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Today’s premier New Adult authors combine their talents to tell four original stories from inside one house.
When four girls decide to live off campus together as juniors at a college in Michigan, they expect it to be their best year yet. Little do they know, it’s a year that will change the rest of their lives.
Unable to live down her ex-boyfriend’s deception, Misha is determined to avoid betrayal. When, the new guy next door, Darryn starts to get under her skin, her defenses start to crumble. But trusting Darryn seems impossible, especially if he’s not sure he can trust himself.
SAVING ME by Molly McAdams
On the outside, Indy is always ready for a party—but inside she’s breaking. Kier makes a weekly routine of saving the girl next door from herself on Saturday nights… but when will she be ready to remember him on Sunday morning?
FOULING OUT by Tiffany King
Working at a sports bar, Courtney has become a pro at sidestepping propositions from arrogant jocks—which makes her a more elusive catch for campus basketball star Dalton than he expected. But when he falls for the saucy waitress, Dalton will have to rethink his game plan to prove he’s not the jerk Courtney expects.
In order to ace her fashion internship, Chloe must team up with local college dropout and set builder, Blake—much to her chagrin. But after some "hands-on" experience, Chloe will have to ask herself if Blake factors into her carefully laid plans…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780698175761
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/04/2014
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 499,639
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

A.L. Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of Take This Regret and Lost To You, as well as other contemporary romance titles, including Pulled and When We Collide. She lives in Southern Arizona with her husband and three beautiful children.

Molly McAdams lives in Texas with her husband. She is the author of four titles, including New York Times bestsellers Forgiving Lies, From Ashes, and Stealing Harper.

USA Today bestselling author Tiffany King has written a number of young adult titles and is also the author of the New Adult series The Woodfalls Girls, including No Attachments and Misunderstandings. She lives in Deltona, Florida.

Christina Lee lives outside of Cleveland with her husband and son. She is the author of All of You and Before You Break. Reading has always been her favorite pastime, so creating imaginary worlds has become a dream job. She also owns her own jewelry business, where she hand-stamps meaningful words or letters onto silver for her customers. She loves to hear from her readers.

Read an Excerpt



behind her eyes


Misha hugged herself around her middle. Chills raced down her spine and crystallized the blood in her veins. She felt sick. So sick. Tears streamed from her eyes fast and hard, dripping from her chin as she bent at the waist and cried toward the ground. As she stood in the front yard of his house, confronting him with the video she’d found, her body trembled with a shock of grief. “How could you do this to me?”

Hunter laughed, a sound of insult as it rumbled up his throat and passed through the smug smile curling his lips. He inclined his head to capture her attention up from her own feet. Like a deer blinded by the light, she froze, locked in the clutches of the blue gaze she’d once thought so tender and kind. Now those eyes simmered with derision.

“Knew you had it in you, Misha.” His voice raked the taunt, cutting her deeper with each biting word. “The good girl act . . . I saw right through it. You’re just as easy as the rest of the sluts around here, aren’t you?” His face twisted with morbid satisfaction. “Of course that amazing fuck was worth the hundred dollars I had on the line.”

“A h-h-h-hundred dollars?” She stuttered over the question, her tongue thick as she tried to force the words around the shame clogging her throat. Confusion and disbelief spun with the heartbreak. Her knees went weak.

Hunter moved closer, his nose an inch from hers. “A h-h-h-hundred dollars?” he mocked, pouring salt into her oldest wounds.

Misha sucked in a pained breath and squeezed her eyes shut.

“What? Do you think you’re worth more than that?”

Misha recoiled from the insult.

He might as well have slapped her.

He’d already ruined her life.

Abruptly he straightened and took two steps back. “Because you’re not.” He released a lazy chuckle, casually running a hand through his blond hair like she meant nothing at all. Then he turned and left her there.

The sob she struggled to hold in broke free, and Misha stumbled over the patchy lawn as heartbreak tore through her.

Betrayal and humiliation penetrated all the way to her bones. Horror flamed her heated cheeks, streams of tears flowing like a river of fire scalding her flaming flesh. But this heat was nothing like the blush that kissed her skin with shyness, the way the crimson colored her face when the slightest bit of attention was cast on her.


Because this? This was anguish.

Misha couldn’t fathom the viciousness, couldn’t comprehend that one person could be so cruel. She’d believed he’d cared about her. Loved her. He’d promised her she was everything.

Turned out she was just a pawn in some sick, twisted game.

chapter one


Three months later

What am I doing here?

I looked up at the dusty blue two-story house—the house I’d shared with three other girls, Indy, Courtney, and Chloe, during my sophomore year. Nostalgia billowed through me on a soft wave. I’d loved so much of my time here, learning how to spread my wings, to fly on my own without the shelter of my parents, who’d made it their lifelong duty to protect me from the vile dangers of this world.

My head shook with remorse. It hadn’t taken me long to be ensnared in its traps, had it?

After Hunter’s betrayal, I’d run straight home to Wisconsin and right into my mother’s waiting arms. Completely crushed. I’d sworn to never return here, too ashamed to be seen walking the halls of the university I’d attended in Ann Arbor, Michigan, since my freshman year of college.

Summer had passed in some kind of blur, my heart searching for a way to mend after it had been shattered beyond recognition. No longer did I fully recognize myself. The endless smile was wiped from my mouth and the naive trust I’d held in this world disintegrated into nothing.

But here I was, back in Michigan, standing in the driveway of the house I shared with my roommates. As much as I didn’t want to look, I couldn’t stop my gaze from wandering, latching warily on to the dingy white house next door.

Nausea pooled in my stomach as my eyes were drawn up the side of the house to the last window on the second floor. Behind that window was the room where I’d given Hunter my innocence. My hand fisted at my side, all of me protesting that thought. No. Where Hunter had stolen my innocence. Behind that window was where he’d hurt me, humiliated and shamed me.

For all my life I’d seen the best in people. My mother had always told me it was what made me who I was, why I glowed and smiled and shed a radiant light on the rest of the world. She said it was what made me good and begged me to never let it go.

Hunter taught me it just made me a fool.

“There you are.”

Tearing my eyes away, I turned to Indy as she stepped out onto the front porch of the house. Red hair whipped around her face, green eyes watching me where I stood at the end of the walkway.

“It’s about time you got here. It’s Happy Hour and we’re making drinks. Get your ass inside.”

I felt the heat rush to my face, and I chewed at my bottom lip, grabbed the two suitcases I’d taken from my car, and began to haul them behind me.

Happy Hour.


I hadn’t truly been happy since I left this place three months ago.

Junior year started in just three days. I didn’t think I’d be a part of it, resigning myself to giving up my dreams and transferring to a small school in Wisconsin, never turning back. Indy had convinced me I was wrong. She’d been betrayed, too, her jerk of a boyfriend hurting her, and she needed me back in the house. Just as much as I needed to be here.

I’d missed it. Now that I was here, I could admit that I knew I didn’t want to run away. By my doing so, all I had accomplished was allowing Hunter to win his nasty game.

He’d stolen something precious from me. I wouldn’t let him steal the internship I’d worked so hard for, too. Helping the kids there was the most important thing in my life, the one true thing that had called me back to Michigan. I couldn’t rid those innocent little faces from swirling through my mind, those little kids being the ones I planned on dedicating my life to.

No, I wouldn’t allow him to steal them, too.

The final key had been Indy telling me Hunter had been booted from the house next door, voted out when his three roommates found out he was the one who’d been responsible.

My heart warmed in a way I thought was no longer possible. I still couldn’t believe they’d taken up my side, supported me after I’d been so gullible.

It didn’t mean I loved the idea of someone else there, living in that room where I had been played like a cheap, worn-out piano.


That was what I wanted it to be. The room should be taped off and boarded up so no one could enter its repulsive walls. Even better, pummeled into a million tiny pieces by a wrecking ball. Maybe then the memory of what had happened there would be pulverized along with it.

I knew he would still roam the campus, that some people would think me someone I was not, that there would be times when I’d bear the brunt of the curse he’d cast on me. But I took comfort in knowing I wouldn’t have to witness that same smug, self-satisfied expression he’d looked at me with when I confronted him, when he laughed and mocked me, tossing me aside like a piece of trash.

Never again would I allow myself to fall prey to a guy like that. Lesson learned—the hard way.

I ascended the five wooden steps to the covered porch, my suitcases bouncing as I dragged them up behind me. I let them go and hugged Indy.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” she whispered near my ear.

I squeezed her tighter, sad the two of us were sharing in some kind of brokenhearted kinship.

“I’m so sorry to hear about Dean,” I mumbled into her shoulder.

“Me, too.” She pulled away, swiping away a tear. She gestured toward the door. “Come on, let’s get your stuff inside and then we need to catch up.”

I followed her through the front door. Inside, the main room was cramped with three couches. We spent a lot of time here, watching TV, lounging, and talking, sometimes studying, and this was where our friends hung out when they came over.

One of our other roommates, Chloe, sat on one of the couches, typing furiously on her laptop. She glanced up, squealed when she saw me in the doorway. “You’re back!”

She set her laptop aside and hopped up to welcome me.

I hugged her. “Thanks for letting me come back.”

“Pshh . . .” She smiled a playful smile, waves of her short blond hair swishing around her face. “Like we wanted to go through the trouble of looking for a new roommate.”

Courtney, the last of my roommates, ducked her head through the opening to the kitchen. “Misha’s back!” Her statement was no question, but tossed out in a loud greeting. “You don’t know how glad I am that Indy was able to drag you back here where you belong.”

There was no question they were working to play it light, to pretend like this heaviness didn’t surround me, like tears wouldn’t fall at the drop of a dime or at the mention of his name.

“I’m glad to be back,” I forced myself to say, doing my best to make it the truth. I smiled softly at them all. “I’m going to go upstairs and get settled.”

Courtney nodded. “Just let us know if you need anything. Indy and I are making drinks. We require your presence in . . .” She studied her watchless wrist. “Oh . . . two point five minutes.”

I giggled, feeling another flare of redness seep to my cheeks, and I self-consciously blew back a thick black curl that had fallen in my face. “How about five?”


I headed upstairs. On each side of the hall were two doors, four bedrooms taking up the second floor. Straight back at the end of the hall was a bathroom and a door to the side that led up to the open attic. We’d stuffed it full of pillows of every size, the floor just one huge, soft, squishy mess. I loved to escape to its quiet sanctuary, to maybe get lost in a book, to set myself free in my imagination.

After Hunter, I was sure I’d be hiding out up there a lot, stowed and locked away from all the things I didn’t want to face.

Sadness swallowed me when I opened the second door on the right and let myself into my small room. Everything was how I’d left it, minus the pictures I’d torn from the walls and the belongings I’d shoved into plastic bags that night three months ago when I left as quickly as I could, completely broken and having no clue how I’d go on, sure I would never come back to this place I loved.

Standing in the silence of my room, I made a resolution that I now would go on.

And I’d never allow myself to be so vulnerable again.

chapter two


Sucking in a steadying breath, I hiked my backpack higher up on my shoulders. My hand fluttered on the front doorknob. The cool metal beneath my palm passed through me like some kind of warning I couldn’t shake.

My first class of the semester started in an hour. I knew I had to make it out this door, hold my chin up, and face the world that I . . . well . . . the world I really didn’t want to face.

But I hadn’t come back here to be a coward, to become some kind of pathetic, reclusive girl who holed herself up in her room like I’d been doing since I came back to this house three days ago. I hated feeling like this, my heart all twisted up in my ribs, pounding so hard I was pretty sure I could see it beating under my shirt. Nerves wobbled my legs, my breaths heaving as they panted in and out of my parted lips.

I can do this.

I forced myself to turn the knob and stepped out onto the covered porch. The soles of my shoes thudded on the wooden floor, echoing as I propelled myself across the deck.

I can do this, I chanted over and over, my lips moving without sound as I studied my feet.

At the edge of the porch, I stepped down onto the top step and into the light. The light I hadn’t seen in days, my blinds drawn and my room cloaked in shadows for too long, the overbearing darkness filling me with melancholy and fear and questions of whether I really should have returned.

Now rays of shimmering sunlight beat down, wrapping me up in a soft hug of warmth, embracing my pale skin. Goose bumps lifted on my arms as the days I’d spent in dread seemed to clash with the greeting of the sun.

I lifted my face to the sky, my eyes dropping closed as I relished the sweet feel of the cool breeze and warm sun that tickled gentle fingers of comfort across my face.

And I stood in awed welcome of the day.

Winter would be here soon enough, ushering in the cold. This beautiful day was a stark reminder that I couldn’t allow Hunter to steal the best of life from me. Hiding in my room just meant I was again allowing him to take another piece of myself by giving in to the worry and questions.

I pulled the deepest breath into the well of my lungs. Clean, crisp air filled me up like a soothing balm that could be inhaled, a tangible solace that could be tucked somewhere deep inside myself, becoming a vital piece of who I was.

Something I hadn’t felt in so long stirred in my heart. A swirl of joy blossomed in my belly, sending a swell of appreciation right along with it. A feeling that everything might just be okay quietly slipped through my body on a hushed wave.

“I can do this,” I whispered again, only this time I uttered it aloud, the encouragement ringing through my ears to give a boost of confidence to my downtrodden spirit.

This time I believed it.

Slowly my eyes blinked open to the bright blue canopy above, and I shook myself off, skipped down the steps. I headed down the walkway leading away from the house, my face downturned and focused on my white canvas shoes.

Awareness prickled along my spine, lifting the hairs at the nape of my neck. On its own accord, my head drifted to the side where the upheaval of energy radiated, barreling into every last one of my senses.

I slowed to a stop.

It was doubtful anything in this world could have forced me to keep walking.

My lips parted in surprise, and a little “Oh” dropped from my mouth. My heart stuttered and all the heat of the sun landed square on my face, my cheeks flaming so hot I felt it burn somewhere in my stomach.

In the driveway next door sat a car I’d never seen before, one I didn’t recognize, one there was no question I would have remembered had it ever appeared in my sight. It was completely blacked out . . . all of it . . . the windows and the wheels and the body. It looked fast and dangerous and set off all kinds of bells in my head, every last one of them screaming a blaring warning.


But the car wasn’t what had me trapped. It was the guy tucked under the hood, hovering over the powerful engine, who had frozen me to the spot. The guy braced the wide span of his arms over the entirety of it, holding himself up and craning his head to the side as he stared across the short distance at me. The shaggy thatch of dark brown hair that flopped over his forehead did nothing to obstruct the unsettling intensity of his hazel eyes. Even in the space between us, I knew they were mostly green, but the sun caught flecks of gold that made them seem to glimmer with mischief.

He was wearing nothing but a pair of snug-fitting jeans, his strong chest and arms bare, the sheen of sweat covering it glistening in the sun, just enough to accentuate every ripple of muscle he had exposed.

Oh. My. God.

I chewed at my lip and attempted to look away, but my gaze was all tangled with his, locked up and wrenched tight with the eyes that seemed to be holding all of my functions hostage—eyes that were narrowed and burning with curiosity.

A lump grew in my throat.

Did he recognize me?

Shame scorched me all the way to my core.

Still I couldn’t look away.

Without taking his gaze from me, he pulled himself from under the hood. He grabbed a rag as he propped his hip up on the edge of his car, meticulous as he began to wipe the grease from his hands.

Seconds passed, or maybe hours, I wasn’t sure, everything a blur as my body waged a war with my mind, every rational thought I had sent to slay the fearful fascination this stranger sent speeding through my veins. Just looking at him had set the million butterflies that had lain dormant in my stomach scattering. They fluttered fast, teasing me with the unwanted attraction my traitor body was giving in to with just a glimpse of a cute boy.

Cute boy.


This guy . . . man . . . whatever you wanted to call him . . . wasn’t cute.

He looked like some sort of avenging angel. Too beautiful to be real. Maybe he was here to collect my soul, to make me pay for the sins Hunter had led me into.

Those butterflies dipped and dove when he spoke, his voice deep and rough, no doubt created for the sole purpose of enticing guileless girls into temptation. “So, are you just going to stand there and stare at me all day, or are you going to introduce yourself?”

Flustered, I shook my head, blinking as I took a stumbling step away from him, my mouth dropping open just a little more.

I spent a dumbfounded moment trying to process his words.

Did he really just say what I think he did?

What an arrogant jerk.

“I think you have a little something . . . right here,” he continued. With his index finger, he tapped at the cocky, curled-up edge of his lips, teasing me as he wiped the imaginary drool from the corner of his mouth. His taunting touch left behind a smudge of grease on his gorgeous face.


That thought ratcheted up my confusion a thousandfold, just like that wrench he’d been wielding against the bolt in the engine of his car. I was pretty sure this guy could twist me so tight he’d strip me bare.

I’d been screwed enough. Not again.

“Y-y-you were looking first,” I stammered over the lame defense, my voice strained and sounding a little too much like a petulant child’s.

Damn it! He had me hot and bothered in places I didn’t even know existed.

His head tipped to the side, tossing locks of his dark brown hair around his face. Then he shrugged. There was nothing I could do to stop my eyes from traveling to the defined planes of his chest.

I swallowed hard and tried to get my bearings.

Oh man, oh man, oh man. Not good.

It was like the bait that lured prey to the sharp teeth of a trap, too tempting to resist. Everything about the movement was predatory.

I could almost smell him, all man and grease and sex.

“So what if I was?” he asked, nonchalant, that rough voice tossing the contention out without the slightest hint of shame. He cocked an eyebrow as his eyes made a slow pass down my body.

I almost gasped in relief when he released me from the chains of his stare. Of course, he just dragged his attention right back up, and those searing eyes made me their prisoner again.

“You did look at yourself in the mirror this morning, didn’t you? You can hardly blame me.”

Redness bloomed hot and fast, and I let my hair fall in my face, obstructing the reaction I had to this boy.

Er . . . man or god or whatever he was.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

I refused to take his grimy come-on as a compliment.

I wanted to stomp my foot and tell him so. Instead I just stood there with my mouth still hanging open like some kind of blubbering fool.

He pushed himself from his car.

Panic thudded my pulse.

I wasn’t sure I could handle this guy getting any closer than he already was.

His expression shifted again, his head steadily drifting to the side as he approached, like he was doing his best to dig around in my thoughts.

I wasn’t letting him go there. Instead I dug around in myself for courage, lifting my trembling chin as if I were brave instead of the shivering coward I felt like.

“Do you really need an introduction?” I asked with almost a sneer. “Figured you’d already know who I am.” Spitting out those words took up the last of my pride, and I was suddenly feeling like a fraud, saying things like someone I was not. My eyes flew to the ground, and I studied a weed growing up through a crack in the pathway as I said a silent prayer that he didn’t know. Obviously I didn’t want anyone to know, this blight something I wished I could obliterate from history.

But him?

Something inside me twisted. I would do anything to be spared that humiliation.

I peeked up through the veil of my hair when I noticed him gesture behind me. That mischief was back in his eyes, only this time it was lighter, like their potency was no longer a threat. He grinned. “I’m no genius, but based on the fact that you just came out of that house wearing a backpack on the first day of classes, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re one of my new neighbors.”

He’d turned casual, which was about the last thing I was feeling.

“But do you know my name?” I demanded, my hand curling into a fist at my side.

Do you know my face? was what I was really asking, almost begging him to relieve me of the burden.

“Well, let’s see . . . Kier filled me in on all the neighbors.” He lifted his gaze to the sky, as if he were thinking back to their conversation.

Kier was one of the guys who lived next door, quiet, nice. I’d always liked him. I was close to feeling relieved, because I felt almost positive he wouldn’t divulge my secret.

New guy raised his hand and lifted his index finger. “Chloe.” He held up a second. “Indy.” He continued on, checking off all of us girls. “Misha and Courtney.” A smirk twisted up one side of his mouth. “Guess I’d feel pretty confident betting on the fact that you belong to one of those names.”

Discomfort shifted my feet, and I finally forced my name around the lump this guy had seemed to permanently wedge at the base of my throat. “M-M-Misha.” I tucked an errant curl blowing around in my face behind my ear, my nod shy and unsure. “I’m M-M-Misha. Misha Crosse.”

His eyes narrowed again, studying. Then he shook his head, raking his plump bottom lip between his teeth. He freed it with an easy smile.

Dear Lord.

“Darryn. Darryn Wild.” He stuck his hand out between us. I eyed it warily. Those bells were ringing. Don’t touch. Off-limits. Danger.

But he was smiling this cute smile, and my hand tingled, twitching toward his. What could a handshake hurt?

“Oh, come on, Misha, I know you want to touch me.” This time, he didn’t touch the corner of his mouth but reached out to touch mine.

Shivers raced down my spine and sent something tumbling around in my stomach that I didn’t want to recognize, and I prayed another prayer that the drool he lifted from my face was imaginary, too.

At this point, I wasn’t so sure.

Fantastic. The guys next door had just traded one asshole for another. And to think for a second I’d almost been duped into thinking he was nice.

I didn’t like it, didn’t like thinking this jerk was sleeping in Hunter’s room, didn’t like his things there or his thoughts there or his ripped, muscled body stretched out like Satan’s seduction across that bed.

And I really couldn’t stand the cocky grin that was playing all over one side of his perfect mouth.

But mostly I just hated that he managed to make me feel this way.

One of these days I was going to learn to trust my instincts. I’d had them that night with Hunter, this feeling sparking inside me, alerting me that something was off.

No day like the present.

“You wish,” I spat at him, doing my best to sound intimidating and not like some scared little creature who wanted to find a rock to hide behind.

My eyes made a pass over the yard, wishing that overnight a huge boulder had miraculously been dropped into our yard.


No such luck.

He laughed, the sound thick and throaty and arrogant. Part of me wanted to smack him, while the other part wanted to beg him to do it again.

Damn it!

Damn him.

“I wish, huh?” He eyed me up and down. “Yeah, I guess I do.”

I huffed, and he chuckled again.

Refusing to submit myself to his torture any longer, I turned and stomped away, scolding myself under my breath. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” I ranted, my lips moving silently as I pounded down the sidewalk toward campus. Mounds of curls bounced angrily around my face as I left Darryn Wild staring behind me. “I hate boys,” I muttered hard. “Jerks. Every last one of them.”

I was so angry he’d managed to make me stutter and stumble all over myself.

It didn’t matter if he was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen.

No way, not a chance.

I’d been there before.

And I wasn’t about to go there again.

chapter three


I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face as I watched her storm away. Thick, heavy black curls bounced all around her shoulders and down her back, her little hands twisted up in the tightest fists at her sides.

Like a feisty little kitten with a cute button nose and wide curious eyes, skittish and scared and completely naive.

Pretty sure I could have said boo and she would have run.

I chewed at my lip, fighting the grin.

Yeah, I knew her.

Knew her face and her name and that fucking incredible body, all curvy and full and just about the most damned perfect thing I’d ever seen.

Why I lied when she’d asked me such a pointed question, I didn’t know. I knew exactly what she’d been referring to, that video I’d been trying to get off my mind for the last month. But it was like she’d been pleading with those huge, hopeful eyes—brown eyes so dark they were nearly as black as her hair—to spare her, like a lie would be so much easier than the truth.

Or maybe it was because she was nothing like I expected. I expected some raving hot bitch, all sass and sex and mile-long legs, with pouty full lips and vacant black eyes.

What I wasn’t expecting was a girl who blushed so red I was pretty sure she was going to incinerate with just the slightest hint of attention. Didn’t expect a girl who stuttered over her own damned name.

God, I’d just spent the last five minutes being a total ass to her, egging her on, but I couldn’t help it. Every time she blushed, my dick stirred to life and my heart pounded a little too hard, this girl some kind of sweet contradiction, all sexy and shy and so damned adorable I wanted to wrap her up in my arms and never let her go. Couldn’t tell if I wanted to haul her off to snuggle up on the couch or tear all her clothes from her and teach her every dirty trick I knew.

But it became clear really fast.

This girl didn’t do dirty.

For a fleeting second, my eyes shot up to the room I’d rented out when Hunter was canned. Yeah. I knew him, too.

Anger spiked deep in my gut, and I sucked in a breath as I turned back to the curly mane of black stalking away from me, no doubt still cursing my name.


I was hit with the intense need to take the asshole out.

He needed to pay for treating a girl as sweet as Misha the way he had.

Guilt reared its ugly head, sneering at me, reminding me I was just as bad as the rest of them.

How many times had I fantasized about kissing the hell out of that pouty mouth? About my hands palming her hips while she rode me, her hair falling over her shoulders, just brushing over her full tits as I looked up at her while she drove me right out of my mind with pleasure?

Misha peeked back at me, her eyes going wide when she caught me still standing there ogling her as she walked away. For a second I saw her little kitty claws come out, like she was about to make a valiant attempt to protect her sweet little self, before she gave herself over to all the insecurities swimming so visibly in her eyes. But then she just ducked her head and rushed to turn the corner.

I shook my head, tossed my rag back to the engine of my car, and chuckled aloud. Thought I’d had a finger on her. Wasn’t even close.

But one thing hadn’t changed.

I still wanted to kiss the hell out of that pouty mouth.

chapter four


My phone vibrated in my back pocket. I pulled it out and squinted at the screen as I navigated through the drove of students who were spilling out of the lecture hall.

A small smile pulled at my mouth when I read the needy message from Indy.


I tapped out a quick reply.

Be there in two :)

Changing course, I pushed through the throbbing herd of bodies, heading for Common Grounds, the little coffee shop Indy and I had made a habit of frequenting between classes last year. School had started last week. Indy was still having a really rough time after her breakup with Dean, and I was doing my best to spend as much time with my friend as I could, hoping my presence would ease her mind in some way. She’d worried me this last weekend, coming home so blitzed out I didn’t think she even knew her own name.

My days?

I risked peeking up at the faces that blazed by me without a care. There was no hint of recognition, not a soul who paid me any mind. Relief slipped through me, just under the surface of my skin, a buzzing gratitude flooding me as I gave thanks for the mercy I’d somehow been granted. I’d settled into some kind of routine, keeping my head down and my focus entirely on school and my internship. Each day that passed with no one saying anything to me just gave me another boost of confidence, an affirmation that I really belonged here.

Seeing my kids yesterday was confirmation.

I’d walked into that building and all of them had run up to me, calling my name as they laughed and smiled and hugged my legs.

Being with them was worth any amount of discomfort I might suffer here. Those kids . . . they were where I belonged.

I swung open the glass door and stepped into the bustling coffee shop. I inhaled deeply, hit with the overwhelming scent of coffee, warmth infiltrating my chest.


The small space overflowed with people. Students clamored to get their caffeine fix as they rushed to get to the next place they needed to be. I popped up on my toes, craning my neck as I looked for the shock of red hair that could only belong to my friend.

“Hi.” It was uttered right next to my ear.

“Ah!” I jumped and spun around, finding Indy standing there grinning at me.

“Oh.” I flattened my hand on my chest. “You scared me.”

She rolled her green eyes. “How you can be startled in the middle of a busy store in broad daylight is beyond me.”

“Don’t judge me . . . I have keen senses.” I smiled up at her, tucking a thick lock of hair behind my ear as I looked back down.

She laughed lightly. “Whatever you want to call it.” She knocked into my side. “Come on, let’s get some coffee. I thought I’d pass out or possibly die of boredom in my economics class. I need caffeine, and now.”

We headed to the counter, Indy in front of me. She ordered her usual, and I stepped up after her and did the same.

Waiting for our drinks, we spent a couple of minutes chatting about nothing, the two of us almost feeling normal as we caught up on things that really didn’t matter. For a moment it felt like things were back to the way they had been before our lives were upended by two guys who hadn’t deserved either of us, two people who didn’t think twice about breaking a heart or fracturing someone’s spirit.

“Indy,” the barista called, pushing the paper cup in her direction.

“Oh yes . . . gimme, gimme, gimme.” Indy grabbed her coffee and winked at me as she backed away. “I’ll find us a place to sit.”

“I’ll find you,” I called as she disappeared into the fray.

I stayed in the mass of people milling around waiting for their drinks, turned to study my shifting feet while I listened for my name.


I stepped up and stretched my hand out for my cup when another darted over my shoulder. A big hand wrapped around my cup and snagged it from the counter.

What in the . . . ?

“H-h-hey, that’s mi—” I started to say as I whirled around. I stopped short when I met with the hazel eyes smirking back at me.

Redness rushed to my face.

Oh, who was I kidding? Every inch of my skin lit up like a chili pepper, flaming and burning and shouting out all my insecurities.

Damn him.

I’d managed to dodge him for the last week, peeking out the window to make sure the coast was clear before I rushed out the door and down the sidewalk. The last thing I needed was another awkward exchange like he’d somehow dragged me into last week. I didn’t need to be scrutinized and teased, and I sure didn’t need to find out just how far this guy’s jerk-off ways went.

Of course my belly had a whole different idea about the situation, all those butterflies doing a little choreographed happy dance when my eyes fell on the glorious display standing just inches away from me.



Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

I couldn’t stand this guy, couldn’t stand the way he tugged and twisted at me like he had some magnetic pull, spinning me up, no doubt with the intention of spitting me out.

“Hey yourself,” he said, holding on to my cup like he had an inherent right to it.

This time I couldn’t help stamping my foot, indignant. What a jerk. “That’s mine,” I said, hating that it came out sounding all petulant again. “It says so right there.” I pointed to the Misha scrawled messily along the side of the cup, rocking back on my heels as I crossed my arms over my chest.

“Obviously.” His brow shot up with the sarcasm, before he lifted my cup to his nose and sniffed. “God . . . what are you drinking? A gallon of sugar? This isn’t coffee. This is a liquid candy bar.”

“It’s none of your business what I’m drinking.” So there, I added in my head, fighting the urge to stick my tongue out at him.

He drove me crazy, made me feel like a little girl fighting with a bully who’d stolen my favorite toy.

I’d dealt with enough bullies in my life.

He chuckled and rubbed his chin. I got locked on the movement of his fingers, my mouth falling slightly agape as he tugged and scratched at the stubble on his jaw. He was so close, and I could feel myself getting sucked in his direction, that aroma that had assaulted me the other day stronger, but this time it was all man and soap and sex—all Darryn Wild. I trembled. Oh God.

Catching me, he smirked.

Damn him.

Why did he have to be so beautiful?

“Give it,” I demanded, just wanting to get my coffee so I could get the heck away from him.

“Darryn,” the girl behind the counter called. He turned away from me. Seeing his face caught her off guard, and her eyes widened with appreciation as she stood there and blatantly devoured him with her gaze. Apparently no one was immune to him. He didn’t even spare her a second’s glance. He snatched up his coffee, holding both cups tucked up close to the strength of his chest.

“Are you going to give me my coffee or do I have to buy another one?” I said in surrender, giving up his game because I didn’t have the will to play it.

He blinked back at me like I was crazy. “Of course I’m going to give you back your coffee. I was just being the gentleman like I am and was going to carry it to our table for you.”

I felt the disbelief take over my expression. A gentleman? Yeah, right. Then the rest of what he’d said sank in. “Our table?” I asked, a challenge bleeding into the words.

“Our table,” he deadpanned. Those hazel eyes did that shimmer thing again, where they danced and sang with mischief, all jubilant mayhem on my erratic heart.

“You wouldn’t even shake my hand last week. Now you owe me.”

My chin lifted in defiance. “You’re insane,” I said.

“And you”—he handed me my coffee, before he reached up and plucked at my bottom lip with the pad of his index finger—“hurt my feelings.”

And I knew it was all just a ploy, this boy-man-god or whatever he was manipulating me, my flesh so easily turned to putty, aching for him to take those big hands and mold me into whatever he wanted me to be.

Those alarms started ringing like loud, clashing cymbals struck right near my ears, the off-key chorus hosted by the betrayal that had changed something intrinsic inside me.

Part of me wanted to give in to what it was Darryn was making me feel. But that was the problem. Because if I was honest with myself, what he made me feel most was scared. The feelings of desire he awoke in me just reminded me of how vulnerable and foolish I’d been in Hunter’s deceptive hands. I didn’t want to be that girl anymore. I wanted to be stronger and smarter and wiser.

“I seriously doubt that, Darryn Wild, because guys like you don’t have feelings.”

But as soon as the words were out, I realized one thing I hated more than sounding naive was sounding like a bitch.

Anger scored me deep. Hunter. I hated him most of all. He’d done this to me and made me this way.

For a split second Darryn’s face transformed, flashing with something that looked like pain, shutters dimming the mischief in his eyes. Then he slowly nodded through a forced smirk. Again, he tapped the side of my mouth, a reminder of the effect he knew he had on me. “I guess we don’t, do we?”

He backed away, left me watching him as he spun around and pushed his way through the coffee shop toward the exit.

On a heavy sigh, I turned and plodded to where Indy waited for me. I slumped down in the plush chair next to her.

“Oh. My. God. Was that our new neighbor you were talking to?”

I scrunched up my nose, shifted to tuck my leg under me, and let my hair fall down the side of my face to block Darryn’s view.

“Yes.” My whisper was all scratchy and self-conscious.

“Holy hell. I only saw him from a distance when he was moving in. I thought he was pretty then. . . .” She trailed off suggestively. Her eyebrows disappeared under her bangs. “Looks like he’s into you.”

I huffed. “All I need is another beautiful jerk to take advantage of me. No, thank you.”

Of course I was the one feeling like a jerk after what I said to him.

But judging by the effect Darryn had on me, I was pretty sure he was much more dangerous than Hunter ever was.

Hazardous to my health.

Awareness tugged at me, that same feeling from last week, the weight of his presence strong and unyielding. Helpless, I let my attention travel where it was led—where he stood facing me with his back leaned up against the door. A small smile curved his lips, something that almost appeared regretful, something true and soft, and for the first time I thought I saw something real in Darryn Wild. Then he flipped that asshole switch, and a wide, cocky grin blotted out all traces of anything sweet. He shot me this wicked, unruly wink before he backed out of the shop, dipping his head as he hit the sidewalk. I just stared as the door fell closed behind him.

My heart all of a sudden decided to agree with my stomach and indulged in a little flip-flop in rhythm with the patter of quick, uneven beats in my chest. That presence that felt too overbearing, too overwhelming and heavy and intense, was suddenly gone, leaving a void in its place.

Scratch that. The guy was lethal.


I planted my face into my palms, frantic as I shook my head in them.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

“Oh, Misha, don’t fool yourself. Hunter has nothing on Darryn Wild.” Hunter dropped from Indy’s mouth like a vulgar word.

I agreed on all accounts.

She giggled, sipped at her coffee, her voice all a tease as she sang, “Someone is crushing hard on the boy next door.”

My chest heated above my heart, splashing crimson all over my skin.

I wasn’t, was I? Not after everything I’d been through. Boys were trouble and I didn’t need any more of that.

I sucked my bottom lip between my teeth, worried it as my eyes slanted to the huge plate-glass windows that looked out toward the campus, unable to stop myself from wondering where he’d gone and what would have happened had I taken him up on his offer to hang out with him. I still had no idea how to make sense of him, or what part of him was genuine, if any was at all.

Indy snorted, cutting into my thoughts. “You should see your face right now. Whatever questions are running through that pretty little head of yours”—she leaned over the small, round table, lifted her finger, and circled it around my face—“you’ve got your answer right here, and I’m pretty sure it’s a resounding yes.”

chapter five


I yanked at the pull-cord of the lawn mower. It sputtered but didn’t turn over. I dug my foot into the ground for leverage, giving it a good pull, a little grunt included. Another sputter.

Grrr . . .

I looked up to the blue sky, praying for some miracle that would bring this piece of junk to life. I sucked in a breath, gripped the handle in my hand, and gave it my all.



I kicked the mower with the side of my sneaker. “You dumb piece of junk . . . would you give me a break and work? Come on, please.” My voice lowered to a whispered plea on the last, like I could cajole something inanimate into cooperating. I jerked it, the engine spinning, then chugging as it ran out of steam.

“Damn it,” I cursed under my breath, throwing my hands in the air as I stalked around the overgrown lawn, wondering how in the heck I’d manage to get this impossible chore done using a thirty-year-old machine. I’d take scrubbing toilets over this any day, because me and motors just didn’t seem to mix.

Behind me, the wooden fence that rose around our tiny backyard rattled. Startled, I froze as I felt more than saw the shadow of movement pass behind me.

I tore myself from the shock and twisted to look over my shoulder, gasping when I saw Darryn drop into our yard, landing on his feet, crouched down, one hand propping himself on the ground for balance, like he was humbled in the deepest bow. Slowly he lifted his head as he straightened, looked up at me with those hazel eyes, hard and intense and brimming with concern.

A rush of dizziness swirled through my overheated head, and I figured I was seconds from fainting.


Just like I’d thought.

Avenging angel.

I gaped at his glory. Again, the boy-man-god lacked a shirt, his golden chest much too proud to be inhibited by something so ignoble as fabric. His jeans rode low, the cut of his abs so delicious I had the overwhelming urge to taste them. My mouth watered, and I was imagining tracing my tongue over the rock-hard grooves and planes.

“What are you doing?” His voice cut into my daydream, the throaty question filled with disbelief.

My head snapped up. Mortification climbed to my face when I realized I’d been staring. I blinked away the stupor, having no clue what he was talking about until I followed the trail of his attention to the beaten-down pile of junk sitting in the middle of the lawn.

Slowly I untwisted myself from the pretzel I was in, turning to face him, shifting on my feet as I watched him approach the lawn mower as if it were an injured animal.

“Um . . . trying to mow?” I said, the words almost a question as they flowed out with a tilt of my head. I squinted, trying to understand where the overt distress he was wearing like a cloak was coming from.

He settled his long body down to kneel on a single knee next to the mower, studying the motor as if it were alive, and his mouth moved as if he were having some kind of secret conversation with the hunk of metal.

He looked over his shoulder at me, sparkling hazel eyes narrowing in skepticism. “And kicking the crap out of the poor thing is going to help how?”

“Um . . . ,” I stammered again, frowning at how Darryn seemed to be bleeding sympathy for the old equipment that had become the bane of our house. Each of the four of us roommates would gladly pay good money to get out of the weekly mowing job we rotated around on the cleaning schedule, but the problem was that none of us was willing to take money to do it an extra time. “This isn’t my favorite job.”

The sight of the old mower sitting slumped in the middle of the lawn, buried in the too-long blades of grass, seemed proof enough.

He turned back to the mower. Craning his head, he poked around, muttering under his breath, “And what in God’s name are you doing out here trying to mow?” He unscrewed the gas cap, shook it around, looking for the source.

I wrung my hands together. “It’s my chore this week,” I explained, feeling the little flush of a grin come to my mouth with the idea of Darryn in my backyard, all that confusion from last week when I’d seen him in the coffee shop barely registering with the relief at him flying in unannounced and without summons to my rescue. I chewed at my lip, and for a second I decided to give up the war I seemed to fight every time Darryn came into my view, and mumbled quietly, “Thank you for coming to help me.”

“Ha, I’m not here to save you.” He flashed me this brilliant, teasing smile, the one that twisted me all up in knots and tossed me right into an endless, spiraling swoon.

Oh God.

He inclined his head, still grinning. “I’m here to save this poor machine that you’re trying to kill.”

I frowned as my gaze landed on the rusted metal. There was no stopping my light-headed giggle. “I think you’re too late. It’s already dead,” I whispered in feigned mourning, slowly shaking my head with remorse.

Darryn stared up at me, those mischievous eyes glinting as they stepped up to play partner to that delirium-inducing grin.

And I swear to God, I saw them, these little sparks shooting through the air, like darts of energy impaling me all over my sun-drenched skin.

Oh. I kind of jumped. That felt good.

Damn him.

Because there was no denying it. Being around Darryn Wild felt good.

He pulled a wrench from his back pocket, as if this boy-man-god was magic, superpowered with an enchanted bag of tricks always at hand. He held it up, wielding it in my direction. “Oh, I think there’s hope yet.”

He turned away from me and went to work, and I edged in, prompted by the demands of the butterflies in my stomach. I stood over him, probably driving him out of his mind with annoyance as I leaned over his shoulder, watching him. His strong hands were adept and his mind obviously knowledgeable as he tinkered with bolts and wires and little parts that I wouldn’t begin to recognize.

“All this thing needs is a little TLC.” He eyed me seriously. “You can’t just leave stuff like this out to rot. It needs to be maintained. Taken care of. Then he winked. “The way every girl deserves to be.”

I reddened at his blatant innuendo, chewing a hole in my lip as I turned back to watch him work.

“Ah, there we go,” he mumbled to himself as he seemed to find whatever the problem was. He twisted a couple of wires.

I took a stumbling step back when he suddenly stood, his towering presence too much for me to handle up close like he was. Delight danced all over his face as he wrapped his hand around the handle, his lithe body rippling as he leaned down and cranked it to life. The engine roared.

And we just stood there staring at each other, both of us grinning, me feeling all self-conscious and shy while Darryn was so obviously proud, the air filled with the deafening rumble of the mower and the buildup of the energy sizzling between us.

“Thank you,” I said, the sincere words swallowed up by the loud churn of the mower, though I knew Darryn understood what I’d said.

Slowly he nodded as he seemed to get twisted up in the same tension pounding through my system.

A breeze blew in, stirring through my hair, whipping the thick locks around my face. Tentatively Darryn reached out. His hand hovered in indecision, before he gave in and gathered a thick curl to rub between the pads of his fingers, like he needed to feel the texture and weight of it. All the while, he never looked away from me. And this time . . . this time the softness in his expression, the same look I’d witnessed at the coffee shop, didn’t evaporate in a flash. It wasn’t just a flicker of good that scattered fast to reveal a boy who was so obviously bad.

He shook his head as if he were trying to make sense of something, before he averted his eyes from mine to watch himself tuck the loose strand behind my ear. I shivered when he let his fingertips flutter down the side of my neck, just barely brushing my sensitive skin. He released a ragged exhale when he trailed them lower, across my collarbone to the center of my hammering chest. Fire singed me through with the vibration of his gentle touch.

And was he? Obviously bad? For a second I wanted to suspend it, to disbelieve it, to reject the idea because something about him made me want and ache, made me want what I’d sworn to avoid.

Indy was right.

I was crushing hard on the boy next door.

He stilled with his fingers just grazing my exposed skin, and those hazel eyes latched on to mine. Endless moments passed in a blur as my gaze got all tangled with his.

Something wistful played around his mouth, something like regret and longing that melded with the gentle curve of lips. “Beautiful,” he whispered, the sound swallowed by the ceaseless drone of the mower, but so overtly clear as I swallowed the word down. My wounded heart wanted to believe that someone would truly see me that way, and not like the sick joke I saw when I looked in the mirror in the morning.

Creases wrinkled at the sides of his eyes, making him appear both younger and older, different. Making me feel different, still scared and unsure—but there was no mistaking the flicker of hope that lit somewhere inside me.

Again he reached up to touch the trembling edge of my mouth. Though this time it wasn’t a taunt, not a tease, not something meant to twist me up with confusion and fear.

It was just sweet.

Simple as that.

He dropped his hand and took a step back, seeming almost as confused and flustered as I was, before he turned and jogged across the yard. He scaled the fence in one stride, his feet landing on the top of the wooden planks, sending him sailing over to the other side.

chapter six


A stream of sun bled through the slit running down the middle of my bedroom curtains, a slash of bright light blaring directly into my face. I squeezed my eyes tight against it. Flopping to my stomach, I yanked a pillow over my head, making a valiant attempt at shutting it out, begging for more sleep. Just one more minute, and I’d be fine.

But it was no use.

The light had already roused me from sleep.

All right, so the problem was clear. I was aroused.

Big difference. Bigger problem.

Groaning, I threw the pillow to the floor and flopped over onto my back, taking up a staring contest with the pitted ceiling above.

My dick was throbbing, standing at full attention, all too interested in the lingering images that I couldn’t shake from my mind.

I flung my arm over my eyes. As if that would help.

Maybe the problem was the fact that I’d been dreaming about porcelain skin and inky hair, about the feel of her touch and the light in her smile.

Maybe the problem was the girl next door.

Maybe the problem was Misha.

Goddamn, this girl had done me in, burrowed herself like a tiny, nagging burr that had gotten just under the surface of my skin until she’d flamed into an all-out itch. Gotten to me. I couldn’t get that beautiful face out of my mind and there was nothing in hell I could do to purge the sweet sound of her voice from my ears. It flooded through me like warmth, all this lust and need mixed up with some kind of twisted infatuation.

But that wasn’t just it.

Yeah, I wanted to get lost in that body, make her scream and moan my name. My chest tightened. Shit, I couldn’t wait to hear the way it’d sound slipping from her lips.

But none of that was really a problem.

The problem was I’d be content just to take up a little bit of her space.

I’d started to make excuses to be out front when I knew she’d be leaving or coming home, excuses to talk to her and make her blush and cause her to fumble all over herself the way she always did.

It was the fucking cutest thing I’d ever seen, the way she got all nervous and stuttered, how the red would come stampeding in the second she did.

I crammed the heel of my hand in my eye. Shit. Shit. Shit.

Realization slowly took hold.

I liked her.

Pressure throbbed at my ribs.

Fuck me, I liked her.

It was killing me to know where she wandered off to in the afternoon, heading in the opposite direction from campus, when she’d come home nearly giddy, smiling this unending smile that I’d come to crave. Hounding her didn’t work, and neither did flattering her with all these little compliments that made her squirm. She remained tight-lipped, which only made me want to know more.

God, but more than all of that? I wanted to erase the pain I’d catch lingering in her eyes. I knew it now, what it was, what flared in those searing pools of the deepest black when she was speared with an errant thought like an arrow, like I could somehow feel it when it pierced her, too.


It killed me that she felt that way, and I was dying to wipe away that look of distrust with my touch. Show her there was nothing for her to be ashamed of. I wanted her to know she was beautiful and good and anyone who made her feel anything less than that was nothing but a fool.

Images flashed, and I grunted as I was slammed with a vision of Misha straddling me on this bed. The soft slope of her neck was all exposed as she threw her head back, thick curls cascading down in waves that brushed along my thighs, her body all stretched out as she drove me right to the edge. Pleasure rocked through every hardened inch of my body, ecstasy hitting me somewhere deep.

But then she looked down at me. And those eyes were no longer hollow, they weren’t edged with sadness or creased in confusion, and not for a second did they flash with fear. They glowed with affection as she stared down at me.

Guilt gripped me by the throat, and I squeezed my eyes shut, choking on it, trying to purge the fantasy from my mind. It made me feel like an asshole, like some kind of perverted voyeur, picturing her this way.

But I didn’t know how to stop.

I raked a hand over my face. Fuck. I just wanted her to trust me.

How the hell did this timid girl next door manage to make my body beg? She didn’t have a single clue how badly I wanted her or how deep my thoughts went. Guess there’d always been something about her, something that had struck me before she lifted her face to the sky that first morning of classes, soaking the sun in as if it was somehow feeding her soul. Something that drew me to her.

I recognized it now.

Misha didn’t even know and she didn’t need to. I’d protect her. Collect everything due to her. Lay it at her feet.

At least I owed her that.

chapter seven


“Misha, if you don’t hurry up I’m going to come up there and drag you down here.” Laughter and loud voices and impatient calls rose from the first floor, Indy’s voice lifting above them all as she shouted at me for what had to be the hundredth time.

“I’m coming,” I hollered in the direction of my bedroom door that stood wide-open behind me. “Sheesh,” I added under my breath.

“I heard that!”

With a soft giggle, I turned, letting my gaze wander over myself in the full-length mirror set up in the corner of my room. Uncertainty tickled my nerves, and there was no mistaking the self-conscious flush that bloomed hot on the exposed skin on my chest, before it blazed a path up my neck to settle where it always landed—right on the apples of my cheeks.

I was wearing skinny jeans and heels with a shimmery silver and black shirt that fell off one shoulder, my long hair sprayed into shiny ringlets that spilled over my shoulders and down my back. Months ago, I’d bought this outfit to wear out with Hunter, thinking it was sexy and cute, and I’d hoped it would make me feel confident and pretty. It was something so out of character for me and I’d wanted to do something special for him, to make him proud to have me on his arm when we went out with his friends.

Too bad I didn’t get a chance to wear it before he drove that treacherous knife right into the center of my back.

I’d had the intense urge to set fire to these clothes. To watch them burn up so I’d have no reminders left of who I’d tried to make myself be for him.

I wouldn’t change for anyone.

Never again.

But I realized wearing something that made me feel pretty didn’t change me. Pride had hit me hard when I slipped into these clothes. Not because of the way they made me look, even though I felt good in them, but because they were no longer for him.

I chewed my lip, shifted to look at myself in the mirror.

“Forget him,” I whispered to myself.

Tonight I was finally letting Hunter go. It wasn’t because I missed him and loved him and was letting my broken heart heal. I didn’t feel any of those things. I knew it now, knew picking a guy like him was just me trying to fit in, to be more like the girls I thought I was supposed to fit in with.

But what he’d done had hurt me.

And today I would finally let go of all that pain.

“Misha!” Indy shouted again.

Grinning, I grabbed my little purse from my bed. “All right . . . all right! I’m coming! Don’t get your panties all in a bind.”

I headed out my door, doing my best not to wobble on my four-inch heels.

“Who said I was wearing any?” she shot back as I carefully maneuvered down the stairs. So maybe the shoes weren’t exactly me, and I was much more comfortable in my sneakers, but I liked them, so I was wearing them, and I didn’t care what anyone else had to say.

Chuckling at her, I clung to the railing as I made my way to the bottom floor. When I got downstairs, I found all three of my roommates in the kitchen. Courtney was pouring amber liquid into tiny shot glasses, one round ready to get the night started.

Indy grinned in my direction. “Cheers!” she said as she handed a shot glass to me.

“Cheers!” The three of us lifted our glasses and tossed them back, Chloe sitting out the drinking like she always did. I was actually surprised she’d agreed to come out with us at all tonight.

Liquid burned a fiery path down my throat, and I forced myself to swallow, doing my best not to choke on it and spew it right back out. My face screwed up with the awful taste when it settled in my stomach. “Ugh . . . that is terrible. Why are we doing this again?”

“Just a little preamble. Tonight we’re letting go.”

“To tonight.” Courtney poured us one more round. We clinked glasses, toasting us. In unison, we slammed them down on the counter, grinning like fools as we swiped the backs of our hands over our mouths.

Was I tipsy off two shots? I wobbled on my heels, giggled more.

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