Page 24 of Riot (Mayhem 2)

Adam is sitting at the breakfast bar, his foot swinging back and forth as he picks a cluster of chocolate chips out of a glass bowl and tilts his head back to eat them. Rowan launches forward and captures his wrist before he can, dragging his hand back over the bowl and smacking at it until he drops the chips back in with the rest.

Shawn, leaning against a kitchen wall, laughs and reaches his hand into the bag of chocolate chips he’s holding, tossing a whopping handful into his mouth.

“How come he gets to eat them?” Adam whines as he eyes Shawn.

“Because he went to the store and bought extra,” Rowan answers. On the kitchen side of the breakfast bar, she sidles up next to Joel, who is smiling at me like he has a secret he can barely contain.

“Share with me,” Adam orders Shawn, and Shawn pops another choking-hazard-sized handful into his mouth before directing a shit-eating grin at Adam.

“Share with yourself,” he teases with his mouth full.

“Shawn,” Rowan barks, “give Adam some damn chocolate or I’m going to beat you with a wooden spoon.” She waves her weapon of choice at him. “And you know I will!”

Shawn and Adam both laugh, and Shawn sets a single chocolate chip on the counter in front of Adam. Adam glares at it and then at Shawn before popping it in his mouth.

“Cookies?” I ask, hoisting myself up onto the stool next to Adam.

“Joel wouldn’t stop whining about how bored he was and how much he wanted them,” Rowan explains, “so he’s going to learn how to make them.”

“I changed my mind . . .” Joel says, dipping his finger into the cookie batter.

“YOU’RE GOING TO LEARN,” Rowan barks, and I bite back a laugh. I know that living with three guys grinds on her nerves sometimes, but today they must have really sent her overboard.

“You realize you guys are rock stars, right?” I swing my gaze between the three of them. Sometimes, it’s hard to reconcile the performers I’ve watched command the stage with the guys who hang around doing Disney-appropriate things like baking chocolate-chip cookies.

They stare back at me like it just occurred to them, and Joel smiles wide. “She’s right. I’m too cool for this shit.”

Rowan whacks him on the arm with the wooden spoon, and Joel yelps and resumes stirring the cookie batter.

Trying not to laugh, I say, “Is this my surprise?”

Joel’s blue eyes swing to mine, his expression bright with excitement. “Come on, Peach,” he begs, “I need to give her the surprise!”

Rowan sighs and dismisses him with a wave of her hand before pulling out a roll of parchment paper. “Whatever. Go, but I’m not giving you any cookies.”

Joel’s face falls in a pout. “Seriously?”

“Fine,” Rowan growls, “you can have some. Just go before I stick my head in the oven.”

Adam and Shawn chuckle, and Joel swoops down to plant a kiss on my best friend’s cheek. “Love you, Peach!”

He breezes past me into the living room, and I hop off of my stool to join Rowan on the other side of the counter. She lines the pan while I start rolling the cookie dough into balls. We’ve fallen into a wordless rhythm when Joel finishes rooting something out of a backpack by the couch. He stands next to Adam and smiles at me, holding something behind his back.

“You ready?”

“This had better be the best surprise ever,” I warn. He’s built this up to epic proportions.

“Remember how you said you wanted to go to ManiFest?”

“You didn’t . . .” I say. My hands stop balling the dough as I gape at him. ManiFest is a huge music festival that’s held each year, but the where and when is as unpredictable as the entertainers who perform. A few weeks ago, the festival was announced, but tickets sold out within twenty-four hours.

Joel sweeps his hand out from behind his back in a dramatic gesture, and I stare at the tickets in his hand.

“Oh my God!” I squeal, grabbing his hand over the bar and pulling it close to my face. Six tickets. Six freaking tickets to a sold-out freaking show! “Oh my GOD!”

I’m frozen, and Joel says, “What? I don’t even get a kiss?”

I rush around the bar and launch myself into his arms. “How did you get them?”

He squeezes me tight and sets me back on my feet, smiling like I just gave him the surprise instead of the other way around. “We have a ton of friends performing.”

Adam and Shawn start rattling off the names of bands they know, and I just stare at the tickets while feeling overwhelmed and kind of nauseous.

“I don’t think I can go,” I mutter.

“What?!” Joel says. “Next week is Spring Break! Why can’t you go?”

I know he’s doing this to prove he cares about me. If I accept it, what will that mean? “I have a project.”

“Since when do you care about projects?” Rowan asks, her brow furrowed with suspicion.

“Since I promised my dad I’d pull my grades up.” I do have a project, and I did make a promise.

Shawn pushes off the wall and hands Adam the bag of chocolate chips. “What kind of project?”

“For my marketing class,” I explain. “I have to find a local company and come up with some advertising materials for them, and then research how the materials affect the business. It’s a semester-long project and our proposal was due last week, but I never turned mine in.” I avoid Rowan’s frown. I had promised her I’d do it last weekend, but . . . things came up. “It’s worth most of our grade,” I finish.

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