, I believe in a hands-on approach to teaching. Which means I’m not simply going to stand here at this podium and spew facts about stress disorders, mood disorders, sexual disorders, and the like.” I lean forward. I’m already enthralled. I like her no-nonsense tone, and the way she sweeps her gaze over the room and tries to look everyone in the eye. I’ve had a lot of classes where the prof reads off a laptop in a monotone and doesn’t seem to notice there’re other people in the room. She says we’ll be expected to write summaries of the case studies she talks about in class, that there’ll be a few multiple-choice tests. “All test dates are in the syllabus that was emailed to you. As for your major research project, it requires a partner, and it will be an ongoing partnership, with the final research paper and in-depth case study due before the holiday break. Now this is the fun part…” I notice several uneasy glances being exchanged throughout the lecture hall. I guess it’s a red flag when a prof uses the word “fun.” But I’m not concerned. Everything she’s described so far sounds interesting. “You know that old childhood game—playing doctor?” Professor Andrews grins at the room. “That’s the gist of this research project. One partner will play the role of the psychologist; the other will be the patient. The former will be provided with diagnostic tools in order to make an assessment and write a detailed case study. The latter will be assigned a psychological disorder that they’ll be required to research and, for lack of a better word, play-act for the doctor.” “I love it,” Pax says to me. “Please, please let me play the patient.” “Why do you assume you’re partnering with Demi?” TJ objects. “Boys, there’s plenty of me to go around.” But Andrews throws us for a loop. “I’m assigning partners based on this alphabetized class list.” She holds up some sheets of paper. “When you hear your names, raise your hands so you know who you’re working with. All right, let’s start—Ames and Ardin.” Two arms go up. A girl with bright purple hair, and a girl wearing a Patriots cap. “Axelrod and Bailey.” There are about a hundred people in the class, but Andrews is efficient. She whizzes through names at a fast clip, and we reach the D’s in no time. “Davenport and Davis.” I raise my hand at the same time as Hunter. He shifts his gaze toward me, quirking his mouth in a half-smile. Next to me, TJ sighs unhappily. He leans in to whisper, “Do you want me to legally change my last name to Davidson to save you from the hockey asshole?” I grin at him. “It’s okay, I’ll survive.” “Grey and Guthrie,” Andrews is saying. “Are you sure?” TJ presses. “I bet you can switch partners if you said something.” “Killington and Ladde.” “Babe, it’s fine. I don’t even know the guy,” I say. “You’re the one who doesn’t like him.” “I love him,” Pax bemoans. “I want to play doctor with him.” But then Andrews calls out, “Lawson and Ling,” and Pax brightens up when his partner raises a hand. It’s a guy with wavy brown hair and a killer jawline. “He’ll do,” murmurs Pax, and I swallow a laugh. “These packages,” Andrews says, gesturing to the stacks of orange manila envelopes on her desk, “contain detailed instructions about the assignment. One partner, please remember to grab one after the lecture. It’ll be up to each team to decide who assumes which role.” Hunter twists around and gives me a finger gun, I assume to tell me I’m on envelope duty. I roll my eyes. Already making me do all the work, I see. Once everyone’s assigned a partner, Andrews resumes the lecture, and I take so many notes my wrist starts to ache. Shit, I’ll need to bring my laptop next time. I usually prefer writing notes by hand, but there’s a lot of material to unpack and she covers so much in such a short time. After we’re dismissed, I head to the front of the room to grab a manila envelope. It’s got some heft to it. That might alarm some people, but I’m looking forward to this project. It sounds fun and comprehensive, even if I am paired with a jock. Speaking of the jock, he wanders toward me, hiking his backpack over one broad shoulder. “Davis,” he greets me. “Davenport.” “Call me Hunter.” His gaze does a slow sweep of me from head to toe. It lingers a little too long on my bare legs, still nice and tanned from a summer spent in Miami. “I’m Demi.” I notice TJ and Pax standing near the exit, waiting for me to finish up. “Demi…” he says absently. He’s still checking out my legs, and he visibly gulps before wrenching his gaze back to mine. “Yes, that’s my name.” Why is he shifting his stance like that? I narrow my eyes at his crotch. Does he have an erection? “Demi,” he repeats. “Uh-huh. Rhymes with semi.” I shoot a pointed look at his crotch. Hunter glances down. Then he snickers. “For fuck’s sake, I’m not rocking a boner. That’s just my pants.” “Surrrrre.” He slides one big hand to his zipper area and covers it with his palm, and the tent in the denim does seem to flatten. “New jeans,” he grumbles. “They’re still kinda stiff.” “Stiff, you say.” “It’s the fabric. See? Touch it.” Laughter sputters from my throat. “Oh my God, I am not touching your dick.” “Your loss.” Hunter smirks. “If you say so, bud.” I hold up the envelope. “So when should we meet up and go over all this stuff?” “I dunno. You free tonight?” I shake my head. “I’ve got plans. How about tomorrow night?” “Yeah, I’ll be around. When and where?” “Eight o’clock at the Theta Beta Nu house?” “Huh, really? I didn’t take you for a sorority girl.” I shrug. “Well, I am.” Truth be told, I only pledged because I didn’t want to live in the dorms. Plus, my mother belonged to the Theta chapter at her college, and I grew up hearing about how her sorority days were some of the best days of her life. She was the life of the party back then, and still is. “Okay then. I’ll see you tomorrow night, Semi,” he drawls before striding off. 3 Hunter “Ugh. I miss those tits so much.” “They miss you too...” “Mmmm, yeah? What do they miss most about me?” “Definitely your tongue.” “Mmmm. Let me see ’em, Hottie. Just a peek.” “What if one of your teammates walks in?” “Then they’ll be jealous of me till the end of time because I’m dating the sexiest woman in the world.” “Fine, I’ll play. But only if you show me your dick.” “Deal. You first…aw fuck, baby…wait, maybe you should put the girls away—what if Hunter walks in? You said he was home.” “Oh, it’s a non-issue. Hunter’s a monk now. My bare boobs won’t make an impact.” From the kitchen, I finally release the growl stuck in my throat. I thought I was coming downstairs to grab some dinner before my study date with Demi Davis. Instead, I just spent the past five minutes listening to the most nauseating Skype session in the world. “Yeah, I’m a monk,” I holler at the doorway. “Not a motherfucking eunuch!” I march into the living room without giving Brenna any time to cover herself up. She doesn’t deserve it. As a reward for enduring Brenna and Jake Connelly’s video sexing, I deserve to see some boobs outside of porn. But Brenna is already shoving her shirt over her chest, so all I get is a teasing glimpse of reddish brown nipples before they disappear from view. “Move over, you evil devil woman.” I drop my ass on the couch beside her and shove a forkful of wild rice into my mouth. I glance at the laptop sitting on the coffee table. “Hey Connelly. Nice cock.” The man on the computer screen gives a startled curse. His gaze snaps down to his right hand, as if it’s just occurred to him he’s gripping a rather impressive erection. A blur of motion and the sound of a zipper, and then Jake Connelly glares at me with intense green eyes. “Spying on us, Davenport?” I swallow my food. “Is it considered spying when you’re naked Skyping in my goddamn living room?” “Our living room,” Brenna says sweetly, reaching over to pat my shoulder. Right, like I could ever forget. Other men might be thrilled to shack up with three chicks, but it’s not my ideal living situation. I like Brenna, Summer and Rupi individually, but throw the three of them together and the world becomes…loud. Not to mention they’re always ganging up on me. My former roommates, Mike Hollis and Colin Fitzgerald, technically still live here too, but they’re not around nearly as much as I’d like. Hollis only shows up on the weekends—he stays with his folks in New Hampshire during the week for his job. Fitz is a video game designer and has been taking on a lot of contract work since he graduated Briar. Sometimes that means traveling to the game studio’s headquarters. Right now he’s in New York working on a sci-fi role-playing game, and staying at Summer’s family’s Manhattan penthouse for the duration of the gig. Lucky Fitzy. The Heyward-Di Laurentis clan is filthy rich, so he’s currently living it up in the lap of luxury. “Connelly, get a move on. The car’s waiting for us downstairs,” another voice barks out of the laptop speakers. “We’ve got that charity photo op thing tonight.” Jake glances over his shoulder. “Oh shit, I forgot about that.” “What are you doing on—oh, hey Brenna!” A huge face appears on screen, a close-up so extreme that I can see up the guy’s hairy nostrils. When the man pulls back, I experience a rare fanboy moment, because holy shit—it’s Theo Nilsson, one of the star players for Edmonton. I can’t believe Nilsson just casually strolled into Jake’s hotel room, and there’s no stopping a pang of envy at the notion that Jake is actually out in the world playing hockey with some serious legends. When I was a kid I dreamed of playing professionally, but as I got older I realized it might not be the best path for me. The lifestyle scares me, if I’m behind honest. So I didn’t make myself eligible for the draft. Hell, I hadn’t even planned on playing in college. I came to Briar set on earning a business degree and becoming an entrepreneur. But a friend and teammate who graduated a couple of years ago lured me out of my self-imposed retirement, and now here I am. “I have to go, babe,” Jake tells Brenna. “Have fun getting your picture taken with all those thirsty puck bunnies,” she chirps. Nilsson barks with laughter. “It’s a charity event for a senior citizen curling organization,” Jake’s teammate reveals. She’s unfazed. “Have you seen Jake?” she asks Theo. “Those old broads will be all over him. Puck bunnies transcend age.” As Brenna signs off, I shove a piece of grilled chicken into my mouth. “I can’t believe that was Theo Nilsson,” I say between bites. “Yeah, he’s really cool. We had dinner with him last week when they played the Bruins.” “Don’t rub it in.” Brenna’s trademark red lips purse in a saccharine smile. Even when she’s home alone, she still takes the time to slather on that fuck-me lipstick. She’s evil. “If you’re a good boy, I’ll invite you next time.” “I’m always a good boy,” I protest. “Just ask my dick—poor dude wants to be bad and I ain’t having it.” She laughs. “I feel like all this pent-up lust isn’t good for your health. What if your balls explode and you die?” I think it over. “Maybe it’ll be like a thousand orgasms all rolled up in one explosion, and who would want to keep living after that? I feel like after you’ve experienced a thousand-orgasm explosion, there’s nowhere to go but down.” “That’s a good point.” Brenna’s dark eyes track me as I get up and head for the kitchen to rinse my plate. “I gotta go now,” I tell her, popping my head back into the living room. “See you later.” “Where are you off to?” “Study thing at the Theta house.” “Ha! So much for the vow of celibacy.” “Nope. The vow’s still intact. I’m just working on a project with a chick there.” “A project,” she mocks. “Yes, a project. The world doesn’t revolve around sex, Bee.” “Sure it does.” She licks her lips lasciviously and my mouth tingles in response. So does my penis. She’s right. Sex is everything and everywhere. A woman can’t even lick her lips without my brain sinking right into the sexual gutter. So far, I’ve found only one solution for controlling my libido: marijuana. And I can’t even do that as often as I’d like, except for the occasional joint at a party. Weed mellows me out and reins in my carnal impulses, but it also makes me tired and slows me down during workouts. And there’s no way I want to tempt the NCAA drug-testing gods. So, like sex, it’s just another fun activity I get to avoid. My life is awesome. “Anyway, I’m meeting some of the boys at Malone’s afterward to shoot pool. Don’t wait up.” “What? No invite?” She mock pouts. “Nope,” I reply and I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about it. I live in the estrogen zone, and sometimes it’s imperative I escape it, even if it’s just for the night. “No girls allowed. There’s enough girls in this house already.” “Oh, you love it. Rupi makes you lunch every day, Summer cooks you breakfast, and I’m always walking around in my underwear. Food and sexy material for your spank bank, Davenport. You’re living the dream.” “If I was living the dream, I’d be banging all of you every night. At the same time.” “Ha! You wish. Go have fun with your”—Brenna uses air quotes—“project.” I give her the finger and leave, and fifteen minutes later I’m back on campus, parking my Land Rover on the tree-lined street that houses Greek Row. It’s Tuesday night and the area is surprisingly quiet. Usually there’s always some nightly party or event happening on Greek Row, but tonight I hear only the faint sound of music from a few of the fraternity houses. I walk up the flower-lined path that leads to the front door of the Theta house. Nearly every window of the three-story Victorian is lit up. I ring the doorbell and a tall, skinny girl in sweats appears. She arches an eyebrow. “Can I help you?” “I’m here to see Demi.” I lift the shoulder that’s holding my backpack. “We’re studying.” Demi’s sorority sister shrugs, then turns her head and shouts, “Demi! Door!” I enter the house, which has undergone a drastic makeover since I was here on the weekend. It’s neat as a pin and smells like lemon cleaner, and there’s no scantily clad chicks, drunken dudes, or puddles of beer all over the hardwood. Footsteps echo on the wooden staircase, and the girl from psych class saunters down the steps, a lollipop sticking out of the corner of her mouth. Naturally, I zero in on her lips, which are glossy and tinged red from the candy she’s sucking on. Her dark hair is up in a high ponytail and she’s wearing plaid pants and a thin white tank top over a black sports bra. She’s really fucking cute, and I have to force myself to stop checking her out. “Hi,” she says, giving me a long appraisal. “Mel, who was at the door?” someone shouts. There’s a burst of chatter, and then half a dozen girls spill out of the kitchen into the front hall. They all stop abruptly when they notice me. One of them openly undresses me with her eyes, while the others are slightly more discreet. “Hunter Davenport,” the ogler drawls. “Lord, you’re even better looking up close.” I don’t normally get shy or stupid around women, but they’re all standing there appraising me, and it’s fucking disconcerting. “Maybe you should give me your number?” I murmur to Demi. “Why would I do that?” “So that next time I can text you when I’m here and you can quietly come get me and we could avoid all of…this…” I gesture to our audience. “What’s the matter? Are you intimidated by a few girls?” Rolling her eyes, Demi leads me toward the stairs. “Nah.” I wink. “I’m worried about you.” “Me?” “Well, yeah. If I keep coming over to see you, your sisters will start getting insanely jealous, and their resentment will eventually make them treat you poorly and you’ll lose all of your friends. Is that really what you want, Semi?” She laughs. “Oh no! You’re right. From now on you should climb in through my window. Like Romeo.” Her tongue shifts her lollipop to the other side of her mouth. “Spoiler alert: Romeo dies.” She ushers me into a room on the second floor and closes the door. I examine the bedroom. The walls are yellow and the bed is one of those four-post ones that looks like it should have a billowing canopy but doesn’t. The bedspread is purple, and there’s a stuffed panda chilling on one of the pillows. Demi’s desk is laden with textbooks. Chem, bio, and a math one I can’t read the title of. I raise my eyebrows. If she’s taking all of those in one semester, that’s an intense course load and I don’t envy her at all. But my gaze is more interested in the large bulletin board over the desk. It’s practically overflowing with pictures, and I move toward it to take a closer look. Hmmm, there are a helluva lot of dudes in these photographs. Some girls, too, but Demi’s friend group seems to consist mostly of guys. Several photos feature Demi with the same raven-haired guy. Boyfriend? “So, how are we doing this?” I ask, dropping my bag on her desk chair. “Well, Andrews said we’re supposed to treat these meet-ups like real therapy sessions.” “Right.” I waggle my eyebrows. “You ready to play doctor?” “Gross. I’m not playing anything with you, hockey boy.” “That’s hockey man, thank you very much.” “Okay, hockey man.” Demi digs into her schoolbag and pulls out the manila envelope we got in class yesterday. She sits on the edge of the bed with the envelope on her lap. “All right, so I figured you would be the patient, and I’d be the doctor. That means you’d be doing the easier part of the write-up.” I frown. “What makes you think I need the easy part?” “Oh, sorry, I don’t mean to insult your intelligence,” she says, sounding sincere. “But a friend told me you’re a business major.” “So?” “So I’m the psych major in this partnership, and I think writing the case study and doing all the diagnosis work would be more beneficial to me than you, since I want to make a career out of this. But if you really don’t want to do the research element, we can draw straws.” I think about it for a moment. She does have a point about the career stuff. And I don’t mind doing the research portion. “Sure, whatever. I’ll be the patient.” “Perfect. Done.” “See how well we work together?” My gaze drifts to the small loveseat tucked beneath the window. “Sweet, it’s like a real shrink’s office.” I stride over to the couch and cram my too-large body onto it, stretching my legs over the edge. Then I reach for my zipper. “Pants on or off?” 4 Demi I burst out laughing at the outlandish question. “Please, for the love of God, keep your pants on.” “You sure?” Hunter says, his fingers poised over the button of his jeans. “Positive.” “Your loss.” He winks and shoves his hands behind his head. Davenport is entertaining, I’ll give him that. He’s also too attractive for his own good. My sorority sisters left drool puddles on the floor when he walked by them before. Most of them have a huge thing for jocks, so they’ll probably burst into my room begging for details the second Hunter leaves. He stretches out on my little couch and kicks off his shoes. He’s wearing jeans that are ripped at the knees, a black T-shirt, and an unzipped gray hoodie. Muscular but not bulky, he’s got a great body, and the heart-stopping face to go with it. And when he flashes me a cocky grin, I’m horrified to feel heat rise in my cheeks. That smile of his is dangerous. No wonder Pax is obsessed with this guy. I open the large envelope and extract a stapled packet with the instructions for our assignment, as well as two other envelopes. One is labeled “DOCTOR,” the other “PATIENT.” “Here.” I toss the patient envelope at the couch. Hunter catches it easily. Inside my envelope, I find a stack of papers, and flip through it. It’s blank templates that I’m supposed to use for my “session notes.” I skim the instructions bundle. We need to log a minimum of eight sessions, but we can do as many as we want. My session notes will apparently be included in the appendix for the case study I’ll need to write. My package also includes diagnostic tools and tip sheets. From the couch, Hunter chuckles softly. I glance over to see him skimming through papers. His stack isn’t as big as mine, likely because his part of the project involves more research. “We probably should’ve decided on our roles in class,” I realize. “I don’t know if we can do much of a session before you’ve brushed up on your fake condition.” But Hunter just shrugs. A wry note enters his voice as he studies his papers again. “It’s cool. I know enough to wing it, at least for this first chat.” “You sure?” “Yup.” He slides the paperwork back into the envelope and drops it on his bag. Then he gets comfortable again. “All right, let’s go.” As per Andrews’ instructions, I’m not allowed to record the session. But I’m confident in my note-taking abilities. I crunch the last bit of my lollipop between my teeth, swallow the candy, and toss the little stick in the wastebasket. Once we’re both settled, we start going through the formalities. “So, Mister…?” I wait for him to fill in the rest. “Sexy.” “Veto. You can do better than that.” “Big,” he supplies. I sigh. “Smith,” I say firmly. “You’re Mr. Smith. First name, um, Damien.” “Like the devil kid from that horror movie? Veto. It’s bad karma.” “You’re bad karma,” I mutter. Jesus, it’s taking forever just to record his fake name. At this rate, the project will never get done. “Fine, your first name is Richard, you picky dick.” He snorts. “It’s nice to meet you, Dick Smith,” I say sweetly. “I’m Dr. Davis. What brings you here today?” I half-expect another bullshit line, something about how this Dick needs to be sucked. But he surprises me. “My wife thinks I need therapy.” My eyebrows shoot up. Ooh, getting right down to it. I love it. “Is that so… And why does she think that?” “Honestly? I don’t know. She’s the one who needs therapy. She’s always losing her mind over something.” I jot down his phrasing. “What do you mean by that, losing her mind?” “She overthinks everything. She bitches all the time. For example, if I’m home late from work, her brain immediately jumps to ‘he’s been screwing around.’” Hunter pauses irritably. “I guess for the sake of full disclosure, I should mention I cheated on her once or twice, and yes, she is aware of this.” Wow, this is like a soap opera. I’m already invested. “All right…this cheating you mention.” I make some more notes. “How long ago did it take place? And was it once, or was it twice?” “The first affair was years ago, the most recent one this year. I was under a lot of stress at work.” I note that he ignored my question about how many times he’d actually cheated. “Why do you think you cheated? Is there a particular reason that stands out?” “It’s hard to feel connected to somebody when they’re constantly complaining and making demands. She fucking drove me to cheat. I mean, what else did she expect would happen if she kept acting like that?” Ugh, what a prick. He holds his wife responsible for his cheating— I stop the train of thought, reminding myself that I’m not supposed to be judge. I’m supposed to understand. If I’m going to be a clinical psychologist, I’m sure I’ll hear thousands of sordid tales of infidelity. I might even need to counsel someone who physically or emotionally abuses their partner. It’s highly likely I’ll encounter patients I despise, or who I might not be able to help. My job isn’t to condemn them; it’s to hopefully help them reach self-awareness. “So when you came clean about the affairs, did you and your wife agree to start over? Start fresh?” Hunter nods. “She accepted responsibility for her part in what happened and agreed to forgive me. That means it’s done, in the past. Her being suspicious of me all the time doesn’t make me want to spend time with her. Trust me, she’s not making it easy to be around her.” “I imagine so. But can you recognize why she might be behaving this way? Let’s try to put yourself in her position. How do you think you’d react if your wife was unfaithful?” “She’d never cheat on me,” he says smugly. “I’m the catch in this relationship. She’s definitely punching above her weight class.” You’re the fucking worst, I want to say. “I see,” is what I say instead. And now I understand why therapists seem to cling to those two words. It’s code for whatever expletives are ringing in your head. Hunter and I talk for another twenty minutes about his fictional wife, her nagging, and his infidelity, and I begin to notice a trend in his responses. A complete inability to put himself in her shoes. Lack of empathy, I write down, and draw a little star around it. As he finishes another long-winded anecdote that paints his wife as the villain and himself as the innocent victim, I can’t help but be impressed by how he just threw himself headfirst into this assignment. And he’s doing such a solid job, which is…ugh, it’s sexy as hell, if I’m being honest. I’m about to ask another question when Hunter sits up. “Let’s stop now. I’ve officially tapped out my knowledge about…my condition,” he says vaguely. “Got to do some more research before we keep talking.” “This was fun,” I admit. “Don’t you think?” “Yeah, it kinda was.” He slides off the loveseat and raises his muscular arms above his head to stretch them out. His T-shirt slides up as he does this, revealing abs of steel. My jaw drops. “Oh my God. That is so unfair.” “What?” Hunter’s dark eyebrows furrow. “Have you seen your abs? Who the fuck has abs like that?” His confusion gives way to a smug smile. “I play hockey. Every inch of me looks like that.” Once again, my cheeks feel a bit warm. I’m trying hard not to picture what the rest of him looks like beneath his clothes, but I have a feeling he’s not exaggerating. His physique is bonkers. I notice my phone light up on the nightstand and go over to check it. It’s been on silent, and Nico texted twice during the past hour. One message thirty minutes ago, and another just now. NICO: Hey bb I’m gonna have to bail on sleepover 2nite. Car died after work. Battery probs. Gonna get it towed to the garage in Hastings and pick it up in the a.m. b4 class. NICO: R u mad I type a quick reply. ME: Not mad, babe. Disappointed, tho. “Everything okay?” Hunter asks as he zips up his hoodie. I shrug. “My boyfriend canceled on me. He was supposed to stay over tonight but his car battery died. I guess he needs a new one or something.” “Bummer. I’d invite you to play pool with me and the boys tonight, but I need a break from chicks.” “Yes, I imagine all the female attention must be excruciating.” I think about the cute girl from yesterday, the one who went out of her way to make him lunch and he totally spurned her. “Come on, I’ll walk you downstairs.” But before I can reach the door, Nico calls. “Oh, I need to answer this,” I say as we leave the bedroom. I have no choice, because whenever I miss a call or text from Nico, he has a tendency not to answer when I call or text back, even if it’s half a second later. I don’t get it. Way too many people do that. How are they not available five seconds after contacting me? I swear, it’s like they send a text and then hurl their phones into the river. “Hey,” I say hastily. “What’s up?” “Just wanted to check in,” Nico says. “I’m gonna shower soon and then I’ll probably crash early.” “Why—oh, right, you need to pick up your car.” “Pick it up?” “Because you got it towed to the shop…?” I remind him. From the corner of my eye, I notice Hunter curiously listening in. I urge him to walk faster as we descend the stairs. “Oh no, actually, I got a jump from Steve. He had cables in his truck.” “Wait, so you got the car started?” Then why can’t you drive here? I want to ask, but force myself not to. “Yeah, I did. But I don’t want to drive it again tonight in case the battery dies again,” Nico says as if reading my mind. “I’m gonna get it checked out in the morning. But I’ll see you tomorrow night, okay?” “Sure.” “Love you, mami.” “Love you too.” I’m frowning as Hunter and I reach the front door. “The boyfriend?” he prompts. I nod slowly. “I guess he got his car going with jumper cables, but the battery is still messed up? I’m not sure. I don’t know much about cars.” “Sounds a bit shady,” remarks Hunter. “Using the ol’ car broke down excuse to avoid seeing someone.” “Really?” I challenge. “Do you often lie about your car breaking down to get out of a date?” “Often? No. Have I done it? Yes.” I glare at him. “Well, not everybody is a liar like you.” He doesn’t take offense. Just grins. “Gee. I didn’t mean to hit a nerve.” “You didn’t.” “Uh-huh. Anyway. My boys are waiting. Later, Semi.” I practically shove him out the front door. Maybe if I get rid of him fast enough, that little seed of doubt he created won’t take root. 5 Hunter I’m the first one to arrive for Thursday afternoon’s team meeting. I never used to be early for these things, but now that I’m team captain I’m trying to lead by example, so here I am, alone in the media room. The Briar hockey facility is top-of-the-line, so we have a sweet A/V set-up. The large auditorium-style room offers three rows of tables with huge padded chairs, and a massive screen to watch game tape on. We’ve been studying film on Eastwood College all week. They’re our conference rivals, and we’re matched up against them for tomorrow’s first official game of the season. I’m not too worried. Eastwood’s roster is not particularly strong this year—ours is. Even with Fitzy, Hollis and Nate Rhodes gone, the team still has a solid lineup. Me, Matty, an excellent goalie, and some of the hottest high school players Coach Jensen recruited for the freshman class. After the team voted me to take over for Nate, our former captain, I called him up asking for tips on how to keep morale up, how to motivate the boys, how to actually lead, but he didn’t have much advice. He said the dynamics change every year with the ebb and flow of new faces, and that I’d learn as I go along. It’s simply a matter of navigating your way through thirty-odd egos, and keeping everybody pumped up and focused on the task at hand: winning. Speaking of new faces, there are quite a lot of them this season. At the end of August we held open tryouts, an event that serves to showcase players who weren’t recruited out of high school or those who try out for the hell of it. One of my new favorite teammates is the result of those tryouts—Conor Edwards, who saunters into the room as I’m settling in a chair in the front row. Con’s a self-proclaimed fuckboy, but he’s not as douchey as you’d expect. He’s actually quite decent, with a dry sense of humor that I appreciate. “S’up, captain,” he says before yawning hugely. He rakes a lazy hand through his sun-streaked blond hair, drawing my attention to the purple hickey on his neck. He reminds me of Dean, the older brother of my roommate Summer, and a good friend (and former mentor) of mine. Dean was unapologetically sexual when he attended Briar. He didn’t care if everyone knew he was constantly hooking up. And his manwhore ways didn’t hurt his reputation either, because every chick who met him wanted to get naked with him. But his girlfriend Allie is the only one to ever steal his heart. They’ve been living together in NYC for the past couple of years. Conor sits beside me. A few seniors stride in and settle in the top row. “Yo,” they greet us, nodding hello. We nod back. Matt Anderson enters next. With Fitz and Hollis gone, I guess Matty’s my best friend on the team now. He’s the only black player on the roster, drafted by LA last year. I hope he officially signs with them, because it’s a great franchise to play for. “Hey,” Matt says. The room begins to fill up. We’ve got about two dozen starters, and then the rest of the roster is made up of benchwarmers and guys who still need a lot of development. And although Mike Hollis graduated, there is always, without fail, a Hollis type on every team. The lovable idiot, as Brenna calls him. The honor this year goes to a sophomore named Aaron, except everyone calls him Bucky because he looks like that character from the Marvel movies. Bucky hates it, but the thing about nicknames is, they stick—whether you want them to or not. Just ask our senior left-winger Treeface, sometimes shortened to Tree or T, who one time four years ago got drunk and lamented how sad it is that trees don’t have faces and can’t see the birds who make nests on them. I’m pretty sure John Logan is responsible for that nickname. Munching on a bran muffin he probably grabbed from the team kitchen, Bucky approaches the front row. “Did you talk to Coach about it?” he demands while chewing with his mouth open. I play dumb. “About what?” “The pig, dude.” “The pig,” echoes Jesse Wilkes, a fellow junior. He was on his phone, but now he’s focused on our conversation. Fuck. I was hoping the subject would quietly be forgotten. “No, not yet.” And I don’t plan on it, I want to add, but I haven’t found a way to finagle out of this one yet. The guys are insisting we need a team mascot, while I personally don’t see the point. I mean, if we were somehow able to strap a pair of skates on a polar bear and have him perform double axels on the ice between periods, then, sure, great. Bring it on. Short of that, who the fuck cares. Coach’s arrival spares me from humoring my teammates. He strides in and claps his hands sharply. “Let’s not waste time,” he barks. “Eyes on the screen.” Chad Jensen is a total hard-ass—he doesn’t mince words or indulge us. When we’re in this arena, we’re required to be all business or else GTFO. “Pay attention to Kriska on this first play,” Coach orders as a hi-def video pops up on the projection screen. He’s at his desk, using his tablet pen to circle Eastwood’s goalie, Johan Kriska. The freshman is rumored to be one of the best college goalies on the east coast. I’ve been studying the handful of his high school games that were televised, as well as all of Eastwood’s preseason games. I need to be prepared when I face this kid. Not to sound cocky, but I’m the best forward on the team. And the top scorer, for sure, judging by last season’s stats lines. Nate and I were tied for goals, but my former captain had me on assists. I guess that’s another captainly requirement—Don’t hog the glory. I’m slowly compiling a list of captain dos and don’ts. Despite his stellar rep, I’m not overly concerned about Kriska. I’ve already found a weakness. “His glove is slow,” I pipe up. “Kid has trouble with the high shots. Maybe a thirty percent save rate, if that.” “Yes,” Coach confirms. “That’s why we’ve been running those concentrated shooting drills this week. But I’m sure they’re prepping just as hard, and Kriska knows his own weaknesses. I want to see a shit ton of low shots on goal tomorrow. He’ll already be overcompensating for the weak glove, and he may be so focused on stopping those shots that we’ll catch him off guard and push one through the five hole.” “Good point.” We watch more of the tape. Someone whistles when Kriska makes one of the most gorgeous stick saves I’ve ever seen. “Look at that,” Coach says, pausing the game. “No desperation on his face at all. He’s diving back into position to try to deflect the puck after getting completely hammered by those shots, and he’s cool as a cucumber.” It is kind of impressive. Goaltenders don’t use their sticks to make a save if they can help it. Pads, gloves, even their own bodies, are preferable. A stick save tends to be the result of pure luck, with the goalie scrambling like mad. But with Kriska, it appears effortless. “We just need to find a way to rattle him,” Matt speaks up. I nod in agreement. I’m feeling confident, though. Last season we were killing it. It wasn’t lack of skill that cost us. It was a fluke injury, along with Nate’s ejection while defending my honor. Another rule for the captain’s handbook: defend your boys. This year we lost a few good guys to graduation, but we gained a lot more. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t make it to the Frozen Four, not unless we’re waylaid by massive team-wide injuries or do something to royally fuck up our chances. The meeting wraps up when Coach claps his hands signaling that we can leave. Bucky instantly raises an arm and clears his throat. Loudly. He glances over to shoot me a meaningful look. Shit. Coach’s head lifts from his laptop. “What’s going on?” “The captain has something to say,” Bucky announces. Jensen’s shrewd dark eyes shift toward me. Those eyes are uncannily like Brenna’s, complete with the perpetual glint of mocking. Then again, he’s her father, so… “Davenport?” he prompts. “Uh…” Fuck fuck fuck. I’m about to sound like total moron. But I force myself to stand up and say, “Some of the guys want a pig.” Coach’s eyebrows rise to his hairline. It’s rare to catch the man off guard, but right now he looks flabbergasted. “A fucking what?” I swallow a sigh. “A pig.” “A teacup pig,” Jesse Wilkes chimes in. “A fucking what?” Coach repeats. “Here’s the thing,” I explain stupidly. “Bucky’s sister and brother-in-law just got a pig from a breeder up in Vermont. Not a huge one, but a mini version. Apparently they make great pets? They’re like dogs, except they eat and shit more.” “What is happening right now?” Coach shakes his head. “What are you saying to me?” I take another stab at an explanation. “You know how some teams have mascots? The Darby College Rams have that billy goat that lives in the clubhouse behind their arena. Or the Coyotes down in Providence—they have a dog that’s half-wolf and everyone takes turns housing him?” “Tabasco,” exclaims a senior D-man. “I love that dog,” Tree says happily. “Did you know Tabasco can hump on command?” Bucky says, sounding impressed. “Big fucking deal,” Conor drawls. “I can do that too.” Loud laughter rings out. Coach holds up his hand to silence everybody. “Are you idiots asking me if you can have a pet?” “Pretty much.” I give him a pleading look. “As the new captain, I’ve been asked to formally put forth the request.” “A room full of grown men are requesting a pet.” I nod. “It’ll be great for morale,” Bucky insists. “Think about it, Coach. We could bring the pig out before games and he’ll get the crowd all hyped up. Dude, it’ll build so much excitement.” “How does a pig hype up a crowd? Is he going to sing the national anthem?” Coach asks politely. “Come on, Coach, don’t be silly,” Con mocks. “Everyone knows pigs can’t sing.” “You on board with this, Edwards?” Coach is skeptical. “You’re Team Pig?” Conor flashes a cheerful smile. “I literally could not care less.” “We’re all on board,” Bucky argues. Coach’s sharp gaze conducts a sweep of the room. “Jesus Christ. You dumbasses are serious? You honestly think that between the thirty of you, you can actually keep an animal alive?” “Hey,” Matt protests. “I’ve got two dogs at home.” “And where is your home?” “Minneapolis.” “And where are you right now?” Matt shuts up. “You’re all full-time college students with intensive athletic schedules—and don’t even get me started on your social lives—and you think you can take care of a living creature? I call bullshit.” He’s done the exact wrong thing. A bunch of competitive hockey players being told they can’t do something? Suddenly even the guys that were indifferent to the pig are coming to their own defense. “I could take care of a pet,” objects Joe Foster, a new addition to the forward roster. “Me too.” “Ditto.” “Yeah, come on, bro, give us a shot.” Coach’s jaw tightens and twitches as if he’s holding back a sea of expletives. “I’ll be right back,” he finally says, before stalking out of the room without explanation. “Holy shit, you think he’s going to get a pig?” I turn toward the moron who asked the question. “Of course not,” I sputter at Bucky. “Where the fuck would he find one? Hiding in the equipment closet?” I shake my head mutinously. “You just had to make me ask him, eh? Now he thinks we’re insane.” “There’s nothing insane about wanting the love of a pig.” Jesse hoots. “Guys, I know what to write on Bucky’s tombstone.” “Fuck off, Wilkes.” My teammates are still bickering amongst themselves when Coach returns. With purposeful strides, he goes to the center of the media room and holds up an egg, which I assume he grabbed from the team kitchen. “What’s that?” Bucky asks in bewilderment. Our fearless leader smirks. “This is your pig.” “Coach, I think it’s an egg,” one of the freshmen says hesitantly That earns him a look of disdain. “I know it’s an egg, Peters. I’m not a moron. However, until the end of the regular season, this egg is your pig. You want me to sign off on a team pet, which, by the way, involves a shit ton of red tape with the university? Then prove to me that you can keep something alive.” He waves the egg in the air. “It’s hard-boiled. If it cracks, you killed your precious porker. Bring it back to me in one piece and then we’ll talk pigs.” Coach grabs a Sharpie from the desk and scribbles something on the egg. “What are you doing?” Bucky asks curiously. “Signing it. And trust me, I know when my signature has been forged. So if this breaks, don’t even think about trying to swap it out with another one. If this isn’t the egg that comes back to me, then no pig.” Coach plants the egg in Bucky’s hand. “Congratulations, you have a team mascot.” Bucky catches my eye and gives me a triumphant thumbs-up. If this is what being team captain is all about, I don’t know if I really want the job. 6 Hunter We’re absolutely wiping the ice with Eastwood College on Friday night, and it has nothing to do with Kriska’s weak glove. We’re simply on fire and they are not. Kriska stops shot after shot, but five—count ’em, five—light up the lamp. I’d like to say I contributed more than one, but the hockey gods decided to spread the wealth. The first goal was mine, but the next four went to various teammates. I don’t know what happened to Eastwood’s defense, but the D-men didn’t show up to play tonight. Kriska is all alone in the net batting off pucks like Neo dodging bullets in The Matrix. Any time a Briar player gets a breakaway, the goalie’s face turns snow white behind his mask, because he knows he’s in trouble. The Eastwood D-men are either scrambling to keep up with us, or tangled up in the corners providing endless rebound opportunities for Briar. Our fans scream their approval. This is a home game, so our school colors, black and silver, make up a massive expanse of the stands. Damn, it feels good to be back, to be breathing the crisp air in the arena. The chill tickling the back of my neck only heightens the adrenaline coursing in my blood. I’m on the bench. Two minutes left in the third period, but there’s no way Eastwood is scoring five goals in two minutes. I glance over. Con’s beside me. We’re on the same line this year, along with Matt, and the three of us are a forced to be reckoned with. This line is going to take us all the way to the finals. “Je-sus, that was a crazy crosscheck,” I praise him. We’re both out of breath. Our last shift was a penalty kill, during which Conor landed a bone-jarring hit on an Eastwood forward. “Dude, my ears are still ringing from it.” His grin gives off a toothy, wolfish vibe thanks to the mouth guard half dangling from his mouth. “We needed you last season,” I admit. “We didn’t have a lot of goons.” Meanwhile, our biggest rival Harvard had the goon of all goons, Brooks Weston. But Conor only transferred this year from a college on the West Coast. He’s a California boy, with his surfer hair and laidback attitude. Yet there’s nothing laidback about him when he’s smashing other dudes into the boards. Coach keeps us on the bench as the clock ticks down, letting our third and fourth lines enjoy the action. We’re in no danger of losing the game, and the extra ice time helps to develop them as players. The boys manage to hold Eastwood, and our first game ends in a shutout. Everyone’s in a celebratory mood as we file into the locker room to shower and change. Arrangements are made to go to Malone’s, the bar in Hastings where the hockey crowd usually gathers. “You in?” I ask Bucky. “Yeah. Just gimme a couple minutes. Gotta make sure Pablo gets his dinner.” I choke back laughter. On the top shelf of Bucky’s locker, the team mascot is tucked away in its brand new coral-pink drink cozy. With the utmost care, Bucky reaches for Pablo Eggscobar. Jesse, who’s wandering by in a towel, spots the egg in Bucky’s hand. “What the hell, man! Can’t you see Pablo’s hungry?” “Feed me,” a singsong voice drifts from across the room, courtesy of Velky, our international student from Sweden. In the day and a half since Pablo joined us, things have taken an evil turn. A few of the guys decided to be dicks about it and fuck with Bucky, texting him at random times throughout the day and night from the egg’s point of view. Usually in all caps. Messages along the lines of: FEED ME! PET ME! LET ME OUT TO TAKE A DUMP! However, like my friend Mike Hollis, Bucky is rubber and we’re glue, and nothing anyone says or does ever bothers him. The fucker decided that sticking to a care schedule actually makes sense. Then he discussed it with Coach, and now we’re all sworn by the honor system to treat Pablo like a real pig. Reasoning being that if we don’t, then any time he’s in our custody we’d toss him in a drawer and forget about him. Bucky’s the only one treating it seriously. The rest of us are just excited to mess with each other. “Here, Pablo, eat your dinner,” Bucky tells the egg. The egg says nothing because it’s a goddamn egg. “I feel like I’ve traveled back in time to pre-school,” Matt remarks. He shakes his head. “I’m not pandering to an egg, dude.” “Aw, well, that’s too bad,” Bucky answers smugly. “’Cause tonight’s your turn with him.” “No, it’s not. It’s Conor’s,” Matty protests. “Nope. Refer to the schedule.” Bucky did a random draw this morning to determine who has custody of the egg and when. My turn is next week. “This is fucking balls.” Matt grabs the plush egg container from Bucky. “Swear to God, I’mma get wasted tonight and eat this motherfuckin’ thing.” I’m chuckling as I leave the locker room, with Matt and Bucky in tow. Conor and the others are already gone. We meet up with them again at Malone’s, my favorite place in town. Mostly due to its roomy booths, cheap beer, and sports memorabilia all over the walls, which at the moment are shaking from the classic rock song blasting through the bar. Matt says something, but the loud chatter and blaring music drowns him out. He switches to sign language, nodding toward the bar and making a drinking motion with his hand, signaling he’s going over there to order. My gaze gives the main room a quick sweep, but doesn’t land on anyone familiar. I weave through the crowd toward the arched doorway to the adjoining room, which houses the pool tables and some more booths along the wall. I spot a blonde head and then a brunette one. The Betty and Veronica of Briar University. “There’s Brenna and Summer in the middle booth.” I raise my voice so Bucky can hear me. His brown eyes glaze over. “Fuuuuck. She’s so hot.” “Who? Brenna? Or Summer?” “Well, both. But I was talking about Summer. That top she’s wearing is…fuuuuck,” he says again. Yeah, her skimpy yellow halter top is hot, I have to acknowledge as we near the booth. But I’m gratified that the sight of Summer Di Laurentis no longer elicits a sexual response from me. Even celibate, I don’t particularly want to sleep with her. I had a thing for Summer when she first transferred to Briar, but unfortunately she had a thing for Fitz. And while I still believe my friend was shady in the way he handled the situation, I’m one hundred percent over Summer. She and Fitzy are happy together, and the more time I spend with her living in the same house, the more I realize she’s not my type. Summer’s too easy, and I don’t mean slutty. She’s just not much of a challenge. She’s easy to please, easy to figure out. Her transparency was initially why I liked her, but I can’t deny it’s more fun when a woman poses a bit more of a mystery. Not that I’m solving any female mysteries any time soon. No sex means limiting my exposure to women, because I know myself. The more time I spend with someone, the more I want to fuck them. My roommates are the exception. And as of Monday, so is Demi Davis. My new classmate is fun to talk to, but the best thing about her is her boyfriend. Brenna bolts out of the booth when she spots me. “Hunter! Jesus, what a game!” “I know, right?” “You superstar, you.” She flings her arms around me, which is way more touchy-feely than Brenna usually is. But then I see the two shot glasses on the tabletop. Ah. She and Summer already started hitting the vodka. “Seriously, I was on my feet the entire time cheering my lungs out,” Brenna raves, and I know it’s not just drunken praise. Brenna Jensen is probably the biggest hockey fan (and expert) in this entire bar. She’s definitely her father’s daughter, even landing an internship at ESPN. She works there on weekends, and afternoons when she doesn’t have class. “That was the ass kicking of the century,” Summer agrees. “I wish Fitzy got to see it, but I was live-tweeting the entire time, so he can read the thread later.” I sit next to Brenna. Bucky slides in next to Summer. A minute later Matt reappears with a pitcher and a stack of plastic cups. Malone’s has a new Friday night special—half-price pitchers, baby. I don’t plan on going overboard tonight, because we have another game tomorrow. But a few beers won’t hurt. “Where’s the nutty one?” Matt asks the girls. “Who? Rupi?” Brenna snickers. “She’s at home watching Glee reruns.” “Why didn’t she come out?” “She doesn’t have a fake ID,” I supply. “And she refuses to get one.” Summer speaks up, mimicking Rupi’s high voice so flawlessly it’s almost like she’s in the booth with us. “I can’t break the law! I will wait until I am of age, thank you very much!” Brenna lets out a rueful sigh. “I honestly don’t know how Hollis puts up with her. And vice versa.” “For real,” Summer agrees. “All they do is scream at each other.” “Or make out,” I counter. “True. They scream or they make out.” Summer shakes her head. “There’s no in between.” “Is he still coming back on the weekends?” Matt asks, raising his beer to his lips. He takes a sip. “I haven’t seen him in ages.” “He’s home every weekend,” I confirm. “But he spends most of his time with Rupi. Hollis in love is a scary thing to witness, bro. You need to come over this weekend and see it for yourself.” Bucky sets Pablo on the table so he can pour himself a beer. When Summer reaches for the egg, he swiftly smacks her hand away. “Pablo isn’t a toy,” he scolds. “It’s just an egg.” “Just an egg?” Conor drawls, approaching the booth to catch the end of Summer’s amused response. “That’s our fucking mascot, Di Laurentis. Show some respect.” “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to insult your egg.” He grins, and even Summer can’t deny him a response. Her cheeks pinken, and Con’s grin widens. Dude’s well aware of what his smile does to women. He’s probably been harnessing that power since grade school, like one of the X-Men. But although Summer isn’t entirely unaffected, she’s still very much unavailable. “Stop smiling at me like that or I’ll tell Fitz.” She sticks out her tongue. “Then he’ll show up at practice and kick your ass.” “I’m not allowed to smile at you? All right, then. How ’bout dancing? Can we dance?” Summer ponders that. “Sure, that’s allowed. But only because I like this song.” It’s some Taylor Swift track I don’t know too well. She hops up and drags Conor toward the cluster of people gathered near the small stage that’s hardly ever used. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a live band grace the stage at Malone’s, but the tiny space in front of it is the closest to a dance floor that the bar has. Brenna’s eyes track Conor’s easy gait. And his ass. “Geez, that boy is attractive.” “Don’t you have a boyfriend?” Matt reminds her. “So? I’m not allowed to acknowledge someone else is attractive? Come on. Look at him.” Matt, Bucky and I turn to scrutinize our teammate. He’s got one hand on Summer’s slim waist, the other holding his beer as they dance. When he leans in to whisper something in her ear, his gray eyes twinkle devilishly. I mean, I’m not going to lie. Edwards is hot. We all know it. “Ugh. Now I feel left out,” Brenna whines, and the next thing I know she’s shoving me out of the booth and tugging me to my feet. “Come on, hot stuff, dance with me.” Before I can blink, we’re across the room and Brenna is squished up against me. And her body is so fire that I forget how to breathe. Skintight jeans are plastered to her long, shapely legs, her dark hair is thick and glossy, and her top is even more indecent than Summer’s. So tight it looks like her full tits are trying to escape. I don’t want to touch her. I’m scared that if I do, that if my hands connect with a hint of bare skin or the slightest female curve, I might embarrass myself. “What’s the matter?” Brenna says. “You forget how to move?” I offer a self-deprecating smile. “Trust me, you don’t want me to move.” “Why’s that…?” Understanding suddenly dawns. “Ohhh. Because you’re out of commission.” She purses her lips. “Are you scared that if our bodies touch, you’ll get aroused?” “I already am aroused,” I grumble. “Everything gets me aroused, Bee. The feel of the wind on my face gets me aroused. Bumping into a table gets me aroused.” She throws her head back and laughs. “Oh, you really are in a state, aren’t you?” I groan. “The worst kind.” “You poor thing.” She grabs my hands and plants them on her hips, then loops her arms around my neck. And yup, my dick cannot distinguish between a girl with a boyfriend and one without. It promptly thickens behind my zipper. “Fucking hell, Jensen, let’s not do this. Please.” “Aw, come on. What’s a boner between friends?” She starts moving to the upbeat T-Swift song, except three seconds later it ends and is replaced with that old T.I. track—“Whatever You Like.” The one that’s all about fucking, with a sultry beat that is way too dangerous for my aching nether regions. “My boner doesn’t understand that you’re off-limits,” I mutter. “Can I tell you a secret?” Brenna says, and I almost pass out when she brings her red lips to my ear and seductively whispers in it. “Jake and I have an open relationship.” Immediately, my throat goes dry. “W-what?” I stammer hoarsely. “I’m just saying…” Her hips sway. “If you ever want to break your vow…” A bolt of heat shoots up my spine. “What the hell are you saying?” “You know exactly what I’m saying.” She draws tiny circles on my nape with her fingernails. Meanwhile, T.I. is singing about things being wet and hot and tight and I’m in big trouble. “Why don’t we go home?” she suggests, wrapping her arms tighter around my neck. Our bodies are almost flush now. Her sexy voice is still tickling my ear. “We’ll be really, really quiet. Rupi won’t hear a thing.” My mouth is sawdust. From the corner of my eye, I catch Summer giving us an odd look. I’ve given up on dancing because my dick is way too hard. “Are you serious right now?” I demand. Because I don’t buy it. And I’m right not to. “Oh my God, Hunter. Of course I’m not serious.” Mischief gleams in her expression. “So you and Connelly don’t have an open relationship?” “No!” I stare at her. “What if I’d said yes? What if I’d kissed you?” “Then Jake would catch the next redeye from Edmonton and your body would probably never be found.” “You’re such a bitch,” I sigh. “Sorry.” She’s still laughing, but she has the decency to sound somewhat repentant. “I couldn’t help myself. This celibacy thing of yours is fascinating. But…dude, if you’re so hard up that you were actually considering hooking up with me? Then I don’t know how you’re ever gonna survive this.” Me neither. “Whatever, c’mere,” I grumble, tugging her against me. “Let’s just dance.” “You sure?” I nod miserably. “Yeah, why not. What’s a boner between friends, right?” 7 Demi I follow Nico into the busy bar. We’re meeting some friends at Malone’s, which is the only bar in Hastings. Nico and I don’t come here often; if we’re hanging out in town, we usually invite people to Nico’s apartment and chill there. But my boyfriend was in the mood to go out tonight, and I wasn’t about to complain. Malone’s makes the best nachos in town. And the best chicken wings. The best burgers. The best—ugh, okay, the entire menu is stellar. “Do you see Pippa?” I stand on my tiptoes and scan the crowded main room. “She texted that they’re in a booth near the—oh, there she is.” Nico follows my gaze. “Who’s she with?” “Looks like Corinne and Darius and—oh wow, TJ actually showed up.” I invited him to join us, but I hadn’t expected him to come, because TJ’s not particularly social. When we go for lunch or to the movies, it tends to be just the two of us. He’s not big on crowds or groups. Nico makes a face at the mention of TJ. “Be nice,” I chide. “He’s a pendejo, Demi.” My boyfriend always reverts to Spanish when he’s dissing someone. “He is not. He’s my friend.” “Friend? C’mon, babe, he’s in love with you.” It’s not the first time Nico’s voiced that sentiment, but I don’t believe it to be true. “He’s not in love with me.” “Oh really? Then why’s he always staring at you with moon eyes?” “You’re imagining it.” I shrug. “And even if he is in love with me—so what? We both know who I’m in love with.” “Damn right we do.” Nico curls a hand over the back of my head and pulls me in for a kiss. To my surprise, he slips me some tongue and the next thing I know we’re engaged in a mini make-out session in the middle of the bar. It draws catcalls from a group of guys in hockey jerseys, and I’m blushing as I pull back. “What was that for?” I smile at my boyfriend. “Just for being you.” Nico takes my hand and brings it up to his lips. Like the Latin heartthrob he is, he brushes a kiss over my knuckles. He’s being extra sweet tonight, and in all honesty I love it. He turned down my sex advances last weekend because he was too tired, and then he bailed on me this week because of his car. I deserve to be spoiled a bit. “Go join the group. I’ll grab us some drinks,” Nico offers before heading for the ridiculously long line at the bar. As I walk toward my friends’ booth, I glimpse a familiar face through the doorway that separates the main room with the adjoining one. Hunter Davenport is dancing with a stunning brunette in a tight tank and blood-red lipstick. He’s whispering in her ear. When he lifts his head to look at her, I don’t miss the ruddy flush of his cheekbones and his heavy-lidded eyes. Uh-huh. Someone’s getting laid tonight. I wonder how his lunch girl feels about that… The idea of dating multiple people sounds like a nightmare to me. Although, what sounds even worse is being the girl who is dating the guy who’s dating multiple people. I’m a possessive bitch, thank you very much. My man’s not allowed to see other women when he’s with me. And if I ever do wind up having to date again, I’d stake my claim immediately and make sure to have the exclusivity talk before the dude is even allowed to hold my hand. Like my mom always says, know your worth. Make them work for it. But to each their own. Hunter clearly has a lot of luck with the ladies. The girl he’s dancing with laughs at whatever he just said, and as he shakes his head in amusement, he catches sight of me in the doorway. He dips his chin in greeting. I blow him a kiss. He grins and refocuses on his date, while I join my friends. “Demi!” Pippa squeals, jumping out of the booth to throw her arms around me. “Heya, chica.” Pippa is my best friend at Briar. We met at freshman orientation, discovered we both grew up in Florida, and were instantly inseparable. “Hey,” our friend Corinne greets me. “I love that skirt.” “Thanks, it’s like a million years old.” I smooth my hands over the front of my distressed denim skirt. It’s autumn, and I’m still wearing short skirts and tank tops. I don’t know whether to hate or love global warming. I lean into the booth to smack a kiss on TJ’s cheek. “I can’t believe you’re here,” I tell him. “I’m so glad you came.” He blushes slightly and takes a huge gulp of his beer. Beside him is Darius Johnson, a good friend of mine and Nico’s. “Hi, D,” I say. “Hi, D,” he mimics, and we both grin. When we first met, there was a bit of competition about who’d get to keep the nickname, but in the end we decided to share it. “Where’s the rest of the crew?” I ask. Wherever Darius is, there’s usually at least three other basketball players not far behind. But they’re nowhere to be found tonight. “Briar won the hockey game,” Darius explains. “They didn’t want to deal with all the hockey fans. Those guys are nuts.” As if to prove that point, a trio of dudes choose that moment to drunkenly lumber past our booth screaming, “Bri-ar! Bri-ar!” One of them is waving his black-and-silver jersey in the air, which means he’s stumbling through the bar shirtless. Classy. Nico returns with a pink daiquiri for me, and a bottle of beer for himself. It’s a Cuban brand that you can rarely find in the States and yet somehow Malone’s actually serves it. It makes me smile, because I’m pretty sure my mom is the one who introduced Nico to that beer. I remember she let him taste hers at my fifteenth birthday party. He’s been drinking it exclusively ever since. “What have you been up to this week?” I ask Corinne as I slide in across from her. “You never answered my text about unpacking. Did you still want help?” “I know, I’m sorry. I was dealing with furniture shit. Moving is the worst,” she complains. Corinne just moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Hastings, only a few blocks from Malone’s, in fact. It’s rare to find housing in town, but Corinne knew the previous tenant, a fellow Econ major at Briar who abruptly decided to drop out. Corinne had an application in with the landlord of the small building before anyone else even knew the apartment was available. “Moving isn’t that bad,” Nico teases her. “I mean, especially when you have three strapping young men helping you out.” He wiggles his eyebrows. I snort. Nico and two of his co-workers from the moving company helped Corinne last Sunday, hauling all her boxes and furniture from the house she used to share with five other girls. “Did the strapping young men take off their shirts and flex their muscles for you?” I ask a blushing Corinne. She bursts out laughing. “I wish. All they did was drink my beer and get my new carpet all dirty from their boot prints.” “She’s lying!” Nico declares good-naturedly. “We wore booties over our shoes.” “And to answer your question,” she says to me, running a hand through her mop of dark curls, “yes. I totally need help organizing everything. Maybe one night this week?” “Sure. Just let me know when.” I met Corinne through Pippa, and although we’ve never been as close, I like hanging out with her. She’s a bit guarded, but when she relaxes she’s actually pretty hilarious. Nico takes a swig of beer before setting down the bottle and slinging his arm around me. He’s so handsy tonight. He leans in and plants soft kisses on my neck until Pippa releases a loud groan. “Come on, guys, enough with the PDA. You just got here. At this rate you’ll be banging on the table by the end of the night.” “Sounds hot,” Nico says, winking at me. Lord, he is so good-looking. Originally from Cuba, Nico and his family came to Miami when Nico was eight. They moved in next door, and all it took was one look at Nico’s soulful eyes and big dimples, and eight-year-old Demi was in love. Luckily, he felt the same way about me. We talk about our classes for a bit, but I don’t contribute much to the conversation. Truth be told, I hate all my courses this semester, except for Psych. Today in Organic Chemistry, we discussed organometallic compounds in such detail that my brain almost melted. I didn’t mind my science classes in high school, but since I started college I’m slowly beginning to hate the sciences. As I sip my drink, I absently listen to Nico and Darius chat about the basketball team. D is trying to convince Nico to be their equipment manager because their current one just bailed, but Nico’s too busy with his work and class schedule. TJ remains quiet for most of the conversation, only speaking when I draw him out of his shell. I don’t care what Nico says. TJ’s a sweetie. He’s such a great listener, and he usually dispenses really solid advice. I wish he’d find a girlfriend, but he’s so shy and it’s hard for him to open up. I tried setting him up with one of my sorority sisters once, and she said he barely spoke a single word during their entire date. “I’ll be your equipment manager,” Pippa tells D. “But only if I get to watch you guys shower. I feel like that’s a reasonable requirement for—oh my God.” She stops midsentence, gaping at the tall guy who saunters past our booth. “Forget it. I want to watch him shower.” I only manage to catch a glimpse before he passes. Shoulder-length blond hair, a red T-shirt. I twist around but can’t see his face. His body is banging, though. “Eyes up here,” Nico chides, lifting two fingers up to his face. I grin. “Oh, come on. Look at his butt. It’s something else.” My boyfriend peeks out the booth just as the guy disappears through the corridor to the restrooms. “It’s a’ight,” he relents. “But that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to check him out.” “What are you gonna do, spank me?” His chocolate-brown eyes narrow seductively. “Don’t tempt me, mami.” Corinne gives a slight cough, while Pippa and Darius sigh dramatically. “Sorry,” I tell everyone. “We’ll be good now, I swear.” “I don’t want to be good,” Pippa announces. “I want to be bad with that hottie. Who was that?” TJ speaks up. “Hockey player, I think. He came from the hockey booth, at least.” “The hockey booth?” she echoes. He nods toward the other room, where Hunter Davenport and his friends are piled into two huge booths. All I see are gorgeous girls, big athlete types, and a lot of food. Speaking of food… “Who wants nachos?” I ask as I grab the menu in front of Darius. “I’m ordering some for me, but I’m also thinking—ooh, there’s a new app on here. Deep-fried spinach and mozzarella balls. Oh my fuck, yes. I’m in. I’ll get an order of those, and then we’re looking at the nachos, and maybe…the boneless wings?” “Who is she even talking to?” Pippa asks my boyfriend. He sighs. “Just let it happen, Pips. You know the drill.” I peer up from the menu. “Am I being judged right now?” “Yes,” Pippa tells me. “One hundred percent, yes,” Darius concurs. “How do you eat so much and never gain weight?” Corinne demands. “I’d never judge you,” TJ assures me, grinning mischievously. “Thank you, Thomas Joseph. The rest of you, guess what? You don’t get to taste my spinach balls. You can sit here in envy while—” “He’s coming back,” hisses Pippa. Sure enough, the hockey player in the red shirt strides by again. This time I do see his face, and promptly understand why Pippa is drooling all over the table. He’s got vivid gray eyes, and a beautiful smile that curves his mouth when he catches Pippa’s gaze on him. He keeps walking, though. “Oh my,” I murmur, and Nico pokes me in the ribs. “Definitely a hockey guy,” TJ confirms with a nod. “But I can’t remember his name.” “Hold on, I’ll find out.” I slide my phone out of my purse. “What do you mean, you’ll find out?” Pippa squawks. I pull up Hunter’s name in my contacts list. We exchanged numbers at my house on Monday night. ME: Hey, hockey man. Who’s the dude in the red t-shirt with the fuck-me face and tight ass? Although I crane my neck toward the other room, I can’t pick out Hunter amidst the sea of jocks. But on my phone screen three gray bubbles pop up to indicate a response is being typed. “Who are you texting?” Nico demands. “Hunter Davenport.” TJ looks up sharply. “You’re texting Davenport?” “Yeah, we’re working on that project, remember? I have his number.” “Who’s Hunter Davenport?” Corinne asks. “Just a hockey player who thinks he’s God’s gift to the world,” TJ tells her, smiling wryly. “You don’t even know him,” I tease. “I had a tutorial with him last year, remember? He treated the library like his own personal motel?” I don’t answer because Hunter’s message just appeared. HUNTER: Conor Edwards. Right-winger, #62. Why? You want his number?? Are we cheating on the boyfriend??? Tsk tsk. Nobody’s cheating on anyone, I type back, and when I sense Nico reading over my shoulder, I hammer the point home by adding, I love my boyfriend very VERY much. Nico relaxes and drops a kiss atop my head. ME: A friend of mine is eyeing him. Is he single? HUNTER: Ya but I think he’s already picked his flavor for the night. I’ll come over and introduce them if you want? I glance at Pippa. “You want an intro?” Her jaw falls open again. “What! No. He’s way too good-looking.” “You sure?” I wave my phone enticingly at her. “I got you an in.” “Am I sure? I’ve got a zit on my forehead and haven’t washed my hair in four days, because I wasn’t planning on meeting Adonis tonight. Come on, Demi, what the fuck is wrong with you?” I snicker and text Hunter back. ME: Maybe another night. He responds with, Okey dokey, and the gray dots disappear. “Coward,” I tease Pippa. “Whatever. You can’t throw something like that on me at the last second. I’m not mentally prepared to hook up tonight.” I hadn’t realized mental preparation was required for casual hook-ups, but I suppose I’m clueless when it comes to modern dating. And I’m perfectly okay with that. Look at what’s happening around me—Hunter juggling different girls, Pippa squirming nervously at the notion of being introduced to a hot guy. Dating seems insanely stressful. Relationships, meanwhile, are nice and secure. The world of relationships is where I belong. I link my fingers through Nico’s and thank my lucky stars that I’m not part of that other, terrifying world. 8 Demi Nico walks me to class on Monday morning. He’d spent the night, and I feel like we’re back on track again as we stroll hand-in-hand down one of the many walkways that weave through Briar. Although the weather hasn’t turned yet, the colors on campus are slowly beginning to change. I admire the massive trees that line the paths and dot the lawns, marveling at how pretty and quaint everything is. Sometimes it feels surreal. I lived in Miami until I was fifteen years old, so I’m accustomed to palm trees and colorful beach houses, not stately oaks and ancient buildings. I remember putting up a huge stink when I found out we were moving to Massachusetts. My father had been offered a position at a prestigious hospital in Boston. Head of neurosurgery. Which is a HUGE DEAL. But I was a bratty, entitled teenager, and therefore I wasn’t having it. Dad, however, doesn’t tolerate temper tantrums. Or rather, he lets me stomp and yell and bitch…and then offers a wry smile and pleasantly asks, Are you done? Because we all know he’s going to get his way at the end of the day. He does the same thing with my mother. Mom personifies the stereotype of feisty Latina, complete with a generations-old family hot sauce recipe and a temper that’s even more explosive than mine. But even Mom can’t win against my father. After my family moved to Boston, Nico and I endured three years of long distance, summers and holidays. And after graduation, I got into Briar and prayed to the lord above that Nico would too. I was secretly worried for a while there. He’s not stupid, but Briar is a highly competitive Ivy League school, and Nico didn’t have a basketball scholarship or any impressive extra-curriculars to bring to the table. He got good grades, but he wasn’t the valedictorian of his class. In the end, I think it was his admissions essay that won over the board. He wrote about his arduous journey from Cuba to America. Nico’s father Joaquín had arrived in Miami ahead of his wife and son to work and get settled. Joaquín couldn’t afford a flight to bring the family over, so Nico and his mom ended up traveling by boat. Which sank. No joke. They were adrift on a life raft for two days before a fishing vessel found them and brought them to safety. Eventually they became citizens, and Nico’s sister Alicia was born in Florida. His pride for this country definitely shone through in his essay. I proofed it for him. And when he received his admissions letter from Briar, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. As we near the Faculty of Sciences building, I spot a familiar figure—Hunter, and he’s with a stunning blonde. With the temperature in the mid-eighties today, Hunter’s companion is in a crop top and a filmy white skirt, her golden hair up in a topknot. She’s as pretty if not more so than the brunette he was grinding up against the other night, as well as the cute girl who made him lunch. Lord. Mr. Popular only gets more popular. I have no idea how he keeps track of all these chicks—three different ones in a week? I mean, good on him, but boy does it seem exhausting. I lift my hand in a wave. Hunter waves back before saying something to the blonde. “That’s the hockey guy,” I tell Nico. “Hunter.” Nico follows my gaze. “He does look very jocky.” I feel my pocket vibrate, and slide my phone out to