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I absolutely loved this book.
16 February 2020 (21:55)
I enjoyed the book especially as it was created for younger audiences but 18+ if you get what I mean. I love how it was a steamy, romance but still had aspects of friendship, family, and sensitive topics. I recommend it for mature viewers. The only thing is I expected it to have a more interesting ending, like don't get me wrong it was a good ending but I wanted it to have something more. Overall a good book.
06 May 2020 (05:16)
An amazing book yet it made me cry .
04 January 2021 (19:05)
Favorite author and one of my favorite series ♥️
15 March 2021 (00:05)
it was ok, not that exciting and I didn't really connect with the whole friend group so it made it hard for me to continue with the other series
16 March 2021 (04:48)
Perfect book if you're looking for a fast read. Keeps your attention to the very end.
08 April 2021 (08:34)
I love this book so much, the entire series is amazing
09 April 2021 (07:04)
Ariana L. Merchán
I’m officially in love of this author, I’ve read the spin-off serie and enjoyed them all, so much that I searched for more and found the ones she wrote with Sarina Bowen, I finished them too hahaha even the ones that are m/m. I fell in love of her characters by accident and I couldn’t be more happy about that, I truly recommend that you give a try to this serie and the ones she wrote with Sarina, you’ll love them
12 April 2021 (23:00)
OMG I LOVE THIS BOOK SOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH
13 April 2021 (21:23)
it was okay. i feel like a lot of books have the same story. gives me that basic white girl x bad boy vibe that im not a big fan of since its very common.
18 April 2021 (16:27)
LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH! DEFINITELY WORTH THE HYPE
21 April 2021 (19:17)
okay there was a lot of hype with this book but now i understand it! elle kennedy is an AMAZING author and it's such a fast read.
21 April 2021 (19:19)
This book is absolutely awesome?
26 April 2021 (18:04)
tw: sexual assault
but either then that, a really good book! however, it was hard to continue on with the series because I didn’t get to connect with them :)
but either then that, a really good book! however, it was hard to continue on with the series because I didn’t get to connect with them :)
05 May 2021 (08:52)
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09 May 2021 (20:13)
I love this book, it's my favorite of this collection
15 May 2021 (01:37)
Best book and an amazing serie of hockey players
17 May 2021 (08:43)
WHY DO THEY PUT SHIRTLESS MEN ON THE BOOKS?? I MEAN COME ON BE DISCREET
31 May 2021 (08:12)
This is still really the book I like the most.
01 June 2021 (19:17)
I loved the book! It wasn’t too long, so if you are looking for a fast read, this is for you! 9/10?
11 June 2021 (00:05)
Pulling My Goalie Because She's Late into Her Third Period
Listen, bitches. If you like this, then you'll love How to Be a Motherfucking Pimp by Dazzle Razzle.
11 June 2021 (12:49)
Omg ...Elle is an amazing author..one of the best of hockey romance...
14 June 2021 (22:56)
This book was really good. I enjoyed it and it was a good laugh at some points.
14 June 2021 (23:43)
THIS IS SO GOOD YOU HAVE TO READ THIS ??
16 June 2021 (08:45)
I would rather have watched porn for 5 minutes than dedicate hours of my life reading through this.
19 June 2021 (17:40)
Just kidding. I kept reading and as it turns out, this book gets much better. By chapter 6 I was right slimy :) I have been flicking for at least the past 45 minutes. The only down side of this book is that it made my studio apartment smells like a fish factory.
20 June 2021 (07:13)
Uh I’m gonna pretend I didn’t see Brooke’s comment but ya this book is my fav in the series...so go read it!!! 9/10
29 June 2021 (20:08)
LMFAO same Maura. I’m excited to read the book
30 June 2021 (03:24)
this book is so sexist lmao
03 July 2021 (14:17)
also someone get brooke some febreeze
03 July 2021 (14:18)
I don't usually read romance stories, cause I need more plot than people just getting together. But I'm a sucker for the fake/pretend relationship trope, and this one was a lot of fun.
Not sure how sensitive the narrative is toward the sexual assault of one of the main characters, pre-book. It does come across a little bit as a trope, thrown in as an obstacle to overcome, and the character in question brings it up repeatedly. I can see how that would be off-putting for some readers.
But the build up of Garrett and Wellsy's relationship is actually a lot of fun, and surprisingly very believable. They heal each other, and its actually pretty moving.
Not sure how sensitive the narrative is toward the sexual assault of one of the main characters, pre-book. It does come across a little bit as a trope, thrown in as an obstacle to overcome, and the character in question brings it up repeatedly. I can see how that would be off-putting for some readers.
But the build up of Garrett and Wellsy's relationship is actually a lot of fun, and surprisingly very believable. They heal each other, and its actually pretty moving.
04 July 2021 (00:24)
one of my favorite books
18 July 2021 (00:15)
This book was really good, if you like the sweet and funny lovers trope i think this would be perfect.
24 July 2021 (23:27)
absolutely love this book. the characters, plot, emotion, and word choice were immaculate. honestly ima sucker for the relationships that have a lot of bickering and teasing. definitely worth a read.
29 July 2021 (04:48)
I love the book! A good read for me. I was skeptical on reading this because of the covers (why topless men tbh ?) I love the series as well, definitely a 4/5 for me ⭐️
29 July 2021 (06:53)
I liked the book but the cover is uh very out there
29 July 2021 (07:29)
ugh I NEED a Garret Graham in my life! such a good book
03 August 2021 (13:25)
It would have been better if Hannah gets the justice that she deserves :((
04 August 2021 (11:20)
This is a nice read but it's tropey or somewhat like cliché-y to me. I don't know if I should read the next one or I'll jump to a whole new different book. That's how I feel about this but yeah it's fun to read. And hey I love the scene towards the end and I love Allie. 4/5.
10 August 2021 (06:45)
read it in one reading lovee
12 August 2021 (02:13)
one direction slander....
14 August 2021 (22:47)
I loved it!!! It was fun, humorous, and very light to read. The Deal was a great book to start an interesting series. It also has a very mild spice, in my humble opinion, if readers wanna tread lightly towards the spicy and smutty books side. Overall, it was a great read for me.
15 August 2021 (07:15)
read this book its amazing
22 August 2021 (18:59)
despise this author with my whole heart but the books decent ig
30 August 2021 (17:02)
FUCK ELLE KENNEDY!!! still gonna read this tho x
31 August 2021 (04:33)
what did elle kennedy do omg?
01 September 2021 (17:41)
bro brooke, get some help. lmfao wtf
02 September 2021 (09:56)
Bro brooke? ? babe please
25 September 2021 (09:08)
omg guys this book and this series sis just so freaking amzing!! istg it really amazing u will fall in love with all the 8 boys from both the series!!! just love the way the author potrayes everything!!
13 October 2021 (08:49)
guys teh reason ppl dont liek elle kennedy is cuz one of teh charecters dont liek 1D but like its just realistic, i dont like 1D sooo much, yea teh music is good but im not one of those crazy fan girls
13 October 2021 (08:53)
This book drives you crazy in the beginning, makes u curse at the characters at times... But as you dive deeper and deeper into the book, you can't stop reading. If you looking for a slow burn of love, you've come to the right place. I really enjoyed reading this book and it really made me wanna read the other books....so Im excited to read about the other characters that I've met in this one. Read it.
14 October 2021 (23:09)
forever my favourite couple <3 Garret Graham owns my heart to the rest of my life
18 October 2021 (09:13)
def should read! one of the best teen rom books
18 October 2021 (09:19)
it was just alright nothing really special about it
20 October 2021 (10:09)
an easy and fast read! finished it in 2 days lmao
this book is cute and funny and im a sucker for cliches so this definitely held my attention long enough to finish it, tho the last chapters were kinds boring for me , that's it.
this book is cute and funny and im a sucker for cliches so this definitely held my attention long enough to finish it, tho the last chapters were kinds boring for me , that's it.
23 October 2021 (04:22)
this book was pretty easy to read, managed to grab my attention for the most part. I ALSO JUST NEED TO WRITE THAT I WAS LITERALLY CONVINCED TO READ THIS JUST FROM PAGES 497 TO 502. i need a garret in my life at some point
27 October 2021 (08:47)
I loved this book, started yesterday at around 3/4pm and ended at 11pm, I couldn’t stop reading. It’s literally the next day and I’m almost done with the second book. Considering I don’t like published books very much, I like the off campus series very much till now at least. The deal is my absolute favorite book I’ve read, it flows naturally and they overcome their past and traumas together, I think their relationship was very natural and good ya know. Garret Graham can have me anytime, like damn
03 November 2021 (15:16)
i actually love this book, i read it in about two days its so hard to put down i wish i could re-read it
14 November 2021 (18:55)
your local milf
i feel like the author made hannahs only personality her SA at the start and it bothered me
18 November 2021 (19:58)
Cute. A fast read. How else does a hockey team captain pass his ethics class but a beautiful girl who is focused on her own major
21 November 2021 (20:18)
ah such a cute short little read to take a look at when you have time . it ' s great to see garrett and hannah sorting out their problems together and it ' s pretty emotional packed :) recommend for a un-timely read <3
28 November 2021 (23:32)
She’s about to make a deal with the college bad boy… Hannah Wells has finally found someone who turns her on. But while she might be confident in every other area of her life, she’s carting around a full set of baggage when it comes to sex and seduction. If she wants to get her crush’s attention, she’ll have to step out of her comfort zone and make him take notice…even if it means tutoring the annoying, childish, cocky captain of the hockey team in exchange for a pretend date. …and it’s going to be oh so good All Garrett Graham has ever wanted is to play professional hockey after graduation, but his plummeting GPA is threatening everything he’s worked so hard for. If helping a sarcastic brunette make another guy jealous will help him secure his position on the team, he’s all for it. But when one unexpected kiss leads to the wildest sex of both their lives, it doesn’t take long for Garrett to realize that pretend isn’t going to cut it. Now he just has to convince Hannah that the man she wants looks a lot like him. The Deal An Off-Campus Novel Elle Kennedy Table of Contents About the Book Title Page Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40 Chapter 41 Chapter 42 Chapter 43 Chapter 44 Chapter 45 Epilogue Other Titles by Elle Kennedy Author’s Note About the Author Copyright 1 Hannah He doesn’t know I’m alive. For the millionth time in forty-five minutes, I sneak a peek in Justin Kohl’s direction, and he’s so beautiful it makes my throat close up. Though I should probably come up with another adjective—my male friends insist that men don’t like ; being called beautiful. But holy hell, there’s no other way to describe his rugged features and soulful brown eyes. He’s wearing a baseball cap today, but I know what’s beneath it: thick dark hair, the kind that looks silky to the touch and makes you want to run your fingers through it. In the five years since the rape, my heart has pounded for only two guys. The first one dumped me. This one is just oblivious. At the podium in the lecture hall, Professor Tolbert delivers what I’ve come to refer to as the Disappointment Speech. It’s the third one in six weeks. Surprise, surprise, seventy percent of the class got a C-plus or lower on the midterm. Me? I aced it. And I’d be lying if I said the big red A! circled on top of my midterm hadn’t come as a complete shock. All I did was scribble down a never-ending stream of bullshit to try to fill up the booklet. Philosophical Ethics was supposed to be a breeze. The prof who used to teach it handed out brainless multiple choice tests and a final “exam” consisting of a personal essay that posed a moral dilemma and asked how you’d react to it. But two weeks before the semester started, Professor Lane dropped dead from a heart attack. I heard his cleaning lady found him on the bathroom floor—naked. Poor guy. Luckily (and yep, that’s total sarcasm) Pamela Tolbert stepped in to take over Lane’s class. She’s new to Briar University, and she’s the kind of prof who wants you to make connections and “engage” with the material. If this was a movie, she’d be the young, ambitious teacher who shows up at the inner city school and inspires the fuckups, and suddenly everyone’s putting down their AKs and picking up their pencils, and the end credits scroll up to announce how all the kids got into Harvard or some shit. Instant Oscar for Hilary Swank. Except this isn’t a movie, which means that the only thing Tolbert has inspired in her students is hatred. And she honestly can’t seem to grasp why nobody is excelling in her class. Here’s a hint—it’s because she asks the types of questions you could write a frickin’ grad school thesis on. “I’m willing to offer a makeup exam to anyone who failed or received a C-minus or lower.” Tolbert’s nose wrinkles as if she can’t fathom why it’s even necessary. The word she just used—willing? Yeah, right. I heard that a ton of students complained to their advisors about her, and I suspect the administration is forcing her to give everyone a redo. It doesn’t reflect well on Briar when more than half the students in a course are flunking, especially when it’s not just the slackers. Straight-A students like Nell, who’s sulking beside me, also bombed the midterm. “For those of you who choose to take it again, your two grades will be averaged. If you do worse the second time, the first grade will stand,” Tolbert finishes. “I can’t believe you got an A,” Nell whispers to me. She looks so upset that I feel a pang of sympathy. Nell and I aren’t best pals or anything, but we’ve been sitting next to each other since September so it’s only reasonable that we’ve gotten to know each other. She’s on the pre-med path, and I know she comes from an overachieving family who would tar and feather her if they found out about her midterm grade. “I can’t believe it either,” I whisper back. “Seriously. Read my answers. They’re ramblings of nonsense.” “Actually, can I?” She sounds eager now. “I’m curious to see what the Tyrant considers A material.” “I’ll scan and email you a copy tonight,” I promise. The second Tolbert dismisses us, the lecture hall echoes with let’s-get-the-hell-outta-here noises. Laptops snap shut, notebooks slide into backpacks, students shuffle out of their seats. Justin Kohl lingers near the door to talk to someone, and my gaze locks in on him like a missile. He’s beautiful. Have I mentioned how beautiful he is? My palms go clammy as I stare at his handsome profile. He’s new to Briar this year, but I’m not sure which college he transferred from, and although he wasted no time becoming the star wide receiver on the football team, he’s not like the other athletes at this school. He doesn’t strut through the quad with one of those I’m-God’s-gift-to-the-world smirks or show up with a new girl on his arm every day. I’ve seen him laugh and joke with his teammates, but he gives off an intelligent, intense vibe that makes me think there are hidden depths to him. Which just makes me all the more desperate to get to know him. I’m not usually into jocks, but something about this one has turned me into a mindless pile of mush. “You’re staring again.” Nell’s teasing voice brings a blush to my cheeks. She’s caught me drooling over Justin on more than one occasion, and she’s one of the few people I’ve admitted the crush to. My roommate Allie also knows, but my other friends? Hell no. Most of them are music or drama majors, so I guess that makes us the artsy crowd. Or maybe emo. Aside from Allie, who’s had an on-again/off-again relationship with a frat boy since freshman year, my friends get a kick out of trashing Briar’s elite. I don’t usually join in (I like to think gossiping is beneath me) but…let’s face it. Most of the popular kids are total douchebags. Case in point—Garrett Graham, the other star athlete in this class. Dude walks around like he owns the place. I guess he kind of does. All he has to do is snap his fingers and an eager girl appears at his side. Or jumps into his lap. Or sticks her tongue down his throat. He doesn’t look like the BMOC today, though. Almost everyone else has gone, including Tolbert, but Garrett remains in his seat, his fists curled tightly around the edges of his booklet. He must have failed too, but I don’t feel much sympathy for the guy. Briar is known for two things—hockey and football, which isn’t much of a shocker considering Massachusetts is home to both the Patriots and the Bruins. The athletes who play for Briar almost always end up in the pros, and during their years here they get everything handed to them on a silver platter—including grades. So yeah, maybe it makes me a teeny bit vindictive, but I get a sense of triumph from knowing that Tolbert is failing the captain of our championship-winning hockey team right along with everyone else. “Wanna grab something from the Coffee Hut?” Nell asks as she gathers her books. “Can’t. I’ve got rehearsal in twenty minutes.” I get up, but I don’t follow her to the door. “Go on ahead. I need to check the schedule before I go. Can’t remember when my next tutorial is.” Another “perk” of being in Tolbert’s class—along with our weekly lecture, we’re forced to attend two thirty-minute tutorials a week. On the bright side, Dana the TA runs those, and she has all the qualities Tolbert lacks. Like a sense of humor. “’Kay,” Nell says. “I’ll see you later.” “Later,” I call after her. At the sound of my voice, Justin pauses in the doorway and turns his head. Oh. My. God. It’s impossible to stop the flush that rises in my cheeks. This is the first time we’ve ever made eye contact, and I don’t know how to respond. Say hi? Wave? Smile? In the end, I settle for a small nod of greeting. There. Cool and casual, befitting of a sophisticated college junior. My heart skips a beat when the corner of his mouth lifts in a faint grin. He nods back, and then he’s gone. I stare at the empty doorway. My pulse explodes in a gallop because holy shit. After six weeks of breathing the same air in this stuffy lecture hall, he’s finally noticed me. I wish I were brave enough to go after him. Maybe ask him to grab a coffee. Or dinner. Or brunch—wait, do people our age even have brunch? But my feet stay rooted to the shiny laminate floor. Because I’m a coward. Yep, a total chicken-shit coward. I’m terrified that he’ll say no, but I’m even more terrified he’ll say yes. I was in a good place when I started college. My issues solidly behind me, my guard lowered. I was ready to date again, and I did. I dated several guys, but other than my ex, Devon, none of them made my body tingle the way Justin Kohl does, and that freaks me out. Baby steps. Right. Baby steps. That was my therapist’s favorite piece of advice, and I can’t deny that the strategy helped me a lot. Focus on the small victories, Carole always advised. So…today’s victory…I nodded at Justin and he smiled at me. Next class, maybe I’ll smile back. And the one after that, maybe I’ll bring up the coffee, dinner or brunch idea. I take a breath as I head down the aisle, clinging to that feeling of victory, however teeny it may be. Baby steps. * Garrett I failed. I fucking failed. For fifteen years, Timothy Lane handed out A’s like mints. The year I take the class? Lane’s ticker quits ticking, and I get stuck with Pamela Tolbert. It’s official. The woman is my archenemy. Just the sight of her flowery handwriting—which fills up every inch of available space in the margins of my midterm—makes me want to go Incredible Hulk on the booklet and rip it to shreds. I’m rocking A’s in most of my other courses, but as of right now, I’m getting an F in Philosophical Ethics. Combined with the C-plus in Spanish history, my average has dropped to a C-minus. I need a C-plus average to play hockey. Normally I have no problem keeping my GPA up. Despite what a lot of folks believe, I’m not a dumb jock. But hey, I don’t mind letting people think I am. Women, in particular. I guess they’re turned on by the idea of screwing the big brawny caveman who’s only good for one thing, but since I’m not looking for anything serious, casual hookups with chicks that only want my dick suit me just fine. Gives me more time to focus on hockey. But there won’t be any more hockey if I don’t bring up this grade. The worst thing about Briar? Our dean demands excellence—academically and athletically. While other schools might be more lenient toward athletes, Briar has a zero-tolerance policy. Fuckin’ Tolbert. When I spoke to her before class asking for extra credit, she told me in that nasally voice of hers to attend the tutorials and meet with the study group. I already do both. So yeah, unless I hire some whiz kid to wear a mask of my face and take the makeup midterm for me…I’m screwed. My frustration manifests itself in the form of an audible groan, and from the corner of my eye I see someone jerk in surprise. I jerk too, because here I thought I was wallowing in my misery alone. But the girl who sits in the back row has stuck around, and she’s making her way down the aisle toward Tolbert’s desk. Mandy? Marty? I can’t remember her name. Probably because I’ve never bothered to ask for it. She’s cute, though. A helluva lot cuter than I realized. Pretty face, dark hair, smokin’ body—shit, how have I never noticed that body before? But I’m noticing now. Skinny jeans cling to a round, perky ass that just screams “squeeze me,” and her V-neck sweater hugs a seriously impressive rack. I don’t have time to admire either of those appealing visuals because she catches me staring and a frown touches her mouth. “Everything okay?” she asks with a pointed look. I grumble something under my breath. I’m not in the mood to talk to anyone at the moment. One dark eyebrow rises in my direction. “Sorry, was that English?” I ball up my midterm and scrape my chair back. “I said everything’s fine.” “Okay, then.” She shrugs and continues down the steps. As she picks up the clipboard that contains our tutorial schedule, I fling my Briar Hockey jacket on, then shove my pathetic midterm into my backpack and zip it up. The dark-haired girl heads back to the aisle. Mona? Molly? The M sounds right, but the rest is a mystery. She has her midterm in hand, but I don’t sneak a peek because I assume she failed just like everyone else. I let her pass before I step into the aisle. I suppose I can say it’s the gentleman in me, but that would be a lie. I want to check out her ass again, because it’s a damn sexy ass, and now that I’ve seen it I wouldn’t mind another look. I follow her up to the exit, suddenly realizing how frickin’ tiny she is—I’m one step below her yet I can see the top of her head. Just as we reach the door, she stumbles on absolutely nothing and the books in her hand clatter to the floor. “Shit. I’m such a klutz.” She drops to her knees and so do I, because contrary to my previous statement, I can be a gentleman when I want to be, and the gentlemanly thing to do is help her gather her books. “Oh, you don’t have to do that. I’m fine,” she insists. But my hand has already connected with her midterm, and my jaw drops when I see her grade. “Fucking hell. You aced it?” I demand. She gives a self-deprecating smile. “I know, right? I thought I failed for sure.” “Holy shit.” I feel like I’ve just bumped into Stephen fuckin’ Hawking and he’s dangling the secrets to the universe under my nose. “Can I read your answers?” Her brows quirk up again. “That’s rather forward of you, don’t you think? We don’t even know each other.” I roll my eyes. “I’m not asking you to take your clothes off, baby. I just want to peek at your midterm.” “Baby? Goodbye forward, hello presumptuous.” “Would you prefer miss? Ma’am maybe? I’d use your name but I don’t know it.” “Of course you don’t.” She sighs. “It’s Hannah.” Then she pauses meaningfully. “Garrett.” Okay, I was waaaay off on the M thing. And I don’t miss the way she emphasizes my name as if to say, Ha! I know yours, asshole! She collects the rest of her books and stands up, but I don’t hand over her midterm. Instead, I hop to my feet and start flipping through it. As I skim her answers, my spirits plummet even lower, because if this is the kind of analysis Tolbert is looking for, I’m screwed. There’s a reason I’m a history major, for chrissake—I deal in facts. Black and white. This happened at this time to this person and here’s the result. Hannah’s answers focus on theoretical shit and how the philosophers would respond to the various moral dilemmas. “Thanks.” I give her the booklet, then hook my thumbs in the belt loops of my jeans. “Hey, listen. Do you…would you consider…” I shrug. “You know…” Her lips twitch as if she’s trying not to laugh. “Actually, I don’t know.” I let out a breath. “Will you tutor me?” Her green eyes—the darkest shade of green I’ve ever seen and surrounded by thick black eyelashes—go from surprised to skeptical in a matter of seconds. “I’ll pay you,” I add hastily. “Oh. Um. Well, yeah, of course I’d expect you to pay me. But…” She shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I can’t.” I bite back my disappointment. “C’mon, do me a solid. If I fail this makeup, my GPA will implode. Please?” I flash a smile, the one that makes my dimples pop out and never fails to make girls melt. “Does that usually work?” she asks curiously. “What?” “The aw-shucks little boy grin… Does it help you get your way?” “Always,” I answer without hesitation. “Almost always,” she corrects. “Look, I’m sorry, but I really don’t have time. I’m already juggling school and work, and with the winter showcase coming up, I’ll have even less time.” “Winter showcase?” I say blankly. “Right, I forgot. If it’s not about hockey, then it’s not on your radar.” “Now who’s being presumptuous? You don’t even know me.” There’s a beat, and then she sighs. “I’m a music major, okay? And the arts faculty puts on two major performances every year, the winter showcase and the spring one. The winner gets a five thousand dollar scholarship. It’s kind of a huge deal, actually. Important industry people fly in from all over the country to see it. Agents, record producers, talent scouts…. So, as much as I’d love to help you—” “You would not,” I grumble. “You look like you don’t even want to talk to me right now.” Her little you-got-me shrug is grating as hell. “I have to get to rehearsal. I’m sorry you’re failing this course, but if it makes you feel better, so is everyone else.” I narrow my eyes. “Not you.” “I can’t help it. Tolbert seems to respond to my brand of bullshit. It’s a gift.” “Well, I want your gift. Please, master, teach me how to bullshit.” I’m two seconds from dropping to my knees and begging her, but she edges to the door. “You know there’s a study group, right? I can give you the number for—” “I’m already in it,” I mutter. “Oh. Well, then there’s not much else I can do for you. Good luck on the makeup test. Baby.” She darts out the door, leaving me staring after her in frustration. Unbelievable. Every girl at this college would cut her frickin’ arm off to help me out. But this one? Runs away like I just asked her to murder a cat so we could sacrifice it to Satan. And now I’m right back to where I was before Hannah-not-with-an-M gave me that faintest flicker of hope. Royally screwed. 2 Garrett My roommates are piss drunk when I walk into the living room after study group. The coffee table is overflowing with empty beer cans, along with a nearly depleted bottle of Jack that I know belongs to Logan because he subscribes to the beer is for pussies philosophy. His words, not mine. At the moment, Logan and Tucker are battling each other in a heated game of Ice Pro, their gazes glued to the flat screen as they furiously click their controllers. Logan’s gaze shifts slightly when he notices me in the doorway, and his split second of distraction costs him. “Hell to the yeah!” Tuck crows as his defenseman flicks a wrist shot past Logan’s goalie and the scoreboard lights up. “Aw, for fuck’s sake!” Logan pauses the game and levels a dark glare at me. “What the hell, G? I just got deked out because of you.” I don’t answer, because now I’m distracted—by the half naked make out session happening in the corner of the room. Dean’s at it again. Bare-chested and barefoot, he’s sprawled in the armchair while a blonde in nothing but a lacy black bra and booty shorts sits astride him and grinds against his crotch. Dark blue eyes peer over the chick’s shoulder, and Dean smirks in my direction. “Graham! Where’ve you been, man?” he slurs. He goes back to kissing the blonde before I can answer the drunken question. For some reason, Dean likes to hook up everywhere but his bedroom. Seriously. Every time I turn around, he’s in the midst of some form of debauchery. On the kitchen counter, the living room couch, the dining room table—dude’s gotten it on in every inch of the off-campus house the four of us share. He’s a total slut and completely unapologetic about it. Granted, I’m not one to talk. I’m no monk, and neither are Logan and Tuck. What can I say? Hockey players are horny motherfuckers. When we’re not on the ice, we can usually be found hooking up with a puck bunny or two. Or three, if your name is Tucker and it’s New Year’s Eve of last year. “I’ve been texting you for the past hour, man,” Logan informs me. His massive shoulders hunch forward as he swipes the whiskey bottle from the coffee table. Logan’s a bruiser of a defenseman, one of the best I’ve ever played with, and also the best friend I’ve ever had. His first name is John, but we call him Logan because it makes it easier to differentiate him from Tucker, whose first name is also John. Luckily, Dean is just Dean, so we don’t have to call him by his mouthful of a last name: Heyward-Di Laurentis. “Seriously, where the hell have you been?” Logan grumbles. “Study group.” I grab a Bud Light from the table and pop the tab. “What’s this surprise you kept blabbing about?” I can always tell how plastered Logan is based on the grammar of his texts. And tonight he must be shit-faced, because I had to go full-on Sherlock to decrypt his messages. Suprz meant surprise. Gyabh had taken longer to decode, but I think it meant get your ass back here? But who knows with Logan. From his perch on the couch, he grins so broadly it’s a wonder his jaw doesn’t snap off. He jerks his thumb at the ceiling and says, “Go upstairs and see for yourself.” I narrow my eyes. “Why? Who’s up there?” Logan snickers. “If I told you, then it wouldn’t be a surprise.” “Why do I get the feeling you’re up to something?” “Jeez,” Tucker pipes up. “You’ve got some major trust issues, G.” “Says the asshole who left a live raccoon in my bedroom on the first day of the semester.” Tucker grins. “Aw, come on, Bandit was fucking adorable. He was your welcome back to school gift.” I flip up my middle finger. “Yeah, well, your gift was a bitch to get rid of.” Now I scowl at him because I still remember how it took three pest control guys to de-raccoon my room. “For fuck’s sake,” Logan groans. “Just go upstairs. Trust me, you’ll thank us for it later.” The knowing look they exchange eases my suspicion. Kind of. I mean, I’m not about to let down my guard completely, not around these assholes. I steal two more cans of beer on my way out. I don’t drink much during the season, but Coach gave us the week off to study for midterms and we still have two days of freedom left. My teammates, lucky bastards, seem to have no problem downing twelve beers and playing like champs the next day. Me? Even a buzz gives me a rip-roaring headache the morning after and then I skate like a toddler with his first pair of Bauers. Once we’re back to a six-days-a-week practice schedule, my alcohol consumption will drop to the usual one/five limit. One drink on practice nights, five after a game. No exceptions. I plan on taking full advantage of the time I have left. Armed with my beers, I head upstairs to my room. The master bedroom. Yup, I was not above playing the I’m-your-captain card to snag it, and trust me, it was worth the argument my teammates put up. Private bath, baby. My door is ajar, a sight that snaps me right back into suspicion mode. I warily peer up at the frame to make sure there isn’t a bucket of blood up there, then give the door a tiny shove. It gives way and I inch through it, fully prepared for an ambush. I get one. Except it’s more of a visual ambush, because damn, the girl on my bed looks like she stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Now, I’m a guy. I don’t know the names of half the shit she’s wearing. I see white lace and pink bows and lots of skin. And I’m happy. “Took you long enough.” Kendall shoots me a sexy smile that says you’re about to get lucky, big boy, and my cock reacts accordingly, thickening beneath my zipper. “I was giving you five more minutes before I took off.” “I made it just in time then.” My gaze sweeps over her drool-worthy outfit, and then I drawl, “Aw, babe, is that all for me?” Her blue eyes darken seductively. “You know it, stud.” I’m well aware that we sound like characters from a cheesy porno. But come on, when a man walks into his bedroom and finds a woman who looks like this? He’s willing to reenact any trashy scene she wants, even one that involves him pretending to be a pizza guy delivering pies to a MILF. Kendall and I first hooked up over the summer, out of convenience more than anything else because we both happened to be in the area during the break. We hit the bar a couple times, one thing led to another, and the next thing I know I’m fooling around with a hot sorority girl. But it fizzled out before midterms started, and aside from a few dirty texts here and there, I haven’t seen Kendall until now. “I figured you might want to have some fun before practice starts up again,” she says, her manicured fingers toying with the tiny pink bow in the center of her bra. “You figured right.” A smile curves her lips as she rises to her knees. Damn, her tits are practically pouring out of that lacy thing she’s wearing. She crooks a finger at me. “C’mere.” I waste no time striding toward her. Because…again…I’m a guy. “I think you’re a tad overdressed,” she remarks, then grasps the waistband of my jeans and teases the button open. She tugs on the zipper and a second later my dick springs into her waiting hand. I haven’t done laundry in weeks so I’ve been going commando until I get my shit together, and from the way her eyes flare with heat, I can tell she approves of the whole no-boxers thing. When she wraps her fingers around me, a groan slips out of my throat. Oh yeah. There’s nothing better than the feel of a woman’s hand on your cock. Nope, I’m wrong. Kendall’s tongue comes into play, and holy shit, it’s so much better than her hand. An hour later, Kendall snuggles up beside me and rests her head on my chest. Her lingerie and my clothes are strewn on the bedroom floor, along with two empty condom packages and the bottle of lube we hadn’t needed to crack open. The cuddling makes me apprehensive, but I can’t exactly shove her away and demand she hit the road, not when she clearly put a lot of effort into this seduction. But that worries me too. Women don’t get all decked out in expensive lingerie for a hookup, do they? I’m thinking no, and Kendall’s next words validate my uneasy thoughts. “I missed you, baby.” My first though is shit. My second thought is why? Because in all the time we’ve been hooking up, Kendall hasn’t made a single effort to get to know me. If we’re not having sex, she just talks non-stop about herself. Seriously, I don’t think she’s asked me a personal question about myself since we met. “Uh…” I struggle for words, any sequence of them that doesn’t consist of I, miss, you, and too. “I’ve been busy. You know, midterms.” “Obviously. We go to the same college. I was studying, too.” There’s an edge to her tone now. “Did you miss me?” Fuck me sideways. What am I supposed to say to that? I’m not going to lie, because that’ll only lead her on. But I can’t be a dick about it and admit she hasn’t even crossed my mind since the last time we hooked up. Kendall sits up and narrows her eyes. “It’s a yes or no question, Garrett. Did. You. Miss. Me.” My gaze darts to the window. Yup, I’m on the second floor and actually contemplating jumping out the frickin’ window. That’s how badly I want to avoid this convo. But my silence speaks volumes, and suddenly Kendall flies off the bed, her blond hair whipping in all directions as she scrambles for her clothes. “Oh my God. You are such an ass! You don’t care about me at all, do you, Garrett?” I get up and make a beeline for my discarded jeans. “I do care about you,” I protest. “But…” She angrily shoves her panties on. “But what?” “But I thought we were clear about what this was. I don’t want anything serious.” I shoot her a pointed look. “I told you that from the start.” Her expression softens as she bites her lip. “I know, but…I just thought…” I know exactly what she thought—that I’d fall madly in love with her, and our casual hookup would transform into the fucking Notebook. Honestly, I don’t know why I bother laying down ground rules anymore. In my experience, no woman enters into a fling believing it’s going to stay a fling. She might say otherwise, maybe even convince herself she’s cool with a no-strings sex-fest, but deep down, she hopes and prays it’ll lead to something deeper. And then I, the villain in her personal rom-com, swoops in and bursts that bubble of hope, despite the fact that I never lied about my intentions or misled her, not even for a second. “Hockey is my entire life,” I say gruffly. “I practice six days a week, play twenty games a year—more if we make it to the post-season. I don’t have time for a girlfriend, Kendall. And you deserve a helluva lot more than I can give you.” Unhappiness clouds her eyes. “I don’t want a casual fling anymore. I want to be your girlfriend.” Another why almost flies out of my mouth, but I bite my tongue. If she’d shown any interest in me outside the carnal sense, I might believe her, but the fact that she hasn’t makes me wonder if the only reason she wants a relationship with me is because I’m some kind of status symbol to her. I swallow my frustration and offer another awkward apology. “I’m sorry. But that’s where I’m at right now.” As I zip up my jeans, she refocuses her attention on getting her clothes on. Though clothes is a bit of a stretch—all she’s sporting is lingerie and a trench coat. Which explains why Logan and Tucker were grinning like idiots when I got home. Because when a girl shows up at your door in a trench coat, you know damn well there’s not much else underneath it. “I can’t see you anymore,” she finally says, her gaze finding mine. “If we keep doing…this…I’ll only get more attached.” I can’t argue with that, so I don’t. “We had fun, though, right?” After a beat, she smiles. “Yeah, we had fun.” She bridges the distance between us and leans up on her tiptoes to kiss me. I kiss her back, but not with the same degree of passion as before. I keep it light. Polite. The fling has run its course, and I’m not about to lead her on again. “With that said…” Her eyes twinkle mischievously. “Let me know if you change your mind about the girlfriend thing.” “You’ll be the first person I call,” I promise. “Good.” She smacks a kiss on my cheek and walks out the door, leaving me to marvel over how easy that went. I’d been steeling myself for a fight, but aside from that initial burst of anger, Kendall had accepted the situation like a pro. If only all women were as agreeable as her. Yup, totally a jab at Hannah there. Sex always stirs up my appetite, so I head downstairs in search of nourishment, and I’m happy to find there’s still leftover rice and fried chicken courtesy of Tuck, who is our resident chef because the rest of us can’t boil water without burning it. Tuck, on the other hand, grew up in Texas with a single mom who taught him to cook when he was still in diapers. I settle at the eat-in counter, shoving a piece of chicken in my mouth just as Logan strolls in wearing nothing but plaid boxers. He raises a brow when he spots me. “Hey. I didn’t think I’d see you again tonight. Figured you’d be VBF.” “VBF?” I ask between mouthfuls. Logan likes to make up acronyms in the hopes that we’ll start to use them as slang, but half the time I have no idea what he’s babbling about. He grins. “Very busy fucking.” I roll my eyes and eat a forkful of wild rice. “Seriously, Blondie’s gone already?” “Yup.” I chew before continuing. “She knows the score.” The score being, no girlfriends and definitely no sleepovers. Logan rests his forearms on the counter, his blue eyes gleaming as he changes the subject. “I can’t fucking wait for the St. Anthony’s game this weekend. Did you hear? Braxton’s suspension is over.” That gets my attention. “No shit. He’s playing on Saturday?” “Sure is.” Logan’s expression turns downright gleeful. “I’m gonna enjoy smashing that asshole’s face into the boards.” Greg Braxton is St. Anthony’s star left wing and a complete piece of shit human being. The guy’s got a sadistic streak that he’s not afraid to unleash on the ice, and when our teams faced off in the pre-season, he sent one of our sophomore D-men to the emergency room with a broken arm. Hence his three game suspension, though if it were up to me, the psycho would’ve been slapped with a lifetime ban from college hockey. “You need to throw down, I’ll be right there with you,” I promise. “I’m holding you to that. Oh, and next week we’ve got Eastwood heading our way.” I really should pay more attention to our schedule. Eastwood College is number two in our conference (second to us, of course) and our matchups are always nail-biters. And shit, it suddenly dawns on me that if I don’t ace the Ethics redo, I won’t be on the ice for the Eastwood game. “Fuck,” I mumble. Logan swipes a piece of chicken off my plate and pops it in his mouth. “What?” I haven’t told my teammates about my grade situation yet because I’d been hoping my midterm grade wouldn’t hurt me too bad, but now it looks like fessing up is unavoidable. So with a sigh, I tell Logan about my F in Ethics and what it could mean for the team. “Drop the course,” he says instantly. “Can’t. I missed the deadline.” “Crap.” “Yup.” We exchange a glum look, and then Logan flops down on the stool beside mine and rakes a hand through his hair. “Then you gotta shape up, man. Study your balls off and ace this motherfucker. We need you, G.” “I know.” I grip my fork in frustration, then put it down, my appetite vanishing. This is my first year as captain, which is a major honor considering I’m only a junior. I’m supposed to follow in my predecessor’s footsteps and lead my team to another national championship, but how the hell can I do that if I’m not on the ice with them? “I’ve got a tutor lined up,” I assure my teammate. “She’s a frickin’ genius.” “Good. Pay her whatever she wants. I’ll chip in if you want.” I can’t help but grin. “Wow. You’re offering to part with all your sweet, sweet cash? You must really want me to play.” “Damn straight. It’s all about the dream, man. You and me in Bruins jerseys, remember?” I have to admit, it’s a damn nice dream. It’s what Logan and I have been talking about since we were assigned as roommates in freshman year. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll go pro after I graduate. No doubt about Logan getting drafted, either. The guy’s faster than lightning and a goddamn beast on the ice. “Get that fucking grade up, G,” he orders. “Otherwise I’ll kick your ass.” “Coach will kick it harder.” I muster up a smile. “Don’t worry, I’m on it.” “Good.” Logan steals another piece of chicken before wandering out of the kitchen. I scarf down the rest of my food, then head back upstairs to find my phone. It’s time to ramp up the pressure on Hannah-not-with-an-M. 3 Hannah “I really think you should sing that last note in E major,” Cass insists. He’s like a broken record, throwing out the same unreasonable suggestion each time we finish running through our duet. Now, I’m a pacifist. I don’t believe in using fists to solve your problems, I think organized fighting is barbaric, and the idea of war makes me queasy. Yet I’m thisclose to punching Cassidy Donovan in the face. “The key is too low for me.” My tone is firm, but it’s impossible to hide my annoyance. Cass runs a frustrated hand through his wavy dark hair and turns to Mary Jane, who’s fidgeting awkwardly on the piano bench. “You know I’m right, MJ,” he pleads at her. “It’ll pack more of a punch if Hannah and I end in the same key instead of doing the harmony.” “No, it’ll have a bigger impact if we do the harmony,” I argue. I’m ready to rip my own hair out. I know exactly what Cass is up to. He wants to end the song on his note. He’s been pulling shit like this ever since we decided to team up for the winter performance, doing everything he can to single out his own voice while shoving me into the background. If I’d known what a fucking prima donna Cass was, I would’ve said hell no to a duet, but the jackass decided to show his true colors after we started rehearsals, and now it’s too late to back out. I’ve invested too much time in this duet, and honestly, I truly do love the song. Mary Jane wrote an incredible piece, and a part of me really doesn’t want to let her down. Besides, I know for a fact that the faculty prefers duets to solos, because the last four scholarship-winning performances have been duets. The judges go cuckoo-bananas for complex harmonies, and this composition has them in spades. “MJ?” Cass prompts. “Um…” I can see the petite blonde melting under his magnetic stare. Cass has that effect on women. He’s infuriatingly handsome, and his voice happens to be phenomenal. Unfortunately, he’s fully aware of both these assets and has no qualms using them to his advantage. “Maybe Cass is right,” MJ murmurs, avoiding my eyes as she betrays me. “Why don’t we try the E Major, Hannah? Let’s just do it once and see which one works better.” Benedict Arnold! I want to shout, but I bite my tongue. Like me, MJ has been forced to deal with Cass’s outrageous demands and “brilliant” ideas for weeks now, and I can’t blame her for trying to strike a compromise. “Fine,” I grumble. “Let’s try it.” Triumph lights Cass’s eyes, but it doesn’t stay there long, because after we sing the song again, it’s clear that his suggestion stinks. The note is far too low for me, and instead of causing Cass’s gorgeous baritone to stand out, my part sounds so clumsily off that it draws attention away from his. “I think Hannah should stick to the original key.” Mary Jane looks at Cass and bites her lip, as if she’s afraid of his reaction. But although the guy is arrogant, he’s not stupid. “Fine,” he snaps. “We’ll do it your way, Hannah.” I grit my teeth. “Thank you.” Fortunately, our hour is up, which means the rehearsal space is about to belong to one of the first-year classes. Eager to get out of there, I quickly gather my sheet music and slip into my pea coat. The less time I have to spend with Cass, the better. God, I can’t stand him. Ironically, we’re singing a deeply emotional love song. “Same time tomorrow?” He eyes me expectantly. “No, tomorrow is our four o’clock day, remember? I work Tuesday nights.” Displeasure hardens his face. “You know, we could’ve mastered this song a long time ago if your schedule wasn’t so…inconvenient.” I arch a brow. “Says the guy who refuses to rehearse on weekends. Because I happen to be free both Saturday and Sunday nights.” His lips tighten, and then he saunters off without another word. Dick. A heavy sigh echoes behind me. I turn around and realize MJ is still at the piano, still biting her lip. “I’m sorry, Hannah,” she says softly. “When I asked you guys to sing my song, I didn’t realize Cass would be so difficult.” My annoyance thaws when I notice how upset she is. “Hey, it’s not your fault,” I assure her. “I wasn’t expecting him to be this much of a jerk either, but he’s an amazing singer, so let’s just try to focus on that, okay?” “You’re an amazing singer, too. That’s why I chose the two of you. I couldn’t imagine anyone else bringing the song to life, you know?” I smile at her. She really is a sweet girl, not to mention one of the most talented songwriters I’ve ever met. Every piece that’s performed in the showcase has to be composed by a songwriting major, and even before MJ approached me, I had already planned on asking to use one of her songs. “I promise you, we’re going to sing the shit out of your song, MJ. Ignore Cass’s bullshit tantrums. I think he just likes arguing for the sake of arguing.” She laughs. “Yeah, probably. See you tomorrow?” “Yep. Four o’clock sharp.” I give her a little wave, then leave the choir room and head outside. One of my favorite things about Briar is the campus. The buildings, ancient and covered with strands of ivy, are connected to each other by cobblestone paths lined with sweeping elms and wrought-iron benches. The university is one of the oldest in the country, and its alumni roster contains dozens of influential people, including more than one president. But the best thing about Briar is how safe it is. Seriously, our crime rate is next to zero, which probably has a lot to do with Dean Farrow’s dedication to the safety of his students. The school invests a ton of money in security in the form of strategically placed cameras and guards that patrol the grounds twenty-four hours a day. Not that it’s a prison or anything. The security guys are friendly and unobtrusive. In all honesty, I barely notice them when I’m wandering around campus. My dorm is a five-minute walk from the music building, and I breathe a sigh of relief when I walk through Bristol House’s massive oak doors. It’s been a long day, and all I want to do is take a hot shower and crawl into bed. The space I share with Allie is more of a suite than a regular dorm room, which is one of the perks of being upperclassmen. We have two bedrooms, a small common area, and an even smaller kitchen. The only downside is the communal bathroom we share with the four other girls on our floor, but luckily none of us are slobs, so the toilets and showers usually stay squeaky clean. “Hey. You’re back late.” My roommate pokes her head into my bedroom, sucking on the straw poking out of her glass. She’s drinking something green and chunky and absolutely gross looking, but it’s a sight I’ve grown accustomed to. Allie has been “juicing” for the past two weeks, which means that every morning I wake up to the deafening whir of her blender as she prepares her icky liquid meals for the day. “I had rehearsal.” I kick off my shoes and toss my coat on the bed, then proceed to strip down to my underwear despite the fact that Allie is still in the doorway. Once upon a time, I had been too shy to get naked in front of her. When we shared a double in freshman year, I spent the first few weeks changing under my blanket or waiting until Allie left the room. But the thing about college is, there’s no such thing as privacy, and sooner or later you just have to accept that. I still remember how embarrassed I was the first time I saw Allie’s bare breasts, but the girl has zero modesty, and when she’d caught me staring, she just winked and said, “I’ve got it going on, huh?” After that, I didn’t bother with the under-the-blanket routine anymore. “So listen…” Her casual opening raises my guard. I’ve lived with Allie for two years. Long enough to know that when she starts a sentence with “So listen,” it’s usually followed by something I don’t want to hear. “Hmmm?” I say as I grab my bathrobe from the hook on the door. “There’s a party at Sigma house on Wednesday night.” Her blue eyes take on a stern glint. “You’re coming with me.” I groan. “A frat party? No way.” “Yes way.” She folds her arms over her chest. “Midterms are over, so you don’t get to use that as an excuse. And you promised you’d make an effort to be more social this year.” I had promised that, but…here’s the thing. I don’t like parties. I was raped at a party. God, I hate that word. Rape. It’s one of the few words in the English language that has a visceral effect when you hear it. Like a bone-jarring slap to the face or the chill of ice water being dumped over your head. It’s ugly and demoralizing, and I try so hard not to let it control my life. I’ve worked through what happened to me. Believe me, I have. I know it wasn’t my fault. I know I didn’t ask for it or do something to invite it. It didn’t steal my ability to trust people or cause me to fear every man that crosses my path. Years of therapy helped me see that the burden of blame lies solely on him. There was something wrong with him. Not me. Never me. And the most important lesson I learned is that I’m not a victim—I’m a survivor. But that’s not to say the assault didn’t change me. It absolutely did. There’s a reason I carry pepper spray in my purse and have 911 ready to dial on my phone if I’m walking alone at night. There’s a reason I don’t drink in public or accept beverages from anyone, not even Allie, because there’s always a chance she might unwittingly be handing me a cup that’s been tampered with. And there’s a reason I don’t go to many parties. I guess it’s my version of PTSD. A sound or a smell or a glimpse of something harmless makes the memories spiral to the surface. I hear music blaring and loud chatter and raucous laughter. I smell stale beer and sweat. I’m in a crowd of people. And suddenly I’m fifteen years old again and right back at Melissa Mayer’s party, trapped in my own personal nightmare. Allie softens her tone when she sees my distressed face. “We’ve done this before, Han-Han. It’ll be like all those other times. You’ll never be out of my sight, and neither of us will drink a single drop. I promise.” Shame tugs at my gut. Shame and regret and a touch of awe, because man, she truly is an incredible friend. She doesn’t have to stay sober and remain vigilant just to make me feel comfortable, but she does it every time we go out, and I love her deeply for it. But I hate that she has to do it. “Okay,” I relent, not just for her sake, but my own. I had promised her I’d be more social, but I also promised myself that I would make an effort to try new things this year. To lower my guard and stop being so damn afraid of the unfamiliar. A frat party might not be my idea of a great time, but who knows, maybe I’ll end up enjoying it. Allie’s face brightens. “Boo-yah! And look, I didn’t even have to play my trump card.” “What trump card?” I ask suspiciously. A grin lifts the corners of her mouth. “Justin is going to be there.” My pulse speeds up. “How do you know?” “Because Sean and I ran into him in the dining hall and he said he’ll be there. I guess a bunch of the meatheads were already planning on coming.” I scowl at her. “He’s not a meathead.” “Aw, look how cute you are, defending a football player. Hold on—let me go outside to see if pigs are flying in the sky.” “Ha ha.” “Seriously, Han, it’s weird. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m totally on board with you crushing on someone. It’s been, what, a year since you and Devon broke up? But I just don’t understand how you, of all people, are into a jock.” Discomfort climbs up my spine. “Justin is…he’s not like the rest of them. He’s different.” “Says the girl who’s never spoken a single word to him.” “He’s different,” I insist. “He’s quiet and serious and from what I’ve seen, he doesn’t bang anything in a skirt the way his teammates do. Oh, and he’s smart—I saw him reading Hemingway in the quad last week.” “It was probably a required reading.” “It wasn’t.” She narrows her eyes. “How do you know that?” I feel the blush rising in my cheeks. “Some girl asked him about it in class the other day, and he told her Hemingway is his favorite author.” “Oh my God. You’re eavesdropping on his conversations now? You’re such a creeper.” Allie heaves out a sigh. “Okay, that’s it. Wednesday night you’re exchanging actual dialogue with the guy.” “Maybe,” I say noncommittally. “If the opportunity arises…” “I’ll make it arise. Seriously. We’re not leaving that frat house until you talk to Justin. I don’t care if it’s just you saying hey, how are ya. You’re talking to him.” She jabs her finger in the air. “Capiche?” I snicker. “Capiche?” she repeats in a strict tone. After a beat, I release a defeated breath. “Capiche.” “Good. Now hurry up and take a shower so we can watch a couple episodes of Mad Men before bed.” “One episode. I’m too exhausted for any more than that.” I grin at her. “Capiche?” “Capiche,” she grumbles before waltzing out of my room. I chuckle to myself as I gather the rest of my shower supplies, but I’m sidetracked yet again—I’ve barely taken two steps to the door when a cat meows in my purse. The high-pitched wail is the ringtone I chose for text messages because it’s the only one annoying enough to get my attention. I set my toiletry case on the dresser, rifle through my bag until I locate my cell phone, then scan the message on the screen. Hey, it’s Garrett. Wanted to hammer out the deets re: tutoring sched. Oh, for fuck’s sake. I don’t know whether to laugh or groan. The guy’s tenacious, I’ll give him that. Sighing, I quickly shoot back a text, short and not at all sweet. Me: How’d u get this number? Him: Study grp signup sheet. Crap. I’d signed up for the group at the start of the semester, but that was before Cass decided we had to rehearse on Mondays and Wednesdays at the exact time the study group meets up. Another message pops up before I can respond, and whoever said it isn’t possible to detect a person’s tone via text was totally wrong. Because Garrett’s tone is full on irritable. Him: If u just showed up to study grp, I wouldn’t have to text u. Me: U don’t have to text me at all. Actually, I’d prefer if u didn’t. Him: What’ll it take to get u to say yes? Me: Absolutely nothing. Him: Great. So you’ll do it for free. The groan I’ve been holding slips out. Me: Not happening. Him: How bout tmrw night? I’m free at eight. Me: Can’t. I have the Spanish Flu. Highly contagious. I just saved your life, dude. Him: Aw, I appreciate the concern. But I’m immune to pandemics that wiped out 40-mil ppl from 1918 to 1919. Me: How is it u know so much about pandemics? Him: I’m a history major, baby. I know tons of useless facts. Ugh, again with the baby thing? All righty. Clearly it’s time to put an end to this before he gets his flirt on. Me: Well, nice chatting with u. Good luck on the makeup exam. When several seconds tick by and Garrett doesn’t respond, I give myself a mental pat on the back for successfully getting rid of him. I’m about to walk out the door when a picture message meows out of my phone. Against my better judgment, I click to download it, and a moment later, a bare chest fills my screen. Yep. I’m talking smooth tanned skin, sculpted pecs, and the tightest six-pack I’ve ever seen. I can’t help but snort out loud. Me: FFS. Did u just send me a pic of your chest?! Him: Yup. Did it work? Me: In icking me out? Yes. Success! Him: In changing your mind. I’m trying to butter u up here. Me: Ew. Go butter up someone else. PS—I’m posting that pic on my-bri. I’m referring, of course, to MyBriar, our school’s equivalent of Facebook, which ninety-five percent of the student body is on. Him: Go for it. Lots of chicks will be happy to have it in their spank banks. Me: Lose this number, dude. I mean it. I don’t wait for a response. I just toss my phone on the bed and go take a shower. 4 Hannah Briar University is five miles from the town of Hastings, Massachusetts, which has one main street and only about two-dozen shops and restaurants. The town is so miniscule it’s a miracle I managed to land a part-time job there, and I thank my lucky stars for it every day because most students are forced to make the hour-long drive to Boston if they want to work during the school year. For me, it’s either a ten-minute bus ride or a five-minute drive, and then I’m at Della’s, the diner I’ve been waitressing at since freshman year. Tonight I’m lucky and get to drive over. I have an arrangement with Tracy, one of the girls who lives on my floor. She lets me use her car whenever she doesn’t need it as long as I return it with a full tank of gas. It’s a sweet deal, especially in the winter when the whole area turns into a snow-covered skating rink. I don’t particularly like my job, but I don’t hate it either. It pays well and it’s close to campus, so really, I can’t complain. Scratch that—tonight I’m definitely allowed to complain. Because thirty minutes before my shift ends, I find Garrett Graham in one of my booths. Seriously. Does this guy ever give up? I have no desire to go over there and serve him, but I don’t have much of a choice. Lisa, the other waitress on duty, is busy tending to a group of faculty members at a table across the room, and my boss Della is behind the baby-blue Formica counter dishing out slices of pecan pie to three freshman girls sitting on the tall swivel stools. I set my jaw and march up to Garrett, making my displeasure obvious as I meet his twinkling gray eyes. He runs a hand through his cropped dark hair and flashes a lopsided grin. “Hey there, Hannah. Fancy meeting you here.” “Yeah, fancy,” I mutter, yanking my order pad out of my apron pocket. “What can I get you?” “A tutor.” “Sorry, that’s not on the menu.” I smile sweetly. “We serve really good pecan pie, though.” “You know what I did last night?” he says, without acknowledging the sarcasm. “Yep. You were text stalking me.” He rolls his eyes. “Before that, I mean.” I pretend to think it over. “Um…you hooked up with a cheerleader? No, you hooked up with the girls’ hockey team. No, wait, they’re probably not ditzy enough for you. I stick with my original guess—cheerleader.” “Sorority sister, actually,” he says smugly. “But I’m talking about what I did before that.” He raises one dark eyebrow. “But I’m very intrigued by your interest in my sex life. I can give you details about that another time if you want.” “I don’t.” “Another time,” he echoes in a dismissive tone, folding his hands on the blue-and-white-checkered tablecloth. He’s got big hands with long fingers, short nails, and knuckles that are slightly red and cracked. I wonder if he’s been in a fight recently, but then I realize the busted-up knuckles are probably a hockey player thing. “I was at study group yesterday,” he informs me. “There were eight other people there, and you know what the highest mark in the group was?” He blurts out the answer before I can hazard a guess. “C-plus. And our combined average was a D. How am I supposed to pass this makeup if I’m studying with people who are as dumb as I am? I need you, Wellsy.” Wellsy? Is that a nickname? And how on earth does he know that my last name is Wells? I never told—argh. Damn sign-up sheet. Garrett notices my surprised look and cocks his brows again. “I learned a lot about you in study group. Got your number, your full name, even found out where you work.” “Congratulations, you really are a stalker.” “Nope, just thorough. I like to know what I’m up against.” “Jesus Harold Christ! I’m not tutoring you, okay? Go bug somebody else.” I point at the menu in front of him. “Are you ordering? Because if not, then please go away and let me do my job in peace.” “Jesus Harold Christ?” Garrett snickers before picking up the laminated menu and giving it a cursory glance. “I’ll have a turkey club.” He sets the menu down, then reaches for it again. “And a bacon double cheeseburger. Just the burger, no fries. Actually, I changed my mind—yes to the fries. Oh, and a side order of onion rings.” My jaw almost hits the floor. “You’re seriously going to eat all that?” He grins. “Of course. I’m a growing boy.” Boy? Nuh-uh. I’m only noticing it now—probably because I’ve been too distracted by how insufferable he is—but Garrett Graham is all man. There’s nothing boyish about him, not his chiseled good looks or his tall frame or that ripped chest of his, which suddenly flashes to mind as I remember the picture he sent me. “I’ll also take a slice of that pecan pie and a Dr. Pepper to drink. Oh, and some tutoring.” “Not on the menu,” I say cheerfully. “But the rest is coming right up.” Before he can argue, I abandon his booth and head to the back counter to place his order with Julio, our night cook. A nanosecond later, Lisa rushes over and addresses me in a hushed voice. “Oh my God. You know who that is, right?” “Yep.” “It’s Garrett Graham.” “I know,” I answer dryly. “That’s why I said yep.” Lisa looks outraged. “What is wrong with you? Why aren’t you freaking out right now? Garrett Graham is sitting in your booth. He talked to you.” “Holy shit, he did? I mean, his lips were moving, but I didn’t realize he was talking.” I roll my eyes and walk over to the drink station to pour Garrett’s drink. I don’t look his way, but I can feel those smoky gray eyes following my every movement. He’s probably sending telepathic orders for me to tutor him. Well, too bad for him. There’s no way I’m wasting the little spare time I have on a college hockey player who thinks he’s a rock star. Lisa trails after me, oblivious to my sarcasm and still gushing about Graham. “He’s so gorgeous. Like unbelievably gorgeous.” Her voice lowers to a whisper. “And I hear he’s amazing in bed.” I snort. “He probably started that rumor himself.” “No, Samantha Richardson told me. She hooked up with him last year at the Theta kegger. Said it was the best sex of her life.” I have no response, because I couldn’t care less about the sex life of some girl I don’t even know. Instead, I shrug and hold out the Dr. Pepper. “You know what? Why don’t you take his booth?” The way Lisa gasps, you’d think I just handed her a check for five million dollars. “Are you sure?” “Yep. He’s all yours.” “Oh my God.” She takes a step forward as if she’s going to hug me, but then her gaze darts to Garrett and she appears to have second thoughts about broadcasting her terribly unwarranted joy. “I owe you so big for this, Han.” I want to tell her that she’s actually doing me the favor, but she’s already dashing toward the booth to wait on her prince. I watch in amusement as Garrett’s expression clouds over at Lisa’s approach. He picks up the glass she sets in front of him, then meets my gaze and slants his head. As if to say, you’re not getting rid of me that easily. * Garrett She’s not getting rid of me that easily. Clearly Hannah Wells hasn’t been around many athletes. We’re a stubborn lot, and the main thing we all have in common? We never, ever give up. God help me, but I’m going to convince this girl to tutor me, even if I die trying. But now that Hannah has dumped me off on the other waitress, it’s a long while before I get another opportunity to plead my case. For the next twenty minutes, I endure the blatant flirting and undisguised interest of the curly-haired brunette who’s serving me, but although I’m polite to her, I don’t flirt back. The only person I’m interested in tonight is Hannah, and my gaze sticks to her like glue as she works the room. I wouldn’t put it past her to make a run for it when I’m not looking. Her uniform is kinda hot, if I’m being honest. Powder-blue dress with a white collar, big buttons down the front, and a short white apron around her waist. Looks like an outfit right out of Grease, which I guess makes sense considering Della’s is a 50s-themed diner. I can easily picture Hannah Wells fitting in during that era. Her dark, shoulder-length hair has a slight wave to it, and her bangs are pinned to the side with a blue barrette, giving the hairstyle an old-fashioned vibe. As I watch her work, I wonder what her story is. I asked around at study group, but nobody knew much about her. One guy told me she’s from a small town in the Midwest. Someone else said she dated some guy in a band all through sophomore year. Other than those two meager details, she’s a total mystery. “Can I get you anything else?” my waitress asks eagerly. She’s looking at me like I’m a celebrity or some shit, but I’m used to the attention. Fact: when you’re the captain of a Division I hockey team that’s won two consecutive national titles, people know who you are. And women want to fuck you. “No, thanks. Just the bill, please.” “Oh.” Her disappointment is unmistakable. “Sure. Coming right up.” Before she can go, I voice a gruff question. “Do you know when Hannah’s shift is over?” Her disappointed expression transforms into one of disbelief. “Why?” “She’s in one of my classes. I wanted to talk to her about an assignment.” The brunette’s face relaxes, but a flicker of suspicion lingers in her eyes. “She’s off now, but she can’t leave until her table does.” I glance over at the only other occupied table in the diner, where a middle-aged couple is sitting. The man has just pulled out his wallet, while his wife peers at the bill through her horn-rimmed glasses. I pay for my food, bid my waitress goodbye, then head outside to wait for Hannah. Five minutes later, the older couple waltzes out of the diner. A minute after that, Hannah appears, but if she sees me lurking near the door, she doesn’t let on. She simply buttons up her coat and takes off toward the side of the building. I waste no time hurrying after her. “Wellsy, wait up.” She looks over her shoulder, frowning deeply. “For the love of God, I’m not tutoring you.” “Sure you are.” I shrug. “I just need to figure out what you want in return.” Hannah whirls around like a dark-haired tornado. “I want to not tutor you. That’s what I want.” “All right, so it’s obvious you’re not interested in money,” I muse as if she hasn’t spoken. “Has to be something else then.” I mull it over for a beat. “Booze? Weed?” “No, and no, and get lost.” She starts walking again, her white sneakers slapping the sidewalk as she marches toward the gravel lot at the side of the diner. She makes a beeline for the silver Toyota hatchback parked right next to my Jeep. “Okay then. I guess you’re not into party favors.” I follow her to the driver’s side, but she completely ignores me as she unlocks the door and tosses her purse into the passenger seat. “How about a date?” I offer. That gets her attention. She straightens up like someone shoved a metal rod up her spine, then swivels her head in astonishment. “What?” “Ah. I’ve got your attention.” “No, you’ve got my disgust. You actually think I want to go out with you?” “Everyone wants to go out with me.” She bursts out laughing. Maybe I should feel insulted by the response, but I like the sound of her laughter. It’s got a musical quality to it, a husky pitch that tickles my ears. “Just out of curiosity,” she says, “after you wake up in the morning, do you admire yourself in the mirror for one hour or two?” “Two,” I reply cheerfully. “Do you high five yourself?” “Of course not.” I smirk. “I kiss each of my biceps and then point to the ceiling and thank the big man upstairs for creating such a perfect male specimen.” She snorts. “Uh-huh. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, Mr. Perfect, but I’m not interested in dating you.” “I think you’re misunderstanding, Wellsy. I’m not looking to make a love connection with you. I know you’re not into me. If it makes you feel better, I’m not into you either.” “That does make me feel better. I was starting to worry I might actually be your type, and that’s too terrifying to even contemplate.” When she tries to duck into the car, I curl my fingers over the doorframe to keep it open. “I’m talking about image,” I clarify. “Image,” she echoes. “Yeah. Do you think you’d be the first girl who went out with me to boost her popularity? Happens all the time.” Hannah laughs again. “I’m perfectly content with my current rung on the social ladder, but thanks so much for offering to ‘boost my popularity.’ You’re a prince, Garrett. Really.” Frustration scrambles up my throat. “What’ll it take to change your mind?” “Nothing. You’re wasting your time.” She shakes her head, looking as frustrated as I feel. “You know, if you take all the effort you’re using to harass me and channel it to your studies, you’d get an A-plus-plus-plus on that midterm.” She shoves my hand out of the way, slides into the driver’s seat, and shuts the door. A second later, the engine roars to life, and I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t stepped back in time, she would’ve run right over my foot. I wonder if Hannah Wells was an athlete in another life, because she is one stubborn woman. Sighing, I stare at her blinking red taillights and try to figure out my next move. Absolutely nothing comes to mind. 5 Hannah Allie stays true to her word. It’s twenty minutes into the party, and she’s yet to leave my side, despite the fact that her boyfriend has been begging her to dance with him since the second we arrived. I feel like a jackass. “Okay, this is ridiculous. Go dance with Sean already.” I have to shout in order to be heard over the music, which, shockingly enough, is pretty decent. I expected shitty dance beats or vulgar hip-hop, but whoever’s manning the stereo system seems to have an affinity for indie rock and Brit punk. “Naah, it’s fine,” Allie shouts back. “I’ll just chill here with you.” Right, because lurking against the wall like a creeper and watching me cling to the bottle of Evian I brought from the dorm is way more fun than spending time with her boyfriend. The living room is teeming with people. Frat brothers and sorority sisters galore, but tonight there’s a lot more variety than you usually find at a Greek event. I spot several drama majors near the pool table. A few girls from the field hockey team chatting by the fireplace. A group of guys that I’m pretty sure are freshman standing at the built-in bar. All the furniture has been pushed against the wood-paneled walls to create a makeshift dance floor in the center of the room. Everywhere I look, I see people dancing and laughing and shooting the shit. And poor Allie is stuck to me like Velcro, unable to enjoy a second of the party she wanted to go to. “Go,” I urge her. “Really. You haven’t seen Sean since midterms started. You deserve to spend some quality time with your man.” She hesitates. “I’ll be fine. Katie and Shawna are right over there—I’ll hang out with them for a bit.” “Are you sure?” “Positive. I came here to socialize, remember?” Grinning, I give her a tiny smack on the butt. “Get outta here, babe.” She grins back and starts to walk away, then holds up her iPhone and waves it in the air. “SOS if you need me,” she calls out. “And don’t leave without telling me!” The music drowns out my response, but she catches my nod before she hurries off. I see her blond head weaving through the crowd, and then she’s at Sean’s side and he’s happily dragging her into the throng of dancers. See? I can be a good friend too. Except now I’m all alone, and the two girls I was planning on latching onto are chatting with two very cute guys. I don’t want to interrupt the flirt fest, so I search the crowd for anyone else I might know—even Cass would be a sight for sore eyes at this point—but I don’t spot any familiar faces. Stifling a sigh, I hunker down in my little corner and spend the next few minutes people-watching. When several guys glance my way with unabashed interest, I have to curse myself for allowing Allie to choose my outfit tonight. My dress isn’t indecent by any means, just a knee-length green shift with a modest neckline, but it hugs my curves more tightly than I’m comfortable with, and the black heels I paired it with make my legs look a lot longer than they actually are. I didn’t put up an argument about the outfit because I’d wanted to catch Justin’s eye, but in my eagerness to make it on his radar, I didn’t think about all the other radars I might appear on, and the attention I’m getting makes me nervous. “Hey.” I turn my head as a cute guy with wavy brown hair and light-blue eyes sidles up to me. He’s wearing a polo shirt and holding a red plastic cup in his hand, and he’s smiling at me as if we know each other. “Uh. Hey,” I answer. When he notices my quizzical expression, his smile widens. “I’m Jimmy. We have British Lit together?” “Oh. Right.” I honestly don’t remember seeing him before, but there are about two hundred students in that class, so all the faces blur into each other after a while. “You’re Hannah, right?” I nod, shifting in discomfort, because his gaze has already lowered to my chest a dozen times in the five seconds we’ve been talking. Jimmy pauses as if he’s trying to think of something else to say. I can’t think of anything either because I suck at small talk. If he was someone I was interested in, I’d ask him about his classes, or if he has a job, or what kind of music he’s into, but the only guy I care about at the moment is Justin—and he still hasn’t shown up. The fact that I’m searching the crowd for him makes me feel like a total loser. Truth be told, Allie’s not the only one wondering what my deal is. I’m wondering too, because seriously, why am I so obsessed with this guy? He doesn’t know I exist. And he’s a jock, to boot. I may as well be interested in Garratt Graham, for fuck’s sake. At least he offered to go out with me. And what do you know—the second I think about Garrett, the devil himself enters the room. I didn’t expect to see him tonight, and I immediately duck my head so he doesn’t spot me. Maybe if I concentrate hard enough, I’ll chameleon into the wall behind me and he won’t know I’m here. Luckily, Garrett is oblivious to my presence. He stops to talk to a couple of guys, then saunters toward the bar on the other side of the room, where he’s immediately swarmed by half a dozen girls who bat their eyelashes and thrust their boobs out to get his attention. Beside me, Jimmy rolls his eyes. “Jeez. The big man on campus routine gets old, huh?” I realize he’s looking at Garrett too, and the disgust on his face is unmistakable. “You’re not a fan of Graham’s?” I say dryly. “You want the truth or the house line?” “House line?” “He’s a member of this frat,” Jimmy explains. “So technically that makes us brothers.” He air-quotes the word. “And a Sigma man loves all his brothers.” I have to grin. “Okay, so that’s the house line. What’s the truth?” The music swells, so he leans in closer. His lips are centimeters from my ear as he confides, “Can’t stand the guy. His ego’s bigger than this house.” Look at that—I’ve met a kindred spirit. Another person who’s not a card-carrying member of Team Garrett. Except the conspiratorial smile I give him is clearly taken the wrong way, because Jimmy’s eyes go heavy-lidded. “So…wanna dance?” he drawls. I don’t. At all. But just as I open my mouth to say no, I glimpse a flash of black from the corner of my eye. Garrett’s black T-shirt. Crap. He’s spotted me and now he’s heading our way. Judging by his determined stride, he’s ready to do battle with me again. “Sure,” I blurt out, eagerly grabbing Jimmy’s hand. “Let’s dance.” A slow smile spreads across his mouth. Uh-oh. Maybe I sounded a bit too eager there. But it’s too late to change my mind, because he’s leading me toward the dance floor. And just my luck—the song changes the second we get there. The Ramones have been replaced by a Lady Gaga track. Not a fast one, either, but the slow version of “Poker Face.” Great. Jimmy plants both his hands on my hips. After a beat, I reluctantly hold onto his shoulders, and we begin to sway to the music. It’s awkward as hell, but at least I managed to evade Garrett, who is now regarding us with a frown, his hands hooked in the belt loops of his faded blue jeans. When our gazes meet, I shoot him a half-smile and a what-can-you-do look, and he immediately narrows his eyes as if he knows I’m dancing with Jimmy just so I don’t have to talk to him. Then a pretty blonde touches his arm, and he breaks the eye contact. Jimmy twists his head to see who I’m looking at. “You know Garrett?” He sounds more than a little wary. I shrug. “He’s in one of my classes.” “Are you friends?” “Nope.” “Good to hear.” Garrett and the blonde duck out of the room just then, and I mentally pat myself on the back for my successful evasion tactics. “Does he live here with you guys?” God, this song is taking forever, but I’m trying to make conversation because I feel like I have to finish out the dance after being so “enthusiastic” about it. “No, thank fuck,” Jimmy answers. “He’s got a house off-campus. He’s always bragging about it, but I bet you his father pays his rent.” I wrinkle my forehead. “Why do you say that? Is his family rich or something?” Jimmy looks surprised. “You don’t know who his dad is?” “No. Should I?” “It’s Phil Graham.” When the groove in my forehead deepens, Jimmy elaborates. “Forward for the New York Rangers? Two-time Stanley Cup champ? Hockey legend?” The one hockey team I know anything about is the Chicago Blackhawks, and that’s only because my dad is a rabid fan and makes me watch the games with him. Ergo, I have zero knowledge of a man who played for the Rangers, what, twenty years ago? But I’m not surprised to hear that Garrett hails from hockey royalty. He’s got that superior sense of entitlement down pat. “I wonder why Garrett didn’t go to college in New York then,” I say politely. “Graham Sr. finished out his career in Boston,” Jimmy explains. “I guess the family decided to stay in Massachusetts after he retired.” The song blessedly comes to an end, and I hastily excuse myself by pretending I need to use the washroom. Jimmy makes me promise to dance with him again, then winks and wanders off toward the beer pong table. Since I don’t want him to know I lied about the bathroom, I follow through on the pee charade by leaving the living room to loiter in the front parlor for a bit, which is where Allie finds me a few minutes later. “Hey! Are you having a good time?” Her eyes are bright and her cheeks are flushed, but I know she hasn’t been drinking. She promised to stay sober, and Allie never breaks her promises. “Yeah, I guess. I think I’m taking off soon, though.” “Aw no, you can’t go yet! I just saw you dancing with Jim Paulson—you looked like you were having fun.” Really? I guess I’m a much better actress than I thought. “He’s cute,” she adds with a meaningful look. “Naah, he’s not my type. Too preppy.” “Well, I know someone who is your type.” Allie wiggles her eyebrows before lowering her voice to a teasing whisper. “And don’t turn around, but he just walked through the door.” My heart takes off like a kite in a windstorm. Don’t turn around? Don’t people realize that saying that is guaranteed to make someone do the exact opposite? I swivel my head toward the front door, then swivel it right back because oh my God. She’s right. Justin has finally shown up. And since the glimpse I stole was far too fleeting, I rely on Allie to fill in the blanks. “Is he alone?” I murmur. “He’s with a few of his teammates,” she murmurs back. “None of them brought dates, though.” I do my best impression of a person who’s just talking to a friend and is in no way crushing on the guy standing ten feet away. And it works, because Justin and his buddies walk right past Allie and me, their loud laughter quickly swallowed up by a swell of music. “You’re blushing,” she teases. “I know.” I groan softly. “Fuck. This crush is so stupid, A. Why are you letting me embarrass myself like this?” “Because I don’t think it’s stupid at all. And it’s not embarrassing—it’s healthy.” She grabs my arm and proceeds to drag me back to the living room. The stereo volume is lower now, but animated chatter continues to buzz through the room. “Seriously, Han, you’re young and beautiful, and I want you to fall in love. I don’t care who it’s with as long as—why is Garrett Graham staring at you?” I follow her startled gaze and smother another groan when Garrett’s gray eyes lock onto mine. “Because he’s stalking me,” I grumble. Her eyebrows soar. “For real?” “Pretty much, yeah. He’s failing Ethics, and he knows I did well on the midterm so now he’s demanding I tutor him. The guy can’t take no for an answer.” She snickers. “I think you might be the only girl who’s ever turned him down.” “If only the rest of the female population was as smart as I am.” I gaze past Allie’s shoulder and scan the room for Justin, and my pulse speeds up when I spot him by the pool table. He’s wearing black pants and a gray cable-knit sweater, and his hair is messy, falling onto his strong forehead. God, I love that just-rolled-out-of-bed look he has going on. He’s not all gelled up like his buddies, nor is he wearing his football jacket like the rest of them. “Allie, get your cute ass over here!” Sean shouts from the Ping-Pong table. “I need my pong partner!” A pretty blush blooms on her cheeks. “Wanna watch us kick some beer pong butt? Minus the beer,” she adds quickly. “Sean knows I’m not drinking tonight.” I’m hit with another jolt of guilt. “That’s no fun,” I say lightly. “You’ve gotta have the beer to play the pong.” She firmly shakes her head. “I promised you I wouldn’t drink.” “And I’m not planning on sticking around for much longer,” I counter. “So there’s no reason for you not to get your buzz on.” “But I want you to stay,” she protests. “How about this? I’ll stay for another half hour, but only if you allow yourself to have some actual fun. I know we made a deal in freshman year, but I’m not holding you to it anymore, A.” I mean every word, because I really do hate that she has to babysit me every time we go out. It’s not fair to her. And after two years at Briar, I know it’s time for me to lower my guard, at least a little bit. “Come on, I want to see you show off those mad beer pong skills.” I link my arm through hers, and she laughs as I drag her over to Sean and his friends. “Hannah!” Sean says in delight. “You playing?” “Nope,” I reply. “Just cheering on my bestie.” Allie joins Sean at one end of the table, and for the next ten minutes, I watch the most intense beer pong match on the planet unfold. But the entire time, I’m wholly aware of Justin, who’s chatting with his teammates across the room. Eventually, I wander off because I finally do need to use the restroom. There’s one on the main floor near the kitchen, but the line is crazy long and it’s ages before I get a turn. I quickly do my business, then walk out of the bathroom—and slam into a hard male chest. “You should really watch where you’re going,” a husky voice remarks. My heart stops. Justin’s dark eyes twinkle with humor as he places his hand on my arm to steady me. The moment he touches me, heat sears my flesh and unleashes a flurry of goose bumps. “Sorry,” I stammer. “No worries.” Smiling, he pats his chest down. “I’m still in one piece.” I suddenly notice that there’s no one waiting to use the washroom anymore. It’s just Justin and me in the hallway, and God, he’s even better looking close up. He’s also much taller than I realized—I have to tilt my head to meet his eyes. “You’re in Ethics with me, aren’t you?” he asks in that deep, sexy voice of his. I nod. “I’m Justin.” He introduces himself as if there might actually be someone at Briar who doesn’t know his name. But I find his modesty is adorable. “I’m Hannah.” “How’d you do on the midterm?” “I got an A,” I admit. “You?” “B minus.” I can’t hide my surprise. “Really? I guess we’re the lucky ones, then. Everyone else bombed it.” “I think it makes us smart, not lucky.” His grin makes me melt. Seriously. I’m a puddle of goo on the floor, unable to look away from those magnetic dark eyes. And he smells fantastic, like soap and lemony aftershave. Would it be inappropriate if I pressed my face in his neck and inhaled him? Uh…yeah. It would. “So…” I try to think of something clever or interesting to say, but I’m too nervous to be witty at the moment. “You play football, huh?” He nods. “Wide receiver. Are you a fan?” A dimple appears in his chin. “Of the game, I mean.” I’m not, but I suppose I could lie and pretend to like his sport. Except that’s a risky move, because then he might try to talk “shop” with me, and I don’t know enough about football to carry a whole conversation about it. “Not really,” I confess with a sigh. “I’ve seen a game or two, but honestly, it’s too slow for my liking. Seems like you guys play for five seconds, and then someone blows a whistle and you stand around for hours before the next play starts.” Justin laughs. He’s got a great laugh. Low and husky and I feel it right down to my toes. “Yeah, I’ve heard that complaint before. It’s different when you’re playing it, though. A lot more intense than you’d think. And if you’re invested in a team or certain players, you pick up the rules a lot faster.” He slants his head. “You should come to one of our games. I bet you’d have fun.” Holy shit. He’s inviting me to one of his games? “Uh, yeah, maybe I will—” “Kohl!” a loud voice interrupts. “We’re up!” We both turn as a blond behemoth pokes his head out of the living room doorway. It’s one of Justin’s teammates, and he’s wearing a look of extreme impatience. “Coming,” Justin calls back, then gives me a rueful smile as he takes a step toward the bathroom. “Big Joe and I are about to kick some ass in pool, but I’ve gotta hit the can first. Talk later?” “Sure.” I keep my tone casual, but there’s nothing casual about the way my heart is racing. As Justin shuts the door behind him, I hurry back to the living room on shaky legs. I’m dying to tell Allie about what just happened, but I don’t get the chance. The second I walk into the room, six-foot-two and two hundred pounds of Garrett Graham block my path. “Wellsy,” he says cheerfully. “You’re the last person I expected to see here tonight.” As usual, his presence causes my guard to snap into place. “Yeah? Why’s that?” He shrugs. “I didn’t think frat parties were your scene.” “Well, you don’t know me, remember? Maybe I’m partying it up on Greek Row every night.” “Liar. I would’ve seen you here before.” He crosses his arms over his chest, a pose that causes his biceps to flex. I glimpse the bottom of a tattoo peeking out from his sleeve, but I can’t tell what it is, only that it’s black and looks intricate. Flames maybe? “So, about this tutoring thing… I thought we should take a moment to set up a schedule.” Aggravation shoots up my spine. “You don’t give up, do you?” “Never.” “Then you need to start, because I’m not tutoring you.” I’m distracted now. Justin has reentered the room, his long, lithe body moving through the crowd as he makes his way to the pool table. He’s halfway there when a pretty brunette intercepts him. To my dismay, he stops to talk to her. “Come on, Wellsy, help a guy out,” Garrett begs. Justin laughs at something the girl says. Same way he was laughing with me a minute ago. And when she touches his arm and leans in close, he doesn’t back away. “Look, if you don’t want to commit to the whole semester, at least help me pass this midterm. I’ll owe you one.” I’m no longer paying Garrett even a lick of attention. Justin leans in to whisper in the girl’s ear. She giggles, her cheeks turn a rosy shade of pink, and my heart plummets to the pit of my stomach. I was so sure we’d been, I don’t know, connecting, but now he’s flirting with someone else? “You’re not even listening to me,” Garrett accuses. “Who are you looking at, anyway?” I tear my eyes off Justin and the brunette, but not fast enough. Garrett grins when he notices where my gaze was. “Which one?” he demands. “Which one what?” He cocks his head at Justin, then shifts it five feet to the right, where I notice Jimmy talking to one of his frat brothers. “Paulson or Kohl—which one do you want to bone?” “Bone?” He has my attention again. “Ugh. Who says stuff like that?” “Fine, should I rephrase? Which one do you want to fuck or screw or drill or make love to, if that’s your thing.” I set my jaw. This guy is such an asshole. When I don’t answer, he answers for me. “Kohl,” he decides. “I saw you dancing with Paulson earlier and you definitely weren’t making googly eyes at him.” I don’t confirm or deny it. Instead I take a step away. “Have a good night, Garrett.” “I hate to break it to you, but it ain’t gonna happen, Wellsy. You’re not his type.” Anger and embarrassment flood my belly. Wow. Had he really just said that? “Thanks for the tip,” I say coolly. “Now if you’ll excuse me…” He tries reaching for my arm but I bulldoze past him and leave him in my proverbial dust. I do a quick search of the room for Allie, halting in my tracks when I spot her making out with Sean on the couch. I don’t want to interrupt them, so I spin on my heel and head toward the front door instead. My fingers are shaky as I text Allie to let her know I’m taking off. Garrett’s blunt assertion—you’re not his type—echoes in my mind like a depressing mantra. Truth is, it’s exactly what I needed to hear. So what if Justin spoke to me in the hallway? Obviously it meant nothing, because in the next breath he turned around and flirted with someone else. It’s time for me to face reality. It’s not going to happen with me and Justin, no matter how badly I want it to. It was stupid of me to come here tonight. Waves of embarrassment course through me as I leave the Sigma house and step into the cool night breeze. I regret not bringing a coat, but I hadn’t wanted to carry it around all night, and I figured I could deal with the October chill for the five-second walk from the cab to the front door. Allie messages back as I step onto the porch, offering to come outside and keep me company until the taxi arrives, but I order her to stay with her boyfriend. Then I pull up the number for the campus taxi service, and I’m just about to dial when I hear my name. A maddening variation of it, that is. “Wellsy. Wait up.” I take the porch steps two at a time, but Garrett is a lot taller than me, which means his stride is longer, and he catches up to me in no time. “Come on, wait.” His hand latches onto my shoulder. I shrug it off and turn to glare at him. “What? You’re in the mood to insult me some more?” “I wasn’t trying to insult you,” he protests. “I was just stating a fact.” That stings. “Gee. Thanks.” “Fuck.” He looks frustrated. “I insulted you again. I didn’t mean to do that. I’m not trying to be a dick, okay?” “Of course you’re not trying. You just are.” He has the nerve to grin, but his humor fades fast. “Look, I know the guy, all right? Kohl’s friends with one of my roommates, so he’s been over at my place a few times.” “Goodie for you. You can date him then because I’m not interested.” “Yes, you are.” He sounds very sure of himself, and I hate him for that. “All I’m saying is, Kohl has a type.” “All right, I’ll humor you. What’s his type then? And not because I’m interested in him or anything,” I add hastily. He smiles knowingly. “Uh-huh. Of course you’re not.” Then he shrugs. “He’s been at this college for, what, almost two months? So far I’ve seen him hook up with one cheerleader and two members of Kappa Beta. Know what that tells me?” “No, but it tells me that you spend way too much time keeping track of who other dudes are dating.” He ignores the barb. “It tells me Kohl is interested in chicks with a certain social status.” I roll my eyes. “If this is another offer to make me popular, I’m gonna have to pass.” “Hey, if you want to get Kohl’s attention, you’ve gotta do something drastic.” He pauses. “So yes, I’m reoffering to go out with you.” “I re-pass. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call a cab.” “No, you don’t.” My phone had gone idle, so I quickly type in my password to unlock it. “Seriously, don’t bother,” Garrett says. “I can drive you home.” “I don’t need a ride.” “That’s what cabs do. They give you rides.” “I don’t need a ride from you,” I amend. “You’d rather pay ten bucks to get home instead of accepting a free ride from me?” His sarcastic remark is right on target. Because yes, I most certainly trust a campus-employed cabbie to drive me home more than I trust Garrett Graham to do it. I don’t get into cars with strangers. Period. Garrett’s eyes narrow as if he’s read my mind. “I’m not going to try anything, Wellsy. It’s just a ride home.” “Go back to the party, Garrett. Your frat brothers are probably wondering where you are.” “Trust me, they don’t give a shit where I am. They’re only interested in finding a tipsy chick to stick their dicks in.” I gag. “God. You are disgusting, you know that?” “Nope, just honest. Besides, it’s not like I said I’m looking to do that. I don’t need to get a woman drunk for her to sleep with me. They come to me sober and willing.” “Congratulations.” I yelp when he snatches the phone out of my hand. “Hey!” To my amazement, he turns the camera toward his face and snaps a picture. “What are you doing?” “There,” he says, handing the phone back. “Feel free to text that sexy face to your entire contact list and inform them I’m driving you home. That way if you show up dead tomorrow everyone will know who did it. And if you want, you can keep your finger on the emergency call button the whole time in case you need to call the cops.” He heaves out an exasperated breath. “Can I please take you home now?” Although I’m not excited about standing outside alone and coatless to wait for the taxi, I still put up one last protest. “How much have you had to drink?” “Half a beer.” I raise my eyebrows. “My limit is one,” he insists. “I’ve got practice tomorrow morning.” My resistance crumbles at his earnest expression. I’ve heard a lot of rumors about Garrett, but none involving alcohol or drugs, and the campus cab service is notorious for taking its sweet ass time, so really, it won’t kill me to spend five minutes in a car with the guy. I can easily give him the silent treatment if he annoys me. Or rather, when he annoys me. “All right,” I concede. “You can take me home. But this doesn’t mean I’m tutoring you.” His smile is the epitome of smug. “We’ll discuss it in the car.” 6 Garrett Hannah Wells is into a football player. I can’t wrap my head around it, but I’ve already offended her once tonight, so I know I have to tread carefully if I’m going to win her over. I wait until we’re in my Jeep and buckled up before I voice the cautious question. “So, how long have you wanted to fu—make love to Kohl?” She doesn’t answer, but I can feel her death glare boring into the side of my face. “Has to be a fairly recent thing since he just transferred two months ago.” I purse my lips. “Okay, let’s assume it’s been a month.” No answer. I glance over and see that she’s glowering even harder now, but even with that forbidding expression, she still looks hot. She’s got one of the most interesting faces I’ve ever seen—her cheeks are a little too round, her mouth a little too pouty, but combined with her smooth olive skin, vivid green eyes, and the tiny beauty mark over her top lip, she looks almost exotic. And that body…man, now that I’ve noticed it, I can’t un-notice it. But I remind myself that I’m not driving her home in the hopes of scoring. I need Hannah too much to screw it up by sleeping with her. After practice today, Coach pulled me aside and gave me a ten-minute lecture about the importance of keeping my grades up. Well, lecture is too generous a description—his exact words had been “maintain your average or I’ll shove my foot so far up your ass you’ll be able to taste my shoe polish in your mouth for years to come.” Like the smartass I am, I asked if people actually still use shoe polish, and he responded with a string of colorful expletives before storming off. I’m not exaggerating when I say that hockey is my entire life, but I guess that’s bound to happen when your father is a fucking superstar. The old man had my future planned out when I was still in the womb—learn to skate, learn to shoot, make it to the pros, the end. Phil Graham has a reputation to uphold, after all. I mean, just think about how badly it’d reflect on him if his only son didn’t grow up to be a professional hockey player. Yes, that’s sarcasm you’re detecting. And here’s a confession: I hate my father. No, I despise him. The irony is, the bastard thinks everything I’ve done has been for him. The intense training, the full-body bruises, killing myself twenty hours a week in order to better my game. He’s arrogant enough to believe that I put myself through all that for him. But he’s wrong. I do it for me. And to a lesser extent, I do it to beat him. To be better than him. Don’t get me wrong—I love the game. I live for the roar of the crowd, the crisp air chilling my face as I hurtle down the ice, the hiss of the puck as I release a slap shot that lights the lamp. Hockey is adrenaline. It’s excitement. It’s…soothing, even. I look at Hannah again, wondering what it’ll take to persuade her, and it suddenly occurs to me I’ve been thinking about this Kohl thing the wrong way. Because yeah, I don’t think she’s his type, but how is he hers? Kohl plays it off like he’s the strong, silent type, but I’ve hung out with him enough times to see through the act. He uses that man of mystery bullshit to draw girls in, and once they bite, he turns on the charm and lures them right into his pants. So why the hell is a levelheaded girl like Hannah Wells salivating over a bigshot like Kohl? “Is this just a physical thing or do you actually want to date him?” I ask curiously. Her exasperated sigh echoes in the car. “Can we please not talk about this?” I flick the right turn signal and drive away from Greek Row, heading for the road that leads back to campus. “I was wrong about you,” I tell her in a frank tone. “What’s that supposed to mean?” “It means I thought you were upfront. Ballsy. Not someone who’s too much of a pussy to admit she’s into a guy.” I hide a grin when I see her jaw harden. I’m not surprised that I hit a nerve. I’m pretty good at reading people, and I know without a shred of doubt that Hannah Wells isn’t the kind of woman who backs down from a challenge, not even a veiled one. “Fine. You win.” She sounds like she’s speaking through clenched teeth. “Maybe I’m into him. A teeny, tiny bit.” My grin breaks free. “Gee, was that so hard?” I ease my foot off the gas as we approach a stop sign. “Why haven’t you asked him out then?” Alarm ripples through her voice. “Why would I do that?” “Uh, because you just said you’re into him?” “I don’t even know him.” “How else are you going to get to know him if you don’t ask him out?” She shifts in her seat, looking so uncomfortable I can’t help but laugh. “You’re scared,” I tease her, unable to keep the delight out of my voice. “I am not,” she says instantly. Then she pauses. “Well, maybe a little. He…he makes me nervous, okay?” It takes some effort to mask my surprise. I hadn’t expected her to be so…honest, I guess. And the vulnerability she’s radiating is slightly unsettling. I haven’t known her long, but I’ve gotten used to her sarcasm and confidence. The uncertainty on her face seems out of place. “So you’re going to wait around for him to ask you?” She scowls at me. “Let me guess—you think he won’t.” “I know he won’t.” I give a little shrug. “Men are all about the chase, Wellsy. You’re making it too easy for him.” “Hardly,” she says dryly. “Considering I haven’t even told him I’m interested.” “Oh, he knows.” That startles her. “No, he doesn’t.” “A man always knows when a woman wants him. Believe me, you don’t have to say it out loud for him to pick up on the vibes you’re sending out.” I grin. “Hell, it only took five seconds for me to figure it out.” “And you think if I go out with you, he’ll magically be interested in me?” She sounds skeptical, but no longer hostile, which is a promising sign. “It’ll definitely help your cause. You know what intrigues guys even more than the chase?” “I can’t wait to hear it.” “A woman who’s out of reach. People want what they can’t have.” I can’t help but smirk. “Case in point—you wanting Kohl.” “Uh-huh. Well, if I can’t have him, then why bother going on a date with you?” “You can’t have him now. Doesn’t mean you’ll never have him.” I reach another stop sign, and I’m annoyed to see that we’re almost back at campus. Shit. I need more time to persuade her, so I drive a bit slower and hope she doesn’t notice I’m going ten under the limit. “Trust me, Wellsy, if you show up on my arm, he’ll notice.” I pause, pretending to think it over. “Tell you what—there’s this party next Saturday and Loverboy will be there.” “One, don’t call him that. And two, how do you know where he’ll be?” she says suspiciously. “Because it’s Beau Maxwell’s birthday bash. You know, the quarterback? The whole team will be there.” I shrug. “And so will we.” “Mmm-hmmm. And what happens when we get there?” She’s playing it off as casual, but I know I’ve got her exactly where I want her. “We mingle, have a few beers. I’ll introduce you around as my date. Chicks will want to murder you. Guys will wonder who you are and why you haven’t been on their radars before. Kohl will wonder too, but we’re going to ignore him.” “And why would we do that?” “Because it’ll drive him crazy. Make you seem even more unattainable.” She bites her lip. I wonder if she knows how easy it is to read her emotions. Annoyance, anger, embarrassment. Her eyes reveal everything and it fascinates me. I work so hard to mask what I’m feeling—a lesson I learned from childhood—but Hannah’s face is an open book. It’s kinda refreshing. “You have a lot of confidence in yourself,” she finally remarks. “Do you honestly think you’re such hot shit that the mere act of going to a party with you will turn me into a celebrity?” “Yes.” I’m not being arrogant, just truthful. After two years at this school, I know the kind of cred I have. Though honestly? Sometimes I don’t feel half as cool as people think I am, and I’m pretty sure that if any of them took the time to actually get to know me, they’d probably change their opinion. It’s like that pond I skated on when I was a kid—from a distance, the ice looked so shiny and smooth, until you got close enough to it, and suddenly all the uneven edges and crisscrossed skate marks became visible. That’s me, I guess. Covered with skate marks that nobody ever seems to notice. And jeez, clearly I’m feeling way too philosophical tonight. Next to me, Hannah has gone quiet, chewing on her lip as she considers my proposal. For a split second, I almost tell her to forget it. It seems…wrong that this girl cares what a douche like Kohl thinks about her. Hannah’s intelligence and razor-sharp tongue is wasted on a guy like that. But then I think of my team, and all the guys that are counting on me, and I force myself to ignore my misgivings. “Think about it,” I coax. “The makeup is next Friday, which gives us a week and a half to study. I’ll write the exam, and then on Saturday night we’ll go to Maxwell’s party and show Loverboy how sexy and desirable you are. He won’t be able to resist, trust me.” “One, don’t call him that. Two, stop telling me to trust you. I don’t even know you.” But despite the grumbling, I can see her capitulating. “Look. I can’t commit to tutoring you for the whole semester. I honestly don’t have time.” “It’ll just be this week,” I promise. She hesitates. I don’t blame her for doubting me. Truth is, I’m already thinking of how I can convince her to hold my hand for the duration of Tolbert’s course, but…one battle at a time. “So do we have a deal?” I prompt. Hannah stays quiet, but just when I’ve given up hope, she sighs and says, “All right. We’ve got a deal.” Hot damn. A part of me is genuinely shocked that I managed to wear her down. I’ve been badgering her for what feels like an eternity, and now that I’ve won, it’s almost like experiencing a sense of loss. Figure that out. Nevertheless, I give myself a mental high five as I drive into the lot behind the dormitories. “What dorm are you in?” I ask as I put the Jeep in park. “Bristol House.” “I’ll walk you in.” I start to unbuckle my seatbelt, but she shakes her head. “It’s fine. I don’t need a bodyguard.” She holds up her phone. “All prepped to dial 911, remember?” A short silence falls over us. “Well.” I stick out my hand. “It was a pleasure doing business with you.” She stares at my hand like I’m a carrier for Ebola. I roll my eyes and withdraw the gesture. “I work until eight tomorrow,” she says. “We can meet up when I’m done. You don’t live in the dorms, right?” “No, but I can come to you.” She blanches as if I’ve offered to shave her head. “And have people think we’re friends? No way. Text me your address. I’ll come to your place.” I’ve never met anyone who’s so repulsed by my popularity, and I have no idea what to make of it. I think I might like it. “You’ll be the most popular girl on your floor if I came over, you know.” “Text me your address,” she says firmly. “Yes, ma’am.” I beam at her. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.” All I get in return is a sour look and a flash of her profile as she turns to open her door. She hops out of the car without a word, then reluctantly taps on the passenger window. Stifling a grin, I press the button to roll down the window. “Forget something?” I mock. “Thank you for the ride,” she says primly. And then she’s gone, her green dress fluttering in the night breeze as she hurries toward the darkened buildings. 7 Hannah Normally I pride myself on having a good head on my shoulders and making sound decisions, but agreeing to tutor Garrett? Stupider than stupid. I’m still cursing myself for it as I make the drive over to his house the following evening. When he cornered me at the Sigma party, I had every intention of telling him to fuck off and leave me alone, and then he’d dangled Justin under my nose like a carrot, and I caved like a cheap tent. Great. And now I’m mixing metaphors. I think it might be time for me to face a grim truth: I have zero common sense when it comes to Justin Kohl. Last night I left the party with the sole purpose o