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this book got me reading at 3:00 am..the chemistry between them is off the roof will definately recommend it to anyone who loves to reaad
04 May 2020 (15:18)
05 May 2021 (23:57)
okay but this book made me feel
20 May 2021 (18:02)
def recommend to anyone who reads romance
def recommend to anyone who reads romance
24 May 2021 (10:05)
Can we just apricate the writer who is damn amazing love her books
28 May 2021 (12:29)
"and they were roommates"
02 August 2021 (20:23)
I've read a lot of Elle's book and I've never been a disappointed. Definitely hoping on this one
06 August 2021 (22:47)
Please suggest most interesting books list.
13 August 2021 (08:42)
didn’t make it page 35. wtf is this book? this man literally said “I’m a huge nerd. A nerd masquerading as a god” like tf? Love the female character but the male character it’s just not it. The way he describes himself n his surroundings it’s just not it.
25 August 2021 (05:56)
i honestly have really been enjoying the off-campus and briar-u series so far and i havent finished the book yet...but colin is so corny sometimes bro like he radiates "i'm not like other girls' energy, his pov's are kinda cringey but the boom is still enjoyable
04 September 2021 (20:11)
I’m 21 yo and I’m still drowning in this book and the characters. Tf wrong with me lol. Big girls need dumb and simple romances too sometimes!
03 November 2021 (20:00)
I adores Summer! Since she laid eyes on Fitz she knew she would do almost anything to get him, and she’s smart, capable, and a defender of women’s rights regardless of her fashionable closet and bank account.
27 November 2021 (02:35)
The Chase A sexy standalone novel from New York Times and international bestselling author Elle Kennedy! The Chase Everyone says opposites attract. And they must be right, because there’s no logical reason why I’m so drawn to Colin Fitzgerald. I don’t usually go for tattoo-covered, video-gaming, hockey-playing nerd-jocks who think I’m flighty and superficial. His narrow view of me is the first strike against him. It doesn’t help that he’s buddy-buddy with my brother. * * * And that his best friend has a crush on me. * * * And that I just moved in with them. * * * Oh, did I not mention we’re roommates? * * * I suppose it doesn’t matter. Fitzy has made it clear he’s not interested in me, even though the sparks between us are liable to burn our house down. I’m not the kind of girl who chases after a man, though, and I’m not about to start. I’ve got my hands full dealing with a new school, a sleazy professor, and an uncertain future. So if my sexy brooding roomie wises up and realizes what he’s missing? * * * He knows where to find me. The Chase Briar U Elle Kennedy Contents 1. Summer 2. Fitz 3. Fitz 4. Fitz 5. Summer 6. Summer 7. Fitz 8. Summer 9. Fitz 10. Summer 11. Summer 12. Fitz 13. Summer 14. Fitz 15. Summer 16. Fitz 17. Fitz 18. Summer 19. Summer 20. Fitz 21. Summer 22. Summer 23. Summer 24. Fitz 25. Summer 26. Fitz 27. Fitz 28. Fitz 29. Fitz 30. Summer 31. Fitz 32. Summer 33. Summer 34. Fitz Exclusive Excerpt: The Risk Other Titles by Elle Kennedy Author’s Note About the Author 1 Summer “Is this a joke?” I gape at the five girls who are holding me in judgment. They have various hair, skin, and eye colors, and yet I can’t tell them apart because their expressions are identical. There’s a whole lot of smug peeking through the phony remorse they’re trying to convey, as if they’re truly devastated by the news.; Ha. They’re enjoying this. “I’m sorry, Summer, but it’s not a joke.” Kaya offers a pitying smile. “As the Standards Committee, we take Kappa Beta Nu’s reputation very seriously. We received word from Nationals this morning—” “Oh really? You received word? Did they send a telegram?” “No, it was an email,” she says, completely missing the sarcasm. She flips her glossy hair over one shoulder. “They reminded the committee that every member of this sorority must uphold the behavior standards set by them, otherwise our chapter will lose its good standing with Nationals.” “We have to remain in good standing,” Bianca pipes up, pleading at me with her eyes. Of the five bi-otches in front of me, she seems like the most reasonable. “Especially after what happened to Daphne Kettleman,” adds a girl whose name I can’t remember. Curiosity gets the better of me. “What happened to Daphne Kettleman?” “Alcohol poisoning.” The fourth girl—I think her name’s Hailey—lowers her voice to a whisper and quickly glances around, as if there might be a bug or two hidden in the antique furnishings that fill the living room of the Kappa mansion. “She had to get her stomach pumped,” the no-name girl reveals gleefully. Which makes me question whether she’s actually thrilled that Daphne Kettleman almost died. Kaya speaks up in a curt voice. “Enough about Daphne. You shouldn’t have even brought her up, Coral—” Coral! Right. That’s her name. And it sounds as stupid now as it did when she introduced herself fifteen minutes ago. “We don’t speak Daphne’s name in this house,” Kaya explains to me. Jee-zus. One measly stomach pumping and poor Daphne gets Voldemorted? The Kappa Beta Nu chapter of Briar University is evidently a lot stricter than the Brown chapter. Case in point—they’re kicking me out before I’d even moved in. “This isn’t personal,” Kaya continues, giving me another fake consolatory smile. “Our reputation is very important to us, and although you’re a legacy—” “A presidential legacy,” I point out. So ha! In your face, Kaya! My mom was president of a Kappa chapter during her junior and senior years, and so was my grandmother. Heyward women and Kappa Beta Nu go together like abs and any male Hemsworth. “A legacy,” she repeats, “but we don’t adhere as strictly to those ancestral bonds the way we used to.” Ancestral bonds? Who says that? Did she time-travel from the olden days? “As I said, we have rules and policies. And you didn’t leave the Brown chapter on the best of terms.” “I didn’t get kicked out of Kappa,” I argue. “I got kicked out of school in general.” Kaya stares at me in disbelief. “Is this a point of pride for you? Getting expelled from one of the best colleges in the country?” I answer through clenched teeth. “No, I’m not proud of it. I’m just saying, technically speaking, I’m still a member of this sorority.” “Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to live in this house.” Kaya crosses her arms over the front of her white mohair sweater. “I see.” I mimic her pose, except I cross my legs too. Kaya’s envious gaze lands on my black suede Prada boots, a gift from my grandmother to celebrate my admission to Briar. I had a good chuckle when I opened the package last night—I’m not sure Nana Celeste understands that I’m only attending Briar because I was expelled from my other school. Actually, I bet she does, and just doesn’t care. Nana will find any excuse to get her Prada on. She’s my soulmate. “And you didn’t think,” I go on, an edge creeping into my voice, “to let me know this until after I packed up my stuff, drove all the way down here from Manhattan, and walked through the front door?” Bianca is the only one who has the decency to look guilty. “We’re really sorry, Summer. But like Kaya said, Nationals didn’t get in touch until this morning, and then we had to vote, and…” She shrugs weakly. “Sorry,” she says again. “So you voted and decided I’m not allowed to live here.” “Yes,” Kaya says. I glance at the others. “Hailey?” “Halley,” she corrects icily. Oh, whatever. Like I’m supposed to remember their names? We literally just met. “Halley.” I look to the next girl. “Coral.” And then the next girl. Crap. I legit don’t know this one. “Laura?” “Tawny,” she bites out. Swing and a miss! “Tawny,” I repeat apologetically. “You guys are sure about this?” I get three nods. “Cool. Thanks for wasting my time.” I stand up, push my hair over one shoulder, and start wrapping my red cashmere scarf around my neck. A bit too vigorously maybe, because it seems to annoy Kaya. “Stop being so dramatic,” she orders in a snarky voice. “And don’t act like we’re to blame for the fact that you burned down your former house. Excuse us if we don’t want to live with an arsonist.” I struggle to keep my temper in check. “I didn’t burn anything down.” “That’s not what our Brown sisters said.” She tightens her lips. “Anyway, we have a house meeting in ten minutes. It’s time for you to go.” “Another meeting? Look at you! A packed schedule today!” “We’re organizing a New Year’s Eve charity event tonight to raise money,” Kaya says stiffly. Ah, my bad. “What’s the charity?” “Oh.” Bianca looks sheepish. “We’re raising money to renovate the basement here in the mansion.” Oh my God. They’re the charity? “You better get to it, then.” With a mocking smile, I flutter my fingers in a careless wave and march out of the room. In the hall, I feel the first sting of tears. Fuck these girls. I don’t need them or their dumb sorority. “Summer, wait.” Bianca catches up to me at the front doors. I quickly paste on a smile and blink away the tears that had begun to well up. I won’t let them see me cry, and I’m so frigging glad I left all my suitcases in the car and only came in with my oversized purse. How mortifying would it have been to lug my bags back to the car? It would’ve taken multiple trips too, because I don’t travel light. “Listen,” Bianca says, her voice so quiet I strain to hear her. “You should consider yourself lucky.” I raise my eyebrows. “For being homeless? Sure, I feel blessed.” She cracks a smile. “Your last name is Heyward-Di Laurentis. You are not, and will never be, homeless.” I grin sheepishly. Can’t argue with that. “But I’m serious,” she whispers. “You don’t want to live here.” Her almond-shaped eyes dart toward the doorway. “Kaya is like a drill sergeant. It’s her first year as Kappa president, and she’s on some crazy power trip.” “I’ve noticed,” I say dryly. “You should’ve seen what she did to Daphne! She acted like it was the alcohol thing, but really she was just jealous because Daph slept with her ex-boyfriend Chris, so she made Daph’s life miserable. One weekend when Daphne was away, Kaya ‘accidentally’”—Bianca uses air quotes—“donated every piece of her clothing to these freshmen who were collecting stuff for the annual clothes drive. Daph eventually quit the sorority and moved out.” I’m starting to think that alcohol poisoning was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to Daphne Kettleman, if it got her out of this hellhole. “Whatever. I don’t care if I live here or not. Like you said, I’ll be just fine.” I put on the cavalier, nothing-in-life-ever-ever-gets-to-me voice that I’ve perfected over the years. It’s my armor. I pretend that my life is a beautiful Victorian house and hope that nobody peers close enough to see the cracks in my facade. But no matter how convincing I am in front of Bianca, there’s no stopping the massive wave of anxiety that hits me the moment I slide into my car five minutes later. It stilts my breathing and quickens my pulse, making it hard to think clearly. What am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to go? I inhale deeply. It’s okay. It’s fine. I take another breath. Yes, I’ll figure it out. I always do, right? I’m constantly screwing up, and I always find a way to unscrew myself. I just have to buckle down and think— My phone blares out its ringtone rendition of Sia’s “Cheap Thrills.” Thank God. I waste no time answering the call. “Hey,” I greet my brother Dean, grateful for the interruption. “Hey, Boogers. Just checking that you made it to campus in one piece.” “Why wouldn’t I?” “Gosh, who knows. You might’ve run off to Miami with some hitchhiking wannabe rapper you picked up on the interstate—or what I like to call a recipe for becoming a serial killer’s skin-suit. Oh wait! You already fucking did that.” “Oh my God. First of all, Jasper was an aspiring country singer, not a rapper. Second, I was with two other girls and we were driving to Daytona Beach, not Miami. Third, he didn’t even try to touch me, let alone murder me.” I sigh. “Lacey did hook up with him, though, and he gave her herpes.” Incredulous silence meets my ears. “Dicky?” That’s my childhood nickname for Dean. He hates it. “You there?” “I’m trying to understand how you think your version of the story is in any way more palatable than mine.” He suddenly curses. “Aw fuck, didn’t I hook up with Lacey at your eighteenth birthday party?” A pause. “The herpes trip would’ve happened before that party. Dammit, Summer! I mean, I used protection, but a warning would’ve been nice!” “No, you didn’t hook up with Lacey. You’re thinking of Laney, with an ‘N.’ I stopped being her friend after that.” “How come?” “Because she slept with my brother when she was supposed to be hanging out with me at my party. That’s not cool.” “Truth. Selfish move.” “Yup.” There’s a sudden blast of noise on the line—what sounds like wind, car engines, and then a barrage of honking. “Sorry,” Dean says. “Just leaving the apartment. My Uber’s here.” “Where are you off to?” “Picking up our dry-cleaning. The place Allie and I go to is in Tribeca, but they’re awesome, so worth the trek. Highly recommend.” Dean and his girlfriend Allie live in the West Village in Manhattan. Allie admitted to me that the area is way fancier than she’s used to, but for my brother it’s actually a step down; our family’s penthouse is on the Upper East Side, making up the top three floors of our hotel, the Heyward Plaza. But Dean’s new building is near the private school where he teaches, and since Allie has a lead role on a television show that shoots all over Manhattan, the location is convenient for both of them. It must be so nice for them, having a place to live and all. “Anyway, are you nice and settled at the Kappa house?” “Not quite,” I confess. “For fuck’s sake, Summer. What did you do?” My jaw falls open in outrage. Why does my family always assume that I’m in the wrong? “I didn’t do anything,” I answer stiffly. But then defeat weakens my voice. “They don’t think someone like me is good for the sorority’s reputation. One of them said I was an arsonist.” “Well,” Dean says not so tactfully. “You kind of are.” “Fuck off, Dicky. It was an accident. Arsonists intentionally set fires.” “So you’re an accidental arsonist. The Accidental Arsonist. That’s a great name for a book.” “Awesome. Go write that.” I don’t care how snide I sound. I’m feeling snarky, and my nerves are shot. “Anyway, they kicked me out, and now I have to figure out where the heck I’m going to live this semester.” My throat catches on a lump that appears out of nowhere, and a choked almost-sob squeezes past it. “Are you okay?” Dean asks immediately. “I don’t know.” I swallow hard. “I… This is ridiculous. I don’t know why I’m upset. Those girls are awful and I wouldn’t have enjoyed living with them. I mean, it’s New Year’s Eve, and they’re all on campus! They’re doing some charity fundraiser thing instead of partying! That’s so not my scene.” The tears I’ve been holding at bay are no longer controllable. Two fat drops slide down my cheeks, and I’m so glad Dean isn’t here to witness it. It’s bad enough that he can hear me crying. “I’m sorry, Boogers.” “Whatever.” I angrily swipe at my wet eyes. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not going to cry over a few mean girls and an overcrowded house. I won’t let it get to me. Would Selena Gomez let it get to her? Absolutely not.” There’s a confused beat. “Selena Gomez?” “Yes.” I jut out my chin. “She’s a symbol of class and purity, and I try to model myself after her. Personality-wise. Obviously, when it comes to style, I will forever strive to be Coco Chanel, and I will forever fail because nobody can be Coco Chanel.” “Obviously.” He pauses. “Which era Selena Gomez are we talking about? Justin Bieber or The Weeknd? Or Bieber part two?” I frown at my phone. “Are you for real right now?” “What?” “A woman isn’t defined by her boyfriends. She’s defined by her achievements. And her shoes.” My gaze lands on my new boots, courtesy of Nana Celeste. At least I’ve had smashing success in the shoe department. The rest of it, not so much. “I guess I can ask Dad to call the housing people and see if there’s availability in any of the dorms.” Once again, I feel defeated. “I really don’t want to do that, though. He already had to pull strings to get me into Briar.” And I’d rather not live in a dorm if I can help it. Sharing a bathroom with a dozen other girls is my worst nightmare. I had to do it in the Kappa house at Brown, but the private bedroom made the bathroom situation easier to swallow. No way will there be any singles left in the dorms this far into the school year. I moan softly. “What am I supposed to do?” I have two older brothers who never, ever pass up an opportunity to tease or embarrass me, but sometimes they display rare moments of compassion. “Don’t call Dad yet,” Dean says gruffly. “Let me see what I can do first.” My forehead wrinkles. “I’m not sure you can do anything.” “Just hold off on calling him. I’ve got an idea.” The squeal of brakes fills the line. “One sec. Thanks, bro. Five-star ride, for sure.” A car door slams. “Summer, you’re coming back to the city tonight anyway, right?” “I wasn’t planning on it,” I admit, “but I guess I don’t have a choice now. I’ll have to grab a hotel in Boston until I figure out my living arrangements.” “Not Boston. I meant New York. The semester doesn’t start for a few weeks. I figured you’d be staying at the penthouse until then.” “No, I wanted to unpack and settle in and all that crap.” “Well, it ain’t happening today, and tonight is New Year’s Eve, so you might as well come home and celebrate with me and Allie. A bunch of my old teammates are driving up too.” “Like who?” I ask curiously. “Garrett’s in the city for a game, so he’ll be here. And the current Briar brigade is coming. You know some of them—Mike Hollis, Hunter Davenport. Actually, Hunter went to Roselawn Prep, think he was a year behind you. Pierre and Corsen, but I don’t think you ever met them. Fitzy—” My heartbeat stutters. “I remember Fitzy,” I say as casually as I’m capable of—which is not casual at all. Even I can hear the excitement in my voice. Who can blame me, though? Fitzy is short for Colin Fitzgerald, and he just happens to be THE UNICORN. The tall, sexy, tattooed, hockey-playing unicorn of a man who I might have a teeny-weeny itsy-bitsy crush on. Okay, fine. A big motherfucking crush on. He’s so…magical. But he’s also out of reach. Dean’s hockey friends are usually all over me when they meet me, but not Fitz. I met him last year when I visited Dean at Briar, and the guy barely glanced my way. When I saw him again at a birthday party for Dean’s friend Logan, he said about ten words to me—and I’m pretty sure half those words were hello, how are you, and goodbye. He’s exasperating. Not that I expect every male in my vicinity to fall at my feet, but I know he’s attracted to me. I’ve noticed the way his brown eyes smolder when he looks at me. They frigging smolder. Unless I’m just seeing what I want to see. My dad has this super-pompous saying: perception and reality are vastly disparate. The truth is usually found somewhere in between. Dad used that line in his closing arguments for a murder trial once, and now he busts it out any time it’s even remotely applicable to a situation. If the truth lies somewhere between Colin Fitzgerald’s outward aloofness toward me (he hates me), and the heat I see in his eyes (his fiery passion for me), then… I guess split the difference and say he views me as a friend? I purse my lips. No. Absolutely not. I refuse to be friend-zoned before I’ve even made a move. “It’ll be a good time,” Dean is saying. “Besides, it’s been ages since we were in the same place on New Year’s Eve. So get your butt to New York and text when you’re here. I’m at the drycleaner’s now. Gotta go. Love you.” He hangs up, and I’m smiling so broadly it’s hard to imagine I was in tears five minutes ago. Dean might be a pain in the ass most of the time, but he’s a good big brother. He’s there for me when I need him, and that’s all that really matters. And—praise the Lord!—now I have a party to go to. There’s nothing better than a party after a shitty day. I need this badly. I check the time. It’s one p.m. I quickly do some mental math. The Briar campus is about an hour away from Boston. From there it’s a three-and-a-half, four-hour drive to Manhattan. That means I won’t arrive in the city until the evening, which won’t leave me much time to get ready. If I’m seeing my unicorn tonight, I plan on dolling myself up from my head down to my toes. That boy isn’t going to know what hit him. 2 Fitz “Dance with me?” I want to say no. But I also want to say yes. I call this the Summer Dilemma—the frustrating, polar reactions this green-eyed, golden-haired goddess sparks in me. Fuck yes and hell no. Get naked with her. Run far, far away from her. “Thanks, but I don’t like to dance.” I’m not lying. Dancing’s the worst. Besides, when it comes to Summer Di Laurentis, my flight instinct always wins out. “You’re no fun, Fitzy.” She makes a tsking noise, drawing my gaze to her lips. Full, pink, and glossy, with a tiny mole above the left side of her mouth. It’s an extremely hot mouth. Hell, everything about Summer is hot. She’s hands down the best-looking girl in the bar, and every dude in our vicinity is either staring enviously or glowering at me for being with her. Not that I’m with her. We’re not together. I’m just standing next to her, with two feet of space between us. Which Summer keeps trying to bridge by leaning closer to me. In her defense, she practically has to scream in my ear for me to hear her over the electronic dance music blasting through the room. I hate EDM, and I don’t like these kinds of bars, the ones with a dance floor and deafening music. Why the subterfuge? Just call your establishment a nightclub, if that’s what you want it to be. The owner of Gunner’s Pub should’ve called this place Gunner’s Club. Then I could’ve turned right around when I saw the sign and spared myself the shattered eardrums. Not for the first time tonight, I curse my friends for dragging me to Brooklyn for New Year’s Eve. I’d way rather be at home, drinking a beer or two and watching the ball drop on TV. I’m low-key like that. “You know, they warned me you were a curmudgeon, but I didn’t believe it until now.” “Who’s they?” I ask suspiciously. “And hey, wait. I’m not a curmudgeon.” “Hmmm, you’re right—the term is kind of dated. Let’s go with Groucho.” “Let’s not.” “No-Fun Police? Is that better?” Her expression is pure innocence. “Seriously, Fitz, what do you have against fun?” An unwitting smile breaks free. “Got nothing against fun.” “All right. Then what do you have against me?” she challenges. “Because every time I try talking to you, you run away.” My smile fades. I shouldn’t be surprised that she’s calling me out in public. We’ve had a whopping total of two encounters, but that’s plenty of time for me to know she’s the type who thrives on drama. I hate drama. “Got nothing against you, either.” With a shrug, I ease away from the bar, prepared to do what she’s just accused me of—run. A frustrated gleam fills her eyes. They’re big and green, the same shade as her older brother Dean’s eyes. And Dean’s the reason I force myself to stay put. He’s a good friend of mine. I can’t be a jackass to his sister, both out of respect for him, and for fear of my well-being. I’ve been on the ice when Dean’s gloves come off. He’s got a mean right hook. “I mean it,” I say roughly. “I have nothing against you. We’re cool.” “What? I didn’t hear the last part,” she says over the music. I dip my mouth toward her ear, and I’m surprised that I barely have to bend my neck. She’s taller than the average chick, five-nine or ten, and since I’m six-two and used to towering over women, I find this refreshing. “I said we’re cool,” I repeat, but I misjudged the distance between my lips and Summer’s ear. The two collide, and I feel a shiver run up her frame. I shiver too, because my mouth is way too close to hers. She smells like heaven, some fascinating combo of flowers and jasmine and vanilla and—sandalwood, maybe? A man could get high on that fragrance. And don’t get me started on her dress. White, strapless, short. So short it barely grazes her lower thighs. God fucking help me. I quickly straighten up before I do something stupid, like kiss her. Instead, I take a huge gulp of my beer. Only it goes down the wrong pipe, and I start coughing like it’s the eighteenth century and I’m a tuberculosis patient. Smooth move. “You okay?” When the coughing fit subsides, I find those green eyes dancing at me. Her lips are curved in a devilish smile. She knows exactly what got me flustered. “Fine,” I croak, just as three very plastered guys lumber up to the bar and bump into Summer. She stumbles, and the next thing I know there’s a gorgeous, sweet-smelling woman in my arms. She laughs and grabs my hand. “C’mon, let’s get out of this crowd before it leaves bruises.” For some reason, I let her lead me away. We end up at a high table near the railing that separates the bar’s main room from the small, shitty dance floor. A quick look around reveals that most of my friends are drunk off their asses. Mike Hollis, my roommate, is grinding up on a cute brunette who doesn’t seem to mind in the slightest. He’s the one who insisted we make the drive to Brooklyn instead of staying in the Boston area. He wanted to spend New Year’s with his older brother Brody, who disappeared the moment we got here. I guess the girl is Hollis’ consolation prize for getting ditched by his brother. Our other roommate, Hunter, is dancing with three girls. Yup, three. They’re all but licking his face off, and I’m pretty sure one has a hand down his pants. Hunter, of course, is loving it. What a difference a year makes. Last season he was uneasy about all the female attention, said it made him feel a bit sleazy. Now, it appears he’s perfectly cool taking advantage of the perks that come with playing hockey for Briar University. And trust me, there’re plenty of perks. Let’s get real—athletes are the most fuckable guys on most college campuses. If you’re at a football school, chances are there’s a line of jersey chasers begging to blow the quarterback. Basketball school? The groupie pool doubles and triples in size when March Madness comes around. And at Briar, with a hockey team that has a dozen Frozen Four championships under its belt and more nationally televised games than any other college in the country? The hockey players are gods. Except for me, that is. I play hockey, yes. I’m good at it, definitely. But “god” and “jock” and “superstar” are terms I’ve never been comfortable with. Deep down, I’m a huge nerd. A nerd masquerading as a god. “Hunter’s got game.” Summer is studying Hunter’s entourage. The DJ has switched the beats from electronic garbage to Top 40 hits. Blessedly, he’s also turned down the volume, probably in anticipation of the nearing countdown. Thirty more minutes and I can make my escape. “He does,” I agree. “I’m impressed.” “Yeah?” “Definitely. Greenwich boys are usually secret prudes.” I wonder how she knows Hunter is from Connecticut. I don’t think I’ve seen them exchange more than a few words tonight. Maybe Dean told her? Or maybe— Or maybe it doesn’t frickin’ matter how she knows, because if it did matter, then that means the weird prickly sensation in my chest is jealousy. And that, frankly, is unacceptable. Summer does another visual sweep of the crowd and blanches. “Oh my God. Gross.” She cups her hands to create a microphone, shouting, “Keep your tongue in your own mouth, Dicky!” Laughter sputters out of me. No way Dean could’ve heard her, but I guess he possesses some sort of sibling radar, because he abruptly pries his lips off his girlfriend’s. His head swivels in our direction. When he spots Summer, he gives her the finger. She blows a kiss in return. “I’m so glad I’m an only child,” I remark. She grins at me. “Naah, you’re missing out. Tormenting my brothers is one of my favorite pastimes.” “I’ve noticed.” She calls Dean “Dicky,” a childhood nickname that a nicer person would have stopped using years ago. On the other hand, Dean’s nickname for Summer is “Boogers,” so maybe she’s right to torture him. “Dicky deserves to be tormented tonight. I can’t believe we’re partying in Brooklyn,” she grumbles. “When he said we were ringing in the New Year in the city, I assumed he meant Manhattan—but then he and Allie dragged me to horrible Brooklyn instead. I feel duped.” I snicker. “What’s wrong with Brooklyn? Allie’s dad lives around here, doesn’t he?” Summer nods. “They’re spending the day with him tomorrow. And to answer your question—what isn’t wrong with Brooklyn? It used to be cool, before it got overrun by hipsters.” “Hipsters still exist? I thought we were done with that nonsense.” “God, no. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” She mock shudders. “This whole area is still teeming with them.” She says “them” as if they’re carriers for a gruesome, incurable disease. She might have a point, though—a thorough examination of the crowd reveals a large amount of vintage attire, painfully skinny jeans on men, retro accessories paired with shiny new tech, and lots and lots of beards. I rub my own beard, wondering if it places me in the hipster camp. I’ve been rocking the scruff all winter, mostly because it’s good insulation from the bitter weather we’ve been experiencing. Last week we got hit by one of the worst Nor’easters I’ve ever seen. I almost froze my balls off. “They’re so…” She searches for the right word. “Douchey.” I have to laugh. “Not all of them.” “Most of them,” she says. “Like, see that girl over there? With the braids and the bangs? That’s a thousand-dollar Prada cardigan she has on—and she’s paired it with a five-dollar tank she probably got at the Salvation Army, and those weird tasseled shoes they sell in Chinatown. She’s a total fraud.” I furrow my brow. “How do you know the cardigan cost a grand?” “Because I have the same one in gray. Besides, I can pick Prada out of any lineup.” I don’t doubt that. She was probably deposited into a designer onesie the moment she popped out of her mother’s womb. Summer and Dean come from a filthy-rich family. Their parents are successful lawyers who were independently wealthy before they got hitched, so now they’re like a mega-rich super-duo who could probably buy a small country without even making a dent in their bank account. I stayed at their Manhattan penthouse a couple times, and it was goddamn unreal. They also have a mansion in Greenwich, a beach house, and a bunch of other properties around the globe. Me, I can barely make the rent on the townhouse I share with two other dudes. We’re still on the hunt for a fourth roommate, though, so my share will go down once we fill that empty room. I’m not gonna lie—the fact that Summer lives in penthouses and owns clothes that cost thousands of dollars is slightly unsettling. “Anyway, hipsters suck, Fitzy. No thank you. I’d way rather—oooh! I love this song! I had backstage passes to her show at The Garden last June and it was amazing.” The ADHD is strong with this one, my friend. I hide a smile as Summer completely drops her death-to-all-hipsters tirade and starts bobbing her head to a Beyoncé song. Her high ponytail swishes wildly. “Are you sure you don’t want to dance?” she pleads. “Positive.” “You’re the worst. I’ll be right back.” I blink, and she’s no longer beside me. Blink again, and I spot her on the dance floor, arms thrust in the air, ponytail flipping, hips moving to the beat. I’m not the only one watching her. A sea of covetous eyes ripples in the direction of the beautiful girl in the white dress. Summer either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. She dances alone, without an ounce of self-consciousness. She is completely comfortable in her own skin. “Jesus,” Hunter Davenport rasps, coming up to the table. Like most of the men around us, he’s staring at Summer with an expression that could only be described as pure hunger. “Guess she hasn’t forgotten any of those old cheerleading moves.” Hunter slants another appreciative look in Summer’s direction. When he notices my quizzical face, he adds, “She was a cheerleader in high school. Member of the dance team too.” When did he and Summer engage in a conversation long enough for him to learn these tidbits? The uncomfortable prickling sensation returns, this time traveling up my spine. It’s not jealousy, though. “Cheerleading and dance, huh?” I ask lightly. “She tell you that?” “We went to the same prep school,” he reveals. “No shit.” “Yeah. I was a year behind her, but trust me, every hetero guy with a working dick was familiar with Summer Di Laurentis’s cheer routines.” I’ll bet. He claps me on the shoulder. “Gonna hit the head and then grab another drink. Want anything?” “I’m good.” Not sure why, but I’m relieved that Hunter’s not around when Summer returns to the table, her cheeks flushed from exertion. Despite the frigid temperatures outside, she chose not to wear tights or pantyhose, and, as my old man would say, she’s got legs for days. Long, smooth, gorgeous legs that would probably look so hot wrapped around my waist. And the white dress sets off her deep, golden tan, giving her a glowing, healthy vibe that’s almost hypnotizing. “So, you’re…” I clear my throat. “You’re coming to Briar this semester, huh?” I ask, trying to distract myself from her smokin’ body. She gives an enthusiastic nod. “I am!” “Are you going to miss Providence?” I know she spent her freshman and sophomore years at Brown, plus one semester of junior year, which makes up half her college career. If it were me, I’d hate starting over at a new school. But Summer shakes her head. “Not really. I wasn’t a fan of the town, or the school. I only went there because my parents wanted me to attend an Ivy League and I didn’t get into Harvard or Yale, their alma maters.” She shrugs. “Did you want to go to Briar?” “Definitely. I heard phenomenal things about the Fine Arts program. And, obviously, the hockey program is stellar. They offered me a full ride to play, and I get to study something I’m really into, so…” I offer a shrug in return. “That’s so important. Doing what you love, I mean. A lot of people don’t have that opportunity.” Curiosity flickers through me. “What do you love to do?” Her answering grin is self-deprecating. “I’ll let you know when I figure it out.” “Come on, there’s got to be something you’re passionate about.” “Well, I’ve been passionate about stuff—interior design, psychology, ballet, swimming. The problem is, it never sticks. I lose interest quickly. I haven’t found a long-term passion yet, I suppose.” Her candidness surprises me a bit. She seems way more down-to-earth tonight compared to our previous encounters. “I’m thirsty,” she announces. I suppress the urge to roll my eyes, since I’m sure that’s code for go buy me a drink. Only, it’s not. With a naughty smile, she swipes my beer from my hand. Our fingers brush briefly, and I pretend not to notice the spark of heat that races up my arm. I watch as she wraps her fingers around the Bud Light bottle and takes a long sip. She’s got small hands, delicate fingers. It’d be a challenge to draw them, to capture the intriguing combination of fragility and surety. Her fingernails are short, rounded and have those white French tips or whatever you call ‘em, a style that seems way too plain for someone like Summer. I’d expect extra-long talons painted pink or some other pastel. “You’re doing it again.” There’s accusation in her tone. A bit of aggravation too. “Doing what?” “Zoning me out. Curmudgeoning.” “That’s not a word.” “Says who?” She takes another sip of beer. My gaze instantly fixes on her lips. Dammit, I gotta stop this. She’s not my type. The first time I met her, everything about her screamed sorority girl. The designer clothes, the waves and waves of blonde hair, a face that could stop traffic. There’s no way I’m her type, either. I have no idea why she’s spending New Year’s Eve talking to a scruffy, tatted-up goon like me. “Sorry. I’m not very chatty. Don’t take it personally, okay?” I steal my bottle back. “Okay, I won’t. But if you don’t feel like talking, at least entertain me in other ways.” She plants her hands on her hips. “I propose we make out.” 3 Fitz Once again, I choke mid-sip. Oh, sweet Jesus. Did she seriously just say that? I glance over, and she’s got one perfect eyebrow arched, awaiting my response. Yup. She said it. “Uh…you want to, um…” I cough again. “Oh relax!” Summer laughs. “It was a joke.” I narrow my eyes at her. “A joke,” I echo. “So you have zero interest in making out with me?” Hell, why am I challenging her? My dick twitches against my zipper, a warning that I shouldn’t be entertaining the idea of kissing Summer. “I mean, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we did,” she says with a wink. “And it’s always nice to have someone to kiss at midnight. I was mostly joking, though. I just like making you blush.” “I don’t blush,” I object, because I’m a dude, and dudes don’t go around declaring they’re blushers. Summer hoots. “Yes, you do! You’re blushing now.” “Oh really? You can see this supposed blush right through my beard, huh?” I rub my face defiantly. “Uh-huh.” She reaches out and strokes my cheek above the heavy beard growth. “Right. Here.” I gulp. My dick stirs again. I hate how attracted I am to her. “Fitzy,” she whispers in my ear, and my pulse goes careening. “I think we—” “Happy fucking New Year!” Saved by Hollis. My friend lurches toward us and plants a sloppy peck on Summer’s cheek. They’d just met tonight, but she doesn’t seem offended by the kiss, only mildly amused. “You’re about twenty minutes too early with that sentiment,” she informs him. “And you don’t have a drink in your hand!” He fixes her with a disapproving glare. “Why doesn’t she have a drink in her hand? Someone get this beautiful woman a drink!” “I’m not a big drinker,” Summer protests. “Bullshit.” Dean cackles. He’s wandered over, his girlfriend Allie Hayes at his side. “You were off your face when you burned down the sorority house.” “You burned down a sorority house?” asks a familiar voice. Dean spins around. “G!” he crows. “Just under the wire!” “Yeah, we almost didn’t make it,” Garrett Graham says as he strides up to the table. “There was a ten-car pileup on the bridge. Sat there for almost an hour before traffic started moving again.” “Han-Han!” Allie says happily, throwing her arms around Hannah Wells. Hannah is Garrett’s girl, but she also happens to be Allie’s best friend. “I’m so glad you’re here!” “Me too! Happy New Year’s Eve.” “Garrett Eve,” her boyfriend corrects. “Dude,” Hannah retorts, “give it up. I’m not calling it that.” Summer snorts. “Garrett Eve?” Dean rolls his eyes at our old team captain. “Pompous ass.” He glances at Summer. “His birthday is New Year’s Day.” “Garrett Day,” G says automatically, before turning to greet me and Hollis and the other guys from the team who made the trek to Brooklyn. Summer gets a quick hug and a peck on the cheek. “Good to see you, Summertime. You torched a sorority house?” “Oh my God. No. I didn’t torch anything!” She glowers at her brother. “Bro, everyone’s staring at you,” Hollis suddenly says, grinning at Garrett. Hollis is right—several heads have turned in our direction. Most of the people here are too hammered to pay much attention to their surroundings, but some of them have recognized Garrett. He’s in the middle of one of the most explosive rookie seasons in Bruins history, so I’m not surprised he’s attracting attention even outside of Boston. “They’re probably gonna start heckling me soon,” he says glumly. “We lost to the Islanders last night. Final score was five-four.” “Yeah, but you scored a hat trick,” Hannah counters. “Anyone who heckles a player with a hat trick is a stupid moron.” “Can a moron be anything other than stupid?” Dean asks with a grin. “Oh, shut it, Di Laurentis. You know what I mean.” When a few more people start looking and pointing at Garrett, Allie teases, “How does it feel to be famous?” “You tell me,” G jokes back. “Ha. I’m so not famous,” says the person with a role on an HBO show. Allie’s show is actually based on a book I really enjoyed, and although I’m happy that she’s a working actress, I secretly think the book was better. The book is always better. “Stop being so modest!” Summer slings an arm around Allie, who’s almost a head shorter than her. “Guys. I saw her sign four autographs tonight. She’s a star.” “Only half the season has aired so far,” Allie protests. “We might not even get renewed.” “Of course you will,” Dean says, as if it’s not even up for debate. Summer releases Allie and returns to my side, laying a hand on my arm. It’s not a possessive grip by any means, but I don’t miss the way both Garrett and Hunter zoom in on it. Dean doesn’t notice, thank God, because Allie is dragging him away, saying she wants one more dance before the countdown. Beside me, Hollis examines the room with a surprising degree of intensity for a drunk guy. “I gotta decide whose tongue I want in my mouth at midnight,” he announces. “Classy,” Summer says. He leers wolfishly. “You play your cards right, that tongue could be yours.” Her response is to throw her head back and laugh. Luckily, Hollis has an ego made of Kevlar. He shrugs and wanders off, which spurs most of the other guys to scatter. Pierre, our resident French-Canadian, and Matt Anderson, a junior defenseman, head for the bar. Only Garrett and Hannah remain. And Hunter, who’s got a beer in one hand and his phone in the other. He’s taking a video of the crowd for his Snapchat story. “How about you?” Summer asks Hunter. “I saw you dancing with seven different girls tonight. Which one are you going to kiss?” “None of them.” He lowers the phone, his blue eyes dead serious. “I don’t do New Year’s kisses. Chicks always try to find meaning in them that isn’t there.” Summer rolls her eyes so hard I’m surprised she doesn’t pull a muscle. “Right, because all women start planning their weddings after one kiss.” She glances at a laughing Hannah. “Wanna hit the ladies’? I want to touch up my makeup before the countdown. My lip gloss needs to be perfect for when I kiss my future husband at midnight.” She directs another eye roll at Hunter. He winks at her, unfazed. “Better hurry, Blondie. Only sixteen minutes left.” He nods at the huge digital clock hanging over the DJ station. “Be right back.” Hannah gives Garrett a kiss and then follows Summer. “I need a refill,” I tell Garrett. I gesture at his empty hands. “And you need a drink.” He nods, and we leave Hunter at the table and make our way to the bar. We stop at the far end of it where it’s quieter, near the arched doorway leading to the restrooms. I order two beers and hand over some cash. When I turn back, I find Garrett eyeing me. “What?” I say awkwardly. “What’s going on with you and Summer?” “Nothing.” Fuck. Did I answer too fast? “Liar. You answered way too fast.” Goddammit. His tone becomes cautious. “When she got handsy back there…you didn’t seem to mind.” He’s right. I didn’t mind. The last time I saw Summer, I made a conscious effort to keep my distance. Tonight, I let her touch my arm. I shared a drink with her. Honestly, if I liked to dance, I probably would’ve let her drag me onto the floor. “She’s… Well, she’s into me,” I say slowly. Garrett snorts. “No shit, dude. That chick wants to ride your dick.” “I know.” Guilt pricks my throat. I hope I haven’t been leading her on tonight. “Don’t worry,” I assure him. “I won’t go there.” He looks startled. “Why would I be worried?” His eyebrows furrow. “Wait. You might be misunderstanding. I’m not warning you away from her. I think this is a good thing.” A frown touches my lips. “You do?” “Of course. I mean, one—you never hook up.” I swallow a laugh. That’s not true at all. I get lots of action. I just don’t talk about it. “Two—Summer’s cute. She’s fun. Easy to talk to.” He shrugs. “She could be exactly what you need. You’d have to run it by Dean first, though. He thinks she’s a brat, but he’s protective of her.” Run it by Dean? As in, ask Dean for permission to bone down with his little sister? Garrett is frickin’ crazy if— My thought process halts. “You’re talking about more than a casual hook-up here,” I say. “Well, yeah. She’s Dean’s sister. He’d kill you otherwise.” “I’m not dating her, G.” “Why not?” He reaches forward to grab our beers, passing one my way. I twist off the top and take a deep gulp before answering. “Because she’s not my type. We’ve got nothing in common.” “She likes hockey,” he points out. “That’s a start.” “And I think it might end there,” I say dryly. “I design and review video games. I’m into art. I’m covered in ink and I binge-watch crime shows on Netflix. And she’s… I don’t even know.” I scan my brain. “She’s obsessed with shoes, according to Dean. And he insists she has a shopping problem.” “Okay. So she’s into fashion. Some people consider that art.” I snicker. “You’re reaching.” “And you’re judging. She seems like a good girl, Fitz.” “Dude, she got kicked out of Brown for partying too hard. She’s a party girl. She’s in a sorority.” I’m on a roll now, because my dick is still semi-hard and I’m desperately grasping for reasons to not screw Summer. “She’s…fluff,” I finish. “Fluff.” “Yeah, fluff.” I shrug helplessly. “You know, not serious about anything. She’s surface level.” Garrett pauses for a long moment, searching my face. He stares for so long that I fidget with the sleeve of my hoodie, feeling like a specimen under his microscope. I hate that intrusive sensation of eyes boring into me. It’s a scar left over from childhood, a need to blend into the background, to be unseen. I’m two seconds from telling him to cut it out when he starts to laugh. “Oh, I get it. I was wasting my time trying to sell you on her. You were already sold.” His gray eyes light up gleefully. “You have a thing for Dean’s sister.” “Naah,” I say, but it’s a halfhearted denial at best. “Really? ‘Cause it sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself that she’s not right for you.” He grins. “Is it working?” I sigh in defeat. “Kind of? I mean, I’ve managed to keep my hands off her all night.” That gets me a laugh. “Look, Colin—can I call you Colin?” His jaw drops. “I just fucking realized I’ve never called you Colin.” Garrett literally shocks himself into silence, until I let out a growl of impatience. “Sorry,” he says. “That just blew my mind. Anyway. Fitzy. On paper, Wellsy and I don’t seem like we’d work, right? But we do, don’t we?” He has a point. When I first saw them together, I couldn’t make sense of it. Hannah was an artsy music major. Garrett was a smartass jock. They’re opposites in so many ways, and yet they really do click as a couple. But Summer and I… We’re not even on the same piece of paper. From what I’ve seen and what Dean has told me, she’s drama-llama at full force, all the time. She craves the spotlight. I shy away from it. It’s bad enough that our games are televised every Friday night on the local New England network. And the major games make it to ESPN. Makes me cringe to think of strangers watching me skate and shoot and brawl on some huge screen. “All I’m saying is, keep an open mind. Don’t fight it.” He claps me on the shoulder. “Just let it happen.” Let it happen. And, fuck, it absolutely could happen. All I’d have to do is smile in Summer’s direction, and she’d be in my arms. She’s been sending out interested vibes left and right. But… I think what it boils down to is that she’s out of my league. I play hockey. I’m fairly intelligent. I’m good-looking, if we go by my success in the chick department. But at the end of the day, I’m that nerdy kid who would hole up in his bedroom playing video games, trying to pretend his parents weren’t fighting like cats and dogs. In high school I had a brief moment where I tried expanding my horizons. I started hanging with a nihilistic crew who got a charge out of rebelling against any cause. But that came to an abrupt end when they got into a brawl with some kids from a neighboring school, and half the group was arrested for assault. I quickly reverted back to my loner state after that, not just to save my place on the hockey team, but to keep from giving my parents new fighting ammunition. I listened to them scream at each other for two hours about which one was to blame for me running with a “bad crowd.” It was easier just being a loner. Needless to say, I didn’t have girls like Summer throwing themselves at me. And I didn’t party with my teammates after hockey games, so not even the puck bunnies wasted their energy on me. In college, I’ve made more of an effort to be social, but deep down I’m still the guy who wants to remain invisible. Summer is the most visible person I’ve ever met. But Garrett’s right. I’m being a judgmental bastard. She might come off as a bit spoiled and superficial at times, but she deserves a chance. Everyone does. Hannah’s already back at the table when Garrett and I return. “Cutting it close!” she scolds, pointing at the big clock. It’s two minutes to midnight. I frown, because Summer’s not with her. Dammit. Where is she? I’ve decided to take G’s advice and stop fighting it. I’m going to give in, kiss the hell out of her when the clock strikes midnight and see where it goes from there. “One minute to go, boys and girls!” the DJ’s voice thunders. I give the room a visual sweep. Summer’s still nowhere to be found. I want to ask Hannah where she is, but Hannah’s got her arms looped around G’s neck, and they only have eyes for each other. “Thirty seconds!” shouts the DJ. All around me, people are coupling up or gathering with their group of friends. Allie and Dean are already making out. Hollis has reunited with the brunette he was dancing with earlier. Still no Summer. “TEN!” everyone yells. The red numerals on the clock tick down in time with the crowd’s screams. “NINE!” Each passing second brings another jolt of disappointment. “EIGHT! SEVEN!” And then I spot her. Or at least I think it’s her. The strobe lights are going off now, zigzagging over the sea of bodies crammed in the bar. Each burst of light helps me form a clearer picture of the girl against the wall. “SIX! FIVE!” White dress. Red ballet flats. The ponytail. “FOUR! THREE!” It’s definitely Summer. “TWO!” But she’s not alone. “ONE!” I wrench my gaze away the moment Hunter’s mouth hungrily collides with Summer’s perfect lips. “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” 4 Fitz I wake up the next morning without a hangover. That’s what happens when you only drink three beers and are back in your hotel room before one a.m. On New Year’s Eve. Aren’t I the poster boy for good behavior? My phone informs me of a dozen messages and missed calls. Dragging a hand through my messy hair, I roll onto my back and sift through the notifications. My parents each texted at precisely 12:00 a.m. I can just imagine them sitting in their respective houses at 11:59, hands hovering over their phones like they’re preparing to slap the buzzer on Family Feud, each one desperate to be the first to get a message through. They’re so frickin’ competitive. MOM: Happy New Year, sweetie!! Love you so so soooo much! This is going to be the best year ever! YOUR year! Woot woot! Oh dear God. Mothers are not allowed to say “woot woot.” My dad’s text isn’t much better. DAD: Happy New Year. We got this. We got this? Got what? Parents trying to sound cool is a whole other level of secondhand embarrassment. My friends’ messages are more entertaining. HOLLIS: Where da fuck r u?? Patty’s just getting started * * * HOLLIS: *patty * * * HOLLIS: *parting * * * HOLLIS: Party!!!!!! FUCK THIS PHONE * * * GARRETT: Happy New Year!! Where’d u run off to, Colin?? (Still feel weird calling u that) My old teammates Logan and Tucker send their New Year messages to our various group chats. Tuck and Sabrina include a picture of their baby, which prompts about a million heart-eye emojis from our friends. Pierre texts something in French. My teammates blow up our team thread with well-wishes and random videos, grainy and impossible to hear, of the various parties they attended. One teammate’s name is noticeably missing from the group chat and my phone in general. Shocking. No word from Hunter. I bet he was too busy to text anyone last night. Busy, busy, busy. I ignore the sharp clenching in my chest and force all thoughts of Hunter and his busy, busy night out of my head. I continue scrolling through my phone. A girl I knew in high school sends a generic note. For some reason, she still has me in her contacts list, so any time a holiday rolls around I get a message from her. Hollis sends a few more texts that make me chuckle. HOLLIS: Yo. bar’s closing. where u at. assuming getting a bj or sumthin? * * * HOLLIS: after patty at Danny’s house. new buddy. u’ll luv him * * * HOLLIS: OK then * * * HOLLIS: gunna assume u ded * * * HOLLIS: hope ur not ded, tho!!! I <3 u, bro. new year, new us. word. Oh man. Someone needs to confiscate that dude’s phone when he’s wasted. Still laughing, I click on the next message in my inbox. It’s from Dean. My humor fades the moment I read it. DEAN: Happy New Year!! Was hoping to talk to u before u took off. I need a huge favor, bro. * * * DEAN: Are u guys still looking for a 4th roommate? 5 Summer Two Weeks Later The assistant dean is putting on a fake British accent. I’ve been sitting in his office for about seven minutes now, and I’m convinced of it. I want to grill him about where he grew up, but I don’t think Mr. Richmond would appreciate the interruption. He’s clearly receiving way too much enjoyment from this lecture. “…academic probation,” he’s droning. His voice has a weird, raspy croak to it. Like if a frog could talk, that’s how I imagine it would sound. A nickname forms in my head—Asshole Frog. “…zero tolerance policy, given the nature of your previous expulsion…” Or maybe Froghole. That has a better ring to it. “Summer.” He pronounces my name Sum-ah. I try to remember how Gavin used to say it. Gavin is the sexy duke I dated last year when I spent the summer in England. I don’t think their accents are comparable, though. Gavin’s blood runs blue, so he’d have that upper-crust accent only those in line to the throne have. Granted, there are about forty members of the royal family ahead of him in the line of succession, but that’s still a whole other stratosphere above Mr. Richmond. Briar’s assistant dean is no duke. And his first name is Hal, which doesn’t sound very British. Unless it’s short for something? Hallam? Halbert? “Ms. Di Laurentis!” My head snaps up. Froghole’s expression is as sharp as his tone. I’d zoned him out, and he knows it. “I understand that rules of conduct and academic policies aren’t the most exciting subject matter, but you, of all people, should be paying attention to this. The remainder of your college career could depend on it.” “I’m sorry,” I force myself to say. “I don’t mean to be rude or ignore you on purpose. I have, um, attention problems.” He nods, eyes on my file. “ADHD, according to this. Are you on medication for it?” I bristle. I’m not, but that’s none of his frigging business. Right? I make a mental note to ask my parents, who are both lawyers. But I’m fairly certain a student doesn’t have to disclose to the school the medications they’re on. I brush past the question in a way that would make my father proud. “I’m sure your file also mentions my writing issues?” The distraction works. Froghole glances back at the file, shuffling a few pages. “Difficulties with written expression—yes, that tends to be a symptom of ADHD. Your advisor at Brown recommended alternate assessment methods for you if possible. Extra time on tests, extra tutoring, and oral exams to reduce the amount of writing. Are all written assignments a problem for you, or just longer essays?” “Most written work is an issue.” My cheeks are on fire. It’s so frigging embarrassing sitting here talking about how stupid I am. You’re not stupid, Summer. You just learn differently. Mom’s voice floats through my head, reciting the same encouraging words I’ve been hearing my whole life. But although I love my parents dearly, their support doesn’t make it any less humiliating that I can’t organize my thoughts on paper. Hell, I can barely hold on to those thoughts for five seconds before my mind wanders somewhere else. Other people have learning disabilities, I know that. But when your parents and two older brothers all got into Harvard Law and you’re the fashion major who has trouble writing one measly paragraph, it’s a little hard not to feel…less than. “We’ll try to offer the same academic assistance you received at Brown, but not all your professors will be able to accommodate you.” Froghole flips to another paper. “Let’s take a look at your schedule… I suspect you’ll only have to worry about written assignments in History of Fashion, and Fundamentals of Color and Design. The rest of your courses seem to be more hands-on.” I’m unable to hide my relief. Along with the two classes he just named, I’m also taking Textiles, which I’m excited about. Sewing and Tailoring, not as excited for. And an independent study that requires I design a line and debut it at the end-of-semester fashion show. All three are almost entirely practical. I fulfilled most of my degree requirements during my first two years at Brown, the awful ones like Lit and Sociology and Gender Studies. That’s probably why I was always on academic probation there. I barely passed any of those. “But as I mentioned before, there are no strikes here. No second chances. If you cause any trouble, if you can’t meet the minimum academic requirements and maintain your GPA, you will be expelled. Are we clear?” “Crystal,” I mutter. “Brilliant.” Argh. That accent is fake. I’m certain of it. “Hey, Mr. Richmond, if you don’t mind me asking, where exactly in the UK are you from? You kinda sound like my friend Marcus, who’s from—” He interrupts with, “Your attention issues are quite concerning, Summer. You never did say if you were on medication…?” Oh fuck off. We have a stare-off that lasts a couple of seconds. I clench my teeth and ask, “May I go now?” “One last thing,” he says, a snide edge to his voice. I force myself to stay seated. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that your schedule doesn’t list the name of your advisor.” I hadn’t noticed, actually. But, sure enough, there’s a blank space after the academic advisor line. “That’s because I will be looking after you personally.” A rush of anxiety courses through me. What? Is that even legal? Well, I’m sure it’s legal. But…why would the assistant dean serve as the advisor for a fashion major? “It’s not a role I would normally take on. However, given the circumstances under which you were admitted to this university—” “Circumstances?” I cut in, confused. His dark eyes gleam with…I think that might be spite? “I understand that your father and the dean are longtime friends and golf chums—” Definitely spite. “—and I’m quite aware of the numerous donations your family has made to this school. With that said, I’m not a supporter of the I’ll-pat-your-back-you-pat-mine mentality. I believe that admission to this college—to any college—should be granted based on a student’s merit. So…” He shrugs. “I feel it would be prudent to keep an eye on you academically and ensure you’re conducting yourself according to the rules and policies we just went over.” I’m sure my cheeks are redder than tomatoes, and I hope my two-hundred-dollar foundation is doing its job. It is absolutely mortifying knowing my father had to call in a favor with Dean Prescott to get me into Briar after the Brown fiasco. If it were up to me, I’d be done with college for good. But I promised my parents I’d get a degree, and I hate disappointing them. “We’ll meet once a week so I can evaluate your progress and guide you academically.” “Sounds great,” I lie. This time I get to my feet without asking permission. “I have to run now, Mr. Richmond. Why don’t you email me our meeting times and I’ll add those days to my calendar. Thanks so much for all your guidance.” I’m sure he didn’t miss the sarcastic note in that last word—guidance—but I don’t give him a chance to respond. I’m already out the door and waving goodbye to his secretary. Outside, I inhale the chilled air. Normally I adore the winter, and my new campus looks particularly magical covered with a layer of white frost, but I’m too stressed out to enjoy it right now. I can’t believe I’m being forced to have regular contact with Richmond. He was such a jerk. I take another breath, adjust the strap of my Chanel tote, and start walking toward the parking lot behind the administration building. It’s a beautiful brick building, ivy-covered and incredibly old, like pretty much everything else on campus. Briar is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the country. It’s produced a couple of presidents and a ton of politicians, which is impressive, but only in the last decade have they begun to offer cooler, less academic-based courses. Like this Fashion Design program that’s going to give me a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Despite what some people might think, fashion isn’t fluff. I’m not fluff. So take that, Colin Fitzgerald! Bitterness rises in my throat, but I gulp it down because I’m not a bitter person. I have a temper, yes, but my anger usually comes out in a fiery burst and then dissolves almost instantly. I don’t stay mad at people for long—who needs that kind of negative energy in their life? And I certainly don’t hold grudges. Yet it’s been two weeks since New Year’s Eve, and I still can’t let it go. The stupid, thoughtless, mean-spirited comments I overheard at the bar refuse to leave my mind. He called me fluff. He thinks I’m surface level. Forget him. He’s not worth the mental anguish. Right. So what if Fitz thinks I’m superficial? He’s not the first to think that, and he won’t be the last. When you’re a rich girl from Connecticut, people tend to assume you’re a materialistic bitch. Says the materialistic bitch with the silver Audi, an inner voice taunts as I reach my shiny, expensive car. Ugh. Even my own mind is trying to make me feel bad about myself. It was a gift, I remind my traitorous brain. A high school graduation gift from my parents, which makes the car three years old. That’s like a senior citizen in vehicle years. And what was I supposed to do, refuse the present? I’m my dad’s baby girl, his little princess. He’s going to spoil me whether I like it or not. But having a nice car doesn’t make me surface level. Having an interest in fashion and being part of a sorority doesn’t make me surface level. Forget him. I click the key fob to unlock the car door. But I don’t get into the driver’s seat. Something keeps my boots planted to the asphalt. I believe that something is called: oh sweet baby Jesus, I don’t want to go home and see the guy who thinks I’m fluff. It’s hard to believe that two weeks ago I was excited about seeing Fitzy. Now I’m dreading it. My unicorn is no longer a unicorn. He’s a judgmental donkey. I press the lock button. Screw it. Maybe I’ll grab a coffee from the Coffee Hut first. I’m not ready to see him yet. Coward. I quickly unlock the car. I’m not a coward. I’m Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis and I don’t give a flying hoot what Colin Fitzgerald thinks about me. I lock the car. Because clearly I do care what he thinks. I unlock the car. Because I shouldn’t care. Lock. Unlock. Lock. Unlock. “Okay! This looks like fun!” exclaims a highly amused voice. “Let me guess—your ex’s car?” I jump in surprise. I was so focused on the stupid key fob that I didn’t even notice the girl approach me. “What? No. It’s mine.” A pair of dark eyebrows furrow at me. “Really? What’s with the maniacal clicking, then?” I’m equally confused. “Why would it be my ex’s car? What did you think I was doing to it?” “Draining the key battery so he wouldn’t be able to unlock it later. I figured you stole his keys and were looking for a way to screw him.” “Are you kidding? That sounds like the most exhausting payback scheme ever. I’d have to stand out here for hours to drain this thing. If I wanted revenge, I’d just slash a tire or two. Fast and effective.” “Tire slashing? That’s insane and I love it.” She nods in approval, causing her thick chestnut-brown hair to fall over one shoulder. “Anyway. Enjoy whatever the hell it is you’re doing, crazy girl. Later.” The brunette starts to walk off. “Hey,” I call after her. “You need a ride somewhere?” Awesome. I’m offering rides to complete strangers now? The level of dread Fitzy has instilled in me is off the charts. She turns with a laugh. “Thanks, but I’m going to Hastings,” she says, referring to the nearest town. It’s a short drive from campus and also happens to be my destination. “I’m going there too,” I blurt out. It’s a sign—I’m not supposed to go home yet. The universe wants me to give this chick a ride first. She slowly walks back to me, shrewd brown eyes studying me from head to toe. I’m fairly sure I couldn’t appear any more harmless. My hair is thrown up in a messy bun, and I’m wearing a cream-colored pea coat, dark-blue skinny jeans, and brown leather riding boots. I look like I stepped off the pages of a Gap catalogue. “I won’t murder you,” I say helpfully. “If anything, I should be worried about my own safety. Those heels look lethal.” Actually, she looks lethal. She’s got black leggings on, a black coat, and black boots with those deadly four-inch heels. A red knit hat covers her head, with her dark hair streaming out from under it, and she’s wearing bright red lipstick even though it’s only noon. She’s such a badass, and I think I love her. “I’m Summer,” I add. “I transferred here from Brown, and I just moved into a townhouse in Hastings.” She purses her lips for a moment before answering. “I’m Brenna. I live in town too.” She shrugs and marches to the passenger’s side door. “Unlock it for real this time, crazy girl. I’ll take that ride.” 6 Summer “So, not that I’m complaining—trust me, I’m happy not to pay for an Uber or campus taxi—but do you always pick up random chicks in parking lots?” Brenna asks cheerfully. I snort. “No. And FYI, this isn’t a pick-up. I mean, you’re gorgeous, but I like men.” “Ha. I like men too. And even if I did like women, you wouldn’t be my type, Malibu Barbie.” “You’ve got the wrong coast—I’m from Greenwich, Connecticut,” I shoot back, but I’m smiling because I heard the humor in her tone. “And no, I don’t usually invite stranger danger into my life.” I decide to be honest. “I’m doing everything in my power not to go home.” “Oooh. Intriguing. Why’s that?” Brenna shifts in the passenger seat, angling her black-clad body so she’s better able to study me. I can feel her eyes boring into the side of my head. I keep my gaze on the road. It’s two very narrow lanes, and there’s a dusting of snow on the ground, so I’m driving carefully. I already have two fender benders on my record, both of which happened while driving in winter weather, when I didn’t give myself enough room to stop. “I moved in a few days ago,” I tell her. “My roommates have been out of town—they went on a ski trip to Vermont or something. So I’ve had the place to myself. But they texted this morning to say they’re on their way back.” I suppress a nervous shiver. “They might even be there now.” “So? What do we have against the roomies? Are they assholes?” One of them is. “It’s a long story.” Brenna laughs. “We’re strangers who just committed to a car ride together. What else are we going to talk about, the weather? Tell me why you don’t like these chicks.” “Dicks,” I correct. “Huh?” “My roommates are guys. Three guys.” “Oh hell yes. Tell me more. Are they hot?” I can’t help but laugh. “Very hot. But it’s a messed-up situation. I made out with one of them on New Year’s Eve.” “And? I don’t see the problem.” “It was a mistake.” I bite my lip. “I had a crush on one of the other two, but I overheard him talking shit about me, and I was upset, so…” “So you revenge-kissed his roomie. Gotcha.” There’s no judgment in her tone, but I still feel defensive. “It wasn’t a revenge kiss. It was…” I make an aggravated noise. “It was actually a very good kiss.” “But you wouldn’t have done it if you weren’t mad at the other one.” “Probably not,” I admit, slowing down as we approach an intersection with a red light. “What kind of shit was he saying?” she asks curiously. My foot shakes on the brake pedal as I relive the hurt and embarrassment of walking out of the restroom and overhearing Fitzy’s conversation with Garrett at the bar. It wasn’t being called “fluff” that upset me, so much as the fact that he was standing there listing all the reasons why he would never, ever date someone like me. “He told his friend that I’m surface level.” My face heats up. “He thinks I’ve got zero substance, and that I’m a party girl, and he said he’d never go out with me.” “What the fuck.” Brenna smacks her palm on her thigh. “Screw. Him.” “Right?” “Oh my God, and now you have to live with the creep?” Genuine sympathy rings in her voice. “That’s the worst. I’m so sorry.” “Yeah, it sucks. I’m…” Frustration jams in my throat like a wad of gum. “I’m mad, obviously. But I’m also super disappointed in him.” “Jesus, you sound like my father.” She deepens her voice and mimics her dad. “I’m not mad at you, Brenna. I’m just…disappointed. Ugh. I hate that.” “Sorry.” I giggle. “It’s true, though. I am disappointed. I thought he was a nice guy, and I liked him. I was convinced he was going to make a move on me—he was sending out vibes, you know? And I totally would’ve done more than make out with him.” I glance over sheepishly. “That’s huge for me. I don’t ever sleep with someone before I’ve been on a date with them. And even then, it’s usually several dates before I put out.” “Prude,” she cracks. “Hey, I might burn down sorority houses, but I’m an old-fashioned girl at heart.” Brenna hoots in delight. “Okay—we will be circling back to that sorority-house comment, oh trust me, we fucking will. But let’s stay on the topic at hand. So you don’t typically give your flower to a boy until he proves that he’s a prince, but you would’ve gladly offered this jerk your entire lady garden. Except then he revealed his true colors and you hooked up with his friend instead.” “Pretty much.” I flash back to the moment Hunter Davenport stopped me from leaving the bar. I’d been making my way through the crowd toward the exit. Fitzy’s comments to Garrett had been so hurtful, I was actually going to bail on New Year’s Eve. But then I bumped into Hunter, and he said something to make me laugh. I don’t even remember what it was. The next thing I knew, the countdown reached the last second, and Hunter pulled me into his arms and kissed me. It was hot. He was a fabulous kisser and hard as a rock as he ground up against me. I can’t say I regret it, because I really did enjoy it at the time. But at the time, I also hadn’t anticipated I’d end up living with the guy. Dean arranged everything without consulting me first, though in all honesty there’s no scenario in which I wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to move into Dean’s old house. Not only is it a million times better than the dorms, but finding anything else in Hastings would be insanely tough. Maybe a tiny basement apartment, but even those get snatched up fast. Available housing is hard to come by in a town this small. The only downside is that I now have to live with the guy I kissed. And the guy who, at one point, I’d desperately wanted to kiss. And Hollis, but he’s harmless because I haven’t kissed him nor have I ever wanted to. Brenna looks over. “Did y’all—” “Y’all?” I tease. She grins. “My mother was from Georgia. ‘Y’all’ is the only piece of the South I inherited from her.” “Was?” The mood sobers slightly. “She passed away when I was seven.” “I’m sorry. That must have been rough.” My life would literally be in shambles if I didn’t have my mom. She’s my rock. “It was.” Brenna quickly switches the topic back. “Anyway. Did y’all know you’d be living together before New Year’s?” “No way. I wouldn’t have done anything—with either one of them—if I’d known. That’s setting myself up for a whole lot of awkward. It’s already going to be an adjustment living with three boys after spending two and a half years in a sorority house full of girls.” “Okay, but obviously the boys don’t think it’s awkward, otherwise they wouldn’t have agreed to let you move in. They all agreed to it, right?” “Right.” Although, I’d actually only spoken to Mike Hollis, and exchanged a few texts with Hunter, who, blessedly, didn’t bring up our make-out session. “I’ve been in contact with two of them. No contact with Fitz, though.” From the corner of my eye, I see Brenna’s head whip in my direction. “Did you say Fitz?” Uh-oh. Panic tugs at my stomach. Does she know him? I guess it’s not inconceivable that she might. Fitz isn’t exactly the most common of nicknames. Luckily, I’m presented with the perfect opportunity to change the subject, because we’ve just reached Hastings’ idyllic Main Street. “I can’t get over how cute this town is,” I chirp, avoiding Brenna’s gaze by focusing on the shops and restaurants lining the street. “Oh, cool! I didn’t know there was a movie theater.” It’s a lie. Of course I knew. It took me all of five minutes to explore Hastings and its “attractions.” “It doesn’t offer a great selection. Only three screens.” She points to a storefront just past the town square. “I’m meeting my friends at Della’s Diner. It’s right up there.” I haven’t been to Della’s yet, but I plan to. Apparently, it’s a ’50s-themed place where the waitresses wear old-fashioned uniforms. I heard they serve a gazillion different kinds of pie. “The guy who was trash-talking you—his name is Fitz?” Dammit. I was hoping I’d succeeded in distracting her. But she’s back on the scent. “Yes,” I admit. “It’s a nickname, though.” “Short for Fitzgerald? First name Colin?” Shit. I narrow my eyes at her. “You’re not an ex of his or something, are you?” “No. But we’re friends. Well, friendly. Fitzy’s a hard guy to be friends with.” “Why’s that?” “Mysterious, the strong, silent type, et cetera et cetera.” She pauses for a beat. “He’s also not someone I could ever see talking trash about a girl. Or anyone, for that matter.” My jaw tightens. “I’m not making it up, if that’s what you’re implying.” “Didn’t think you were,” she says lightly. “I can spot a liar from a mile away, and you sound genuinely beat up about this. I don’t think you would’ve made out with the other one if—oh man, is Davenport the other one? Hunter Davenport, right? He’s the one you hooked up with?” I’ve never felt more uncomfortable in my life. I grit my teeth as I pull up in front of the diner, stopping at the curb without killing the engine. “Here we are.” Brenna completely ignores the fact that we’ve arrived. It’s like she’s talking to herself. “Yeah, of course it was Hunter. I can’t see you hooking up with Hollis—he’s so annoying. He’d probably be whispering the douchiest things the whole time.” I sigh. “So you know Hunter and Hollis too?” She rolls her eyes. “I know all of them. My dad’s Chad Jensen.” I blank on the name. “Who?” “The head coach of the men’s hockey team? I’m Brenna Jensen.” “Coach Jensen is your father?” “Yup. He’s—” Her jaw opens in outrage. “Wait a minute—did you say they were skiing this week? Those assholes! They’re not allowed to be doing that in the middle of the season. My dad will kill them if he finds out.” Dammit, that’s totally on me. I hadn’t expected Brenna to know who I was talking about when I mentioned the ski trip. “He’s not going to find out,” I say firmly. “Because you’re not going to say anything.” “I won’t,” she assures me, but her tone is absentminded. She’s busy staring at me again, this time in complete bewilderment. “I don’t get it. How on earth did a sorority girl from Brown end up moving in with three hockey players? Who, by the way, are eligible bachelors with a capital B. Every puck bunny in a fifty-mile radius is in serious pursuit of a Briar hockey player, ‘cause so many of them end up in the NHL.” “They’re friends with my older brother. He played hockey here last year.” “Who’s your brother?” she demands. “Dean Heyward-Di Lau—” “Laurentis,” she finishes with a gasp. “Oh my God, I totally see the resemblance now. You’re Dean’s sister.” I nod uneasily. I hope to hell she’s not one of Dean’s former hook-ups. He was a major player before he fell for Allie. I don’t even want to know how many broken hearts he left in his manwhore wake. Brenna blanches as if she’s read my mind. “Oh, no. Don’t worry. I never went out with him. I didn’t even go to Briar before this year.” “You didn’t?” “No. I did two years of community college in New Hampshire,” she explains. “Transferred here in September. I’m a junior, but technically a freshman since it’s my first year.” She suddenly jerks in her seat as if her purse just bit her. “Hold on. Phone’s vibrating.” I wait impatiently as she checks her phone. I need more details from this chick—ASAP. What are the chances that of all the random strangers I could’ve offered a ride to, I picked the daughter of Fitzy’s hockey coach? And this might be her first year at Briar, but clearly she knows a lot about her father’s players, including my brother, who she hasn’t even met. Brenna types out a quick text. “Sorry. My friends are demanding to know where I am. I should get going.” I glare at her. “Are you for real? You can’t just drop the coach’s-daughter bomb on me and then leave. I want every last bit of information you have on these guys.” She grins. “Well, duh. Clearly we need to hang out again. I’d invite you to have lunch with us right now, but I’m not an enabler.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “It means you need to go home and face your roommates. Get the big awkward confrontation out of the way.” She plucks my phone out of its dashboard stand. “I’m texting myself from your phone so you have my number. Come to the game with me tomorrow night?” “Game?” “Briar’s playing Harvard. My dad expects me to be at all the home games and any away games that are within an hour’s drive of campus.” “Seriously? What if you have other plans?” “Then he cuts off my allowance.” “Are you—” “Fucking with you? Yes.” She shrugs. “If I’m busy, I don’t go. If I’m not busy, I go. He doesn’t ask much of me, and I love hockey and cute boys, so it’s not exactly a hardship on my part.” “Good point.” Her phone buzzes again—this time from the text she’s just sent from mine. “There. We’re in each other’s phones. We’ll start planning the wedding next week.” I snicker. “Thanks for the lift.” She hops out of the car and starts to close the door, but then abruptly pokes her head back in. “Hey, whose jersey should I wear tomorrow night? Fitzy’s or Davenport’s?” She blinks innocently. With a scowl, I flip up my middle finger. “Not funny.” “That was hilarious and you know it. See you tomorrow, crazy girl.” I watch enviously as she dashes into the diner. I’d love to be having lunch and eating pie right now. But Brenna’s right—I can’t keep putting it off. It’s time to go home. 7 Fitz There’s a shiny Audi in the driveway when we pull up. My shoulders tighten, and I hope Hunter doesn’t notice the reaction. I don’t glance at the driver’s seat to gauge his reaction, because I’m sure he’s thrilled to see Summer’s car. At least I assume it’s Summer’s. I stowed my beat-up Honda in the one-car garage before we left for Vermont, so there’s nowhere else she could’ve parked. Besides, it’s a fucking Audi. Hunter parks the Land Rover behind the silver car and addresses us in a stern voice. “This stays between us.” “Obvs.” Hollis yawns loudly and unbuckles his seatbelt. He slept like a rock in the backseat the entire drive home. “I’m not joking. If this gets back to Coach…” “It won’t,” Hollis assures him. “This trip didn’t happen. Right, Fitz?” I nod grimly. “Didn’t happen.” “Good. But let’s go over our story in case he asks at practice tomorrow?” Hunter kills the engine. “We were in New Hampshire with Mike’s folks. We chilled by the fire, sat in the hot tub, played Monopoly.” “I won,” Hollis pipes up. I roll my eyes. Of course he has to be the winner of this fictional Monopoly game. “Naah, I won,” I say smugly. “I bought Boardwalk and put eight hotels on it.” “Screw that. I owned Boardwalk.” “Nobody owned Boardwalk,” Hunter grumbles. “We didn’t play Monopoly.” He’s right. We were skiing, aka the stupidest thing we could ever do, seeing as how we’re midseason. But Hollis, Hunter, and I are not exactly the best influences on each other. We all grew up on the East Coast and love winter sports, so when Hollis suggested a secret ski trip over break, it sounded like too much fun to miss out on. Coach will be livid if he finds out, though. As hockey players, we can’t do anything that might jeopardize our bodies or our season. A drunken ski weekend in Vermont? Cardinal sin. But sometimes you’ve got to prioritize fun, right? And no, I didn’t agree to the trip just to delay seeing Summer. Because that’s pitiful and stupid, and I’m neither pitiful nor stupid. So what if she hooked up with Hunter? She’s not my type, anyway. And now I get to pay less rent. Win-win. “Okay, so we’ve got the story straight? New Hampshire. Fire, hot tub, Monopoly, hot chocolate.” “Hot chocolate?!” Hollis screams. “What the hell! You’re throwing a whole new plot twist into this. I don’t know if I’ll be able to remember.” I start laughing. Hunter shakes his head at us. “You guys have been playing for Jensen a whole year longer than me—you of all people should know what’ll happen if he finds out we were partying this weekend. The skiing’s bad enough. The booze and weed might be worse in his book.” Hollis and I sober up. He’s got a point. The last time a player was caught partying, he was kicked off the team. That player happened to be Dean, who took some molly at a party and then failed a piss test the next day. Not that we did anything like MDMA this weekend. Just a few beers, one joint, and a bunch of tricks on the slopes that we probably—fine, that we absolutely shouldn’t have tried. “Let’s go in. Can’t keep our new roomie waiting.” Hollis is downright gleeful, his grin eating up his entire face. Hunter gives him a dark look as he hops out of the Rover. “Hands off.” “No way. You can’t call dibs.” “First of all, she’s not a piece of meat. She’s our roommate.” Hunter flicks up one eyebrow. “But if we are calling dibs, I’m pretty sure mine was implied when I had my tongue in her mouth.” My teeth clench of their own volition. “True.” Hollis sighs in defeat. “I’ll back off.” The muscles in my jaw relax as I snicker. He says that as if he ever stood a chance. Hollis is a good-looking guy, but he’s a total bro, not to mention obnoxious. A girl like Summer would never go for him. “Thank you,” Hunter mocks. “That’s so generous of you, Mike. Truly, I’m touched.” “I’m a good friend,” Hollis agrees. As we trudge up the front stoop, there’s no mistaking the glint of anticipation in Hunter’s eyes, which is to be expected. I saw his face when Dean called and said Summer needed a place to live. It was obvious he couldn’t wait for a repeat performance of New Year’s Eve. Since I’ve got a practical head on my shoulders, I swallowed my feelings on the matter and warned Hunter that whatever happens with him and Summer, it can’t affect our living arrangements because her name is on the lease now. He assured us it wouldn’t. As if he’s already sure something will happen between them. Whatever. I don’t care if it does. Let them hook up. I’ve got better things to focus on. I sling my duffel over my shoulder and wait for Hollis to unlock the front door. Inside, I drop the bag with a thud and kick off my boots. The others do the same. “Honey, we’re home!” Hollis shouts. Laughter echoes from upstairs. My pulse speeds up when her footsteps approach the landing. She appears at the railing in fleece pants and a Briar sweatshirt, her hair up in a messy twist. Hollis’ eyes glaze over. There’s nothing indecent about Summer’s outfit, but this girl could make a burlap sack look sexy. “Hey. Welcome home!” she says cheerfully. “Hey,” I call up to her. My voice sounds strained. Hunter shrugs out of his coat and tosses it on the hook. “Blondie,” he drawls. “Glad you’re here.” Hollis nods. “For real.” “Aw, thanks. I’m glad to be here.” “Hold on. You need a proper hello.” Grinning, Hunter bounds up the stairs. Her cheeks go a little pink as he draws her into his arms for a hug. I wrench my gaze away and pretend to be really focused with the task of hanging up my jacket. I don’t know if he kisses her or not, but Summer is still blushing when I force myself to turn back. “Gonna get changed,” Hunter says. He ducks into his room, and Hollis wanders off to the kitchen. Which means Summer and I are alone when I reach the second-floor landing. She watches me warily. “Did you guys have a good time?” I nod. “Cool.” She edges toward her open bedroom door. I peer past her slender shoulder and spot a perfectly made bed with a white duvet and about a hundred throw pillows. There’s a neon-pink beanbag chair on the floor, along with a shaggy white rug. An open laptop sits on a small corner desk that wasn’t there when Dean inhabited the room. She’s made herself at home. This is her home, a voice reminds me. “Thanks for letting me—” She corrects herself. “—for agreeing to have me as a roommate.” I shrug. “No prob. We needed a fourth.” She’s still inching away, as if she doesn’t want to be near me. I wonder if she’s remembering how she practically threw herself at me on New Year’s Eve and then ended up playing tonsil hockey with my teammate. Not that I’m bitter or anything. “Anyway…” She trails off. “Yeah. I…” I start traveling backward too. “I’m gonna grab a shower. We got one last run in—ah, round of Monopoly,” I amend, “before we left and I’m all sweaty.” Summer raises her eyebrows. “I didn’t realize Monopoly was so strenuous.” Hunter snickers from his doorway. I turn to glare at him, because he’s the one who came up with the Monopoly alibi in the first place, but he’s not there. He’s moved past the doorway as he shrugs into a shirt. “Board games are intense,” I answer lamely. “At least the way we play ‘em.” “Interesting. I can’t wait for roomie game night, then.” Her shoulder bumps the door as her backward journey ends. “Enjoy your shower, Fitz.” She disappears into her bedroom, and I lumber into mine. When my phone buzzes, I almost fall over with relief. I need the distraction before I start thinking too hard about how fucking awkward that whole encounter was. The text on the screen makes me grin. Still stuck at the 3rd gate! I fckn hate u, bro. Rather than text back, I call my buddy. Morris is a fellow gamer, a good friend, and currently demo’ing the role-playing game I spent the past two years designing. “Yo!” Morris answers immediately. “How do I get into the City of Steel, dammit?” I snicker. “Like I’m going to tell you.” “But I’ve been stuck here since last night.” “I literally sent you the link last night. The fact that you’ve already made it to the city is wicked impressive.” I shake my head. “I haven’t checked the message boards today, but last I saw, none of the other betas were even close to passing the village level.” “Well, yeah. That’s because I’m superior to them in every way. I’m the only one whose opinion matters.” “And your opinion so far?” “This game is boss.” Excitement gathers inside me. I love hearing that, especially from a dedicated gamer like Morris, whose Twitch stream earns him a shit ton of money. Yup, people actually subscribe to watch him play video games online. He’s that good, not to mention incredibly entertaining as he livestreams his virtual adventures. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m a bit of a legend too. Not from livestreaming, but reviewing. Up until this year, I reviewed games for the college blog, as well as other hugely popular gaming sites on the web. But I stopped reviewing because it was a time suck, and I needed to concentrate on my own game. Legion 48 isn’t the most complex of RPGs; it’s not multiplayer and it follows a very scripted storyline rather than an open-world concept. With my schedule, it’s hard enough to find time to play video games, let alone design them. But I’m in the process of applying for jobs at several game-development companies, and I needed to give them a taste of what I’m capable of in terms of design techniques. Legion 48 might not be Skyrim or GTA, but all I need it to do is show these studios I’m not a total hack. My greatest strength, I think, is that I did all the artwork myself along with the computer coding required to make the game functional. All of the art started out as rough sketches, was then drawn digitally, then turned into 3D assets. I can’t even calculate how much time I spent on it, and that was nowhere close to how long it took to code the damn thing. “Run into any bugs yet?” I ask Morris. “Nothing major. When you speak to the dragon in the cave, the dialogue freezes up and then jumps to the next bit.” All right. Easy fix. A relief, because it took hours upon hours to refine and hammer out all the pesky bugs in the alpha stage. For nearly a year, the game was barely playable. The first round of beta testing shed light on more bugs I’d missed. Somehow, despite my grueling schedule, I debugged the game enough to make it fully functional and ready for this second and final round of beta testing. This time, dozens of gamers are playing, including many of my college friends. “Hasn’t crashed yet,” he adds helpfully. “Yet? Don’t jinx it, man. I’ve sent this thing to half a dozen studios. If it crashes on them…” “Hasn’t crashed, period,” Morris corrects. “Won’t crash, ever. Now tell me how to open the third gate.” “Nope.” “But I’m dying to see the City of Steel. Is there an oracle I’m supposed to talk to? Why can’t I find this key?” “Guess you’re not as good as you think you are.” “Oh, fuck off. Fine. Whatever. I’m gonna beat this thing and then call you to gloat.” “You do that.” I grin to myself. “I’ll find you online later. Jumping in the shower now.” “Cool. Ciao.” I strip out of my clothes and head for the bathroom, a spring to my step. Morris’s enthusiasm for Legion 48 managed to ease the tension plaguing my body. But my muscles tense up again at the sound of Summer’s laughter in the hall. I gaze at my reflection in the mirror, noting the frustration in my eyes, the rigid set of my jaw. The harsh expression seems even harsher when paired with my tattoos—the two full sleeves covering my arms, and the chest piece that’s done only in black. The piece is a bit faded now, though that almost gives it a cooler vibe. Not that I got tatted up because it’s cool. I’m an artist. I designed all the tats myself, and whatever I can use as a canvas, I’ll use. Including my own skin. But when my face is surly, and my beard is growing out, and I’m brooding in front of the mirror, all the ink just makes me look like a thug. If I’m being honest, “thug” is kind of what I was going for during my brief high school rebellion. I got my first tat—the dragon on my left arm—when I was hanging with the dudes whose go-to solution for solving problems involved their fists. Or brass knuckles. Don’t get me wrong—they didn’t pressure me to get inked. They just knew of a parlor that tattooed minors without their parents’ permission. Because, truthfully, the first time was essentially a fuck-you to my folks. My sophomore art class had just put on an end-of-year exhibition, where Mom and Dad spent the whole time sniping at each other instead of supporting their kid. They walked right past my paintings, too busy arguing to notice my work. So fifteen-year-old Colin, badass that he was, decided, Fine. You guys are too busy fighting to appreciate my art, so I’ll put it right where you can see it. These days, I do view the tats as an extension of my art, but I can’t deny it didn’t start out that way. My shoulders tighten when I hear the low murmur of Hunter’s voice. Followed by another laugh from Summer. Guess he’s picking up right where he left off. 8 Summer That wasn’t too bad. I managed to exchange several cordial sentences with Fitz without smacking him in his dumb face. Gold star for me! Except then take away my gold star and replace it with three rotten bananas because of the way my vagina responded to that dumb face. It tingled. Stupid vagina. I hate that I still find him attractive after all the hurtful comments he made about me. A knock on the door spares me from what probably would’ve been a solid hour of overthinking. Hunter saunters into the room and throws his lean, muscular body onto my bed. “I need a nap.” My mouth quirks in a wry smile. “Sure, go ahead and make yourself at home.” “Aw, thanks, Blondie.” He winks, and proceeds to get even more comfortable by sprawling on his back and propping his arms behind his head. Um, two tickets to the gun show, please. His arms are incredible. He’s changed into a wife beater that shows off defined biceps and broad shoulders. And his sweatpants ride low enough on his hips that I can see the smooth, tanned stretch of man vee. It’s just as tantalizing as the gun show. Hunter is hot and he knows it. His lips curve when he notices me checking him out. Ugh, those lips. I still remember how they’d felt pressed against mine. He was a good kisser. Not too aggressive, not too eager, the perfect amount of tongue. I wonder how Fitzy kisses. Like a jerk, Summer, my inner Selena Gomez says firmly. He kisses like a jerk. Right. Because he’s a jerk. “Why are you in my room, Hunter?” I ask, leaning a hip against my desk. “Figured we should tackle the Big Talk right out of the gate.” I sigh ruefully. “Good idea.” “A’ight. Let’s do it.” I graciously gesture toward him. “Men first.” He snorts. “Coward.” Laughing, I hop up and sit on the desk. “Honestly? I don’t even know what to say. We made out. It wasn’t a big deal.” His dark eyes zero in on my bare legs, which are dangling over the edge of the desk. It’s obvious he likes what he sees, because his gaze turns molten. He reminds me a bit of Dean’s friend Logan, and not just because they look similar with their dark hair and hard bodies. Logan radiates sexual energy. I don’t know how to describe it, but there’s just something so raw and dirty about him. Hunter gives off that same vibe, and I can’t deny it affects me. But just because we find each other attractive doesn’t mean we have to do anything about it. “I know we texted a few times after that night, but I felt like there was more to talk about. You never really told me what it—” He stops abruptly. I wrinkle my forehead. “I never told you what?” He sits up and drags a hand over his scalp. He’s buzzed his hair since I last saw him, but it’s still long enough to rake his fingers through. “I was about to ask you what it meant.” He stares at me in horror. “I’ve become my worst nightmare.” I burst out laughing. “Oh, honey. It’s okay—lots of men try to find meaning in New Year’s kisses.” I give him a pointed look. He groans. “Don’t rub it in, Blondie.” “Sorry, I had to. You were so cocky that night, acting like any girl you kissed at midnight would demand to have your babies.” I stick out my tongue. “Well, who’s the one who wants to have my babies? You!” His shoulders shake with laughter. I slide off the desk. “Tables have turned,” I say in a singsong voice. Hunter gets to his feet. He’s taller than I remember, standing at well over six feet. Same with Fitz, but I suppose most hockey players have the height advantage. There’s one guy on the Briar team who’s five-nine, though. I think his name is Wilkins. One time I heard Dean raving about how tough he is considering his size. “Don’t worry,” Hunter says. “I’m not thinking about babies just yet.” “No? What are you thinking about, then?” He doesn’t respond. Those dark eyes lower to my chest before flicking back to my face. I’m not wearing a bra. He definitely noticed. And I’m definitely noticing that his sweatpants seem a bit tighter in the crotch area than they were two minutes ago. When he notices me noticing, he coughs and angles his body slightly. A sigh flutters out of my throat. “You’re not going to make this weird, are you?” Two ridiculously adorable dimples cut into his chiseled cheeks. “Define weird.” “I don’t know. Be awkward? Tiptoe around me?” He takes another step toward me. “Does it look like I’m tiptoeing?” he drawls. My heart beats faster. Damn, he’s smooth. “Okay. Then are you going to get all lovesick? Write poetry about me and cook me breakfast?” “Poetry isn’t my style. And I can’t cook for shit.” He edges closer, until our faces are inches apart. “I’m happy to make you coffee in the morning, though.” “I don’t drink coffee,” I say smugly. His answering chuckle brings out his dimples again. “I can already tell you’re going to make this hard for me, eh?” “This?” I echo warily. “And what exactly is this?” He slants his head, contemplating for a beat. “I don’t know yet,” he admits. His breath tickles my ear as he leans in to murmur into it. “But I’m kind of excited to find out.” Hunter’s fingertips lightly graze my bare arm. Then, before I can blink, he’s sliding out the door. My new neighborhood is a vow-of-silence convent compared to the Kappa house at Brown. At one in the morning, the only sound beyond my bedroom window is the occasional cricket. No car engines, no music, no shrieky drunken sorority girls or loud-mouthed frat boys egging each other on during a rowdy game of beer pong. I have to admit, I find it unsettling. Silence is not my friend. Silence forces you to examine your own mind. To face the thoughts you pushed aside during the day or the worries you hoped would go away, the secrets you tried to keep. I’m not a fan of my own thoughts. They tend to be a jumble of insecurity, mixed with self-doubt, a splash of inner critic, and a sprinkling of misplaced over-confidence. It’s a fucked-up place, my mind. I roll over and groan into my pillow. The muffled noise is like a blast of gunfire in the eerily quiet room. I can’t sleep. I’ve been tossing and turning since eleven thirty and it’s really starting to tick me off. I slept just fine when the guys were in Vermont. I don’t get why their presence ought to change that. Trying to force sleep is pointless, so I kick the comforter off and stumble out of bed. Screw it. I’m getting something to eat. Maybe it’ll send me into a food coma afterward. Since I sleep in nothing but panties, I grab the first item of clothing I find. It happens to be a thin white T-shirt that shows the outline of my nipples and barely covers my thighs. I slip it on anyway, because I doubt my roomies will be awake to see it. Hunter said they have a six a.m. practice. But I’m wrong. One roomie is very much awake. Fitzy and I both release startled noises when our gazes collide in the kitchen. “Shit,” I curse. “You scared me.” “Sorry. And ditto.” He’s sitting at the table, long legs resting on the chair beside him, a sketchpad in his lap. Oh, and he’s shirtless. As in, not wearing a shirt. I can’t even. I wrestle my gaze off his bare chest, but it’s too late. Every detail has already been branded in my brain. The full-sleeve tats covering his arms. The black swirl of ink that stretches along his collarbone and stops just above his heavy pecs. His abs are so chiseled it looks like someone drew them on with a contouring brush. Like Hunter, he’s all muscle and no fat, but while Hunter’s chest triggered appreciation and some tingles, Fitz unleashes a flurry of shivers and a tight clench of need. I want to put my mouth on him. I want to trace every line and curve of his tats with my tongue. I want to grab his sketchpad and whip it aside so I could be the one in his lap. Preferably with my lips glued to his and my hand wrapped around his dick. God help me. I don’t get it. He’s not my usual type at all. I’ve been surrounded by prep school boys my whole life, and that’s what I’m typically drawn to—polo shirts, clean-shaven faces, and million-dollar smiles. Not tattoos and scruff. “Can’t sleep?” he says lightly. “No,” I admit. I open the fridge and scan the contents for something appetizing. “How about you?” “I should’ve turned in about an hour ago, but I wanted to finish this sketch before bed ‘cause I won’t have time to do it tomorrow.” I settle on some yogurt and granola, glancing over at Fitz as I prepare a bowl. “What are you drawing?” “Just something for a video game I’m working on.” He snaps the sketchbook closed, even though I wasn’t trying to sneak a peek at it. “Right. Dean mentioned you’re a gamer. I thought you just reviewed games, though. You design them too?” “Only one so far. Working on a second one now,” he says vaguely. He obviously doesn’t want to discuss it, so I shrug and say, “Cool. Sounds interesting.” I perch against the counter and swallow a spoonful of yogurt. Silence falls over the kitchen. I watch him as I eat, and he watches me eat. It’s both painfully uncomfortable and strangely comfortable. Figure that one out. So many questions bite at my tongue, most of them relating to New Year’s Eve. Were you really not into me that night? Did I just imagine the interested vibes? Do you truly believe all those shitty things you said about me? I don’t voice a single one. I refuse to reveal even a hint of vulnerability to this guy. He’s not allowed to know how much his judgmental words hurt me. Instead, I put him in the hot seat for something else. “You weren’t supposed to be skiing.” He blows out a quick breath. “No, we weren’t.” “So why did you?” “Because we’re idiots.” I smile, then get mad at myself for smiling at something he said. “Coach would freak if he found out. The other guys too, if I’m being honest. It was a real dick move on our parts,” he says roughly. “So let’s keep the ski trip between us, okay?” Um… I give him a sheepish look. “Too late.” “What do you mean?” His tone has sharpened. “I accidentally became best friends with your coach’s daughter earlier today. And I accidentally told her you guys went skiing.” He gapes at me. “Fucking hell, Summer.” I’m quick to defend myself. “Hey, Hollis didn’t say it was a secret when we spoke on the phone.