Page d'accueil The Goal (Off-Campus #4)
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This book made me go through an emotional roller coaster. But the ending was amazing.
19 September 2020 (19:54)
My review is all good
11 April 2021 (17:37)
read better books
garbidge book is not worth reading
16 April 2021 (15:55)
The cover tells me enough that it isn't worth reading.
20 May 2021 (12:58)
Its amazing I read it all in one day like yeah man it will bring all your emotions together love it
27 May 2021 (06:15)
Wonderful to this web I due appreciate
07 June 2021 (19:02)
It a good book but I kinda don’t really like Sabrina.
17 June 2021 (05:45)
She’s good at achieving her goals… College senior Sabrina James has her whole future planned out: graduate from college, kick butt in law school, and land a high-paying job at a cutthroat firm. Her path to escaping her shameful past certainly doesn’t include a gorgeous hockey player who believes in love at first sight. One night of sizzling heat and surprising tenderness is all she’s willing to give John Tucker, but sometimes, one night is all it takes for your entire life to change. But the game just got a whole lot more complicated Tucker believes being a team player is as important as being the star. On the ice, he’s fine staying out of the spotlight, but when it comes to becoming a daddy at the age of twenty-two, he refuses to be a bench warmer. It doesn’t hurt that the soon-to-be mother of his child is beautiful, whip-smart, and keeps him on his toes. The problem is, Sabrina’s heart is locked up tight, and the fiery brunette is too stubborn to accept his help. If he wants a life with the woman of his dreams, he’ll have to convince her that some goals can only be made with an assist. The Goal An Off-Campus Novel Elle Kennedy Table of Contents About the Book Title Page Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Epilogue Other Titles by Elle Kennedy Author’s Note About the Author Copyright 1 Sabrina “Crap. Crap. Crap. Craaaaap. Where are my keys?” The clock in the narrow hallway tells me I have fifty-two minutes to make a sixty-eight-minute drive if I want to get to the party on time. I check my purse again, but the keys aren’t there. I run through the va; rious locations. Dresser? No. Bathroom? Was just there. Kitchen? Maybe— I’m about to pivot when I hear a jingle of metal behind me. “You looking for these?” Contempt lodges in my throat as I turn around and step into a living room so small that the five pieces of dated furniture—two tables, one loveseat, one sofa, and one chair—are squashed together like sardines in a can. The lump of flesh on the couch waves my keys in the air. At my sigh of irritation, he grins and shoves them under his sweatpants-covered ass. “Come and get ’em.” I drag a frustrated hand down my flat-ironed hair before stalking over to my stepfather. “Give me my keys,” I demand. Ray leers in return. “Da-amn, you look hot tonight. You’ve turned into a real babe, Rina. You and me should get it on.” I ignore the meaty hand that’s falling to his crotch. I’ve never known a man so desperate to touch his own junk. He makes Homer Simpson look like a gentleman. “You and I don’t exist to each other. So don’t look at me, and don’t call me Rina.” Ray’s the only person who ever calls me that, and I fucking hate it. “Now give me my keys.” “I told you—come and get ’em.” With gritted teeth, I shove my hand under his lard-ass and root around for my keys. Ray grunts and squirms like the disgusting piece of shit he is until my hand connects with metal. I drag the keys free and spin back to the doorway. “What’s the big deal?” he mocks after me. “It’s not like we’re related, so there’s no incest problem.” I stop and use thirty seconds of my precious time to stare at him in disbelief. “You’re my stepfather. You married my mother. And—” I swallow a rush of bile, “—and you’re sleeping with Nana now. So, no, it’s not about whether you and I are related. It’s because you’re the grossest person on the planet and you belong in prison.” His hazel eyes darken. “Watch your mouth, missy, or one of these days you’ll come home and the doors will be locked.” Whatever. “I pay for a third of the rent here,” I remind him. “Well, maybe you’ll be in charge of more.” He turns back to the television, and I spend another valuable thirty seconds fantasizing about bashing his head in with my purse. Worth it. In the kitchen, Nana is sitting at the table, smoking a cigarette and reading an issue of People. “Did you see this?” she exclaims. “Kim K is nude again.” “Goodie for her.” I grab my jacket off the back of the chair and head for the kitchen door. I’ve found that it’s safer to leave the house through the back. There are usually street punks congregating on the stoops of the narrow townhouses on our less than affluent street in this less than affluent part of Southie. Besides, our carport is behind the house. “Heard Rachel Berkovich got knocked up,” Nana remarks. “She should’ve aborted it, but I guess it’s against their religion.” I clench my teeth again and turn to face my grandmother. As usual, she’s wearing a ratty robe and fuzzy pink slippers, but her dyed blonde hair is teased to perfection and her face is fully made-up even though she rarely goes out. “She’s Jewish, Nana. I don’t think it’s against her religion, but even if it is, that’s her choice.” “Probably wants those extra food stamps,” Nana concludes, blowing a long stream of smoke in my direction. Shit. I hope I don’t smell like an ashtray by the time I get to Hastings. “I’m guessing that isn’t the reason Rachel’s keeping the baby.” One hand on the door, I shift restlessly, waiting for an opening to tell Nana goodbye. “Your momma thought about aborting you.” And there it is. “Okay, that’s enough,” I mutter. “I’m going to Hastings. I’ll be back tonight.” Her head jerks up from the magazine and her eyes narrow as she takes in my black knit skirt, black short-sleeved sweater with a scoop neck, and three-inch heels. I can see the words forming in her mind before they even leave her mouth. “You’re looking uppity. Going off to that fancy college of yours? You got classes on Saturday night?” “It’s a cocktail party,” I answer grudgingly. “Oooh, cocktail, schocktail. Hope your lips don’t get chapped kissing all the ass down there.” “Yeah, thanks, Nana.” I wrench open the back door, forcing myself to add, “Love you.” “Love you too, baby girl.” She does love me, but sometimes that love is so tainted, I don’t know if it’s hurting me or helping me. I don’t make the drive to the small town of Hastings in fifty-two minutes or sixty-eight minutes. Instead, it takes me an entire hour and a half because the roads are so damn bad. Another five minutes pass before I can find a parking space, and by the time I reach Professor Gibson’s house, I’m tenser than a piano wire—and feeling about as fragile. “Hi, Mr. Gibson. I’m so sorry I’m late,” I tell the bespectacled man at the door. Professor Gibson’s husband gives me a soft smile. “Don’t worry about it, Sabrina. The weather is terrible. Let me take your coat.” He holds out a hand and waits patiently while I struggle out of my wool jacket. Professor Gibson arrives as her husband is hanging my cheap coat amongst all the expensive ones in the closet. It looks as out of place as I do. I shove aside the feelings of inadequacy and summon up a bright smile. “Sabrina!” Professor Gibson calls out gaily. Her commanding presence jerks me to attention. “I’m so glad you arrived in one piece. Is it snowing yet?” “No, just rain.” She grimaces and takes my arm. “Even worse. I hope you don’t plan on driving back to the city tonight. The roads will be one sheet of ice.” Since I have to work in the morning, I’ll be making that trek regardless of the road conditions, but I don’t want Prof to worry, so I smile reassuringly. “I’ll be fine. Is she still here?” The professor squeezes my forearm. “She is, and she’s dying to meet you.” Awesome. I take my first full breath since I got here and allow myself to be led across the room toward a short, gray-haired woman dressed in a boxy pastel suitcoat over a pair of black pants. The outfit is rather blah, but the diamonds sparkling in her ears are larger than my thumb. Also? She seems too genial for a professor of the law. I always envisioned them as dour, serious creatures. Like me. “Amelia, let me introduce you to Sabrina James. She’s the student I’ve been telling you about. At the top of her class, holds down two jobs, and managed a one seventy-seven on her LSATs.” Professor Gibson turns to me. “Sabrina, Amelia Fromm, constitutional scholar extraordinaire.” “So nice to meet you,” I say, holding out my hand and praying to God it feels dry and not damp. I practiced shaking my own hand for an hour leading up to this. Amelia grips me lightly before stepping back. “Italian mother, Jewish grandfather, hence the odd combination of names. James is Scottish—is that where your family is from?” Her bright eyes sweep over me, and I resist the urge to fidget with my cheap Target clothing. “I couldn’t say, ma’am.” My family comes from the gutter. Scotland seems far too nice and regal to be our homeland. She waves a hand. “It’s not important. I dabble in genealogy on the side. So, you’ve applied to Harvard? That’s what Kelly has told me.” Kelly? Do I know a Kelly? “She means me, dear,” Professor Gibson says with a gentle laugh. I blush. “Yes, sorry. I think of you as Prof.” “So formal, Kelly!” Professor Fromm accuses. “Sabrina, where else have you applied?” “Boston College, Suffolk, and Yale, but Harvard is my dream.” Amelia raises an eyebrow at my list of tier two and three Boston schools. Professor Gibson jumps to my defense. “She wants to stay close to home. And obviously she belongs at someplace better than Yale.” The two professors share a contemptuous sniff. Prof was a Harvard grad, and apparently once a Harvard grad, always an anti-Yale person. “From all that Kelly has shared, it sounds like Harvard would be honored to have you.” “It would be my honor to be a Harvard student, ma’am.” “Acceptance letters are being mailed out soon.” Her eyes twinkle with mischief. “I’ll be sure to put in a good word.” Amelia bestows another smile, and I nearly faint in happy relief. I wasn’t just blowing smoke up her ass. Harvard really is my dream. “Thank you,” I manage to croak out. Professor Gibson points me toward the food. “Why don’t you get something to eat? Amelia, I want to talk to you about that position paper I heard was coming out of Brown. Did you have a chance to look at it?” The two turn away, diving deep into a discussion about intersectionality of Black feminism and race theory, a topic that Professor Gibson is an expert in. I wander over to the refreshment table, which is draped in white and loaded with cheese, crackers, and fruit. Two of my closest friends—Hope Matthews and Carin Thompson—are already standing there. One dark and one light, they’re the two most beautiful, smartest angels in the world. I rush over to them and nearly collapse in their arms. “So? How’d it go?” Hope asks impatiently. “Good, I think. She said that it sounded like Harvard would be honored to have me and that the first wave of acceptance letters is going out soon.” I grab a plate and start loading it up, wishing the pieces of cheese were bigger. I’m so hungry I could eat an entire block. All day I’d been sick with anticipation because of this meeting, and now that it’s over, I want to fall face-first into the food table. “Oh, you are so in,” declares Carin. The three of us are advisees of Professor Gibson, who’s a big believer in helping young women along. There are other networking organizations on campus, but her influence is solely geared toward the advancement of women, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Tonight’s cocktail party is designed for her students to meet with faculty members of the most competitive graduate programs in the nation. Hope is angling for a place at Harvard Med while Carin is headed for MIT. Yep, it’s a sea of estrogen inside Professor Gibson’s house. Other than her husband, only a couple of other men are present. I’m really going to miss this place after I graduate. It’s been a home away from home. “Fingers crossed,” I say in response to Carin. “If I don’t get into Harvard, then it’s BC or Suffolk.” Which would be fine, but Harvard virtually guarantees me a shot at the job I want post-graduation—a position at one of the nation’s top law firms, or what everyone calls BigLaw. “You’ll get in,” Hope says confidently. “And hopefully once you get that acceptance letter, you’ll stop killing yourself, because Lord, B, you look tense.” I roll my head around my neck stiffly. Yeah, I am tense. “I know. My schedule is brutal these days. I went to bed at two this morning because the girl who was supposed to close at Boots & Chutes bugged out and left me to close, and then I was up at four to sort mail. I got home around noon, crashed, and almost overslept.” “You’re still working both jobs?” Carin flips her red hair out of her face. “You said you were going to quit the waitressing gig.” “I can’t yet. Professor Gibson said that they don’t want us working our first year of law school. The only way I can swing that is to have enough for food and rent saved up before September.” Carin makes a sympathetic noise. “I hear you. My parents are taking out a loan so big, I might be able to afford a small country with it.” “I wish you’d move in with us,” Hope says plaintively. “Really? I had no idea,” I joke. “You’ve only said it twice a day since the semester started.” She wrinkles her cute nose at me. “You’d love this place my dad rented for us. It’s got floor-to-ceiling windows and it’s right on the subway line. Public transportation.” She wiggles her eyebrows enticingly. “It’s too expensive, H.” “You know I’d cover the difference—or my parents would,” she corrects herself. The girl’s family has more money than an oil tycoon, but you’d never know it from talking to her. Hope’s as down to earth as they come. “I know,” I say between gulping down bites of mini-sausages. “But I’d feel guilty and then guilt would turn into resentment and then we wouldn’t be friends anymore and not being your friend would suck.” She shakes her head at me. “If, at some point, your stubborn pride allows you to ask for help, I’m here.” “We’re here,” Carin interjects. “See?” I wave my fork between the two of them. “This is why I can’t live with you guys. You mean too much to me. Besides, this is working for me. I’ve got nearly ten months to save up before classes start next fall. I’ve got this.” “At least come for a drink with us after this thing is over,” Carin begs. “I have to drive home.” I make a face. “I’m scheduled to go in and sort packages tomorrow.” “On a Sunday?” Hope demands. “Time and a half. I couldn’t turn it down. Actually, I should probably take off soon.” I lay my plate on the table and try to catch a glimpse of what’s going on beyond the huge bay window. All I see is darkness and streaks of rain on the glass. “Sooner I’m on the road, the better.” “Not in this weather you’re not.” Professor Gibson appears at my elbow with a glass of wine. “The weather advisory is for sheets of glass—temperature’s dropping and the rain is turning into ice.” One look at my advisor’s face and I know I have to concede. So I do, but with great reluctance. “All right,” I say, “but I do this under protest. And you—” I tip my fork in Carin’s direction, “you better have ice cream in the freezer in case I have to crash with you, otherwise I’m going to be really mad.” All three of them laugh. Professor Gibson wanders off, leaving us to network as best as three college seniors can. After an hour of mingling, Hope, Carin and I grab our coats. “Where are we going?” I ask the girls. “D’Andre is at Malone’s and I said I’d meet him there,” Hope tells me. “It’s like a two-minute drive, so we should be fine.” “Really? Malone’s? That’s a hockey bar,” I whine. “What’s D’Andre doing there?” “Drinking and waiting for me. Besides, you need to get laid and athletes are your favorite type.” Carin snorts. “Her only type.” “Hey, I have a very good reason for preferring athletes,” I argue. “I know. We’ve heard it.” She rolls her eyes. “If you want a stats question answered, go to the math geeks. If you want a physical need met, go to an athlete. Bodies are the tools of an elite athlete. They take care of it, know how to push its limits, yada yada.” Carin makes a yapping gesture with her left hand. I flick up my middle finger. “But sex with someone you like is so much better.” This comes from Hope, who’s been with D’Andre, her football player boyfriend, since freshman year. “I like them,” I protest. “…for the hour or so I use them.” We share a giggle over that, until Carin brings up a guy who brought down the average. “Do you remember Ten-Second Greg, though?” I shudder. “First, thank you very little for bringing that bad memory up, and second, I’m not saying there aren’t duds. Just that the odds are better with an athlete.” “And the hockey players are duds?” Carin asks. I shrug. “I wouldn’t know. I didn’t ax them from my list of potentials because of their performance in the sack, but because they’re hyper-privileged jerks who get special favors from the profs.” “Sabrina, girl, you got to let that go,” Hope urges. “Nope. Hockey players don’t make the cut.” “God, but look at what you’re missing out on.” Carin licks her lips with exaggerated lasciviousness. “That one guy on the team with the beard? I want to know what that feels like. Beards are on my bucket list.” “Go on then. My boycott against hockey players just means more for you.” “I’m on board with this, but…” She smirks. “Need I remind you that you hooked up with the manslut Di Laurentis?” Ugh. That’s a reminder I never need to hear. “First, I was totally drunk,” I grumble. “Second, that was sophomore year. And third, he’s the reason I’ve sworn off hockey players.” Even though Briar University has a championship-winning football team, it’s known as a hockey college. The guys who wear skates are treated like gods. Case in point—Dean Heyward-Di Laurentis. He’s a poli sci major like me, so we’ve had several classes together, including Statistics in our sophomore year. That course was hard as fuck. Everyone struggled. Everyone but Dean, who was screwing the TA. And—shocker!—she gave him an A, which he absolutely did not deserve. I know this for a fact, because we were paired together for the final assignment, and I saw the garbage he turned in. When I found out he aced it, I wanted to chop his dick off. It was so unfair. I worked my butt off in that course. Hell, I work my butt off for everything. My every accomplishment is stained with my blood, sweat and tears. Meanwhile, some asshole gets the world handed to him on a platter? Fuck. That. “She’s getting mad again,” Hope stage-whispers to Carin. “She’s thinking about how Di Laurentis got an A in that one class,” Carin shout-whispers back. “She really does need to get laid. How long has it been?” I start to flip her off again when it occurs to me that I can’t remember my last hookup. “There was, um, Meyer? The lacrosse guy. That was in September. And after that was Beau…” I brighten up. “Ha! See? It’s only been a little over a month. Hardly a national emergency.” “Girl, someone with your schedule isn’t allowed to go a month without sex,” Hope counters. “You’re a walking ball of stress, which means you need a good dicking at least…daily,” she decides. “Every other day,” Carin argues. “Give her lady garden some time to rest.” Hope nods. “Fine. But no rest for the pussy tonight—” I snort in laughter. “You hear that, B? You’ve been fed, you had an afternoon nap, and now you need some sexy times,” Carin declares. “But Malone’s?” I repeat warily. “We just established that the place is crawling with hockey players.” “Not exclusively. I bet Beau is there. Want me to ask D’Andre?” Hope holds up her phone, but I shake my head. “Beau’s too much of a time commitment. Like he wanted to talk during sex. I want to do the deed and leave.” “Oooh, talking! Scary.” “Shut it.” “Make me.” Hope tosses her head, her long braids smacking against my coat, and then exits Professor Gibson’s house. Carin shrugs and follows her, and after a second of hesitation, I do too. Our coats are drenched by the time we reach Hope’s car, but we have our hoods on, so our hair survives the downpour. I’m really not in the mood to chat up any guys tonight, but I can’t deny that my friends are right. I’ve been plagued with tension for weeks, and these past few days I’ve definitely been feeling the…itch. The kind of itch that can only be scratched with a hard, ripped body and a hopefully above average-sized cock. Except I’m extremely selective about who I hook up with, and just as I’d feared, Malone’s is thick with hockey players when the girls and I stride inside five minutes later. But hey, if that’s the hand I’ve been dealt, then I guess there’s no harm in playing it and seeing what happens. Still, I have zero expectations as I follow my friends to the bar counter. 2 Tucker “Stay away from that one, kid. She’s toxic.” Dean is dispensing his (usually misguided) wisdom to our freshman left wing, Hunter Davenport, as I walk into Malone’s out of the pouring rain. The roads are shit, and I don’t particularly want to be here tonight, but Dean insisted that we needed to party. He’d been restlessly pacing our townhouse all day, grumpy as hell and obviously upset, but when I questioned him about it, he shrugged and said he was feeling antsy. Which is bull. I might be considered quiet compared to my loud-mouthed teammates, but I ain’t slow. And I sure as hell don’t need to be a detective to put the clues together. Allie Hayes, the best friend of our other roommate’s girlfriend, crashed at our place last night. Dean is a manwhore. Chicks love Dean. Allie is a chick. Ergo, Dean slept with Allie. Plus, there were all the clothes scattered around the living room because Dean is physically incapable of having sex in his bedroom. He hasn’t fessed up to it yet, but I’m sure he will eventually. I’m also sure that whatever went down between them last night, Allie’s not looking for a repeat performance. Though why that should bother Dean, the one-night stand king, I’ve yet to figure out. “She doesn’t look toxic to me,” Hunter drawls as I shake the water out of my hair. “Hey Fido,” Dean grumbles my way, “go dry off somewhere else.” I roll my eyes and follow Hunter’s gaze, which is Krazy Glued to a slender brunette facing away from us at the long counter. I see a short skirt, killer legs, and thick dark hair streaming down her back. Not to mention the roundest, tightest, sexiest ass I’ve ever had the pleasure of admiring. “Nice,” I remark before grinning at Dean. “I take it you already called dibs?” His face turns white with horror. “Not a chance. That’s Sabrina, bro. She already busts my balls in class on a daily basis. I don’t need her busting them outside of school.” “Wait, that’s Sabrina?” I say slowly. This is the girl who Dean swears is his nemesis? “I’ve seen her around campus, but I didn’t realize she’s the one you’re always bitching about.” “One and the same,” he mutters. “Damn shame. She sure is nice to look at.” More than nice, actually. In the dictionary next to fine is a picture of Sabrina’s ass. It might also be next to the words gorgeous, goddamn, and smoke show. “What’s the deal with you two?” Hunter pipes up. “She your ex?” Dean recoils. “Fuck no.” The freshman purses his lips. “So I won’t be breaking the bro code if I make a move?” “You want to make a move? Go nuts. But I’m warning you, that bitch will eat you alive.” I avert my face to hide a grin. Sounds like someone may have turned Dean down. There’s definitely some kind of history between them, but even after Hunter presses him about it, Dean doesn’t give up any other intel. Across the room, Sabrina turns. She probably feels three sets of eyes on that ass—two of which are damn hungry. Her gaze catches mine and holds it. There’s challenge in her eyes and the competitor in me rises to meet it. You enough for me? she appears to be asking. You have no idea, darlin’. A spark of heat lights her gaze—that is until it falls on Dean. Immediately, her lush lips thin and she jerks up her middle finger in our direction. Hunter groans and mutters something about Dean ruining his chances. But Hunter’s a baby and that girl has enough fire in her to ignite the world. I can’t imagine her wanting to take an eighteen-year-old to bed, especially if he sees defeat in the first obstacle. Kid’s gotta get stronger if he wants to play with the big boys. I dig in my pocket for some cash. “I’m gonna grab a beer. You guys need a refill?” They both shake their heads. Having discharged my friend duty, I make my way to the bar and Sabrina, arriving in time for the bartender to deliver her drink. I lay down a twenty. “I’ve got that, and I’ll take a Miller when you’ve got a minute.” The bartender grabs the bill and hustles off to the cash register before Sabrina can object. She gives me a contemplative look and then lifts the beer bottle to her lips. “I’m not sleeping with you because you bought me a drink,” she says over the rim. “I hope not,” I reply with a shrug. “I have higher standards than that.” I give her a polite nod and mosey back to the table where a few of my teammates are congregated. Behind me, I can feel her eyes boring into my back. Since she can’t see me, I allow a smile of satisfaction to spread across my face. This is a girl who’s used to being chased, which means I need to work a little surprise into my pursuit. At the table, Hunter’s eyeing another pack of girls, and Dean’s head is buried in his phone, probably texting Allie. I wonder if the other guys know they did the dirty. Probably not. Garrett and Logan are in Boston with their girlfriends until tomorrow, so chances are they’re still in the dark. But Garrett was adamant that Dean keep his hands off Allie this weekend. He didn’t want any drama to interfere with his currently perfect life with Allie’s best friend, Hannah. Given that there haven’t been any explosions or frantic phone calls, I’d bet that Dean and Allie are keeping last night’s hookup on the DL. Just as Hunter opens his mouth to deliver some bad line to one of the girls who’s made her way over to the table, the lights flicker ominously. Dean frowns. “Is it the Apocalypse out there or something?” “It’s coming down pretty hard,” I tell him. After that, Dean decides to take off. I stay put, despite the fact that I didn’t even want to hit the bar tonight. I don’t know why, but that brief exchange with Sabrina got me more than a little worked up. It’s not like there’s a shortage of girls in my life. I might not brag about my conquests like Dean or Logan or my other teammates, but I get plenty of play. I even indulge in one-night stands if I’m feeling it. And right now, I’m feeling it. I want Sabrina under me. Over me. Anywhere she wants to put herself will do. And I want it so bad I have to rub my hand over my beard so I don’t give in to the urge to slide it lower and rub something else. I’m still not sure how I feel about the beard. I grew it around the time of the championship game this past spring, but it got mountain-man out of control on me, so I shaved it over the summer. Then it grew back because I’m lazy as hell, and trimming it close is a helluva lot easier than shaving it all off. “Have a seat, man,” Hunter encourages. His eyes actively telegraph that there are three of them and two of us, but these girls, as pretty as they are, don’t interest me at all. “All yours, kid.” I drain my bottle and return to the bar where Sabrina’s still standing. A couple other predators have edged closer. I give them all a hard stare and slide into a newly vacated space beside her. I lean an elbow behind me against the bar top, giving her the illusion of room. She reminds me a little of those untamed ponies, all wide eyes, long legs, and the unspoken promise of the best ride of your life. But you play your hand too soon and she’s going to run off and there’ll be no catching her. “So you’re a friend of Di Laurentis?” The words are casually tossed out, but considering she and Dean don’t like each other much, there’s probably only one right way to respond and that’s by denying everything. Still, I won’t do that to a friend, not even to get laid. And whatever issue Sabrina has with Dean doesn’t influence me, just like Dean’s opinion of Sabrina isn’t going to shape what I’m looking for with her. Besides, I’m a big believer in the saying that you begin how you intend to go on. “He’s my roommate.” She makes no effort to hide her distaste and starts brushing me off. “Thanks for the drink, but I think I see my friends waving at me.” She nods toward a group of girls. I survey the crowd, none of whom are even looking in our direction, and turn back to her with a sad shake of my head. “You gotta do better than that. If you want me to go, tell me to go. You look like a girl who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to say it.” “Is that what Dean told you? I bet he called me a bitch, didn’t he?” This time I opt to keep my mouth shut. Instead, I take a drink. “He’s right,” she continues. “I am and I’m not sorry for it.” Her chin juts out adorably. I’d pinch it, but I think I’d lose a few fingers and I’m going to need them later tonight. I have plans to have them all over her body. She takes another sip of the beer I bought her, and I watch the delicate muscles in her throat work. Fuck, she’s beautiful. Dean could’ve said that she sucks the life out of babies and I’d still be over here. She’s got that kind of draw. And it’s not just me. Half the male population in the bar is throwing glares of envy in my direction. I cant my body slightly to hide her from view. “Okay,” I say lightly. “Okay?” She gets the cutest look of confusion on her face. “Yup. Is that supposed to scare me off?” Her perfectly shaped eyebrows crash together. “I don’t know what else he said, but I’m not easy. I’m not against a hookup, but I’m picky about who I let into my bed.” “He didn’t say anything about that. Only that you liked to bust his balls. But we both know that Dean’s ego can withstand a blow now and again. The question is whether you’re hung up on him. Kind of seems like you are, because he’s the only thing you can talk about.” I shrug. “If that’s the case, I’ll skate right now.” While Dean said he didn’t have feelings for Sabrina, I want to make sure there aren’t any lingering emotions on her end. Her tone when she mentioned him was mad, though, not bitter, which I take as a good sign. Anger could stem from any number of things. Bitterness is usually hurt feelings. When—not if—we get into bed together, it should be because she wants to be with me, not as a way to get back at Dean. Her gaze flicks over my shoulder to where my teammate is still sitting, then back to me. She and I drink in silence for a bit. Her chocolate-brown eyes are tough to read, but I get the sense she’s weighing my words carefully. It might be that she expects me to talk, fill the silence, but I’m waiting her out. Plus, it gives me time to inspect her close up. And from this distance, she’s even more beautiful than I realized. She doesn’t just have a world-class ass and endless legs. Her rack is the kind that can turn a man religious. As in, thank you, Jesus, for creating this glorious creature and please, Lord, make her not a lesbian. Not blatantly staring at the pretty swells rising above her top is one of the harder things I’ve had to do. Finally, she sets her bottle on the bar. “Just because you’re pretty doesn’t mean I’m interested.” I grin. “A guy’s gotta start somewhere.” A reluctant smile tugs at the corners of her mouth. She wipes her hand against her skirt and sticks it out. “I’m Sabrina James. I’ve heard all the jokes about being a witch, and no, I am not hung up on Dean Di Laurentis.” I take her hand in mine and use the contact to pull her an inch closer to me. It’s baby steps with this one. “John Tucker. Glad to hear it, but you should know that Dean is like a brother to me. We’ve had each other’s backs on the ice for four years, lived together for three of them, and I plan to stand up at his wedding and hope he does the same at mine. That said, he’s my friend, not my daddy.” “Wait, you’re getting married?” she says in confusion. It’s kind of amusing that out of everything I said, that’s the bit she’s harping on. I smooth a hand down the outside of her arm and loosely circle her wrist with my fingers. “In the future, darlin’. In the future.” “Oh.” She picks up her beer and then puts it down when she sees it’s empty. “Wait. You want to get married?” “Eventually.” I chuckle at her astonishment. “Not today, but yeah, one day I want to be married and have a kid or three. You?” The bartender comes by, and I nudge another twenty in his direction. But Sabrina shakes her head. “I’m driving. One beer is my limit.” I order us waters instead, and he’s back in a flash with two tall glasses. The lights flicker again, sending a jolt of urgency to my gut. I’m going to have to close this deal soon or lose out entirely. “Thanks,” she says as she sips the water. “And, no. I don’t see myself having kids or a husband in the near future. Besides, I thought you hockey players liked to play the field.” “At some point, even the great ones retire.” I smirk over the top of my glass. She laughs. “All right. I’ll give you that. So what’s your major, John?” “Tucker. Everyone calls me Tucker or Tuck. And it’s business admin.” “So you can manage all your hockey money?” I still haven’t let go of her wrist, and with each exchange, I’m eliminating all the distance between us. “Nope.” I nod toward my knee. “I’m too slow for the pros. I got banged up in high school. I’m good enough for a scholarship here, but I know my limits.” “Oh, I’m sorry.” There’s true regret in her voice. Dean’s a fool. This girl is as sweet as they come. I can’t wait to get my mouth on her. And my hands. And my teeth. And my hard-as-steel cock. “Don’t be. I’m not.” I slide my arm along the bar until Sabrina’s essentially standing in the circle of my arms. Her feet are tucked between mine, and if I shift my hips slightly forward, I’ll be able to make the contact my body is dying for. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all the years I’ve played hockey, it’s that patience is rewarded. You don’t take an immediate shot when your stick gets the puck. You wait for the right opening. “I never really wanted it,” I add. “And I think it’s one of those things you have to really want to pursue.” And then she gives it to me. The opening. “So what do you want these days?” “You,” I answer baldly. Two things happen. The lights go out completely and she nearly drops her glass. The jukebox dies out and suddenly the bar seems way too quiet. Around us are a few shrieks of laughter, a few shouts of dismay. “Keep your pants on, children,” one of the bartenders yells. “We’re going to see what’s going on. Generator should kick in any second.” As if on cue, a humming noise fills the air and then a dim glow of light illuminates the crowded room. “You still thirsty?” I ask, stroking the inside of her wrist with long, gentle strokes. Up toward the inner elbow and back down to the wrist. Repeat. Again and again and again. Her gaze drops to our joined hands and widen as if she just now realizes we’ve been touching for the last ten minutes or so. I lean in close and brush my nose against the outer edge of her earlobe, filling my lungs with her spicy scent. I could stand here all day. There’s something great about drawing out the anticipation until it’s nearly painful. It makes the release all the more explosive. I have a feeling that sex with Sabrina James will blow my mind. I can’t fucking wait. After taking a deep breath, one that pushes her perfect tits into my chest, she eases back—not too far, but enough to create a sliver of distance. “I’m not into relationships,” she says bluntly. “If we do this—” “Do what?” I can’t help but tease. “This. Don’t play dumb, Tucker. You’re better than that.” A laugh pops out. “Fair enough. All right…” I wave a hand. “Go on…” “If we do this,” she repeats, “it’s sex only. No awkward morning after. No phone numbers.” I give her one last caress before releasing her, letting her read into my silence what she needs to. I highly doubt that one time is going to be enough for either of us, but if that’s what she needs to believe tonight, I’m okay with that. “Let’s go then.” Her lips curve. “Now?” “Now.” I moisten my bottom lip with my tongue. “Unless you want to sit here a while longer and keep dancing around the fact that we want to rip each other’s clothes off.” She lets out a throaty laugh that goes straight to my balls. “Very good point, Tucker.” Lord. I love the way my name rolls off those full, pouty lips. Maybe I’ll ask her to say it when I’m making her come. The need surging through me is so strong I have to squeeze my ass cheeks together and breathe through my nose to try to curb it. I take Sabrina’s elbow and muscle my way to the door. A few people call out my name or pat me on the back to tell me good game. I ignore them all. Outside, it’s still pouring. I pull Sabrina close and raise my black-and-silver hockey jacket over her head. Fortunately, my truck is nearby. “Over here.” “Nice parking spot,” she comments. “Can’t complain.” It’s a perk of being a starter on a championship-winning college hockey team. I help her into the truck, then slide into the driver’s seat and start the engine. “Where to?” She shivers a little, though I’m not sure if it’s from the cold or for another reason. “I live in Boston.” “My place then.” Because there’s no fucking way I can wait the hour it’ll take to drive to the city. My dick will explode. She puts her hand on my wrist before I can shift into reverse. “You live with Dean. That’s not going to be uncomfortable for you?” “No, why would it?” “I don’t know.” Her index finger slides forward to rub my knuckles. I grit my teeth as my erection nearly breaks through the zipper. The only reason I didn’t kiss her the second we were outside the bar is because if I’d started, I probably would’ve taken her against the side of the building. But now she’s touching me, and my self-control is more elusive than a puff of steam. “Let’s do it here,” she says decisively. I frown. “In the truck?” “Why not? Do you need candles and rose petals? It’s just sex,” she insists. “Darlin’, you keep saying that and I’m going to start wondering if it’s really me you want to convince.” My breath catches when her thumb strokes a tiny circle in the center of my palm. Fuck it. I need her too bad. “But fine. You want to do me in this truck, then the truck it is.” Without another word, I reach beneath me and push the seat back as far as it can go. Then I shrug out of my jacket and toss it into the backseat. “You got any guidelines for your just-sex hookups?” I drawl. “Like no kissing on the lips?” “Hell, no. Do I look like Julia Roberts?” I scrunch up my eyebrows. “Pretty Woman?” she prompts. “Hooker with the heart of gold? No kissing the johns?” I grin. “So what you’re saying is that you’ll kiss this John?” I tap my chest so she knows I’m referring to my name and not implying that she’s a hooker. She snickers. “If you don’t kiss me, I’ll be pissed. I need kissing. Otherwise I’d just stay at home with my vibe.” A smile creeps across my face. With my back against the window and my boot up on the console, I create a cradle for her hot body and beckon her toward me. “Then come and get what you need.” 3 Sabrina Tucker sits there with a slight smile on his face and a huge erection in his pants. My tongue sneaks out to wet my lips as excitement buzzes through my veins. God, that monster is going to feel so good inside me. My gaze falls to his neatly trimmed beard, and I wonder, briefly, whether I should’ve given Carin a shot at him. After all, beards were on her bucket list. But now I’m wondering what that scruff would feel like between my legs. Soft? Scratchy? I squeeze my thighs together in anticipation. Hope and Carin were so right. I do need to get laid, and hockey player or not, I believe Tucker is the guy for the job. He has confidence without the ego, which is the biggest turn-on ever. When he’d said “you” in response to my question about what he wanted, I nearly came in my panties. And he seems steady, as if an earthquake wouldn’t shake him. I even admired the way he stuck up for Dean, even though I know the loyalty is misplaced. Tucker had to have known that if he’d lied about his friendship with Dean, he could’ve stood a better chance with me, but he chose honesty, which I value most out of everything. “Need some direction?” His voice is low and gravelly, drawing out those syllables. Die rehhhc shun. Sweet Jesus, that accent. “Just considering my options.” I love that he’s just sitting there, instructing me to take what I need. As if his big cock exists just for me. I can’t wait, but I can’t decide what I want to do first, either. My mouth waters at the thought of his shaft dragging against my tongue, but my core aches at the anticipation of him stretching me, filling me all the way up. “Why don’t we start with the kissing you’re so fond of?” he suggests. I meet his hot gaze. “Where?” I ask coyly, which is weird, because I’m never coy. But there’s something about the surety in him that draws out the woman in me, and I find I don’t mind it at all. He taps one big finger against his lower lip. “Right here.” As seductively as possible, I crawl over the console and onto his lap, allowing my heels to drop onto the floor of the truck. His mouth parts in invitation, but I don’t immediately press my lips to his. Instead, I run my fingertips across his beard, from one side of his jaw to the other. “Soft,” I murmur. His eyes darken and grow so full of lust that it’s hard to breathe. And then he grabs me, tired of waiting and tired of talking. Our mouths slam together. He tangles a hand in my hair and I’m not sure if it’s to get a better angle or provide more leverage for the force of his invasion. Either way, his tongue is making me feel magical things downstairs. I’m forgetting why I almost turned him down. I mean, tall, hot, dark auburn hair, scruffy beard? Why did I even hesitate? Oh, that’s right. Because he’s a hockey player. Tearing my mouth away, I pant, “Just for the record, I hate hockey players. This is a one-time-only deal.” He sweeps my hair to the side to expose my throat. “Noted. I won’t even remind you of this when you’re begging me for a second round.” Laughing, I grab his head and hold it against me as he tongues his way down my throat to the tops of my breasts. “Never happening.” “Don’t tie yourself to absolutes. It makes it easier to back away. More graceful.” His words are somewhat muffled as he buries his face in my cleavage. A callused hand pulls at my shirt, and then I hear a frustrated growl when the neckline doesn’t lower enough to give him access to what he wants. Good thing our needs are aligned. I reach between us and yank my sweater off, and his mouth latches on to my nipple before I can get my bra undone. When I reach around to undo the clasp, his hands bat mine away. My laugh at his eagerness dies in my throat as his palm closes around one bare breast. I arch into his rough caress. Oh gosh, it’s been way, way too long. As Tucker’s mouth gets busy sucking on one puckered nipple, his fingers pinch and tease the other one. He’s good at this. He knows how deep to suck, how hard to bite, how tender to kiss, and despite the rod in his pants, he acts like he could do this nipple-sucking deed all night long. I rock my lower body over his erection, fumbling to push my skirt out of the way so I can really feel him. I want it off, damn it. I want his naked body rubbing against mine. I want him inside me. I want it all. I fish for the bottom of his T-shirt. He offers me zero assistance, because he’s too intent on my breasts right now. I find the hem and pull it hard. Only then does he separate from me, and the cool air in the truck causes my nipples to tighten even more. “I don’t need more foreplay,” I tell him as I drag his shirt up over his head. Oh God, muscle alert. Lots and lots of tight, smooth, rippled muscles glide beneath my palms. Gotta love athletes. His hands tunnel under my skirt. “Is that right?” There’s nothing graceful about the way his fingers shove aside my thong, and there’s no warning when he thrusts two of them inside of me. It’s dirty and so hot. Air whistles between my teeth as I inhale sharply. “Like that, do you?” he murmurs. “It’s okay,” I lie, and am immediately punished when he withdraws. “Fine. It feels good.” He withdraws again and uses his now wet fingers to lightly circle my clit. My entire body strains and clenches and screams for more. “Just good, huh?” he taunts. I give in. “Great. It’s great.” “I know.” He looks smug. “I hate to tell you this, Sabrina. But you’ve made a big mistake.” “What? Why?” His fingers draw my thong tight, the fabric cutting into my swollen lips. “Because I’m going to ruin you for all future guys. I apologize in advance.” Then he jerks the fabric aside and slams three fingers in. The graphic rawness of it comes as a giant shock. I can feel it—him—everywhere. Even down to my toes. A wave of excitement crashes over me. Holy shit, he’s making me come. Is that even possible? I stare at him open-mouthed, and he grins back, white teeth against his tanned skin and his beard, fully aware he’s blowing my mind. His fingers move again, two of them rubbing against that spot that hardly anyone ever finds but me. And he keeps rubbing it as he jacks his fingers inside me. And I keep coming. I let my head fall back and my eyelids fall closed and I give myself over to the pleasure that spirals up and through my body until I’m one shuddering mass of sensation. When I drop back to Earth, I find myself lying against his chest, gasping for air. I’ve never come this hard in my life, and the guy hasn’t even been inside me yet. My heart is pounding insanely fast, and my sluggish mind is having a hard time keeping up. He’s just a guy. A normal guy, I remind myself. One dick and two balls. This is nothing special. “I haven’t had sex in a while,” I mumble as my breathing starts to normalize. “I’ve been super stressed. My body really needed a release.” Three long fingers flex inside me. “Whatever you need to tell yourself, darlin’.” There’s smug amusement in his voice, but the guy just fingered me to orgasm (which never happens to me), so I guess I can’t blame him. He drags the pads of his fingers along my sensitive nerve endings as he withdraws, pulling another involuntary shudder out of me. Between us, his hand rises and the wetness shines on his fingers even in the dark cab of his truck. I’m not prepared for the shock of arousal that hits me when he sucks them clean. I gulp. One swift jerk of a lever and his seat falls completely flat. Tucker lies down and beckons for me again. “C’mere and fuck my face. I need more of that.” Oh. My. God. Who is this guy? Maybe I shouldn’t hike my skirt up around my waist and crawl forward, but I do. It’s like he’s cast a spell on me and I’m helpless to disobey him. “You’re gonna want to brace yourself,” he rasps, “because I’m going to make you come again.” “You’re so fucking cocky.” “No. I’m sure. And so are you. Now gimme that sweet pussy and ride my tongue.” Oh, sweet baby Jesus. Sex with Tucker is dirtier and hotter than I thought it would be. He doesn’t look like he’d be this way, but isn’t it always the quiet ones? I like it, almost too much. His hot breath warms my skin as I lower myself over his face. “Fuck yeah,” is the last thing he says before his mouth latches on to me. He doesn’t just use his tongue. He uses his lips, his teeth to scrape across my hypersensitive clit. One hand is clamped around my hip while he uses the other to finger me. And his tongue? He licks me in long, sweeping strokes until I’m muffling sobs against my wrist. Then he parts me with two fingers and holds me open while his tongue stabs hard inside me. He’s right—I do need to brace myself. I grip the sides of the seat and then I’m gone. He brings me right to the edge of the cliff and throws me over. While I’m still shuddering from my second orgasm of the night, Tucker lifts me off his face and down to his lap where somehow his dick is free of his jeans. I reach between us and grab him. “Wait,” he barks, but it’s too late. I suck in my lower lip as the broad head slowly penetrates me. Greedily, I push down, wanting to fill myself up. His hands find my hips, and I breathe out a sigh of anticipatory satisfaction only to yelp with dismay when he pushes me off. “Condom,” he says grimly. I glance down between us in surprise. I never make that mistake. Never. My hand flies to my mouth. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking…” He fumbles in his jeans, finds his wallet and tosses it to me. “No big deal. It was just the tip.” A sly wink draws a startled laugh out of me. I bite open the foil and then position the rubber over the head of his shaft. “I’m clean,” I feel compelled to tell him. “I get tested after…” I trail off, feeling like talking about past hookups is bad form when I’m naked and about to impale myself on someone else’s dick. “Well, after. And I’m on the pill.” “It’s all good on my end,” he says. His eyelids flutter shut for a beat as I roll the condom down the thick, hot column of flesh. A low moan escapes his mouth, and then he brushes my hand aside to take hold of himself. “Ready?” he asks, positioning the head at my entrance. I don’t know if I nod or whimper or beg, but whatever sound comes out of my mouth must sound like assent, because he shoves upward with one swift motion until he’s seated to the hilt. “Fuck, you’re so tight,” he hisses through gritted teeth. “And you’re damn big,” I croak, wriggling around on top of him. He grabs my hips to hold me still and shallowly pumps into me. “Don’t move.” “Can’t stop.” The friction feels so good. If I thought his fingers and tongue were magic, his dick is supernatural. I can feel him everywhere. I dig my knees into the leather seat and rest my hands on his chest. The muscles flex beneath my palms, and I rake my gaze over his ridged abdomen, the light hair on his chest, and the thin line that leads directly down to heaven. He’s as delicious to look at as he feels. I wonder how he tastes, but that will have to come later. Right now, I need him to fuck me until my anxiety about Harvard, money, and my home life is driven out completely. I want to be wrecked and he’s the perfect man for the job. I slam down on him. A feral look crosses his face and then a large palm clamps against my ass. He powers upward, finding the leverage from somewhere, and even though I’m on top, he’s clearly in control, which is exactly what I want. His teeth are clenched and I feel the bite of his fingers on my ass, pushing me downward with each thrust forward. I squeeze my thighs tight around him and give myself over to his care, allowing him to power me into oblivion. “Come for me,” he mumbles. “Take what you need.” Inside of me, his cock pulses, and then his fingers find my clit, stroking and teasing it until I go off like a rocket, shaking so hard I can barely stay on top of him. Tucker rises part way to clasp me to his chest, pounding into me so hard that I have to raise trembling hands to the truck’s roof to prevent my head from slamming through it. He drives into me, over and over, until suddenly he’s the shaky, mindless mess who has a hard time maintaining any control. He collapses back against the seat, taking me with him. I allow myself a few selfish moments to catch my breath, luxuriating against the big chest beneath me. Tremors give way to contentment. A part of me wants to stretch this moment out endlessly, curled up in this guy’s lap while his hand runs soothingly up and down my spine. “You sure you don’t want to crash at my place?” he asks. For a second, I nearly say yes. Yes, to going back to his place. Yes, to another round of sex. Yes, to breakfast in the morning, skipping work, and spending the entire day in bed with him. The need surprises and scares me. I take a deep breath and gather up the pieces of my composure that he fucked into tiny bits. “No. I need to get home.” Just sex. Right. It’s just sex. John Tucker is good in bed. So good that he should be getting a trophy. But it’s not better than I’ve had before. It only feels that way because of the stress I’m under. Or even if it was the best I’ve had, that doesn’t mean anything other than he’s one more data point in the athletes make good lovers theory. Stamina. World-class fingers and tongue. A dick that could serve as the model for the large versions at a sex shop. I root around for my shirt and jacket. I throw them on, not even caring that they’re likely on backwards. I need to get out of this truck and into my car. “I’m ready,” I announce. “My car is only a couple blocks from here.” His handsome features soften. “You look a little shocky.” I twist in agitation, but his expression shows nothing but concern. “I’m good,” I assure him. Tucker sits up and removes the condom, tying it off and then dumping it into a nest of napkins. He fingers his keys for a moment and then starts the truck. “Where to?” I let out a breath of relief. “Over on Forest. Big Victorian.” “Got it.” We drive the short distance in silence. At the first glimpse of my car, the urge to flee is hard to resist. I have the door open before he comes to a complete stop. “See you around,” I say lightly. “I’m walking you to your car.” He lifts his hips to pull his jeans up, alerting me to the fact that he’s still half-naked. I try not to stare as he tucks his semi-hard dick away. He could go another round, easy. My body pleads for more contact, which I ignore by climbing out of the truck. When Tucker joins me, his T-shirt is back on and his jeans are riding on his trim hips, the zipper undone. He still has his boots on. A gurgle of hysteria shoots into my throat. He fucked me that good and he didn’t even take his boots off? “I’ll follow you home,” he says. “I told you, I live in Boston.” He shrugs. “So? Roads are shit and I want to make sure you get home okay.” “I’ll be fine. I’ve made this run dozens of times before.” “Then text me when you get home.” “No phone numbers,” I remind him, feeling weirdly panicked. “It’s either the text or I follow you.” Finality rings in his voice. Figures I’d have a one-night stand with the last remaining gentleman on this planet. “Fine.” I fish my phone out of my coat pocket. “But you’re killing off all the good feelings.” His light brown eyes twinkle. “Shouldn’t matter, right, because this isn’t going to be repeated?” He has a fucking answer for everything. “You should be pre-law,” I mutter. “Give me your number.” I tap it in as he reels it off, then unlock my car and practically hurl myself into the driver’s seat. Thankfully, the engine of my sometimes-unreliable Honda starts immediately. I crack my window down an inch and murmur a hasty, “Night, Tucker,” and he responds with a quick nod. I watch him in the rearview mirror for nearly a block, a lone figure against the moonlit backdrop, before forcing my gaze forward. That’s where my focus has to be. The drive home passes by in a blur, though, as my mind replays the hot sex scene on repeat. Stupid mind. But…the sex was so good. Would it really hurt to see him again? I park on the cracked asphalt of the carport behind my house and just sit there for a moment. Then I rake a hand through my tousled sex-hair and reach for my phone. Me: I’m here. The response is immediate. Him: Good. Glad to hear it. Feel free to use this number again. Do I want to use it—him—again? It’s so tempting. John Tucker was hot as hell, fucked like a god, and was so laidback nothing seemed to faze him. He didn’t ask me any difficult questions and didn’t seem interested in wanting more than I could offer. How often does a guy like that come along? Me: I’ll keep that in mind. Him: U do that, darlin’. I run a thumb over my lip, remembering how good it felt when he kissed me. Argh. Maybe I will use that number again. Exhaustion hits me the moment I step out of the car. I need some sleep, STAT. Tomorrow’s going to be as long and tiring as today was, and I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. When I stumble through the door, Nana is sitting in the same spot I left her. I suspect the only time she moved in the four or so hours I’ve been gone was to pee out the empty two-liter Coke bottle on the kitchen table. The bottle was full before I left. There’s a different magazine in front of her, though. I think it’s the Enquirer. She takes in my disheveled appearance. “Thought you had a cocktail party.” A smirk forms. “Looks like you were on the menu.” Heat floods my face. Yup. Nothing like a word from Nana to set the world back in order. I ignore the jab and head for the doorway. “’Night,” I mumble. “Goodnight,” she replies, her chuckles following me into the bedroom. After I’ve closed and locked the door, I pull out my phone and bring up Tucker’s name. For one long moment, I stare at it. I’m tempted to text him something. Anything. Instead, I go to the info screen and press “BLOCK.” Because no matter how sexy he is or how many orgasms he can wring out of me, there’s no place in my life for a second round with him. 4 Tucker The sound of a car engine revving jerks me awake. It’s still dark out, but I can make out the tiniest sliver of light on the horizon, a grayish stripe in a black background. I flip the lever of my seat and allow the mechanism to push me upright, just in time to see a small Honda Civic pulling out of Sabrina James’s drive. Blearily, I check the time on the dash. Four a.m. As her car drives past, I catch a glimpse of dark hair, and before I know it, I’ve pulled out in traffic behind her. I followed her to Boston last night because the roads were still icy and I was worried about her. And I wasn’t convinced she was going to text me. After she’d come that last time, she’d totally shut down. It was obvious that being intimate isn’t something she feels comfortable with. I got the sense I could say about any filthy thing I wanted to her and she’d be completely fine, but a tender, caring word and she’d jackrabbit out of there. Hell, she almost jumped out of my truck in her haste to get away. I didn’t take it personally, though. I stretch my back as best as I can. I haven’t slept in my truck for a long time, and my body’s reminding me the exact reason why. But it was either catch a few zzzs or take a chance driving back on the slick roads. I chose to sleep in my cab. Sabrina’s car zips through a yellow light and then takes a sharp left. By the time I catch up, she’s pulling into the employee parking lot of a south Boston post office. A second later, she stumbles out of the driver’s seat wearing a work uniform, her long hair tied back in a ponytail. A smile curves across my face. Smoking hot, bright as the sun, and a hard worker? Damn. My mom would love this girl. * I drive back to Hastings with a silly-ass grin on my face and throw myself on my bed to sleep for three measly hours. Then I hop right back in the truck and drive to campus to meet up with my study group, because we’ve got a big marketing test tomorrow. Though I’m not sure this nine a.m. cram session is going to help me much in my groggy state. Two cups of coffee succeed in waking me up a bit, and I feel much more alert when the session breaks up around eleven. Rather than head home right away, I grab a third coffee and pull out my phone. It’s time to do a little digging, and I’d rather do it at the coffeehouse than at home where my nosy roommates might ask questions. I know Sabrina has classes with Dean, but Dean’s not exactly reliable when it comes to her, so I hit up the only other poli sci major I know—Sheena Drake. She’s an ex but still a good friend of mine. Actually, I can’t think of a single ex I’m not friends with. Me: What do u know about Sabrina James? Sheena answers right away, which tells me she either didn’t party too hard last night, or she partied so hard she never went to bed. Her: Ugh. Hate her. I frown at the screen. Me: Why? Her: b/c she’s hotter than me. Bitch. My loud snort draws the attention of the trio of students at the neighboring table. Another text from Sheena pops up. Her: But she’s hotter than EVERYONE. So I guess I can’t b mad? Why r u asking about her? Me: Ran into her last night. She seemed cool. Her: I wouldn’t know. Got 2 classes w/ her but she’s not too chatty. Super smart, tho. Rumor is she only hooks up w/ jocks. I sip my coffee as I ponder that. Guess it makes sense, seeing as she hooked up with me last night. My phone buzzes with another message from Sheena. U crushing on her? Considering I had my tongue, mouth, fingers and dick all over her last night, I think I might be past crushing. But I just type, Maybe. Her: U so are!!! Tell me everything!!! Me: Nothing 2 tell. CU in Econ tmrw? Her: Yup. Me: K. Thx, babe. Her: <3 I scroll through my contact list in search of anyone else who might know Sabrina, but only one name pops out at me. Hell, it’s probably the person I should’ve spoken to first. I gulp down the rest of my coffee, then head for the door. I shoot off a quick text, but there’s no insta-response, so instead of waiting I send another message, this time to Ollie Jankowitz, the roommate of the guy I’m trying to track down. Me: U with Beau? Him: Negative. Me: Know where he’s at? Him: Gym. Well, that was easy. I leave my truck in the student lot and decide to make the trek on foot, since the football stadium is only a short walk from the coffeehouse. My Briar hockey ID doesn’t give me access to the training facility, but luckily I reach the door at the same time as a sophomore lineman, who lets me in. I find Beau Maxwell in the weight room, working on his chest and arms. Beau is Briar’s beloved quarterback, and, as far as I know, the last guy who’d held Sabrina’s interest for any significant period of time. He’s a friend of mine, closer to Dean than any of us, but we’re still buddies and I’d rather he hear that I’m chasing after Sabrina from me than the gossip mill. Athletes spend as much time as anyone talking about hookups, girlfriends, and future lays. “Maxwell,” I call as I cross the room, which smells like sweat and industrial cleaning supplies. “Got a minute?” Beau doesn’t look away from the mirror. “Sure. I’m gonna do bench presses in a sec. You can spot me.” “Sounds like a plan.” I take a seat on the bench next to him and mentally count his reps as he does them. At ten, he drops the fifty-pound kettle bell and turns to me. “I’m doing light weights, double reps,” he explains, feeling the need to justify the two-fifty weight on the barbell. “Should you even be lifting anything at all?” I don’t know much about the quarterback position, but it seems to me that any extra muscle could affect his throwing arm. “Light weights only,” he reiterates. As he lies back and reaches above him, I move to the head of the bench. With these weights, I doubt he could hurt himself, so the spotter position is sort of unnecessary. But it gives me something to do while we talk. “Heard you hooked up with Sabrina James this fall,” I start awkwardly. “You still holding a torch for her?” Beau tilts his head backward so he can stare at me. He’s got vivid blue eyes that I’m pretty sure half the chicks at Briar have gotten lost in. Or have dreamed about getting lost in. “Naah, no torch here,” he finally answers. “Why? You aiming to tap that?” Already have, dude. But I repeat what I told Sheena. “Maybe.” “Gotcha. Well, if you’re looking for more than a hookup, she’s not your girl.” “Yeah?” “Oh yeah. Seriously, Tuck, she’s closed tighter than a clam. She doesn’t have time.” Beau wrinkles his forehead. “She’s got like four or five jobs and you have to fit in on her schedule. Like a doctor on call.” “That’s good to know.” He finishes out his reps in silence. When he’s done, he pushes upright, and I toss him a bottle of water I find next to the bench. “Need any more help?” I ask. “Naah, I got it.” “See you around then.” I take a step, then glance over at him again. “Do me a favor and keep this convo between us?” He nods. “Gotcha.” I’m at the exit door when Beau calls out to me. “Hey, what if I said I was still interested?” I turn around to meet his eyes. “That’d be too bad.” Beau chuckles. “I thought so. Well, more power to you, dude, but I’m warning you—there are easier women than Sabrina.” “Why would I want someone easy?” I flash him a grin. “That doesn’t sound like any fun.” 5 Sabrina I’m having one of those days. The kind of day where I’m living in a cartoon and I’m the Road Runner, speeding from one place to another without a single opportunity to sit down or breathe. Well, technically I do a lot of sitting in my morning classes, but it’s not relaxing at all, because we’re gearing up for our con law papers which make up the entirety of my grade, and I stupidly chose one of the hardest topics—the differing legal standards applied to examine the constitutionality of laws. Breakfast consists of a cheese croissant that I scarf down on the way from Advanced Political Theory to Media and Government. And I don’t even get to finish it, because in my haste I trip on the cobblestone path that winds through campus and end up dropping the croissant in a puddle of slush. My stomach growls angrily during the Media lecture, then gets louder and angrier when I meet with my advisor to talk finances. I didn’t find any acceptance letters in my mailbox this morning, but I have to believe that I at least got into one of the programs I applied to. And even the second tier schools will cost a pretty penny, which means I need a scholarship. If I don’t get into a top law school, there’ll be no BigLaw job offer with its BigLaw paycheck, and that means crushing, demoralizing, endless debt. After the meeting, I have a one-hour tutorial for my Game Theory class. It’s run by the TA, a skinny guy with Albert Einstein hair and the annoying, pretentious habit of incorporating REALLY BIG WORDS in every sentence he utters. I’m an intelligent person, but every time I’m around this guy, I’m secretly looking up words on my phone’s dictionary app under the table. There’s really no reason for a person to use the word parsimonious when they can just say frugal—unless they’re a total douche, of course. But Steve thinks of himself as a big shot. Though rumor has it, he’s still a TA because he’s failed—twice—to defend his dissertation and can’t get an associate professorship anywhere. Once the meeting wraps up, I shove my laptop and notebook in my messenger bag and make a beeline for the door. I’m so hungry that I’m feeling light-headed. Fortunately, there’s a sandwich place in the lobby of the building. I fly out the door, only to skid to a stop when a familiar face greets me. My heart somersaults so hard it’s embarrassing. I’ve spent the last day and a half forcing myself not to think about this guy, and now he’s standing here, in the flesh. My gaze eats him up eagerly. He’s wearing his hockey jacket again. His auburn hair is windblown, cheeks ruddy as if he’d just come in from the cold. Faded blue jeans encase his impossibly long legs, and he’s got his hands hooked lightly in the tops of his pockets. “Tucker,” I squeak. His lips quirk up. “Sabrina.” “W-what are you doing here?” Oh my God. I’m stuttering. What’s wrong with me? Someone jostles me from behind. I hastily step away from the doorway to let the other students out. I’m not sure what to say, but I know what I want to do. I want to throw myself at this guy, wrap my arms around his neck, my legs around his waist, and maul him with my mouth. But I don’t. “You’re ignoring my texts,” he says frankly. Guilt tickles my throat. I’m not ignoring his texts—I haven’t gotten them. Because I blocked his number. Still, my heart does another silly flip at the knowledge that he’s been texting. I suddenly wish I knew what he’d said, but I’m not going to ask him. That’s just looking for trouble. For some stupid reason, though, I find myself confessing, “I blocked you.” Rather than look offended, he chuckles. “Yeah. I figured you might’ve. That’s why I tracked you down.” I narrow my eyes. “And how did you do that, exactly? How’d you know I’d be here?” “I asked my advisor for your schedule.” My jaw falls open. “And she gave it to you?” “He, actually. And yep, he was happy to do it.” Disbelief and indignation mingle in my blood. What the hell? The faculty can’t just hand out students’ schedules to anyone who asks for them, right? That’s a violation of privacy. I grit my teeth and decide that the moment I pass the bar, my first order of legal business will be suing this stupid college. “Did he give you my transcript too?” I mutter. “No. And don’t worry, I’m sure your schedule isn’t being passed around in flier-form around campus. He only gave it to me because I play hockey.” “That’s supposed to make me feel better? The reminder that you’re a privileged jackass who gets special treatment because you skate around on the ice and win trophies?” I take off walking, my pace brisk, but he’s big enough that his strides eat up the ground and he’s beside me in a heartbeat. “I’m sorry.” He sounds genuinely regretful. “If it helps, I don’t normally play the athlete card to get favors. Hell, I could’ve asked Dean for your schedule, but I figured you’d like that even less.” He’s right about that. The thought of Tucker talking to Dean Di Laurentis about me makes my skin crawl. “Fine. Well, you tracked me down. What do you want, Tucker?” I walk faster. “What’s the hurry, darlin’?” “My life,” I mumble. “What?” “I’m always in a hurry,” I clarify. “I’ve got twenty minutes to get some food in me before my next class.” We reach the lobby, where I instantly get in line at the sandwich stand, scanning the menu on the wall. The student in front of us leaves the counter before Tucker can speak. I hurriedly step forward to place my order. When I reach into my bag for my wallet, Tucker’s hand drops over mine. “I’ve got this,” he says, already drawing a twenty-dollar bill from his brown leather wallet. I don’t know why, but that annoys me even more. “First drinks at Malone’s, and now lunch? What, you’re trying to show off? Making sure I know you’ve got cash to spare?” Hurt flickers in his deep brown eyes. Fuck. I don’t know why I’m antagonizing him. It’s just…him showing up here, admitting he pulled favors to find me, paying for my lunch… It was supposed to be a one-time thing, and now he’s in my face and I don’t like it. No, that’s not true. I love having his face near mine. He’s so sexy, and he smells so good, like sandalwood and citrus. I want to bury my nose in the strong column of his neck and inhale him until I get a contact high. But there’s no time for that. Time is a concept that doesn’t exist in my life, and John Tucker is too big a distraction. “I’m paying for your lunch because that’s the way my mama raised me,” he says quietly. “Call me old-fashioned if you want, but that’s how I roll.” I gulp down another rush of guilt. “I’m sorry.” My voice shakes slightly. “Thank you for lunch. I appreciate it.” We edge to the other end of the counter, waiting in silence as a curly-haired girl prepares my ham and Swiss sandwich. She wraps it up for me, and I tuck it under my arm while uncapping the Diet Coke I’d ordered. Then we’re on the move again. Tucker follows me out the door, watching in amusement as I try to juggle my drink and messenger bag and unwrap my sandwich at the same time. “Let me hold this for you.” He takes the bottle from my hand. There’s a gentleness on his face as he watches me sink my teeth into the lightly toasted rye bread. I barely chew before I’m taking a second bite, which makes him laugh. “Hungry?” he teases. “Famished,” I admit, and I don’t even care that I’m being rude by talking with my mouth full. I quickly descend the wide steps. Again, he keeps up with me. “You shouldn’t eat while you walk,” he advises. “No time. My next class is all the way across campus, so—hey!” I exclaim when he takes my arm and drags me away from the path. “What are you doing?” Ignoring my protests, he leads me to one of the wrought-iron benches on the lawn. It hasn’t snowed yet this winter, but the grass is covered with a silver layer of frost. Tucker forces me to sit, then drops down beside me and plants one hand on my knee, as if he’s afraid I might bolt. Which I was totally considering doing before that big hand made contact. The heat of it sears through my tights and warms my core. “Eat,” he says gently. “You’re allowed to give yourself two minutes to recharge, darlin’.” I find myself obeying, same way I obeyed the other night when he told me to ride his face, when he ordered me to come. A shiver shimmies up my spine. God, why can’t I get this guy out of my head? “What did you text me?” I blurt out. He gives a mysterious smile. “Guess you’ll never know.” Despite myself, I smile back. “It was something sexy, wasn’t it?” He whistles innocently. “It was!” I accuse, and then experience a jolt of self-directed recrimination, because, damn it, I bet it was filthy and delicious and wonderful. “Listen, I’m not going to take up much of your time,” he says. “I know you’re busy. I know you commute from Boston. I know you have a few jobs—” “Two,” I correct. My head tips in challenge. “And how would you know that?” He shrugs. “I’ve been asking around.” He has? Crap. As flattering as that is, I’m kind of scared to know who he’s been asking and what they’ve been telling him. Aside from Hope and Carin, I don’t spend much time with my peers. I know I come off as aloof at times— Fine, bitchy. Aloof is just a nice word for bitchy. And while I’m not thrilled that my classmates think I’m a bitch, there’s not much I can do about that. I don’t have the time or energy to make small talk, or to grab coffee after class, or to pretend that I have anything in common with the wealthy, elitist kids that comprise most of this college. “The point,” he finishes, “is that I get it, okay? You’re swamped, and I’m not asking you to wear my varsity jacket and my class ring and be my steady girl.” I have to laugh at the Pleasantville picture he’s painted. “Then what are you asking me?” “For a date,” he says simply. “One date. Maybe it’ll end with us fucking again—” My body sings in delight. “—or maybe it won’t. Either way, I wanna see you again.” I watch as he rakes a hand through his reddish hair. Damn, who would’ve thought that gingers could be so hot? “I don’t care when. You want to grab a bite late at night, fine. Early in the morning, cool, as long as I don’t have practice. I’m willing to play by your rules, adapt to your schedule.” Pleasure and suspicion war inside me, but the latter wins out. “Why? I mean, I know we rocked each other’s worlds, but why are you so hard up on seeing me again?” I gulp when he fixes me with a steady, intense gaze. Then he freaks me out even more by asking, “Do you believe in love at first sight?” Oh my fucking God. I start to shoot to my feet. He tugs me back onto the bench with a deep chuckle. “Chill, Sabrina. I’m not saying I’m in love with you.” He’d better not be! Taking a calming breath, I set my half-eaten sandwich on my lap and try to muster up a tone that doesn’t convey the scared-shitless feeling racing through me. “Then what are you saying?” “I’d seen you around campus before the night at Malone’s,” he admits. “And yeah, I thought you were hot, but it’s not like I was desperate to find out who you were.” “Gee, thanks.” “Make up your mind, darlin’. Do you want me to be infatuated with you, or do you want me to not give a shit?” Both! I want both, and that’s the problem, damn it. “Anyway, I’d seen you before. But the night at the bar, when we made eye contact from across the room? Something magical happened,” he says bluntly. “I know you felt it too.” I pick up my sandwich and take a small bite, chewing extra slow in order to delay having to respond. He’s freaking me out again, with his confident gaze and his matter-of-fact tone. I’ve never met a guy who can throw out phrases like “love at first sight” and “something magical happened” without at least having the decency to blush or look mortified. Finally, I force myself to answer him. “The only magical thing that happened was that we liked what we saw. Pheromones, Tucker. Nothing more.” “That was part of it,” he agrees. “But there was more to it than that, and you know it. There was a connection the moment we looked at each other.” I raise my Diet Coke to my lips and chug nearly half of it. “I want to explore it. I think we’d be stupid not to.” “And I think…” I struggle for words. “I think…” I think you’re the most fascinating guy I’ve ever met. I think you’re amazing in bed and I want to fuck you again. I think if I was capable of having my heart broken, you’d have the power to break it. “I think I made myself clear that night,” I finish. “I’m not in the market for a relationship, or even a fuck buddy. I wanted sex. You gave it to me. That’s all it was.” I don’t miss the disappointment that floods his eyes. It brings a pang of regret and makes my stomach twist painfully, but I’ve already set this course and now I need to see it through. I’m very good at staying the course. “I know you athletes are stubborn as hell and that you don’t give up when you want something, but…” I take a breath. “I’m asking you to give up.” His jaw tightens. “Sabrina—” “Please.” I cringe at the desperate note in my voice. “Just give up, all right? I don’t want to start anything up. I don’t want to go on a date. I want…” I rise on wobbly legs. “I want to get to class, that’s all.” After an interminably long silence, he gets up too. “Sure, darlin’. If that’s what you want.” It’s not a taunt, nor does it contain even a hint of promise, as in sure, darlin’, I’ll give up—for now. But expect me to keep chasing you until I wear you down. No, there’s a finality to his words that makes me sad. John Tucker is clearly a man of his word, and while I ought to admire that, I’ve suddenly become a hypocrite, because now I’m the one feeling disappointed. “I’ll see you around,” he says gruffly. And then he strides off without another word, leaving me to stare after him in dismay. I did the right thing. I know I did. Even if I had oodles of free time to pursue something with him, there’s no room in my life for someone like Tucker. He’s sweet and earnest and clearly has money, whereas I’m bitchy and stressed and live in the gutter. He can talk all he wants about connections at first sight, but that doesn’t change the reality of this. I’m not the girl for John Tucker, and I never will be. 6 Tucker Practice is shit. The team’s just not clicking this season, and Coach Jensen is riding us mercilessly now that we’ve got a few losses tarnishing our record. Yesterday’s loss bummed us out pretty hard—we were up against a Division II team who should not have wiped our asses all over the ice like that. The new defensive coach, Frank O’Shea, is only making things worse. I’ve been thanking my lucky stars that I’m not a defenseman. O’Shea seems to have a vendetta against Dean, constantly calling him out and harping on his mistakes. Dean’s cheeks go redder than apples every time O’Shea opens his mouth. According to Logan, the man used to be the head coach at Dean’s prep school. They obviously have a past, but whatever it is, Dean’s not sharing. But he’s not happy, either. Not only are the d-men constantly ordered to stay late, but apparently Dean got forced into coaching the kiddie team at the elementary school in town. I skate to the bench after my shift and heave myself over the wall, then squirt some water in my mouth and watch Garrett’s line fly across the blue line. Today’s scrimmage is non-scoring so far. Seriously, that’s how bad we suck. We can’t even score on each other during practice, and it’s not because our goalies are in top form—none of the forwards can get their shit together, myself included. A whistle blows. Coach starts screaming at one of our junior d-men for icing the puck. “What the hell was that, Kelvin! You had four passing opportunities and you decide to ice the fucking thing!” Coach looks ready to pull his hair out. I don’t blame him. “I could’ve made that pass if I was out there,” Dean grumbles beside me. I glance over in sympathy. One of O’Shea’s first orders of business had been to rearrange the lines. He’d paired Dean up with Brodowski, and Logan with Kelvin, when we all know that Logan and Dean are unstoppable together. “I’m sure O’Shea will realize his mistake soon.” “Yeah right. This is punishment. The motherfucker hates me.” My curiosity is once again piqued. “Why’s that again?” Dean’s expression goes cloudier. “Don’t worry about it.” “Not sure if you know this,” I say pleasantly, “but secrets kill friendships.” That makes him snicker. “You really want to talk to me about secrets? Where the fuck were you all weekend?” I instantly shutter my expression. I’m cool confiding in my friends about my love life, but I don’t want to discuss Sabrina with Dean, especially when I know his opinion of her. Besides, what the fuck is there to talk about, anyway? She shot me down. I asked her out and she flat-out told me no, it was never gonna happen. If I thought there was even the slightest chance that she wanted me to chase after her, maybe I wouldn’t have taken no for an answer. Maybe I would’ve shown up after her classes a few more times, bought her a couple more sandwiches, wooed her with my charm and worked the southern accent whenever I felt her drawing away. But I saw the look in her eyes. She meant what she said—she doesn’t want to see me again. And although I have no problem being the pursuer, I’m not going to chase after someone who’s not interested. Still, it fucking sucks balls. When we were sitting on that bench the other day, I wanted nothing more than to pull her onto my lap and fuck her right there, and to hell with anyone walking by. The Dean himself could’ve been standing there tapping his watch and I still wouldn’t have stopped. It had taken all my willpower to suppress the primal urges, but man, something about that girl… It’s not just her beauty, though that doesn’t hurt at all. It’s…it’s…damn, I can’t even put it into words. She’s got this hard exterior, but inside she’s as soft as butter. I see flashes of vulnerability in her bottomless dark eyes and I just want to…take care of her. The guys would laugh if they knew what I was thinking right now. Or hell, maybe they wouldn’t. They already rag me daily at home about my “nurturing” side. I’m our resident cook, do most of the cleaning, make sure shit around the house is in working order. That’s how my mom raised me, though. I didn’t have a dad. He died when I was three and I barely remember him. But Mom more than made up for him not being there, and the father figure I was lacking came in the form of my hockey coaches. Texas is a football state. I probably would’ve gone that route if it weren’t for a vacation we took to Wisconsin when I was five. Once a year, Mom and I would visit my dad’s sister in Green Bay. Or at least we tried to. Sometimes money wouldn’t allow it, but we did our best. During that visit, Aunt Nancy bundled me up and took me skating. It’s goddamn cold in Green Bay—I imagine that’s most people’s worst nightmare, but I loved the chill on my cheeks, the frigid air hissing past my ears as I skated on that outdoor pond. A few older kids had a game of hockey going, and I got a thrill watching them whiz across the pond. It looked like so much fun. When Mom and I got back to Texas the following week, I announced that I wanted to play hockey. She’d laughed indulgently, but humored me, finding a year-round rink an hour from home. I think she thought I would grow out of it. Instead, I grew to love it even more. Now I’m here, at an East Coast Ivy League college, playing hockey for a team that’s won three national championships—consecutively. But I have a feeling there won’t be a fourth, not the way we’re playing lately. “What, you’ve forgotten how to talk?” I look over and find Dean watching me with a wary expression. What? Oh, right, he wants to know what I was up to this weekend. “Just hanging with some friends,” I say vaguely. “What friends? All your friends are here—” He waves a hand around the rink. “And I know for a fact you weren’t with any of them.” I shrug. “You don’t know these friends.” Then I shift my gaze back to the ice as Dean grumbles beside me. “Jesus fuck, you’re worse than Antoine and Marie-Thérèse.” My head swings back. “Excuse me?” “Forget it,” he mutters. Who the fuck are Antoine and Marie-Thérèse? Just like Dean knows all my friends, I know all of his, and I’m pretty sure we don’t know anyone with those names. But whatever. I don’t want him pushing me for answers, so I’m not about to push him. “Fuck yeah!” a voice yells from the other end of the bench. I refocus on the ice in time to see Garrett slap a bullet past Patrick, our senior goalie. It’s the first and only goal of the scrimmage, and all the guys on the bench thump their gloves against the wall in celebration. Coach blows his whistle and dismisses us, so we end the practice on a good note. Sort of. The d-men are asked to stay behind as usual, and I don’t miss the frustration in Dean’s and Logan’s eyes. O’Shea’s gonna need to lighten up if he wants to win the respect of this team. In the locker room, I strip out of my sweaty jersey and pads and drop my hockey pants on the gleaming floor. We’ve got a state-of-the-art facility here. The room is huge, the lockers are padded leather, and the ventilation system is top-notch. It only slightly smells like old socks in here. Garrett comes up beside me and whips off his helmet. His dark hair is damp with sweat and sticking to his forehead. As he reaches up to smooth his hair away, I glance at the badass flames tattooed on his biceps. It always makes me think I want to get inked myself, but then I remember the travesty on Hollis’ leg that he got after our first Frozen Four win. Three years later, and he still wears long socks to cover it up most of the time. “Think we’ll ever remember how to play hockey again?” he says wryly. I snort. “Season’s just started. We’ll be fine.” He doesn’t seem convinced. Neither does Hunter Davenport, who lumbers over with a sour look. “We keep getting worse,” the freshman growls, and then, in eighteen-year-old fashion, hurls one glove against the wall. I quickly glance around and sigh in relief when I don’t spot Coach. The man would shit a brick if he saw one of us throwing a temper tantrum in the locker room. “Chillax, kid,” Mike Hollis, a junior, tells Hunter. He’s bare-chested and in the process of undoing his pants. “Who cares if we lose a scrimmage in practice?” “It’s not about the scrimmage,” Hunter snaps. “It’s that we suck.” Hollis tips his head. “You got laid last night, didn’t ya?” The dark-haired freshman furrows his brow. “What does that have to do with anything?” “Everything. We embarrassed ourselves in that game, got our asses kicked, and you still had chicks lining up to suck on your knob. Doesn’t matter if we win or lose—we’re still hockey players. We rule this school, dude.” “Spoken like a man without ambition,” Garrett says, his lips twitching. Hollis shrugs. “Hey, not all of us have a hard-on for the pros like you do. Some of us are happy doing this for the pussy.” A heavy sigh sounds from the end of the long bench spanning our lockers. Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald, an enormous junior with scruffy hair and more tats than a biker, saunters over and smacks Hollis on the ass. “Do you ever not talk about pussy?” Fitzy asks. “Why would I talk about anything else? Pussy’s great.” He’s right about that. Unfortunately, I won’t get to experience any great pussy for at least…oh, a month? Two? I’m not sure how long it’ll take my cock to forget about Sabrina James. If I hooked up with anyone else right now, I’d only be comparing her to Sabrina, and that’s not fair to anyone involved. “Oh hey,” Hollis says suddenly. “Speaking of pussy…” Garrett rolls his eyes. Hard. “I’m hitting up Boston this weekend,” Hollis continues. “Crashing at my brother’s place. You guys want to come with? Barhopping, a few clubs, hot girls. It’ll be a good time.” Our team captain frowns. “We’ve got a game on Saturday.” Hollis waves a hand. “We’ll be back in time.” “You’d better be.” Garrett shrugs. “But I can’t go anyway. Got plans with my girl this weekend.” His face takes on a faraway expression, a mixture of wonder and pure bliss, before he saunters off toward the shower area. I tamp down the envy that rises in my throat. Garrett’s been with Hannah for a year now, and it doesn’t seem like that new love glow is ever going to wear off. He’s so in love with his girlfriend that it’s almost disgusting. Ditto for Logan, who recently got back together with his girlfriend Grace and professed his love for her on the radio. It feels a bit…wrong, I guess, that the two biggest players I know have settled down. Out of all of us, I’m the guy who’s into all that commitment stuff. When I first came to Briar, I figured I’d meet the woman of my dreams—the one—during freshman orientation, date her for the next four years, and propose after graduation. But it didn’t turn out that way at all. I’ve dated lots of girls, slept with a lot of them too, but none of them were the one. Meanwhile, Garrett and Logan found their ones when they weren’t even looking for them, those lucky bastards. “Tuck?” Hollis encourages. “Boston? Dude weekend? You in?” My first inclination is to say no, but my mind trips over the word Boston. I know Sabrina said she didn’t want to see me again, but…would she really tell me to get lost if we happened to run into each other in the city? I mean, she lives there, and I happen to know her address, so…who knows, right? Maybe a stellar Yelp review will take the guys and me to some amazing bar in her neighborhood. Maybe we’ll bump into each other. Maybe— Maybe you’re turning into a stalker? I stifle a sigh. Fine, my mind’s definitely treading into Stranger Danger! territory. But even knowing that, I can’t stop myself from saying, “Sure, I’m in. Wouldn’t mind catching a Bruins game at a sports bar or something.” “Me too,” Fitzy decides. “I want to pop into this gaming store downtown. They’ve got a role-playing game there that I can’t find anywhere online. I’ll have to suck it up and spend some actual money.” Hollis’ horrified gaze travels from me to Fitz. “A Bruins game? A gaming store? How am I friends with you two?” I arch a brow. “You’d rather we bail?” “No.” He heaves a sigh. “But at least try to pretend you’re in it for the pussy.” I snicker and pat him on the shoulder. “If that makes you feel better, then sure. Fitzy and I are—” I look at Fitz, prompting him with my hand. “—in it for the pussy,” we finish in unison. 7 Sabrina I’m dragging by the time I arrive home from Briar. I can’t decide what I hate more—the weekends, when I’m at the club until two or three in the morning and then have to sort mail and packages from four until eleven. Or the weekdays, when I either have classes in the morning and the post office afterward¸ or an ungodly early post office shift followed by classes. Today was the latter, so I’m dead-ass tired as I drop my backpack on the hall floor. Even if I wanted to be with Tucker again (and most of my body parts are in favor of a reunion) I’m too exhausted to do anything but lie on my back. Although…that wouldn’t be half bad, either. He could rub me down¸ fuck me slow, and I could just lie back and enjoy it. I give myself a mental head slap. Tucker and his big wang is the last thing that should be on my mind. In the kitchen, Nana is stirring a pot at the stove, dressed in tight jeans, a lycra top that’s losing its elasticity, and her ever-present fluffy pink slippers. “That smells great,” I tell her. The simmering red sauce is filling the kitchen with the most heavenly scent. My stomach gurgles and reminds me I haven’t had anything to eat since the bagel I grabbed for breakfast before work. “Girl, you look like you’re about to fall over. Go and sit down. Dinner will be ready in a sec.” I don’t need to be told twice, but when I see the empty table, I make a detour to grab plates and silverware. Through the doorway, I spot the top of Ray’s head as he stares at the television. He’s probably fondling himself. I shudder as I pull the plates out of the cabinet. “You want milk or water?” I ask as I begin to set the table. “Water, babe. I’m feeling bloated. Did you know that Anne Hathaway is lactose intolerant? She doesn’t eat any dairy. Maybe you should think about cutting dairy out of your diet.” “Nana, that means no cheese or ice cream. Unless a doctor tells me that dairy is going to kill me, I’m all in on the cow.” “All I’m saying is, dairy could be why you’re tired all the time.” She shakes her spoon at me. “No, I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m working two jobs and taking a full course load,” I answer dryly. “If she stops eating dairy, will she be less of a baby bitch?” Ray asks as he strolls into the kitchen. He’s wearing the same sweatpants that he always does. The fabric is so worn around his crotch, I swear I can see a faint hint of pink skin. I nearly gag, turning away before he ruins my appetite. “Ray, don’t you start,” Nana complains. “Babe, will you get the strainer for me?” My stepfather nudges me as I walk by. “She’s talking to you.” “No shit. Because she knows talking to you is like talking to her couch. She gets the same results.” I set the glass of water next to Nana’s plate and then hurry over to the sink to get the strainer out. Nana dumps the sauce into a bowl while I take care of the noodles. Ray, meanwhile, leans against the refrigerator like a lazy toad, watching us bustle around the kitchen. I hate this man with all my heart. From the first moment my mom brought him home to meet me when I was eight, I knew he was trouble. I told Mom as much, but listening to her daughter was never something she was very good at. Neither is sticking around, apparently. Mom ran off with some other slimebag when I was sixteen, and we haven’t seen her since. She calls a few times a year to “check in,” but as far as I can tell, she has no plans to ever come back to Boston. I don’t even know where she’s living these days. What I do know is that there’s no reason for Ray to be living here. He’s not my father—that title is reserved for the piece of shit who abandoned Mom after knocking her up—and he’s definitely not part of the family. I think the only reason Nana keeps him around is because his work comp checks pay a third of our rent. I assume she fucks him for about the same reason. Because he’s convenient. But, God, he’s so worthless I think even worms would turn up their noses at him. If worms had noses, that is. Only when the table is completely set and the steaming pasta is ready for serving does Ray take a seat. “Where’s the bread?” he demands. Nana flies up from her chair. “Oh damn. It’s in the oven.” “I’ve got it,” I tell her. “You sit still.” As much as Nana’s offhand comments might hurt, the woman still raised me, clothed me, and fed me while Ray sat on his fat ass, smoked weed and masturbated to sporting events. I cast a glare at his back and notice, for the first time, a white envelope stuck down his pants. It’s probably a bill. The last time he hid a bill from us (because he’d watched a dozen pay-per-view pornos) we had a three-month late fee to pay. Our budget works only if we don’t have unexpected surprises like that. I grab the rolls from the oven, dump them into a basket and carry it over the table. As I bend over, I pluck the envelope out from the back of Ray’s sweatpants. “What’s this?” I demand, waving it in the air. “Some bill?” “It’s not those dirty shows again, is it, Ray?” The sides of Nana’s thin lips pull down. He flushes. “Course not. Told you I don’t watch that shit anymore.” He shifts in his chair to give me a smarmy smile. “It’s for you.” He snatches the envelope out of my grip and drags it under his nose. “Smells like uptight bitch to me.” A flash of crimson at the edge makes my heart beat faster. I lunge toward the envelope, but Ray holds his arm out high and away from me, making me press against him. God, I hate him. “Give her the letter,” Nana chastises. “The food is getting cold.” “I was just funnin’,” he says, dropping the envelope by my plate. My eyes lock on the crimson shield in the upper left corner. “Open it,” Nana urges. There’s a hint of eagerness in her tone. She may taunt me about my worthless education and ridiculous dreams, but I think that deep down she’s damn excited. At least she’ll have this to lord over the other ladies at the hair salon whose granddaughters are having babies instead of getting into Harvard. Except…the envelope is wafer thin. All of my college acceptance letters were in giant envelopes stuffed full of pretty brochures and catalogs. “She’s scared. She probably didn’t get in.” Ray’s words are both lined with disdain and ringing with glee. I snatch the letter and rip it open with Ray’s knife. A single piece of paper falls out. It’s got several paragraphs, none of which I fully read as I scan for the important words. Congratulations on your admission to Harvard Law School! I hope you will join us in Cambridge as part of the class of— “Well?” Nana prompts. The biggest smile known to mankind spreads across my face. My hunger, my exhaustion, my irritation with Ray, is all wiped away. “I…got in.” The words come out on a squeak of breath. I repeat myself, and this time I’m screaming. “I got in! Oh my God! I got in!” I wave the letter in the air as I dance wildly around the kitchen. I don’t usually allow myself to drop my guard in front of Ray, but the bastard doesn’t even exist to me right now. Excitement pulses in my blood, along with a sense of relief so weighty that I can’t stay upright for much longer. I fall on Nana’s shoulders and give her a huge hug. “I suppose you’re going to be extra uppity now,” she gripes, and I don’t even care. “Naah, this doesn’t make her special or anything,” Ray drawls. “She’s got two holes like any other bitch. Three if you count her mouth.” I wait for Nana to defend me, but apparently jealousy is winning out over pride right now. She laughs at his disgusting comment, and just like that, I’m done celebrating with these people. I cannot wait to get out of this house. Still, I refuse to let anything affect my happiness right now. I spin on my heel and waltz down the hallway to call my girls. “What about dinner?” Nana yells after me. I ignore her and keep walking. In my bedroom, I throw myself on the bed and text my friends. I got in. Hope beats Carin by a millisecond. OMG! Congrats!!!!!!!! Carin replies, PIC! PIC! PIC! I snap a picture of the acceptance letter and send it off. While I’m waiting for their responses, I run down the hall, fill my plate with pasta, stuff a roll in my mouth, and run back to my bedroom. Nana and Ray say something, but none of it processes. Only sheer joy fills my ears. There are a dozen responses when I get back. Hope: <3 Carin: LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! UR so awesome! Hope: I’m so proud of u. UR going to make the best lawyer EVER. Please say you’ll represent me if I get sued for malpractice. Carin: THIS IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING! Hope: When do we get to take u out? And no, never, not happening R unacceptable responses. I chew on my roll as I text them back. Me: A) U both get free legal services 4 life. B) Let’s celebrate tomorrow. I promise to order enough to make your credit card weep. Hope: Not possible! I’m making reservations for Santino’s. Carin: That place needs reservations?! Hope: I dunno! Figure of speech. But we could go to Malone’s again if u want celebratory sex. Me: I still have the number from the guy from last Saturday. What about u? Your lady garden get a private tour last night? The two of them had gone out without me to a party at Beau Maxwell’s house. I wonder if Tucker was there. And if so, I wonder who he took to his truck this time. The thought of him running his big, callused hands over some other girl’s breasts makes me grit my teeth in envy, but I don’t have the right to be jealous. I blocked his number, after all. I told him in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t interested in going out with him. So why did you unblock him, hmmm? The taunting voice in my head has me biting my lip. Fine, so I unblocked his number. But that wasn’t because I want to go out with him or anything. I just figured it might be handy to have in case of…an emergency. God, I’m so pathetic. My phone dings, pulling me out of my thoughts. Carin: No. I was an angel. Hope: Liar! OMG, what a liar. She came downstairs with sex hair bigger than Cher. Text her a picture of ur chest. Right now or I’ll do it. Carin: Fine. I hate u. Sometimes I do wish I lived with them. I gobble up more pasta as I wait for the picture from Carin. When the image comes through, I nearly choke on a noodle. Me: Did u make out with teen wolf last night? Carin: No. Brad Allen. I search my memory banks and come up