“Why, for the love of pizza, are we up at the asscrack of dawn on our first morning off in a month?” Soren yawned loudly next to me then propped his feet on the chair in front of him.
The smallish auditorium had stadium seating, but Soren was no average human. My ride or die tight end had the fastest, and longest, legs in college football. With his feet up, his knees nearly touched his chest.
I leaned back and tried to find a comfortable position in a chair half my size. “I’m here because I promised my sister I’d finish school. Last time I checked, you weren’t in this class.”
Soren slapped my back. “I go where you go. How else am I going to get the elite rank of ladies that follow you around like horny sheep?”
“Not an image I wanted, man.”
He grinned, unrepentant. “Not my problem. Now explain.”
I sighed and scrubbed a hand over my tired eyes. “This is the last required class I need to graduate.”
“At eight a.m.?”
“All the sections were full, so Coach pulled some strings and got me in.” I eyed his cramped position in the quickly filling room. “Which means you probably shouldn’t stay.”
“I’m not a total dick. I’ll leave when someone needs my seat.”
My spine tingled in foreboding, the same feeling I got when a linebacker was about to flatten me. I scanned the almost-full auditorium, but the closest threat was the trio of blondes whispering in the row ahead of us.
“Do you think it’s really him? I heard he’s already signed with Dallas.”
“I heard he won’t even look at a girl during the season.”
“I bet I could change his mind.”
I shook my head at the last one who wasn’t even pretending to be quiet. The semester hadn’t even officially started yet, and the ball bunnies were circling. The rumors weren’t entirely wrong. I tended to ignore the ladies during the season because they proved more trouble than they were worth.
The girls I’d met all wanted the prestige of my reputation without accepting the time I had to put in to be the best. They demanded more than I was willing to give them and cut their losses when they realized I wasn’t going to change my mind, despite what the girl in front of me thought.
Most of the time, it was easier to just skip the drama.
Soren checked them out, then dismissed them with an unimpressed look. “Ignore their bullshit. You’re meant for greater things. Namely, getting my ass a championship before you abandon me to the wilds of the pros.”
I laughed because it was what he expected, but some shit was brewing between Soren and me. He was making more and more jokes about quitting school to follow me to the draft even though he still had a year left to play.
Part of me wondered if even the holy grail of the NFL would be enough. I wanted the career, had worked my ass off for it, but as my last season at TU got closer, I’d felt like something was missing.
“Hey D, incoming.” Soren nodded his chin toward the door.
Glad for a distraction from my thoughts, I followed his gaze to the front of the room, and my breath froze in my chest. Time stopped. Everything else disappeared except for her.
Soren took one look at me and let loose an evil grin. I knew that smile meant trouble, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the long-legged beauty scowling at the full auditorium. She tucked a length of long, dark hair behind her ear, sending the cascade of silver star earrings dancing.
Class wouldn’t start for another ten minutes, but the place had filled up fast. She scanned the rows one by one until she reached us in the upper back corner. Our eyes locked, and a jolt went through me, like I’d stepped into lightning. She felt it too. I saw the flash of recognition on her face before she masked it. I didn’t know her—but I wanted to.
With sudden clarity, I realized she needed a seat, and I had one to provide. Right next to me—as long as I could get Soren to leave. I jerked my chin at our row and raised a brow. Her eyes narrowed, and she scanned the room once more before sighing.
Scowl firmly in place, she climbed the steps that would take her to my level. Our silent exchange had only taken seconds, but the world had shifted. If she hadn’t accepted the offer, I might have followed her to wherever she ended up.
As she got closer, I saw my star-spangled mystery girl had brown eyes to go with the hair, full lips, and the ugliest sweats I’d ever seen. Splotches of color in varying sizes and shades clashed against what might have been a gray base, as if she’d used her pants as a paint rag.
Soren shifted next to me and let out a low whistle. Mystery girl tilted her head to glare at him, sending those distracting stars glittering in a mad dance against her tanned skin. I’d never felt the need to compete with Soren for the ladies—there were plenty to be had if I were so inclined—but this time, I had the insane urge to block his view of her. What the hell was wrong with me? I didn’t get possessive, even if I wanted to taste the part of her neck where the stars touched.
She came to a stop in front of us and adjusted the messenger bag slung across her chest. Through supreme force of will, I kept my eyes trained on her face despite the fact that she was wearing a tight little tank top the color of ripe plums.
“Yes?” Her voice had a slight rasp that brought images of dark nights and slick skin.
I cleared my throat. “You looked like you needed help.” I prayed she didn’t notice my husky tone.
She eyed us both dismissively. “I need a seat, not a summons.”
Her ‘fuck off’ attitude reminded me of my sister, Chloe, which was disconcerting because my dick was definitely having non-familial feelings for this girl.
I nodded at Soren. “You can have his seat.”
My former best friend crossed his arms and leaned back with a shit-eating grin. “He doesn’t speak for me. Sorry, sweetheart, but you were the one who came in late.”
One of the blondes made the mistake of glancing coyly over her shoulder at Soren while she laughed at his response.
Mystery girl gave the ball bunny a toothy grin. “Don’t you have a cult meeting to go to?”
I might love this girl.
Soren chuckled and leaned forward, patting his thigh. “We could always share.”
That got all three of the blondes to turn around with pouts. Mystery girl rolled her eyes and took a step back. “I think you’ve angered the harem. I’d rather stand, thanks.”
I sensed my chance slipping away and elbowed him, hard. “Stop being an ass. You’re not even taking this class.”
Her eyes narrowed at Soren, and she drew closer again, nearly brushing my leg. “Well, I am taking this class. Out of the way, interloper.”
Soren eyed her up and down, and I had to restrain the urge to punch him. “Maybe if you ask nicely.”
The murder in her eyes warned me a split second before she lunged. I caught her around the waist before her hands could reach Soren, and she fell against my chest. The scent of something sweet, like ice cream, surrounded me, and I breathed deep. Soren, asshole that he was, laughed like a loon.
“I like her.” He stretched and stood. “I have somewhere to be anyway. You two play nice now. See you at practice, D.” He sent a wink at the blondes. “Ladies.”
He slipped around our tangle of limbs, headed for the aisle. Once safely out of reach, he turned and blew mystery girl a kiss. “See you around, sweetheart.”
One of the blondes sighed, but I was too busy glaring daggers at Soren to see which one. Mystery girl planted her hand on my shoulder and tried to right herself, but her bag’s strap tangled around the chair arm.
She swore, and I tightened my grip.
“Calm down, Em.” The nickname slipped out, and I thought she might try to de-ball me. I considered letting her if it meant she kept wriggling around on my lap. Instead, I opted for the less painful option.
With one arm wrapped around her waist, I lifted her enough to grab the strap and pull it loose. She shot up the moment she was free and pushed her hair back from her red face. To my surprise, no one else paid us any attention. Her chest heaved with her ragged breathing, and I had a hard-on that could maim a small child if I stood up.
Second-thoughts rushed in as I realized I would get zero work done as long as she was sitting next to me. I could still feel her belly pressed against me and the soft skin where her shirt had ridden up a little. Then again, I only had to pass this class. No one expected the quarterback to maintain high grades. The distraction would be more than worth it.
Her eyes flicked from Soren’s empty seat to my sprawled legs. Instead of trying to squeeze past me, she propped a fist on her hip. I wanted to replace it with mine, trail my hands over her curves until I could pull her into my lap again. Those lips, damn. I could dream about those lips.
She cleared her throat, and I realized I’d missed whatever she said while I stared at her mouth. “Sorry, what?”
A corner of those lips tipped up as she raised an eyebrow. “Do you mind moving your freakishly long legs? I’m not in the mood to wrestle for my seat.”
I scooted up to give her space to move past. “You’re one to talk.”
She sank into the chair next to me, staring straight ahead, and stuffed her bag between her feet. The lack of response burned a little, but the professor chose that moment to walk into class.
He droned on for several minutes, but I quickly stopped listening in favor of leaning closer to my mystery girl. He’d only be talking about the shit in the syllabus anyway.
“I’m Derrick Asher,” I said quietly.
She sighed as if I were bothering her, but she hadn’t taken her eyes off the clock on the wall opposite us. “I know.”
“This is the part where you tell me your name.”
She tucked her hair behind her ear again, sending those stars spinning. “Why does it matter? You’ve already given me a nickname, probably so you don’t have to worry about remembering mine until you get bored and try to get into someone else’s pants. Maybe we could skip to that part.”
This girl had walls for days. Defensive and prickly weren’t usually my thing, but this time was different—she was different. Smart, funny, built with brash confidence and utter disregard for my fame. Something I’d never wanted before now.
I grinned. “No one else’s pants could possibly be as interesting as yours, Em.”
She struggled, I could see it in the way she sucked on her cheeks, but she couldn’t resist asking. Her eyes slid toward me. “What does Em stand for?”
“Mystery girl.” Her responding sniff wasn’t convincing. She focused on the professor, and I studied her body language. The stiff shoulders relaxed a degree, and her hands stopped tapping out a rhythm on her ugly sweats. Most telling, a tiny smile ghosted over her lips. She liked the nickname—and I couldn’t wait to dig through those walls.