Chocolate? Wine? Oh, this is so a date.

“I’m fine,” I say. “Are we celebrating?”

He sends me a heated look. “Yes.”


“What kind of wine did you get?”

“The girly kind with bubbles. I know you like it. But, don’t think I’m too fancy. Where we’re going, we won’t really use glasses, so it’s just a little six-pack with twist-offs.” A gruff laugh comes from him and I almost think he’s embarrassed. “Classy, right?”

I imagine him waltzing into the liquor store and purchasing girly wine. I smile. “Twist-off wine is totally redneck, but I’m not complaining.”

He nods and looks back at the road. “Great.”

Leaving the lights of town, he turns down a secondary road that’s mostly deserted with the exception of a few houses every mile or so.

“Are we going to the boonies?”

“Almost there.”

“Should I be scared that you’re taking me out here to ravish me?” I ask.

“Mmmm.” He throws me a look, and I see his gaze sweep over my body, lingering with heat.

Damn him. He’s so vague. I slide over to his side, curl my hand around his thigh, and whisper in his ear. “Where are we going, Ryker?”

He gives me a grin and turns sharply onto a gravel road.

We drive up a hill, bouncing around in the cab over the bumps and holes in the road.

He grabs a couple of blankets from the back seat and then hands me a small wicker basket that looks new. I peek inside and see the six-pack of wine with the chocolate.

“Where did you get this basket?”

“The store.”

“You bought all this just for us?” I pick up a small jar of fancy olives and look at him. I’m picturing him at Target or Walmart, wandering the aisles. “What else is in here?”

He grins sheepishly. “Some strawberries are on the bottom. Hopefully they didn’t get squashed by the wine.”

“Wow.” My eyes blink. I’m speechless.

“It’s been a while since I had a real date, Red. I was just trying to cover all the bases.”

“You did well, grasshopper.”

He chuckles as we walk down a stone path toward a large ranch-style log cabin. A red barn sits off to the right. The sound of cicadas buzzing surrounds us, the sun low and orange, close to the horizon. The smell of fresh hay bales reaches my nose, and I inhale a deep breath. “I love being out in the middle of nowhere.” I look back at him and see he’s watching me. “Have I been to a toga party here?”

“Probably. It’s an old farm one of the former players owns. He donated it to the team, and we help maintain it. It keeps us in shape during the offseason.” He points at the log cabin. “The team has retreats out here every spring, and every fall we have a big bonfire party.”

“What are we doing here? Are we going into the cabin?”

He shakes his head. “No. Come on, I want to show you something.” He grabs my hand, and we take off up the hill to the left on a small trail. He adjusts his steps so we’re walking in sync.

We meander along the path for a while, passing tall trees and utter silence.

“What is this secret place?” I ask. “You’re not a serial killer, are you?”

He grins. “There’s a waterfall a few hundred feet down the trail, and a meadow that’s full of sunflowers in the fall. It’s pretty amazing. I found it when I was running out here with Maverick last year.”


“Is this stupid?” he asks suddenly, looking more discombobulated than I’ve ever seen him. “This is so stupid. Maybe we should head back to town and just get a beer at Cadillac’s.”

I reach out and take his hand in mine.

“It’s a meadow?”

He nods.

“With pretty flowers and trees around it?”

He shrugs nonchalantly.

And I watch him. Seeing him. He has such a soft side. My heart flutters. Does he even remember that Edward and Bella found a meadow in Twilight?

I exhale slowly.

“I love it, Ryker. It’s the perfect date. Let’s stay.”

We make our way down the path and stand in the middle of a small clearing that’s banked on either side by bright yellow sunflowers. We lie down on the blanket and talk. I tell him my favorite movies and songs and books; he tells me his. He describes a sailboat he wants to buy some day, and I describe in intricate detail my pirate fantasy. I end up drinking most of the wine because he can’t stomach the taste of it. When the stars come out, we hold each other, our breaths mingling as we kiss. He undresses me under the dark sky with a tenderness that burns into an uncontrollable fire. Eventually, he takes me from behind, his hand on my hips, my name on his lips. His hand curls around my shoulder and runs through my hair as he tells me I’m his.

Afterward, we hold each other, and I don’t speak at the wonder that is us. I want to tell him how I feel…but instead, I send a silent prayer up to the heavens, begging them to watch over us.


“Is the DJ booked?” Charisma asks as we sit next to each other in the library. “I hope he’s bringing some kickass lights and maybe a karaoke machine. I want this 80s theme to be OTC.”

I grin. “Over the top cool?”

She smirks. “Off the chain.”

I pull out the to-do list I’ve been working on. “Yes, I confirmed with him and also with the catering company. The pledges are decorating tonight.”

It’s a few days before our homecoming party, and I’m scrambling to get everything done. I’ve been waiting here for a few girls from the planning committee to meet. Normally, we gather at the Chi Omega house, but the pledges are having a sleepover, so Margo decided we would forgo the craziness of the house to finalize the details at the library. I check my watch, and she’s late. Everyone is. I send her a quick text to see where she is.

“Is that Ryker?” Charisma murmurs as she waggles her eyebrows at me.


“Got any juicy bits for me? Is the package in proportion to the frame?” Her eyes gleam with curiosity. Yes, I told her about Ryker.

“All you need to know is the deed is done.”

“Dammit. Why are you so tightlipped? I need to know!” She flops down in her seat and glares at me.

“What about Blaze? What’s the scoop on him?”

She shrugs, her face flaming, which is unusual for her. “Meh. Nothing to tell.”

“Aha. See. You’re not telling me everything.”

I tap my pen against my pad and think about Ryker. We spent the last two nights together, and each day, he meets me at the student center in the morning to walk me to my first class.

“You’re beet red,” she exclaims as she pulls out a bag of chips and starts munching. “You’re thinking about him, aren’t you?”

I look pointedly at her snack. “You’re not supposed to eat in here.”

“I’m a rule-breaker.” Her eyes go past my shoulder and flare. With hurried movements, she straightens her hair over her shoulder and checks her lipstick in the reflection of her phone.

I follow the direction of her gaze and see Blaze coming in the entrance of the library.

“Oooo, here he comes,” I tease her.

She grunts. “He’s just so…rambunctious. And who names their kid Blaze? I mean, it’s bound to give him some kind of ego…” Her voice tapers off at his arrival on the staircase from the lower floor.

Tags: Ilsa Madden-Mills The Hook Up Romance