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Misadventures of a College Girl

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Ragam Metode Pembelajaran: Cara Cerdas Melejitkan Energi Siswa di Kelas

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Misadventures in a Threesome (Misadventures Book 20)

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2019
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Misadventures of a College Girl





Lauren Rowe





This book is an original publication of Waterhouse Press.



* * *



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.



Copyright © 2018 Waterhouse Press, LLC

Cover Design by Waterhouse Press

Cover photographs: Shutterstock



* * *



All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic format without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.





To Sophie. Both of them. I love you.





Contents





Prologue



Chapter 1



Chapter 2



Chapter 3



Chapter 4



Chapter 5



Chapter 6



Chapter 7



Chapter 8



Chapter 9



Chapter 10



Chapter 11



Chapter 12



Chapter 13



Chapter 14



Chapter 15



Chapter 16



Chapter 17



Chapter 18



Chapter 19



Chapter 20



Chapter 21



Chapter 22



Chapter 23



Chapter 24



Chapter 25



Chapter 26



Chapter 27



Chapter 28



Chapter 29



Chapter 30



Chapter 31



Chapter 32



Chapter 33



Chapter 34



Chapter 35



Chapter 36



Chapter 37



Chapter 38



Chapter 39



Chapter 40



Epilogue





Don’t miss any Misadventures!





Excerpt from Misadventures with My Roommate





More Misadventures



A Note From Lauren



Music Playlist



About Lauren Rowe





Prologue





My stomach is doing somersaults. I stare at my computer screen, reading the words of my admissions essay to NYU one final time.

Dear Sir or Madam,

The first time I read Romeo and Juliet, it made me ponder the role of fate versus free will in my own life. Is my fate written in the stars as it was for Romeo and Juliet, or do;  I have the power to forge my own path, paved with my deepest desires? Juliet declares, “O Fortune, Fortune! All men call thee fickle. If thou art fickle, what dost thou with him. That is renowned for faith?” I’m paraphrasing here, but Juliet then goes on to beg fickle Fortune to keep its grubby paws off Romeo because, well, he’s a great guy and she loves him. Obviously, fickle Fortune didn’t wind up heeding Juliet’s plea. But, hey, points for trying.

I’m not sure why Romeo and Juliet has always resonated with me so much. Maybe it’s because my own parents were star-crossed lovers. My mother died in a car accident when I was two, and I truly believe my father would have followed his young wife into the grave were it not for the toddler she left behind for him to raise. A little girl with blue eyes and a dark mop of curly hair who was the singing-and-dancing spitting image of his ill-fated Juliet. Or perhaps I was so fascinated by Romeo and Juliet because, by all accounts, my mother loved me more than life itself. And yet, when it came down to it, her love wasn’t enough to persuade fickle Fate to keep its grubby paws off her.



I take a deep breath at those last words. But I press on.



I’m honestly not sure what I’ve concluded about the role of fate versus free will in my life. But I’m convinced that, whether everything is predetermined or not, I belong at NYU. I’ve believed NYU to be my future alma mater since my grandparents took me to visit New York City at age ten and told me that attending your fine university had once been their ill-fated daughter’s dream. But even if my attendance at my dream school isn’t written in the stars, then I implore you to take me anyway, if only to settle the fate-versus-free-will debate, once and for all. What better way to show fickle Fate who’s boss, right?

I know I’m a small-town girl from Nebraska, and you have the entire world of talented applicants to choose from. Indeed, the smallness of my life sometimes feels like an immutable gravity, weighing down my very soul. But I’m writing this application because I know in my molecules I’m meant to defy gravity. Not just for myself, but for my mother, too.

In another part of this application, I’ve submitted my grades and test scores for your review, and I think you’ll conclude based on those numbers, I’ve got the brains and work ethic to excel at NYU. With this essay, I’m hoping to convince you of something far more important: I’ve got the heart and soul, too.

Thank you for your consideration,

Zooey Cartwright



I stare at my computer screen for a long moment, holding my breath, and finally press Submit. Instantly, the enormity of what I’ve just done slams into me. I throw my hands over my face. “O, I am Fortune’s fool!” I blurt, quoting Romeo.

“Huh?” my dad says from the couch. He’s watching a football game on TV. Eating Doritos. Drinking a beer. “What’d you say, Zo?”

I clear my throat. “Nothing. I’m just being a dork, Dad. Carry on.”

Dad returns to his game and Doritos, completely unfazed. I don’t blame him. I act like a dork quite frequently.

When I’m sure my dad’s attention is focused on the TV again, I steeple my hands under my chin, close my eyes, and whisper in the tiniest voice possible so my sweet father, a Nebraska man through and through who’s never understood his daughter’s obsession with all things New York City, won’t overhear me. “Please, God,” I whisper. “Let me get into my dream school. And then, please, if you’re feeling particularly magnanimous, help me figure out a way to pay for it, too.”





Chapter One





“I don’t know how you’ve held out this long, Zooey,” my new roommate in the dorms, Clarissa, says. “If I were still a virgin at this point, I think my clit would explode like a rocket at lift-off every time I so much as looked at a hot guy.”

“That’s quite a visual.”

We both giggle.

It’s a warm September evening, two days before the start of classes at UCLA, and I’m sitting in my new dorm room at Hendrick Hall with my randomly assigned roommate, telling her things I’ve never told anyone, not even my best friends back home. Why am I divulging my most intimate secrets and fantasies to a girl I’ve known for two days? I have no idea. All I can figure is Clarissa Michaelson must be some kind of witch, because I simply can’t resist opening up to her.

“Is being an eighteen-year-old virgin that weird out here in California?” I ask. “Back home it’s not that weird.”

“It’s probably about fifty-fifty, I’d guess. I’m just saying if it were me, I’d be losing my mind. But that’s just ’cause I’ve always been insanely boy-crazy.”

“Oh, so have I,” I say. “I just haven’t been able to act on my boy-craziness because my dad’s always been super strict with me. But now that I’m finally away from home, I’m going to let my boy-crazy run amok, come hell or high water.”

“What Daddy doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

“Amen. So how did you lose your virginity?”

“Exactly the way a ‘nice girl’ is supposed to do it—with my high school boyfriend who loved and respected me.” She snickers. “And, oh my God, it was such a letdown! He was insanely hot, too, so I figured he’d rock my world. But nope. He was a total dud.”

My heart is racing. I’ve never had such a frank and open conversation about sex in my life. “What made him such a dud?”

Clarissa makes a comical face. “Well, first off, the boy wouldn’t have known a clitoris if it bit him on the ass.”

“Yet another interesting visual.”

We both giggle again.

“And second off…” She holds up her pinky suggestively, making me laugh for the hundredth time. “I mean, from my own experience and what my friends have told me, the first time pretty much sucks for most girls. It’s just too big a freak-out to have a dick inside you for the first time. So I guess I can’t blame my boyfriend too much for that first time not being spectacular. But it never got much better, even after two months. And you want to know the most aggravating part? My boyfriend kept going on and on about how ‘amaaaaazing’ sex was with me.” She rolls her eyes. “So glad he enjoyed it. Would have been nice if he’d noticed I was lying there counting the ceiling tiles. So, anyway, I eventually lost interest in him and we broke up.” Her face lights up. “And that’s when I finally discovered what it feels like to have fantastic sex.” She smiles devilishly. “I went to this party and wound up hooking up with this basketball player douchebag from my high school. A total womanizer. But every girl he’d slept with—and there were lots—said, ‘Yeah, he’s a douchebag, but I’d do him again in a heartbeat.’ So I figured I’d give him a whirl and see if my lack of Os with my boyfriend was a him thing or a me thing.”

I lean forward on my small bed, holding my breath with anticipation. “And?”

“And, holy shit, girl! It was a him thing! I had three orgasms with the douchebag our first time out! I hadn’t had one in two months with my boyfriend! Not one.” She sighs happily. “Man, that douchebag was good.”

I feel flushed. “Is sex that different depending on the guy?”

“Oh, honey. It’s the difference between an opera singer belting out Mozart and a tone-deaf dude singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to his sister.”

We both shriek with laughter.

“That’s the day I discovered all dicks and tongues and fingers are not created equal, my friend. Not. At. All.”

I fan myself. “Is it suddenly getting hot in here?”

Clarissa giggles. “So that’s why I say, if you’re truly thinking about losing your V card the way you’ve been telling me, then you should find yourself a de-virginizer who knows exactly what he’s doing. Nice boys with little to no experience need not apply, no matter how hot they might be.”

“But how on earth would I know in advance if a guy’s good at sex? It seems like a total crap shoot, especially at a school this big. There are over thirty thousand students at UCLA. I wouldn’t even know where to start looking for the rumor mill regarding a particular guy.”

“Yeah, good point. It’s probably a lot easier to get intel on guys in high school.” She twists her mouth, seemingly deep in thought. “But I’d think you could drastically increase your odds of finding a guy who knows what he’s doing by looking for certain telltale signs.”

“Like what?”

“Well, for instance, if a guy’s a great kisser, he’ll likely be good at sex, too. Not guaranteed, but it’s a good start. Also, you should probably go against your usual instinct when scouting the guy. I’m assuming you’re the kind of girl who typically crushes on nice boys who are classic boyfriend material?”

I nod. She’s got me pegged.

“Okay, then look for guys you’d normally sprint away from at full speed—the ones who make it blatantly obvious they’re womanizers.”

“How do guys make it obvious they’re womanizers? Sorry, I’m lame.”

“They just do. When you see a guy like that, you’ll know it. They’ve got this swagger.”

I shudder with excitement. “Man, I really want to do this, Clarissa.”

“Then do it. No big whoop.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Sure, it is.”

I feel myself blushing. “I’m nervous I’ll be bad at it and embarrass myself.” I bite my lip, take a deep breath, and just spit it out. “I’ve never had an orgasm.”

Clarissa tilts her head to the side. “You mean never, ever? Or just with a guy while fooling around?”

My cheeks flash with color. “Never. I’ve tried to make it happen on my own, but…” I sigh. “I think I’m defective. Either that or I’m doing it wrong.”

Clarissa asks me a bunch of embarrassing questions, but based on the lack of judgment I’m seeing on her face, I feel emboldened to answer all of them with complete honesty.

“Nothing to be embarrassed about,” Clarissa declares when I’m done telling her the details of my paltry solo efforts and the few make-out sessions I’ve had. “Everyone starts in your exact shoes at some point.”

I sigh with relief. “God, I love talking to you about this,” I admit. “I’ve never talked to anyone about this stuff before.”

“Not even your mom? I mean, not in detail, but just, you know…the basics?”

I don’t normally talk about my late mother right off the bat with new people. But the look of pure kindness on Clarissa’s face makes me want to bare my soul to her without holding back. “My mom died in a car accident when I was two,” I say softly.

Clarissa looks stricken. “I’m so sorry, Zooey.”

“Thank you. It’s sucked growing up without a mom, but my dad’s done a great job. He’s way too protective of me for my taste, but he’s always been really sweet.”

“I’m surprised your dad let you go to school so far from home if he’s so protective.”

“He wanted me to go to the University of Nebraska. He played football there. Actually, my lifelong dream was to go to NYU, but I didn’t get in. Which is crazy, by the way. It’s supposed to be way harder to get in here. But go figure.”

“It’s such a crapshoot. If it weren’t for water polo, I doubt I would have gotten in here.”

“Who knows? So, anyway, when I got accepted here with a partial scholarship, my dad couldn’t say no to an opportunity like that, even though I’m sure he was totally freaking out.”

Clarissa comes to sit on my bed and hugs me. “I’m so glad we got assigned as roommates, Zooey. I was nervous I’d get someone lame, and it turns out I got my future best friend.” She pulls away from our embrace. “Hey, you want to go to our first college party tonight? You never know—you might find yourself a talented douchebag to kiss.”

“Let’s do it,” I say. “What party?”

“This morning at the bookstore, this sweet guy told me about a party being thrown by a bunch of football players. It’s perfect. Football players are notorious for being womanizers. Maybe one of them will catch your eye and turn out to be a fantastic kisser and…who knows where that might lead?”

“You don’t think a bunch of football players would be annoyed if two random freshmen crashed their party?”

“Ha! Zooey, freshmen girls can’t crash a party, even if we wanted to—we’re always implicitly invited.” She snorts. “But, regardless, the guy from the bookstore expressly invited me, and he’s the quarterback’s tutor.”

“Sounds great,” I say. “But fair warning, flirting with a bunch of football players is going to be way outside my comfort zone. I’m not naturally outgoing like you.”

“But you’re a theater major.”

“It makes no sense, I know. Put me in a costume and give me a script and I’m fearless—ask me to be myself with new people, and I take some time to warm up.”

“Well, then, we’ll just have to put you in a costume and give you a script. Easy peasy.” She looks me up and down. “Speaking of costumes, honey, this whole ‘small-town virgin’ thing you’ve got going on definitely doesn’t scream ‘I’m a hot vixen looking for a meaningless hook-up!’ If you want to attract a guy like that basketball player douchebag of mine from high school, you’ll probably want to tamp down the ‘I’m your future wife!’ vibe.”

We both laugh.

“You’re beautiful, Zooey,” Clarissa says, her tone sincere. “A natural beauty. But for your stated mission, I’d suggest you lead with your sexuality a bit more.”

“I wouldn’t even know how to begin to do that.”

“I’d be happy to help you, if you’d like. A head-to-toe makeover and you’ll get the attention of every football player at the party tonight, no doubt.”

I bite my lip, considering.

“No pressure, of course,” Clarissa adds quickly. “I’m only offering because you said it’s what you want to do. But it’s your V card. Your body. I don’t have a horse in this race. All I’m saying is if this is what you want, then I’ll help you.”

“Oh, I want to do it,” I say firmly, and it’s the truth. “One hundred percent. I’ve felt like a horny prisoner in a cage for the past year, and I’m ready to break out, baby.”

Clarissa guffaws.

“Do whatever you want to me, Mr. Miyagi,” I declare, nodding emphatically. “I’m your Karate Kid.”

“Okey dokey.” Clarissa looks at her watch. “Oh. We’d better get moving. We’ve only got about four hours before the party, and there’s tons I’ve got to do to you.”

“You’ve got four hours’ worth of stuff to do to me? What on earth could possibly take so long?”

“Wax on, wax off.” She snickers. “In your case, literally.”

I grimace. “You sure that’s necessary? I’ve heard waxing is painful for first-timers.”

“Oh, it is.” She smiles sweetly. “It’s brutal. So I suggest you take a couple ibuprofen before we get started.” She indicates my thick, curly hair. “If your carpet matches your drapes at all, this isn’t going to be pleasant for you.”





Chapter Two





Hip-hop is blaring so loudly in this living room, my molars, eyeballs, and ovaries all feel like they’re thumping in time with the bass-heavy beat. A thick blanket of smoke hangs in the air, refracting colored beams of light shooting across a makeshift dance floor. And people, people, people—almost all of them holding red Solo cups or beer bottles—are packed into every nook and cranny of the cramped space. In other words, I’ve found heaven on earth.

Clarissa leans in to my ear and shouts to be heard over the loud music. “Lots of potential cherry-poppers here, huh? Wowzers!”

I nod effusively. That’s an understatement. There are more potential cherry-poppers in this one cramped room than attended my entire high school back home. “Pop, pop, pop!” I shout into Clarissa’s ear.

Clarissa taps her ear, telling me she didn’t understand the stupid thing I just said, and I swat at the air to tell her never mind.

“Anyone catch your eye?” Clarissa shouts into my ear.

Why, yes. Without hesitation, I indicate a tall, blond, muscular guy I’ve been drooling over for the past five minutes, ever since we arrived, though I’m certain he hasn’t noticed I exist. “The golden god!” I shout. “Blue shirt!”

Clarissa looks to where I’m pointing across the room, and her eyes bug out of her head. She nods effusively and gives me a thumbs-up with both hands. “He looks like a superhero!”

“Totally!” I peek at him again and swoon. “It’s wishful thinking, I know, but a girl can dream!”

Clarissa taps her ear, yet again, and I gesture, telling her to forget it.

Clarissa leans toward my ear. “Let’s talk in the kitchen!”

And off we go, working our way through the packed crowd. As we walk, I can’t help noticing more than one dude brazenly checking me out. Almost immediately, I lock eyes with a hottie with sparkling brown eyes…but then immediately look down, my cheeks bursting with heat. When I look up again, Brown Eyes is gone, supplanted by a different hottie who happens to be, at this moment, staring at my boobs. When the second hottie’s eyes migrate to mine, he flashes me a panty-melting smile…and I immediately look down again.

When I look up a third time, a Hawaiian-looking guy in a backward baseball cap is giving me the once-over. Wow. Clarissa didn’t over-promise when she said she could make me into a hottie-magnet tonight. Frankly, I don’t blame all these boys for checking me out. If I were a horny college guy, I’d check me out in this body-baring dress, too. But it’s not my revealing dress alone that’s transformed me into a hottie-magnet tonight. It’s my hair and makeup, too. I had no idea my face could be painted to look this mysteriously bitchy. Or that my curly hair could be straightened into the kind of smooth-as-silk mane I’ve always envied on models in shampoo commercials. If anyone back home saw me looking like this tonight, they wouldn’t even recognize me. Which suits me just fine, of course, considering my rather scandalous mission for the evening.

Clarissa and I enter the kitchen and begin chatting excitedly about all the potential cherry-poppers in the other room, especially the golden god. But before we’ve finished our conversation, an adorable, nerdy guy approaches and enthusiastically greets Clarissa. After introductions and small talk, I find out this sweet guy is the one who invited Clarissa to the party, and his name is Dimitri. A little more conversation and we learn he’s a third-year biochemistry major with a minor in creative writing.

“Clarissa told me you tutor a player on the team?” I say.

“Several.” Dimitri points out a couple of large guys standing around a keg on the far side of the kitchen. “And I also tutor the quarterback, Jake Grayson.” He looks around. “Hmm. I don’t see Jake in the kitchen. He must be in the other room.” Dimitri describes Jake, and it’s immediately clear he’s talking about the golden god.

“So is Jake single?” Clarissa asks, but when Dimitri’s darling face visibly falls, she quickly adds, “For Zooey. She saw him in the other room and went all weak in the knees.”

Dimitri smiles knowingly. “Yeah, that’s pretty much the universal female reaction to seeing Jake for the first time.” He looks at me. “He’s single, as far as I know. He was telling me a couple days ago that he’d just broken things off with his high school sweetheart from back home. I’d be happy to introduce you to him, if you’d like. He’s a junior. Great guy. Not a whiff of the usual athlete-womanizer-God-complex cliché with him. He’s definitely a humble, one-woman sort of guy.”

At that last comment, Clarissa and I exchange deflated looks that say, Dang it.

“I can’t say the same about some of the other guys on the team,” Dimitri continues, rolling his eyes. “I mean, lots of players are funny and entertaining, super-fun guys to hang out with and all. But when it comes to women, holy crap, they’re just shamelessly on the prowl twenty-four seven. The thing I don’t get is why otherwise sane girls throw themselves at guys like that when…”

I’ve stopped listening to Dimitri. And I’ve stopped breathing, too. A tall, dark-haired slab of male perfection just strutted into the kitchen and commanded my full attention. Oh, sweet Jesus. Who the hell is that? He’s gorgeous, though in a totally different way than the golden god in the other room. If Mr. Quarterback is Thor, then this hunk of brazen sexuality is Loki. If the golden god is sunshine, this dude is moonlight. If Jake in the other room is my future husband, then this guy blazing his way through the kitchen is the stripper I’d screw as my last hurrah during my bachelorette party in Vegas. Well, winner, winner, chicken dinner.

My future one-night stand has dark hair, muscles, and tattoos. A strong jawline with a hint of stubble. Not to mention a truly ridiculous body clad in jeans and a tight black T-shirt, which shows off his broad shoulders and bulging arms. Now, to be fair, the golden god in the other room has a ridiculous body, too. But something about the cocky way this guy carries his bountiful assets tells me and everyone within fifty yards of him he knows exactly how to use what the good lord gave him in ways the golden god doesn’t.

Oh, fuckity. He’s walking in my direction and making my heart pound harder and harder with each step he takes. Finally, when he’s mere feet away from me, I’m able to make out the white lettering emblazoned across his black T-shirt. God’s Gift to Womankind. That’s what Loki’s T-shirt says! Ha! I roll my eyes to myself. And to think I’d been nervous I wouldn’t be able to spot a womanizer at this party.

Mr. God’s Gift to Womankind stops walking to chat with a group of people, and they high-five him and pat him on the back like he’s the second coming of Christ.

I grab Clarissa’s arm and lean in to her ear. “Dark hair. Tattoos. Black shirt. Everyone’s fawning all over him.” I indicate with my elbow. “Read his T-shirt. Total douchebag.”

Clarissa follows my gaze toward the guy…at the exact moment he turns his head away from his group…and looks straight at me. Shocked, I look down at my hands, my heart clanging. Holy hell, that was quite a smolder that boy just directed at me. Damn.

“Zooey,” Clarissa whispers into my ear, poking my arm. “He’s looking right at you. Look at him!”

But I can’t muster the courage. The smolder Loki aimed at me was so sexual, it flash-melted the cotton crotch of my panties.

Clarissa nudges me again. “He’s ogling you! Ogle him back!”

“I suck at flirting,” I murmur. “I warned you.”

“Oh, for God’s sake.” She grabs my forearm and leans in to me. “Now listen to me, Karate Kid. Stare that hottie down right freaking now for a slow count of five. Look into his eyes and think this exact thought—I want to suck your dick. Now do it!”

I take a deep breath, channel my inner vixen, and look up, resolved to follow my master’s rather shocking instructions…but, dammit, no! God’s Gift to Womankind isn’t looking at me anymore. He’s on the move, working his way through the crowded kitchen, fist-bumping and high-fiving admirers as he goes. “Crap,” I whisper to Clarissa. “I blew it.”

“No, no. That was just round one,” Clarissa says. “That boy’s not even close to done with you yet.”

Dimitri wraps up a conversation he’s been having with that Hawaiian-looking dude from the other room and then returns his attention to us. “What’d I miss?”

“Nothing much,” Clarissa says. “We were just talking about our classes.”

“What classes are you ladies taking this quarter?”

Clarissa takes one for the team and launches into telling Dimitri about her class schedule so I can continue eyeball-stalking God’s Gift to Womankind across the kitchen. I peek in his direction and…Gah! He’s staring right at me again! Standing at the keg in the corner with a group of athletic-looking guys and staring right at me!

My inner voice is screaming at me to look away. But I force myself to maintain eye contact and follow Mr. Miyagi’s instructions to a tee. Slowly, I count to five, my eyes locked with his. I want to suck your dick, I think, making myself blush.

A broad smile spreads across his handsome face. He licks his lips in a decidedly sexual way, sending warmth oozing into my crotch. I quickly look down at my hands again, my heart racing. Holy crap.





Chapter Three





Dimitri returns from talking to some people on the other side of the room. He’s carrying red Solo cups for himself and Clarissa and a bottle of water for me. We girls thank him profusely for his thoughtfulness.

“My pleasure,” Dimitri says, tipping his invisible cap to us. “At your service.”

I lean in to Clarissa. “He’s a cutie. Are you feeling romance or friend zone?”

“I’m not sure yet. I’ve never had sex with anyone other than an alpha-type before. But I must admit I’m a little curious to see if the rumors are true.”

“Rumors?”

“That nerds make it all about you.”

We both giggle.

“Huh?” Dimitri asks. “What’d I miss?”

“Just a little girl talk,” Clarissa says breezily. She pats Dimitri’s arm. “Trust me, you’d like it.”

Dimitri smiles.

“So, hey, Dimitri, do you know who that dude is with the dark hair and tattoos?” Clarissa asks, motioning toward the keg with her cup. “He was ogling Zooey a few minutes ago.”

Dimitri glances across the room toward the keg. “Tyler Caldwell,” he says without hesitation. “Junior. Safety. All-American.”

“Free or strong safety?” I ask.

“Oh, you know football?”

I nod. “My dad played in college.”

Dimitri nods his approval. “Free. And he’s a beast.”

“Yeah, I figured he’s somebody,” I say. “Everyone keeps fawning all over him.”

“People treat Tyler like he’s king of the world any given day, but tonight especially. He had a fumble recovery and two picks in last night’s game, including a pick to clinch the win at the very end. It was unbelievable.”

I gaze covertly across the room at Tyler. “Based on his shirt, he obviously thinks quite highly of himself.”

“Tyler always wears shirts like that. Honestly, I’m not sure if he’s serious or trying to be funny. I’ve never talked to him. But from what I hear, he’s an egomaniac. The anti-Jake.” He chuckles. “Seriously, you might want to pick another guy to flirt with, Zooey—unless, of course, your goal for the night is to become yet another of Tyler Caldwell’s notoriously long list of conquests.”

Clarissa and I simultaneously look at each other like “Bingo!” Which, of course, makes us both burst out laughing.

Dimitri chuckles with us, clearly misunderstanding the reason for our laughter. “I mean, I get why girls are attracted to Tyler. He’s a huge winner in the DNA lottery, obviously, and he’s a beast on the field. Arguably the best safety in the country right now. I can’t fathom how he won’t be a first-round pick in the draft in the spring. And that means he’ll likely be a very wealthy dude one day soon. But, still, even so, it amazes me how girls throw themselves at Tyler and guys like him, even though they know for a fact those kinds of guys aren’t even remotely interested in anything beyond…”

I tune Dimitri out again. Know your audience, dude.

I glance toward the keg again, and, much to my sizzling delight, Tyler Caldwell’s looking straight at me again, his blue eyes on fire. And this time, I don’t feel the impulse to look away. You want to make me another conquest on your notoriously long list, Tyler Caldwell? Well, come and get it, stud.

Okay, yeah, I’m totally channeling Hot Sandy from Grease right now. But it can’t be helped. I don’t have any other template for how to conduct myself in a situation such as this. Continuing to maintain eye contact with Tyler, I bite my lip, the same way Olivia Newton-John did when she wore that black tight-fitting outfit for John Travolta. Come and get it, stud.

Tyler nods subtly like he’s heard my exact thoughts.

I flash Tyler a smile that tells him I’m not going to play hard to get tonight, and he beams a gorgeous smile that makes my skin tingle.

So that’s it. We’re doing this. He knows it. I know it. It’s on.

Tyler’s body language suggests he’s saying a quick adios to his friends. He takes two loping steps in my direction…just as a stunningly beautiful girl with smooth black hair and porcelain skin appears out of nowhere to throw her arms around his neck. No! The girl leans in to whisper something into Tyler’s ear. Giggles. Presses herself into his muscled arm. Crap!

I look away, my stomach revolting. Damn, damn, damn! Well, that’ll teach me to wait so long to give a notorious womanizer my “Hot Sandy Eyes.” Stupid, Zooey! I tune back in to Dimitri and Clarissa’s conversation, forcing myself not to peek at Tyler and that gorgeous girl again, even though that’s all I want to do.

“…and she said Tyler didn’t even pretend to want her phone number,” Dimitri is saying.

“Sorry, what? Huh?” I blurt. “I missed the first part of that. Who said what now?”

“My sister’s roommate,” Dimitri replies. “She slept with Tyler last year, and she said he didn’t even pretend to want her phone number afterwards.” He rolls his eyes with obvious disdain. “Apparently, he told her right up front he couldn’t afford any ‘emotional distractions’ during football season—that football is his only girlfriend at this stage in his life.” He scoffs. “I mean, points for honesty, I guess. If he doesn’t want a relationship, then it’s good he doesn’t lead girls on. But, still, I think it’s a bit hypocritical for a dude to use football to get girls and then turn around and use football as an excuse to—”

Dimitri abruptly smashes his lips together. His eyes are trained on a target over my left shoulder. I turn and follow Dimitri’s wide-eyed gaze…and…promptly lose my shit.

“Hey,” Tyler Caldwell says to me, smiling. His voice is deep and smooth, exactly as I’d have expected it to be. He smells faintly of cologne. Maybe whiskey, too? His eyes are savagely blue. He’s so damned beautiful, it’s like he’s got a bright halo of light wafting off him. He puts his hand out. “I’m Tyler Caldwell.”

I slide my palm into Tyler’s. “Hi there. I’m…hi. Hello.”

Clarissa laughs. “She’s Zooey. I’m Clarissa, and this is Dimitri.”

“What’s up, guys?” Tyler says to Clarissa and Dimitri, his hand still holding mine. He addresses Dimitri. “You tutor Jake, right?” He lets go of my hand, much to my chagrin.

“Yeah,” Dimitri replies. “And Brayden and Hanalei and Luis, too. But I work the most with Jake.”

“You got room for one more?” Tyler asks. “I might need some help this quarter with a bitch of an econ class.”

“Sure. No problem.”

“Cool. I’ll get your number from Hanalei.” Tyler’s eyes return to me. He slides his hand into mine again. “Sorry about that. I didn’t come over here to get myself a tutor—I came over here to introduce myself to the beautiful girl who’s making it impossible for me to concentrate on a damned thing anybody’s saying to me.”

I open and close my mouth like a fish on a line. And that’s all I can muster.

“So…” Tyler says, filling the awkward silence. “How come I’ve never seen you at one of our parties before? I’m positive I would have remembered you.”

Clarissa nudges me.

“Oh, this is your party?” I blurt.

“Well, mine and my roommates’. I live here with five of my teammates.”

I take a steadying breath. Clear my throat. “Cool. I live in the dorms. Hendrick Hall.” I point at Clarissa. “With her.”

Tyler looks like he’s just bitten into a lemon. “You’re a freshman?”

I nod. “A theater major.”

He sighs. “Please at least tell me you’re eighteen. If you’re jail bait, I swear to God I’m going to sob into my pillow tonight.”

My clit is tingling. My skin is buzzing. I’ve never felt so physically attracted to another human being in all my life. “No sobbing necessary. I turned eighteen in July.”

Tyler wipes his brow comically. “Thank God.” His eyes sweep down my body and back up again. “I don’t typically go for freshman, but if ever there was a reason to break my cardinal rule, it’s you.”

I screw up my face. “Thank you?”

“It’s a compliment.”

“Why don’t you typically ‘go for freshman’?”

“Because, no offense, half the time it turns out they’re batshit crazy.”

I shoot him a snarky look.

“Sorry, but it’s true.”

“So let me get this straight. Batshit crazy freshman girls magically transform into perfectly sane ones at the start of their second year?”

He laughs. “Well, it sounds kind of stupid when you put it like that. I think what I’m trying to say is that some people, both guys and girls, need that first year of being away from home to get their batshit crazy out of their systems. Freshman girls in particular seem to have a harder time than anyone else grasping the concept that having a little fun with someone isn’t the same thing as finding a soulmate.”

I look at Clarissa, intending to flash her a look that says, Ding, ding, ding! We’ve found ourselves a cherry-popper, folks! But she’s engaged in a conversation with Dimitri. “Well, let me assure you,” I say to Tyler. “I’m not looking for my soulmate. And even if I were, which I’m not, I’m quite certain he wouldn’t be caught dead in a T-shirt that says God’s Gift to Womankind.”

Tyler chuckles. “Touché, little freshman.”

“How old are you, Tyler?” I ask.

“I just turned twenty-one.”

“Uh oh. I don’t normally go for guys under twenty-two. Batshit crazy, all of them.”

He grins.

“But I suppose if ever there was a reason to break my cardinal rule, it’d be you.”

Tyler bites his lower lip. “Lucky me.”

I smile coyly. “Very lucky you.” Holy shit! Who am I right now?

Tyler and I stare at each other for a long moment, the heat between us palpable. During the stillness between us, the song in the living room switches from a hip-hop thumper to a slow and sexy R&B groove.

Tyler doesn’t miss a beat. He leans right in to my ear. “Dance with me.”

Heat flashes onto my cheeks. I nod.

And that’s that. Tyler grabs my hand and leads me through the crowded kitchen like a medieval groom pulling his virgin bride to their marital bed. And just that fast, I can see my future in Tyler Caldwell’s delectable ass as he leads me toward the dance floor, as surely as if I were looking into a very muscular crystal ball. I’m going to lose my virginity tonight to God’s Gift to Womankind. And it’s going to be oh-so good.





Chapter Four





Once Tyler has found his preferred spot in the middle of the packed dance floor, he turns around, wraps his muscled arms loosely around me, and begins moving his insanely fit body to the slow and sensuous beat of the R&B groove. In reply, I slide my arms around Tyler’s neck and begin moving my body in synchronicity with his, letting my breasts brush lightly against his hard chest as I gyrate.

At my receptive body language, Tyler pulls me toward him, ever so slightly, apparently testing my boundaries. All righty, then. Time to make my lack of boundaries abundantly clear. I move closer to Tyler and brush my crotch lightly against his as I move to the beat of the music…and, almost instantaneously, I’m rewarded with the sensation of a hard-on rising up and nudging against my crotch. My breath hitches. My skin sizzles and pops. Delicious.

Tyler leans in to my ear. “You’re so hot,” he says, his breath warm against my skin.

My body explodes with excitement. “So are you.”

“I love the dress.”

“Thank you.”

But I’m not here to talk. I tighten my arms around his neck and grind my aching clit against his hard-on like a mewing cat on a scratching pole. It’s something I’ve been dreaming of doing with a hot guy for the better part of a year, and I’m not holding back. I must say, the reality of doing this far exceeds my fantasy of it. I grind harder, thinly disguising my movement as dancing, and Tyler responds in kind, thrusting his erection against my epicenter.

“Oh, Jesus,” I blurt, my body exploding into flames of desire.

Without hesitation, he lifts my thigh around his waist, a maneuver that opens my crotch to him like a blooming flower, and presses his hard-on against me with sniper-like precision.

I groan loudly at the incredible sensation, but, thank God, the embarrassing sound is swallowed by the loud music.

Tyler leans in to my ear. “Can I grab your ass?”

I nod.

Without hesitation, he cups my ass cheek in his large palm, pulling my body even more fiercely into his massive bulge. His lips brush my face and land on my ear. “I don’t want a relationship,” he breathes.

Boom. There it is. Exactly what Dimitri warned me was coming. “Neither do I,” I say into his ear. “Just…oh, God. Please don’t stop what you’re doing.”

Tyler’s lips leave my ear and brush gently against my cheek…and then make their way to my lips. His mouth skims mine softly. Briefly. And then again. Clearly, he’s asking for permission to kiss me. So I give it to him. I lean forward and brush my lips against his, making it clear I want him to go in for the kill. So he does. He opens my lips with his and slides his tongue into my mouth and, just like that, I’m a goner. Oh, God, it’s official. I want to have sex with this human.

We’re both on fire. Not even pretending to dance anymore. Kissing without inhibition. Dry-humping in the middle of the packed dance floor. Groaning into each other’s mouths while our hands furiously grope and grab. The pleasure I’m feeling is so intense, so shockingly sublime, I feel like I’m losing control of my limbs. I grind even more desperately into his hardness, kissing him furiously and quaking with arousal.

A faint fluttering announces itself between my legs, making me moan. I smash my body into Tyler’s and devour his lips even more fervently, grinding my crotch into his hard bulge like my life depends on it. Oh, God, I’m ramping up in ways I’ve never experienced before. Aroused and excited and swollen in a whole new, desperate way.

Someone behind me on the packed dance floor laughs sharply. And then I’m jostled on the shoulder. Another laugh. And just like that, the spell is broken. That warping I’m beginning to feel deep inside my core abruptly stops. I slide my thigh down and yank my crotch away from Tyler’s, suddenly ashamed of myself. I can’t believe I’ve been attacking this boy so brazenly in plain sight of everyone at this party. I can’t imagine what people must be thinking of me.

Tyler puts his palm on my cheek and his forehead against mine. “I want you,” he says simply.

I inhale his scent and my entire body melts into him. “I want you, too,” I reply honestly.

Tyler grins wickedly. “My bedroom’s upstairs.”

I nod. “Let’s go.”





Chapter Five





Tyler leads me up a staircase. My heart is racing. My crotch is throbbing. When we reach the middle of the stairs, a new song begins blaring from below in the living room. Pitbull’s “Come & Go”—a song about Pitbull’s self-proclaimed talent for bringing women to climax.

“Hey, they’re playing my song,” Tyler says playfully.

“God, I hope so,” I mutter. “Fingers crossed.”

“No need to cross a thing, pretty girl,” Tyler says. “Fingers, legs, or otherwise. I guarantee you’ll get off harder with me than ever before.”

I snort. “Well, if I get off once it’ll be…” I abruptly smash my lips together. What the fuckity am I doing? Now is not the time to nervously reveal your secrets, Zooey! But it’s too late. Tyler abruptly stops ascending the staircase, his body language making it clear he’s understood my meaning.

“You’ve never had an orgasm?” he asks.

I release Tyler’s hand, feeling self-conscious, but remain silent.

“Don’t be embarrassed about it,” he says soothingly. “You’ve obviously been with nothing but idiots and selfish bastards.” He smiles, takes my hand, and begins leading me up the stairs again. “Don’t you worry, sweetheart. I’ll make sure you cross the finish line quicker than Usain Bolt.”

Relief floods me. “Oh, thank you,” I say lamely, like he’s offered to change my flat tire.

“In fact, I’ll make sure you cross it more than once.”

I’m absolutely giddy. “Well, twice would be a nice bonus. But do it once and you’ll rock my world. I’ve been dying to finally know what it feels like.”

Tyler stops walking again. We’re now at the end of a hallway, standing outside a closed door. “Wait. You’ve never had an orgasm, ever? I thought you meant you haven’t had one with a guy.”

Crap. What the heck have I done? Not once when I’ve fantasized about finding a hot stranger to pop my cherry did I imagine myself having this conversation with him beforehand. Stupid, stupid, Zooey! “I haven’t had one at all,” I admit, my face bursting into flames.

“But…” All of a sudden, complete understanding visibly washes over Tyler’s handsome features. “You’re a virgin?”

There’s a burst of female laughter on the staircase behind us, followed by a low male voice.

“Can we talk about this somewhere else, please?” I snap.

Tyler grabs my hand and leads me through a nearby door. “You’re a virgin?” he repeats as he shuts the door behind us.

I smash my lips together, pissed at myself. I’ve always instinctively known revealing my virginal status before doing the deed with a stranger would lead to nothing good. Performance anxiety for the guy, perhaps? Or maybe my designated cherry-popper would turn out to be a virgin-fetishist who’d be a bit too excited to go where no man has gone before? I glance around the room, feeling like a trapped animal. My panicked eyes flicker across the posters on Tyler’s walls. Muhammad Ali. Usain Bolt. Some football player in a Broncos uniform. A poster of “The Four Greatest Michaels of All Time.”

“Zooey?” Tyler says, drawing my anxious gaze away from the posters and back to him. “I’m not judging you. I’m trying to understand the situation so I don’t mess this up for you. It’s kind of a big deal.”

I smash my lips together even tighter.

“You’re a virgin?” he asks a third time.

I exhale. “Yes.”

Tyler runs his hand through his hair. “But…are you a ‘Catholic Virgin’? You know, you’ve done everything there is to do besides actual intercourse?”

My cheeks feel hot. “No. I’ve done nothing but kissing and basic making out.”

Tyler looks positively blown away. “No one’s ever gone down on you?”

My chest feels tight. “I don’t feel comfortable talking about this. You’ll notice I’m not asking you about your sexual experience.”

“I wouldn’t normally ask, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for you. No do-overs.” He furrows his brow. “I can’t believe you were going to let me have sex with you without bothering to mention you’re a virgin.”

“What difference does it make? Just do whatever you were planning to do before you found out. I’m sure it’ll be fantabulous for us both.”

He scowls. “Zooey, letting some random, drunk-ass dude at a party take your virginity, without even bothering to tell him the situation, wouldn’t have been ‘fantabulous’ for you. You’re lucky you got me, but you were playing Russian roulette. What were you thinking?”

Okay, now I’m not only feeling embarrassed but pissed, too. “So I’m getting slut-shamed by a guy wearing a God’s Gift to Womankind T-shirt? Is that what’s happening here?”

Tyler rolls his eyes. “The word ‘slut’ isn’t even in my vocabulary. I’m just thrown for a loop. We practically fucked each other down there on the dance floor and now I find out…” He sighs. “Look, this isn’t about me, okay? I just don’t want to fuck this up for you. The first time’s a big deal. You’ll remember it forever.”

“It doesn’t have to be a big deal. In fact, that’s my whole point. I’ve decided not to buy into all the pressure and hype about losing my virginity. I’ve decided it’s not a big deal.”

Tyler scoffs. “I don’t think you get to decide that. Whether you like it or not, this is going to be a lifelong memory for you. Not to mention, if I’m being honest, I’m worried you’re going to get weirdly attached to me afterwards. Turn into a Stage Five Clinger. Slash my tires. Light up my phone.”

“I thought this wasn’t about you.”

“Yeah, well, I guess it is. It takes two to tango, after all.”

I roll my eyes. “I won’t get ‘weirdly attached’ to you, Tyler. After you relieve me of my virginity, I promise I’ll never want to see you again.”

Tyler looks utterly unconvinced.

I cross my arms over my chest. “You were perfectly willing to screw me a minute ago when you thought I had lots of experience. So what’s the difference?”

He rolls his entire head, not just his eyes. “You really don’t know what you don’t know. Your first time, the guy needs to be extra gentle. He needs to talk you through it and make sure you’re okay every step of the way. He shouldn’t be some drunk-ass guy at a party who has no idea it’s your first time. For God’s sake, Zooey, at the very least, find yourself some nice guy who’ll buy you a fucking cheeseburger beforehand and then be sober enough to drive you safely home afterwards. Jesus.”

I clench my jaw. “Was your first time some sort of beautiful, poignant experience preceded by cheeseburgers?” I ask caustically.

“Yeah, it was, actually,” he replies. “It was beautiful and poignant and poetic.”

I feel myself blush. “Oh.”

Tyler snorts. “Just kidding. It was completely meaningless. My best friend’s stepsister’s cousin. I don’t even remember her name.” He snorts again. “But that’s why I know for a fact you don’t want to do it that way. I’m a dude and, afterwards, even I felt a little bit like I should have waited and done things differently for my first time. I can’t even imagine how I would have felt if I’d been a girl and done it that same way.”

I put my hands on my hips. “If you’d been a girl? Do you have any idea how sexist a comment that was?”

“Sexist? How the hell am I being sexist? All I want to do is fuck you right now—that’s all I want to do. And yet, despite how badly I want to do that, I’m respecting you enough to protect you from doing something you’ll more than likely regret. How the fuck is that sexist?”

“Because your ‘respect’ and ‘protection’ are completely paternalistic.”

“Paternalistic?”

“It means—”

“I know what it means. I might be a football player, but I’m not a dumb jock.”

“I don’t think you’re dumb, Tyler, but you’re obviously stupid about this. You wouldn’t give this same advice to a guy. And you know why? Because guys are studs if they lose their virginity to a hot stranger at a party. Just look at all the movies about that very thing. Superbad. Risky Business. American Pie. I could go on and on. And nobody ever says, ‘Oh dear, that nice young man really should have waited to make sure his first time was with someone who’d buy him a freaking cheeseburger beforehand!’”

Tyler makes a face like he’s utterly annoyed.

I pull a rolling chair out from a small desk in the corner, kick off my heels, and plop myself down. “Look, Mr. God’s Gift, here’s the thing. I didn’t come to this party dressed like this to get lectured by some football player in a douchey shirt about the sanctity of my virginity or to debate society’s double standards about male and female sexuality. I came out tonight to find a guy exactly like you to have sex with and, in the process, hopefully get to have my first orgasm. It’s as simple as that.”

“A guy like me?”

I motion to his shirt. “A guy who’s clearly not boyfriend material.”

“Why am I not boyfriend material?”

“Are you joking? Tyler, you said so yourself!”

He moves to the foot of his bed and sits. “No, what I said was I’m not looking for a relationship. That doesn’t mean I don’t consider myself boyfriend material. What I said reflects my relationship status by choice. What you said is an assault on my very character.”

“Oh, come on, Tyler. You can’t wear a shirt like that and then get offended when I say you’re not boyfriend material.”

He still looks offended. “I’d make an amazing boyfriend if I wanted to be one. Which I don’t at the present time. But if I did, I’d be amazing and any girl would be lucky to have me. I’m loyal. Faithful. Thoughtful. Funny. Great in bed. Not sure what makes a guy ‘boyfriend material’ if not all that.”

“Um, gee, the desire to have a girlfriend?”

He scoffs.

“Surely, other guys on the team have girlfriends,” I say.

“Other guys on the team aren’t me. They haven’t devoted the past nine years of their lives to going top ten in the draft. They aren’t entering the draft at the end of their junior year because they’re already one of the hottest commodities in the country.” He clenches his jaw. “They’re not so close to the Promised Land they can taste it.”

Tyler’s intensity silences me for a long moment. My heart is thudding in my ears. Damn, he’s a sexy dude. Finally, I venture, “Dimitri said the quarterback had a girlfriend until recently. Is he not trying to go top ten in the draft?”

Tyler shakes his head. “Jake’s not entering the draft until next year,” he says. “And when he does, he’ll be lucky if he goes in the second round. He’s perfect for our offensive scheme, but he’s a system quarterback, not a true pro prospect. But, regardless, Jake’s just a different species of human than me. Actually, I’m not even sure Jake’s human. He’s got ice in his veins, that guy, both on and off the field. Nothing affects him.”

“And you?”

“I’m the anti-Jake. Everything affects me. I’m passionate. If I had a girlfriend, I’d worry about her. If someone were to act like an asshole to her, I’d be ready to rip the guy’s head off. If my girlfriend and I had a fight before a game, then I’d play like shit that day. And I can’t risk any of that.”

I stare at him for a moment, my crotch suddenly tingling. Is it weird everything he just said turned me on? “Okay, Tyler, fine. I’m willing to concede you’d be boyfriend material if that’s what you wanted to be.”

“Thank you.”

“But I won’t back down from saying your shirt gives the exact opposite impression.”

“Yeah, well, maybe that’s part of my reason for wearing the shirt.” He taps his temple and winks.

“Wow. So you’re saying the douchey shirt is some sort of secret code? Like, it wards off girls looking for a boyfriend?”

“Something like that.”

“And here I thought you thought your shirt was nothing but a simple statement of fact.”

“Oh, I do. Definitely. Plus—bonus points—it’s funny as hell.”

“How can your shirt be a simple statement of fact and funny as hell at the same time? You’re either serious or joking. It can’t be both.”

Tyler smiles. “Sure it can.”

“I don’t see how.”

“If you saw an elephant wearing a T-shirt with the word elephant stamped across it, you’d think that’s pretty damned funny, right?”

I can’t help smiling. Ah, so he’s more clever than I gave him credit for. “That depends.”

“Aw, come on,” he says, flashing me a snarky look. “Don’t argue with me for the sake of arguing.”

“I’m not. An elephant in an elephant T-shirt might be funny and it might not.”

“Tell me one scenario where an elephant wearing an elephant T-shirt wouldn’t be fucking hilarious.”

I slide my legs underneath me in the chair, taking care not to flash Tyler my undies as I do. I say, “Well, if the elephant was harmed or humiliated while being stuffed into his elephant T-shirt, that wouldn’t be funny. Animal cruelty is never a laughing matter, Tyler Caldwell.”

Tyler chuckles. “The elephant wasn’t harmed or humiliated.”

“How can you be sure? Elephants are highly intelligent creatures. It’s well known they experience complex emotions.”

“I know because he’s a cartoon elephant.”

Again, I can’t resist smiling broadly. “Ah, so our elephant is like Babar, is he?”

“Babar? Who’s that?”

“You don’t know Babar?”

Tyler shakes his head. He’s got an adorable, crooked grin on his face. “Is he a cartoon elephant?”

I’m aghast. “How do you not know Babar? Did you grow up under a rock?”

“Lots of different rocks. We moved around a lot when I was a kid.”

“Military?”

“Football. My dad played in the NFL for nine seasons. But he wasn’t a superstar, so he never had job security. A season here. A season there. We moved every time he got picked up by a new team.”

“What position did he play?”

“You know football?”

“I was raised on it. My dad played for the University of Nebraska.”

“Ah, a Cornhusker. What position?”

“Center.”

“Did he go pro?”

“He tried, but he never made it onto a roster. Too small. What was your dad’s position?”

“Defensive tackle.”

“Which teams?”

Tyler tells me a long string of team names, ending with the Dallas Cowboys.

“Your dad must be thrilled you’re following in his footsteps. Did he want you to be a defensive tackle, too?”

“No, he wanted me to be a quarterback, actually. I tried when I was younger, but it turns out my throwing arm is a cannon with zero accuracy. But, hey, consolation prize, the free safety is known as the ‘quarterback of the defense.’”

“Why is that?”

“I make the coverage call and communicate it to the linebackers and other DBs. I disguise the look. Check the defense and make sure everyone adjusts and gets into position.” Tyler taps his temple. “I use my brain as much as my body out there, sweetheart. That’s why I love the position so much.”

My skin is buzzing. Tyler comes alive when he talks about football, and it’s incredibly sexy.

“Hey, you want a water?” Tyler asks.

“Sure. Thanks.”

He gets up and grabs two bottles from a mini-fridge in the corner, hands one to me, and then leans on the edge of his desk a foot away from me, twisting the cap on his bottle. “So tell me about this Babar dude,” Tyler says, his blue eyes blazing. “He’s a cartoon elephant in a T-shirt?”

“No, he’s a cartoon elephant in a snazzy green suit and a yellow crown.”

“Then it sounds like the better choice for our cartoon elephant’s doppelgänger would be Winnie the Pooh.”

I make a face like that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. “Why on earth would our cartoon elephant’s doppelgänger be a cartoon bear?”

“Because Winnie the Pooh wears a T-shirt, not a snazzy green suit and a crown.”

I make a buzzing sound. “Thanks for playing, but Pooh wears a polo shirt.”

“No. Pooh wears a red T-shirt. I’ve seen it a million times.”

“Pooh’s shirt has a collar on it. That makes it a polo shirt.”

“Jesus God, I’ve brought a madwoman into my bedroom. Please don’t hurt me.” He pulls out his phone. “Prepare to be schooled, Zooey… What’s your last name?”

“Cartwright.”

“Prepare to be schooled, Zooey Cartwright. I’m one hundred percent—” He gasps. “Holy shit! Winnie the Pooh wears a red polo shirt!”

“I guess I should have warned you. I only argue when I’m sure I’m right.”

Tyler looks at his phone again. “I’m deeply traumatized.”

“That’s nothing. If you really want to be traumatized, then consider this: Why the hell isn’t Pooh wearing pants? He’s a bear who lives in a house and sleeps in a bed. He drinks tea out of a cup. And yet he wears no pants with his polo shirt? I mean, is Pooh fully anthropomorphized or not? Because, if he is, then he’s a ‘public lewdness’ charge waiting to happen.”

Tyler throws his head back and laughs heartily…and the sound of his full-throated laughter sends pangs of regret shooting through my chest. Damn it. He’s so freaking adorable. And witty. And hot. He’s so much more than I thought he’d be when I first laid eyes on him. Why’d I have to throw myself at him, dressed like this? Why couldn’t I have met him on campus while looking and acting like myself? Why couldn’t we have struck up a conversation in the book store—the same way Dimitri and Clarissa did? If only I could rewind time and—

Wait.

What on earth is my crazy brain thinking? Wishing I’d met Tyler under different circumstances is a pointless exercise because Tyler doesn’t want a girlfriend. And I most certainly don’t want a boyfriend. To the contrary, now that I’m finally out from under my father’s protective thumb, I’m determined to have nothing but fun, fun, fun throughout my entire freshman year.

Tyler wipes his eyes from laughing. “Wow. Thanks for fucking up Winnie the Pooh for me.”

“Misery loves company.”

Tyler flashes me a smile that sends butterflies shooting into my stomach. “Okay. That was a nice deflection, but it’s time for you to give me your final answer.” He puts his water bottle down and crosses his muscled arms over his chest. “Time’s up, Zooey.”





Chapter Six





I stare at Tyler blankly, not sure what he means. He needs my final answer about what? If I’m willing to have sex with him, after all? Because, if so, my answer would most definitely be…yes.

“Do you admit our cartoon elephant’s T-shirt is funny or not?” Tyler demands. “Assuming, of course, he’s wearing pants.”

Oh. That. “Um…” I begin but trail off. My mind is racing. I think I might have royally screwed up tonight. Tyler’s clearly not the douchebag I thought he was based on initial impressions. Not at all. He’s actually someone I’d love to hang out with and get to know. Which means the fact that I threw myself at him…and then got turned down…is absolutely mortifying. I clear my throat. “I can’t give you my final answer yet,” I say. I lean back in my chair. “There are still too many variables.”

“Variables? Well, this I’ve got to hear.” Tyler shifts his backside against the edge of his desk like he’s settling in for the night and flashes me a smile that says Enlighten me.

“Well, for one thing,” I say. “I’d want to know if our cartoon elephant chose his elephant T-shirt out of his cartoon closet the same way a human hipster would choose a T-shirt that says Human.”

Tyler chuckles. “Or…”

“Or, in the alternative, if the word elephant on the elephant’s T-shirt is completely outside the realm of his cartoon reality.”

“Outside the realm of his cartoon reality?” Tyler chuckles, and his stunningly blue eyes twinkle at me.

I clear my throat again. Oh, man, my insides suddenly feel like an ice cream cone left out on a sunny day. “Yeah, you know, like, maybe the word elephant on his T-shirt is actually a label.”

“A label?”

“Placed on his shirt by the illustrator to make sure we can tell he’s an elephant.”

Tyler shakes his head like I’ve given him whiplash. “The elephant is a big gray animal with a trunk and tiny tail. No label necessary.”

“That’s your assumption. But there are lots of reasons why a label might be necessary.”

“Name two,” Tyler says.

I take a deep breath, trying to steady my pounding heart. “Well, what if the illustrator is a kindergartner, and the elephant looks like nothing but a big gray blob?”

Tyler chuckles.

“Or what if the illustrator is some old guy who’s recently had a stroke and, sadly, the elephant looks more like a gigantic boulder with eyes?”

Tyler bites his lower lip. “Or maybe a rhino.”

“Exactly. See? Now you get it. Surely, in either of those scenarios, a label on the elephant would be necessary—and not the least bit funny.”

Tyler bites his lip again and then shoots me a smoldering look that hardens my nipples. “The elephant is a hipster, Zooey,” he says evenly, his eyes locked with mine. “He got his elephant T-shirt at a vintage shop, and he drinks old fashioneds at elephant bars while listening to cartoon bands you’ve never heard of.”

“Ah, so our cartoon elephant must not listen to Josie and the Pussycats, then. They’d be way too mainstream for his hipster musical taste.” I snort at my own joke, but the look on Tyler’s face tells me he has no idea what I’m talking about. “Aw, come on, man!” I bellow. “First Babar and now Josie and the Pussycats?”

Tyler shrugs.

“Damn. And that was a clever joke, too. Trust me, if you’d grown up watching Cartoon Network on Saturdays like me, rather than wasting your time and energy playing football all the time, you’d understand that joke absolutely slayed.”

“Oh, I’m sure it did. There’s no doubt in my mind.” His eyes flicker with heat. “Okay, Zooey. Are there any more variables you need to consider or are you finally ready to concede the point?”

“What’s the point again?”

He rolls his eyes. “That the elephant’s T-shirt, and therefore mine, can be both a statement of fact and funny.”

I bite the inside of my cheek. Exhale. And finally, begrudgingly, motion to his T-shirt and say, “Fine. I concede. It’s a damned funny shirt.”

Tyler fist-pumps the air, throws his head back, and lets out a laugh that’s so adorable, it makes my crotch flutter. And just like that, another pang of regret shoots through me. I can’t believe I threw myself at this gorgeous guy…and he turned me down. Suddenly, I want to bolt out of this bedroom and never look back.

I rise out of my chair and put my water bottle down. “So, hey, Mr. God’s Gift to Womankind, it’s been great meeting you, but I think I’m going to head downstairs, find my roommate, and go back to the dorms now.”

Tyler’s face falls. “Is something wrong?”

“I’m just tired.” And embarrassed. “Have a great rest of your season and good luck in the draft in May.”

I begin crossing the room, intending to flee, but Tyler beats me to the door and stands in front of it. “Hang on. Something’s obviously wrong.”

“Nope. Nothing’s wrong. I’ve just realized you’re totally right. It was a huge mistake for me to come up here with you.” And now I’m feeling embarrassed and rejected and mortified about it. “Honestly, I’d like to leave and forget tonight ever happened.”

“Shit.” He exhales. “Zooey, listen. All that stuff I said earlier, I’m thinking maybe I jumped the gun and we should—”

“No, no, you were absolutely right. I would have regretted having a one-night stand with you. I might even have turned into a Stage Five Clinger on you, to be honest. You know how freshman girls are—we’re all batshit crazy, especially small-town girls like me with no experience.” I force a smile. “Truthfully, I think we both dodged huge bullets tonight. I dodged giving my V card to some random, drunk-ass dude at a party who didn’t even buy me a freaking cheeseburger first. And you dodged having a potential Stage Five Clinger on your hands.” I force another smile, even though my stomach is suddenly churning. “So let’s both count our lucky stars and call it a night.” I motion for him to step away from the door. “Excuse me, please.”

Tyler sighs and slowly steps aside, a pained expression on his face. “Shit,” he mutters. “Zooey, listen—”

“No, no. Please. There’s nothing more to say. Have fun avoiding ‘emotional distractions’ until the draft.” With that, I swing open Tyler’s bedroom door and bolt down the hallway, praying to God I’ll never see Tyler Caldwell and his savagely blue eyes and heart-stopping smile ever again.





Chapter Seven





I stop walking and look down at the campus map on my phone, trying in vain to figure out how to get to Randolph Hall. This is my first time down here in South Campus, the land of future scientists, and this map isn’t helping me at all. Thank God I came down south with so much extra time before the start of my Social Psychology class, or I’d be totally stressed right now. I look up from my phone, trying to orient myself, and immediately notice Dimitri walking about twenty yards away.

“Dimitri!” I call out.

Dimitri stops and looks straight at me, not a hint of recognition on his face, and then continues on his merry way as if I’ve said nothing at all.

“Dimitri!” I shout again, bounding toward him. I wave at him like a dork. “It’s Zooey from the football party!”

Dimitri’s eyes widen with astonishment. “Holy crap, I didn’t even recognize you!” He embraces me, laughing. “You look so different with your hair curly like this. I love it.”

I touch my crazy hair. “Yeah, Clarissa gave me quite the makeover the other night.” I motion to my tank top, shorts, and sneakers. “The real Zooey is more Farm Girl from Nebraska than Kendall Jenner.”

“You look awesome either way.” He shifts his backpack on his shoulder. “So how’s Clarissa? We’re meeting tomorrow for coffee. Got any pro tips for me?”

“Pro tips?”

“Inside info I can use to make her fall desperately in love with me.”

I make an “aw” face. “Just be your sweet and charming self, Dimitri. After the party, Clarissa said some really nice things about you.”

“‘Nice’ as in ‘he’s totally in my friend zone,’ or…?” Dimitri looks at me expectantly, obviously hoping I’ll spill the beans. But I’ve got nothing for him. After the party, Clarissa and I stayed up talking for hours and hours, at which time she told me she likes Dimitri a lot, but she’s on the fence about whether she could see herself sleeping with him. “He’s definitely cute,” she said that night. “But he didn’t even try to kiss me, even though I kept giving him green-light signals. If a guy doesn’t make a move on me early on, the window for romance slams shut. It’s just the way I’m wired. I need to feel desirable right away.”

I look into Dimitri’s earnest, expectant face, and my heart pangs for him. “Okay, Dimitri, I’ve got one pro tip for you. You’ve got to cowboy up and make your move early with Clarissa. If you don’t make her feel like she’s completely irresistible to you, she’ll put you in the friend zone, and that will be that. No second chances.”

Dimitri looks distressed.

“Just go for it,” I urge. “Better to make a move and get rejected than wonder ‘what if’ later on.”

Dimitri takes a deep breath. “Wow, thanks, Zooey. Okay, I’ll go for it.”

“Good luck.”

“So enough about me and my whopping crush on your unbelievably gorgeous roommate who totally rocked my world the other night,” Dimitri says. “How’s your first day of classes treating you so far, college girl?”

“So far, so good. I had History of Theater this morning up in my neck of the woods. And now I’m down south to take my required science class. Shudder.”

“What class?”

“Social Psychology. Thankfully, I’ll be heading back up north immediately afterwards for Modernizing Shakespeare.”

“Oh, I took that class last quarter for my creative writing minor. It was cool.”

“Awesome. So would you mind giving me directions to Randolph? I’m terrible at reading maps, and I don’t want to be late for class.”

“It’s not you, it’s the map. The first time I tried to find Randolph my freshman year, I got lost for four days. If I hadn’t had a granola bar and a Red Bull in my backpack, I would have starved to death while waiting for the search party.” He grins adorably. “I’ll walk you there. It’ll give me a chance to tell you about an interesting text I got from a certain someone right after the party.”

The hair on the back of my neck stands up. “Who?”

“Tyler Caldwell.”

Oh, jeez. If Tyler told Dimitri what happened between us—and the secrets I told him—I’ll freaking kill him. “A text from Tyler Caldwell?” I choke out. “About what?”

“He wanted to know if I happened to have Clarissa’s phone number so he could get—”

“Dimitri!” a male voice booms a few feet to our right, and we both look toward the sound.

Oh, for the love of all things embarrassing and mortifying! No. It’s none other than God’s Gift to Womankind loping toward us! Where’s a girl’s invisibility cloak when she needs one? But there’s nowhere to hide. Tyler is jogging straight toward Dimitri, his stunningly perfect body poetry in motion, the phrase You’re Welcome! plastered in white letters across his black T-shirt.

My brain is screaming at me to flee. And yet, I can’t move a muscle.

Oh, lord. Seeing Tyler today, I’m feeling every bit as attracted to him as I did the other night. More so, actually. As he moves so effortlessly toward us in the glorious California sunshine, his muscles flexing and bulging, he’s more Superman than Loki. And I must admit I’ve always had a thing for Superman.

“Hey,” Tyler says to Dimitri, coming to a stand next to me.

Without consciously meaning to do it, I quickly take two lurching steps backward until I’m standing two feet behind Tyler’s broad shoulder.

“Hey, Tyler,” Dimitri says. “What a coincidence. I got your text and, now, voila.” He motions over Tyler’s shoulder toward me, but Tyler doesn’t turn around. To the contrary, Tyler remains focused on Dimitri’s face like a sniper peering through his scope.

“Did you hear back from her roommate yet?” Tyler asks urgently.

My skin pricks. Am I the “her” in that sentence?

Dimitri looks at me over Tyler’s shoulder again and grins. “I haven’t texted Clarissa yet. I’m meeting her for coffee tomorrow, so I figured I’d ask her for Zooey’s number then. But now that Zooey happens to be—”

“Tomorrow?” Tyler booms. “I can’t wait that long, man!” He runs his hand through his hair. “Listen, man. You’ve got to do me a solid and give that roommate of hers a call right now. Let me sweet-talk her into giving me Zooey’s number before I lose my mind.”

Dimitri flashes Tyler a face that says, You’re the stupidest human alive. “Hey, Tyler,” he says. “You might want to shake your head because I think your eyes are stuck. Oh, and you might want to put on your listening ears, too. What I was trying to tell you when you interrupted me is that I was planning to ask Clarissa for Zooey’s number in person tomorrow because, apparently, Zooey left the party the other night not wanting to see you ever again. But, as I was further trying to tell you, waiting until tomorrow to ask Clarissa for Zooey’s number is now a moot point because she’s—”

“A moot point?” Tyler bellows. “If Zooey left the party never wanting to see me again, that’s even more reason why I need her number now. God only knows what guys she’s been meeting these past two days in her dorms or at the student center or wherever.” He grunts like a gorilla. “Look, man, I made a huge mistake with Zooey the other night—an epically huge I’m-a-total-dumbshit mistake—and I haven’t stopped regretting it since.”

Dimitri bites his lip like he’s trying not to burst out laughing. He glances at me behind Tyler’s shoulder again, and I shake my head frantically, telling him not to let on that I’m standing here.

Dimitri’s gaze returns to Tyler. “Wow, man,” Dimitri says. “What on earth did you do to Zooey that’s got you so wound up?”

My entire body tenses. Oh, crap. Part of me wants to scream, “I’m standing right behind you, Tyler!” to keep Tyler from divulging the mortifying truth about what happened between us. But an even larger part of me desperately wants to hear whatever Tyler’s going to reply, no matter how embarrassing it might be.

“The details don’t matter,” Tyler says, swatting at the air. “Bottom line is that Zooey asked me to…um…grab a cheeseburger with her. And I said no.”

My body relaxes. Thank God.

“I figured there was no point in me grabbing a cheeseburger with her because it couldn’t lead to anything, you know? Football’s my focus right now, and a cute girl like her wanting to grab a cheeseburger with me felt kind of like I’d be leading her on. But the minute she left, I realized I’d messed up—that I shouldn’t have said no to a simple cheeseburger. I mean, if that’s what the girl wants, who am I to turn her down? It’s just one meal, after all. It doesn’t have to turn into anything more than that, no matter how hot she is. But now I’m tortured with thoughts of her grabbing a cheeseburger with some other guy.” His voice takes on an unmistakable urgency. “So, please, just text Zooey’s roommate and get her damned number for me so I can call her and ask her to get a cheeseburger with me as soon as humanly possible.”

Dimitri chuckles. “Oh, my God. This is comedy gold. Okay, Tyler, I’ve had my fun. Turn around. Zooey’s standing right behind you.” He motions to me. “Literally, right behind you, dude.”

Tyler slowly turns around, and his expression morphs into the one every cartoon character makes whenever they see an oncoming locomotive. “Zooey?”

I shoot him a clipped wave. “Hi.”

Tyler’s eyes sweep over my curly hair and makeup-free face and then traverse the full length of my body before locking onto my face again. He swallows hard. “How long have you been standing there?”

I bite my lip. I’m quite certain this is one of the most deliciously satisfying moments of my entire life. And one I intend to milk for all it’s worth. “I was talking to Dimitri when you first walked up and interrupted us. I heard every single word you said.”

Tyler palms his forehead.

“And while I appreciate everything you told Dimitri—I truly do—I should tell you I’ve completely changed my mind about grabbing a cheeseburger with you. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do still crave having a cheeseburger with someone, but just not with you.”

Tyler turns to Dimitri, looking forlorn. “Could you excuse us for a minute, nerd?”

I bristle. Nerd? Wow. Just because Tyler’s feeling humiliated in this moment, doesn’t mean he can take it out on Dimitri. “Don’t go, Dimitri,” I say, taking special care to emphasize Dimitri’s name in light of Tyler’s snub. “You promised to walk me to Randolph for my next class, remember, Dimitri?”

Tyler’s face lights up. “Your next class is in Randolph?”

I nod. “Social Psych in”—I look at my watch—“fifteen minutes. So, unfortunately, I have to get a move-on. Great seeing you again, Tyler. Love the shirt. Good luck avoiding any and all emotional distractions until May.” I motion to Dimitri. “Come on, Dimitri.”

“Hang on, nerd,” Tyler says sharply. “I’ll walk her.”

Yet again with the “nerd” thing? What is this, The Breakfast Club? “No thank you,” I say tightly. “I wouldn’t dream of inconveniencing you. Come on, Dimitri.”

“It’d be no inconvenience at all,” Tyler says, a wicked smile spreading across his gorgeous face. “It just so happens my next class is Social Psych in Randolph, too.”





Chapter Eight





“It’s true,” I say, walking stiffly alongside Tyler through swarms of students. “Thanks to you, I’ve realized there’s a big difference between sexual liberation and sexual stupidity. Plus, truth be told, I’m not physically attracted to you anymore. Not after the way you treated Dimitri back there.”

Tyler stops walking, and I follow suit. He looks genuinely baffled. “After the way I treated Dimitri? What are you talking about?”

I roll my eyes. “The fact that you don’t even know what dicky thing you did to Dimitri is even more proof of your dicky-ness. A total turn-off.”

Tyler looks shocked. “You’re pissed at me because I insisted on walking you to Randolph? But I was going there myself.”

“No, no, not that. I’m not insane.”

“Then what?”

“You truly don’t know?”

“You could waterboard my ass and I still wouldn’t be able to tell you.”

I continue walking again. “Newsflash, Tyler. Calling Dimitri ‘nerd’ like you’re some meathead jock in an eighties teen flick was rude and dismissive. Not to mention totally cliché.”

Tyler chuckles.

“It’s not funny. What are you going to do to poor Dimitri next? Stuff him into a locker? Dump a tray of food on him in the cafeteria and threaten to beat him up if he doesn’t give you his lunch money?”

A look of extreme amusement has washed over Tyler’s gorgeous but dicky face. “Wow,” he says. “I’m such a dick.”

“Glad you’ve seen the light.”

“The biggest dick who ever lived.”

“I realize you’re mocking me,” I say. “But the way you treated Dimitri was incredibly rude and immature. The simple truth is I’ve realized I need to like and respect a guy to continue feeling any kind of physical attraction to him beyond initial lust. And now that I’ve seen the way you treat people when you’re frustrated or embarrassed, especially someone as nice as Dimitri, the animal attraction I initially felt for you the other night is long gone.”

Tyler adjusts his backpack on his shoulder as we continue walking toward Randolph. “So let me get this straight. Despite our white-hot chemistry at the party a mere two days ago, and despite everything you overheard me saying to Dimitri about me changing my mind about that thing you asked me to do with you, you’re now not the least bit attracted to me simply because I called the tutor guy ‘nerd’?”

“The ‘tutor guy’ has a name. It’s Dimitri. And no amount of muscles and swagger and sparkling blue eyes and perfect white teeth is going to make you attractive to me after witnessing you treating Dimitri like crap.”

He laughs. “But, just to be clear, you did want to jump my bones before I opened my big mouth and treated Dimitri like crap?”

I don’t reply.

“Come on. If you’re going to reject me after I unwittingly poured my heart out to you back there, you should at least tell me the truth about that.”

I shrug. “Okay, yes. I admit when you first jogged up to Dimitri, I thought my panties were going to burst into flames. But, now, sadly, I’ve peeked behind the curtain and found out you’re the second coming of Emilio Estevez, and I’m totally and completely turned off.”

Tyler bites his lip like he’s trying not to laugh. “So, just to be really, really clear. If I hadn’t screwed up and called Dimitri ‘nerd’ back there, you probably would have come to my place tonight to let me do that thing you’re dying to do?”

I walk in silence.

“Come on, little freshman. You overheard me say all that stuff to Dimitri about you. The least you can do is give me that.”

I twist my mouth, consider how honest I want to be, and decide I might as well tell the guy the whole truth. Why not? The truth hurts, after all. And Tyler Caldwell is one guy who deserves to feel a little pain. “Yes. To be honest, I was so insanely attracted to you when I saw you again today, even more so than at the party, that I probably would have come to your place tonight to let you pop my cherry. But, unfortunately, you had to go and open your big, stupid Breakfast Clubby mouth, and now my lady-boner for you has vanished into thin air. Poof.”

“Poof?”

“Poof.”

“Huh.” He stops walking and motions to a large brick building next to us. “This is Randolph.”

I stop walking alongside him, adjust my backpack on my shoulder, and stare at him defiantly.

“Well, I must say, you’ve given me a lot to think about,” Tyler says. “One thing you should know about me is I’m always striving to improve myself as a human being. Not just as a football player or athlete, but also as a man. So I appreciate you giving me something to meditate on. Oh, I meditate. Did I mention that? Helps me clear my rambling mind.”

“Great. Glad to hear it. You’re the freaking Dalai Lama. Maybe next time you meditate, you should think about being less of a dick to ‘nerds.’”

“Yeah, that’s definitely the take-away from this life lesson, for sure. ‘Tyler Caldwell, you should be less of a dick to nerds.’” He looks at me wistfully. “Wow. I must admit I’m deeply disappointed your rampant sexual attraction to me…just…vanished. All because I called Dimitri ‘nerd.’”

I shrug. “Sexual attraction, at least for me, is like a light switch, Tyler. On. Off. On.” I look at him pointedly. “Off.”

“And I was so looking forward to giving you your first through fifth orgasms tonight, too.”

My clit is suddenly tingling. “Oh, well. Sucks to be you.”

“I guess so.” He looks at his watch. “Oh, we’d better get to class.” He motions politely toward the front entrance of Randolph. “After you, sweetheart.”

“Thanks, sweetheart.”

“Oh, hey, hold up one sec,” Tyler says after I pass him. “Just one quick thing.”

I stop in the doorframe and turn around.

“I don’t know if it makes any difference to your flaccid lady-boner or not, and I want you to know I fully respect your newfound flaccidity toward me either way. But I think maybe there’s one small thing you should take into consideration before deciding once and for all I’m not the guy to make you see God for the first through fifth time tonight.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone as he talks. “Do you happen to know that tutor guy’s full name?”

“I believe I’ve mentioned the ‘tutor guy’ has a name. It’s Dimitri.”

“But do you know his last name?”

My stomach tightens. Why do I suddenly feel like I’m walking into a trap here? “No.”

Tyler swipes into his texts. “Yeah, I figured as much.” He looks me dead in the eye, a devilish smirk curling one side of his mouth. “His name is Dimitri…Nerdtowsky.”

I close my eyes. Shit.

Tyler chuckles with glee. “And guess what Dimitri Nerdtowsky’s self-proclaimed nickname is? Can you guess?”

I open my eyes to find Tyler holding his phone out to me, a smug look on his face.

“Nerd,” Tyler spits out, answering his own question. “Dimitri’s nickname is Nerd. And if you don’t believe me, then check out this text conversation between us in which I initially addressed him as ‘Dimitri’ and he signed off in his reply as ‘Nerd.’”

I smash my lips together.

Tyler stuffs his phone into his front pocket, a grin on his face. “But, hey, thanks so much for chewing my ass. It was super fun.” He chuckles. “Actually, as long as brutal honesty seems to be our thing, I should confess watching you get so hot and bothered about what a dick I was to poor Dimitri was highly…arousing.” He laughs again and motions to the entrance to Randolph Hall. “After you, sweetheart. Make sure to save me a seat.”





Chapter Nine





I march into Randolph Hall, my cheeks hot and my heart racing…and immediately spot a face in the crowd that brings a demonic smile to my face. The golden god himself, Jake Grayson, is sitting in a middle row of the lecture hall, surrounded by a bunch of athletic-looking dudes.

I turn to Tyler walking into the classroom behind me. “Oh, look, there’s Jake,” I say primly. “Hey, do you think the universe is trying to tell me something? You advised me to find a nice guy who’ll buy me a cheeseburger before de-virginizing me and two days later, lo and behold, I find myself in a classroom with the one guy everyone in the world seems to think is the nicest, sweetest guy in the world.”

“Fuck,” Tyler mutters under his breath, his smug smile from a moment ago gone.

“I wonder if Jake likes cheeseburgers.”

“Zooey, listen to me. Jake’s not the guy for you.”

But I’m not listening to him. I’m too busy holding my pinky to my mouth like Dr. Evil.

“Ty!” Jake shouts, as if on cue.

“Will you introduce us?” I ask, batting my eyelashes. “I heard he’s super nice.”

“Come on,” Tyler says, grabbing my arm. But he doesn’t lead me toward Jake. He shoots a clipped wave toward Jake and the guys sitting with him and drags me toward two vacant seats in the front row.

I sit in the seat indicated by Tyler and pull out my laptop, my heart pounding in my ears. Oh, my, this is going to be fun.

Tyler leans in to my ear. “We both know you don’t want Jake. If you wanted him over me, you would have flirted with him at the party when he was drooling all over you and asking everyone who you were.”

“What?” I ask, floored.

“But you didn’t,” Tyler continues, obviously unaware he’s just revealed something to me I didn’t already know. “You went straight for me. And I went straight for you. Because we were magnet and steel. So fuck that bastard.”

I don’t reply. Holy shit.

A middle-aged woman with blonde, frizzy hair glides to a lectern at the front of the room and greets the class.

“To be continued, magnet,” Tyler whispers, pulling away from me.

“We’ll see about that, steel.”

“Count on it.”

The professor welcomes the class and, for the next twenty minutes, gives us an overview of Social Psychology and the structure of her ten-week class. “Your grade will be based on two things,” the professor explains. “A final exam and a midterm project you’ll complete with a partner.” She explains that each partnership duo will devise and conduct a series of experiments to explore any social psychology theory and then submit a written analysis of their findings. “So let’s go through the partner assignments, shall we?” the professor says, holding up a piece of paper. “And, please, nobody ask me to switch partners. Out there in the real world, you’re going to have to work with colleagues or bosses you might not otherwise pick on occasion, so you might as well get used to doing that now.”

I look at Tyler, my expression telling him he’s the one person in this classroom I don’t want as a partner. He holds up crossed fingers in reply, telling me he’s praying to get assigned to me. In response, I flash him a look that says, If I were assigned to you as my partner, I’d throw myself off a bridge. And what does the cocky bastard do in reply to that? He winks and blows me a little kiss.

The professor reads off the first two names on her list and then makes small talk with the duo. After that, she repeats the exercise about eight more times before finally saying, “Tyler Caldwell?”

My stomach seizes. Please, God, don’t let her say my name next. I don’t have any desire to be attached at the hip to this egomaniac for the next five weeks, working on a project worth half my grade. Surely, if I were assigned to work with Tyler, we’d wind up having a one-night stand at some point, simply because he’s gorgeous and sexy, and I’m only human. And then, following that, everything between us would feel tense and awkward, and our project would surely suffer. Not good.

Tyler raises his arm in response to the professor calling his name. “Hi, Professor.”

The professor flashes Tyler a beaming smile. “Great game the other night. I lost my mind when you made that interception at the last minute. I thought I was going to pass out.”

Tyler chuckles. “I had a similar reaction.”

Everyone laughs.

“How on earth did you make that catch?” the professor asks, her eyes sparkling with obvious admiration. “It’s like you had a jet pack on your back.”

Tyler chuckles again. “It was equal parts adrenaline and luck.”

“And talent,” the professor adds. “Supernatural talent.”

Tyler’s teammates at the back of the room groan.

“Don’t encourage him!” one of the guys sitting near Jake calls out.

“Oh, pipe down,” the professor says playfully. “I’m just giving credit where it’s due. That was one of the most acrobatic interceptions I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve watched a lot of football in my life.”

“Come on, Prof,” one of the players in the back shouts. “Don’t make his head even bigger than it already is. With all the interceptions Tyler’s been racking up this season already, his head could barely fit through the doorway of the classroom as it is!”

Everyone laughs, including the professor and me.

“Okay, okay,” the professor says gaily. She flashes a warm smile at Tyler. “Stay humble, Tyler. If not, you’re going to get me into trouble here.”

“Always.”

The guys at the back of the room groan and scoff again.

The professor looks down at her paper again, smiling from ear to ear. “Okay, Tyler. You want to know your partner assignment?”

Tyler looks at me and winks. “Make it a good one.”

“Your partner is…”

My stomach squeezes. Please, God, no.

“…Aaron Heckerling.”

A loud cheer erupts from the guys at the back of the room. I turn toward the commotion just in time to see an attractive, dark-haired guy next to the golden god fist-pumping the air.

“Well, hello, Aaron,” the professor says, chuckling at the guy’s exuberance. “I take it you’re familiar with Tyler here?”

“He’s my boy,” Aaron says. “My partner in crime.”

“We live together,” Tyler explains.

“Ah, well, in that case, I’ll expect you two to turn in a particularly stellar project, seeing as how you’ll be able to spend so much time working on it together.”

“I’ve never seen that guy before in my life,” Tyler deadpans, and everyone, including me, cracks up.

After reading off ten or so more pairings, the professor finally says my name.

“Here,” I say, shooting my arm up. Oh, God, this is nerve-wracking. Give me a role with a script and I’m perfectly comfortable. Ask me to make small talk with a total stranger as myself, and I feel like I’m going to throw up.

The professor chats with me for a moment, eliciting the facts that I’m a freshman theater major and that I’m in this class to fulfill my science requirement. Finally, she says, “All right, Zooey. Your partner is …”

I hold my breath.

“Jake Grayson.”

I laugh out loud, just as Tyler mutters, “Motherfucker.”

I turn around and look at Jake several rows behind me. We exchange waves and polite smiles. And then I glance at Tyler and force down a giggle at the sight of him. He looks like he wants to punch a wall.

The professor fawns all over Jake for a while, telling him how magnificently he played the other night, and how much she admires his talent and skill, and oh my God, she hopes and prays we make it into another bowl game at the end of this season under his deft leadership! And all the while, Tyler’s tense body language makes it clear he’s losing his freaking mind. And, honestly, I’m not sad about it.

When the professor moves along to the next names on her list, I lean into Tyler’s broad shoulder. “I have this weird feeling the universe is trying to tell me something. I’m just not sure what it is.”

“It’s telling you to be at my house at eight,” he whispers back.

“Gee, I don’t think so. I can’t be sure but I think it’s saying… Wait. Hang on.” I put my hand to my ear like I’m listening to a faraway voice. “Oh. I think I hear it now. It’s saying Jaaaaaaaake.”

The professor finishes reading from her partners list and wraps up the class. “Don’t forget to exchange contact information with your partners, everyone. You’re going to be working closely together for the next five weeks. Oh, and make sure you check the syllabus for the reading assignment. I’ll see you on Wednesday!”

I lean into Tyler. “Best class ever.”

“It’s about to get a whole lot better,” he mutters. With that, he lurches out of his seat and beelines up the aisle toward Jake and his teammates.

I watch Tyler striding up the steps. His movement is graceful and powerful. When he reaches Jake, he puts his muscled arm around his friend’s shoulders like a mob boss, and whispers into his ear.

Dang it. If ever there was a time I could use some bionic hearing, now would be it. That handsome guy with dark hair who was paired with Tyler leans into the huddle. The three of them pow-wow. Jake fist-bumps Tyler and then the dark-haired guy, and the three of them head down the aisle toward me.

Immediately, I look down and begin packing up my laptop, awaiting Tyler’s inevitable return. But when he still hasn’t approached me in what seems like more than enough time, I look up. Crap. All three guys are talking to the professor at the lectern! What the hell? I watch the action closely, taking in the guys’ facial expressions. Oh, man, those boys are all pouring on the charm. The professor’s back is facing me, but her body language seems highly receptive to whatever they’re saying. And now, all three boys appear to be saying variations of “Thank you, Professor.” Suddenly, it’s abundantly clear to me. I’m going to be partnered with Tyler Caldwell, whether I like it or not.

“Zooey Cartwright?” the professor calls out. She scans the crowd, apparently not remembering which student is me.

I walk toward the lectern like Anne Boleyn shuffling stoically toward the chopping block.

“Hi, Zooey,” the professor says warmly.

I glance at Tyler, and he smiles like an executioner unsheathing his sword.

“I don’t know if you’re aware that Jake here is the quarterback of the football team?” the professor says.

“Yes, of course.” I glance at Jake and blush crimson when he flashes me a huge smile.

“Well, Jake was just telling me about some of the demands on his time, things he has to do each week that aren’t necessarily required of anyone else on the team—or anyone else at the entire school, frankly. And so, because of Jake’s special situation, he says he’d be extremely grateful if I’d make an exception to my ‘no switching partners’ rule, just this once.”

My eyes flicker ever so briefly to Tyler, and he flashes me a look that’s so cocky, I want to slap it off him.

“So, if it’s okay with you,” the professor continues, “I’m hoping you’ll be amenable to a switch? Jake seems to think it would make the most sense for him and the team if he’s paired with another player, preferably one on the offense, since those are the players who share Jake’s practice schedule. Aaron here is a wide receiver so he’d be a good fit.”

Oh, for the love of all things holy. What the hell kind of snow job is this? My dad played college ball, so I happen to know the offensive and defensive players attend the same practices at the same times. Yeah, Jake probably spends more time than other players watching films and working with his quarterback coach, but there’s absolutely no reason why he and Aaron would have “the exact same practice schedule” any more than Jake and any defensive player. I look at the three guys. All of them are smiling at me. But Tyler’s smile is nothing short of diabolical.

“Um. Sure. No problem,” I say.

The professor looks at Tyler. “You’re sure this swap will work for you, Tyler?”

“Yep. Anything to help Jake,” Tyler replies.

The professor looks concerned. “You don’t think you should maybe be assigned to a teammate, too, given the heavy demands on your time with practices and games and travel?”

I roll my eyes. What the heck happened to “Don’t bother asking me to change partners”? Perhaps the professor more accurately should have said, “Don’t bother asking me to change partners, unless you’re a handsome football star, in which case go right ahead.”

“No, it’s fine,” Tyler says. “But thanks so much for asking. I’ve got a lot going on, for sure, but not quite as much as Jake. He’s got to be ready to command the entire ship, as it were. I’ve just got to be ready to chase after whatever guy on the opposing team happens to be going after the little brown ball.” He smiles like he’s just uttered the understatement of the year, and the professor giggles.

Christ almighty. Of all the professors on this campus, I had to get the one who’s a diehard football fan?

“If it helps Jake, then I’m more than happy to partner with Chloe here,” Tyler adds magnanimously.

“Zooey,” the professor corrects.

One side of Tyler’s mouth hitches up. “Zooey. So sorry.”

“No problem, Taylor,” I say.

“Tyler,” Tyler says. “Tyler Caldwell.”

I return his smirk. “Tyler. So sorry.”

The professor claps her hands together. “Okay, I’ll see you all on Wednesday, then.” She begins gathering her stuff, signaling this conversation is now over.

I sling my backpack over my shoulder and march toward the exit.

“Zooey!” the professor calls after me and I turn around, a fake smile on my face. “Be sure to get Tyler’s contact information. You two will need to get together to map out your game plan for the next five weeks.”

“Thanks for the reminder, Professor,” Tyler says sweetly. “Yeah, we’ll want to get together as soon as possible, for sure.”

I nod. It’s all I can muster at the moment. Without saying a word or even glancing at Tyler, I turn on my heel and march out of the classroom.





Chapter Ten





“No, I’m not ‘elated’ about it,” I huff. Despite my best efforts to elude Tyler after Social Psych, he sprinted after me, and now he’s tagging alongside me as I make my way toward my next class in North Campus. “I was honestly excited to partner with Jake.”

Tyler scoffs. “Bah. I did you a huge favor, cupcake. Unless, of course, your goal in life is to never achieve orgasm as long as you live—in which case, yeah, I definitely thwarted that plan. Sorry, not sorry.”

“Gee, that’s not a preposterous leap in logic. Me being Jake’s partner on a class project during my first year of college would lead to me never having a single orgasm throughout my entire life? How do you figure that one, cupcake?”

“I’m just connecting the dots,” Tyler replies. “If I’d left you partnered with Jake for five weeks, you would have lost your virginity to him, no doubt about it.” He rolls his eyes. “And that means you would have fallen in love with him, despite the fact that he’s got the personality of paint drying, just because you’re a newbie, and he looks the part of Mr. Right. Fast forward twenty years and ten babies later, and there you’d be, lying in bed one night after deeply unsatisfying sex with your boring-ass husband, and a little voice inside your head would whisper, I wonder if Tyler Caldwell would have been able to make me come the way my boring-ass husband never has?”

I scoff. “Careful, Tyler. Your jealousy is showing. Unless you’ve had sex with Jake yourself, you’re in no position to comment on his sexual skills or lack thereof. Have you had sex with Jake?”

“Nope. I’m straight. But I’ve got intel straight from the horse’s mouth.” He lowers his voice. “What I’m about to tell you is highly confidential, okay? Seriously. You can’t tell anyone.”

“Fine.”

He leans toward me. “For the last couple of years, Jake’s been asking me for tips to use with his girlfriend. You know, techniques. Apparently, no matter what he tried with her, he just couldn’t get her off. Not once. So, you see, all I’m trying to do here is protect you from a disastrous first time, followed by an entire lifetime of sexual dissatisfaction.” He motions to the phrase on his shirt. “You’re welcome.”

“Thanks, but I don’t want or need your protection,” I say. “I’m quite confident I can find myself a guy who’ll buy me a cheeseburger before de-virginizing me without your assistance.”

We arrive at MacGowan Hall, the main building of the theater department, and I stop walking. “This is me,” I say, motioning to the building. “Now fly and be free, Tyler Caldwell. I’ll text you to figure out a time for us to work on our Social Psych project later this week, okay? Bye.” I’m about to turn on my heel and walk into the building, but the devilish smile on Tyler’s face stops me. “What?”

“Your next class is in MacGowan?”

A sinking feeling grips my stomach. “Yeah.”

“Is it Modernizing Shakespeare by any chance?”

I close my eyes and exhale.

“Lucky you, I’m fulfilling my arts requirement with that class.” He chuckles. “Gosh, when the universe works this hard to put two ridiculously good-looking people together, it’d be downright arrogant of them not to have sex, don’t you think?”

“I’m not going to have sex with you, Tyler.”

He smirks. “Oh, yes you are. You know it. I know it. The universe knows it. But we don’t have time to discuss that right now—we’ve got to get to our Shakespeare class.” He slides his hand into mine like he’s been doing it for years, and my skin electrifies at his touch. “Come on, Zooey Cartwright. If we’re late, we might not be able to find two seats together.”





Chapter Eleven





Fate. It’s a fickle little bitch.

This morning as I headed off to my first day of classes around nine, I never wanted to see Tyler Caldwell again. I told myself if I happened to see him on campus, I’d bolt in the opposite direction. And now it’s six o’clock on the same day, and I’m walking to Tyler’s house to brainstorm not one but two partner projects with him. That’s right. I’ve been assigned as Tyler’s partner for two class projects thanks to my Shakespeare professor’s decision to assign partners based on last names.

I turn off the sidewalk and onto the front walkway of Tyler’s house, my mind reeling. Of course, now that I’ll be working closely with Tyler on two projects, it’s especially clear to me I simply cannot sleep with him. Not when my grade in two classes depends on me being able to work with him for five long weeks. I suppose once both our projects are turned in, we might get together for one night of meaningless sex, assuming I don’t hate his guts by then. But for now, considering the situation, I’m absolutely determined that no sex shall transpire between Tyler Caldwell and me.

I reach Tyler’s front door, take a deep breath, and knock. A moment later, there he is. Standing in the doorframe. Freshly showered. Smelling of soap. He’s holding a barbeque spatula and wearing an apron that reads Kiss the Cook! And the look on Tyler’s face? He looks like a spider welcoming a fly into his web.

“You’re early, partner,” Tyler says. “Well, aren’t you an eager little beaver.”

“I’m not eager, just prompt,” I say stiffly, marching through the door. “Now that we’re double-stuck together, we’ve got a ridiculous amount of work to do.”

“Double-stuck? Oh, baby. I love it when you talk dirty to me.”

I stride into the living room, feeling like a dork for lobbing such a softball to him…even though, honestly, I don’t understand how “double-stuck” could possibly be any kind of sexual innuendo. I stop short. The song blaring through the overhead speakers is “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye. I whirl around to face Tyler. “No, Tyler.”

Tyler smiles. “What?”

I point up, referencing the song.

“Oh. You think I’m sending you some sort of coded message with this song? No, cupcake. This is a random playlist. Pure coincidence. But if it makes you feel better, I’ll skip ahead to the next song.” He pulls out his phone and presses a button, and a new song begins. “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men. “Is that better, sweetheart?”

I stare at him, determined not to smile, but when he starts singing along to the cheesy lyrics, I can’t help myself.

“I’m wearing you down,” Tyler says.

“I’m only smiling because you’re singing off-key,” I say. “My smile means only that I find you amusing. Nothing more.”

“Okay. I respect that. I’ll change the song, then. Enough playing around. Sorry. It was worth a try.” He presses a button on his phone, and “I Want Your Sex” by Ge