Page 10 of I Promise You

The cashier rings up the pricey beer and I blanch at the cost, my hands clenching. I may have to eat Ramen with my fruit and Nutter Butters this week.

“Random factoid: at any given time, 0.7% of the world is drunk. Fifty million people are trashed right now.” I pat the beer. “I can’t wait to suck one down.” I hold my finger up before he can interrupt me, because he definitely wants to. “Hmm, maybe this one’s more intriguing: beer and vaginas have almost the same acidity levels, with an average pH of 4.5. Makes you think, right? I wonder if it’s the same if a guy puts his penis in a mug of brew…no? I guess not judging by your expression.”

“Did she just say vagina?” the redhead yelps.

“She said penis—even better. Go, girl,” says the blonde, and I decide I adore her.

“Son of a nutcracker,” he murmurs as he shakes his head.

I swear under my breath. I missed it, having tucked my phone away to juggle the groceries and my debit card.

“Thanks for shopping at the Piggly Wiggly. Please take your receipt and come again,” the slightly dazed young cashier says as she looks past me to the leather-clad hottie hovering behind me. “Are you Dillon McQueen? You’re so amazing. And gorgeous. I don’t care what they say, you’re gonna be the starter this year, and if you aren’t, you can always try the movies,” she gushes, already digging around for a pen and paper.

He gives her that lazy smile. “Thanks.” Then he focuses on me, his expression hardening, but he tries… “Let me have the beer, baby.”

I’ve been upgraded to baby. How cute.

I put a little extra southern in my voice when I speak. “Bless your heart, if you’d only known who I was or batted your lashes at me. Check Walmart, sweetie…” I tip my hat at him and flip around, hips swaying as I leave the checkout area, smiling as I go out the door.

For the first time in eighteen months, I feel like myself again. Girl on fire indeed.3We leave the Pig and walk through the dark parking lot to my black Escalade. The girls are chattering about the party, and I tune them out as I carry the bags. Between these ball-squeezing pants, the guys texting me snack preferences, and my worry about the season, my head spins. I should be excited about a house party, but I’m not.

Women elbowing each other to hold my hand is pissing me off.

All for the sake of a tradition I managed to get entangled in.

Dillon’s never been to the Theta Fall Ball. He’s not dating anyone. We will offer him as tribute, Sawyer told the team this past May before school ended. He riled them up, got them excited, and convinced them to vote for me.

Normally, I’d be willing to go along with the contest, if just to keep things fun, but this year is my last chance for the NFL. On the other hand, every year that we’ve participated in the Theta tradition, we’ve had stellar seasons. We won a national championship last year when Zane was the prize player. Now it’s a superstition that we have to do it. I’m talking serious. We don’t want to screw up the upcoming year, and that means repeating the rituals we did last year. We touch the tiger mural when we enter the stadium, we chant the fight song before we leave the locker room, Sawyer eats the grass, I kiss my hands before I leave the tunnel—and we do the Theta thing.

That means I have to deal with the girls’ attention, trying to balance it with the inadequacy that keeps pricking at me. Even the cashier had to bring up my shortcomings.

I roll my neck.

For the past three years, I was Ryker’s backup, but now that he’s gone, I’m in charge. He was the number-one pick in the draft—how do I live up to that?

Does McQueen have what it takes to lead the Tigers? was this morning’s trending topic on Twitter.

The worst part is my new backup is in the wings, just waiting to take the ball out of my hands. This team has been my family for three years, and it stings that Coach is pitting me against some untried freshman.

Owen Sinclair took his school to state. Won MVP. Runs like a gazelle. Rated a 5 by ESPN, he told me in a one-on-one meeting this week.

A muscle pops in my jaw. My father replaced me with a new family, and now my team is close to doing the same thing.

My gut swirls.

This season is mine, I tell myself. This is my shot and I can’t blow—

What the hell?

I jerk to a halt at the girl I see. Her. Again? She’s like a curse!

Four Dragons has jumped out of her vehicle, slammed the door, and is currently glaring at the hood of her car as if she expects it to tell her what’s going on.

Tags: Ilsa Madden-Mills Romance