Each player forks over a ten, and then Archer gathers up the cash and puts it in my hand. “I’ve never enjoyed anything as much as seeing Ryker get water dumped on him today. Thank you for that, and I hope you won’t hold this little bet against me.” His gaze is a bit too lingering, and I want to wipe my hand off when he releases it.
“You can all go fuck yourselves,” I say.
Archer throws back his head and laughs. “You’ve got some spark to you all right.”
“Whatever,” I mutter, stuffing the money in my apron.
I give them one final hard look and then dash to the back of the restaurant, barely hanging on to my composure. My gaze darts to Ryker, standing in the corner with the tray in his hands. The glasses and ice are piled on top, and his face is expressionless, nearly granite as he watches me, and I resist the urge to flip him off. The only thing holding me back is that if my boss saw it, he’d rake me over the coals. Everyone loves the football players.
So, I fly right past him and blow through the double doors of the kitchen. Without a glance at anyone, I run all the way to the pantry, where I slam the door. I fight it with everything I have, but I can’t stop the hot tears that spill down my cheeks.
The infuriating thing is I don’t even know why I’m so let down and disappointed by a guy I knew was a dick to begin with.
My eyes follow Penelope as she storms across the floor to the bar and disappears into the back of the restaurant. Fuck.
Guilt washes over me. I have to fix this. I’m not a horrible human being, and I never meant to upset her; in fact, I never thought I’d get as far with her as she let me. I only meant to go over and make a half-assed attempt at asking her out, but once I got close to her and started talking…things just happened. True, the ketchup bet was my idea, mostly to annoy her, but this new one was orchestrated entirely by Archer.
I bet you can’t get her to go out with you, he said earlier when she was cleaning up in the restroom. I resisted, mostly thinking there wasn’t a chance in hell she’d agree, but he egged me on until I accepted.
Squaring my shoulders, I stride toward the bar at the front of Sugar’s, but before I get there, a female form bounces in front of me. With her pink and black hair and petite frame, she’s instantly recognizable as Penelope’s friend Charisma. I’ve seen them on campus and at parties. I hadn’t noticed her before, so she must have come in while I was talking to Penelope.
“Charisma. If you don’t mind, you’re in my way.” I give her the standard Ryker glare, which is pretty much guaranteed to make the guys on the team move their ass if I point it in their direction.
“WTF did you do to my BFF?” she asks.
I exhale. Charisma talks in acronyms, and sometimes it’s like decoding another language. “None of your business. Please move.”
I make a move to walk around her, but she steps in front of me.
“Hold on, QB1. I don’t think you want to follow her right now.” She gives me a hard once-over. “Out of all the girls at this school you could have messed with, you chose the nicest one.” She crosses her arms. “Now, do you want to tell me what’s going on?”
I widen my stance. I’m not telling her anything. Penelope is the one I want to see. “I want to talk to her.”
She sends me a death glare. “No.”
I rake a hand through my hair. Dammit.
Blaze jogs across the restaurant—because he never does anything slowly—waving at me. Tall and muscular with a carefully gelled brown faux mohawk, he skids to a stop and talks with his hands. “Dude!” He laughs, tries to stop, then gives up and lets out a hoot. “You screwed that up so awesomely bad. Dillon got it on video, and I’ve watched it twice already. Shit, that part where she dumps the water on you—your face is priceless!”
My teeth clench. “I know. I was there. Thanks for reminding me.”
“But you never saw it coming! You thought she was yours, man.” He lets out a satisfied sigh.
I never thought she was mine. Penelope Graham is the kind of girl who would never give me a shot. I read her article—she thinks I’m a loser for letting Maverick participate in those fights last year. But the thing is, he’s my best friend and he did it for money to help save his sister. Of course I supported him—even when it meant putting our team at risk. When he was caught, the entire scandal played out on national television for everyone to see—including my part in knowing about it. In all fairness, her article was a drop in the bucket of the bad press we received. Did it piss me off that a Waylon writer wrote shit about me? Hell yes. Do I hate her because of it? Let’s just say it got my attention.
Blaze gets distracted by Charisma and gives her his famous head nod. “What’s your name?”
Charisma rolls her eyes. “My name? As if. The question is: Who are you? A toddler on steroids. What did you do to hurt my friend?” Her head does the wagging thing.
Blaze backpedals. “Nah, nah, it wasn’t meant to hurt anybody. I dig Penelope. She’s wicked smart. She tutors me in math.”
“Not anymore,” she snaps.
Blaze looks concerned and eases in closer to Charisma, his hilarity forgotten. “I’m a good guy. So is Ryker here. True story. Now why don’t you tell me your name?”
They’re talking, and I figure Blaze is working his mojo on Charisma—which is the perfect distraction. I look past them, wondering if I can get to the back of the restaurant and find Penelope without Charisma tackling me. With a quick glance at her, I see she’s up in Blaze’s face, asking him about the details, and he’s telling her about the bets in little spurts. Her eyes flash over to me, and I see the warning there: Don’t even try to follow Penelope.
My lips tighten. I guess I could just sit here for a while and wait to see if she comes out. I take a stool at the bar, the same one where Penelope was sitting earlier. I recall watching her write in her notebook.
Yeah, I was checking her out.
Taking her in.
With her pouty red lips, nerd glasses, and mane of thick auburn hair, she’s pretty in an understated way, nothing like the jersey chasers who hang all over us. She’s not my type, to be honest.
There’s something about her.
She’s… I can’t find the words.
Sexy as fuck, a voice says.
Pfft. I push that thought away. Never going to happen.
I don’t do quirky.
Or girls who can’t stand me.
Besides, I’m focusing on football, not girls. I have a reputation to rebuild after last year.
My eyes land on her laptop and I frown. Granted, the bar area is a bit deserted, but there isn’t a bartender in sight, and college students can get desperate for money sometimes. Computers aren’t cheap. I gather up her laptop and notebook then take them to a cleared space behind the bar near a shelf of glasses. I’m sure she’ll find it. I’m turning to go when my shirt catches on the notebook, tugging it out from under the computer, and I see what’s written on the top. Surrounded by kitten and heart stickers are the words: THIS JOURNAL IS PRIVATE. IF YOU OPEN IT, I WILL RIP YOUR NIPPLES OFF.
Oh, babe. You can’t throw down a gauntlet like that and expect me to not peek…
With a glance to make sure Charisma is still talking to Blaze, I flip open the first page, skim a few lines, and when I see my name, I start reading.