“Dillon, Babycakes, I can switch my major to statistics,” offers the redhead as she poses in her cow-print dress.
I bite back my giggle at the flash of fear that flits over his face before he covers it up with that disarming, sexy, oh-so-slow smile. “Nah, no need for that, Ashley. You’re a senior—too late to be changing majors. You’ve got a whole future in…” He purses his lips, thinking.
“Music. I texted you a video of me singing Taylor Swift’s ‘Lover’ last week. Remember? I said it reminded me of us.”
“Um, yeah.” Another long-suffering exhalation as he stares at the floor for several tense moments then looks up at them. “Truthfully, I’m asking too much for just a date with me. I know you ladies signed up for this tradition we have between the team and the Thetas, and I’m the prize”—he winces—“but maybe you should move on to Sawyer or Troy and convince them to do it. They’re gonna be superstars, and I’m going to be focused on winning games. This contest won’t lead to a relationship—”
Ashley tosses her red hair and lifts her chin. “The football players voted you as the prize, not Sawyer or Troy, and you agreed in May. We can’t change it and you can’t back out now. It’s not fair. We’ve been at your beck and call since summer camp.”
His face flattens. “Yes, I’m aware of your presence everywhere I turn.”
She smiles sweetly, her nails trailing over his muscled forearm. “We’ll get to work on the stats, and you’ll choose the winner before the dance.” Ashley inspects the other girls, and they nod their assent then look back at him.
He thinks for a moment then plants his hands on his hips, calling attention to long, tan fingers and his taut six-pack. A long, gusty exhale comes from him. “Son of a nutcracker, alright. Until then, no arguing, no name-calling, and no sneaking into my room at night, feel me?”
They nod and he seems to find his equilibrium, then murmurs something as he touches each girl, a stroke of his hand there, a cheek kiss for another, an ass pat for the next.
A bubble of laughter escapes me, but it goes unheard as Patsy Cline sings on the PA system, crooning about being crazy about a man. Seems appropriate.
I pause, nearly dropping the mango in my hand. Wait a minute… Son of a nutcracker? I know that! Where’s it from? It sounded odd coming from him. It’s not a Southern saying—wait, yes! Buddy the Elf!
I grab my phone from my purse. Dang, this is so perfect! Just what I need for the photo/video bingo challenge we have going in the journalism grad department. It’s going to be hard to top someone’s pic of Professor Whitley getting his bum attacked by a goose on the quad yesterday (excellent for the Animal Attack on Campus category), but a woman-wrangling athlete quoting Buddy checks the Likes to Quote Will Ferrell box. Gah, I just might win!
Normally, I wouldn’t be so motivated to win the pool, but the prize is five hundred dollars and this girl needs new tires. Not only that, my poor car is falling apart, overhead lights winking off and on, the motor sputtering at every stop sign and red light. I’m driving on a prayer. The newspaper isn’t paying me for the internship, and my catering jobs are scarce. It would be nice to have extra money and not worry about depleting my meager savings.
Scrambling around in my purse, I finally find my phone and yank it out, only I stumble over a crate of pumpkins—Why are they out in August?—and my cell flies out of my hand, landing under the refrigerated fish section ten feet away. Dashing over, I bend down, butt in the air, I don’t care, and snag it. Phone clasped tightly, I jerk up to my feet—Success!—but Mr. Hot Pants and his entourage have vanished.
I blow out a breath.
Then I smile.2“Where are the blasted Oreos?” I say loudly enough to get his attention. My hands plant on my hips (just like his did earlier) as I check then re-check the shelves. “Usually, they’re next to the Nutter Butters,” I tell the strawberries in my cart. It’s sad that my friends are either produce or my family.
“You missed out,” says a deep male voice behind me. “So good, right? They’re my favorite. I mix up how I eat them. The first bite, I nibble, then the next one I take my time, separate the wafer from the white cream, and lick it off.”
I realize two things at once. One, he said lick, which is gross, and, two, he isn’t flirting with me, not when his voice screams boredom.
Fine. I don’t want him to flirt with me.
Nana likes to say, Serena, you don’t like to start trouble, yet somehow it’s always there when you arrive. Might get that as a tattoo, but first, a long sigh comes from my chest as I prepare to annoy Mr. Hot Pants enough to say son of a nutcracker. The fighter inside of me, the one who’s been hurt and trampled by another pretty boy, is roaring to rip him apart, to be cold as ice and let him know I am unaffected by his hot guy aura, but the other side of me is pissed I’m wearing a coffee-stained, holey Four Dragons band shirt and baggy camo pants that make me look like I’m ready for a deer hunt. I admit, lately my sense of style has gone downhill, slammed into some rocks, and rolled right off a cliff.